While Cairo certainly has enough to keep you entertained for ages, Egypt is so much more than its metropolitan capital. Beyond the city’s borders are more wonders, adventures and stories, all within a few hours’ drive.
Here are five day trips that take you off the beaten path and let you experience more of what Egypt has in store beyond what you see in brochures. From science to spirituality, these places will trigger your curiosity about the wonderful workings of the world.
If You Like Archaeology: Sakkara’s Step Pyramid
16 miles from Cairo
Visit the oldest standing stone building in the world, the step pyramid of King Djoser, which dates back to the 27th century B.C.
Sakkara is one of the most archaeologically significant spots in Egypt. Spend a day pyramid hopping in this necropolis of ancient Memphis where 16 kings are buried. The pyramids currently stand in different stages of ruin, and a guide will entertain you with the stories of each mummy buried inside.
Sakkara allows you to see how the Pharaohs’ tombs evolved from rectangular mastabas to their now-famous pyramid form — like the testing ground for a design that was later applied in making a wonder of the world, the Great Pyramid at Giza.
If You Like Geology: Sannur Cave’s Stalactites
124 miles from Cairo
Marvel at nature’s handiwork when you step into Sannur Cave. Now a protected area, this limestone and alabaster cave is filled with unique formations of stalactites and stalagmites that were formed 60 million years ago by thermal springs.
It looks as special as it feels, with a cool breeze and soothing atmosphere reminiscent of a time when the Earth was so much younger.
The place is so unreal, even Google maps and navigation tools have a hard time locating it. Reaching the off-road location is tricky, even with a four-wheel-drive vehicle. Book a spot with a group trip or set up a private tour with an agency familiar with the location.
If You Like Paleontology: Wadi Al-Hitan’s Fossils
111 miles from Cairo
Whale skeletons in the desert may sound like a surreal notion, but they’re most definitely reality in Wadi Al-Hitan (Valley of the Whales). Explore this UNESCO World Heritage Site and discover how this vast desert was submerged in water and teeming with marine life 200 million years ago.
A visit to the open-air Hitan Museum gives you a chance to see the fossils and skeletons of the earliest whales in the very habitat where they were discovered. The striking rock formations and fossilized mangrove trees make for excellent photographs.
If You Like Marine Biology: Ain Sokhna Boat Trip
80 miles from Cairo
Ain Sokhna is the perfect spot to breathe in the salty breezes of the Red Sea, known for its marine biodiversity and coral reefs. The town is a short drive from landlocked Cairo and is the perfect quick visit if you don’t have time for a full seaside vacation on Egypt’s beaches.
Embark on an adventure at sea by booking a boat tour or fishing trip. Learn how to bait your line and haul in fish, or show off your skills if you’re already an angler. After you’ve unhooked your catch, enjoy a seafood lunch on board. In some places you can swim or snorkel, and if you’re lucky you might encounter a pod of wild dolphins.
If You Like Religious Studies: St. Anthony’s Monastery
208 miles from Cairo
Find a peaceful respite in the spot where Christian monasticism began, deep in the mountains of the Red Sea. The Monastery of St. Anthony, the first Christian monk, is the oldest continually inhabited monastery in the world. Built in the fourth century by his followers, it’s just over a mile from where St. Anthony lived and practiced ascetic life.
Visitors are welcome to explore this self-contained complex. In addition to the five ancient churches housed within the compound’s high walls, you’ll find a library of manuscripts, a bakery and a museum detailing the monastery’s history.
If you’re feeling fit, take the hike up to St. Anthony’s cave. Aside from its spiritual significance, you’ll be treated to stunning views of the Red Sea stretching out beyond the surrounding mountains and valleys.