Egypt is 1 million square miles in size. 95% of the people and all of its economy is based in 5% of the country, the area on both sides of the Nile River. All the tourist attractions, as well as the major cities, the main agricultural areas and everything else are here. Water is life as they say. Itís a country of enormous contrast - huge, bustling, polluted, traffic-laden cities only a few miles from pyramids, temples and tombs built up to 6000 years ago and surrounded by sand and more sand.
The economy is extremely tourist-oriented although many of the sites are not really "tourist-friendly," - for example no division or system for people entering and exiting the same doors into narrow tombs or halls. It was all push and shove. Vendors in Egypt are very aggressive - if your eyes even wander toward a product, the vendor follows you until you can persuade him that you are not going to buy. Its tiring. This takes place at all places that tourists visit.
In 1997, 58 German tourists were killed by terrorists while visiting Abu-Simbel, a major highlight of our trip. The result is that trips to many tourist attractions are in a convoy of buses and vans filled with tourists with police-escorts. It seemed like creating more of a target for terrorists to meÖ.and it meant that sites were crowded with tourists all at the same time.
The main attractions in Egypt are the pyramids, temples and tombs. The walls and ceilings and huge pillars are covered with picture stories of the royal families, Pharaohs, Kings, Queens, Emperors, etc. AND the gods they believed in - dozens of gods that have various forms, symbolizing various qualities like protector, symbol of motherhood and maternity, goddess of the sun rising, shining and going down, etc. Its very intellectually challenging to try to follow the various stories and remember them for when you enter the next palace or temple. I never tired of it.
One of the main distinctions between the different sites is how much of the original color remains. That makes the site especially beautiful. Another fascinating fact about Egypt is that when the High Dam at Aswan was built in 1967 (by the Russians during the Cold War) major tourist sites like Abu-Simbel and the Temple of Philae (see pictures) had to moved and recreated where they would not be damaged by flooding. Its absolutely incredible to see the perfect recreation of these ancient sites.
We spent 3 nights and 4 days traveling on a "cruise" (barge is more like it) ship on the Nile. It is primarily an efficient means of transportation between sites, nothing like a cruise as we know it.
Like Jordan, you must have a guide to get the most out of Egypt. All the main tourist sites are set up to give priority to tourists traveling with recognized tour companies.