Jonathan Bastable just missed seeing the fabled tombs of the pharaohs last year. He hopes he’ll get another chance
For a travel writer, I am not very well travelled. I’ve never been to India or south-east Asia and North and South America are mostly an unopened book. Closer to home, I get no tick for Edinburgh, the Peak District or Stratford-on-Avon.
But the pyramids, there’s the omission that troubles me. It’s because they are locus classicus of the professional traveller: Napoleon and the admirable Gertrude Bell were there; so was Mark Twain, who went literally everywhere.
I’ve often written about the pyramids – in libraries or at my desk. I love the fact that our biblically minded forebears wondered if these might be “the granaries of Joseph”, and I never cease to marvel that the Great Pyramid was, for 4,000 years, the tallest structure on Earth!
I almost made it to Egypt last autumn – a couple of months before Covid-19 hit, did I but know it. It was a press trip, and I usually avoid them.
I can’t be doing with the bonhomie and the braggadocio (“Paragliding in the Dolomites after this, then off to review new spas in Luang Prabang…”). I’d have borne the pack to gaze on those three hoary tetrahedrons just once in my life, to have sailed upstream to the broken pillars of Karnak, but I had a job booked in and couldn’t move it.
Another chance may come my way, who knows. In the meantime, I’ll feel I haven’t quite earned my travel-writing spurs. I’ll be a fraud abroad, a geezer who’s not clapped eyes on Giza.
Five ways to experience the Pyramids when this is all over
1. Egypt is not currently one of the destinations Britons are formally permitted to visit, but in non-Covid-19 times, the pyramids are the obvious focal point of any itinerary that explores the country with a historical focus. One example is the seven-night “Highlights of Egypt” break sold by Abercrombie & Kent (01242 386467; abercrombiekent.co.uk), which heads to Luxor and Aswan as well as Giza. From £3,150 a head – including flights.
2. If you want to dive fully into the pharaonic tales of Khufu et al, the six-night “Ultimate Egypt: Culture on the Nile” tour offered by Black Tomato (020 7426 9888; blacktomato.com) can include a visit to the pyramids with an archaeologist in tow. From £4,315 per person (flights extra).
3. Cairo’s great landmarks combined with Africa’s greatest river? Steppes Travel (01285 601784; steppestravel.com) sells a 13-day “Luxury Egypt” trip that cruises the Nile on the Oberoi Zahra after seeing the pyramids. From £3,850 a head, flights extra.
4. You can, of course, enjoy the pyramids without committing to a fortnight away. Viator (viator.com) offers one-day guided tours (trip ref: 15974P20) to Giza and sibling sites Sakkara and Memphis, easily slotted into a long weekend in Cairo – from £58 per person.
5. You can also cut a dash to Giza without overspending as well. Responsible Travel (01273 823700; responsibletravel.com) runs a regular eight-day “Budget Egypt” group getaway that ticks off Cairo, Aswan and Luxor from £493 a head (flights are extra). Even though Egypt is not yet officially possible for British tourists, seven trips are scheduled for October alone.