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Commanding pyramids reaching towards the gods ... piercing obelisks adorned with hieroglyphics ... caravans of camels trudging across ocher sand dunes—Egypt is a land of profound majesty and mystery, and a magnet for treasure hunters, history lovers, and adventure seekers. At its heart is the mighty Nile, a true oasis in the desert and the life-blood for Egypt’s enduring history and culture. The first settlers were drawn to its fertile banks in the tenth millennium BC, making Egypt one of the world’s oldest nation states. Over time, these primitive hunter-gatherers evolved into a formidable civilization ruled by pharaohs and marked by incredible prosperity. During their dynasties, these rulers left indelible marks on the Egyptian landscape. Tombs, temples, and monuments sprung up all along the Nile, and culture flourished, too: Writing, agriculture, and organized religion all developed under the pharaohs’ authority.

But their power was fleeting. Egypt’s prime location between Africa and Asia made it a target for conquerors, beginning with the Persians in 343 BC, and followed by the Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Ottomans, and Europeans. Each of these rulers left their own mark (the Arabs, for example, transformed Egypt from a Christian country to an Islamic one). However, none of these governments could undo the pharaohs’ spell—their influence is as profound now as it was millennia ago, and relics of their reign are regularly uncovered by eager archaeologists and everyday Egyptians alike.

In recent years, Egypt’s ruling class has been in turmoil once again: the Arab Spring unseated longtime president Hosni Mubarak in 2011, and his successor, Mohamed Morsi was removed from power just two years later. Yet in spite of this unrest, there’s one thing that Egypt’s 100 million residents can be sure of—that the ancient allure of their country will always endure.

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See a detailed overview of this itinerary, including pre- and post-trip extensions and adventure highlights.


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Our Activity Level rating system ranks adventures on a scale of 1 to 5 to help you determine if a trip is right for you. See the descriptions below for more information about the physical requirements associated with each rating.

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Travelers should be able to climb 25 stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 1-2 miles over some uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last at least 1-2 hours at a time. Altitude can range from zero to 5,000 feet.

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Moderately Easy

Travelers should be able to climb 40 stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 2-3 miles over some uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last for at least 2-3 hours at a time. Altitude can range from zero to 5,000 feet.

Activity Level 3:

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Travelers should be able to climb 60 stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 3 miles over some steep slopes and loose or uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last for 3 or more hours at a time. Altitude can range from 5,000 to 7,000 feet.

Activity Level 4:

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Moderately Strenuous

Travelers should be able to climb 80 stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 4 miles over some steep slopes and loose or uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last for 4 or more hours at a time. Altitude can range from 7,000 to 9,000 feet.

Activity Level 5:

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Travelers should be able to climb 100 or more stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 8 miles over some steep slopes and loose or uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last for 4 or more hours at a time. Altitude can range from 10,000 feet or more.

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Egypt: Month-By-Month

There are pros and cons to visiting a destination during any time of the year. Find out what you can expect during your ideal travel time, from weather and climate, to holidays, festivals, and more.

Egypt in January-March

Situated in the desert, Egypt’s temperatures remain relatively warm year-round, but the winter months usher in more mild weather and a chance of rain. At times, areas in the western desert even reach freezing. The cooler climate also means peak tourism season—along with Egypt’s prime business time—when hordes of people travel to the country’s top sites, potentially creating snaking lines and uncomfortable crowds.

Visiting in March allows travelers to avoid much of the winter tourist rush while still enjoying the ideal weather that makes it easier to explore during the day.

Holidays & Events

  • January 25: On this date each year, patriotic processions take place in honor of Revolution Day, when Egyptians celebrate the beginning of the 2011 uprising that ousted President Hosni Mubarak.
  • Late February: The Abu Simbel Sun Festival is held twice a year, in late February and late October, when sunlight illuminates the interior of the Abu Simbel Temple, a feature designed by King Ramses II in 1250 BC to mark the day he ascended to the throne and his birthday. Along with viewing the phenomenon, Egyptians hold music and dance performances and enjoy local foods nearby.

Watch this film to discover more about Egypt

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Follow traveler William T. on his journey through the Middle East.

Egypt in April-June

Temperatures start to climb between the springtime and the start of summer in June—but travelers during this time must be aware of the Khamsin Wind, a blistering hot sandstorm that sweeps across the country for a few days in April and May. The wind can blow at up to 140 kilometers (or about 87 miles) per hour, picking up sand along the way and impeding any sightseeing adventures.

But with warmer weather, the springtime is also an excellent opportunity to sunbathe, swim, snorkel, or scuba dive in the Red Sea region.

Holidays & Events

  • Late April: Sinai Liberation Day commemorates the withdrawal of the last Israeli soldier from the Sinai Peninsula in 1982 after a 15-year occupation. The patriotic holiday features military air and water shows, concerts, and parades.
  • April/May: To mark the beginning of spring, Egyptians celebrate Sham al Nessim. On the day after the Coptic Orthodox Church’s Easter, people typically spend time outside picnicking and eating the holiday’s traditional foods: boiled colored eggs, green onions, lupin beans called tirmis, lettuce, and a salted fish called fesikh.

Must See

The Dahab coral reef in the Red Sea remains a top snorkeling location all year with its distinctive Blue Hole, colorful coral, and rich marine life. But dolphin-watching season in Egypt begins in April, making the late spring and summer months the best time to see dolphins, whether from a boat or swimming alongside them.

Watch this film to discover more about Egypt

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Egypt in July-September

The dry heat of the scorching summer months in Egypt borders on oppressive and drives many tourists away—though temperatures do start to drop in September. But while the heat leaves people aching for a drink and a rest, it also means the impressive ancient sites, like the Great Pyramids, are far less crowded.

As a respite from the heat, Egyptians and vacationers escape to the Red Sea region, which offers its best snorkeling and scuba diving during these summer months. Under the water lies exotic marine life, colorful coral reefs, and a world-renowned marine sinkhole called the Blue Hole.

Holidays & Events

  • July 23: Beginning the evening before, Egyptians commemorate the coup d’état that overthrew King Farouk in 1952 on Revolution Day with elaborate festivities planned by the minister of defense that feature military parades and patriotic concerts.
  • September: The Islamic New Year inaugurates the beginning of the Hijri calendar, which falls in September in 2018. During the celebration, Egypt’s streets transform into a public carnival with people of all ages dancing, singing, making music, and enjoying traditional foods and treats sold by vendors.

Must See

For centuries, the Nile River would rise and overflow following rains in the highlands and bring life and water to Egypt’s ancient civilization, who attributed the annual cycle to the gods. Even though the river no longer floods due to the building of the Aswan High Dam in 1970, the Egyptian people still recognize the river and its importance with a festive, two-week celebration in early August called Wafaa El-Nil—marked by boat and flower parades, water sports like rowing or windsurfing, and picnicking along the Nile.

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Egypt in October-December

Egypt’s peak tourism season kicks off in December—but already in the preceding months, the summer heat relents, affording a comfortable, yet warm visit. The fall proves to be the ideal time to cruise down the Nile River because temperatures in the country’s interior have dropped, making excursions to Egypt’s main tourist sites more feasible at any point during the day.

It’s a time when the local markets come alive with bustling people and stalls stocked with produce, livestock, and other goods. But the nicer weather also means more tourists have already begun flocking to the popular locales, creating larger crowds.

Holidays & Events

  • October: Coinciding with October’s full moon, the Siyaha Festival in Gebel Dakrur is an opportunity for the members of the Siwan people to celebrate the harvest, settle their conflicts, and renew friendships. Following noon prayer each day, the people gather together for a large feast of traditional foods.
  • December: In the third month of the Islamic Calendar—December 1 in 2018—the people of Egypt celebrate the birth of the prophet Muhammad during a holiday called Mawlid. Bakeries and sweet shops sell toys made of sugar syrup for children, and the people participate in street processions with chanting, singing, and drumming.

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Nile River

Flowing 4,258 miles from south to north, the Nile is the longest river in the world. It spans eleven countries, including Tanzania, Uganda, and South Sudan, but it is widely regarded as the epicenter of Egypt. With an average annual precipitation of around one inch in most of the country, the Nile River is Egypt’s only real water source. It comes as no surprise that most of the country’s major cities and historic sites—from Cairo to Luxor—grew up along its fertile banks. South of Luxor, the river’s lush banks are lined by palm-fringed villages, ancient temples, and granite quarries whose stones were used to build almost all of ancient Egypt’s obelisks and temples. Near Aswan, the southernmost frontier of the ancient Egyptian empire, the shallower waters of the Nile are dotted with islands covered with exotic foliage, including two of the larges: Kitchener’s Island and Elephantine Island.

Along with Nile’s life-giving waters, the river also serves as a major transportation route, particularly when the basin and surrounding roadways flood. While it’s common to see motorized barges today, the traditional mode of transportation is the felucca. With its simple wooden hull and single crescent-shaped sail, these graceful vessels have been zigzagging along the Nile for millennia.

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Abu Simbel

Johann Luwig Burckhardt's, a modern Swiss explorer, discovered Abu Simbel in the early 1800s. Drowning in the desert sands, the only visible features of Abu Simbel that caught Burckhardt's attention were the heads on the King Ramses II statues. Over a century later, Abu Simbel faced drowning again, but this time the destruction would be far worse.

In the 1960s, the Egyptian government's plan to build the Aswan High Dam threatened the existence of Abu Simbel. Lake Nasser, a man-made lake that was created as a result of the dam's construction, would have submerged the ancient temple, but fortunately, UNESCO was able to lead a team in relocating Abu Simbel to a nearby site located above water level. Nearly 25,000 workers carefully deconstructed the temple into over 1000 blocks, each weighing around eleven tons. The blocks were transferred to a cliff where they were put back together out of harms way. The project took almost five years and millions of dollars to complete.

Simultaneously, the local Nubian people who lived here were threatened as well. Around 17,000 families were displaced as a result of the dam and relocated to another area. Meet with the Nubian locals and learn about the struggles they have faced relocating their lives and the efforts they are making to preserve their distinct culture.

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Suez Canal

For millennia, man had dreamed of building a waterway between the Asian and African continents to connect the Mediterranean to Red Sea. In fact, evidence of canals linking the Red Sea to the Nile (which empties into the Mediterranean at its northern-most point) date back as far as 1850 BC. Pharaoh after pharaoh attempted and abandoned canal projects through the centuries. Even modern-day emperor Napoleon Bonaparte contemplated canal creation in the early 19th century—but he, too, abandoned the idea when faulty survey measurements suggested that locks would be required to make up for a 30-foot elevation difference between the Mediterranean and Red Sea. It wasn’t until 1859 that construction began on the canal the world knows today.

With the blessing of Egypt’s government, French diplomat and entrepreneur Ferdinand de Lesseps established the Suez Canal Company with the express purpose of finishing the waterway once and for all. Fortunately for Lesseps, a new survey revealed that no locks would be needed to make up for differing sea levels—but that didn’t mean construction was simple. In fact, during the first few years, tens of thousands of peasants were forced to dig the canal by hand under threat of violence, and some 120,000 laborers are believed to have died in the process. Eventually, forced labor was banned, and the Suez Canal Company changed tactics, using custom-made machinery to complete the excavation. The Suez Canal officially opened on November 17, 1869, and quickly revolutionized world commerce.

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Giza Pyramid Complex

Stretching out across a tawny plateau in the Libyan Desert, the Great Pyramid Complex is one of Egypt’s greatest icons, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. At its heart is the Great Pyramid, which was built around 2560 BC by the Pharaoh Khufu (also known as Cheops). With an apex piercing 481 feet into the sky and three elaborate burial chambers tucked inside its limestone walls, the Great Pyramid is not only the largest pyramid ever constructed, but is also the only one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World that remains today.

This impressive structure is flanked by two smaller pyramids—the Pyramid of Khafre and the Pyramid of Menkaure—built to honor Khufu’s son and grandson, respectively. These three temples are surrounded by satellite structures, including “queens” pyramids, mastaba tombs, and a workers’ village. And then of course, there is the Great Sphinx. With the body of a lion and the head of a man, the Sphinx is believed to represent the Pharaoh Khafre. Built around 2558 BC, this limestone statue is the oldest known monumental sculpture in Egypt.

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Karnak Temple Complex

The story of the Karnak Temple Complex is intertwined with that of the ancient Egyptian capital of Thebes. As the city increasingly became ancient Egypt’s political and religious center, Karnak became the singular expression of royal power for each passing pharaoh.

Comprising a vast mix of temples, chapels, pylons, and other buildings, Karnak is the second largest religious complex in history—only Angkor Wat in Cambodia is larger. Karnak’s walls and even its very foundations tell the stories of more than 30 pharaohs who contributed to the complex. The pharaoh Merneptah commemorated his victory over the Sea Peoples, a sea-faring clan of raiders, in hieroglyphics, while the pharaoh queen Hatshepsut reconstructed the complex to change its central focus to her whims. Rameses III had his own hieroglyphic stories carved deeper than previous rulers to ensure his legacy could not be overwritten.

While all ancient monuments in Egypt are windows into the empire’s fascinating past, Karnak is like the massive stained-glass tapestries of European cathedrals—complex, multifaceted, and endlessly arresting in its mysterious beauty.

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Valley of the Kings

Nestled on the western bank of the Nile River, the Valley of the Kings offers an intimate look into the life and opulence of Egypt’s pharaohs. The Valley of the Kings’ story is still being told—excavations are still taking place after over 200 years.

While from a distance the Valley of the Kings looks like any other river bank, the inside holds almost unsurpassed archaeological wonders. Between the 16th and eleventh centuries BC, pharaohs, nobles, and their families were entombed in this royal burial ground. The 63 tombs underneath the sand range from a hole in the ground to sprawling underground complexes—one named “KV5” has over 120 chambers. While the walls are covered in the stories of those buried there, you can also see the legacies of ancient Greek and Roman adventurers in their graffiti dating back at least to 278 BC. Though many of the tombs have been robbed over the centuries, the tomb of the eminent King Tutankhamun was found nearly completely intact, giving archaeologists an exhaustive look into the lives of ancient Egyptian royalty.

The Valley of the Kings is an encyclopedic chronicle for the Egyptian experience of death—understanding their journey to the afterlife fosters a deeper understanding of being Egyptian.

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Cairo may call to mind the mighty pyramids, the enigmatic sphinx, and other pharaonic splendors, but the capital of Egypt has come into its own as a modern metropolis in the past couple of centuries. This modernization was achieved in the 19th century when Khedive Ismail came into power. Ismail had a vision that Egypt was part of Europe and Cairo was Egypt's Paris. The romantic appeal of the City of Lights inspired some of Cairo's downtown architectural treasures and was the start of Cairo's transformation from a quaint city to an urban hub.

Now, as one of the largest cities in the world, Cairo has adopted some modern features while maintaining its ancient allure. Just outside of the city center, you'll step back into antiquity during an exploration of Giza's iconic pyramids and sprinkled throughout historic Cairo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, you'll find more ancient landmarks, including Ben Ezra Synagogue—the oldest Jewish temple in the city—and the Basilica-style Hanging Church, which is located in a Babylonian fortress dedicated to the Virgin Mary. You'll also come face to face with the glimmering gold death mask of the boy king Tutankhamun at the Egyptain Museum and explore the winding labyrinthine pathways of the medieval Khan al Khalili bazaar.

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Set along the most enchanting stretch of the Nile, Aswan is an ancient frontier town that Egyptians used as a base for incursions into Nubia and Sudan. One of Egypt’s oldest cities and most important port settlements, Aswan was considered by the ancient Egyptians to be the “gateway” to the country, and still functions as such for travelers seeking to visit its modern and ancient wonders. These include the controversial Aswan High Dam (Sadd el-ali), which forever changed the agricultural rhythms of Egypt, and the Aswan and the Philae Temples, which were moved from their previous location (where they were frequently flooded and destined to be submerged by the High Dam) and reassembled in their entirety between 1972 and 1980. The city’s Nubian Museum displays artifacts saved before Lake Nasser flooded the area behind the dam, erasing the traditional homelands of the Nubian people. Once surrounded by nature and living off the land and the Nile River in Aswan (old Nubia), most Nubians are now relegated to a desert life in villages built for them in places like Kom Ombo (new Nubia), where pockets of Nubians are working to preserve their language and culture.

Aswan is also home to the legendary Old Cataract Hotel, whose famous terrace is renowned for its incomparable views of the river at sunset with silhouettes of swallow-tailed feluccas zig-zagging across the Nile and the luxuriant palms of Elephantine Island.

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Featured Reading

Immerse yourself in Egypt with this selection of articles, recipes, and more


Discover the extraordinary life of British military officer T. E. Lawrence.


Learn about the Egyptian pharaoh Hatshepsut, one of the first great women rulers in all of recorded history.


Learn how to make a traditional Egyptian vegetable dish with this recipe.

Lawrence of Arabia

by John Bregoli, from Dispatches

Winston Churchill once said of T. E. Lawrence: “I deem him one of the greatest beings alive in our time ... We shall never see his like again. His name will live in history. It will live in the annals of war ... It will live in the legends of Arabia.”

That’s some pretty high praise for someone who considered himself just an “ordinary man.” But most would agree that Lawrence—who came to be known as Lawrence of Arabia—lived quite an extraordinary life.

Thomas Edward Lawrence was born in 1888 in Wales. He was interested in history at an early age, and loved exploring old churches and castles. After embarking on a thousand-mile walking tour of Syria to explore Crusader castles as a student at Oxford, Lawrence decided to become an archaeologist. So he returned to the Middle East in 1910 and remained there until 1914, working on archaeological surveys. It was during this time that Lawrence developed a passion for all things Arabic—often living with nomadic tribesmen, wearing traditional Arab clothing, and going for long walks in the desert.

He was back in England at the outbreak of World War I, however, and because of his knowledge and familiarity with Arabs, he was assigned to the intelligence section of the British Army in Cairo. In 1916 he joined the Arab forces under Faisal al Husayn and became a leader in their Great Arab Revolt against the Turks (who were allied with the Germans). The Arabs seemed no match for the Turks, who at the time had the fourth largest army in the world and were expertly trained and possessed modern weapons. But Lawrence developed brilliant guerrilla warfare tactics to tie down large Turkish armies with an Arab force of only a few thousand and he eventually defeated the Turks.

By the end of the war, Lawrence was a hero among the Arabs. But he had already gained their respect in many ways. Apparently, he could ride a camel faster and more easily than most of them (he could run alongside a moving beast and then swing into the saddle that was some nine feet off the ground). He was also brave beyond belief while fighting in the desert landscapes of Wadi Rum, where he had been captured and tortured—and wounded dozens of times. And he famously rode hundreds of miles across the desert sands with Arab fighters to take the port of Aqaba from the Turks in July of 1917 without firing a single shot.

But in the end Lawrence had made a promise to the Arabs that he couldn’t keep—independence once the war was over. With the Allied victory came bitter disappointment when Arab hopes for independence were betrayed, with Great Britain and France sharing the spoils. This was a blow to Lawrence, too, and he refused to accept war medals from the British king. He went on to write his war memoirs, The Seven Pillars of Wisdom—which was inspired by the stillness and beauty of the desert landscapes he witnessed and the Bedouin people whose lives he shared.

T. E. Lawrence later returned to the armed forces, hoping to serve in anonymity under assumed names. But embittered by his country’s policy towards Arabs, he retired to his cottage in Dorset, England in 1935. Two months later he was thrown from a motorcycle and died at the age of 46.

The Woman Who Would Be King

by John Bregoli

Certainly, there have been many extraordinary women rulers throughout history. But long before such powerful figures as Indira Ghandi or Catherine the Great appeared on the world stage—and some 1,500 years before Cleopatra drifted down the Nile—there was Hatshepsut. As a full-fledged pharaoh of Egypt, Hatshepsut ushered in an era of peace and prosperity, and just may have been the first truly great woman ruler in all of recorded history.

Hatshepsut wasn’t even Egypt’s first female ruler—nor would she be the last. However, she did manage to rule over Egypt during a time when it was extremely rare for a woman to rule the kingdom, and simply unheard of for a woman to boldly assume the exalted title of “pharaoh.”

A Woman’s Place is in … on the Throne?!

At the time of Hatshepsut’s reign, Egypt was well into the 18th Dynasty of the New Kingdom period, so called after the reunification of the country’s northern and southern lands. This is also often referred to as the “Golden Age” of Egypt, a time when military conquests of a succession of pharaohs had turned it into the most powerful empire the world had ever known.

Politics and power were not the only arenas where Egypt excelled during this period. It could also boast civic and social advancements that were thousands of years ahead of their time, especially with regards to women. Unlike their contemporaries in Mesopotamia and Greece, Egyptian women enjoyed the same legal and social rights that Egyptian men did. They could own property, hold official positions, and even inherit land and money from parents or husbands. They could even divorce their husbands and live alone if they chose to. Still, there were certain things they couldn’t do, such as carry or use weapons and metal tools. And some jobs for women were outright forbidden, such as that of administrator or scribe. After all, Egypt was still a male-dominated society. Just as in most early civilizations, a woman’s place was dominated by a need to produce and nurture healthy children to ensure a family’s future welfare. So the primary role of women in ancient Egypt, as in throughout the ancient world, was as wife, mother, and child-bearer.

But even with many clearly defined roles for men and women, the social climate of ancient Egypt didn’t preclude the rise of powerful women. Long before Hatshepsut’s day, there had been several strong and influential queens who proved that women were just as capable in maintaining stability and order in the empire as men. So Egypt was familiar with having a woman as a ruler—but as a pharaoh? Pharaohs were considered the living version of the god Horus. To have a woman pharaoh would go against all social and religious norms. What Hatshepsut had in mind was unprecedented.

Hatshepsut was the eldest daughter of the popular pharaoh Thuthmose I and his Royal Wife, Queen Ahmos. Her father also had a son, but it was by another queen. This boy, Thutmose II, inherited the throne after Thutmose I died. In order to strengthen the royal lineage, Hatshepsut—about 12 at the time—was then married to this Thutmose II, who was her half-brother. Hatshepsut and Thutmose II had one daughter, and when Hatshepsut was apparently unable to produce a male heir, Thutmose II turned to a minor wife, Isis, who did give him a son: Thutmose III.

 Walk like a man, talk like a man—and plot like a man

As queen and the “Great Royal Wife” of Thutmose II, Hatshepsut reigned over Egypt together with her husband for 14 years, until he was carried off, presumably by illness. She then became regent for her seven-year-old stepson, ruling the kingdom on his behalf. As Thutmose III approached age 21, however, it became clear that Hatshepsut was in no hurry to relinquish the reins of power to the rightful heir. She wanted to rule in her own right. So, in 1473 BC, she took the bold step of proclaiming herself pharaoh. Thutmose III was not pleased—but more on that later.

To strengthen her claim to the title of pharaoh, Hatshepsut began blurring the gender line. She changed her name to its male form, Hatshepsu, and began referring to herself in writing as both “he” and “she.” She took to dressing in men’s clothing, had herself depicted as wearing a king’s royal headdress, and even donned a false beard! This, too, was not exactly conventional behavior for a woman in ancient Egypt.

If women’s rights were equal to those of men in that era of Egyptian history, why then did Hatshepsut go to such trouble to portray herself as a man? Experts disagree, though most today believe that she was establishing herself as the person in charge, not simply the “Great Royal Wife.”

She succeeded quite well in that regard. At the time of her death, she was not only the longest-serving female ruler in Egyptian history—she was also one of the most effective. During her 22-year reign (including her term as regent for Thutmose III), she was a prolific builder of magnificent temples and monuments—including one dedicated to herself. And though hers was generally a peaceful rule, she oversaw several successful military campaigns. Not only did she have her nephew, Thutmose III, lead an army into Nubia to fight several wars, but she personally led armies onto the battlefield. This, in itself, was unprecedented in Egyptian history. If anyone had lingering doubts about Hatshepsut’s ability to carry out the same duties as a male pharaoh, seeing her at the head of an army surely must have cured them.

Another great achievement of this remarkable woman was in opening up trade routes. In the summer of 1493 BC, she sent a fleet of five ships to Punt (thought to be modern day Somalia). Hatshepsut herself tells us about the success of the voyage in inscriptions on the walls of her temple at Deir el-Bahri. "The ships were laden with the costly products of the Land of Punt and with its many valuable woods,” she says, “with very much sweet-smelling resin and frankincense, with quantities of ebony and ivory . . ." Never before in Egyptian history had such an expedition been launched, and traders returned with splendor and riches that helped establish the 18th Dynasty as an era of prosperity.

A Dish Served Cold: Thutmose III's Revenge

As conspicuous as Hatshepsut was in life, in death she was the opposite. She simply disappeared. Her imposing mortuary temple stood empty. And Thutmose III set about erasing any trace that she had ever existed. He had royal documents revised to make it appear that he had inherited the throne directly from his father. He had statues of his stepmother smashed and her cartouches and images erased from all monuments.

His animosity toward his stepmother appears to have been mutual. Hatshepsut had surrounded herself with a network of advisors whose loyalty she trusted. Among them was Senemut, whom some Egyptologists believe was also her lover. Though he had been close to Hatshepsut throughout most of her reign, Senemut appears to have allied himself with Thutmose III—and quickly fell out of Hatshepsut’s favor.

Or did they hate each other? That, too, is a mystery. Ancient Egyptians believed that the obliteration of all traces of a person’s life led to a horrendous and permanent death ever afterward—and the belief was that that was Thutmose III’s intent toward his stepmother.

More recently, though, Egyptologists have begun exploring the possibility that Thutmose III’s true motivation was a desire to reestablish Hatshepsut as queen regent rather than king. After all, he was the head of the army, a position granted to him by Hatshepsut herself—and one from which he could have launched a coup, if he had wished it.

Regardless of his intention, the upshot of his actions was that Hatshepsut languished in obscurity until the 19th century, when scholars began deciphering the hieroglyphics on the walls of her mortuary temple. As her story began to emerge, she was portrayed at first as an evil stepmother, wickedly stealing the throne out from under a helpless lad. Fortunately, today she is recognized as the ruler she was: a strong leader, tough but fair, who led her kingdom into an era of peace, prosperity, and artistic flowering. In fact, with her combination of successful military campaigns, great building achievements, and important expansion of trade, Hatshepsut’s reign is considered one of the most successful in Egyptian history—not for a woman, for anyone.

As the saying goes, you just can’t keep a good woman—or a great one—down.

Chipped Tooth Finally Cracks Mummy Myster

When archaeologist Howard Carter unearthed Hatshepsut’s tomb in (appropriately for this female king) the Valley of the Kings in 1903, he was disappointed to find no mummies inside the grand burial site—though perhaps not surprised, given Thutmose III’s depredations of his stepmother’s memory. As Carter continued his excavations at the site, however, he did unearth another tomb, which came to be known as KV60, almost directly beneath Hatshepsut’s mortuary temple.

In KV60, among the coffins of mummified geese, Carter found the mummies of two female humans. One of them was of a small, dainty woman with long, curly white hair comfortably ensconced in a sarcophagus. The other was of a much larger, more buxom woman, found lying ingloriously on the floor. Because the mummies were assumed not to be ‘Royal,’ they were left where they were until 1989, when the tomb was reopened by Egyptologist Donald Ryan

It was Dr. Zahi Hawass, Egypt’s foremost archaeologist, who decided to investigate the possibility that Hatshepsut herself was one of the mummies. But if so, which one was she? And who was the other one?

Not surprisingly, an assumption was made that, if one of the mummies was indeed Hatshepsut, it must be the smaller, more elegant one—especially since she was arranged in a royal pose, with one arm across her breast. That mummy was removed to a third-floor storeroom of the EgyptianMuseum; the larger mummy was left behind in the tomb.

Fortunately, science came to the rescue with sophisticated detection tools such as CT scans and DNA testing. The identification process began in 2007 with CTy scans of both mummies, for comparison with known relatives of Hatshepsut, as well as artifacts known to belong to the female pharaoh.

The clincher, however, was found in a small wooden box containing Hatshepsut’s liver (removing internal organs was standard procedure for mummification at the time). This box bearing her cartouche, or seal, also contained a single chipped molar that was a perfect match for a gap in the upper jaw of the larger corpse. DNA testing then proved that that mummy was related to Amos Nefreteri, Hatshepsut’s grandmother. The lost king/queen at last was found. The discovery has been touted as the greatest archaeological find in Egypt since the identification of Tutankhamen in 1922.

Egypt’s remarkable royal, Hatshepsut

Recipe: Kushari

by Alex Beall, for Dispatches

Egypt is a vegetarian’s dream, as most dishes are made with vegetables or legumes because of the high price of meat. Considered Egypt’s national dish—if not just its most famous—kushari is a vegetarian meal that could clear out the pantry. Made with rice, spaghetti or noodles, caramelized onions, black lentils, and chickpeas, and topped with a spicy tomato sauce, kushari can be found in restaurants or at street carts.

3 tablespoons olive oil + some for sprinkling
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon paprika
½ teaspoon chili powder
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes or tomato sauce
Dash of chili or hot sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 medium onions, chopped or sliced
3 cups water
½ cup long-grain white rice or Egyptian rice
½ cup pasta (macaroni, elbow, broken spaghetti, or mix)
1 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
½ cup brown lentils, rinsed
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley


  1. Heat one tablespoon of oil in skillet. When hot, add cumin, coriander, paprika, and chili powder. After 30 seconds, add tomatoes or tomato sauce, chili or hot sauce, large pinch of salt, and lemon juice. Simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, and adjust seasoning to taste.
  2. In a separate skillet, heat two tablespoons of oil. Add onions, salt, and pepper. Stir occasionally, and fry until onions are translucent and golden, about 25 minutes.
  3. In a large pot, bring water and a pinch of salt to boil. Add the rice and cook, covered, for 8 minutes. Then add the pasta, cover, and cook for another 8 minutes or until both are tender. Add the chickpeas, drain mixture, and move to a platter.
  4. At the same time as step 3, bring another pot of salted water to boil. Add the lentils and cook until they are tender, about 20 minutes. Drain and add the lentils to the rice mixture on the platter. Sprinkle the mixture with oil, salt, and pepper.
  5. To serve, top the rice, pasta, chickpea, and lentil mixture with the tomato sauce, caramelized onions, and parsley.

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