Cairo to Istanbul - Overland Trip
4 weeks: to (IMT-GECI)
IntroWhen you think of \'great journeys\' a few come immediately to mind. The Silk Road, the Trans-Siberian and Kathmandu to London have all impressed themselves on the minds of travellers, however there are few that can offer the wealth of history that can be uncovered on the journey from Cairo to Istanbul. This is a region that has seen Pharoahs, Greeks, Romans, Assyrians, Nabataeans, Phoenicians and Turks, to name but a few, and each sucessive civilisation has left behind an incredible supply of tombs, temples and artefacts.
We start in Egypt, where we explore the ancient pyramids and Sphinx before heading south to Aswan. We visit the awesome temples at Abu Simbel and take a relaxing four-day riverboat cruise to Luxor, a great way to observe everyday life. Our Nile riverboat offers an intimate on-board atmosphere, with air-conditioned cabins, each with their own private shower and toilet. In addition there is a comfortable restaurant, where all meals are served, and a rooftop bar. The spacious top deck is ideal for sunbathing and relaxing, with a large shaded area and refreshing showers.
Crossing the Sinai we arrive in Jordan, where we discover friendly people, excellent food and the fabulous \'lost city\' of Petra, one of finest ancient cities in the world. Up the road from Amman is Damascus, the oldest continually-inhabited city in the world, with its atmospheric old quarter and the stunning Ommayad Mosque. To the east lies the legendary ancient city of Palmyra and to the north the fabulous city of Aleppo, with probably the most interesting bazaar in the Middle East.
We reach southern Turkey and travel north into the remarkable landscapes of Cappadocia where we hike through picturesque valleys, explore several troglodyte villages, visit the massive underground city at Kaymakli and discover amazing churches carved deep into the rock.
The grand finale is Istanbul, perched on the cusp of Europe and Asia Minor, with a rich and complex history, outstanding mosques and minarets that seem to soar into the heavens. It\'s a fitting end to an incredible journey!
IncludedAn experienced English-speaking local leader (Egypt and Turkey) and leader/guides (Jordan and Syria), all transportation, accommodation, meals and sightseeing as indicated.
ItinerariesDay 1 - Cairo
Your trip starts today in Cairo. No activities are planned so you may arrive at any time. Rooms are generally available after 1.00 pm. If you have not pre-booked an arrival transfer you will find taxis available on arrival at Cairo Airport. Make sure you agree the price before you set off into town! Your tour leader may make contact tonight, otherwise you will see him tomorrow morning at the tour briefing, which usually takes place after breakfast.Day 2 - Cairo-Aswan
Cairo is the ‘Mother’ of all cities, a massive, sprawling metropolis of some 16 million people. Our first stop today is the celebrated Egyptian Museum, where our local guide explains the history and mysteries of Ancient Egypt. We see the golden mask of King Tutankhamun, and numerous other treasures and later we drive out to the edge of the desert to explore the pyramids and the nearby Sphinx. We also visit the beautiful Valley Temple of King Chephren, a superb example of Old Kingdom engineering. In the evening we are transferred to the station for the night train to Aswan. Our air-conditioned carriage has large, comfortable seats (similar to business class seats on a plane) that recline back at about 45 degrees and a simple dinner and breakfast are served on board. There is a toilet at the end of the carriage.Day 3 - Aswan
On arrival in Aswan we head to our hotel where we can relax for a while before heading out to explore the Nubian bazaar - a long and colourful street that snakes through the centre of town. Another option is a visit to the stunning Temple of Isis at Philae Island. After a break for lunch we might decide to head out on a felucca sailboat and then take a camel ride towards the Monastery of St. Simeon - a great way to spend the afternoon!Day 4 - Abu Simbel-Nile Cruise
Rising early we travel by road to Abu Simbel, one of the most impressive temples ever built and one of the highlights of our visit to Egypt. We follow the shores of Lake Nasser and generally arrive at the temple just after sunrise, a perfect time for photographs. We enjoy a tour of the site and later return to Aswan, arriving around midday, where we board our Nile Cruise boat. After lunch the rest of the day is free to sleep or relax on the sundeck.Day 5-6 - Nile Cruise
Cruising along the Nile is a magical experience, sitting on the sundeck, watching timeless scenes as we glide over the dark waters. We stop at Komombo to visit the Temple of Sobek, a Greco-Roman temple that overlooks the river, and at Edfu we explore the well-preserved Temple of Horus, considered one of the finest examples of temple construction. All meals are served in the comfortable dining room, and on one evening we enjoy an impromptu fancy-dress party, which is always great fun. On arrival in Luxor we take horse-drawn carriages to the massive complex at Karnak, built over a period of some 2000 years, and one of the greatest temples ever constructed.Day 7 - Luxor
We rise early to cross the Nile, where our donkeys are waiting to take us into the Valley of the Kings. After matching up the donkeys to our riders we head off, just as the sun begins to rise in the eastern skies. It’s a great experience and one of the highlights of our visit to Egypt. We return to the east bank where the afternoon is free to explore the bazaar. In the evening we take the overnight recliner train back to Cairo, with dinner served on board.Day 8 - Cairo
Arriving back in Cairo we are transferred to our hotel and the rest of the day is free to explore. In the older part of the city there is a lot to see, including some beautiful old mosques and, of course, the fantastic Khan El Khalili bazaar, an amazing mix of shops and stalls that have traded goods and gossip since the Middle Ages. There's time for everything and our tour leader can help organise taxis: but be prepared to bargain!Day 9 - Cairo-Mt. Sinai
The Sinai is an untamed wilderness of immense beauty, with jagged pink granite mountains punching up into clear blue skies. We drive east from Cairo, and spend the night in a simple multi-bed hostel near St. Catherine’s Monastery, close to Mt. Sinai. There’s a large, inviting pool to relax in after the long drive from Cairo.Day 10 - Mt Sinai-Aqaba
Those wishing to ascend Mt. Sinai (2285 m) to watch the sun rise over the peninsula will be woken up between 2.00am and 3.00am (depending on the season). It is a fairly steep climb (with stairs all the way) and most people take about an two and a half to three hours to reach the summit. We take it easy, with plenty of rest stops, and our aim is to reach the top in time to watch the sun rise over the southern end of the peninsula - a magical experience! We then continue to Nuweiba, where we farewell our Egyptian leader before boarding the hydrofoil to Aqaba. On arrival in Aqaba we meet our Jordanian guide/leader and drive to our hotel, located just near the beachfront. Note that, during the winter months (Oct-Mar) it be very cold on Mt Sinai, so you should bring thermals and a fleece.Day 11 - Aqaba-Wadi Rum-Petra
For many people, Wadi Rum represents everything that a desert should be. It’s a magical place where weathered sandstone mountains rise out of pink-coloured sands. T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) spent a fair bit of time here, and the region is also home to the famous Desert Police, who can sometimes be seen riding camels and wearing their long-flowing robes and headdresses. We enjoy a fantastic jeep tour into the desert and later we continue our journey to Petra.Day 12 - Petra
We spend much of the day exploring the many wonders of this ancient city, founded more than 2000 years ago as a temporary refuge for nomadic Arabs and Bedouin. We enter through the narrow ‘siq’ and visit the numerous tombs, temples and public buildings - as well as the impressive rock-hewn amphitheatre. It's a really interesting day, but a tiring one, and at the conclusion we can enjoy an optional Turkish Bath at our hotel - a great way to end the day.Day 13 - Petra-The Kings Highway-Amman
We follow the ancient Kings Highway, a road that dates back to the Old Testament, and beyond. We reach Dana, where we have time to stroll though the ancient village. Recent finds have revealed evidence of Paleolithic, Egyptian, Edomite, Assyrian, Nabataean and Roman civilisations. While here we can visit the craft centre to purchase attractive locally-made silver jewellery and charms. Continuing our journey, we reach the splendid crusader castle at Shobak, originally built to protect the eastern flank of the Latin Kingdom and its trade routes to the sea before falling to Saladin in 1189. Further on, at Madaba, we visit the Greek Orthodox church of St. George, which houses a 6th century mosaic map depicting the old city of Jersusalem. We arrive in the lively city of Amman, where we check in to our hotel before heading out 'on the town'.Day 14 - Jerash
The Roman city of Jerash is in a fine state of preservation. Founded in the time of Alexander the Great, it had become a centre of considerable importance by the 3rd century AD. Today it is one of the grandest ancient cities in the world, with an imposing collection of archways, theatres, baths and colonnaded streets. We enjoy a morning tour and the afternoon is free for an optional excursion to the Dead Sea, or to explore Amman further.Day 15 - Amman-Damascus
From Amman we catch the local bus to Damascus. Along the way we pass through the border, a relatively straightforward exercise, and before long the anticipation builds as we are enter the outskirts of Damascus. On arrival we are met and taken to our hotel. In the evening, around 6.30pm, we get together with our Syrian guide for a briefing.Day 16 - Damascus
We begin with a tour of the National Museum, where our leader/guide explains the various periods of Syrian history. There are numerous artefacts from Palmyra as well as a superb collection of clay tablets, all inscribed with cuneiform letters – one of the earliest forms of the alphabet. We then make our way into the old city, where we visit the wonderful and impressive Ommayad Mosque. Be sure to be properly clothed today (shorts are not allowed and women are expected to cover all limbs. If you don’t pass the test you will be directed to the ‘Putting On Special Clothes’ room where you will be lent a large sack-like garment to put over your clothes). The Omayyad Mosque is an absolute gem and after time to absorb it we head into the numerous streets, alleyways and bazaars that make up the heart of the old city.Day 17 - Damascus-Palmyra
This morning we drive to the celebrated ancient city of Palmyra, arriving around lunchtime. Palmyra’s ‘golden age’ was during the first two centuries A.D, first as a Greek city and then as part of the Roman Empire. It was a major link in the ancient 'Spice Route' to India and pack-camels once arrived here laden with spices and perfumes. In the afternoon we visit the Temple of Bel, Palmyra’s principal deity, identified with Roman Jupiter and Greek Zeus. We walk along parts of the ceremonial colonnade (once the main street) and explore the various other places of interest, including the baths of Diocletian and the remains of the agora, or marketplace. We spend the night in the little village of Tadmor, just outside the old city.Day 18 - Palmyra-Krak Des Chevaliers
Leaving Palmyra we make our way to Krak Des Chevaliers, described by Lawrence of Arabia as ‘the finest castle in the world’. After time for lunch we explore this magnificent castle, which rises from the desert floor like a fairytale fortress and is one of Syria’s premier attractions. It dates back to 1031, but it was the 12th century Crusaders who expanded and extensively remodelled it. In the late afternoon we head to our nearby hotel for the night.Day 19-20 - Aleppo
From Krak we drive along the valley to Aleppo. Along the way, we stop at the pretty town of Hama. On the banks of the Orontes River, the tree-lined streets, peaceful gardens and ancient water wheels make this a very pleasant place to visit. In Aleppo, we stay in a beautiful 17th century merchant house, now converted into a charming, atmospheric hotel just a few minutes from the bazaar. Most of our time here is spent exploring the historic limestone-vaulted souk, where the thick pall of ground spices hangs in the gloomy submarine light and sheep and goats are put out to graze on the roof. It is a fascinating area and one of the highlights of our trip, with its splendid khans (merchant houses) and caravanserais. The Great Mosque is also well worth a visit, and you can take an optional morning excursion to the dramatic Monastery of St. Simeon. One evening we can visit the historic bathhouse of Hamam el Nasri, which has been in operation for over 600 years, and there are several good restaurants to check out.Day 21 - Aleppo-Gaziantep
After a short bus trip, your Turkey leader meets us at the border. After passing through Immigration and Customs we continue to Gaziantep and we hope to be in town a little after midday. After checking in we set off to a nearby park for a delicious BBQ lunch and later there's time to explore the local markets before heading back to our hotel.Day 22 - Gaziantep-Goreme
We are taken to the bus station where we catch the bus to Göreme. It’s a longish day and we expect to reach our hotel by around 6.00 pm, where the evening is at leisure. Cappadocia is an extraordinary region that has bewitched travellers for centuries. It was formed thousands of years ago as volcanic ash settled, hardened into soft rock and then eroded, forming strange and fantastic spires, domes and gorges.Day 23 - Cappadocia
We drive to the top of the trail at the beginning of the Akvadi (White Valley) and walk amongst fruit gardens and vineyards to arrive in Uçhisar around noon. We visit the village and high viewpoint known as The Fortress. In the afternoon we walk in Pigeon Valley before heading back to Goreme. We also have the chance to discover the local handicrafts of carpet making and pottery. Tonight is free to experience Goreme’s nightlife or there is also an option of attending an original Whirling Dervish 'Sema' performance. Back to the pension for the night.Day 24 - Cappadocia
For early birds, there is the option this morning to experience the best views of the sunrise in Cappadocia – from a hot air balloon! Alternatively, after a leisurely breakfast, we drive to the start of Pasabaglari (Priest Valley) and follow a trail to the picturesque village of Çavusin. We walk through Kizilçukur (Red Valley) - the most beautiful valley in Cappadocia. Tonight is one of the highlights of our adventure - we experience traditional Turkish meal as guests of a family in their local village house to get a taste of the legendary turkish hospitality. We then return to our pension for the night.Day 25 - Ankara - overnight train
We visit Derinkuyu – an incredible underground city that descends eight floors below the surface. We depart by public bus and head for Ankara through typical Anatolian landscape via the salt lake (Tuz Golu) - one of the richest salt beds in the world. We catch an overnight train to Istanbul.Day 26 - Istanbul
After an early morning arrival to Istanbul, we transfer to our hotel.
Today our guide shows us the treasures of the Old Town including the Topkapi Palace; the iconic Blue Mosque, the Hippodrome. And if you have time you may also like to visit the exotic Spice Market and the famous Grand Bazaar. Istanbul is the only city in the world to be situated on two continents and offers a plethora of great eating spots and lively night venues. Our tour leader knows all the best places, so tonight is sure to be a fitting finale to our amazing trip!
Our tour ends after breakfast in Istanbul. Additional accommodation is available in Istanbul should you wish to further explore this fascinating city.