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Egypt

Overview: From iconic pyramids that rise from ancient sands and bustling medieval bazaars full of color, to the endless desert dotted with oases of palm trees, busy cities and modern coastal holiday resorts offering some of the best diving in the world, Egypt

Egypt is famously the land of the pharaohs. There’s Tutankhamun, the young boy who became a pharaoh of the 18th dynasty, and whose solid gold death mask is one of the most famous ancient artefacts ever found. Or Nefertiti, the wife of Pharaoh Akhenaton, who is believed to have ruled in her own right and whose beauty is the stuff of legend. Both have given unparalleled romance to the country’s history.

Most of the country’s astonishing monuments that can be visited today were built during the time of the pharaohs. The Pyramids of Giza (the sole survivors of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World), the mighty Sphinx with its body of a lion and a human head, the lotus-columned temples of Luxor and Karnak, the nearby Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens, and Hatshepsut’s temple, the Deir el Bahri, have thrilled visitors to Egypt for centuries.

Further south along the Nile, past Aswan, are the temples of Abu Simbel. Built to honor the pharaoh Ramses II and his wife Nefertiti, the temples are adorned with statues some 20m high carved with unbelievable detail into the sheer rock face and gaze out over a huge stretch of water, the Nasser Lake. The temples are an incredible sight.

Observing the call to prayer at sunset and the influx of worshipers and visitors of El-Sayeda Zainab Mosque will give a glimpse of a country full of character, color and fortitude.

At a glance:

  • Population: approximately 97.55 million
  • Capital city: Cairo (population 9.5 million)
  • Area: 1,010,408 square kilometers
  • Currency: Egyptian Pound (EGP)
  • Time zone: UTC + 2 (summer daylight saving not observed)
  • Religion: Islam / Muslim.

Morocco

Overview: Morocco is a heady mix of languages, cultures, religions, ancient traditions and modern sensibilities. With a climate that ranges from dry and oven hot to cool and drizzly, thisEach area of the country has its own distinct character. The rocky spine of the Atlas Mountains divides Morocco in half, separating the endless, rolling dunes of the Western Sahara in the south from the coastal cities of the north. Skirt the eastern foothills of the High Atlas to discover the monumental gorges of Todra and Dades, the palmeries of Tinerhir and the beautiful Berber city of Ouarzazate, thanks to its terracotta kasbahs and outlandish scenic surrounds.

Morocco’s urban population is concentrated in the north and west, and the country’s coastal towns are becoming increasingly cosmopolitan.

Further down the western coast there’s Casablanca, then Essaouira with its stunning historic medina and Agadir. Inland lies cosmopolitan Fez with its high-sided streets and a maze of stunning riads (traditional houses built around a central courtyard). Explore the grandiose sprawl of Marrakech, vibrant and chaotic imperial city with a magnetism that’s drawn visitors for centuries.

The blend of ancient and colonial architecture that characterizes Morocco’s main cities makes them among the most beautiful in the world. Marrakech, Essaouira, Fez and Tetouan are all on UNESCO’s World Heritage list, and archaeological marvels such as the two millennia-old ruins of Volubilis just add to the country’s appeal. When sightseeing begins to pall, retreat to a traditional hammam, sample the scrumptiously spicy street food or pick up anything from precious minerals to Berber carpets at the local souk.

Whether you’re adventuring in the Atlas, camel trekking in the dessert, soaking up the atmosphere in the souks, Morocco is a country that can often feel like a whole new world waiting to be explored.

Just a Glimpse:

  • Population: ~ 33 million
  • Area: 446,500 sq. kms
  • Capital city: Rabat (pop. 1.7 million)
  • Biggest city: Casablanca (pop. 3.2 million)
  • Currency: Moroccan Dirham (MAD)
  • Time zone: UTC + 0 / Summer UTC + 1
  • Religion: Islam.

South Africa

Overview: A land of jagged mountains, rich safari plains and barren deserts; South Africa encompasses all these things. The teeming wildlife is as diverse and spectacular as the scenery,

South Africa’s cities are also enormously varied, with hustling Johannesburg at its heart, and cosmopolitan Cape Town an enclave of European chic at the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. In between you can lose yourself for days on safari in the bush or explore quaint isolated towns breaking up the arid Karoo wilderness. The hot and humid seaside fun of Durban with its even hotter curries is another sharp contrast to the scattering of sedate resorts lining the pretty south coast Garden Route.

Abundant wildlife is South Africa’s major attraction, with the world-famous Kruger National Park delivering uniquely African sights, sounds, smells and memories. At the top end of the scale are luxurious world-class lodges with private butlers and game rangers who practically deliver the animals to your door. Travelers with more normal salaries can stay in the numerous ‘Tented Villages’ with tents permanently pitched on a raised wooden platform near communal facilities.

If the landscape sounds diverse, wait until you meet the people. South Africa boasts 11 official languages, mostly drawn from its indigenous population, while the colonialist legacy stirred Afrikaners, English and Indians into the mix. That blend has created a wonderful array of food, music and culture that offers something for everyone.

In stark contrast, the city centers are glowingly modern with bold new architecture interspersed between colonial buildings of the past. Cape Town has been chosen as the World Design Capital for 2014, heralding a year-long programme of design-focused events, while iconic Table Mountain has been named one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature, despite being extremely old.

Just a Glimpse:

  • Population: ~ 53 million
  • Area: 1,221,040 sq. kms
  • Capital city: Bloemfontein (judicial capital), Cape Town (legislative capital), Pretoria (executive capital)
  • Currency: South African Rand (ZAR)
  • Time zone: UTC+2
  • Religion: 80% Christians, others include Anglican, Dutch Reformed, Methodist, Pentecostal, Roman Catholic and Zion Christian, 3% Islam.