Why Rural Ourika Valley Morocco is a Great Escape from Urban Marrakesh

Why Rural Ourika Valley Morocco is a Great Escape from Urban Marrakesh

In Marrakech, you can see the Atlas Mountains hovering in the distance.  I have always heard how beautiful the Ourika Valley Atlas Mountains were and my interest was piqued.  So we tore the kids away from the hotel pool and hired a guide to drive us for an Ourika Valley tour.  He took us to the closest villages in Ourika – Marrakech was just an easy drive away of about 50 kilometres (approximately 31 miles). Although the Ourika Valley day trip was easy to arrange, we felt a world away from the cosmopolitan buzz of Marrakech. Moreover, even though the Ourika Marrakech route is so easy, we also felt that the area was a lot less touristy than the city of Marrakech.

An Ourika Valley Daytrip

Life in these villages in Ourika Valley Morocco appeared pretty traditional and the outside world seemed far away.  On our Ourika Valley tour we saw people carrying their wares on donkeys, little children just hanging around and houses clinging to the cliffs onto which they are built.  With only a 4 day weekend in the country, we are glad we saw a bit more of Morocco than just the city of Marrakesh.

These little villages date from the 16th and 17th centuries. They are populated by Berbers who have lived in North Africa for thousands of years. During the time of Arab rule in the Middle Ages, the Berbers congregated in the Atlas Mountains. Most Berbers practice Islam now but they also have their own traditional culture, food and music.

A colorful beast of burden by the Ourika River Atlas Mountains

A colorful beast of burden by the Ourika River Atlas Mountains

On the less quaint side, you did get the hard sell from trinket sellers and children begging for money. My kids did ask why so many children weren’t in school as well.

Of course, we had to take the obligatory camel ride.

This little camel refused to be separated from his mother.

This little camel refused to be separated from his mother.

Ourika is great for hiking. Definitely avoid the summer months though because it will be uncomfortably hot. In the early Spring though you will see the spectacular sight of orchards and wildflowers blooming.

The Ourika Valley waterfalls are located near the Berber village of Setti Fatma but you will see smaller waterfalls elsewhere. We loved this Ourika Valley waterfall which our guide described as a Berber freezer.

The cooling waters chill this Coca Cola stand set in an Ourika Valley waterfall.

The cooling waters chill this Coca Cola stand set in an Ourika Valley waterfall.

There are traditional markets and bazaars in the Ourika Valley but we did not visit on a day when they were being held. You know how much I love markets, bazaars and souks so this was a real disappointment.

We did, however, get to visit one of the women-run Argan oil cooperatives that are located in the Ourika Valley. They don’t cultivate the Argan nut here but they do process it for making into oil.

That cobalt blue on the building of an Argan oil cooperative made famous by Yves St Laurent’s Garden Majorelle.

That cobalt blue on the building of an Argan oil cooperative made famous by Yves St Laurent’s Garden Majorelle.

A House In Ourika Valley Marrakech

We were invited into a Berber home in the Ourika Valley for tea.  I expect this home makes a pretty good living out of inviting tourists into their house because it was a seamless part of our Ourika Valley day trip.

This house in the Ourika Valley is built into the hillside and there are lots of little internal stairs. it was built on 3/4 levels and also a terrace from which there were amazing views of the surrounding countryside of the Ourika Valley.

The view of Ourika Valley from the roof top terrace of a Berber home

The view of Ourika Valley from the roof top terrace of a Berber home

I liked the colourful baskets which hung on the walls. Old tagines stacked in the corner give evidence of feasts past.

Inside a Berber home in the Ourika Valley Morocco

Inside a Berber home in the Ourika Valley Morocco

This one-person hamam (steam bath) would be useful for those cold nights.  You lit the fire outside and then took a bucket of water into the little hut and waited for the steam to build.  Very efficient.

A sauna at a Berber home in the Ourika Valley

A sauna at a Berber home in the Ourika Valley

Our snack was made in the home’s kitchen. It was bread with delicious butter and honey on the side for spreads.

Tea, bread and honey was served for our snack on our Ourika Valley tour

Tea, bread and honey was served for our snack on our Ourika Valley tour

The butter was made in the home from milk made by the family’s cow who also had his little room right after the house entrance but before you entered the family living area.

A cow made his home with the family at the house we visited in the Ourika Valley Atlas Mountains

A cow made his home with the family at the house we visited in the Ourika Valley Atlas Mountains

Piles of wood are stocked up for the wood-burning fires.  The walls hold the bellows to keep the fires burning.  Both the heating and the cooking used wood-burning stoves.

A charming scene in a Berber kitchen in the Ourika Valley

A charming scene in a Berber kitchen in the Ourika Valley

The Rope Bridges of Ourika Valley

We were fascinated by these rickety rope bridges which crossed over the river below – a very Indiana Jones sort of experience.

Although this particular bridge had a gate (positively posh!), many of the bridges were just boards haphazardly strung together.

A gate keeps this rickety bridge from being used by interlopers.

A gate keeps this rickety bridge from being used by interlopers.

In this case, the bridge was two logs covered in mud.  Handrails are for wimps!  When we went the Ourika River was quite low but this river can flow quite high and fast. For example, there are river rafting trips on the Ourika River.

The Ourika River in the High Atlas Mountains near Marrakech

The Ourika River in the High Atlas Mountains near Marrakech

Needless to say the children loved walked across the bridges. I was completely freaked out and made their father go with them! I could only stand by and pray that the boards were safe enough and ignore the rocks and rushing water right below their feet.

Clambering around a rope bridge in the Ourika Valley Morocco

Clambering around a rope bridge in the Ourika Valley Morocco

The bridges seemed to lead to private homes as well as restaurants and other establishments. I thought the rickety rope bridges were a fascinating glimpse into rural Morocco – a world away from the health and safety concerns of Europe and the USA.

I’m glad we got to see this different, quieter side of Morocco. It felt a world away from the hustle and bustle of the streets and souks of Marrakech. Ironically, we came back from our long weekend and had to deal with a broken down car. Usually we take a taxi to/from Heathrow but because it was only a long weekend, we left our car in the airport parking lot – with a light on which drained the battery.  Oops.

I was even more glad though of our respite from urban life in the Ourika Valley. City breaks are a lot of fun but we find for a real mental break we need to get out into nature for a bit.

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Why you should take time to visit Ourika Valley Atlas Mountains Morocco

Why you should take time to visit Ourika Valley Atlas Mountains Morocco

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Why You Would Love Small Ship River Cruising on the Nile

Why You Would Love Small Ship River Cruising on the Nile

Most people when they think of a Nile cruise immediately also think of Agatha Christie’s famous work, [easyazon_link identifier=”0062073559″ locale=”US” tag=”jg20-20″]Death on the Nile[/easyazon_link]. I can assure you that while my experience small ship river cruising on the Nile was exciting, it didn’t venture into murder and mayhem. My cruise on board the luxury small cruiser, the Oberoi Philae, was definitely on of the highlights of my time in Egypt.

Why You Would Love Small Ship River Cruising on the Nile

A Nile Cruise is a luxurious and relaxing way to sightsee in Egypt.

Confession:  I’ve never been on a cruise before experiencing small ship river cruising on the Nile. The thought of being on a floating city with thousands of other people eating too much and being entertained by shows just does not appeal.  I also get sea sick very easily. Short of having a huge upper cabin with a terrace for fresh air, I would likely spend most of my time just feeling queasy.

Small Ship River Cruising on the Nile

On the other hand, I loved my luxury river cruise on the Oberoi Philae.  Let me tell you why.

A Nile River Cruise is the most scenic way to travel between Luxor and Aswan.

For thousands of years, along the Nile River boats have crossed between the banks and people have lived a simple agricultural life (albeit nowadays with access to WiFi, trains, etc.)  Egypt, in the last 2500 years, has been invaded 27 times. Through it all, the Nile River and the life it gives has been the one constant in people’s lives.

Why You Would Love Small Ship River Cruising on the Nile

One of the many boats that criss-cross between the banks of the Nile.

Why You Would Love Small Ship River Cruising on the Nile

The fertile Nile Valley is perfect for agriculture.

A Nile River cruise is the most efficient use of time.

On the Oberoi Philae, you sail mostly in the evenings and arrive at your sightseeing destination in the morning, rested and refreshed. Even when you are travelling during a portion of the day, you see daily life unfold in front of you.  So you are sightseeing without having to lift a finger.

Why You Would Love Small Ship River Cruising on the Nile

Sunrise over the Nile is a magnificent site.

Why You Would Love Small Ship River Cruising on the Nile

The monuments are amazing to behold in person.

There is opportunity for luxury and relaxation on board the ship.

My room was enormous thanks to a recent refurbishment of the Oberoi Philae. Originally set up to have 50 cabins, after the renovation there are only 22 cabins and 4 suites on board the Philae.  The rooms spacious enough to hide out in all day if you wish to be anti-social.  You can check out the interiors of the Oberoi Philae and its sister ship the Oberoi Zahra in this article.

Why You Would Love Small Ship River Cruising on the Nile

The swimming pool is temperature controlled as well.

The swimming pool on the top deck is a perfect place to relax and soak in the scenery and sun. All the common areas are spacious and provide plenty of opportunities for you to mix with other passengers to the extent you want.

All the tours are arranged for you.

The Oberoi staff arrange for all the sightseeing trips to and from the boat. It’s all seamlessly handled. Our Egyptologist, Tarek, was very knowledgeable and happy to answer questions.

Why You Would Love Small Ship River Cruising on the Nile

Tarek leading us on a tour of the monuments.

The Oberoi ships have private docking arrangements along the Nile. This ease of access makes this an ideal arrangement for people with mobility issues. On board the Oberoi ships, there is an elevator which can take you to all the levels you need.

It feels the same as staying at one of the Oberoi’s 5 star hotels.

The food and service are just as excellent as you would expect from the Oberoi hotels. The Oberoi Philae had a rooftop dining area near the pool excellent for lunches, an interior dining area for breakfast and dinner and a bar/lounge area for pre and post dinner relaxation.

Why You Would Love Small Ship River Cruising on the Nile

The outdoor dining area is on the top deck.

In addition to the pool, the Oberoi Philae has its own gym as well as a spa with trained aestheticians. After a day of walking around hot and dusty Ancient Egyptian monuments, I was very glad for the massage I had.

Why You Would Love Small Ship River Cruising on the Nile

A gym with a view on board the Oberoi small ship cruiser

I thought the food was excellent. The cuisine was a combination of international flavours. We had European dishes, Middle Eastern dishes and (thanks to the Oberoi’s Indian heritage) Indian dishes.

You can choose different lengths of cruising.

I know what you are thinking – couldn’t I just do the day tour on the Nile from Cairo? No, it’s not the same. We passed some of the day trippers and those boats did not look comfortable. With uncomfortable barely-shaded seats with lots of people packed on board like sardines, your experience will be very different from mine.

Why You Would Love Small Ship River Cruising on the Nile

A day trip small ship cruiser on the Nile. There’s no comparison with an Oberoi Nile cruise.

You can check out the itineraries for the Philae on the Oberoi website. Even the shorter 4 day Nile cruise between Luxor and Aswan that I took covers all of the major sights. For example, we visited the Karnak and Luxor temples, the Valley of the Kings, the temple of Horace at Edfu, the house of Howard Carter and the Philae Temple.

Why You Would Love Small Ship River Cruising on the Nile

The Oberoi Philae is a large ship for a limited number of people.

The Philae’s sister ship, the Oberoi Zahra has a slightly different itinerary between Luxor and Aswan which accommodates either a 8 days/7  nights tour or a 6 days/5 nights tour.

With all these choices, you should be able to find a Nile cruise that slots easily into your Egypt tour.

Why You Would Love Small Ship River Cruising on the Nile

Why You Would Love Small Ship River Cruising on the Nile

Know Before You Go

I’m still not a believer in taking one of those large ocean liners. The Egypt cruise though? I would definitely do that again.

I travelled to Egypt as a guest of Cyplon Holidays. Four or six day cruises of the Nile River on the Oberoi Philae include visits to the temples with an Egyptologist and full board. You can also take a longer cruise on the Oberoi Zahra with the exact same amenities. Flights to Luxor and returning from Aswan can be booked via EgyptAir. For more information on Egypt, visit the Egyptian Tourism Authority’s website.

This article contains affiliate links for which more information can be found on the Disclosure Policy.

How Safe is It to Visit Egypt?  A Personal Perspective

How Safe is It to Visit Egypt? A Personal Perspective

My story about the Nile Cruise I took in Egypt raised quite a few comments on the safety of visiting Egypt at this time.  In fact, the most common question was ‘How safe is it to visit Egypt these days?”  I’ve taken some time to think about the answer and here are my thoughts on safety in Egypt (and generally) in the current geopolitical climate.

Safety in Egypt is a primary concern for many people. I address some of these concerns.

My Experiences with Egyptian Safety

I can only tell you that I felt safe on my Cyplon Holidays organised week that I spent in Egypt.  This week comprised of flights on Egypt Air, a Nile Valley cruise on the Oberoi Philae, tours of Cairo that included visits to the Giza Pyramids and the Egyptian Museum and stay at the Cairo Marriott.

how safe is egypt

The Nile Cruiser featured in Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile seen sailing into the sunset (photo credit: Compass Chasers)

All the hotels, monuments and sights we went to had metal detectors.  The army presented a visible armed security presence as well.  Behind the scenes at Luxor, we saw the extensive CCTV coverage of the city and surrounding area at their security centre.  Although dressed as civilians, you could tell all the staff had military training.  Normal people don’t stand to attention in the same way while having a simple conversation.  On our Cairo tours, I noticed a man sitting near the front. I assumed he was a spare driver or something.  It was only when his jacket fell away that I noticed he was packing a gun.

safety in Egypt

The view from the Mariott Cairo of the Nile River

What about safety in Egypt for people travelling with families?

I took my family on a trip to Egypt in April of 2015 as well.  We stayed at a Sharm el Sheikh resort and did the usual resort activities – hanging out at the beach, boat trips, snorkelling etc.  The best part of the trip was our dolphin encounter in the Gulf of Aqaba about which my children still tell their friends.  We flew an internal Egyptair flight to Cairo in order to visit the Egyptian Museum and the Pyramids.

how safe is egypt

I felt safe in the spring of 2015, too, but, of course, you had the Russian plane from Sharm that blew up a few mere months later over the Sinai.  Did my family and I miss death by the mere skin of our teeth?  No, I don’t believe so.  There were thousands of flights that took off from Sharm last year and the percentage chance of our family being on an ill-fated flight was extremely low.

Safety Concerns about Egypt on my 2016 trip

I went to Egypt again in 2016 despite the downing of the Russian plane in 2015.  I felt a certain comfort knowing that safety would be of paramount importance to the Oberoi group as well as the Marriott. They have a reputation to maintain and world-wide standards for safety.  A company with an international reputation for ultra-luxe holidays doesn’t bounce back easily from an ‘unfortunate’ incident at any of their properties.

Of course, in addition, to the terrorists you have the old-school hijackers like the Egyptian man who recently diverted an internal Egyptian flight to Cyprus to see his ex-wife.

As the official at Egypt’s Office of Foreign Affairs said:

He’s not a terrorist, he’s an idiot. Terrorists are crazy but they aren’t stupid. This guy is,”

The  hijacker didn’t really have an explosive belt as he claimed or motives that had nothing to do with religious fundamentalism.  These facts though have nothing to do with the fact that the plane was hijacked. It must have been a truly scary experience for the approximately 60 people on board (except possibly for the one Scottish guy who took a selfie with the hijacker).  I do believe though that Egypt Air’s safety measures were instrumental in making sure that the hijacker didn’t really have an explosive belt.  On the other hand, did you want to call the guy’s bluff when there were 60 passengers at his mercy?

Travel Safety Generally

I think safety while travelling has changed irrevocably since the 9/11 attacks.  That terrible day was the first day of work for me after my honeymoon.  We had gotten married 2 weeks earlier outside of Paris.  Many of our friends and family had travelled from the USA and the UK to France to help us celebrate. Some of the American guests had scheduled holidays post-wedding for themselves in Europe and had only just returned to the USA.

Looking back, I’ve got a fairly unbelievable anecdote about our wedding.  My brother, an impoverished student at business school, had bought us a very generous wedding gift. Knowing I liked a particular cutlery set from Williams-Sonoma (an upscale kitchen store in the USA), he brought them to the wedding as a gift.  He was worried they would get stolen from the checked-in luggage. I’m pretty sure they were the most expensive thing he’d bought in his life up to that point.

a cutlery set at a wedding

A full formal place setting (at least in the USA) involves 2 knives, 2 forks and a spoon.

So, my brother brought a cutlery set to me as carry-on in his backpack – a five-piece dinner set for 12 people.  So that would be 60 salad forks, 60 dinner forks, 120 dinner knives and 60 soup spoons (plus the accompany hostess set of servers, cake slicer etc.).  Yes, all that passed through the metal detector scan on his Virgin Atlantic flight without a comment.

Gone are those days, and probably for the best.

I will not deny that there is an element of Russian roulette every time that you travel nowadays.  Will it stop me from travelling?  No.  Will I take unnecessary risks? No. I’m neither stupid nor have a death wish.

safety in Egypt

Ordinary people carry on with their lives despite the raging geopolitical storm in the area.

On the other hand, I find it less than useful when the American state department issues a blanket travel alert for Europe which lasts for four months.  As much as the British hate to admit they are part of Europe, you can’t change geography.  At least, not until the next Ice Age.

I live in London which is probably a high alert city considering the world views Britain as America’s Best Little Buddy.  In fact, I live about 1-2 miles away from a whole lot of potential targets – the American School in London, the London Central Mosque, the American Ambassador’s residence, the home of the Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom etc.  Moving isn’t an option for us because our lives are established here in our neck of the woods in London.

How Safe is it to Visit Egypt?

So back to the question:  how safe is it to visit Egypt?

Risk assessment is an individual concept measured by the person involved and the situation at hand at the time the decision is made.  My concept of risk is different from that of my brother who lives in the tranquility of the Pennsylvania suburbs.

how safe is egypt to visit? a personal perspective

You should carry on with your lives.  The times they are a changing and there’s nothing we can do about it.  Hiding from the world certainly isn’t the answer for me. Other family travellers have agreed with me that you can have safe trip to Egypt.

I found a certain serenity in Egypt, and specifically the Nile River.  Did you know that in the last 2500 years, Egypt has been invaded 27 times?  Over the years, the country has seen the likes of Alexander the Great, the Romans, the Ottomans and the French.  Life along the river though has carried on much the same as it has for hundreds of years.  It impressed me so much I wrote a Steller story on it.

safety in Egypt

A reflection perfectly formed on the stillness of the Nile River.

Egypt and the Nile will survive this round of extremism on their shores.  They aren’t going anywhere – are you?

Although I went to Egypt in 2016 as a guest of Cyplon Holidays, this has not influenced my thoughts and opinions in this post.

cyclone itinerary

Visiting The Temple of Horus in Edfu on an Egyptian Ferrari

Visiting The Temple of Horus in Edfu on an Egyptian Ferrari

As the ship glided into the docking area, the warmth of the early morning sun promised another a beautiful day. After a hearty breakfast on board the Oberoi Philae Nile cruiser, we were setting out on a visit to the Temple of Horus in Edfu nearby.  Edfu is a small city of about 60,000 people located near Aswan on the Nile river valley.  A morning tour to the Temple of Horus meant we could return to the shelter of the ship before the sunshine turned fierce in the afternoon.

Temple of Horus at Edfu

From the top deck, I could see a couple of men were sitting in a cafe by the side of the road near a cluster of caleches in which the drivers were busy playing on their mobile phones.  As the ship pulled up beside the Nile bank, the caleche drivers sprang to life gathering in a (somewhat) orderly queue by the gate of the dock.  The process was hardly soundless because nothing in Egypt is done quietly.  The drivers were yelling, the passing cars were honking and even the bystanders had something to say.  It looked like a taxi rank. And, indeed it was.

 

Temple of Horus at Edfu

The Egyptian Ferrari Experience

I was delighted to find that we would be taking one of the caleches to visit the temple of Horus at Edfu.  Nicknamed Egyptian Ferraris, caleches are limited to two passengers. My friend Emily and I found ourselves with one of the younger drivers, Abdullah, and his horse, Ceasar. Abdullah was chatty and let us take turns sitting beside him up on the driver’s perch.

Temple of Horus at Edfu

Abdullah with his chariot of fire.

A frustrated F-1 driver, Abdullah negotiated the traffic clogged streets of Edfu expertly and quickly. Holding on tightly, we found the experience exhilarating. Nothing like the colourful chaos of Egyptian street life and traffic to clear away any morning sleepiness the double expresso had missed.

Temple of Horus at Edfu

I’d hold on tight if there was anything to hold onto.

Temple of Horus at Edfu

These guys are transporting cows in the back of a truck.

Temple of Horus at Edfu

This horse cart is going down the wrong way on this street. NB this was a two way street but presumably the driver wanted to get to somewhere on this side of the street.

For a gallery of more street photography from Edfu, check out my Steller story.

The Temple of Horus in Edfu

Located only a few kilometres away from the Nile, the Temple of Horace in Edfu is not only the third biggest in Egypt but also the best preserved.  The sands of time (literally) covered large parts of the temple so that only a small section at the top was left visible above ground.  People used the above ground parts for shelter which is why the roof is covered in the soot of thousands of years of open fires.

Temple of Horus at Edfu

You could see how high the rest of the city is in this photo. They dug thousands of years of sand away to get to the floor of the temple.

Temple of Horus at Edfu

The carvings are well preserved because they were sheltered underground.

Temple of Horus at Edfu

An outer courtyard where the Temple priests could perform ceremonies.

Temple of Horus at Edfu

The ceiling and the top of the pillars are caked with soot and grime.

Temple of Horus at Edfu

The holy relics were placed in this container when they were moved for ceremonies.

Temple of Horus at Edfu

The temple is linear and rises at it goes towards the holy of holies in the back. The commoners in the front can’t see into the holy of holies section but the High Priest and the pharaoh can see down.

A Tourism Industry in Flux

Tourism in Egypt is down 75% from the previous year. Having been to Egypt last April, I noticed for myself the difference. Everyone relying on the tourist industry in Egypt is suffering from the vendors selling tourist trinkets to the hotels and restaurants.  For locals in small towns such as Edfu, any visitor is an opportunity to make a sale.  They don’t know when the next set of tourists will show up.

In the outskirts of the temple, we soon found ourselves surrounded by hawkers who were mostly called Mohammed. Our group negotiated our way through Mohammeds 1 through 4 to find the temple itself near empty.

As we were entering a gaggle of school kids on a field trip were leaving.  Some of them shouted cheery hellos and then scampered away giggling.  Others were too busy comparing their lunch boxes and trading their contents.  The youngest of the children were dressed as princes with paper crowns and kohl-rimmed eyes.  They asked if they could take photos with us.  I can’t imagine why I would possibly be interesting for a photo but was happy to oblige.

 

Temple of Horus at Edfu

Kids on a school trip to the Temple of Horus at Edfu

After the school children left, we had the gigantic Temple of Horus complex to ourselves.  The decline in tourism has been a disaster for the economy, but it is a boon for tourists.  Obviously, for the budget-conscious there are great deals to be had. Even better, in my opinion, though is a chance to enjoy Egypt’s treasures in tranquility.

Temple of Horus at Edfu

A temple guard posing in front of the pillars. The bottom of the pillars are decorated with a symbolic carving of papyrus reeds.

It was an amazing experience to enjoy the grandiose carvings unmarred by the voices of a busloads tourists and their selfie sticks.  I imagined the solitude was similar to how the early visitors would have found the monuments prior to the onset of mass tourism.  You can stand around and examine details without someone in your way.

I know one of the major concerns with Egypt is safety. The Egyptian government seems to be on high alert in terms of security.  We saw security teams everywhere.  In addition, we were told about the out of sight security measures in place.  For example, the city of Luxor has a security command centre with dozens of camera screens capturing life on the streets and the monuments.

Egypt has been a popular destination for visitors in the past and, no doubt, will be so again.  I was delighted to have this window of opportunity to experience Egypt without hordes of tourists.

I travelled to Egypt as a guest of Cyplon Holidays. Four day cruises of the Nile River on the Oberoi Philae include visits to the temples with an Egyptologist and full board.  Flights to Luxor and returning from Aswan can be booked via EgyptAir.  For more information on Egypt, visit the Egyptian Tourism Authority’s website.

cyclone itinerary for 7 night nile cruise

This post is linked up with City Tripping, Pierced Wonderings, Travel Photo Thursday, The Weekly Postcard, Weekend Wanderlust and Weekend Travel Inspiration.

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5 Reasons For A Family Vacation to Zanzibar

5 Reasons For A Family Vacation to Zanzibar

Zanzibar.  The  name rolls of the tongue evoking images of distant lands and foreign climes. How could the island of Zanzibar not be exotic when the name itself is so cool? My children have been begging me to visit the island ever since one of their school friends had a family vacation to Zanzibar.

Zanzibar is actually a great beach break in conjunction with a safari to Tanzania itself. It’s actually a couple of islands and the main island is called Zanzibar.  The smaller island is Pemba (more isolated and popular with honeymooners).

visiting the island of Zanzibar in Tanzania with kids

Zanzibar City is the capital of Zanzibar.  The historic centre, Stone Town, is a UNESCO world heritage site.  In addition to tourism, Zanzibar exports spices which is why it has been known as the Spice Islands in the past.

a family vacation in zanzibar

A market in Zanzibar

After 2 weeks on safari in Tanzania, our friends rented a big house in Zanzibar on the beach and with its own pool.  They had been travelling with extended family and wanted to stay together.  They book a house through VRBO.  The cost of living is very cheap and the French owners just keep staff on retainer even when they are not there.  The house came with its own housekeeper, cook and driver. It was a perfect relaxing way to end a week on safari.

a family vacation in zanzibar

I can so see myself here.

Alternatively, you can book one of the many luxury hotels in Zanzibar.  For example, the Manta Resort on Pemba island has interconnecting garden rooms perfect for families.  Added bonus:  one of the rooms has an underwater bedroom.  I can’t decide if that is a cool idea or I would just feel creeped out by having an octopus hanging out by my bedside.

a family vacation in zanzibar

a red starfish on the beach

So my 5 reasons for a family vacation to Zanzibar?

  1. Time for rest & relaxation post-safari.  Safaris can be gruelling with the early morning drives which are amazing but also a bit of a hardship on vacation.
  2. Amazing beaches and crystal waters make it a wonderful playground for all the family.
  3. A UNESCO world-heritage city centre with a long historical trading history to fulfil your culture vulture needs.
  4. Great accommodation whether in a resort or a private villa will provide all the luxury you need.
  5. Thanks to its coastal location and trading history, local cuisine is a cross-cultural delight.

a family vacation in zanzibar

Yes, I think I convinced myself.  I’ll be booking myself on a holiday to Zanzibar next year.

This post is linked up with Travel Tuesday.

Kirstenbosch Garden, an Oasis in Cape Town

Kirstenbosch Garden, an Oasis in Cape Town

Nestled against the side of Table Mountain, Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden is a tranquil green oasis in Cape Town.  In a city that can feel in your face at times, Kirstenbosch Garden in Cape Town is a welcome respite that feels like a world in itself.

What To Do at Kirstenbosch Garden

Kirstenbosch is very popular with tourists and locals alike.  It’s an easy place to spend a relaxing summer afternoon.  Our family really enjoyed spending some time in nature after a couple of days of city sightseeing.

Kirstenbosch National Garden

Children playing in a stream at Kirstenbosch.
Image Credit: Slack12

Hiking Trails

There are well-marked trails leading through Kirstenbosch.  Even though it was a busy weekend, there were times we felt there was no one around.  We had this green forest idyll to ourselves.

Kirstenbosch Garden in Cape Town is a must-see destination for visitors

If you are feeling active, you can take a trail from Kirstenbosch up to the top of Table Mountain.  The route is well-signposted and takes a few hours.  With more active children than mine, I would think it was pretty enjoyable.  There are ladders to climb and rocks to scramble.  When my kids heard that it was a five hour hike, however, they opted for a picnic on the grounds of the garden itself.

Kirstenbosch Garden in Cape Town

Table Mountain shrouded in fog (again).

The Boomslang

The tree canopy walkway was very busy.  Known as the Boomslang after the South African snake, the steel and wood walkway winds it way above the treetops.  It was opened in 2014 to celebrate the 100 year anniversary of the Kirstenbosch Gardens. My children loved messing around on it because it swayed with movement.

Kirstenbosch Garden in Cape Town

The Boomslang walkway

The Kirstenbosch Garden

The garden itself has lawned areas and lots of native vegetation.  In fact, it was one of the first botanical gardens in the world with a mission to preserve the native plant life.  So, of course, there is lots of the native Fynbos, including the low-lying shrub stuff as well as protea plants.

Kirstenbosch Garden in Cape Town

Kirstenbosch Garden in Cape Town

Kirstenbosch Garden in Cape Town

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Summer Concerts

In the summer months, there are regular concerts in the park which are very popular.  Right before Christmas, there is even a series of Christmas carol concerts.  Although we were at Kirstenbosch during an evening there was a concert, we decided we were too tired to attend (and it was a South African band we did not recognise).

Visiting Kirstenbosch Garden in Cape Town

Kirstenbosch lies about 8 miles from the centre of Cape Town.  Parts of the garden wheelchair accessible. The gardens are open 7 days a week.  There are cafes and tea rooms in the Garden which will allow you to take food away for a picnic on the grounds.  There is also a fantastic (and extensive) gift shop.

Kirstenbosch is one of the many cool things to do in South Africa which is a great family destination. My kids loved all the animal-related activities like going on a mini-safari, swimming with penguins on Boulders Beach and hiking the Cape of Good Hope where they saw wild baboons. My husband’s favourite part was the eating and drinking his way through Stellenbosch and I loved our Garden Route road trip.

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This post is linked up with Weekend Travel Inspiration and Photo Friday.