THE BLOG

It Is Time to Go Back to Egypt

01/07/2014 14:58 BST | Updated 30/08/2014 10:59 BST

Plagued by unrest for the past four years, Egypt's tourist sector has seen a sharp decline making now the perfect time to visit if you want to experience its rich history without the crowds.

Before the fall of Mubarak and then Morsi, Egypt was a hotbed for tourism, with travel agents earning ripe commissions off package holidays to Sharm-el-Sheikh, Luxor and the Western Desert.

Since the revolution, tourists have been scared away from the homeland of antiquities by red alerts from government offices warninG travellers of safety issues.

Tourism has always been one of the most important sectors in Egypt's economy. Before Mubarak left office in 2011 more than 12.8million tourists visited annually, providing revenues of $11 billion.

In 2013 the tourism revenue dropped 41 per cent to $5.9 billion, a further sign of pressure on one of Egypt's main sources of foreign currency.

The streets are empty of tourists, everything is cheaper and the views are far more impressive now they aren't populated by crowds of visiting tourists.

Locals are eager to help you find the real Egypt and many will be glad to show you the best museum in Cairo (which is really their brother's perfume shop that Princess Diana may have once visited, depending how realistic you think a grainy tea-stained photograph really is).

The pyramids, which allow a maximum of 150 tourists per day (Rough Guides advise you get there early to buy tickets), was virtually empty at 4pm and guides swarmed around the few tourists, showing them every camel, horse or donkey on site, begging them to rent one for a tour round the Giant Pyramids at Giza or further afield to watch the sunset at the panorama viewpoint.

There is an obvious increase in security in Cairo and every street corner is home to a riot shield and armed soldier.

Tahrir square - the heartland of the revolution - has tanks on every entrance, along with barbed wire road blocks and at least three soldiers per standpoint. But this was not in any way off putting, and merely increased our sense of safety.

Entering the Egyptian Antiquities Museum we encountered seven armoured vehicles, three tanks, several army jeeps and more than 30 soldiers followed by three security checks before we could even get close to Tutankhamun's sarcophagus. They are clearly not ready for the antiquities museum go the same way as the Islamic museum.

Speaking to the French owner of Pension Roma, she said: "It makes me angry that European governments are warning tourists not to come to Egypt, and not to enter certain parts of Cairo.

"I pass through Tahrir Square every day to come to work, and it is now the safest place in Cairo."

Leaving Cairo I visited Baharia in the Western Desert to see the volcanic rock of the Black Desert and the crystal and alabaster formations in the White Desert - a popular attraction for tourists especially those based out of Cairo.

The highlight of the desert is its other worldliness, reminding you of the days when characters like Ahmed Mohammed Bey Hussanein roamed the sand dunes in search of water in an undiscovered oasis .

Out there where phone signal is nonexistent with the stars for company, the revolution certainly felt very far away. We were in the land of the nomads, sitting round a fire listening to stories of nomadic adventures and listening to Bedouin music.

Usually there are at least five people in each safari group, but when I hopped into the dust caked jeep I discovered I was one of three and we were the only group going out that day which meant we had a desert unspoiled by happy snappers.

My guide in the Western Desert, Wagdy Zena, said business has dropped dramatically since the revolution. Tourists still visit Luxor and Sharm-el-Sheik because they seem more removed from the epicentre of unrest, especially as they each have their own airports.

During my time in Egypt there was no sense of a people hardened by war and everyone was so willing to help and guide me in the right direction.

Advice was swiftly given about where was safe to visit and where was not, for example: females need to be escorted by a male in the City of the Dead and tourists, especially women, should not visit or go near a mosque or church on a Friday.

I left Egypt knowing it was not the last time I would visit, but also confident that I had been spoilt by my experience. On my travels around the country I had only met two other tourists which is a rarity in what was once the most popular of holiday destinations.