10 Natural and Historical Sites in Egypt Most People Have Never Heard Of
Updated: Dec 17, 2022
We all know that Egypt has tons of visit-worthy natural as well as historical sites (the pyramids, hello!), and because of that it’s easy for some lesser-known ones to fall through the cracks. But just because they’re lesser-known (or not known at all) doesn’t mean they’re not worth experiencing!
So next time you’re interested in learning something new and exploring something off the beaten track, look no further.
1. Djara Cave
Location: Western Desert
Deep in the desert west of Assiut, between the Bahariya and Farafra oases, is a natural wonder millions of years old, that hardly anyone in Egypt has heard of.
We’re talking about the Djara Cave, formed from water coming into contact with the harsh Egyptian desert millennia ago. So many years of chemical activity has left this 30 meter high and 8 meter wide cave full of glittering crystal-like rock formations and stalactites.
If the natural beauty and history of it isn’t enough, Djara Cave has animal engravings on its wall dating back to the Neolithic period, over 10,000 years ago, suggesting that this now barren, remote area was populated at the time. It’s now classified as the second most important Stone Age settlement in the Western Desert, after the Nabta Playa (below).
2. Minya's City of the Dead (Zawiyyet El-Mayyetin)
One of the largest cemeteries in the world is Zawiyyet El-Mayyetin, right outside the small Egyptian city of El Minya -- hence its moniker as Minya's City of the Dead. Not only is it impressive in size, but even more so in architecture: a sea of conical domes stretch down the Nile for 4 kilometers (2.5 miles), hugged between a cliff and the river.
The mausolea are made of mud-brick and all are topped with a smooth or stacked dome, and are still used by both Muslims and Coptic Christians until today. This isn't on any tourist trail, so make sure you have a guide to take you.
For Ancient Egyptian tombs: 8 Best Ancient Egyptian Tomb Sites in Modern Day Egypt
3. Catacombs of Kom El Shoqafa
This archaeological site in Alexandria is often overlooked by almost everyone, foreign and Egyptian alike, when visiting this ancient coastal city. These catacombs are a rare mix of Egyptian, Greek and Roman cultural references and are considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Middle Ages.
Dating back to the 2nd century AD, these catacombs are three subterranean levels made out of rock (the deepest level is now totally submerged in water). It was discovered in 1900 when a donkey accidentally fell through the access shaft at ground level (a great discovery, but poor donkey).
The second level of the catacombs is described as “eerily alive” due to all the sculptures there. It’s believed that it was originally intended as a tomb for a single family, but bones of other individuals and horses were also found there.
For more great sites in Alex: Sightseeing in Alexandria: 15 Best Things To See and Do
4. Colored Canyon
This 800 meter canyon is a part of a larger mountain range, and one of the coolest natural wonders you can see when in the Sinai Peninsula.
These red-hued rock formations are the product of the Red Sea tides residing gradually millions of years ago and eroding these mountains of limestone and sandstone.
You can hike (and sometimes scramble) through the canyon on a dried up riverbed with a Bedouin guide, but it’s not recommended in the summer months due to the scorching sun. The canyon is easily reached from Nuweiba, but you can also arrange trips from Dahab or even Sharm el Sheikh.
5. Crystal clear salt lakes in the desert
Location: Siwa Oasis
Everyone’s heard about Siwa’s hot and cold natural springs, but for some reason Siwa’s arresting aquamarine salt lake doesn’t get as much talk time.
Siwa actually has several salt lakes, which are so salty that they’re known as natural therapy for skin diseases and sinus problems. They’re actually too salty though for any marine life to live in them though, so unfortunately the Siwans can’t use these lakes for fishing.
The lakes vary in size, and some have dried up. But even in the deepest lakes, there’s no real chance of drowning -- the buoyancy is similar to the Dead Sea’s.
Did anyone know that we have mysterious prehistoric circular stone tombs deep in the Sinai desert? Because we sure didn’t.
These circular structures date back to the Copper Age and Early Bronze Age, so they’re around 5,000 to 6,000 years old -- meaning they’re between 1,500 to 2,500 years older than the Great Pyramids of Giza, and some archaeologists argue that they’re the oldest free standing structures in the world alongside the Megalithic Temples of Malta and the Cairns of Scotland.
The Nawamis structures are believed to originally be family tombs, due to the bones, beads and other purported funeral offerings found inside. But they were used afterwards by various different desert groups in the centuries that followed, so it’s hard for archaeologists to be quite sure of Nawamis’ original function.
Local tip: the best time to visit Nawamis is in the late afternoon, when the light and shadows play on the structures and their singular doors are illuminated.