For decades, the Nile Valley was a classic destination for American travelers. If you had the means, it was a place you simply had to see. Even though the crowds at the pyramids might have been oppressive, the structures themselves were still astounding. The Great Pyramid of Khufu was the tallest man-made structure on earth for nearly 4,000 years (in fact until the completion of Lincoln Cathedral in England in 1311). And ancient Egyptian civilization was incomparable: From the founder of the First Dynasty, Narmer, to the death in 343 B.C. of Nectanebo II, the last pharaoh of the Thirtieth Dynasty, it endured, astonishingly, for some 2,750 years.
However, as a result of the Arab Spring in 2011 and the ensuing revolution and counterrevolution, the number of American visitors declined dramatically. Whatever the reality, Egypt was perceived as a hazardous place in which to travel. One of the first serious attacks on Western visitors had occurred in November 1997. An Islamist organization killed 58 tourists and four Egyptians near Luxor, in an attempt to undermine the economy and destabilize the government. After a brief hiatus, visitors returned. But the effects of more-recent events have proved long-lasting.
Eventually, memories begin to fade, and the first six months of 2018 saw an increase in visitor numbers of 41 percent over the same period in 2017. At the end of last year, we went back to the classic sites of the Nile Valley — in Cairo, Luxor and Aswan — to assess the situation for ourselves. At the time of writing this, February, the advice from the State Department is for Americans to avoid all travel in both the Sinai Peninsula and Egypt’s Western Desert, and the Travel Advisory is set at “Level 2: Exercise Increased Caution.”