Visiting Egypt and especially discovering the treasures of ancient Egypt was a huge dream for us. This is why we decided to stop by this country between Kenya and our return to France. The last destination of our world tour was one of our favorite. More than the Ancient Egypt wonders, we have also discovered modern Egyptian life in the cities and the countryside, breathtaking desert landscapes and the beauty of the Nile and the Red Sea.
To fully enjoy our 12 days / 11 nights in Egypt we have trusted Lady Egypt Tours with the organisation of our itinerary across the country.
On the program of this once in a lifetime trip:
- Pyramids of Giza
- Fayoum Oasis and its surroundings
- Night train
- Abu Simbel Temple
- Nile Cruise
- Valley of the Kings
- The Red Sea and Hurghada
Go with a tour or an agency? Our experience with Lady Egypt Tours
The media are giving Egypt as a tourist destination a bad reputation. Thus, unlike our usual travel habits and by concern for our safety, we decided to organise our travel in Egypt with a local travel agency.
After several talks and quotes with different companies, we chose Lady Egypt Tours. Indeed, we had a very good contact with them by phone and their reviews online are very positive. It is an Egyptian agency based in Cairo.
We were incredibly well taken care off from the start to the very end and we have never travelled so comfortably! Our accommodations were all superb and we did not expected such an incredible service from the agency staffs. Wherever we went we were accompanied by a driver and a representative of the agency, and for each visit the agency arranged for a guide. They were kind enough to arrange French speaking guides for us. Finally, we think we have been largely wining in terms of value for money. For an equal quality of travel, we think we would have paid more booking it ourselves and we would definitely not have been so relaxed.
Is it safe to travel alone in Egypt?
We have not tried but it seems doable to us, much more than expected. We always felt safe. However, it is true that in some places it seemed difficult to pass the police barrages without a local speaker. In addition some visits, especially in the desert, required a police escort for all tourists.
If you like travelling by your own means but are worried about Egypt, we think the best way to do it partly. Such as organising part of the trip with an agency and booking alone for the easier destinations such as Cairo, Luxor, Aswan or the Red Sea. For example, the Lady Egypt agency offers tours going from a day trips to all-inclusive trips with flights included.
Of course, safety can vary and change quickly, this is the reason why we recommend to always check on your government website before your trip and subscribe to the alerts / notifications whenever you are travelling.
Our journey in Egypt started and ended in Cairo, from where we flew. Once again, we found beforehand that the media gave a bad reputation to this city which is full of history and enjoyable. We regret we did not had an extra day to spend there, as we were too tired by the night flight on the first day to really enjoy it. The only problem for us in Cairo was the population and the traffic.
At the airport we were warmly welcomed by Anass, our representative from Lady Egypt Tours. Our hotel in Cairo, for the first and last two nights of the trip, was the Steigenberger Pyramids Cairo. We couldn’t not believed we had a view on the pyramids and how comfortable our room was! Nevertheless being close to the pyramids means we sere staying in Giza and not in the city center. This location suited us perfectly but if you want to spend your evenings in the center make sure to take into account when choosing your hotel.
To eat, we recommend the restaurant Felfela. We tried the takeaway with delicious fuul and ta’miyya. For dinner, we went to the beautiful restaurant and loved the pigeon. More information about the delicious Egyptian cuisine here.
The Pyramids of Giza, the Sphinx and the Egyptian Museum of Cairo
For these visits, all done in a day, we had the chance to have an amazing French speaking guide: Nader.
Our day began with the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. We enjoyed starting with this visit to have a little more knowledge and perspectives before we find ourselves facing the pyramids. Having a guide seemed quite necessary because there were very few explanatory panels in this museum which also looks very disorganised. The tour is fast but very efficient and interesting and we had a little time to wander on our own. Seeing with your own eyes the treasure of Tutankhamun was very impressive.
After this, we made our way to the pyramids and the Sphinx of Giza, surprisingly close to Cairo. We were surprised by the lack of tourists there! We entered the pyramid of Hétep-Hérès I which is included in the price of the ticket. Be careful is not recommended if you are claustrophobic! We also decided to pay more for the ticket to get inside the famous pyramid of Cheops, the only one where the tomb was built in the middle and not below. A nice experience which requires a moderate level of fitness (it is more difficult than Hétep-Hérès). After a long time climbing in a squatting position we arrived in completely empty room (not even a sign to congratulate us on how far we went). We then fully appreciated the meaning of the saying: “the important thing is not the destination, but the journey”. What an adventure to get inside these almost 5,000 years old mystical places!
Of course, we also enjoyed seeing the Sphinx at the foot of the pyramids. There, we went through the temple used for the mummification and we walked on the platform where the pharaoh’s body was taken to its pyramid. Contrary to what we had read and heard, we were impressed by the Sphinx size. On the way back to the hotel, we had the choice between visiting an artisan making essential oils or papyrus.
Cairo city centre
The city of Cairo is incredibly rich and interesting. Because Egypt, beyond the Pharaohs, is also a cradle for the Greeks, Romans, Christians and Muslims. This cultural diversity is reflected in the Cairo historic centre. This is a visit we decided to add on last minute and we loved it. It was very interesting thanks to our guide Nader. We recommend doing this tour with a guide, but it can be easily be done on our own though try to plan accordingly to the transport and traffic uncertainties.
We started the visit of the Mar Girgis District and its many religious sites :
- the Coptic Orthodox Suspended Church built by the Romans on an ancient tower of Babylon
- the Ben Ezra synagogue where writings of Moses were found
- St. Sergius and St. Bacchus Church where Jesus was hidden during his flight from Jerusalem
- the church and the Greek Orthodox Monastery of St. George
After this, we went to the Saladin citadel and visited its mosques, including the impressive Mohammed Ali mosque overlooking the city of Cairo. The panoramic view of the whole city, including the pyramids, blew us away.
To finish, we recommend a walk in the Khan El Khalili souk from the El Hussein mosque and do not miss passing by the Qalawoun mosque (known for having the most beautiful facade in the world after the Taj Mahal) all the way to the wall Bab al -Futuh.
We took advantage of a full day to go on an excursion to the Fayoum Oasis starting from Cairo. Our travel agent and our guide Nader organised another amazing day for us. We started the day by visiting the Qasr Qaroun temple and Lake Qaroun, a saltwater lake remnant of an ancient sea. Then, we visited the pretty pottery village of Tunis.
After this, we headed to the Whale Valley where we were able to climb on the El Medawara Mountain. On top we had a magnificent view of the Wadi Rayan Lake surrounded by the desert. For lunch, we went to a typical Bedouin restaurant next to the Wadi Rayan Fayoum Falls. Those falls are emerging from the ground to feed the lake with the Nile water.
On the way back we stopped to see water mills from the Greco-Roman era. They are still used today but rarely working as it depend on the water level. However, you may be very lucky like us and see them in action. We finished with the ancient city of Karanis, still being excavated, whose access was opened especially for our coming.
For this day of excursion in the desert we have been with a mandatory police escort, consequently we would advise organising this with a guide or an agency?
Night train from Cairo to Aswan
While we had the choice between an air plane, a transfer by car or coach and a night train we did not hesitate a second. We love trains as it the best transport to relax and see the country.
No regrets, we loved our night in our private double cabin with bunk bed. The train offers a good level of comfort with dinner and breakfast included as well as a sink in our cabin. We embarked after dark but could enjoy the scenery from 5 am until we arrived at Aswan around 9 am. Travelling by train is always a pleasure!
A Lady Egypt representative was waiting for us at the Aswan train station and accompanied us to our hotel. This hotel, the Pyramisa Isis Island Aswan, is located on a small island next to the city. Moreover the view from the pool on the Nile and the city of Aswan is really nice. To get there we were taking a free shuttle, operated on a traditional Nubian boat, and truly enjoyed each time these few minutes on the Nile.
Aswan city centre: mosque, coptic church and market
We visited the city on our own in the morning. We started by walking to the Aswan Mosque bordering the Nile in the north. We arrived at 8:45 am, before the opening, but someone in front offered us to come inside. We were very well received and taken upstairs to enjoy the view on the city and the Nile. It is respectful for women to cover their head and arms with a scarf or sarong and you have to take off your shoes (but keep them by hand to put them on the roof). At the end of the visit, we left a tip.
After this, we took a tuk-tuk to visit the Orthodox Coptic Cathedral of Archangel Michael, which is the second largest in the country. The tuk-tuks are not allowed to go on the road along the Nile, which is reserved for taxis and carriages, so be prepared for a detour. The visit was shorter and less impressive than the mosque. We walked back along the long streets of the market. The friendly “souk” is a place where, unlike Luxor for example, tourists and locals rub shoulders to shop. It is a pleasant ballad without too much solicitations. For useful words in Arabic to get your way around the souk see our tips to visit Egypt.
There are many things to do in Aswan such as visiting the Elephantina Island, the Nubian villages, the tombs of the nobles, go on felucca boat tours on the Nile… All these excursions are optional and can be added to your trip by Lady Egypt with the comfort of a guide and a car. However those can also be easily done independently for a smaller budget. Felucca prices are negociable pretty much anywhere on the Nile banks.
The Philae temple and the Aswan High Dam
As part of our itinerary, in one afternoon we visited with a driver and a guide the temple of Philae and the new (or high) dam. The temple visit is very impressive and we were stupefy to discover it has been moved before the construction of the dam to prevent it from being submerged.
The High Dam is indeed a controversial construction. The dam created the world’s largest artificial lake, Lake Nasser, and regulates the flow of the Nile. Consequently, since its construction, there are more floods downstream which makes the land less fertile but produces electricity for the country. We didn’t find it to be an unmissable visit.
We enjoyed the city of Aswan and in the evening we drank a mint tea in one of the many traditional cafes near the Aswan train station before going back to the souk!
The temples of Abu Simbel
The arrival at the temples of Abu Simbel, after a long road in the desert, and facing the huge statues on both sides of the entrance particularly marked us. It is probably the temple’s visit we found to be the most impressive.
We started the road from Aswan at 4.30 am and, after three hours driving, we were the first at the opening of the archaeological site. Unfortunately, our guide felt like he had to give us a twenty minutes talk before we entered the temples and there were already people at that time. After an hour of visit, the site was so crowded and it was difficult to move around the temples. An early start in the morning is therefore more than recommended! Consequently, to be there early and make the passage of the desert security blocages easier we advise you to organise this visit with a driver and a guide.
The Great Temple was dug directly into the rock by and for Ramses II (you will not miss its many representations in statues and engravings). Very close to this temple is the “Small” Temple dedicated to Nefertari, Ramses II’s wife, also superb and impressive. Both temples were moved and saved by UNESCO as they were going to be submerged as a result of the construction of the Aswan High Dam. It is a colossal work explained in a photographic exhibition at the site exit.
The temples’ interior is full of engravings and hieroglyphs very well preserved. In addition, the orientation of the Great Temple is such that twice a year (on October 22 and February 22) the rays of the sun enter inside and illuminate the altar.
The Nile cruise
Back from Abu Simbel, we boarded for a three-night / four-day cruise on the Nile sailing from Aswan to Luxor. The cruise started half a day late, so we had an extra day to enjoy Aswan.
Like the others we saw, our cruise ship seems dated and bad in terms of pollution. However, our room was very comfortable and spacious and we could see the landscape scroll from the large window. The roof top terrace was also very nice. At first we didn’t not find the tiny pool very tempting but we ended up being pleased to use to refresh every day. The service was very good and the waiters and chefs very friendly. They paid a lot of attention to the lactose-free diet of Clémentine sadly not always with success. The meals served as a buffet did not convinced us, especially the Middle-East diner during which we had hoped to enjoy more typical Egyptian cuisine. The evening shows were also very disappointing. In the end, it’s not really the idea we had of a 5-star cruise but we really enjoyed these four days of relaxation. Another disadvantage of the cruise is the large number of tourists all landing at the same time for the visits.
There are alternatives: if you have a high budget you could join a luxury cruise on a small traditional boat with two sails and for the more adventurous people it is possible to sleep on the deck of a traditional felucca for a few nights. We have heard this budget choice is a lot of fun but definitively not the best in terms of comfort. Both options are more environmentally friendly and being on smaller boats you get to stop in additional stop off the tourist road.
We loved to watch the landscapes on the banks of the Nile which were very diverse between cities, temples and fields. This allowed us, like the train, to peacefully observe the scenes of daily life passing by. These beautiful moments were punctuated with breaks where we disembarked to visit beautiful temples.
We started with Kom Ombo to visit the Sobek and Haeroris Temple. Then we sailed to Edfu where we spent the night and in the morning we visited the temple of Horus. It is a very beautiful temple which we could appreciate with the beautiful reflections of the morning light. Unfortunately, we were disappointed to have to take a carriage pulled by a sad looking horse to go to the temple. We certainly do not want to support this kind of practice and would have liked to be warned and offered an alternative.
Luxor city, ancient capital of Upper Egypt, and its temples
The following days of the cruise were dedicated to the visit of Luxor. We arrived at the end of the day in Luxor and started with the visit of the Luxor Temple. This is the famous temple from which the obelix in Paris is coming from… Doing the visit by night made it even more impressive. It is a unique temple with the Sphinx Alley, the old church transformed into a mosque inside the temple enclosure and the numerous statues of Ramses II.
In the evening, we wandered in Luxor and went from the tourist market to the local market. This tour is quickly done by foot but we suffered from the many solicitations from vendors.
The Karnark Temple is located, like Luxor, on the East Bank of the Nile and is therefore often visited at the same time. We visited it the next day in the morning. It is the largest temple in Egypt and, like most other visits, we thought it was incredible to see. There is so much to visit in and around Luxor that we could easily have stayed an extra few days.
Valley of the Kings and Hatshepsut temple
On the West Bank of the Nile, it is possible to visit the Valleys of the kings and queens. A great visit for our last day of cruising. It is a collection of necropolises, funerary temples, for ancient kings as well as their families and some noble. As the opulent tombs, such as the pyramids, were plundered kings began to build secret tombs in the mountains.
We only had time to visit the Valley of the Kings (partly because of the cruise delay). The entrance ticket includes the visit of three funerary temples (different depending on the dates you are visiting). We visited the tombs of Ramses III, Ramses IV and Amenemes. It is possible to pay extra to enter other tombs, such as Tutankhamun’s. Tutankhamun’s funerary temple is not richly decorated compared to others, but it is known worldwide as the only discovery which has not been plundered through the millennia. It was discovered in 1922 by the Englishman Howard Carter and we could see the treasures found inside at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. Entering the funerary temples gave us the chills and inside we were able observe the best preserved frescoes and hieroglyphs. We had no idea for millennia the sand had so well preserved these incredible works of art. In places, it is still possible to see the original paintings. It is so hard to imagine that each hieroglyph was indeed coloured!
We ended our visit of the West Bank by the Hatshepsut temple. This queen has a story out of the ordinary: she disguised herself like a man to reign as a pharaoh. Unfortunately her son-in-law, whose place she took, largely destroyed the buildings left by the queen. Consequently this impressive temple is partly destroyed and therefore not so rich in details.
On the way back, we made a stop at the feet of the colossus of Menmon. These massive structures formerly guarded the entrance of a very big temple which was sadly destroyed in an earthquake.
The Red Sea
We finished our stay between sea and desert. We stayed in the city of Hurghada in an all inclusive resort. Once again we were incredibly well supervised by the Lady Egypt on-site representative.
Our resort, the Sunrise Garden Beach Resort, was huge: seven restaurants on site, a spa, two swimming pools, one with a dozen toboggan, shops, a diving center … Our room was spacious and very comfortable. The hotel also offered direct access to the beach and it was possible to swim and snorkel without having to leave the resort. We regret not having spent another day there to relax. However, we would not have wanted to spend more than three or four days there. As usual, all inclusive resort are very far from an authentic experience but good if you are looking for purely relaxing holidays. If you want to be more with locals, it is better to choose a hotel in the center of Hurghada. Finally, be aware Hurghada is a very touristy city and we are sure you can find somewhere more authentic and with nicer beaches on the coast.
We were conquered by the seabed. Thus the diving in the Red Sea, with the more than ideal conditions, was perhaps the best of our world tour. It was amazing: we never had such good visibility, the corals were very colourful and the marine life abundant. On the way back, two whale sharks came to hang out behind our boat. The whale shark, measuring between four and twenty meters, is considered the largest fish currently living on Earth!
We dived with the Ilios dive club. We went on the day tour and did 3 dives including a wreck dive (at Abu Ramada South, Gota Abu Ramada and Balena Wreck). It is a German dive center and all the other divers were German but our guide spoke perfect French. The lunch on the boat was very good. You must tell them in advance if you are interested in doing a third dive. We have booked the dive via Lady Egypt Tours and benefited from the transportation and the meal which are normally to be paid as extras.
In Hurghada we also had an activity included in our tour: a Bedouin dinner and safari in the desert. The afternoon started driving quads in the dunes, followed by a 25km jeep drive in the desert to get to the village. The desertic landscapes were breathtaking. According to us, the village, the dinner and the show were of little interest. It is very touristy and it didn’t felt authentic. Moreover, the condition of the animals there were sad and disturbing. thus, we would have preferred this to be an optional activity.
Our tips to visit Egypt
- Do not forget to take into account in your budget the many tips (or backsheesh) you have to pay everywhere. Ask for advice from your travel agency to get an indication of the amounts you are expected to give.
- Bring a phone with a good camera. In many temples it is forbidden to take a camera in, or you are asked to pay extra. Nevertheless it is still allowed to take photos and videos with a mobile phone.
- If you are very interested in history, we advise you to read and research beforehand. There is so much information spread over more than 5,000 years that it is difficult to assimilate without a minimum of pre-departure knowledge on the subject.
- Learn some basic words in Arabic. The notions (though very basic) of Arabic Clémentine remembered from university classes made a big difference. Her Arabic was very well received by locals who covered her with compliments. Knowing the figures in particular were an incredible asset while bargaining! Moreover, saying La Choukran (“no thank you”) is very effective to get rid of persistant salesmen.
Egyptian cuisine: what to eat?
It is unfortunately difficult to taste good local food from the buffets in touristy hotels and cruises. We took advantage of each of our non-included meals to eat local and discover more about the Egyptian cuisine.
We recommend you to taste a mezze: a selection of mostly vegetarian starters. You will probably taste hummus, baba ganoush: eggplant puree, tahini with sesame, oil, garlic and lemon, wara ainabs: vine leaves stuffed with rice and herbs or samosas with cheese or minced meat.
The pigeon stuffed with rice or hamam mahshi is a festive meal. You should try it, despite the appearances it is really delicious. Be careful, however, of the small bones.
If you want to eat takeaways, there are many delicious options available from street vendors. We loved the following dishes:
- The fuul, beans mixed with garlic, cumin, parsley, olive and lemon in an Arabic bread
- Ta’amiyya, the Egyptian variant of a falafel sandwich (best falafel ever)
- Kushari, the basic comfort Egyptian dish made from a mix of noodles, rice, lentils, fried onions and tomato sauce
- The fiteer, the Egyptian equivalent of pizza (served sweet or sour)
Finally, regarding the drinks, we loved the hot or cold hibiscus (called karkadai) or a good classic mint tea (chai bina’na).
Clémentine’s reading (and film) list about Egypt
- The Lonely Planet Guide : Egypt travel guide
- This list is still under construction, until we have finished our readings here are the titles written by Egyptian authors which are on our list: The Cairo trilogy by Naguib Mahfouz, Beer in the snooker Club by Waguih Ghali, Taxi by Khaled Al Khamissi, The Book of the Sultan’s Seal by Youssef Rakha and The Automobile Club of Egypt by Aswany Alaa Al.
If you have opinions on this list please let us know!
- The movie trilogy: The Mummy (1999), The Mummy Returns (2001) and The Scorpion King (2002) written by Stephen Sommers. These fantastic adventure movies will not be to everyone’s tastes but they are doing a good job at depicting an ancient and modern Egypt.
- A film to watch with kids: The Prince of Egypt which tells the story of Moses.
This trip to Egypt was out of a dream for us, we spent twelve wonderful days. Unfortunately, the country has suffered a lot from the 2011 revolution and the perception of insecurity for tourists. Tourist attendance has dropped by more than 20 million visitors a year! This is tragic but it also means the tourist site are less crowded and the prices very low for the brave visitors. This is a trip we strongly recommend and we regret not having been able to enjoy this beautiful country for a few more days. We wish to come back, especially for a diving cruise in the Red Sea.
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