The news websites and TV stations flash scenes of angry crowds, fires and riots in Cairo and Americans stay away. What we don’t understand is that the news is focusing on a very small part of the country and even a very small part of Cairo. Although it was a few years ago, we did a self-guided tour of Egypt and had a great time.
With the current political situation in Egypt many people would probably not consider a visit let alone a self-guided tour, and yet now is a good time to go, because there are far fewer tourists. Over a series of posts I will share the highlights of our trip, but in this post I will provide a few tips and overview of our route (below):
- Getting around. I am a pretty brave car driver in other countries, but I have my limits. I will not drive in Cairo. I think Cairo traffic takes top prize in chaos, perhaps on par with India, and perhaps even more so. Our modes of transportation on our trip took various forms: we hired drivers for day trips, flew on Egypt Air (a great airline), and took a couple trips on trains, including an overnight train (in a sleeper cabin) from Cairo to Luxor—which was a fun experience.
Making reservations on Egypt Air’s website for internal flights in Egypt was a bit of a nightmare. The Egypt Air New York office only wants to deal with the lucrative overseas flights. Once we got to Egypt, it was easy to go into a local Egypt Air office and make changes, get seat assignments, etc. Cairo taxis are a bit of a challenge, in that there are no meters, and you have to guess what to pay the driver, or try to negotiate a fare before you hop in.
- Safety. Except for one taxi incident that my sister experienced in Cairo, where the driver acted a bit threatening and wanted more money (even though my brother-in-law had paid generously), the people were very friendly, and helpful. There were Tourist police (in white uniforms) in many locations and they provided directions and helped us cross very busy streets (cars are king, and pedestrians take their lives in their hands).
We never feared for our safety, and walked the streets of Cairo and other locations at night. In fact, the night scene is more lively when families and children come out to play (probably due to the generally hot climate).
- Tipping. Plan to give lots of tips (backsheesh). The local population lives on these tips, and the tips amount to perhaps 50 cents in many cases. You’ll find many locals at the tourist sites want to show you a few things and expect a tip in return.
- Best time to visit. We visited during early November, and found the weather to be great. Warm enough to go swimming, but cool enough to wander through the desert sights and not die of heat exhaustion.
- Cost. Egypt is inexpensive for the most part, especially if you’re doing a visit on your own. We stayed in a decent hotel in Luxor for 18 (USD) per night. It was not fancy, but was a decent hotel. About 5 Egyptian Pounds to the USD.
- Standard of Living. Egypt is a poor country, and not the cleanest country. We saw piles of trash in different places and dead animals occasionally. There are many unfinished buildings and others that are falling apart. It’s all just part of the experience.
- Culture shock. When we flew from Luxor to Sharm el-Sheikh (Sinai Peninsula), we felt like we were entering another world. Sharm felt like Cancun and everything was far more expensive (similar to US prices). The Sinai Peninsula is completely different than the rest of the country. However, the hotel prices in Naama Bay (next to Sharm el-Sheikh) were still pretty good, my sister and her husband got a nice hotel room (Tropicana Rosetta) with a great pool for $50/night.
We spent about two weeks in Egypt. We started in Cairo for about 3 days, then took the train to Luxor and spent 4 days there, then flew to Sharm el-Sheikh for about 3 days, then flew back to Cairo and drove out to Alexandria for 2 days, then took a train back to Cairo before flying home.
I’ve always wanted to go to Egypt but have gone elsewhere in recent years because of the on-going political stability. Did you go before the revolution? I’m interested to hear how you arranged for guides and what parts of your trip were covered with these guides. Granted you are very adventurous and independent when you travel, but I’ve always wondering if I could do Egypt self-guided.
Thanks for the question. We did go before the end of the Mubarak regime, about 3 years ago. Regarding safety, obviously I’m not an expert on the current situation. But I have read that tourism is down by 1/3 from a couple years ago, which means there are still quite a few tourists. My sense is that Cairo would be the most potentially dangerous, but even there, if you stick in a small group and get a driver it should be no problem. I would avoid large crowds. We did very little in the arranging of guides. When we were in Cairo, we found an agency on the street close to our hotel that provided a driver and van (there were 6 of us) for $15 US for the day (no joke). They provided the transportation only to Giza and to Saqqara and Dahshur (don’t miss these sights south of Cairo), and I used my Lonely Planet book to get around the sites and provide info about what we were seeing. In Luxor, I knew what we wanted to see via my Lonely Planet book. The temple in Luxor is right in town, and Karnak Temple is just north of Luxor about a mile or so (we rode in a horse carriage). To get across the Nile over to the Valley of the Kings and all the sights over there, we just took a little boat (there are lots of them) and then when we got to the other shore there are tons of taxis willing to take you wherever you want to go (Valley of the Kings, Queens, etc). In Sharm el-Sheik, we just used taxis also, and arranged a ride to Mt. Sinai (St. Catherine’s monastery) from our hotel.
The biggest hassle we had was arranging internal flights from the US. If you have a bit of flexibility in your schedule, the best way would be to go to an Egypt Air office in Cairo on arrival and arrange your flights as needed. Hope this helps!
Comments are closed.