It all began with a misunderstanding. And it all culminated in an awe-striking history laden trip into one of the oldest known human (or were they aliens after all?) civilizations on planet earth.
As with most of our trips, if you have read my previous blogs you would know, we travel mostly as a family of 5 and bring with us an added complexity of aligning our travel itineraries to accommodate all of us travelling from atleast 2 continents and 3 cities. While Egypt has always decorated the top of our wish list, our decision to make the trip happen was because of a misunderstood (and categorically misrepresented blog post) post on the internet which seemed to suggest that Indians enjoy Visa on Arrival when visiting Egypt. This information couldn’t have been more wrong. And we only realized it after all our tickets were booked and we were just about a month away from our trip. With our visa shenanigans over (spending an extra INR 60k on arranging that) and having secured the approval from the Egyptian Immigration dept, we finally flew into Cairo.
|Day 0||Arrive in Cairo in the afternoon||Cairo||Le Meridien Pyramids Hotel and Spa||International Flight|
|Day 1||Great Pyramids of Giza, Cairo Museum and Coptic Cairo||Cairo||Le Meridien Pyramids Hotel and Spa||Private car|
|Day 2||Arrive at Luxor. Visit Luxor temple||Luxor||Steigenberger Nile Palace Hotel||Domestic Flight – Nile Air|
|Day 3||Dendara and Abydos temples. Check in to Nile Cruise||Luxor||Movenpick Royal Lily Nile Cruise||Private car|
|Day 4||Nile Cruise: Valley of the Kings, Temple of Queen Hatshepsut, Colossi of Memnon||Cruise||Movenpick Royal Lily Nile Cruise||Cruise|
|Day 5||Nile Cruise: Edfu and Kom Ombo Temples||Cruise||Movenpick Royal Lily Nile Cruise|
|Day 6||Nile Cruise: Aswan||Cruise||Movenpick Royal Lily Nile Cruise|
|Day 7||Abu Simbel. Fly to Cairo||Cairo||Le Passage Cairo Hotel and Casino||Domestic Flight – Egypt Air|
|Day 8||Alexandria||Cairo||Le Passage Cairo Hotel and Casino||Private car|
|Day 9||Fly back home|
After the slump in tourism during the Arab Spring, the country saw a dramatic decline in tourists for the last 8 odd years. It was only in 2019 that Egypt has started seeing a resurgence in tourism. And hence the one thing that you will find in abundance here, aside from the hordes of tourists, is unadulterated hospitality. All the hotels that we stayed in had abundantly wonderful staff. And the same goes for the Nile Cruise. Refer to the table above for the hotel links.
Cairo is probably the most underwhelming of all the places that we visited in Egypt. The city is overflowing with people and it is easy to feel quite lost on the day you arrive. But the Pyramids are sure to blow your mind away and if thats not enough then the treasures of Tutankhamun kept at the Cairo Museum is sure to leave you faint headed. But what caught me off-guard was the charming Christian quarter of Cairo, called Coptic Cairo. The Holy Family (Virgin Mary, St Joseph and baby Jesus) is said to have lived here for a short time. The alley ways of this part of the town is very different from the rest of Cairo and you would almost feel transported to another part of the world.
We started with the Great Pyramids of Giza, visiting the Sphinx thereafter and then to Coptic Cairo. After having lunch, we visited the Egypt Museum and then finally the Khan al Khalili market before we retired back to our hotel for the evening.
Luxor – Dendara – Abydos
On Day 2 we had an early morning (7.30 am) flight to Luxor on the Nile Air flight. Although quite small, Luxor airport was surprisingly beautiful, much better than Cairo airport. We were picked up from the airport and taken straight to see the Karnak temple. Then we visited the Luxor Temple and were transported back to our hotel for lunch. Back in the days of the kings and queens, the Luxor and Karnak temple was connected by the 3 km long Avenue of the Sphinx’s which is currently being restored.
The next day (Day 3) we again started early at 7.30 am to visit Dendara and Abydos temples. Our family doesn’t agree on much but we did agree that these temples of Dendara and Abydos were the highlight of our Egyptian odyssey. The temples were relatively less crowded with tourists. But most importantly these probably had the best preserved wall paintings of all the temples we were to see in Egypt. The entire journey was almost 6 hrs on the road, but I would totally recommend this trip if you are in Egypt.
In the evening, we were checked into our Nile Cruise where we would stay for the next 4 nights, sailing from Luxor to Aswan, stopping in Edfu.
The ship did not sail the first night. On Day 1 of the cruise (which was Day 4 of our trip) we again started early and took a tour bus to the Valley of the Kings. From there we went to see the Temple of Hatshepshut. And finally with a short stop at the Colossi of Memnon, we were back to the ship for lunch. And as we started to have lunch the ship started its slow journey towards Edfu. After sailing for about 4 – 5 hours, we reached Edfu and spent our night in Edfu aboard the ship.
On Day 2 of the cruise (or Day 5 of the trip), we visited the Edfu temple on horse drawn carriages, which was quite an experience in itself. Not so much because of the horse drawn carriages but because of the utter chaos that ensued from the time the first carriages were drawn up along the ship till the time we got on one of them and then finding our carriage at the Edfu temple ‘parking’. The ship sailed a little further during lunch and harbored at Kom Ombo. A quick stop there to visit the shoreline temple and soon we started sailed again. We moored at Aswan overnight.
Day 3 (Day 6 of the trip) was all about seeing around in Aswan – starting with the Aswan Dam, the unfinished Obelisk and the Temple of Philae. In the evening the five of us took a leisurely walk from along the Nile promenade to the Aswan train station.
Day 4 (Day 7 of the trip) was a very early day with us checking out of the cruise by 4 am and getting on our tour bus to Abu Simbel. Its a 4 hour bus ride from Aswan one way so it is going to be a long day. It will take about 2 hours to visit both the temple complexes in Abu Simbel. In 1968 the temple complex was shifted in entirety to higher banks to avoid it being engulfed by Lake Naseer on whose banks it originally was built.
We returned to the Aswan airport for our return flight to Cairo at around 2 pm. We should have been back to Cairo by 3 pm with the rest of the evening at our disposal but as luck would have it, our flight was over 7 hours late and we reached our hotel in Cairo around 10pm. With another fairly early morning start the next day for Alexandria, it wasn’t the best turn of events.
This was our final destination in Egypt. And this was another long trip on the road, about 3.5 hours from Cairo to Alexandria. We started at around 7.30 am after having an early breakfast at the hotel. Our first stop on reaching Alexandria was the catacombs of Kom El Shoqafa which are the largest and one of the most important burial site in Egypt dating back to the Greco Roman period. These burial chambers are underground but have enough height to not feel claustrophobic. The next most important site in Alexandria is the Pompey pillar and the Temple of Serapeum which is also said to be the site of the ‘extension’ of the original Ancient library of Alexandria. Nothing of this ancient library remain but a must see when in Alexandria is the modern Bibliotheca Alexandrina. We visited this on a Saturday when it opens at 12 noon and so we timed our visit accordingly (having visited the Catacombs and Pompey pillar) before that. The library has different opening timings on different days of the week so please check that before hand. Also prepared to stand in a queue to buy your tickets and also to enter the library. Once inside, there are guided tours provided by the library in English which I would definitely recommend.
After visiting the library, it was lunch time already and another must do is head for one of the corniche side restaurants to have the ultimate lunch with the view. We had a set lunch at Fish Market restaurant which had stunning view of the Mediterranean.
And then the final stop of Alexandria – the Citadel of Qaitbay. It is here that you can also stock up on some last minute souvenirs from local temporary stalls setup by the sea side.
And with that, we started on our way back to Cairo for our final night in the city before we headed back to our respective countries.
Souvenir shopping in Egypt
While buying souvenirs in Egypt, always remember that you will have to bargain. You can easily start with half the price or even lower. We bought souvenirs from Jordi in the Khan al Khalili market in Cairo (ask around and they will tell you the way). This is a highly recommended shop with low and fixed prices. We also bought souvenirs near the Kom Ombo temple where our cruise ship was docked. And in Alexandria we shopped at the sea shore near Qaitbay Citadel.
Is Egypt safe?
Egypt is about as safe as any place can get. Infact the risk of getting pickpocketed in Egypt is far lesser than Barcelona or any other European hot spot. You will however see a lot of military presence on the roads and the places of interest but it it does not mean it is unsafe. Quite the contrary. On our way to Abydos and Dendera we were actually escorted by a police convoy for a part of the road. But it didnot imply that our lives were in danger at any time, it was just another measure to avoid any unnecessary issues involving tourists. However, try not to venture out after nightfall on your own. If travelling as a group, it is fine. Traffic in Cairo can be quite overwhelming, I come from India and it was overwhelming for me too especially as there are no signals for pedestrian crossing. So if anything, beware of managing the traffic there.
Tips on Egypt travel
Long commutes: Be prepared to have very early mornings when in Egypt as the road commutes are fairly long. On most days we used to wake up by 4 am and surprisingly all hotels in Egypts serve very early breakfast
Nile cruise: An effective way to spend less time on the road but still be able to visit all the places in Egypt is to use the Nile cruise. And you wouldn’t believe how much you would enjoy that
Cairo stays: When visiting the Pyramids, it is advisable to stay in Giza and not in downtown Cairo as the city is notorious for traffic. But on our final night in Cairo, we stayed near the Airport as it was easier to catch our flight
If you have more tips on travelling in Egypt, do let me know through comments.