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Independent Travel to Egypt – Comments and Suggestions

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DH and myself are planning a trip to Egypt end of November to see the marvels of the ancient world. We like to explore places on our own and plan every detail (No offence to tour groups but we don’t like to be rushed) and after reading a lot of helpful advices and suggestions (especially Dory, Part 1 and CC) we have come up with this itinerary for our 9 nights in Egypt.

Day 1: Arriving at Cairo airport at 9:00 am. Take domestic flight to Aswan. Overnight in Aswan. (Possibly see either of the following time permitting in the afternoon: The Philae Temple, High Dam/ Felucca to the Elephants Island / Aswan market place/Nubian Village).

Day 2: Visit Abu Simbel in the first convoy at 4:00 am. (Can it be arranged in a day or we have to contact the hotel couple days in advance) Be back around 1:00 pm in the afternoon, lunch (Any local places anyone can suggest to experience true Egyptian food) and complete anything left from the list above (The Philae Temple, High Dam/ Felucca to the Elephants Island / Aswan market place/ Nubian Village). Overnight in Aswan.

Day 3: Take the early train to Luxor. Visit the Valley of the Kings, the Temple of Hatshepsut and the Colossi of Memnon and Necropolis of Thebes. (How convenient is it to go to these site from your hotel, could you hire a driver for a day or do you need to get the tour guide + driver, what is an average cost associated with it). Overnight in Luxor.

Day 4: Visit the Temple of Karnak and Temple of Luxor. Sound and Light show at the Valley of Kings. (Which Sound and Light show is the most breathtaking out of VOK, Pyramids or Abu-Simbel) Overnight in Luxor.

Day 5: Stay in Luxor and possibly do Abydos & Dendera. Last flight out of Luxor to Cairo.

Day 6: Visit the Egyptian Museum, Citadel, Coptic Cairo and Khan El Khalili Bazaar.

Day 7: Early starts to Visit the great Pyramids: Cheops, Chephren & Mykerions. Face to face with the Sphinx and then onto Sakkara and Memphis. Overnight in Cairo.

Day 8: Option to go see Alexandria. DH not very interested as he wants to experience Cairo itself, food, people and the narrow streets, but we are open to do a day tour by train. Overnight in Cairo.

Day 9: Visit Khan El Khalili Bazaars for last minute shopping (Ill like to get some unique items for the home that will also be useful and remind me of my dream trip, any suggestions?) Overnight in Cairo

Day 10: Morning Flight back home.

Suggestions/Comments:

1) Is the 2-hour in Abu Simble really limited? Do you truly get to see and enjoy the experience of seeing the temple in 2 hours or you think more time is needed?

2) DH not keen on taking the Nile cruises. I would like to take the Nile cruise if we are not on a set schedule to be back to the cruise. And I am afraid as per our nature to explore things at our own pace we wont be able to do that with a Nile cruise. Any suggestions will be appreciated from someone who was able to do both.

3) We are open to staying a night in Cairo on Day 1 and fly to Aswan the next morning. Is it better to see the pyramids before we go to see Aswan and Luxor?

4) Accommodations: Giza versus Cairo. Luxor East bank versus West bank?

3) As we will probably not be going with a tour, do you think the hotel we book will be willing to keep our luggage before we check in or later when we check out?

4) If we are not taking a Nile cruise what is the other best way to see temples in Edfu and Kom Ombo? Costs associated. We could possibly do this on Day 5?

4) Lastly does independent travel ends up costing more than the tours? Anyone has experience in both? (Including transfer to a from airports/train, entrance fees, taxi’s, meals etc.)

I’m ready to fall in the hands of this magical country…

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    There are so many things to answer here.

    1. Aswan - do not miss the Fatimid cemetery opposite the unfinished obelisk - it is one of my favourite places. There is a tomb covered inside with deep blue powder (they call it indigo but it is really laundry blue) where women go to talk to the sultan who was intolerant of domestic violence and to ask him to intercede for them.

    2. Abu Simbel can be seen in two hours - it is an isolated site with just the two main temples and there is not a huge area inside either. You do get moved on if you stand around too long. Guides are not allowed inside these sites anyway - all briefing has to be done outside.
    for real Egyptian food - just find a small street cafe serving ful or ta'amia or rotisserie chicken - both are pretty safe is you are wary of salads.
    I think you have too much planned on this afternoon - try to cover some of this on day one. A trip on the river to the cataracts in a motor boat is also beautiful. while it seems a pit to use the motor boat it is interesting - and there are lots of pharaonic carvings in the rocks above the river. The birds are amazing. This is delightful in the evening. Rug up - it will get cold.

    3. I would skip Hatshepsut and go to the Valley of the Workers. It is heaps more interesting and will be almost deserted. Hatshepsut's temple is almost completely a reconstruction. The tiny tombs in the valley of the workers are fabulous and no-one goes there.
    Valley of the Kings - I love the graphic black and white of Tutmosis 4 (or maybe it was 3?) but it is a high hardish climb a bit on its own and then the tomb goes down and it can be hot inside - so it is up to your fitness level.
    You can hire a driver for the day - you might be better negotiating with a taxi of the street than a car arranged by the hotel as that tends to have a much higher price. Be ready for a tip request at the end of the day.

    4. The Karnak sound and light is also pretty good - different languages at different times so check this before you go. I have not seen the others.

    Skipping 5 - it might be possible but varies according to security.

    6. Check opening hours and days for all of these. Summer hours are different from Winter hours. While the museum and Citadel are open most days the Khan al Khalili is mostly closed on Sundays and Coptic Cairo has its own closing times. You do not mention my favourite areas of real Cairo - the tentmakers'street and the areas around it. http://www.jennybowker.com/postcards/2007/3/15/the-tentmakers-of-old-cairo-in-melbourne.html
    the link above is to a posting - old - on my blog and there is a contact link then if you have more questions. It is closed tight on Sunday.

    7. I am not keen on the Giza pyramids - I would start with Dashour if you want a different and interesting Egypt. They are out in the desert - and if you are fit the Red Pyramid is more interesting to go into that any of those at Gaza. However - at Giza the BEST thing is the solar boat. Do not miss that - it is stunning and well worth the extra cost.

    At Saqqara make sure you go into Mereruka's tomb as it has just reopened. Also Kagimini's around the corner where most people miss it. Opposite Mereruka's is an opening to a little hump of a pyramid - Titi's - which looks like nothing .It actually has the best of all the pyramid's text on the walls and is an easy climb in - a slow slope with a wooden ramp and only a few bits where you have to bend over.
    On the way to Saqqara from Giza is a small area called Harrania where the Wissa Wassef project is. Do not let your driver take you to carpet or perfume factories - they are just after a cut of the profits - but do not miss Wissa Wassef. It is beautiful - kind to its workers, and really interesting. Or use one of my lovely drivers and they will know what is good.

    8 Forget Alexandria - it is a scary drive, and there is not a lot there compared to the riches of Cairo. Walk old Islamic Cairo - the North walk, or up through Dar al Achmar. Go to the city of the dead. If you want a driver find me on the website where my blog is and contact - I can give you email addresses for two lovely men who will not rip you off, have comfortable cars and read and write English. This is all real Cairo and can be so much more interesting.

    9. Khan el Khalili - just check the dates and days - closed Sunday as are all the jewellers in town. Unique gifts - beautiful glass Christmas ornaments, glasses or vases or candle holders - in strong pyrex from Mustafa's. Tentmaker hangings from Sharia Khayamiya. Some gorgeous silver jewellery - ring my friend Mohamed Khalil for really different pieces - you will think you are being taken to a crack house as they lead you to the back of the khan - and up two flights of the grottiest stairs you ever saw - but so worth it. +20122221179

    Comments:
    1. It should be enough but the drive is hard and you will be tired.
    2. The thing about the Nile Cruises is comfortable accommodation, reasonable food and you are parked right on the edge of most of the temples. Just think of them as floating hotels. There is very little other accommodation which is not horrendously expensive or just plain horrendous. The best part of a Nile Cruise is the drifting down the Nile - watching life on the shore, fisherman moving past in tiny boats, people moving cows from island to island in tiny boats, and just life on the river. It can be magical. Just avoid the galabeyiah parties - and the expensive guides. You can do your own thing to some extent - use provided transport to get to locations, then just walk away. Just be sure you can get back.

    3 The Pyramids is a very very full day and you have to work out what to see and what to miss if you have only one day. Do not stay out near them - it is dreadful and there are very few good hotels unless you are in Mina House. Stay in town and you have more mealtime choices. Go to Abu Tarek's for a real Egyptian experience and eat the Khoshary followed by rice in milk.

    4. Not Giza - Cairo to stay. Do you want luxury or nice local style? I have only stayed on the east bank in Luxor - it is easier for temples but the other site is easier for tombs.

    Do not miss the Darwish performance at the Ghouria opposite Khan El Khalili near the green bridge - I think it is open on Saturday, Monday and Wednesday evening but check when you get there. It is magical - one of the best experiences you will have and it is free. However - you need to line up at least an hour before, take warm clothes as there is no roof, and take still photographs but not videos.

    Go independent. It is magical - but give yourself some time to know the people. You say you like time - but this feels very very rushed. In winter many things open later and close earlier.

    Have fun.

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