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Trip Report Nile cruise with Uniworld, October 2015

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This will be a long, rambling multi-post report of our just-completed trip to Egypt.

For various reasons, including the political situation, we chose to go with Uniworld, which is a major river cruise company. We started our trip with a few days in Paris to break the journey, then arrived in Cairo to join the tour, which included two nights in Cairo at the beginning, and another two at the end, with the 7-night cruise in Upper Egypt, Luxor-Aswan-Luxor.

Most of my posts will be pasted directly from my cruisecritic postings, so may be more cruise-oriented than you like. I will try to adapt for this audience. Here's my first post:

We left Canada on the 12th, and had a few days in Paris (wonderful) before flying on to Cairo and starting the Uniworld tour in Cairo on October 17th.

We were met at the airport by a Uniworld rep, even before we went through security or customs. We did "visa on arrival" and it was a cinch--walked up to a little bank counter, handed them $50US for two visa, no fuss, no muss.

The Four Seasons Nile Plaza was lovely, as expected. Great huge rooms, good service, good facilities. Of course, everything there was very expensive, and it was very tough to get out. So, we didn't, sadly. Of course, that first two days were just taking in the destination. Having been to developing countries before, it wasn't all new to us, but Egypt certainly can be challenging.

Cairo itself seemed hot and dusty and inaccessible. We arrived at the hotel at dinner time, so didn't venture out, nor did we the second day, since we had a day of touring. If this sounds timid, it wasn't really. Walking in Cairo is treacherous at best (traffic), and the whole city seems to be in a state of permanent traffic gridlock, so even taking a cab would be fraught.

Having moved around Cairo now in buses and cabs, I would try to venture out next time--we drove through the Khan el-Khalili and it looked amazing. It would have been nice to have been taken there, perhaps with a guide, since it looked like a huge area, easy to get lost. Those of you who have been there on their own can tell me all about it, I'm sure.

Excursions during that first full day in Cairo was a trip to the Egyptian Museum, Citadel of Salah al-Din and the Alabaster Mosque. The museum (which is being replaced by a huge, brand new one in Giza in 2018 or some such date), is musty and old, like an old-fashioned Victorian museum in England, full of stuff, but amazing stuff I must say. In some cases there are items that were damaged or stolen in the unruly phase after the 2011 revolution--some have been returned. It was a great introduction to the many splendours we were going to see in the south (aka, Upper Egypt!) I suspect the new museum will be awesome, since many of the artifacts right now are being neglected.

We had an extremely early flight to Luxor, so we had a 4 a.m. wake-up call. The flight went well and we were picked up in Luxor where we were transported immediately to the Temple of Karnak. This worked out well since we were there before it got too wretchedly hot. Karnak is amazing, and we had our first experience of being gobsmacked by the "splendours of Egypt". You can see pictures of these sights, but it's not the same as being there.

More next time...

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    So, as I said, Karnak was amazing, and our first real taste of the sites to come. Egypt had been a dream for both of us for many decades, and seeing these things for real, well, let's just say we had many peak experiences! After Karnak, we were bussed to the ship and greeted warmly by the staff.

    BTW, I didn't say I guess, but our group size was 12. Ship capacity is 80. Five people joined separately later, but we hardly spoke to them. They had a separate guide and schedule.

    So, we were ushered into the large main floor lounge where they had a light snack set up, and did some paperwork. We briefly met the folks from the previous week, including Bill and Jeannie, that was nice. Then we obtained our keys and were escorted to our rooms, where our bags awaited us.

    There are no elevators on this ship. Not on any of the ships in the Nile I imagine, since they seem to have very similar configurations. This was a minor downside for us, but not a major one.

    We were on deck 2 forward. This meant two decks up to the sundeck, and two decks down to the dining room and shop. Cabins are very spacious. No balconies, but french-style, but these were hardly ever opened due to the heat and the presence of flies. Huge bathroom, large tub, bidet and separate shower (kind of tight as usual, with a rain shower head plus a hand-held one.) The bedding was superb, and large--we felt like we were sleeping in a football field.

    Only complaint about the room was that the closet space was a little tight. Since we were travelling light, and wearing very casual clothing during the day, that was fine, we managed, and there was plenty of drawer space. I can't emphasize enough that touring clothing be lightweight--I wore t-shirts and capris, sometimes a loose longsleeved shirt on top for the sun. I had a good sturdy pair of New Balance shoes that I wore always onshore, no sandals, although one couple wore sandals the entire time. We saw some Russian tourists mincing around Dendara wearing wedge sandals and flip flops, but I wouldn't recommend that. This was a two shower-a-day trip, believe me, and we also used the laundry service, which was efficient and reasonable.

    Okay, so we're in our room, and have explored the ship. We're ready for our first dinner. I can't remember what we had every day, but the food was very, very nice in general. Dinner is chosen from a menu, usually with two choices of appetizer, a soup, and three main courses, two desserts. There are also some standards available if nothing suits.

    The boat stays in Luxor for several days, and you tour from there. We were up for an early breakfast (buffet-style, with eggs to order), and off by bus to Dendara. This was our longest bus ride, and it was great to see the village life of Egypt out of the windows. Truly fascinating. Dendara's Temple of Hathor is Ptolemaic, one of four we saw. That means it dates from the era of Cleopatra, not pharoanic, i.e., only 2000 years old, not 3500 or 4500.

    You get some time to ponder the differences between New Kingdom, Old Kingdom, etc., first in the museum in Cairo, then during the excellent, entertaining commentary of Tarek Mostafa our guide. His knowledge of Egyptology was vast, he was funny as well, and had a flair for the dramatic.

    Hathor is the goddess of love and beauty, wife of Horus. Fun getting a grip on all these gods and goddesses and their stories.

    Another really fascinating bus ride back to Luxor, and onto the ship for relaxation, swimming, sleeping. Another great dinner and then off at sunset to the Temple of Luxor. As the sun went down, the lights came on, and we had the temple pretty much to ourselves. This, and Karnak are New Kingdom temples, and this one is spectacular, especially with the lighting, and a sliver of a moon overhead. Magic. They are joined, the two temples, by a long avenue lined with hawk-headed sphinxes, several miles long I believe. Much of this avenue is preserved within Luxor City.

    More later, next up, Valley of the Kings!

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    A word about tipping, currency and shopping in Egypt.

    Uniworld is not all-inclusive in Egypt. I can kind of see why, since tipping is ubiquitous in this country. Money changes hands constantly.

    It would have been nice to have Uniworld pre-pay at least the tour guide, ship's staff, drivers and airport reps. It was hard keeping track of what we owed each (Tarek helped with that), and tough carrying a mound of cash (although most of it stayed in the safe until we needed it.)

    USD are recommended by Uniworld, but in fact Euros would be fine too, Egyptian currency can be used up at the end as well this way, and Canadian dollars worked fine in the gift shop on the boat, and was accepted by various vendors as well. If we'd known this, we would not have bothered purchasing all that US currency (we're Canadian.)

    On top of the above there was money for bathroom breaks at various places, doormen, staff at the hotel. Getting Egyptian coins was next to impossible. We were lucky if we could get a 5 pound note--then two of us could use the facilities together, lol! Those US dollar bills were really useful. Good luck finding single pound coins.

    As for shopping, there seems to be, at least in the south, a fairly standard set of merchandise for sale at any of the antiquities sites. With not a huge variation in quality, but lots of variation in price. Much haggling is necessary. Vendors, since the economy is so bad, can get very persistent. We learned to say "no thank you" in Arabic very fast. You also learn to not look at anything, touch anything, tell them your name. Some places were worse than others. In most places the sellers were actually nice people, and would laugh along with you about their plight. This just made it harder not to keep buying stuff from them.

    There were several opportunities presented to us during the tours that included high-quality merchandise with no pressure. One was a papyrus store, very nice quality. They showed us how papyrus is made, how to tell fakes, and they had signed art from all over Egypt. We ended up buying two pieces, getting a third thrown in in lieu of discount--we will enjoy them I'm sure. Most of our group bought something there and the art was really stunning. Another time we went to a perfume factory, one specializing in essential oils. Again, many people bought gifts there, including lovely little perfume bottles. I bought a small bottle of Papyrus oil, and a beautiful little bottle.

    On the last day, in Saqqara near Cairo, we went to a "Carpet School". This is a place where silk, wool and wool/cotton carpets are made by hand. The silk carpets particularly are made by boys who are 8-12 years old. If they have thin enough fingers when they grow up, they continue, if they are good at it, but their fingers get too big, they become teachers. They apparently go to school, they didn't appear mistreated. The carpets for sale were beautiful, but very expensive. I saw a silk I liked that was about 3 feet long perhaps, small. It was $1000 US. So none of us bought a carpet!

    The merchandise in Aswan included lots of alabaster carvings, but in general, the merchandise was scarves, galabeyas (light robes), statuettes of gods, scarabs, pyramids, decorative camels, oh I'm forgetting lots of stuff, like fridge magnets. Mostly decently-made in the south. At Giza most of the merchandise looked cheaply-made, in fact the whole area around the pyramids seemed pretty awful. On the ship they sold beautiful gold jewellery, including customizable cartouches. A Nubian market in the south included wood carvings that were nice.

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    Thanks Femi.

    A note on above--the great rows of sphinxes in Luxor are ram-headed, not hawk-headed, lol! The next installment:

    So, we had another early morning in Luxor. Tarek, our wonderful Egyptologist guide, wanted to get us out there as early as possible, since it was hot.

    We saw the 3500 hundred year-old Colossi of Memnon, which are huge statues in not great shape, out on the plain. Then we went to the tomb of Hatshepsut, the female pharoah, who portrayed herself in most art as a man. She is an intriguing historical figure, and her temple quite large. Her image was systematically removed by her successor, but the art is still impressive. It's amazing how the art on these walls still retains some color after several millennia.

    Then, on to the Valley of the Kings. Those who have been there know that the tombs are scattered along a wadi-like valley, and are still being discovered gradually, since they were all originally hidden. On any given day, a selection of tombs are open. At the moment, Tut's tomb is closed, alas, since they are now on the search for Nefertiti's tomb. But having seen all of Tut's treasures in Cairo at the museum, we didn't feel too left out. We visited several of the Rameses tombs (IV, IX and...oh oh, I forget!) All amazing. Again, there is plenty of colour on the walls, and in most cases the preservation of the art is stellar, thanks to the dry climate I guess.

    Coming out, there is the usual gamut of people selling wares. One of our group was an inveterate haggler--he was always stopping and engaging with the sellers, and he ended up buying lots of stuff during the week, and seemed to get great enjoyment out of it--I'm sure he made the day for many vendors.

    No visit to the Valley of the Queens, apparently according to Tarek, the tomb of Nefertari, which is by far the most impressive, has been closed for some time. She comes up time after time, rightly so, since she was the favorite wife of Rameses II, his Nubian honey.

    Coming back to the ship for lunch was, as usual, a relief of sorts. The boat was set to move south, and the sail down to Kom Ombu was a delight. We were all relaxing by the pool and sitting under the nice canopies or covered area on the pool deck (yes, there was lots of shade), when we came to the major lock that we were passing through. This was a treat. Old hat for veteran river cruisers, but for us novices it was great, and watching the way the Egyptian workers did it was fun. And, ..., as Tarek had warned us, there were vendors along the edges of the lock, trying to sell us stuff, from two storeys down! This was great fun. And Danny, the fellow who liked to haggle, bought a galabeya that he later gave to my husband David. They did it by throwing stuff up and down, including the money in a little bag attached to a rope(they did this by boat at times as well).

    The night before, I had participated in a galabeya-choosing jamboree at the little shop outside the dining room. The store is independent, and his merchandise changed as the week progressed, and that night he had a whole selection of the lovely, comfy, soft galabeyas out, since we were headed for the galabeya party the next night. No pressure to buy, or wear one, but the gowns were priced very reasonably, I think I paid $15 for mine, and I love it and will wear it as a cover-up for swimming.

    But my husband David wasn't having any of this, no costumes for him!!! But in comes Danny and Ron (another pax from Canada) with the galabeya for David, and then along comes Sam, the cruise manager with one of those beautiful, soft cotton head scarves, and next thing you know, David is dressed as a pasha.

    The galabeya party was a great success, I think about half of us were dressed up, and all of the staff were, and participated in the hijinx--dancing mostly. The Egyptian men seem to love to dance, and a hint of music just gets their whole bodies going. This party loosened everybody up and there was much laughing and hilarity. I didn't get a decent picture, although we have a whole packet that the photographer took (and sold to us at a reasonable price.)

    And so to bed, getting ready for Kom Ombu and our first of several forays out onto the river on a small boat.

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    Oh, and I must mention a factoid or two about Aswan. It is one of the driest inhabited places in the world. It rains every, oh, five years or more.

    Well, it rained while we were there. We didn't witness much of it, since we were chugging down the river at the time, on the ship, but we did experience a freak thunderstorm with high winds and some rain while going through the lock on the way back towards Luxor. Our Nubian guide pointed out that the sand dunes were a different colour because of the rain, and people were often afraid of the rain, presumably because it's so rare. The next morning there were puddles on the street in Luxor.

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    I'll try for some photos but it will be some time. We're off to our summer home in Florida later this week, so I don't have much time to work on photos, although I have downloaded them from my camera. I'll get on with more reports soon, I promise.

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    The next morning we were off early again to Kom Ombu, another Ptolemaic temple, this one dedicated to the gods Horus and Sobek, the latter being a crococile god (yes). It was again, beautiful, with great wall carvings. And a huge well-like pit where apparently they kept real crocociles for people to worship (I hope no one got thrown in!)

    We then went back to the ship which took off upriver towards Aswan. It was again a very pleasant relaxing time up on deck, dips in the pool, naps, etc.

    After arriving in Aswan, we did a felucca ride up the river, through the Elephantine Island area (amazing rocky structures that look like elephants), to the Old Cataract Hotel, site of Agatha Christie's Death on the Nile. We had high tea outside on the patio, and then walked through and admired the old hotel. Very elegant, incredible view. I could have wished that tea had been indoors, since it was still very hot. But it was after sunset when we left, so we did get to see the sun going down over the river.

    It must have been even more amazing before the High Dam went in, and the name "Cataract" must have meant something. Still a stunningly beautiful area. I don't have my pictures up yet, or I'd show you a view. When I do, I'll try to update this thread, but it will be a while, since we're starting the drive to our winter home in Florida next week, and it will take a while to get settled, as usual.

    Back to the boat, and shower and change for yet another lovely dinner followed by a performance by a belly dancer (aided by the ship's masseur ho was a very good dancer), and a whirling dervish. Fairly ersatz probably, the latter, but still mesmerizing to watch. Great fun, and with just 17 pax, very intimate.

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    Still in Aswan, we visited the High Dam by bus and another temple. Very educational, still a marvel of engineering. Built largely by Russians, still have a few around I expect. Very high security, as you can imagine. Interesting to see the area around it (and interesting to watch the traffic issues on the bridge over the river, which is the *old* Aswan dam.)

    After that we came back to the Philae Temple, dedicated to Isis. Again a Ptolemaic temple. Again lots of beautiful carvings. This temple was one that was rescued when the High Dam was built--moved in its entirety, piece by piece. And very worth the effort, thanks UNESCO. There was also a stop at a unfinished obelisk, still lying in the ground, in town. I demurred, being hot and tired, but those who made the climb up to see it were rewarded with a nice market on the way back--wish I had known that, I would have made the effort. But still, I could feel the effects of the heat and the climbing beginning to wear me down by this point.

    In late afternoon we boarded a small boat with a Nubian guide, a man who specialized in wildlife, apparently. He was quite knowledgeable and pointed out birds to us as with puttered down the river through a wildlife preserve. I was very happy to see that overall, there are lots of shore birds along the Nile. Egrets, ibises, geese, ducks, several types of herons, plus the ubiquitous black-hooded crows. The grassland of the shore was framed by the vast sand dunes of the dessert, just behind. Beautiful. A very pleasant float.

    He then took us ashore to a Nubian village. This was not at all what you might expect. The Nubians have been in Egypt for centuries, but are still culturally and ethnically distinct. They have their own language and culture. The village was probably fairly similar to an Egyptian one. Narrow paths among houses usually three storeys high, with open roofs. It had rained the day before, which was astonishing to most, but that is so rare that they don't worry about their roofs very much. The village was modern in some ways, TV's and internet satellites, but was obviously fairly poor. We were invited into one house, and they were proud of their fridges, stoves and freezers, but the living spaces were, uh, modest, shall we say. The guide stressed that the education levels here were high, and that many folks came back to their villages to retire and live the peaceful life after working in the cities. And as all over Egypt, everything was dusty and dry.

    We floated back to another stop along the river, where up some stairs lay a little tourist spot, with camels and crocociles. I got to hold a small one, and others took pictures of the young camels. There was a cafe and the usual shop items for sale.

    Back to the ship, and this time (following our trip to the Nubian village), we had a Nubian music and dance show in the lounge. It was okay, interesting, not sure how authentic since I had nothing to compare it to.

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    Oh, and I must mention a factoid or two about Aswan. It is one of the driest inhabited places in the world. It rains every, oh, five years or more.

    Well, it rained while we were there. We didn't witness much of it, since we were chugging down the river at the time, on the ship, but we did experience a freak thunderstorm with high winds and some rain while going through the lock on the way back towards Luxor. Our Nubian guide pointed out that the sand dunes were a different colour because of the rain, and people were often afraid of the rain, presumably because it's so rare. The next morning there were puddles on the street in Luxor.

    Estimates varied as to when the last rainfall was. Our documentation says it rained in 2006. Guides said three years, or seven years, take your pick.

    Well this is getting very long, so I'll try to make the rest brief.

    Did I mention that there was a fitness instructor/masseur onboard? A delightful young man. I made his yoga class one early morning around sunrise, and there was always some class up there early.

    The next day was our "big" day to Abu Simbel. This was an add-on extra, one that ten of us took. It was reasonably-priced and we flew.

    The good news was that we didn't have to get up early, since our flight wasn't until about 10. The bad news was that this meant we were at the site in the middle of a very, very hot day. But Egyptair has cut way back on its flights, and there was only one flight that day from Aswan.

    This is huge temple, the jewel of the whole trip, an absolute must-see. David said that walking around the corner on the path and seeing those huge statues of Rameses II was a peak experience for him, and it was for me too. No photographs allowed inside, so we bought a packet of photos, although there are probably lots on the net. Incredibly beautiful. Preservation is stunning, mainly because the temples were buried in sand for centuries, and forgotten until the nineteenth century. There are actually two temples, the second one to his favourite Nubian wife, Nefertari. We spent about an hour altogether, going in and out of the two temples. Luckily I had brought my little umbrella, and we sheltered under that, since outside there is no shade.

    This pair of temples is another one, the major one, that UNESCO moved up the shore so that Lake Nasser would not flood it when the dam was built. It's more or less where it was originally, just higher, facing the lake. Lake Nasser is beautiful, and it would have been lovely to do a boat trip--apparently there are lots of temples along the shore. Different types of boats ply the shores down there, didn't get a good look at them.

    After flying back to Aswan, we re-boarded for a late lunch and a leisurely chug back down the river heading towards Edfu. This was the hottest day of all I think, and I was beginning to fade!

    Next morning we were off to Edfu bright and early. This temple is dedicated to the god Horus, son of Isis. We learned all kinds of great stories about the gods and their interactions with each other. To me, this was the least-impressive of the Graeco-Roman temples, but perhaps I was just getting "templed out". Our trip to Edfu was by horse-drawn caleche. Managed by our guide who imprecated the drivers to treat us well, and chose carriages with decent seats. It was quite an adventure, through a dusty traffic jam and all. I did feel sorry for the horses, as I did in Giza. You have to prepare yourself for this, if you're an animal-lover. They are not starved horribly, but they obviously work hard and are not treated very well, in my opinion.)

    I was tired, and almost skipped the Karnak Sound and Light show that night after dinner, back in Luxor. It was really hokey. It was fun walking through the site at night, with spooky lights, but the show itself was really dreadful I thought. Let George Lucas or Steven Spielberg do it, and I'm sure they could do a great show. If there was one thing to skip, it would be this.

    Farewell reception in the lounge before that, necessarily brief, but nice.

    I think this was the night we had the great mezzes served at dinner, yummy Egyptian fare!

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    So the next morning it was sad farewells, as we headed mid-morning to the airport to fly back to Cairo. The weather had broken somewhat and it was much cooler (and lovely and cool in Cairo.)

    The Tosca was, I thought, I lovely boat. Some who were Uniworld veterans thought it was not up to snuff with the European boats, and probably that is so, but it was very nice, and I loved the intimacy. The staff were all gems, and treated us like pashas! And those cabins were so lovely and big, it made up for any shortcomings.

    Flying in and out of Cairo is a pain. It's a long slog from the airport to the Garden City area where the hotel is. I wonder if Uniworld wouldn't do better to put us up coming *back* in a hotel down in Giza, since we then proceeded to have two long bus trips back and forth to Giza. The first trip was that night, down to see the Sound and Light show at the Great Pyramid. This is quite dramatic, since we hadn't seen the pyramids yet on this trip (although we did spot them from our balcony at the hotel that afternoon where we were having a delightful late lunch from room service.)

    Seeing the Sphinx and the Pyramids all darkened, then waiting and seeing them successively lit up was a real treat. The story line and drama was again very hokey, but the setting was great. We also enjoyed the fact that it was quite cool that night, with a lovely breeze. But as I said, long bus rides both ways, particularly getting to Giza. Giza itself, at least the area right around the pyramids is very tawdry, and for the first time we saw lots of garbage littering the canals. Lots of animals around, even horses just walking loose around town, quite strange.

    So, I'll leave the last day to another installment, since it's kind of the "main event" I think.

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    Okay, so our last big day started, the last day of the tour.

    We were to do two things, go to Giza to see the Pyramids and the Sphinx, and then go to Saqqara to see the Step Pyramid of Djoser, etc.

    We started the day with another long trek out to Giza by bus. We were taken through the usual gamut of hawkers at the gates, and got back on the bus several times to take us to different viewing spots. One spot was high up, overlooking the Pyramids, surrounded by desert. There were camels and horses and horse-drawn caleches galore--they seemed very popular with the Egyptian tourists. The horses, especially the ones meant for riding, were in much better shape here. We were offered camel rides, which we demurred, but several in our group did it and it was great fun. We got close to Cheops itself, and I climbed up to the door, but did not go in--this cost extra, but that wasn't the reason--I'm claustrophic, so outside is just fine. The smallest of the three pyramids was open, also at an extra cost, and some of our group went in.

    Twice, women tourists wanted me to be in their selfie shot. Not sure why--one was a Chinese woman, the other an Egptian, part of a family visiting from another part of Egypt. Perhaps they were just glad to see tourists, or perhaps it's because I'm blonde, who knows.

    We were lucky with the weather that morning--it was breezy and gloriously cool. Still, as the day progressed the sun got hot, and we went back to seeking little strips of shade wherever we could. Some of us visited the Solar Boat Museum, where they have unearthed a beautiful cedar boat that was buried with Cheops, apparently to transport him to the afterlife. That was unexpected and really amazing. I was reminded of the Viking boat in Oslo.

    Then we drove back down and visited the Sphinx, up close and personal. It's quite popular and I can only imagine what it's like when there are hordes of tourists, but it wasn't bad for us of course. All these sights are truly amazing and humbling, and I'm so glad I got to see them, words can't express it.

    I had been happy to hear that we were going on to Saqqara, since I didn't think we'd see this area. The Step Pyramid is the oldest one, and is considered kind of a prototype for the pyramids-proper, since it was built as a series of mastaba, piled on top of each other (a mastaba is a low structure, usually a grave I think--think storeys of a house, piled on top of each other, but each storey a little smaller.)

    We stood and ooh'd and aah'd at the pyramid for a while, plus at the other ones off in the distance--the red pyramid, the bent pyramid and several others. Just magical. Something about those ancient stones is just fascinating. Then we went to an area that's more recently excavated, that has tombs of town officials and workers. That day the tomb of the daughter of the mayor was open, and we got to walk through it, up close and personal. It was awesome. Again, no pictures allowed, but the pictorial stories told were just so poignant. Again, lots of color left after so long. The tomb was human-sized, not much bigger than a small home would be I guess. A highlight of the day.

    So, lots of peak experiences today. Before lunch we had a brief visit to a Carpet School, of which there are plenty around that area. They make silk, wool and wool/cotton blend carpets of very high quality. We saw how they were made, all by hand, and then proceeded to the showroom. Lovely products, but really expensive. No takers that day.

    Our guide Tarek realized that we were going to have a long day out, and that Uniworld had not arranged anything for lunch (which they probably should have.) So he felt us out about it, and chose a restaurant for a lunch stop, that we all agreed to pay for. It was a patio setting, in a fairly large complex laid out for families, usually for corporate visits. There was a pool, and pony and camel rides for the kids. I realized that since more Cairenes live in apartments, and there are few public parks (that I saw), this type of place would be very valuable to them. This was near Saqqara, which is considered a nice suburb I believe. Anyways, it was a lovely lunch, with an amazing selection of mezzes (including the absolute best babaganoush that I had ever had and fresh-baked pita), grilled meats, etc. This we did basically before we went back into Cairo to the hotel. It was a huge meal really, and we didn't eat again. And it cost about $10 per person, plus the cost of a couple of beers.

    All that was left was to go back to the hotel, say our goodbyes, pay our driver and guide, go down and have a couple of cocktails at the bar, then try to get some sleep before our 4:30 a.m. wake up call to go to the airport.

    Our flights home were uneventful, albeit moderately uncomfortable when AF substituted a different plane to Toronto, and we lost our seating together, but a nice desk attendant found she could put us in adjoining aisles, which isn't half bad as most can attest. I'll wrap up with some final thoughts in the next day or two.

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    WWanderer - we were Egypt last December and we had a wonderful time. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts on your trip, it sounds like you had a wonderful time.

    I agree the solar boat is indeed well worth seeing and Abu Simbel is a don't miss. We stayed overnight and ended up having the whole site to ourselves which I think will remain one of the highlights of our traveling life. We would very much liked to have seen Dendera which we didn't have time for - so I was interested to read what you thought.

    In terms of getting around Cairo, if you go again I'd recommend staying near the Khan el Khalili. There's a wonderful boutique hotel Le Riad and it's perfectly safe to wander around night, the whole area is beautifully lit up and the historic buildings are really magnificent. It's a great area to stay because you really can wander around at your own pace.
    Here are some pictures we took while walking in the market area at night.

    Your report and descriptions were very evocative and brought back our trip so thanks very much for posting.

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    Thanks for the tip. We got to drive through Khan el Khalili on the last part of the trip, and the shoppers of the group were going wild! I really wish Uniworld would schedule a visit, at least.

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    Some thoughts. The recent events in the Sinai must be just devastating to the Egyptians. They are trying so hard to get tourists back into the country and this happens with the plane crash from Sharm. I do hope it turns out that this was an accident, not a bomb.

    Airport security seemed good in all the airports we were in (Cairo, Luxor, Aswan and Abu Simbel), but of course you can't know what is happening behind the scenes. Security along roads was fairly tight-looking, but sometimes it seemed mostly for appearances. Security at the historic sites was variable, heaviest perhaps at the Pyramids in Giza and the Valley of the Kings, but fairly lax sometimes.

    Egypt is a hot country, especially in the south. That, and the nature of the ancient sites makes it a strenuous destination. Go when you're young, and go in the winter if you can, and if the tourists aren't too numerous. I'm in my late 60's and the heat and dust took a lot out of me. It reminded me a bit of Mumbai. I got very tired towards the end of our 12-day tour, and I felt like I'd "had enough". After a good rest I recovered, and enjoyed the last couple of days, but I was beat when I got home. So, plan accordingly--there is lots of climbing up and down steps, and through ruins. Not terribly strenuous, but in the heat, it's not trivial. Wear good shoes. And prepare to sweat a lot and have several showers a day.

    The Egyptian people are lovely. I should say the men--I met few women. The ones I did meet were also lovely, but they are harder to meet on a tour.

    The desert is astoundingly beautiful. I wasn't prepared for the closeness of it along the Nile. And I wasn't prepared for the wildlife either, loved it.

    Would I go back? Probably not at this stage in my life. But this is a trip I would not have missed. It fulfills a long-held dream to see those ancient places.

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    It is indeed a very sad time for both the Russian people and the poor Egyptians. Their travel industry may be in tatters after this.

    I agree with lots of your advice WWanderer which is both thoughtful and reasoned. Touring in Egypt is exhausting because there's just so much to see, do and to take in, so much to learn and so much history. We also found we were quite tired and so several days we just cut the guide short and went back to the hotel. On other occasions when we were feeling overwhelmed with information we opted to see the site on our own.

    We found our days on the Dahabiya very relaxing as there was general only a half day of activities and a half day sailing which made for a relaxing experience. I highly recommend to others putting the cruise section in the middle of your trip.

    You can see how relaxing it was here.

    In terms of security we thought it was reasonably tight, though at some places it looked fairly perfunctory to say the least. However, there was an armed guard with us on the drive from Aswan to Abu Simbel, though he was asleep most of the way! In Hatshepsut's Temple i remarked on the absence of guards and the guide pointed to the top of the nearby ridge and sure enough there were armed military units. Sometimes they're there even when you don't see them.

    <The Egyptian people are lovely. I should say the men--I met few women. The ones I did meet were also lovely, but they are harder to meet on a tour.> One suggestion which works well on a customized private trip, is to ask the agent or ensure you get at least a couple of female guides. We felt that Djed did a good job on this and we had two female guides on our trip, one in Cairo and another in Luxor.

    We often make a point of doing this, both to support women's employment and to get the perspective you felt you missed. Invariably they have female guides but often work goes to men first. Incidentally is often cheaper to book a private trip with an Egyptian agent than going on a group trip with a US based agency.

    I also like the fact that many of the people from the company that we interacted with came from different background, Muslims, Coptic Christians, Nubians, secular types and more religious people. It gave us a number of different perspectives on what is going on in Egypt.

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    Excellent report - takes me back. And I can attest in January 2008 it rained in Aswan for these Canadians too! Back to reading the rest but wanted to get that on the rain record!

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    Thanks for the great report. I've always wanted to visit Egypt, but now who knows. The fact that this likely was a bomb is quite disconcerting and makes the idea of a visit more unlikely.

    Thanks for the weather warning and the suggestion to visit in the winter. We made the mistake last year of going to southern India too late in the winter and thought we'd die of the heat.

    When you said the situation reminded you somewhat of Mumbai, did you mean the heat or the intensity or what? We liked Mumbai.

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    Thanks. Well, I didn't like Mumbai much, frankly, although I suspect it's improved since I was there almost 15 years ago. And I was stuck out in the northern burbs.

    It was my first real "developing" country, and I was there on business, so had little time to explore.

    It was the dust, the air pollution, and the chaos that reminded me of Mumbai.

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    Please can anyone that stay in Cairo Egypt give me a name of perfume Essence shop, where I can buy the true oils, online or call them and place an order? and will receive the true oils nothing cut down or water down. I would greatly appreciate. It's been years since I've been to Egypt, I used to buy them there all the time unfortunately I have forgotten the name of the shops that I bought from.

    USA 6237552092
    I'm on whatsapp too
    Remain Bless
    Thank you
    Queen Shalom

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    Hmm, can't help you. I bought from a lovely shop in Luxor, but I have probably lost the bill. They were very good, and may have a shop in Cairo too. I'll look around and see if I have the name somewhere, but doubt I have it, sorry. I know what you mean, I bought papyrus oil, and love it.

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