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Trip Report Now is a GREAT time to visit Egypt! (Trip Report)

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I haven't hung out on Fodor's in years (since they closed the Lounge),
but I recently returned from a fantastic trip in Egypt, and this was
in major part thanks to the trip report from welltraveledbrit:

www.fodors.com/community/africa-the-middle-east/five-thousand-years-in-19-days-pyramids-tombs-camels-and-a-river.cfm

and her recommended tour operator, so I wanted to pay it forward with
a quick trip report here. (Looks like Fodor's posting software is
buggy. I hope that link is usable.)

MAIN POINTS

I've been way behind at work since my return a week ago, so I will try
to be brief. My main point is that NOW is a great time to visit Egypt!
Other points:

1. Big shout out to welltraveledbrit for the great trip report.
I've always been curious to visit Egypt, but was put off by reports
of crowds, scams, hassle, heat, and gastroenteritis. When I read
her trip report, I was thinking that I'd love to have exactly that
trip. And that led to...

2. A recommendation for Djed Travel. This is the same tour operator
welltraveledbrit used, and they were fantastic. They aren't that big,
so with only welltraveledbrit's recommendation and a few (glowing)
tripadvisor ratings, I was a bit worried. But everything worked out
very well. They were not perfect in every way, but overall, this
trip far exceeded my expectations, and I could not imagine pulling it
off without Djed.

3. The weather in mid-December was ideal. I think many sites would
be unpleasant in the heat, so winter seems like the best time to go.
I had daytime highs in the low-20s(70s F), and night time lows in
the teens C (50s F). This was perfect for walking around and exploring
sites. If anything, it got a bit cold, but that's easy to solve with
a sweater or light jacket. I also had a bit of rain, but when you
have your own private drivers (See #2 Djed...), a bit of rain is no problem.

4. No crowds! There were brief moments at specific sites when
a tour group would breeze through, and it would be crowded and
unpleasant for a few minutes. To me, this gave a glimpse of
what visiting Egypt at the wrong time might be like.... so go
now, when the crowds are thin! I had the Meidum Pyramid site
entirely to myself, my guide, and my driver. Same with the
Red and Bent Pyramids (an independent young couple showed up
briefly at the Red Pyramid while we were there). Same with
the Tombs of the Nobles. Etc. even at the "crowded" sites,
I had, for example, the burial chamber in the Great Pyramid
of Khufu, and the Hypostyle Hall at Karnak, both entirely
to myself for several minutes. Many times, I'd wait around
hoping for some other tourists to wander into my photos, so I
could have something to give a sense of scale. The sites really
are that deserted. This is an extraordinary opportunity to enjoy
the sights without crowds.

5. Reduced Hassle. Egypt is famous for being a hassle, with
touts swarming you relentlessly. One of the roles of a private
guide like Djed is to defend you from the touts, which (with one
exception noted below) they did superbly. But tourist numbers are
down so much that it seems as if many touts have given up (Classic
predator-prey dynamics: When the prey population falls, the
predators are initially even more aggressive, but eventually
their population falls, too. Then the prey population can slowly
recover with reduced predation until the predators start to
multiply again.) In Luxor, which Lonely Planet had dubbed the
hassle capitol of Egypt, I walked the kilometer between my hotel
and the Luxor Museum, and back, by myself without guide, along a beautiful,
mostly deserted riverfront promenade, with just a handful of calls
for "feluca", "taxi", "ni hao", etc. and no one following me around.

6. Tourist Infrastructure. If the lack of tourists persists, the
Egyptian economy will be in trouble, and the tourist infrastructure
will start to degrade. Already, you can see a bit of deferred
maintenance in the hotels, for example, but currently, you get
the benefit of beautiful tourist infrastructure, designed for much
higher numbers, but without the crowds.

7. Great Value. I was blown away by how inexpensive this trip
turned out. I haven't had time to tally up all my expenses yet,
but the package that Djed gave me cost about USD$1700 including:
3 nights in pyramid-view rooms at the Mena House, 2 nights in
the Sofitel Pavillon Winter in Luxor, 1 night at the Cairo
Marriott, all breakfasts, 800 EGP (over USD$100) worth of entrance
tickets to the major sights, 2 internal flights CAI-LUX-CAI,
meet-and-greet at the airports, airport transfers, a private guide,
and a private driver in a shiny van, all to myself. Hotel prices
are absurdly low for the quality.

8. Photos are allowed at the Egyptian Museum until January 7!
Unfortunately, this tip is probably too late to help many people,
but if you're going soon, enjoy this perk, and if you're planning
a trip, keep your eyes open regarding the photo policy. For me,
this was a glorious surprise for my last day in Egypt, as one
of my main joys in travel is taking photos of things I find
interesting (see my username), and I had always read how strictly
the Egyptian Museum enforced their no-photo policy. This change
was apparently a move to try to boost tourism, but sadly (in perhaps
characteristic bureaucratic ineffectiveness), it doesn't work to
boost tourism if no one knows with enough advance notice to plan
a trip. On my last night in Cairo, I was stuck waiting at the
airport for an hour, because, according to the tour leader, President
Sisi's motorcade had shut down the entire highway between the airport
and downtown Cairo. C'est la vie... And it was much more pleasant
waiting in a quiet airport arrival lounge than being stuck in gridlocked
traffic (good call on the part of the Djed tour leader). And...
due to this delay, I met a different Djed guide who had just discovered
the temporary photo policy, much to his surprise and delight. The
other guides didn't know about this until he told them, and at the museum,
I encountered guides from other agencies who didn't know about the
policy, either. If you plan to take photos, bring a camera with good
low-light performance. A polarizing filter might be helpful to reduce
glare off the glass display cases (I don't know as I didn't have this).
And please please please be sure to know how to shut off your flash!
Don't spoil this amazing opportunity for everyone else.

OK, out of time for now. More later...

Next Up: Is it safe?

  • Report Abuse

    I don't know if we'll make it to Egypt any time soon, though I'v long hoped to go. Safety, as we travel as a family, would have us on eggshells right now so I will read the next instalment with interest.

    Just wanted to let you know that someone is reading along, envious of the trip and appreciative of your writing style. I look forward to more.

  • Report Abuse

    Thanks for the kind words and encouragement, and sorry for the delay!
    A bit of irony: I have a sensitive stomach, so my main personal
    fear in Egypt was getting food poisoning. After 6 nights in Egypt --
    exercising great care with my food/drink/hand-sanitation --
    I had minimal GI problems. But this report is delayed in part
    because after 1 night in Washington, DC, I managed to eat something
    that disagreed with my system. :-/


    IS IT SAFE?

    This question is the elephant in the room. I've worried about this
    during the whole time I considered going to Egypt, and everyone
    asked me about this before and after my trip.

    Objectively, the unavoidable answer is that visiting Egypt is less
    safe than, say, heading out to Chuck E Cheese's and a night of
    bowling. Egypt is a populous, developing country, with 90 million
    people, or roughly 3x Canada, or Canada and the UK combined, or
    1/3 of the US, mostly crammed into a narrow strip of land around
    the Nile and the Nile Delta. The 2013 GDP per capita was USD$3,314,
    or about half of China, 1/3 of Mexico, or 1/16 of the US. You get
    all the problems and risks of a massive, developing country: poor
    public health standards, pollution, traffic, etc. I think the greatest
    risk for a tourist who sticks to the main tourist areas is probably
    traffic accidents -- some Wikipedia figures are that Egypt has
    183.3 road fatalities per 100k vehicles, versus 13.6 in the US,
    9.3 in Canada, and 6.2 in the UK. The traffic was... interesting...
    with enormous congestion in Cairo and on the road between Cairo
    and Saqqara, and an extraordinary mix of road users (fancy cars,
    cheap cars, heavy trucks, donkey carts, bicycles, motorcycles, tuk-tuks,
    buses, minivans, pedestrians, gigantic-carts-loaded-with-sugar-cane-
    towed-behind-motorbikes-driven-by-8-year-olds-going-the-wrong-way-down-
    the-highway, etc.). I was awed by the skill of my drivers, and
    by the fact that the road network actually worked surprisingly well...
    although the accident statistics indicate that the risks are very real.
    Even crossing the street was somewhat daunting in Luxor; in Cairo,
    I never even tried.

    Of course, when people ask about safety in Egypt, their focus
    is typically about terrorism and civil unrest. But this is extremely
    difficult for a tourist to assess. While I was there, I certainly
    felt perfectly fine. I saw no riots, protests, or teargas. People
    were friendly and helpful. I was thanked for visiting. Cairo
    was a bustling metropolis. Luxor felt like a sleepy tourist town
    in the off-season (even though it was supposed to be the high season).
    There were some military/police checkpoints on the highways and
    near the tourist sites, which generally entailed a brief stop
    and a few questions as officers peered through the windows. And
    there was security at the entrances to my hotels, with a quick pass
    by bomb-sniffing dogs before vehicles were allowed in. Airport
    security appeared comparably tight to anywhere else I've been.
    I found it funny one day, after an amazing day of touring, to
    flip on the TV in my tranquil, beautiful room, with a great
    view of a well-manicured, peaceful garden, with the Great Pyramids
    of Khufu and Khafre towering in the background... to hear on
    CNN that there was a hunt for an ISIL cell in Geneva of all
    places, while I was relaxing in Egypt.

    Nevertheless, the terror threat is real. When I booked this trip
    in October, I hadn't noticed any recent news of terrorism or civil
    unrest in Egypt, so I bought my non-refundable plane tickets, and then
    tried to find a tour operator. Djed's initial proposed itinerary had me
    staying in the Meridien Pyramids Hotel in Giza, which is apparently
    quite a nice hotel. But, as I checked Tripadvisor, one of the first
    reviews I saw (from October 25) noted that a bomb had detonated
    outside the hotel during her stay, injuring 4 guards/policemen! :-O
    No tourists were hurt, but many rooms had glass damage. And
    then, literally the next morning, I heard about the Metrojet 9268
    crash. :-O (It's still not clear this was terrorism. US and
    British intelligence sources are reported to believe it was a
    bomb, and Russia says they believe it was a bomb, too. ISIL
    has claimed responsibility, but the video and photos they've
    released aren't particularly credible. The official investigation
    says there's they have no obvious evidence of a bomb, and there
    are very plausible mechancial failure scenarios, too. I think
    it was probably a bomb, but e.g., TWA 800 was widely thought to
    be a bomb or missile, but turned out to be a fuel tank explosion.)
    Poking around some more, there was an attempted attack on Karnak
    Temple in June (foiled by the police/guards). And there have been
    several cases of "gunmen on a motorcycle" shooting and killing police
    officers at those checkpoints I mentioned, e.g.,: on June 3 near
    the pyramids, and on November 28 on the highway between Giza and Saqqara.

    However, note that around the same time, the Paris attacks, and
    the San Bernardino shootings happened, among many others. And
    as for shootings of police officers, to date in 2015, 36 police
    officers have been shot and killed in the line of duty in the US.
    www.odmp.org/search/year
    Terrorism is so sporadic that it's impossible to form a
    well-founded risk assessment just based on the small number of
    incidents. Indeed, a well-documented human cognitive bias is to
    focus on the concrete and spectacular over the abstract and pervasive.
    For example, roughly 3000 people were killed in the 9/11 attacks.
    In the US, in 2013, drunk drivers killed 10,076 people, or more
    than 3x 9/11.
    www.cdc.gov/motorvehiclesafety/impaired_driving/impaired-drv_factsheet.html
    Cigarette smoking kills 480,000 per year, "including nearly 42,000
    deaths resulting from second smoke exposure."
    www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/fast_facts/
    So, that's more than a 9/11 every day from cigarettes, and a 9/11
    every month from secondhand smoke. If we were rational, we'd
    be fighting a War on Tobacco with vastly greater outrage than the
    War on Terror.

    I think boiling this all down, the risk of being a victim of
    terrorism is probably higher in Egypt than staying home, but
    the overall risk of terrorism is so vanishingly small that
    it's rational to ignore it. Obviously, stay away from active
    war zones, and keep up with events and government travel advisories
    in case conditions change. (I found the British Foreign Office's
    travel advisories the most detailed and informative:
    www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/egypt
    Back when I was planning, as well as now as I write, their advice
    is to avoid all but essential travel to large swaths of Egypt,
    but they specifically note that this advice does not apply to the main
    tourist areas along the Nile.)

    Ultimately, it's a very personal decision how to respond to risk.
    Objectively, there is elevated risk, but the overall risk of
    terrorism is so small that it's negligible. I recall reading an
    article a while back (Ah, here it is:
    www.stratfor.com/weekly/myth-end-terrorism
    ) noting that terrorism is a tactic of the weak, who can't win
    via conventional political or military means, and that it's
    effective only if people become terrorized and over-react.
    I was in the UK during the 2005 London transit bombings, and I was
    inspired by the resilience and will of the British people.
    "Keep calm and carry on" and all that. This struck me as such
    a contrast to the convulsions in the US following 9/11, where
    it appeared that our reflexive approach to combatting terrorists
    who "hate our freedoms" was to get rid of our freedoms. More
    recently, I was deeply moved by coverage of the Sousse attack,
    where ordinary Tunisians risked their lives to protect the foreign
    tourists, and I was saddened that nevertheless, one lone gunman was
    able to decimate the entire tourist industry in Tunisia.
    www.anna.aero/2015/10/07/tunisia-tourism-scares-are-resulting-in-declining-passenger-traffic/
    If it weren't for the fact that I hate beach vacations, I would have
    planned a trip to Sousse just as a political statement. With Egypt,
    I've always wanted to go... except for the crowds and heat and hassle...
    and now was my chance to go without crowds, heat, or hassle. I may be
    foolhardy, and I can't fault others for feeling differently than I do,
    but I personally refuse to be terrorized by these highly improbable events,
    and I thoroughly enjoyed a wonderful trip as a result. YMMV.


    Next Up: Day-by-Day Notes

  • Report Abuse

    BTW, it seems that my frowny-face emoji for my GI upset here was making Fodor's ignore my attempts to click Preview or Submit, despite many repeated tries. I guess we're all supposed to be happy here. :-)

  • Report Abuse

    Appreciate your viewpoint and observations on the safety question. There is no right or wrong. Like you, I make my own informed assessment and take precautions. When I travel to the Middle East, for example, I avoid Western hotels.

  • Report Abuse

    @tripplanner001, yeah, that's definitely a good way to reduce risk. E.g., in the Mali attack, they were specifically targeting a Western-operated hotel, and I think that's very common for terrorists.

    For me, though, although I've traveled a fair bit, I'm very inexperienced in developing countries, so I didn't feel competent to "go native" with authentic, low-key, independent establishments. So for this trip, I really wanted the cushy tourist bubble of luxury, international hotels. I guess if there were well-located Shangri La, Pan Pacific, etc. hotels, that would have fit the bill.

    (Now that I think of it, I seem to recall reading that (ah yes, the Wikipedia page has it) the Mena House is no longer run by the Oberoi Group, and is now run by the Egyptian government via the Egyptian General Company for Tourism and Hotels, so I guess I did stay in a non-Western, locally operated hotel. :-) But... the Egyptian government itself is a terrorist target, and the Mena House is so iconic, it'd be an obvious target. On the other hand, the grounds are huge and walled off, so it seemed very safe from truck bombs and similar attacks. The attackers would have to get through the police checkpoint for the pyramids, and then through the hotel security gate, before they could even get close to any hotel buildings. And the tourist police have a station across the street. The increased safety of the Mena House layout wasn't a big factor in my decision to upgrade my hotel option, but I did think about it. BTW, according to the Wikipedia article, Marriott is slated to renovate the Mena House and take over management. This will hopefully improve some of the aging physical plant (and likely raise rates), but will make it very much Western-branded.

  • Report Abuse

    That's a good tip, tripplanner001. We tend towards independent accommodations quite a bit anyway, but used to be that when in doubt and too far outside your comfort zine, you couuld always fall back on a Marriott. Now it seems it could make you something of a more likely target.

    I think we're just a little more wary of choosing Egypt or the ME in general for feeling like more of a potential target than those around us. We are used to developing countries and are heading for rural Vietnam soon. The added perspective on safety from SPT does make a lot of sense. Yet somehow there's this idea, right or wrong, of there being a contingent of locals who violently oppose your presence. It's hard to shake (at least when I think about my loved ones, not so much just for myself). It was good to read a real world account of what it's really like at the moment.

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    Fodor's is giving me posting problems again. Seems like random things upset the posting software. I'm going to post in little snippets to try to pin down what's causing the problem this time...

  • Report Abuse

    DAY-BY-DAY NOTES

    Hmm... I had intended to write up a quick trip report, but so far,
    I've been writing a psycho-political dissertation on fear and the
    global economy. :-)

    OK, now on to the fun stuff...

    Pre-Trip

    I'd been a bit short on airline miles in 2015 to maintain my
    status, and I really wanted a vacation, so I was pondering various
    distant destinations and looking for cheap airfares: scuba in Palau?
    East African safari? However, with my work schedule, I wasn't able
    to decide anything until mid-October, by which time, it was hard
    to find a good airfare anywhere for mid-December. So, when I found
    a good price and route to Cairo, I grabbed it.

    This meant that I had done minimal preparation. I had long ago
    read many Fodor's Forums reports (especially including
    welltraveledbrit's one that I lauded above), and I had casually
    flipped through a Lonely Planet Egypt that I had purchased a couple
    years back. I figured there must be a bunch of great tour operators,
    but when I suddenly found myself with non-refundable tickets for
    a trip in less than 2 months, it was rather rushed to book my
    on-the-ground arrangements.

    I had recalled welltraveledbrit's recommendation for Djed, and
    I remembered positive comments for Lady Egypt, so those were
    the two I contacted. I didn't try Debbie with CasualCairo,
    despite her being extraordinarily helpful here to many people,
    because her emphasis appeared to be on modern Egypt and off-the-beaten
    track, authentic Egypt, whereas I was looking for the stereotypical
    pharonic sights. Also, I was looking for one-stop shopping for someone
    who would take care of everything for me. I remembered that there
    were other highly recommended agencies, but I couldn't remember who
    they were.

    Lady Egypt didn't reply, but Djed did, and they were willing to work
    within my precise time constraints (since I bought my international
    air already) and interests. I was communicating with Ayman Simman,
    who I later found out is the owner of the company.

    His initial proposal started with a day in Cairo (Islamic Cairo,
    Khan El Khalili, etc.), then a day at the Giza and Saqqara sites,
    then flying to Luxor for 2 nights, then flying back to Cairo for a
    last night before leaving Egypt. I pushed back that I wanted to
    focus on pharonic history, so I didn't want the day in Cairo, and
    maybe I should spend an extra day in Luxor? Ayman quickly switched
    out the day in Cairo to a day farther south (Meidum and Dahshur),
    visiting pyramids that I hadn't really heard much about, and which
    got only a few paragraphs in my Lonely Planet book. Hmm... I decided
    to go with that, since I didn't know much about what I should see.
    As things turned out, that extra day Ayman put in, which I almost
    refused, was probably the highlight of my trip! I think this
    illustrates the challenge and process of working with a private tour:
    I have no idea what's possible and what's available, and the
    tour operator has no idea what I like. So, there's this
    delicate negotiation process, where you need to be open to suggestions,
    but also communicate what you want. Throughout the trip, this
    ended up working well, with maybe 1 or 2 minor exceptions.

    Djed was not set up for credit cards, so they asked me to wire
    the money and/or pay half in cash on arrival. Given how late it was,
    I chose to wire the full amount, but it felt kind of odd wiring
    money to a bank account in Egypt, to someone I'd never met,
    based only on someone else I'd never met's recommendation on
    Fodor's. :-) But, everything worked out just fine.

    Also exciting before the trip was news of new scans of the Great Pyramid
    of Khufu, showing "thermal anomalies" that suggest new, undiscovered
    chambers; plus new research and radar scans of King Tutankhamun's
    tomb, suggesting that there are additional undiscovered chambers,
    with speculation that this is actually a hidden doorway to a
    continuation of the tomb, possibly to that of Queen Nefertiti.
    news.nationalgeographic.com/2015/11/151126-nefertiti-tomb-tut-egypt-archaeology/
    So, I particulalry wanted to see these places... (Oh yeah, apparently,
    the long-term plan is to close some of the tombs, due to damage from
    tourism -- the humidity from millions of human bodies is enough
    to cause damage. There are plans in progress to build an exact replica
    of King Tut's tomb, for example (and the laser scans for that project
    led to the research on hidden doorways behind the walls). I feel
    somewhat guilty/selfish wanting to see the originals before they
    are closed to the public, but, well... I'm glad I had the chance.)

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    Aside on posting: I thought I had determined that forward slashes were confusing the software, because I had written "price forward-slash route", and that was preventing posting. But later, "and/or" and "guilty/selfish" posted just fine. Curiouser and curiouser...

    So... no http etc before URLs, no frowny faces, and no "price" followed by "route" with a forward slash in-between. Got it...

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    Arrival at Cairo Airport

    I flew in on Egypt Air from London, in business class on a 777.
    I was expecting intra-European-style business class (basically, economy
    class seats with the middle seat blocked off), so I was pleasantly
    surprised with lie-flat seating. The plane interior was a bit
    worn looking, the window was a bit cloudy, and the service was a bit
    sullen, but overall, it was a very pleasant flight, and I slept most of
    the way. They served a multi-course meal, but I just had the beef
    tagine, which was a bit salty, but perfectly fine for airplane food.

    We were roughly an hour late out of London, and arrived in Cairo about
    half an hour late around 9:15pm. The plane pulled into a bus gate,
    so we exited via stairs and boarded waiting buses to the terminal.
    Two things were slightly unusual about the process: first, right
    by the plane, there were a couple representatives holding signs that
    said "Aladdin" on them, so I looked around for a Djed rep, but didn't
    see anyone (nor reps for any other company) -- I think they may have
    been from Ask Aladdin www.ask-aladdin.com who also have gotten good
    reviews here, but whom I had forgotten about; second, upon reaching
    the terminal, there were passengers (?) hanging around the arrival
    corridors and a few people descending the broken up-escalator --
    I'm used to the arrival corridors being devoid of other people.
    Anyway, the Djed "tour leader" met me at an obvious spot along
    the arrival walkway (where other guides were meeting clients, too),
    with no possible way to go wrong. He asked for my passport
    and efficiently walked us over to the bank windows to buy the
    visa (just around the corner to the righ, iirc, with no lines or
    anything; USD$25 -- I paid $40 in cash, and there was some debate about
    whether to give me change in USD or EGP, but I got USD back),
    which he stuck into my passport for me, then escorted me through
    immigration (where there was a brief delay due to computer failure).
    I asked about ATMs, and he showed me where they were (just to the
    right after exiting customs), and I withdrew EGP 1950 (the HSBC
    ATM dispensed 100s and 50s. You'll want small bills as much
    as possible, but I found the 100s to be not too unwieldy).

    Very quickly, we were outside: no crowd of touts or taxi drivers,
    just cool comfortable weather and a very easy arrival. The
    tour leader introduced my driver (btw, I'm choosing not to give
    specific names, as I don't want any criticisms to be taken
    personally) and his shiny, comfortable, Djed van (a 10ish
    passenger Toyota van iirc), and we were off into the Cairo night.

    Traffic was light by Cairo standards, i.e., heavy traffic, but
    free-flowing and not jammed. I thought things were a bit chaotic,
    but later in the trip, I had my definition of "traffic chaos"
    recalibrated. :-) (To be fair, some of what looked like chaos
    was actually a delicate ballet by which an incredible volume and
    diversity of traffic manages to get to where they want to go,
    albeit slowly.) The ring road felt like a major superhighway
    in any American city, except that parts felt like driving through
    an active construction site, and parts had cars parked randomly
    in traffic lanes. The driver was very skillful, though, so I could
    relax and just ponder the traffic, and the sheer enormity of Cairo.

    BTW, I had earlier mentioned Egypt's low per capita GDP compared
    to China, Mexico, or the US. But it'd be very misleading to think
    of Egypt as just an over-populated, impoverished nation. Egypt's
    per capita GDP is among the higher in Africa, and the overall
    Egyptian economy is the third largest in Africa (behind Nigeria and
    South Africa)
    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_African_countries_by_GDP_%28nominal%29
    and the third largest in the Arabic-speaking world (behind Saudi Arabia
    and the UAE)
    istizada.com/complete-list-of-arabic-speaking-countries-2014/
    The large population (3rd in Africa, 1st in the Arabic-speaking world
    and more than the next two combined) pulls down the per capita GDP,
    but Egypt is a regional economic and cultural powerhouse, with
    a large and diversified economy. With 90 million people, there
    is great wealth, and there is abject poverty, and there is a full
    spectrum in-between, all co-existing, and at times it seems, all on
    the same highway as you! :-)

    As we got close, I thought the area outside the Mena House looked
    rather grim and not at all pedestrian friendly. Inside the walled
    grounds, though, was quite nice, with tranquil grounds. My room
    was in the "Garden Wing", which I think is a newer building,
    versus the original "Palace Wing", which I think is more luxurious.
    They gave me a welcoming hibiscus drink upon check-in (tasty, free,
    and no hanging around for a tip or anything), and then a bellman
    shuttled me to my building in a golf cart. The room was perfectly
    fine, but a bit aged, with one of the two elevators apparently
    not working throughout my stay. The bellman pointed
    out that the bottled water in the room was free of charge, and
    let me confirm that I had a pyramid view (which was hard to do,
    because it was dark out and the pyramids are unlit -- and I wasn't
    expecting them to be so huge in my field of view!). He also
    mentioned that wifi was free in the lobby, but extra charge
    in the room. (The lobby wifi was free but excruciately slow;
    I never managed to get the in-room internet to work.) The tour
    leader called a few minutes later to make sure everything was
    good with my room, and then I was finally on my own to unpack,
    prep for the next day, and try to get some sleep... (Oh yeah,
    Ayman called the tour leader while we were on the highway,
    just to make sure everything was going smoothly. I was delighted
    by the attention paid to making sure things went well.)

    BTW, the way things worked on the ground was that I had a
    "tour leader" in each city, who met me and dropped me off at
    the airports and helped with hotel check-in, coordinating
    with the guides, etc. But the tour leaders did not go
    sightseeing with me. For those trips, I had a personal guide:
    one in the Cairo area, and one in Luxor. And I had a driver
    for each part of my trip (Cairo, Luxor, then a different driver
    for my last night in Cairo).

    I don't remember how long the drive was, but from the aircraft arrival
    at 9:15, I was in my room at the Mena House by 11pm. During the
    drive, my tour leader asked when I wanted to start the next day.
    Given how tired I was, I wanted a later start, but he subtly encouraged
    me to start earlier, which turned out to be good advice (again,
    this subtle negotiation/communication to work with a private guide).
    We compromised with a "late" start at 9am the next day...


    Yikes! At the rate I'm writing, I may never finish.
    Let me try to prune back my verbosity a lot for the rest of this.

    Next Up: Day 1 -- Giza and Saqqara

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    Aside on Posting: Apparently, I'm not allowed to use the word "nice" at the beginning (ignoring non-alphabetic characters) of a line. Whoever wrote this posting software has some explaining (or debugging) to do!

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    Yeah, it's a brave soul who attempts to add anything of volume lately and then try to figure out what's causing it to refuse to post. All the more kudos for muddling through. Much appreciated.

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    Really enjoying your detailed and thoughtful TR, SPT. I too have always longed to see the pyramids and specially to sail down the Nile a la Hercule Poirot, and had resigned myself to that being something I would never do, but you have given me renewed hope.

    My major obstacle is likely to be DH whose experience of touts on a diving trip to Egypt a few years ago has entirely put him off returning there.

    BTW, I think that the bugs have been fixed.

    Nice!

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    SelfPropelledTripod,

    Thanks so much for your report :). I would have LOVED to have been able to take photos in the Egyptian Museum.

    I missed this when you first posted in December as we were traveling in Colombia. I can't tell you how DELIGHTED I am that our TR was so useful to you and that you had a great time in Egypt. I agree it's an incredible value right now and it's hard to emphasize how magical it is to see these sights when they are so quiet, after all these have been tourist destinations for over a century. I agree Aymann is just such a nice man and he has great people working for him too, I'm really happy that you had the same experience with Djed.

    I agree with trying to avoid obviously Western chains in certain locations we've certainly tried to this in places like Central Asian and the Middle East, though I wouldn't say we're 100% as sometimes I can't resist a certain hotel!

    I can understand why you enjoyed the extra day in Cairo, we had five nights there and next time I'd like to focus on Cairo a lot more.

    Looking forward to reading the day by day report when you have time.

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    I'm a bit late to the party here, but wanted to say how much I am enjoying your report. I hope you will try to post again and finish this report, as the posting problems seem better lately.

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