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:
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.)
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!
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...
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Now is a GREAT time to visit Egypt! (Trip Report)
I haven't hung out on Fodor's in years (since they closed the Lounge),