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travel to Tunisia and Egypt

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My husband and I are planning a trip to Tunisia and Egypt in mid May this year. I have seen all the postings with respect to security issues in Egypt, but I am wondering if there is anyone out there with some up to date information. We only plan to spend 4 days in Cairo-spending one day at Luxor and the Valley of the Kings. We plan to travel through Dan Tours, a company from Toronto, Canada. Any ideas on what we can do to minimize the risks inherent in travel to this part of the world? We are also having great difficulty in obtaining much information on travel to Tunisia. It seems that this is not a popular destination from North America. Any information from travellers familiar with this country would be appreciated.

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    Re Tunisia: I don't know about familiar but I have been there and done a few excursions. I went over Christmas a couple of years ago. The weather at that time of year was very mild, especially compared with the UK. I was based at Port el Kantoui near Sousse. Guide books are available for Tunisia, I took the Blue Guide but I'm sure there are other good ones (Fodors?). Tunisia is quite cosmopolitan, you'll have little language trouble as most of the younger generation seem to be able to make themselves understood in about six languages, including English, French, German, Italian and of course Arabic. Most of the hotels should offer quite a range of excursions. In Port el Kantoui a camel ride through the local villages was available and I guess something similar is on offer wherever you stay. Coach excursions include day trips to Tunis to see the old town, the Bardot museum (not a tribute to starlets turned environmentalists but Tunisia's foremost collection of antiquities), Sidi Bu Said (a pretty village where local legislation dictates that everything is painted blue and white) and the ruins of Carthage. You can take a two or three night side trip to the south to see Matmata (where Star Wars was filmed) and Gabes and take a dawn camel ride in the Sahara. Another highlight was Dougga, a vast Carthaginian/Roman city built atop a mountain. It is reasonably preserved and very extensive. Also worth a vist is the amphiteatre at El Djem. Unfortunately all the beautiful looking mosques in Tunisia are closed to non moslems. The hotels in Port el Kantoui were quite self contained with their own patch of beach, tennis courts, pool etc. There are a couple of golf courses in the Port el Kantoui/Sousse area. I would assume this pattern is also true in the other major resort area around Hammamet. Our hotel had a, much flaunted by me, prohibition about bringing in alcohol (well bottles of anything really) but beer wine and spirts are available in the hotel bars and restaurants, they may not be widely available outside. Local alcohol is reasonably priced, but not cheap, but any imported alcohol like Johnny Walker, Gordon's or cognac is very expensive. Tunisian wine is quite palatable. Tunisian food is typically north african with a smattering of french/italian but hotel cuisine is largely european style with the odd cous cous night.

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    All my reports from Egypt indicate that there is an
    abundance of quasi-security people and very few tourists. However, everyone has stated that they
    did not feel threatened at all during the tour and
    enjoyed the warmth of the Egyptians. Since you are touring in a group, they will have the itinerary laid out so that you will not be in harm's way. Just use commonsense and if you have any doubts confer with the tour director.

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    Thank-you Mr. Holt for your reply regarding travel to Tunisia. I did have one further question which relates to the issue of exchange control. I understand that one cannot get any Tunisian currency outside the country itself. How did you deal with this? I expect that there must be currency exchanges at the airport but what a potential nightmare is eveyone on the arriving flight is lining up to exchange currency at the same time! In the past my husband and I have always carried small American bills for tipping in various parts of the world. Is that a viable option here or is another currency preferable? Do you have any suggetions as to the most painless way to convert our (Canadian) travel dollars to Tunisian currency on arrival? Thanks for your help.
    T.Alexander

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    Thank-you Mr. Holt for your reply regarding travel to Tunisia. I did have one further question which relates to the issue of exchange control. I understand that one cannot get any Tunisian currency outside the country itself. How did you deal with this? I expect that there must be currency exchanges at the airport but what a potential nightmare is eveyone on the arriving flight is lining up to exchange currency at the same time! In the past my husband and I have always carried small American bills for tipping in various parts of the world. Is that a viable option here or is another currency preferable? Do you have any suggetions as to the most painless way to convert our (Canadian) travel dollars to Tunisian currency on arrival? Thanks for your help.
    T.Alexander

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    I am unfortunately not familiar with Egypt, but have been several times to Tunisia & even worked there as a tour rep. The country is delightful & very much unspoiled. Re. trip to the south (matmata, mountain oasis, Chot El Jerid...), if your age & health make it possible, do not take the bus, but the jeeps, the trip is something completely different. If you want to see some real life, stay for a day or two in Nabeul in the north of the country, this will give you an idea about the country. They have a wonderful camel fair there - if I remember right, every Friday; colorfull local markets for the local people and not only for the tourists, best pottery, great food, lots of nice hotels & decent beaches.
    As far as the money is concerned, there are normally several counters at the airport, so no real trouble & if not, you can exchange in the hotel, bank or exchange office - the rates are identical. Enjoy your holidays, if you want more info, just e-mail me, I'll be glad to help you with anything.

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    Olja Baumgartner has at least partly answered your currency question. For my part, to be honest, I don't remember what I did about cash when I arrived in Tunisia. I believe there were exchange desks in the baggage hall or customs hall and I changed some money whilst waiting for my baggage, but that may have been somewhere else. It was a package holiday so I was being picked up and may have left money changing until the hotel. For the rest of the holiday I changed Sterling or Sterling travel cheques at the exchange kiosk at the hotel, I beleive this was run by a local bank rather than the hotel. Any 'hard' currency is acceptable in Tunisia and I assume Canadian Dollars count here. Over the last 15 or so years I've traveled to so many countries with 'mickey mouse' currency that I don't think about it any more. If you have a package flight you are generally collected at the airport and taken to the hotel so you don't usually need money on arrival. One thing I have found is that countries that practice this currency control are usually organised to change money at the airport, and to change it back on the way out (but run your local money down to be sure). Exchange little and often to keep down the amount of currency you hold, pay for excursions and so on with credit card where possible or exchange just enough to cover the bill. When I travel I carry my Mastercard, some Sterling notes, Sterling travellers cheques, a small amount of US Dollar bills (they're like 75 pence notes to me) and some US Dollar travellers cheques. I've never NEEDED to change US Dollars as Sterling has been perfectly acceptable in all the places I've been to around the Med and the Balkans.

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    I was just in Egypt a couple of weeks ago - I havebeen there many times. I was not worried about security. It is always helpful to dress conservatively (men and women - no shorts, anyone!) so as not to offend more conservative cultures. As you have probably guessed by now, it is very common for countries (Third World, Developing, etc.) to have currencies that are not convertable outside the coutnry. (These are called "soft currencies") This is not just because of their controls, although that is part of it. The other part is because the rest of us big economic powers do not require their currency the way they do ours. Therefore, there is little global interest in keeping supplies of EGyptian pounds or Tunisian dinars, etc. The previous writers are correct; it is extremely easy to change currency all over the place, in both countries. You do not need to carry American dollars; Canadian will do just fine. In Tunisia, don't miss Carthage and the Bardo Museum, also go to Sidi Bou Said. It is an unbelievably beautiful country! Egypt is spectacular. Nothing like it on the face of the earth. You will have a wonderful time. Feel free to e mail me with questions.

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    Hi. I had, with my family, the pleasure of visiting Tunisia about a year and half ago. I can tell you it was one of the best holidays we have ever been on.
    We stayed in a hotel right on the beach in Nabeul. The staff were wonderful and very helpful. Nabeul has a great camel market held once a week were a verity of vendors gather. It’s also a grate place to get pottery. TIP take with you cheap things with logos on such as pens, pencils…We found that this items were great for exchanging.
    Defiantly take the safari excursion. It’s worth every penny. Matmata is excellent. You also get to have lunch were the bar scene was filmed on Star Wars. The amphitheatre at El Jem is breath taking. And nothing can prepare you for the experience you’ll have when you climb the dunes to have a look at the vastness of the Sahara Desert. The various oasis you will visit are beautiful. Don’t miss the ride on the Red Lizard. A train ride through a canyon were many of those famous spaghetti westerns were filmed.
    The beaches were great and the locals don’t really hassle you. The food is good if not a bit European. Try to buy the Safia water bottles they taste the best.
    Have a great time.

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    I just returned from 11 days in Egypt and wish it had been 11 weeks or months. There is plenty of security and no one on our tour felt the least concern. You, of course, don't wander off down back alleys by yourself, but aside from those obvious no-no's you should find extraordinary precautions aren't necessary. This is the most fantastic place - you're sure to be delighted!

    PS Just a hint . . . don't eat the lettuce anywhere! They clean it in local water. Those who ignored this precaution paid the price!

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