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Trip Report Trip Report to Egypt and Jordan

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We returned last week from a quite wonderful quick, two-week trip to Egypt and Jordan. Longer would have been nice but Christmas vacation schedule didn’t allow for more. Hopefully we will return some day.

For those of you contemplating a visit to Egypt, I can only say to do it now as seeing the wonders at this time when many are not traveling is unique and special. There were places where we found ourselves alone when normally there would have been lines. Nowhere was crowded. Actually it is sad to see what has happened to tourism and what it is doing to the thousands of Egyptians who work in the industry.

At no time did we feel in danger or that our safety was in jeopardy, even in the area around Tahrir Square. At least during our stay, demonstrations were very localized and did not seem to have impact on the day-to-day functioning of society. We were able to have some very interesting discussions with many Egyptians while we were there—all of them very proud that they were able to actually vote in a meaningful way. Their opinions were all over the place in terms of what parties they were supporting and whom they wanted to prevail but they were united in their hopes.

In our short time in Egypt, we began with 3 days in Cairo, staying at the wonderful Mena House in Giza where gazing out our window on the pyramids was totally surreal. It was a pinch yourself moment.

We had been afraid that the Egyptian Museum might be closed due to its location on Tahrir but thankfully it was open. Amazingly, we were alone in the room with the treasures of King Tutankhamen and so had as much time as we wanted just trying to absorb the riches. A treat which I am certain not many people have experienced. Our tour guide and trip arranger, Ahmed Hamed Yousif, who had been recommended to us by a friend, had been one of the Egyptians who had protected the museum during the January revolution and who had some interesting stories about that time and in particular guarding the Tut treasures from looters trying to get in through the roof windows. It is fortunate for the world that the museum was guarded and protected as opposed to the disaster in the Baghdad museums.

While in Cairo we had time to visit the Old Coptic area, the fascinating Khan el-Kahlili—where I would like to have spent more time exploring, and a trip out the country side to the Step Pyramid which was the first of the pyramids. Ahmed, who was a meticulous planner, accompanied us on all our Cairo excursions which added to our sense of security. He is an Egyptologist and so was able to shed much historical insight into what we saw.

From Cairo we flew to the magnificent, not to be missed, Abu Simbel. The temples erected in the Nubian area by Ramses II—one for him and the other for his favorite wife Nefertari. These are the temples that were moved up the mountain at the time of creating Lake Nassar and the Aswan Dam. They along with other rescued temples would have been lost to the world if global efforts to save them had not been successful. Again we had a magical moment of being the only people inside these temples as they opened to the morning sunlight. In my opinion, a trip to Egypt would not be complete without going here. Ahmed had arranged for us to stay at the Eskaleh Nubian House which was a real highlight for us. It is a very simple, unpretentious, authentic small inn. We loved staying here even more than the glitzy other places of our trip. I highly recommend staying here if you plan your own trip or have a planner—unless you require luxury which this is not.

From Abu Simbel we flew to Aswan to begin our 4 night Nile cruise which was delightful. We were on the Sonesta company’s Moon Goddess which was very nice, although it is probably ready for a renovation sometime soon. We found the service to be very good, low key and pleasant. As with all of our trip, Ahmed had arranged a private guide which we appreciated as we could see things at our leisure rather than in the larger groups offered by the boat. We still had time to socialize and make friends during meals and evening activities. Our boy made several friends whom he now corresponds with on FB including a young lady from Singapore. I should say that all of the guides chosen by Ahmed were very knowledgeable, courteous and enjoyable and made us feel valued as clients.

The cruise ended in Luxor where we went to the Valley of the Kings, Karnak, Luxor Temple, Queen Hapshepsut’s Temple, Tombs of the Nobles and other lesser known places. Because we had a private guide we were able to do these places over two days whereas those using the boat’s guides did them in two sessions on one day.

We spent Christmas Eve and day at the Sheraton Luxor Resort which was very beautiful, overlooking the Nile—picture perfect. The hotel decorated for Christmas with lots of green and red and a decorated tree. We had brought a Christmas stocking and small gifts for our 13 year old so that he didn’t feel completely forgotten. Of course, he knew that this magnificent trip was his real gift.

From Luxor we flew back to Cairo and on to Amman Jordan and then drove to Petra. Again Ahmed made all the arrangements for us, including all domestic travel within Egypt and the international travel to Jordan. Our new guide and driver met us at the airport and was with us for the rest of the Jordan time.

What to say about Petra other than it is truly spectacular? I keep a blog and will be writing much more with pictures as so much of this trip is told in pictures rather than words. In Petra we had a wonderful time including riding horses through the Sig and donkeys up the hills on a visit to a Bedouin family. Great memories. We stayed at the Movenpick Hotel which is situated at the entrance to Petra.

From Petra we drove the King’s Highway back to Amman, stopping at a crusader fortress, Mt. Nebo and Madaba on the way. We enjoyed the landscape and getting a feel for southern Jordan which was quite different from the northern section we saw the following day.

Our last day we had a tour of Amman, a stop at the citadel and then the Roman ruins of Jerash, which we found totally fascinating. Having lived in Italy and been to many Roman ruins throughout the world, we were not expecting the extent and quality of preservation that is there. I am thankful that a friend encouraged us to include this in our itinerary and I encourage others to do so, too.

I know that many people have recommended Ahmed Hamed Yousif and that some have questioned why so many people say so many good things about him. The simple answer is that he is good at what he does. From the first contact made with him he is solicitous, determines what it is you want to do, the type of accommodations desired, etc. He offers suggestions, which are usually spot on, but is willing to bend if you want something more or different. For us he threw in some special surprises along the way—which I am quite certain is his usual M.O. His plans worked flawlessly for air travel, guides, hotels, excursions, etc. We did not have a single negative disruption or event. This can only be because of meticulous planning by someone who takes pride in what he offers. We were traveling in a country where many friends thought we were crazy to be at this time but our confidence in Ahmed (due to friends who had used his services in the past) was well placed. Ahmed can be reached at ahmedhayo@yahoo.com

I should probably add that Ahmed does not only plan comprehensive trips but also can be contacted for simple tours of Cairo, etc. He covers all areas of Egypt, not just the parts we visited. We are very experienced travelers who typically plan our own itineraries. We have high expectations when we do work with someone else. Ahmed met our expectations and requirements which is about as high praise as I can give.

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