Egypt Tour or independant travel?

Old Dec 1st, 2007, 05:57 PM
  #1  
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Egypt Tour or independant travel?

Hey Fodorites I need your help again.

We are planning a 2009 trip to Egypt and are torn between the security of a escorted tour versas the freedom of an independant tour. Would like to design this trip as an independant tour like all our Euopean trips, but being a unfamiliar continent we have NO experience to make sound judgements.

So can y'all suggest a tour that will give some freedom to explore on our own? Or suggest a personal guide?

Greg

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Old Dec 1st, 2007, 09:38 PM
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I may be slightly biased (I lived in Egypt for a year), but I much prefer the independence vs. the escorted tour. I saw far too many buses crammed full of Western tourists shuttled from site to site without experiencing anything of the actual Egypt. With a private tour, you get to visit more unique sites, personalize your itinerary, and explore! Despite what you may think, Egypt is a remarkably safe country and very easy to navigate.

That being said, I would reccomend a tour guide lead you around Cairo and send you to your next destination. Debbie Saunders has been recommended. Also, do a search on this site. Otherwise, if you stay in a Western hotel, I am sure they can give you reccomendations as well. I used a wonderful tour guide when my family came to visit, but I can't remember his tour company name. I don't think Ali will be much help.

If you have any personal itinerary questions, let me know and I'll be glad to advise!

Laura
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Old Dec 1st, 2007, 10:51 PM
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Greg,
My wife and I and 2 kids (14 and 8) visited Egypt in April of this year. It was horrible to see the bus loads of tourists disgorged from the buses and then load up again en-masse to go to their next destination. We hired a private guide and driver for our 2 weeks there - absolutely essential in some places, especially Cairo with the traffic. We found a small operator (after many emails) and used him to make the bookings for us locally (air and train tickets, hotels etc). A local agent is essential - many of the hotels openly advertise two room rates-one for Egyptians and another much higher rate for others - agents can get hotels at a cheaper rate than we can. I wouldn't use a private guide and car for Abu Simbel - I think the coaches would be more comfortable and faster. A guide is also good for getting entry tickets to places. We had a couple of guides of widely differing quality and at Luxor I wouldn't bother with one or even a driver - the temples can be reached easily with a taxi and there was nothing our guide told us that we hadn't already learnt ourselves from various guidebooks. There are also numerous other tour group guides that you overhear whether you want to or not. The agent we used was excellent and the minor hiccups (not his fault) were fixed immediately. he was also cheap compared to many others. having a private guide and driver let us select our own itinerary but most importantly, the timings - very important when getting to places before the tour buses. Let me know if you want more info about best places to not bother with a guide or details of the agent we used. Overall, a driver and guide is useful in Egypt. Cheers.
Peter
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Old Dec 2nd, 2007, 04:09 AM
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Hello Greg,

I agree with the other posters -- my sister and I planned our trip independently and I was so glad not to be among the herds of tourists being rushed through the sights so fast that they barely had time to register what they were seeing, much less appreciate it. We chose what we wanted to see and how long we wanted to stay, and it was a great trip.

We booked all of our accommodation online, and hired a private guide for the Cairo part of our trip (Debbie Senters (mentioned by Laura) who sometimes posts here -- she was great and I highly recommend her). For Luxor we went on our own without a guide, but this might not be ideal for your group (the only reason we did this was because I minored in Egyptology at university, otherwise we would have hired a guide).

One thing I wish we had done but didn't do was ask Debbie to help us with the train ticket to Luxor (we took the overnight train because my sister lover train travel). We bought the tickets ourselves in Ramses Station which, while certainly an adventure, is not recommended if you can avoid it! The station is a zoo and the language barrier is formidable. Peter's idea of using a local agent to help with the arrangements is a good one.

In Luxor we hired a car and driver for the day when we went to see the Valley of the Kings and the other West Bank monuments, but we just walked around on our own on the East Bank. It's easy to catch taxis to and from the temples and the Luxor Museum.

Debbie's company is Casual Cairo, and if you google it you will find her contact details. She can also arrange for an Egyptologist to accompany you to Luxor and Aswan and I wouldn't hesitate to hire a guide through her.

Cheers,
Julian
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Old Dec 2nd, 2007, 04:32 AM
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We also travelled independently to Egypt (and Jordan). That's not to say we didn't use a TO to coordinate our hotels, private guide/vehicle, transfers to/from airports and Nile Cruise.

With the exception of the Nile Cruise while we did the land tours at temples with other English speakers and guide (there was a guide for other languages on board), we were basically on our own.

We were two women traveling, above is Julian with his sister, and above that a family. And, as evident we all were confident in our travel arrangements and safe during our time in-country.

Debbie Senters is a great resource for your time in Cairo, or Alexandria; with helpful info and contacts for a Nile cruise.

And, a search on this board for "Egypt tour operators" will bring up names of a few TO that posters here have used with success. Many of these TOs are Egyptian based.

So, it's doable and you'll enjoy the country, the sites, the people, etc.

Start planning.
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Old Dec 2nd, 2007, 06:07 AM
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We debated this same issue as we started planning our January 2008 trip to Egypt and Jordan. We were coming off of independent travel to South America (Machu Picchu) and SE Asia (Cambodia/Laos) but even then thought we maybe should consider a tour.

But after doing a lot of research I'm happy that we're doing an independent trip (with private guides) and feel we haven't compromised safety and we've increased enjoyment.

I worked with a guide often mentioned here and on Trip Advisor to book the hotels, air and cruise - plus he is organizing all the guides. The total price is very good compared to other quotes I received and tours I looked at.

So.....if you wait about 8 weeks - you can read my trip report!

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Old Dec 2nd, 2007, 10:00 AM
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I go along with the above folks--hire a private guide. We were two couples, one in their early fifties, the other in their mid sixties. We were so happy not to have to fight the crowds (as Ahmed said when we were driving back to Luxor at the time the crowds were arriving at the sites, "This is the Valley of the Kings; this is the Valley of the Queens; and this is the Valley of the Coaches"), and to get the incredibly lower rate on accommodations, etc. than we would have been able to do on our own. We have several photos of the hordes arriving as we were leaving! The early light gave us more interesting photos and we avoided the heat as well.

We used Debbie Senters (http://casualcairodetours.pyramids.net/) for the Cairo portion and, as the company we were originally using disappeared (fortunately before we had sent a deposit), she put us in touch with someone to reserve the hotels at the Egyptian rate and to accompany us for the rest of the trip. It was great to be able to set our own pace, to have someone run interference when necessary, to have our questions answered as we thought of them, and to improvise.

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Old Dec 2nd, 2007, 10:42 AM
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Thanks to all;
We have heard of Debbie Saunders because she was well recommended on this site.

Laura, to help us start our itinerary would you list your favorite sites?

Elizabeth, we will await your trip report.

Again, thanks to all.
Greg
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Old Dec 2nd, 2007, 11:30 PM
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Ahhh, yes. A few of my favorite Egypt things...

1. Of course, Cairo. Stop here first. It's big, noisy, dirty, chaotic, etc., but essential. See the pyramids in Giza and Saqaara(go horseback riding around them, so cheap and what fun!), take a tour of Islamic Cairo (lots of mosques, amazing architecture), Khan el Khalili (the marketplace), take a tour of Coptic Cairo (the old Christian sector), see the Citadel, ride a felucca (sailboat) on the Nile, and visit the Egyptian museum, where, among unorganized multitudes of other artifacts, King Tut can be found. Stay in one of the larger Western hotels-Nile Hilton, Ramses Hilton, Intercontinental, Four Seasons, Hyatt, or Marriott. The Mariott is cool in that it is on Zamalek, a quiet island on the Nile, but just minutes from everything. Plus, it is a renovated Pasha's palace. Way cool.

2. Now, you have decisions, based on time. Spend 3-4 nights in Cairo, if you've got lots of time, spend a day and go up to Alexandria the city on the Med and Nile Delta. There's the library, fort, stunning views, catacombs, Roman ampitheatre, and more. You can hire a private car or take the public train, which is, depite what people may tell you, perfectly safe and quite fun, not to mention very cheap. The station (Ramses station) is accessible via the subway or any cab driver can get you there.

3. One of my favorite places in Egypt is the White Desert, which is a section of the Sahara filled with spectacular white chalky formations, dunes, mountains, and soft sand. Combined with the black desert, an eerie landscape reminsicent of the moon, this 1-2 day trip is awesome! There are tons of companies that offer these short excursions, many of which are listed in any Egypt guidebook. Call or e-mail them. They can send a car to pick you up in Cairo, whisk you away to Baharayia Oasis and onward to the deserts!


3. If you're in an oasis mood, another utterly unique location in Egypt is Siwa oasis, on the extreme western edge of the country. Until the early 1900's, this place still defiantly declared itself separate from Egypt, and has its own language, culture, and traditions. There are millions of palm trees rising suddenly from the desert, along with hot springs, 1000 year ruins, Roman tombs, and so much more. It is worth spending several nights here, taking an excursion into the sahara and racing up and down the dunes in a jeep, and poking into the unique stores. It is still somewhat untouched by tourism, and it will seem a world away from the rest of Egypt. Siwa is a bit remote; like anywhere else in Egypt, you can rent a private car to reach it or take the public bus. Their are no planes. If you go to Alex, you could simply continue westward by car, passing through the Med resort towns or Marina and Marsa Matrouh, the WWII battle site of El-Alameen, and finally reaching Siwa. If you go privately, the battle site and graveyard are worth a visit, and many people stop in Marsa for a night or a few hours. The Beau Site hotel has a nice restaurant right on the Med.

4. If you go only one other place besides Cairo, then go south. Fly or take the train to Luxor or Aswan, and then take a Nile cruise to the other city. This is the Egypt of ancient pharaohs, grand temples and sumptuous palaces along the Nile. The Valley of the Kings, Luxor Temple, Karnak Temple, and Hatshesephut's Temple, are a few of the Luxor highlights. Along the Nile on the way to Aswan lie the temples of Edfu and Kom Ombo. Near Aswan are still more temples, like Philae, as well as the consummately impressive Abu Simbel, the grand monument built by Ramses II way out in the middle of nowhere, now accessible by guarded bus caravan or air. Your cruise ship, if you choose this route, can make the arrangements to reach it. Aswan also has a very impressive, quite new museum that is worlds away from the disordered chaos of the Egyptian Museum. It's worth a visit, if only to marvel at how a museum should look like, although the statues and displays are fascinating in their own right.

5. Now, let's say you've followed my rather desultory and exhaustive advice and want a bit of time to relax. Go to the Red Sea! It is absolutely gorgeous, and has some of the most amazing snorkeling/scuba diving in the world. My personal favorite town on the Sinai pennisula is Dahab, a quaint little place on the eastern edge of the Sinai with views of Saudi from its shores and the best milkshakes in the world. Plus, there's a nice Hilton in town. The more typical place to stay is Sharm El Sheikh, about an hour south of Dahab on the Sinai, touristy but still pretty. Whereever you stay, no trip to the Sinai is complete without a climb up the eponyomous mountain up which Moses trekked. Most people climb Mt. Sinai at night, beginning about 1ish, and arrive at the top for a captivating sunrise (but no Charlton Heston), and then clamber back down, visit St. Catherine's Monastary (one of the world's oldest, where can be found the burning bush), and return to the beach for sleep and a pina colada, if that's what you like. As with everything else, there are many options of getting to the Sinai, including public bus (I've done it many times-cheap, but long and uncomfortable), flight, or private shuttle.

Whew! That turned into quite an essay! Hope this helps, and if you need clarification, or more information, let me know.

Laura

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Old Dec 3rd, 2007, 05:07 AM
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Laura, I am glad I am not paying you by the word!

Here is a thumbnail sketch on your recommendations:

1) Cairo 3-days
2) Daytrip to Alexandria from Cairo or on to Siwa Oasis 2-3 days (On the Med & Nile)
3) White dessert 1-2 days
4) Luxor (fly or train then Nile cruise) 1-2 day
5) Red Sea 2 days

The itinerary above can be arranged in a more logical order, but the totals were 12 days max for the trip. Does that sound right?

I was particularly intrigued by the Red Sea portion of your itinerary. It then occurred to me that Egypt trip is defined by various bodies of water, quite unusual for a dessert country.


Thanks, Greg
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Old Dec 3rd, 2007, 06:47 AM
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Greg - I started my itinerary planning with this article in Conde Nast earlier this year - here's a link

http://www.concierge.com/cntraveler/...rticleId=10765

Our itinerary is:

4 nights Cairo - Mena House - visits to Giza/Sakkara/Coptic Cairo/Khan al Khalily and one day to Alexandria
Fly to Aswan - one night at Old Cataract - next morning trip to Abu Simbel then board Oberoi Philae - 4 nights on cruise
One night at Luxor (Nile Palace) then return to Cairo for one night (Mena House) then fly to Amman

2 nights Dead Sea (Kempinski) - Mt Nebo/Kerak

2 nights Petra (Movenpick) - visiting Petra and Jerash on way back to airport


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Old Dec 3rd, 2007, 05:39 PM
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I disagree with most of the comments above. We have made about 25 trips to Europe, India, China, Burma, South America, etc. and most of them we do ourselves by renting a car. I would not do independent travel in Egypt.

We just returned on November 27, 2007. We used INTERNATIONAL EXPEDITIONS. They were fantastic. Our group was only 24 people versus the larger groups we encountered. We had a trained Egyptologist with us the entire time and he was outstanding. We had full time security traveling with us. All the accomodations were very nice. Everything was planned and handled on time and professionally.

No one in our group of experienced travelers really had any complaints about anything. INTERNATIONAL EXPEDITIONS did their job and did it very well with some pretty picky clients.

Just verify with your tour group on how many will be in the tour. The good ones will limit the amount of people as it makes the trip much more enjoyable. It was scary to see those groups of 75 to 100 people traveling in two busses. Someone would always be late to something in that size group.

I could not have done what we did without the expertise of International Expeditions. (This is not a paid commercial!)
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Old Dec 3rd, 2007, 07:37 PM
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Heehee. Talk is cheap.

Your itinerary thus far:

Cairo 3 days-If you push, it can be squeezed into 2 days. Pyramids and museum on day 1-Islamic and Coptic Cairo + market on day 2. But three days is more leisurely and you can loiter in your favorite sites.

Siwa and Alex: if you do both, budget a minimum of 4 nights for this expedition. Let's say you stop in Alex for the first night, drive to Siwa on the second day, spend the second night in Siwa, and then have two full days in the oasis. That is enough time, but I wouldn't cut it any shorter.

White Desert: 1 night, two days.

Luxor: 3 nights, maybe 2. Most Nile cruises are three-usually a day in Aswan/at Abu Simbel, a day cruising, and a day in Luxor.

Red Sea: If you're going all the way to the Sinai, spend three nights! Say you want to go snorkeling/swimming and want to climb the Mt., there are your two days.

The Red Sea is very intriguing. I've visited 6 times in the last year, including a week over Christmas. Each time I go thinking it won't be as exciting, but I always have a great time, whether I'm just sitting in a cafe smoking sheesha (that's flavored tobacco, addicting stuff) and practicing my Arabic, galloping on the beach (way fun), or snorkeling the Blue Hole.

Egypt is easily two full weeks of sites if you try to do alot. You can always cut something, like Siwa or the Red Sea.

And then, as people have mentioned, you can always add on a Petra, Jordan extension ;-) Although Jordan is worth at least a week in and of itself.

But I'd stick to Egypt. Enough to entertain you for awhile.

Let me know if you have more questions! I bet you will ;-)

Laura
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Old Dec 4th, 2007, 12:49 PM
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Well, you can do a custom trip with a guide. That way you will have a trip designed to your wishes and a guide who will drive you places, run interference, etc. Or make that guides. Wildlife Adventures designed my trip using a well respected Egyptian tour company. I was picked up at the airport, driven to my hotel, checked into my hotel, picked up in the morning, etc. etc. I went where I wanted to go when I wanted to go there.
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Old Dec 4th, 2007, 03:07 PM
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Liz - you won't believe this, but Julie and I are once again following in your footsteps! We're going to Egypt in October 2008, so I'm just starting the planning process. Looking forward to your trip report.

And thanks, Laura, for all the great info!

Karen
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Old Dec 4th, 2007, 07:52 PM
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Karen - I thought I heard some footsteps behind me!

I'll post the blog link in a few days - we're very happy with the guide we've worked with - will have lots to report!

Liz
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Old Dec 7th, 2007, 08:58 AM
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To all;
What guide books (if any)are you using to plan your trip?

Greg
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Old Dec 8th, 2007, 07:18 AM
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I looked at several and ended up buying the Eyewitness Egypt book - usually I go to our local library and borrow a few different guide books for a destination and then buy the one I like the best......
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Old Dec 8th, 2007, 07:53 AM
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DK Eyewitnes are the best books, I think. They are so useful.

LP still has a good bit more information in them, but they don't update like they should and info can be useless sometimes. Don't believe EVERYTHING you read in any guidebook. Remember that every guide book is a reflection of one or two peoples impressions when they came through a country on a limited trip. The information they published may have been accurate at the time of publishing, but for a country such as Egypt it could be outdated tomorrow....and then it could change back in a week.

DK Eyewitness are good though.
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Old Dec 9th, 2007, 12:08 PM
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Thanks to all.

Knowing absolutely nothing about Egypt a good guide book is necessary for us to get an idea what we would like to do.


I am glad you posted, Debbie. Casual Cairo is very popular on this forum, and we intend to us your services to help us design our trip to Egypt. Even though it is over a year away, would you mind if we contacted you?

Regards,
Greg
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