Egypt Trip Report - booking/traveling independently

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Feb 2nd, 2008, 03:37 AM
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Egypt Trip Report - booking/traveling independently

Just finished a wonderful 2 week trip to Egypt which we booked independently using a local Egyptian guide who was recommended on this site (and others). His name is Ahmed Hamed Yousif ([email protected]) - more about how I did that later in this post - first our itinerary...

Days 1-4 - Cairo - stayed at Mena House in a Pyramid View Room - absolutely loved Mena House. In the great "Mena House versus Downtown Cairo debate" we come down clearly on the side of Mena House assuming you have a Pyramid View room. For years I had wanted to see the Great Pyramid so seeing it every waking minute from my room was wonderful. Some don't like Mena House because of isolation during the evening but our days were very full and we tended to eat a big breakfast (great breakfast buffet) and late lunch with Ahmed so we were happy to relax with a drink and do our pictures whilst gazing at the Great Pyramid.

There has been a lot of discussion about the state of the renovations at Mena House (some started by me) - right now there is one major wing completely closed for renovation and covered in tarps - that wing probably has the best pyramid views. We were in a room in the wing next to it (#134) which was completely renovated and had a full view of the Great Pyramid. We weren't disturbed at all by construction noise and the pool was open (but it was too bloody cold to swim!)

Day trips -

Day 1 - Egyptian Museum/Giza - Ahmed suggested starting at the Museum at 9am and then going to Giza - the order was contrary to many recommendations I had read but he's the expert I figured. We went directly upstairs to the Tut exhibit, and approached it in a different way (a hallmark of Ahmed's we came to learn - avoid crowds - zig when others zag). We had seen the touring Tut exhibit years ago in Toronto and thought we had seen it all (for the most part) - boy were we wrong.....the pieces are stunning, particularly given how they were found in the tomb itself (I bought a copy of the poster that shows the condition of the tomb - exquisite pieces all jumbled up in the tomb!)

Then we headed back to Giza - very few people there and the winter fog had lifted for photo ops - not doubting Ahmed ever again! Spent lots of time walking around and taking photos - and went inside Mykerinus - crawling hunched over for 100 metres or so but it was worth it!

(When I started this post I planned to do a bare bones itinerary summary as we are just updating our blog - I'll try to keep it crisper from now on and put links in to the blog.)
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Feb 2nd, 2008, 04:15 AM
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Day 2 - Citadel, Coptic Cairo, Cairo Market in the morning and Sakkara in the afternoon followed by lunch near Sakkara. Lovely day - we loved the scale of Sakkara after Giza

Day 3 - away early for Alexandria - we enjoyed seeing it very much but also enjoyed the drive - things to see on the way; a chance to talk with Ahmed - it's probably not for everyone but we're glad we did it. (although traffic coming back into Cairo on a Thursday night is awful!).

We checked out of Mena House on Day 4 - checking a bunch of luggage there as we will return after our visit to Upper Egypt. (we're carrying a lot of luggage as we're spending two months in Barcelona after Egypt/Jordan)

Arrive in Aswan via a quick Egypt Air flight mid-afternoon - met by representative and driver (as we are everywhere) and taken to the Old Cataract hotel - lovely Nile view room with 14 foot ceilings - beautiful. Was a little worried about some of the comments about Old Cataract on Trip Advisor but our room was terrific (the hotel is closing in April for two years for renovations - some say they are reducing the number of rooms from 70 to 35 - essentially making the garden view rooms part of the Nile view rooms to make big suites - don't know if that's accurate)

Sat in the bar overlooking the the Nile and then had dinner in the restaurant - very good.

(boy -- I've really tightened this up haven't I?)

Next day - pickup at 7:30am for transfer to airport and flight to Abu Simbel (our luggage stayed in the mini van while we went to Abu Simbel - very handy) - driver/escort met us at the other end and took us to the Visitor Centre where our guide was waiting - amazing, wonderful, surprisingly uncrowded - lots of pics to come up on blog. (a note here about Egypt Air - our flight from Aswan to Abu Simbel was delayed by 45 minutes due to military traffic in and out of the Aswan airport - when you have such a short amount of time at Abu Simbel this was a little distressing.......but Egypt Air delayed the departure on the other end to compensate - it would have been better had they announced that fact as we sat on the ground in Aswan but they get points for doing it anyway!)

Return to Aswan - picked up and transferred to the vessel Oberoi Philae - our home for the next 4 nights - note I don't say cruising - there really is only one night cruising - the others are spent in Aswan (one) and Luxor (two)

I obsessed about which cruise we should take (but then I obsess about everything when it comes to traveling) - we were absolutely delighted with the Oberoi Philae - the accommodations, service, food, appointments - everything was perfect.

Here are a few comments to address some issues/questions that I had read....

- the bedrooms have been renovated but the bathrooms are slated for renovation over the next year (the bathrooms are perhaps a little tired but spotlessly clean). Our bed was really comfortable and the appointments were great - including several TV channels, a safe, a frig and a big balcony....speaking of the balcony - I had read so much about boats rafted together and how useless a balcony was for that reason - but the Oberoi Philae doesn't have boats raft to it - for the Aswan to Luxor route our cabin on the Starboard side always faced out and never had a boat rafted to it.
- the main lobby has been renovated and the dining room and bar are scheduled for renovation this summer - both seemed fine to us but I think the high end cruise situation has become very competitive with some new boats coming on line recently.

More to follow
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Feb 2nd, 2008, 04:32 AM
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Cruising the Nile on the Oberoi Philae......

We arrived in time for a late lunch (I must comment about the outstanding service on the Philae - George the GM is a wonderful host - at the welcoming cocktail party he said "while the dinner hour is posted as 7:30pm that is when dinner service starts - it ends when the last person has had dinner") - and then we met our guide Emad for our sunset felucca ride around Elephantine Island.

This was probably our greatest extravagance - there were 2 (3?) guides on the Philae but we elected to hire a private guide for our journey. (Ahmed arranged all of this). I cannot say enough about doing the cruise with a private guide........we set our own schedule, we had our own transportation, we loved Emad, in fact he stayed on board for two of the four nights and we had great conversations over meals during that time - trying to solve all the political problems of the day.

Along the cruise we stopped at Kom Ombo, Edfu and had fun crossing the lock at Esna.

Emad was invaluable in his recommendations at the Valley of the Kings.....it's so hard to choose (although we knew we didn't want to go to Tut's tomb or see the mummy - not our thing). The tickets at the VOK include entry into 3 tombs but there are extra charges for other tombs. Emad suggested Ramses 3, 4 and 9 for our three ticket deal and Ramses 5/6 for the extra ticket. We started at Ramses 5/6 - it was amazing and we were the only people there - unfortunately photos aren't allowed but we'll post some images on our blog (link to follow)

Then off to Hatshepsut (amazing) and then Emad suggested we go to Ramses III temple (called either Medina Habu or Medinet Habu I think) .... it was our favourite temple of all of them actually - the scale is enormous, the images are wonderful and we were virtually alone. The three of us walked the vast perimeter as Emad described the wonderful battle sequences........highly recommend it.

Along the way we stopped at an Alabaster carving studio/store. We were VERY clear with Emad that we were unlikely to buy anything and were uncomfortable stopping but he assured us the demonstration was interesting and that the sales techniques would not be strong. He was right - it was very interesting and we almost bought something (Emad spent some time the next day negotiating on the phone for us - in the end the merchant didn't accept our offer and Emad told us he felt the merchant's price was too high - it wasn't meant to be)

At Luxor we said goodbye to Emad (sadly!) and spent an evening at the Steingenberger Nile Palace formerly the Meridien - nice hotel/good view/good dinner and breakfast.




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Feb 2nd, 2008, 05:24 AM
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Back to Cairo for a night before heading onto Jordan.

By the time we arrived at the Cairo airport from Luxor we felt like old pros......moving through the airport easily, finding our driver/escort - and when we arrived back at Mena House we were greeted as family........and we felt like we were home.

Spent a night gazing at the Great Pyramid and then off to Jordan the next day (separate Trip Report will be posted shortly)

So.....as promised.....details about doing this trip independently......

Perhaps my use of "independent" is misleading - what I mean is touring Egypt with airport transfers, drivers and great guides - without being part of a tour group.

We are very independent travelers - for many reasons - we don't like groups, we like to take a lot of photographs, and my husband has a bad back so we like maximum flexibility.

More info to follow in my next post......

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Feb 2nd, 2008, 02:47 PM
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Liz - thanks for the report! I didn't remember when you were leaving and was really tickled to see this out there today. Sounds like you had a great time. I'm still dithering over whether to do our trip (in October) your way or join a (small) group tour. Daughter and I like lots of time on our own and we've done Peru and Thailand/Cambodia/Laos that was and had a great time. We were less sure about Egypt, but maybe we'll follow in your footsteps. Enjoyed your accounts of the highlights you saw. Would be interested in hearing about some of the souvenirs you picked up in Egypt. You missed out on the carving - but what did you buy? Recommendations?
Thanks,
Karen
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Feb 3rd, 2008, 07:03 AM
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Correction - we entered the pyramid of Khafre.....

Karen - definitely do it on your own!!! I felt like you do even after doing Peru and SE Asia independently - I'm so glad we did it this way.....

Will post more tomorrow re details of plannng, etc
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Feb 4th, 2008, 08:42 AM
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Liz -

Am happy to hear that you did your trip independently. Seems like most people on this site have done their trips with a company. While we have used companies for some of our other trips (Asia, Africa) with private guides, Egypt seems to be logistically "plan-able" independently.

We are booked on a 7 night cruise on the new Oberoi Zahra in early September (yes, we know it will be hot). I've been looking for a guide and it sounds like Ahmed may fit the bill. We expect to be in Cairo for 3 nights before our cruise and then 1 night at the end, and hope to visit Abu Simbel somewhere along the way.

Did Ahmed arrange for airport transfers in Cairo for you as well? Can you let me know an approximate cost/day for his services?

If all of these details will be in your planning post, am happy to wait for that post.

Thanks in advance.
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Feb 4th, 2008, 11:44 AM
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lorib1 - still getting my act together to post - but email me at

eseibertcATyahooDOTca

and we can chat about

Ahmed can definitely arrange what you're looking for.....

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Feb 5th, 2008, 01:34 PM
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Bookmarking for our Egypt/Jordan trip in May... Shukran!
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Feb 6th, 2008, 07:19 AM
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Planning our trip independently:

As promised - some notes about how I planned our trip.

Despite having traveled independently (i.e. using private guides and booking locally via them) in South America and SE Asia over the last two years I approached our Egypt/Jordan planning wondering if we should just take a tour. In retrospect my concerns (organizing from NA, security, and just basic ignorance) were unfounded.

After deciding we could do it ourselves - I started to develop an itinerary. I usually look at tours as a start - after all they go to the places most want to visit - I have found Abercrombie and Kent to have tours that line up with our interests so I checked their website. Also there is a great article from Conde Nast Traveler suggesting an itinerary for independent travel in Egypt - here's a link

http://www.concierge.com/cntraveler/...&pageNumber=14

Armed with my research I had a fairly good idea of what we wanted to do - I contacted a couple of agents in NA and received quotes from them - in both cases higher than I wanted/hoped for. So - onto Fodors.

As mentioned Ahmed Hamed Yousif's name had been mentioned several times (glowingly) - I felt the same way as when I found our wonderful guides for South America and Asia.

I emailed Ahmed and he got right back to me......the beginning of a long.....and frequent......exchange of emails! We worked collaboratively on the itinerary - he was extremely patient and when I introduced the notion of "control freak" to him he laughed. (well, at least he pretended to laugh!)

In the end he delivered an outstanding itinerary which included all the 5Star accommodation we wanted (with guaranteed view rooms - something that is important to receive confirmation of) and a great boat, plus the private guides/drivers/escorts all along our route.....at a price that was 25% and 45% less than I had been quoted (it's really hard to compare because in the end our itinerary had more upgrades so it was probably an even greater savings.......)

However - and this is really important - the reason to choose Ahmed is not for the cost savings - it's for outstanding, hands on, personal service. During the planning process he was a great partner and when we arrived in Egypt he was a delightful guide/ambassador for Egypt. We had a great time with him and he was 100% committed to our satisfaction.

Often Ahmed accompanies a tour like ours the entire time - in this case his first son had been born a week before our arrival (we knew all this in advance) so he guided us in Cairo and arranged guides for the VOK, Abu Simbel and Luxor/Karnak (plus Jordan which will be the subject of a different post.)

All of the guides/drivers/escorts Ahmed arranged were terrific - and we had daily converstions/SMSs with Ahmed to ensure we were happy (we called our cell phone the "Ahmed hotline").

(While I get really involved in our itinerary planning - you could do the whole thing with him with a lot fewer emails - it's my obsession, not necessarily yours!).

Ahmed made our first visit to Egypt

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Feb 6th, 2008, 07:28 AM
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My husband and I will be arriving in Alexandria via cruise ship and we are taking an overnight tour to Cairo.

I'm hoping you can tell me (roughly)what a supper will cost for 2 people? Also people have told me that the USD is widely accepted there. Is this true in your experience or should we take out Egyptian Pounds?

Thank you in advance!
Donna-Lee
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Feb 6th, 2008, 07:46 AM
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Something happened at the end of my last post - here it is in full

Ahmed made our first visit to Egypt everything we could have hoped for and more. We highly recommend him if you are considering independent travel to Egypt - and more especially - if you're considering a tour, rethink it.

His contact info again is:

Ahmed Hamed Yousif
[email protected]

Happy to answer any questions - one question I can't answer is individual day guiding pricing as we did our tour all in - but I know he would be happy to provide a quote if you email him.

Donna Lee - re dinner - because we had big breakfasts and lunches we only ate one dinner in Cairo - at Mena House's lovely Indian restaurant which was about $100 with wine (and maybe a scotch).

Re US Dollars - I don't think they're accepted at the sights (i.e. Giza) but I think most tourist shops yes - also credit cards everywhere..............but to be safe you might want to get a few (maybe on the cruise?)
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Feb 6th, 2008, 07:52 AM
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Here's a link to our blog - lots of (long) posts coming up in the next few days with lots of pics.

http://lizandrichardsa.typepad.com/l...ards_2008_adv/

And Jordan Trip Report to follow in a few days.
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Feb 6th, 2008, 08:51 AM
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Liz -

I read your post on your trip planning with Ahmed and I will contact him directly.

Thanks for all of the info!

- Lori
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Feb 6th, 2008, 03:13 PM
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hi elizabeth
Your travel info has been very helpful.
I am angonizing over the 'Mena House versus Downtown Cairo' issue. Can you describe a little more how you came to pick Mena House? Also, how long or difficult was it to get to Downtown Cairo to do the other tourist stuff, Museum, Market etc. Can the rooms/suites at Mena House accomodate three people?
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Feb 7th, 2008, 01:48 AM
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Hi lindah - I'll take a stab at your questions.

As I mentioned seeing the Pyramids was foremost for me so that made the decision easier, however I was concerned about the distance factor to Cairo versus staying somewhere on the Nile (say the Marriott or Hilton).

The first morning we drove to the Museum along the Pyramids Road (Ahmed intentionally took that route so we could see more of Cairo - we always too a different route for that reason) - I would guess it was about 30 minutes or so....then back to Giza (same) and we didn't go back to Cairo that night (or any night).

The next day we went to the Citadel and Market and Coptic Cairo - again about 30 minutes - and I realized that had we been staying in Cairo it was also a reasonable drive to these sights.....so the Mena House location hadn't added appreciably to the time as we would have needed van transportation anyway (is that clear?)

And then we went to Sakkara - which is closer to Giza anyway so we saved a bit instead of driving in and out of Cairo.

Another important consideration is what do you want to do at night. As I mentioned we tend to eat our big meal during the day - also we're away for 3 months on this trip so we don't go out every night - can't afford it and it's not necessary. In any event - Mena House has several lovely restaurants and a nightclub - and if you want nightclubs they're are a ton of them along the Pyramids Road (can't vouch for any of them, though!)

Re 3 to a room - I don't know - there are comments on the Oberoi web site about Children under 12 and Child Beds but you will have to ask them......

Hope the above helps!
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Feb 7th, 2008, 02:44 AM
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I love your reports! Your blog is great with lots of detail and pictures.

I am planning a trip to Egypt November 2008 and am obsessing about details. Your reports are proving very helpful.

Keep them coming.

Julie
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Feb 7th, 2008, 11:31 AM
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Thanks so much for you answer, Elizabeth. You have helped a great deal. I will try to stay at the Mena House then.
Some more questions...
Do you think that a personal guide is needed, or can site seeing be done totally on our own, or maybe a combo of both? Do you know if personal guides can be hired through the hotels, at the time when we are there? Or do you think that booking a guide ahead of time is the way to go?
Thanks.
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Feb 7th, 2008, 12:03 PM
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lindaH

Re a guide - I'm sure you could book through a hotel but I think it's better to do it beforehand.

Re a guide for all sights - well......from Mena House you could easily walk up to the Pyramids and tour on your own if you had a good guide book.....it's very straight forward.

But for the other sights I think you'll want a car and driver and a guide - Ahmed brought so much more to the experience (including the Pyramids, but I am saying you could do it on your own)

I am probably not the best person to ask though, as we really like having private guides................
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Feb 7th, 2008, 03:39 PM
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Liz - just looked at your blog. It's GREAT! It brings to life the text you wrote here. Plus you got some terrific shots. Am so glad you're paving the way for me and Julie again this year!
October seems so far away, but I guess I'd better get busy doing some planning.
(Where's your next big trip?)
Karen
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