To book or not book with a Tour?

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Jun 21st, 2005, 02:48 PM
  #1
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To book or not book with a Tour?

My husband and I don't like to travel with tours as we like to go on our own pace. We've gone to Paris and just got back from Italy doing all of our own planning and have had a gret time on both trips. Egypt is at the top of our list to visit next, but we wanted to see if it's the type of place you can wander on your own or it's advised to be in a larger group. This question really stems from the unknown of safety concerns, etc.. Thanks in advance.
rohani is offline  
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Jun 21st, 2005, 03:50 PM
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Dear Rohani,

We are going to Egypt in September, and from what I have read. You can do most some of Egypt by yourself, and not some other parts. For example if you wish to visit certain locations, you will be in a police escort/caravan and this needs to be coordinated. Likewise, there are not roadsigns in English (not a problem if you read Arabic) so driving might not be best. However, there are many companies in Egypt that you can hire for day trips or to arranage parts of your journey once you arrive. It depends upon your comfort level. My husband and I opted for a private escorted tour (with an Egyptian company) because we felt it offered value for the money, and eased our safety concerns. We would never take a tour of say, the UK or Australia. I don't know that you would be at any advantage being in a larger tour group from a safety standpoint as opposed to a smaller group. Most posters on this board who have recently returned from Egypt with groups both large and small, have reported feeling very safe in Egypt. So I would suggest you decide, if you opt for a group, how many other people you could tolorate for extended periods!
It is also my understanding that if you travel alone, there is a fair amount of harmless, but potentially annoying pan-handling, if you have travelled to other countries where this is prevelant then it may not be an issue..
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Jun 21st, 2005, 03:55 PM
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Bad Thyra.. should have spell checked that! Sorry.. Also, there are SO many tour companies, that you can really shop around (should you decide to go that route). You don't need to settle on a canned tour with 50 other people in a large bus, most companies I looked into were happy to make customized tours (if you go through an Egyptian company expect to pay 60% less then a US company). Our company made a dozen alterations to our itinerary that suited our needs.
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Jun 21st, 2005, 06:39 PM
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They do require tourists to travel in caravans with military escort from many places, such as Luxor to the Red Sea resorts. It's not a big deal but you do have to meet at an appointed place early in the morning and return by a certain time. I wouldn't drive in Egypt. Hire a car and driver. It's cheap. Egypt is very safe but there are areas they won't let you go alone. Particular where they don't see many tourists. But even in Cairo you can get a driver and go out to the pyramids on your own. In Luxor, you can go anywhere on your own. But a licensed guide really helps with the history. I can recommend Tut Egypt Tours in Luxor for custom tours. www.tutegypt.com. They took great care of us.
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Jun 21st, 2005, 06:58 PM
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Thanks for the info. This is a good starting point.
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Jun 22nd, 2005, 02:15 AM
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The only tour we have ever been on was to Egypt - have done everything else on our own with great success.

Issues for Egypt are first logistical. Things operate with a different type of time and efficiency than many other countries. With a limited amount of time, we wanted to see as much as possible - and the tour facilitated this. For example, the day we spent on our own wandering Cairo was fascinating, but it took us a long time to get accurate directions to a specific restaurant since everyone of whom we asked directions directed us to their "uncle's perfume shop" or some other place. A great experience for a while - but would not have wanted to spend the entire trip like this.

Second, it was essential to have a knowledgeable guide, since without some historical explanation, everything starts to seem like just another big temple or monument. A reputable local guide, though, could accomplish the same thing.

Third - your sfaety concerns. I found this the least important issue - while it was 4 years ago, the only thing that made us feel unsafe in Egypt was the insane traffic and drivers. Crossing the street was an adventure in itself.
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Jun 22nd, 2005, 12:17 PM
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You can always have the best of both worlds -- have a custom tour designed for you that provides a guide. You'll go where, when & how you want. You can schedule an afternoon to wander around on your own if you want.

Some on this site say that you can arrange your own custom tour on your own, either via the internet or getting tour guides once you're there. me it was a matter of being comfortable with what I did -- that is, it's a matter of time & effort vs. money.
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Jun 22nd, 2005, 12:21 PM
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Thyra,

How do you spell check your post?
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Jun 22nd, 2005, 01:48 PM
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Well, I cheat actually, when I have time, I Preview it, then cut and paste it into a blank word document, spell check it, the cut and paste it back and delete the original post.. most of the time I just let it rip without even reviewing.. which anyone who reads my posts could guess! .
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Jul 28th, 2005, 07:28 AM
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I have one thing to say & that is I think I would turn in my drivers license if I lived in Cairo. I drove Semi's & have been driving for 50 years & I would never want to drive a car in Egypt. I would highly recommmend going with a small tour.
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Jul 28th, 2005, 05:56 PM
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My parents lived in Alexandria when I was a teenager and I still remember my mother's collision with a tram...lets just say it was very memorable and the Renault 5 didn't cope very well!
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Jul 29th, 2005, 09:21 PM
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We also share a great aversion to tours, so when we went to Egypt 6 years ago, we found a guy (recommended in Lonely Planet and a NY Times article) who would pick you up at the airport gratis if you took one of his mini van tours in Cairo. We e-mailed him and arranged to take his (max. 8 person) tour of Saqqara, Memphis, and Gisa. I also told him we were interested in having him arrange some other things for us in Cairo and Luxor and he said we could talk about it when we arrived. The airport pickup alone was worth the price. He whizzed us past the touts offering taxis and hotels. In the hotel lobby we discussed possibilities and decided to take his small Citadel/Cairo/Museum tour and arranged for a car, driver and guide a third day to Dashur and Meidum. He also arranged for airport transfers in Luxor and 3 days with a car, driver and guide in Luxor. I think the private days cost us about $100 a day. I don't know if he's still in business but he did a fine job, his contacts in Luxor were excellent, and I would recommend him. His name was Salah Mohammed, I believe.

The small tours in Cairo had two other couples the first day, one other couple the second. The first guide was excellent, the remaining guides nothing to complain about (1 in Cairo for 2 trips, 1 in Luxor for 2 trips and 1 for the trip to Edfu - in police caravan). The day at Dashur and Meidum was wonderful because we shared the sites with no one else, though a taxi did pull up just as we were leaving the Bent Pyramid. It quite a contrast to all the hustle and crowds at Giza.

Taxis around town were cheap and plentiful. In Luxor we mostly walked when we were on our own. There was some hassle with the taxi drivers, carriage drivers and shop owners - something like running a gauntlet to get from one end of town to our hotel - but the people were so friendly that we weren't uncomfortable. I learned a few words of Arabic so I wouldn't have to engage in conversation in English and used "la shukran" (no thank you) constantly as we walked around. It worked fine. We probably felt more hassled in Greece this spring than we did in Luxor and it's much less a problem in Cairo.

We were very comfortable wandering around on our own, even at night in Luxor. And we had some interesting adventures we wouldn't have had if we hadn't spent a fair amount of time on our own. The day we went to the Khan al Kalili for shopping we were intercepted by two young Egyptians as we left an ATM (bought enough that we had to replenish our cash)who "wanted to practice their English". They offered to take us to the other side of the bazaar where the locals shop. We felt a bit wary but decided it probably couldn't hurt, so we went along. We lost one quickly at the 5PM call to prayer when he ducked into a nearby mosque but the other showed us all around and even took us to The Street of the Tentmakers, where I had wanted to go but doubt I could have found by myself. Of course, part of the motive was to take us into shops where they would get a commission if we bought. Unfortunately, we didn't care for anything in those shops, though we bought in others. Our guide also took us into the parts of the bazaar where the men were carving the bone chess sets, doing the wood inlay, and so forth. When we'd had enough, we told him we had dinner planned and it was time to leave. He took us to the underpass that led to the other side of the bazaar and left after we tipped him a decent amount (which was very little to us). So I think we all came out winners.

BTW, our guide the first day advised us when giving out baksheesh to guards and others that the proper way to do it is to fold the note small and pass it in your palm when you shake hands on parting. And there is much shaking of hands, so there's no problem finding an opportunity to pass the tip discretely, which they prefer. At that time, he said half a pound was appropriate for the multiple antiquities guards who don't really provide any service. Of course, we tipped more to the guard who used a foil-covered cardboard to illuminate the walls in the tombs of the nobles in Luxor, the guards who unlocked a gate and led us on a duck-walk down into a mestaba (with nothing inside) at Dashur.

I'm sure there are parts of the cities where you might not be as safe, but there probably wouldn't be any reason for you to go there. It's my opinion that you're safer, certainly as far as terrorist problems, on your own or in a very small group than you would be in a larger group. (The kidnapping or murder of a guide, a driver and a couple of tourists would barely make the back page the paper, so it's hardly worth the trouble.)
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Aug 1st, 2005, 10:21 PM
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We were thrilled with our tour of Egypt. We booked with Insight Tours but they use a local Egyptian company called spring tours. Our tour was small (16) but we were lucky. You probably don't want to use them as they can have groups of up to 50. Taxis are easy and cheap. I agree the knowledge of an Egyptologist guide is beneficial. They fill in the gaps of the history and help you to know what you are looking at. We felt our tour was a very good value for the money and we did have some free time. I personally didn't like following random people as they don't take you where you ask or want to go but where they get a commission then they expect a tip for not helping you. We started to get into a "very local section" of town and felt uncomfortable which is the opposite of others experiences.

I have also planned trips all over Europe and believe Egypt is much different.
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