Trip Report: Cairo

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Sep 21st, 2004, 07:23 AM
  #1
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Trip Report: Cairo

We have just returned from our wonderful and too short trip to Cairo and Luxor (9 nights). I would like to thank everyone who provided me with great tips and advice to my neurotic questions. I hope what I list below will be of use to others who are also planning a trip to Egypt in the near future. Below is a summary of Cairo. I will add the Luxor part in a seperate posting. You will see that our trip was taken in a very leisurely pace. Visiting sites in the mornings or late afternoons and in the afternoons spent lounging by the pool or wandering around aimlessly. This is how we wanted to do it but you can definetly do Cairo in two-three days if you want.

We went independently and used a travel agent to book flights and hotels and transfers (airport-hotel) only (no tours or guides) and found that with two guidebooks (Lonely Planet and the french Routard) in hand it was great.

Cairo: Arrive 8pm. Changed small amount of money at airport bank upon arrival for tips etc. Transfer to hotel via travel agency.
Hotel was the Grand Hyatt Hotel. Wonderful beautiful hotel, excellent location at the tip of Rhoda Island. We had a corner room on the 34th fl. (windows on both sides of the room with a view of the Cairo night line to one side and the Pyramids (albeit a distance away)on the other. Had several meals in the food court in the shopping mall attached to the hotel so the food is cheaper and more casual than dinner in one of the hotel restaurants but clean and piping hot, prepared as you order. The hotel is new and perhaps because of that sometimes the service was slow and waiters and staff seemed inexperienced. We had to call housekeeping every night because every night they forgot to replace one towel or had taken away the bath mat and not replaced it etc. etc. We are wondering if that was a ploy to get tips?
Day 2: Breakfast, changed money in bank (open 24 hrs!)in the hotel, all rates are pretty much consistent. Visited the pyramids in a taxi. 30 LE for the day, negotiated on the street, not in front of the hotel. Were taken to a papyrus museum/shop but it was ok, driver was not too pushy about it. Taxi driver drove us all over the pyramids so did not have to walk around. Had one incident were a tout tried to get money out of us by following us around and shouting out explanations about the pyramids even though we did not ask. When we gave him a couple pounds to make him go away he complained it was not enough!
Visited inside the small pyramid and I was limping around for the next two days, just shows you how steep the climb down is or how out of shape I am! Afternoon in the hotel lounging around. Evening: Sound and Light show. Yes, it is cheesy with Sphinx shouting out in frightening tones the history of Egypt etc. but for me it was an opportunity to spend a bit more time gazing and sitting next to the magnificent pyramids...It was cold so bring a sweater. (Did this on our own as well, the hotel package when we asked was US$ 30 for transport and entrance.) We caught a taxi outside of the hotel for 15LE, bought our tickets at the ticket booth there, caught a taxi back for 15LE. Much cheaper than going with a package and same thing.

Day 3: Walked to Egyptian Museum along the Nile, it is right behind the Nile Hilton and we used that to orient ourselves. Hot and pharaoh-ed out after two hours inside. We walked past the things that did not catch our eye and stopped to look at those treasures that did. The room with Tutankhamen's treasures were wonderful until a huge group of spaniards overtook the room, waited a bit til they left and had the room to ourselves again. There were little benches all over where you could sit and rest.
Camera had to be left in a little storage booth next to the ticket stand. Could not bring it inside at all, this was not very clear until we got to the entrance of the museum and after we passed the security thing. Trek back to depose of camera.
Day 4: Khan Khalili bazaar and around. The bazaar is great! I loved the sounds and smells and the whirlwind feel. Stepping back into the past as you take the winding little back alleys with old men smoking and kids running around. Gold shopping. From my experience in the Gulf, gold is not as great a bargain as thought in Egypt. Still bought a necklace as souvenir.
Evening we dined on the 41st floor of the Grand Hyatt's revolving restaurant. It takes one hour for the restaurant to make one round and you get a nice view of all of Cairo. Food was not that interesting, you pay for the view here. Reservations are definetly needed, we booked when we arrived and they only had an opening three days later. Must order Entree, Main course and Dessert as a 'rule' so told us our waiter, so be very hungry! Attire should be button down shirts and slacks for men. No t-shirts, jeans or shorts nor sandals for men. A romantic place and you cannot beat the view.
Day 4: Pack and off to Luxor on a 5 am flight!
couboocou is offline  
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Sep 21st, 2004, 07:44 AM
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Thanks. The Egyptiam Museum has apparently tightened their rules re cameras, because on my first trip to Cairo (1997), we were allowed to take photos in all rooms except those containing the royal mummies. I have great photos from the King Tut exhibit.
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Sep 21st, 2004, 08:03 AM
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Thank you for the trip report, Cant wait for the next chapter! We always go on our own - but this time we are going with a tour - we'll see how we do! Sounds like it is not hard to get to places for a much more reasonable price. Thank you again! More please.
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Sep 21st, 2004, 08:05 AM
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Re - Museum. When I went during the X-Mas and new year period they were allowing cameras in the King Tut's room at the museum but with a no flah rule. A guard would yell "No Flash" every few seconds and yet a lot of the tourist would use their flash!

The only place that they didn't allow cameras at all was at the King Tut's tomb at the valley of the king.

Glas you had a good time!
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Sep 21st, 2004, 09:39 AM
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I am very interested in taking my family(2 adults & 2 teens) to Egypt in March 2005 or 2006, so I love reading your trip report. Please continue ASAP with the Luxor portion.

One question: Was language no barrier? This is my biggest concern about traveling independently. We have managed well throughout most of western Europe, but taking on an Arabic-language country seems daunting.
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Sep 21st, 2004, 11:28 AM
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Couboocou...

Thank you SO MUCH for posting this. My husband and I are planning a trip in March. We were looking to go through an Egyptian tour agency, but maybe we shouldn't? I was concerned regarding safety, language barrier, etc. We have travelled many places in Europe over the years, making arrangements ourselves, but I felt Egypt maybe wasn't as safe overall and we may need some guidance.

Any other advice you may have I would appreciate. We are planning to be in Dublin for St. Patrick's Day, and then jaunt over to Cairo from Europe. Having a difficult time finding a decent airfare from Europe.

I am curious to hear the rest of your trip. Did you take the day trip to Abu Simbel? Please feel free to email me at [email protected] if you feel you have some information you'd like to share.

Thanks again,

Denise
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Sep 21st, 2004, 12:33 PM
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I have visited Cairo three times (twice on business when I was able to extend trip by two days and once on stopover on way home from Riyadh back when TWA flow NY - Cairo - Riyadh), and I have never used a tour agency. Each time, like the original poster, negotiated with a taxi parked outside my hotel for a day tour and its very inexpensive. I used Lonely Planet as my guide and I think I learned enough -- sometimes guides give way too much info. I haven't been in Egypt since May 2001 but I never felt unsafe when I was there.

On one of my trips I flew to Luxor and when I landed in Luxor I hired a taxi for the day to take me to Valley of Kings and Queens and Hatshepsut's temple and then leave me back in Luxor, and then I had another taxi take me to Luxor Temple and Karnak. There are so many taxis that its easy to travel independently.

Have fun.
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Sep 22nd, 2004, 03:30 AM
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Thanks for your feedback. I am working on the Luxor portion now and hope to post it later today.
Yes, in all the guidebooks it mentioned that you have to pay a camera fee for the museum, pyramids etc. I kept yelling camera ticket at the museum but the guy just shook his head. Later I understood that meant you could not bring it into the museum at all. Same with the smallest pyramid. There is a guard who checks your bag and if you have a camera you have to leave it somewhere (but there is no set place to leave it like at the museum, so we went to our waiting taxi and left it with the driver, if you are on a tour bus you can leave it on the bus). What we did was we had a digital (expensive) small camera that fits in the palm of my hand which I hid in the pocket of my pants or handbag because we did not want to leave it with the driver and left the bigger camera with him. Rarely will the guards search your pants pocket or go through your handbag thoroughly. I am not advocating this so you can sneak photos inside, it was more of a theft issue for us, leaving our camera. If you do not want to leave your camera, just hide it on you somewhere but don't take photos inside.
I pulled the same trick for the Sound and Light and did not have to pay the camera fee.
Security in Cairo was not a problem. Guards everywhere, policemen everywhere although they looked like teenagers and am not sure what they could or would do if there was an incident. The hotels all have airport security type set ups that you go in and out of everytime you enter the hotel. I would not go walking around outside after dark on your own but during the day and in taxis was not a problem. Obviously keep you handbag/money close to you at all times, especially in Khan Khalili, it is such a wonderful place and easy to be distracted taking in all the great things on sale etc.

Water/food in Cairo. I was nervous about this before we left and posted many questions here about it. In fact it was not bad. In the hotel it said that they filtered the tap water but it recommends tourists to drink bottled water just in case... So we drank bottled water, stayed away from juice that looked like it was made from concentrate or powders and never took ice. When in doubt we asked for a straw and drank out of the can (even in the hotel). Also did not eat any salads and removed tomatos etc from the sandwiches and burgers. I stayed away from yoghurts, cheeses and ice cream but my fiancé ate all those things and had no problems. We brushed our teeth with the tap water and no problems there.

Language: The people that you are likely to deal with speak english so that is not a problem, if you need very precise explanations or are trying to ask complicated questions it may be tough. You can also get good english guides just before entering the museum or you can book someone in advance.

Regarding airfare. We flew EgyptAir. I think you can get decent fares on any of the major internet ticket sites. Sometimes though it does pay to have a travel agency arrange just the main flights, hotels as they get a better discount on hotel rooms than an individual can. For an example I researched booking Grand Hyatt on my own and it was $US 250 per night. I asked the travel agency how much it was per night and they told me $150. Egypt is a place where booking a tour is cheaper than doing it on your own, if you are going to hire guides and pay for excursions. We didn't pay for any guides or excursions and managed to do it cheaper than the cheapest tour that I found. I also did not want to travel around in a group, it is a personal preference issue.
Luxor portion coming up!
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Sep 22nd, 2004, 02:56 PM
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Regarding smuggling cameras. I bought a small digital camcorder some time back and found that by wearing baggy pants, it could easily enter places where camcorders were not allowed.

The only time I was caught was in the tomb of Thutmose III. The guard was very eager to overlook my indiscretion for LE10 or 20, dont remember which. Whatever it was the pictures were worth it.
 
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Sep 23rd, 2004, 03:20 PM
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We went to Egypt and Jordan last spring. They are wonderful places. Although we went with a group, there are many guides who freelance. I would not recommend our guide, but others might and you could also go on your own. We spent a lot of time wandering ourselves and got to attend three weddings there! Highly recommend Abu Simbel and Luxor (don't shortchange time here and got to Tombs of Nobles with a taxi - really great! Cairo is a wonderful place to wander and take photos. Many people speak at least some English and others speak better than folks here -- wander and have a coffee and shisha and you will get the flavor of the country. Try to go to the Museum before and after going to Luxor if you can. have fun.
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Sep 24th, 2004, 01:25 AM
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Whilst I have recommended the Grand Hyatt for its room quality and location -it is not that new, so that cannot be used as an excuse for service hiccups. I was there over a year ago, before the owners gave Hyatt the mgmt and had similar problems of odd things not being in the room and share your view of top floor restaurant. These little things are a shame as they detract from what could otherwise be a really excellent hotel.
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Oct 13th, 2004, 04:31 AM
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Great to hear your experience as I am about to travel by myself to Cairo and Luxor. Do you have any idea about the best way to get to my hotel (Mena Oberoi) from the Airport? And how much do you think a taxi would cost ie how much should I bargain. Thanks very much. Glad you enjoyed it...
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Oct 13th, 2004, 09:04 AM
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Adamsp,
We are going to Egypt later this month and spending our first night at the Mena House. This is what they told us:

We do have the pleasure to inform your good self that we do arrange for meet and assist at the airport upon arrival.Cost of transportation will be US$20 per car per one way.
[[email protected]]

I do not know what a taxi would cost but it looks like the Mena House offers to pick you up for $20.
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Oct 27th, 2004, 09:24 AM
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couboocou -
i'm trying to experience egypt in similar ways that you did. (my husband and i never remember what the guides tell us and often wander off on our own anyway.) which travel agent did you use to book your hotel room in egypt? did you also use an agent to book your flights? how much was the flight from cairo to luxor? i'm not getting consistent answers.
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Oct 27th, 2004, 10:10 PM
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For asamsp and oforparis -
A taxi from the airport to the Mena house should be between 70 and 80 LE (about $12 USD)- depending on what you can negotiate with the taxi driver.

Even though the taxi would probably cost less than what the Mena House is offering - I would go with their meet and assist offer. Check with the Mena House, but a "meet and assist" usually means that they will have someone to meet you as you approach the Visa/Passport Control area. This person would then help you get your visa (if needed), help you through Passport Control, help get your luggage and get you through Customs. While it is possible to do all that on you own, it just goes so much more smoothly with someone helping.

Otherwise, you will do all that on your own and then have to "fight off" the multitude of taxi drivers trying to get your business as you exit the Customs area.

Also - with some luck - the Mena House would provide a decent car with A/C and seatbelts. You can be guaranteed that the local taxis would not have either.



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Oct 29th, 2004, 02:02 AM
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Thealchemist,

We used a travel company here in Europe who organizes group tours to Egypt but I told her I wanted an à la carte customized tour. She booked our flights and hotels (which gets you the same rates as a package tour without the tour guides etc.) which was MUCH cheaper than had I booked the flight directly with EgyptAir and booked directly with the Hyatt hotel. I did the research and found I could not beat the deals the big tour agents had in Egypt. Our tour agent's counterpart in Egypt was Abercrombie and Kent and it was the A&K rep who met us at airport, took us to hotel and basically then left us alone until it was time to go to Luxor. Took us to airport in Cairo, when we landed in Luxor another A&K rep was at airport to take us to the hotel and that was the end of their involvement with our trip. We liked the adventure of negotiating with taxis and doing things on our own with two guidebooks in hand. I am not really sure what a package tour would be like. If you have some brochures and the tours look nice maybe you can ask to see if they will customize a tour for you. We had the option of getting guides for different portions of the trip (for extra costs) but we didn't want anyone, not even guides and wanted to go and do our own thing. For us it was very good.
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Oct 29th, 2004, 06:10 AM
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Thanks for sharing couboocou.

Does anyone know a travel agent in US or in Egypt who would be willing to book hotels and flights only??? Please share!
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