Trip Report: Two Week Egypt Tour with Private Guide

Nov 28th, 2009, 08:46 PM
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Trip Report: Two Week Egypt Tour with Private Guide

Everyone on this board was so helpful a few months ago when I was trying to figure out my plans for a trip with my Mom to Egypt, so I wanted to post a summary of my trip with a private guide (Ahmed Hamed Yousif) in case anyone else ever faces the same questions I did when planning a trip to Egypt! I also posted some photos -- feel free to take a look at some of the AMAZING things we had the opportunity to see in Egypt:
http://www.facebook.com/album.php?ai...8&l=fae8789fa7.

I've traveled a bit in the past (mostly Europe -- France, Germany, England, Italy -- but also a few quick trips to places like Canada, Aruba and Grand Cayman). I usually plan my own trips so that I can go WHERE I want, WHEN I want. But two years ago, when my Mom and I went to Italy on a "trip of a lifetime" for her 60th birthday, we decided to do a tour for part of the trip so that we could see as much of the country as possible. And I must admit that it WAS good to have a tour group that could easily transport us from Rome to Florence to Venice and everywhere in between. But we had so much more control over the second part of our trip to Italy: once the group tour was over, we had a private guide bring us from Rome to Naples and all the towns along the Amalfi Coast.

So when we decided that it was time to plan our "trip of a lifetime, part two," we decided that we wouldn't even consider a traditional tour group. But at the same time, I was hesitant to attempt a trip to Egypt entirely on our own since the culture is so much different than the US, and we knew we would need some help just to figure out simple things like hailing a cab. So I turned to this forum for guidance.

Thanks to old trip reports from people like Beth Smith and Elizabeth Seibert, I learned about a private guide named Ahmed Hamed Yousif. (I included a picture of Mom and I with Ahmed at the pyramids through the photo link above.) I had already done enough research to know EXACTLY what I wanted to see while we were in Egypt, but I needed a lot of help putting all of the pieces together. And Ahmed did exactly that: he booked all of our flights within Egypt, booked all of the hotels (including a room with an amazing view of the pyramids and a beautiful suite on a Nile cruise ship), and took care of all of the day trips on our schedule. But it wasn't just the travel reservations, he was an AMAZING help when it came to things like buying me a phone that worked in Egypt, negotiating prices for us with vendors, and making us feel COMPLETELY at home everywhere we went.

After a few inquiries via email, Ahmed quickly sent me a detailed itinerary and he delivered on every single item and went above and beyond all expectations:
Day 1: Flight from New York to Cairo (met by guide at airport for transfer to hotel); overnight at Mena House Oberoi with pyramid view
Day 2: Egyptian museum; pyramids (with a camel ride)
Day 3: "Old Cairo;" Step Pyramid at Sakkara; flight to Aswan (met by guide at airport for transfer to hotel); overnight at Movenpick Aswan
Day 4: Aswan: Lake Nasser, Philae Temple, felucca ride (with private guide)
Day 5: Abu Simbel: early morning flight and return flight to Aswan; boarded Nile cruise ship, Sonesta Star Goddess (with private guide)
Day 6: Nile Cruise: Kom Ombo; Edfu (with private guide)
Day 7: Luxor West Bank: Valley of the Kings; Queen Hatshepsut's temple (with private guide)
Day 8: Luxor East Bank: Karnak temple; Luxor temple; flight to Sharm el Sheikh (met by guide at airport to hotel); overnight at Renaissance
Day 9: relax on the beach
Day 10: relax on the beach
Day 11: relax on the beach; transfer to Cairo by guide and met at Cairo airport by guide for transfer to international terminal
Day 12: HOME!

A few comments about our trip:
- Cairo is absolutely crazy. I have never in my life seen so much chaos. The traffic is absolutely insane. I had read about how loud and busy the city was, but I still wasn't prepared for it! Thank goodness someone met us at the airport or else I honestly would've turned right back around and come home. There were English signs everywhere in the airport, so that was no problem. It was once you stepped outside the terminal that the city just completely swallows you!! I was so glad that we decided to stay slightly outside the city, in Giza, so that we could avoid some of the noise.

- Mena House. If you like the pyramids, if it has always been a dream to see the pyramids, then pay the extra money and stay here. Ahmed booked room 218 for us and we had an amazing view of the pyramids when we woke up in the morning. We overlooked a private, quiet courtyard. It was funny because the next afternoon Ahmed took us to a nice seafood restaurant for lunch (called Caviar, I think). It was directly across the street from our hotel with an AMAZING view of the pyramids. But Ahmed pointed out the rooms of the Mena House that border the busy -- and LOUD!!! -- street. So you definitely want to make sure you have a good room or else your experience at this GORGEOUS hotel could be marred by the noise of the street.

- Sightseeing in Cairo: Ahmed let us control the pace at every site we visited in Cairo. We're not really "museum people," so he gave us a tour of the highlights of the Egyptian Museum, mostly the King Tut items, and we opted to leave pretty quickly. We walked around Old Cairo to see the oldest church, the Hanging Church, the oldest synagogue, and the oldest mosque. And Ahmed helped us negotiate prices in the Khan (although we declined his offer to give us free time to shop there on our own!). He also brought us -- because we ASKED him to, not because he forced it on us like some tour groups do! -- to a papyrus store, a few jewelry stores, and a perfume store. And he helped us negotiate in each store. It was funny in the perfume store, where I thought I was getting quite a bargain, and Ahmed spoke to the shop owner and managed to get us DOUBLE the perfume for what I would've paid. One thing I wanted to be sure to stress: NEVER ONCE did I ever feel uncomfortable in Cairo. With my bright blonde hair, I stuck out like a sore thumb surrounded by all the women with their heads and full bodies covered (I didn't see a SINGLE woman without a head scarf). But I was never made to feel out of place. I was always treated kindly and with respect. I'm sure being next to Ahmed had something to do with it, but never once did I feel out of place.

- The pyramids were AWESOME! Ahmed took us to a great look-out spot and I got some amazing photos. He was helpful again at negotiating the price of the camel ride (a MUST if you are there!) because we ended up paying MUCH LESS than I would've paid.

- Aswan: What a totally different world than the craziness and poverty of Cairo. I was so surprised at how HUGE Lake Nasser is, and the Philae temple is amazing. Ahmed booked the Movenpick Aswan for us. It's an amazing hotel on an island in the middle of the Nile. We had room 464, which had a GORGEOUS view of the quiet side of the Nile. Here we met our WONDERFUL guide for this portion of our trip, Ahmed 2, who was hired by Ahmed Hamed Yousif on our behalf. Ahmed 2 was so easy to talk to and was a wonderful companion. He was there when we needed guidance or information, but at the same time, we had TONS of free time on our own.

- Stomach Problems: I had a bit of an upset stomach when we first arrived in Aswan. Not sure what I ate that caused it since we were very careful what we ate and never drank the water. But the stomach problems weren't severe and didn't impact the trip at all. Later that day, Mom had a really bad stomach issue and was locked in the bathroom for several hours that night. But we grabbed some pills right at the hotel pharmacy, and she was back to 100% the next morning.

- Abu Simbel: Originally I was going to drive down to this site to save money, but Ahmed suggested a flight instead (to save time), and I'm so glad I listened to his suggestion. It's a short excursion, but it is SO WORTH IT to see this amazing location.

- Nile Cruise: Mom and I had wanted to book the Sonesta St. George for our cruise, but after he learned that I really wanted a balcony, Ahmed suggested that we book the Sonesta Star Goddess instead. Again, his suggestion was right on target. What an absolutely amazing cruise ship. The whole ship is all suites, and everything was clean and beautiful. The food was actually REALLY good on the ship, and the entertainment was good, too. There was a "Nubian Show" that was dancing and singing, then another night there was the whirling dervish (SO COOL) and a belly dancer (not very cool), and a galaibya party (where we dressed in an Egyptian costume that we bought right on the boat without having to negotiate the price). The service on the ship was WONDERFUL. Everyone was friendly and helpful. There are almost 300 cruise ships that travel the 150-mile strip between Aswan and Luxor. 300!!! I felt guilty that we were ruining the water in the Nile, especially as we sailed down the river and watched all the livestock grazing right on the edge of the water. But 95% of Aswan's revenue is tourism, so I doubt they'll scale back on the cruise ships. A side note about having a private guide during the cruise: how wonderful to be able to sightsee on our own schedule!! We spent one afternoon lounging by the pool while everyone else rushed to see the East Bank, and they actually had to see one of the temples in the dark and then rush back to the boat for dinner! But we had tons of free time and went to see the East Bank the next morning. Ahmed 2 took us to a stone cutting factory, and wasn't as good at helping us negotiate as the original Ahmed was, but I still managed to get a few good pieces. And speaking of the original Ahmed, he called us several times, during the course of this part of our trip, just to check in to be sure that everything was fine and that we didn't need anything. (He had pre-programmed his phone number on the phone that he provided me when we met in Cairo, so that he was never more than a phone call away!)

- Sharm: Once we saw all of the sights in Luxor (the temples were AMAZING!!!), we headed for Part 2 of our trip, which was all about relaxation. I can't say enough wonderful things about the Renaissance. We were in Room 5029, which is a sea view room (which stunned me since I paid for the room using Marriott points and figured the hotel would've given us the worst room on the resort; instead I felt like our room was definitely one of the BEST!). We went snorkeling and saw SO SO many amazing fish. We ate our lunch right on the beach and had great meals for the most part. But one thing to keep in mind if you choose this hotel, it's built on a cliff, so there are TONS of stairs. It was 178 stairs from our room to the lobby (yes, I counted). The hotel let us freshen up in the fitness club on the day we left, so we were able to hang out on the beach until sunset even though we had already checked out.

All in all, we had an absolutely amazing trip. I can't say enough wonderful things about Ahmed Hamed Yousif and what an enormous help he was to us. I strongly encourage anyone considering a visit to Egypt to at least get in touch with Ahmed ([email protected]) to see if he can assist you. Pricing will vary based on your itinerary (e.g., number of flights within Egypt, quality of the hotels you choose, etc.), but I'm sure you will not be disappointed if you let Ahmed take care of all of the details for you!

Feel free to contact me if you have any questions. I'm happy to give more details!
- Kristen
Kris_Mom is offline  
Nov 29th, 2009, 05:18 AM
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Kristen

Thank you for your wonderful trip report. My husband, son, and I travel to Egypt, arriving 12/28/09 and Ahmed has made all our travel plans while in the country. Our itinerary looks very similar to yours minus Sharm. I have a couple questions:

1. Did you buy your phone before you left or did Ahmed provide you with one.
2. What were the dates of your trip? I see you wore alot of short sleeved shirts....I was planning to wear a long sleeve shirt over to cover my elbows...is this neccesary?
3. Was it warm enough to swim while on the boat for your Nile cruise?
4. Did Ahmed help you get meds for your stomach? Do you recommend buying those as soon as you get there? I am really worried since I am prone to a bad tummy anyway.
5. Hats?
6. Shoes.....we purchased lace up "Merrell" type tennis shoes several weeks ago and have been wearing them in regularly to break them in. What else should take? How about the dress code for the Nile cruise?

There have been so many trip reports....I have read and re-read them all many times over! I feel like I know all of you and wish we could take you with us! It is so great to have yours to read since it is so close to our departure date.

Thanks again for your terrific report and pics!!!! Please let me know if there is anything you can think of that I need to know while I pack for the trip. Everyone else has done a magnificent job detailing items...thanks to all!!!! Our son, Matt, doesn't even know he is going yet...he'll find out Christmas morning so I am trying to think about his needs too....he is 21 as of November 21st.

I look forward to hearing your comments!

Lollie
Lollie14 is offline  
Nov 29th, 2009, 09:43 AM
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Thanks for the trip report! I too am traveling to Egypt on an Ahmed-planned trip. We arrive on December 24th and also have an itinerary that is similar to yours minus Sharm. I have many of the same questions as Lollie, so thanks Lollie (Lollie, I'm sending you an email today -- hope it goes through!).

Abby
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Nov 29th, 2009, 01:12 PM
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Kristen, thanks so much for your report! This kind of first-hand information is invaluable. And your photos are terrific! My adult daughter and I travelled together 3 weeks in Iran a couple of years ago and now we're thinking of doing the same in Egypt. If you don't mind, could you give us some idea of the per person cost for doing 2 weeks in Egypt the way you did it? If you'd rather not, that's fine, I understand.
julia1 is offline  
Nov 29th, 2009, 01:58 PM
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What a fabulous, well written report. I,too, am not crazy about taking a tour so your private guide experience sounds perfect. Now, this may be tacky to ask but I assume private guides are more expensive than tours. Can you give me some idea of the cost of your trip minus plane fare? My DH and I are in mid-60s and not wanting to be up at 7 a.m., luggage packed and ready for the next stop on a filled itinerary for 10 days. We want to see sights on a relaxed schedule Any comments appreciated
abynrml2106 is offline  
Nov 29th, 2009, 05:48 PM
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<<>>

No need to cover elbows - the "rule" is to keep your shoulders, breasts and knees covered. I wore capris and t-shirts during the day on our trip.

Regarding meds, you can get the most-recommended tummy med, Antinal, over the counter at any pharmacy, cheap. (I got Afrin for less than $1.00 USD).
sf7307 is offline  
Nov 29th, 2009, 06:39 PM
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Kris_Mom

Thank you for the lovely pictures.

It was nice to see Egypt again through your pictures.

I cannot find the picture of you and your mother and Ahmed at the Pyramids !?
Percy is online now  
Dec 1st, 2009, 06:25 AM
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Lollie/Abby -
I'm so glad to hear that more people are traveling with Ahmed! He will take GREAT care of you while you are there! I've listed answers to your questions below. Hope this helps!

1. Did you buy your phone before you left or did Ahmed provide you with one.
I brought my BlackBerry from home, but it didn't work even though my work IT dept. promised me it would! Ahmed provided me with a Nokia phone with a pre-paid phone card when we first met at the Mena House. It was VERY convenient and cost less than $100.
2. What were the dates of your trip? I see you wore alot of short sleeved shirts....I was planning to wear a long sleeve shirt over to cover my elbows...is this neccesary?
Our trip was November 1 - November 13. It was a little bit colder in Cairo than in Aswan/Luxor. We wore sweatshirts in the morning and then it warmed up later in the day. The only time we needed to "cover up" was when we visited the mosque. We tried to be respectful of the culture by not wearing clothes that were too revealing, but in Luxor it was a bit warm so we went ahead and wore sleeveless shirts.
3. Was it warm enough to swim while on the boat for your Nile cruise?
A few people did swim while we were on the boat, but I just dunked my feet. We laid out in our bathing suits, and the weather was confortable, but it wasn't HOT.
4. Did Ahmed help you get meds for your stomach? Do you recommend buying those as soon as you get there? I am really worried since I am prone to a bad tummy anyway.
We didn't have any stomach problems in Cairo, it was in Aswan. The pharmacy was right in the hotel so we didn't need Ahmed to help us buy the meds. When Ahmed called us to check in and I told him my mom had purchased the expensive stomach medicine as recommended by the pharmacist, he told us the $1 med referenced by the person in the message above would've worked just as well!
5. Hats?
We brought hats with us but never found the need to wear them.
6. Shoes.....we purchased lace up "Merrell" type tennis shoes several weeks ago and have been wearing them in regularly to break them in. What else should take? How about the dress code for the Nile cruise?
Mom and I wore sandals, kind of like Teva sandals. There wasn't nearly as much walking as I had assumed there would be. The Nile cruise was SO laid back, there was no formal dress code at all. We just wore capri pants or a simple dress each night, but many people just wore whatever they had worn all day. For the Egyptian dress party night, a little over half of the ship passengers dressed up, and the other half just wore their regular clothes. There was no pressure to purchase the outfits on board. Mom and I purchased our outfits for $40 on board, but there were some beautiful outfits that were much more expensive.

Oops! I never posted my photo of Ahmed with us on Facebook. I took literally 750 photos while we were in Egypt so it was hard to narrow down all of my shots for that album! I wish I could just post photos within the message here!

As for pricing of the trip, it was certainly more than a group tour would cost. I checked out group tour offerings from places like Globus and Trafalgar when we first started thinking about Egypt. (This was how I figured out what parts of Egypt I wanted to visit. Reviewing the tour group itineraries also helped me figure out what a baseline price for a trip like this would cost.) Keep in mind that EVERYTHING was included on my tour -- there were no "optional tours" that cost extra. All tickets, entrance fees, transportation, etc. was covered in the original price I was quoted. I only had to cover tips (which were actually more than I expected since I hadn't factored in tipping every driver, every person that met us at the airport, etc.). Yes, it cost more to travel with a private guide, but for me it was more than worth it for the peace of mind, as well as the comfort and convenience. Oh, and I forgot to mention above that when I paid Ahmed, I wired the money to Lady Egypt Tours (the agency he uses to contract many services). This gave me so much more peace of mind since I had only Ahmed's references to go on -- I was nervous sending so much money to someone I had never met! I was able to wire a portion of the total as a down payment and simply paid the remainder of the trip fees by credit card when I arrived. If you would like details on pricing, feel free to email me (kris_wylie at hotmail.com) and I can list everything for you.
Kris_Mom is offline  
Dec 1st, 2009, 03:32 PM
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Kris_Mom,

Thank you for all your great information. It's very useful as I start to pack.

Your trip report makes me that much more excited about visiting Egypt. Thanks for posting such a great report! It is fun to see all the regulars respond too!

Lollie
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Dec 1st, 2009, 10:32 PM
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Kris, the dearness of the price (as you said above) was probably because Ahmed booked through Lady Egypt (you said you had to pay them) and he probably put his own "mark up" on things. (As he should - it's a business for him)

I too was nervous about paying someone I didnt know in a foreign land so went with a tour company.
MissGreen is offline  
Dec 2nd, 2009, 10:48 AM
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Kristin,
I'm delighted to read your trip report since my wife and I are booked for a trip with Ahmed in January. So far, he's been very accommodating and prompt in tailoring our trip. I have a couple of questions about tipping, etc. What's the best way to connect?
PaoloCast
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Dec 2nd, 2009, 06:07 PM
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PaoloCast, please feel free to contact me any time at the email address listed in my post above. I'm happy to answer any questions. You will have a wonderful time with Ahmed!
Kris_Mom is offline  
Dec 3rd, 2009, 12:01 AM
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Kristen-have loved your pictures from our trip. We leave on the 14th of December and am VERY excited.
Couple questions-what kind of luggage did you take? Did you find that Egyptair was really picky on weight or size going down to Aswan from Cairo or to Abu Simbel?
What do you wish you had brought? What do you wish that you had left home?
What kind of camera did you take and how many memory cards?Problems with the adapters and your electronics?
Capris are okay to wear then? Thanks!!
dutyfree is offline  
Dec 3rd, 2009, 08:03 AM
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dutyfree,

1) capris are definitely fine
2) camera - we all just took our pocket-size point-and-shoot cameras, with a couple of 1 or 2 GB memory cards (I prefer multiple smaller cards in case one fails)
3) don't remember what luggage we took
4) take hand-wipes or Purel, portable tp and seat covers (you can get them in travel-size at Target or CVS)(I needed all of those less than I thought I would, but was glad to have them), closed-toe shoes (I wore Skechers during the day, sandals at night)
5) Electronics were no problem, no more so than anywhere else. Be sure you have the right kind of plug adapter, but your phone, camera, ipod, etc. should all run on Egyptian voltage without flipping a switch or using a converter. The hotels all have hair dryers - Egypt is very modern in tourist conveniences.
sf7307 is offline  
Dec 3rd, 2009, 07:48 PM
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DutyFree -- My reply is just about the same as the one above.
- Photos: I am a picture fanatic, so I took 750 pictures during the trip. I used one memory card and had a spare in case anything happened to the first card.
- EgyptAir/Luggage: EgyptAir never gave us a single problem with our luggage (Mom and I had a large suitcase each, weighing about 40 pounds; in addition, Mom had a small rolling carry-on bag, and I had a large back-pack). I found the EgyptAir flights to be VERY comfortable! We were lucky for the trip to Abu Simbel because our guide kept our bags for us in the car while we flew from Aswan to Abu Simbel so we didn't have to worry about carrying luggage for such a short excursion.
- Adapters: I had no problems charging my camera or using my curling iron with a standard adapter.
- Clothing: I never felt out of place wearing capri pants. Nobody ever looked at me funny or made me feel uncomfortable.
Kris_Mom is offline  
Dec 3rd, 2009, 09:23 PM
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Thanks for the quick replies! A couple other questions-how did you all do the tipping for the guides everyday and the drivers? And how much? I have never done tours or cruises so am completely in the dark. Thanks!
dutyfree is offline  
Dec 3rd, 2009, 09:25 PM
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Forgot-since I have never had to pay up front before for travel. I had wanted to know if anyone had taken out travel insurance (either for cancellation or medical) for their trips to Egypt and Jordan. Hubs has 3 heart stents in so think that I am going in that direction for the first time?
dutyfree is offline  
Dec 4th, 2009, 02:56 PM
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I have never taken out trip insurance, but plan to start if I ever go on such an expensive trip again. My BIL and SIL did when they went to the Amazon and guess what, my BIL threw out his back and had to be carted off the ship, flown by helicopter to a "bigger city" and flown back to LA first-class (because he had to be lying down). Trip insurance paid for the whole thing.

We paid for tips "up front". We could have done it either way - paid $40 pp up front, or do the tipping ourselves -- we just decided it was so much easier not to have to think about it.
sf7307 is offline  
Dec 5th, 2009, 07:05 PM
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We talked about travel insurance with the two couples that we sat with at dinner on the cruise. We didn't have insurance ourselves, but both couples STRONGLY recommended it. You never know when something may happen.

For tips we paid the drivers, airport pick-up staff, and guides at the end of the service they provided. Just handed them cash (both Egyptian and US dollars) as we shook hands to say good-bye. For the cruise, Ahmed had suggested to us that we wait until the end and put all of the tips for individual services together in a single envelope that would be shared by everyone on the ship. We ended up paying about $1,000 in tips between the guides, airport transfers, drivers, maids, bell hops, and anyone else who had their hand out ... I think that's probably much less than most people tip, but I hadn't factored tips into my spending money, so each tip I gave out meant less money to spend on souvenirs!!

We gave everyone who picked us up or dropped us off at the aiport $20 or $30 (depending on whether it was a quiet airport or the CRAZY Cairo airport). We had multiple drivers when we were in more than one town per day, and we tipped each driver $5-10 depending on the amount of travel. And then several hundred dollars each for the guides (although if I had more money I would've given both Ahmeds MUCH MORE since they deserved it!).
Kris_Mom is offline  
Dec 5th, 2009, 07:27 PM
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$1000 in tips? There are four of us traveling together so I am in shock as I did not think that tipping would be that high. Anyone else? I have never heard of prices being that high in tipping for an Egypt trip.
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