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Trip Report Trip report: Egypt, 18 December 2011-1 January 2012

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This is my trip report for our visit to Egypt 18 December 2011-1 January 2012. I will recommend a guide and hotel, and so will be accused of being a tout. If you wish, contact me by IM or email at this site and I’ll document that I am an American tourist with no business relationship to any service provider mentioned. I’ll try to relate what would have been useful to me when I was planning the trip.


The art, architecture, and sights were even greater than I expected. The travelling logistics, traffic, and hassle from touts, street vendors, etc., was worse than I could have imagined, even having read many forum posts and guide books. I’m very glad we went, because it is not certain that the tourism environment in Egypt will get better in the coming years.


In Cairo, we were a couple of blocks from Tahrir Square, but had no effect from the demonstrations other than snarled traffic on the Corniche El Nile. If you are only a few blocks from the Square, you’d have little idea anything was going on. Always felt safe, except crossing the street. I did become quite ill in Luxor, the symptoms were not quite Pharoah’s Revenge, but painful. Missed a day’s touring despite using only bottled water, avoiding raw vegetables, etc. Used Antinal and Cipro, recovery was slow. The touts were more persistent than any I’ve ever seen, including the Caribbean, Western Europe, Israel, or Turkey. “La shukran” seems to only engage them in a conversation, it seemed better to just smile and say nothing, although that seems rude an unnatural to this American. Actually, nothing really worked consistently with them, and our guides had to disengage several of them. I realize these people are very poor, and this is part of the local flavor if not charm, but it is unfortunate that they don’t realize that this behavior does not encourage tourism for most westerners.


The guides were fairly run of the mill except for two.

We used Ahmed Hamid Yousif in Cairo, and I cannot say enough good things about him. He is licensed, a college graduate in tourism/Egyptology, has good English, is prompt, informative, reasonably priced, and extremely honest. Two things that stood out to me were his prompt return of my wife’s wallet that she dropped in his car, credit cards and money intact; and the kindness he showed bringing water to the stray dogs at Dashur and Saqqara. He provides a service that is both personal and professional, will adjust the itinerary any way you like, but knows from experience what sights are best for the typical tourist. The few things I would have differently, like staying at the Giza Mena House rather than the Garden City Kempinski, were the result of me not taking his advice.

OTOH, the guide Khalid, supplied by Select Egypt for the White Desert made some suggestive remarks to my wife in my absence. In Select Egypt’s defense, they responded very quickly with a substantial refund, fired the guide (who they had only used once), and I do not believe this guide was typical of Select Egypt’s service overall. I would use them again.


Cairo Kempinski: Fine world-class service, consistent with other Kempinskis, an excellent business-oriented Five Star German chain which is a favorite of ours. However, the location near Tahrir and the US and UK embassies was not ideal during this time, due to disrupted traffic and few dining opportunities within walking distance. The Blue and Osmanly restaurants there were excellent but pricey. We felt a bit trapped inside the hotel, but a Kempinski is a nice place to be trapped. Overall, I might well have booked the Mena House or the Holiday Inn Heliopolis, both of which provide a better street experience.

Mara House: As advertised, a nice house in a residential area off the tourist strip. I was disappointed in two things: First, Mara was on vacation in Ireland, which is understandable, but part of my reason for booking there was to get the expat view, and be assured of good English. When your name is on the hotel, you are part of the attraction. I might have booked the Steigenwald or St. Joseph’s had I known Mara was not going to be there. Second, “Free WiFi in the lobby except at night” would more accurately describe that amenity at Mara House. This is a big deal to me because of the nature of my work.

Philae Hotel in Aswan: As advertised, an excellent real Egyptian simple hotel overlooking the cruise ships. We had an incident wherein my wife lost her credit cards and ID on the Friday we arrived Aswan after a very long day. Everyone was at the mosque except a young girl at the fron desk who spoke essentially no English, and the hotel blocks outgoing calls.She finally contacted a lady in charge (I believe the owner’s wife, Mrs. Attiatallah), who understood our situation and arranged to get calling credits for the mobile phone at the desk, and we were able to contact the credit card companies. A bit of a worst-case scenario, but the Philae handled it well, and upgraded us to a suite. I’d definitely stay there again.

Sandrose Hotel: A basic but functional small hotel. Good food. Not a lot of choices out there. Got bedbugs there.

Holiday Inn Heliopolis: A surprisingly good hotel near the airport. We needed a European-style place to lick our wounds and recover for the outbound flight, and this fit the bill nicely. Plenty to do within walking distance, and an easy drive into downtown or the airport. Upgraded to the Executive floor since the expensive breakfast was included, as well as free snacks, soft drinks, and liquor (!) during certain hours, although we did not avail ourselves of the latter, being teetotallers. I’d stay there again, and just daytrip the Egyptian Museum, Coptic and Islamic Cairo from there.


Arrived Cairo late 18 December from GSO through MIA and BCN. Should have booked the direct Egypt Air flight from NYC, avoiding layovers in Miami or Barcelona. Slept and recuperated 19 December. 20 December did the Egyptian Museum and Giza. 21 December did a full day tour of Islamic and Coptic Cairo, highlights being the oldest church, synagogue, and mosque in Cairo, and the Hanging Church. 22 December saw the pyramid fields at Dashur and Saqqara. This was a real highlight for me, in that I enjoyed seeing the evolution of pyramids from mastaba, failed pyramid, step pyramid, Red Pyramid, all leading the the perfection at Giza. Went into the burial chamber of the Red Pyramid. The Amenhotep museum was excellent, and hopefully an example like the Nubian Museum in Aswan of what the new Museum of Antiquities at Giza will be like, with better labelling and more room. 23 December flew to Aswan, saw the Unfinished Obelisk, High Dam, and Nubian Museum. 24 December hired a driver to Luxor by way of Edfu and Kom Ombo. Enjoyed the xxx restaurant twice. Over the next two days saw Karnak and Luxor temples, daytripped to Dendara and Abydos. 28 December, flew back to Cairo, was driven to Bahriti (sp), tored the small museum with the Golden Mummies, the tombs in town. 29 December went to Black Desert and White Desert by Land Cruiser, camped in the White Desert. 30 December returned to Heliopolis, rested. Ahmed returned us to CAI for an early, long, but uneventful New Year’s Day return flight to GSO.

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