Choosing which Egypt tour to take is only the first decision of many.
ou can certainly visit Egypt independently. But with the logistics and distances of getting from place to place plus understanding ancient Egypt’s complex politics and religion—and how they’re depicted in the artifacts you’re traveling this far to see—Egypt is a destination where it’s worth it to book a guided tour.
Egypt: Not the Typical Tour
Egypt tours are different than most other destinations. Once you’re booked, you can’t just pack and relax. In addition to typical excursion options—sound and light shows, special dinners—Egypt tours have a surprising number of additional decisions you’ll need to make on the ground. Even if costs aren’t a concern, managing your energy budget will be. With early wake-up calls, crowds, the hot sun, and the overwhelming amount of information to absorb, Egypt pushes your body and your brain beyond your usual vacation. Our advice should help.
Packaged tours to Egypt almost always include Giza’s pyramids and Sphinx, the Egyptian Museum in Cairo (though once the Grand Egyptian Museum finally opens in Giza, will tours bypass Cairo and its marvelous museums and mosques?), Luxor’s temples and tombs in the Valley of the Kings, Aswan and its two dams, plus a Nile cruise and sites along it like the double temple of Kom Ombo.
Still, choosing among Egypt tours can be overwhelming. They range from budget to luxury, whirlwind to quite extensive, and have group sizes up to 40. An ideal choice is Trafalgar’s well-paced, value-priced tours—they have comfort where you want it, excellent guides, and time arrivals at sites to minimize crowds. Trafalgar’s itineraries include a great mix of can’t-miss and lesser-known sites, including the colossus of Ramesses II in Memphis and the stellar Step Pyramid at Saqqara, which not all tours visit, plus time for an added-cost flight to the Abu Simbel temples near the Sudan border. You can also choose a pre- or post-tour day trip to Alexandria. Many sites have extra ticket choices too.
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Narrowing Down Your Tomb Preferences
The entrance fee to this sacred New Kingdom burial ground near modern Luxor includes access to three standard-ticket tombs. Of the 65 tombs found so far here, a selection of eight is usually open to the public. Your guide will also ask if you want to buy additional tickets for the special tombs.
One extra ticket decision is an easy yes: the tomb of Ramesses V and VI. Named KV9 (meaning the ninth tomb discovered in the King’s Valley), this large tomb is one the most elaborately and colorfully decorated. The ticket costs 100 Egyptian pounds (currently $4 US).
Another likely yes: Tutankhamun’s small and unfinished tomb, KV62, at a cost of 300 EGP. However, tourists only have access to two of the tomb’s four rooms, and only one has painted walls (though, at 3,346 years old, they’re in surprisingly good condition). The only artifacts not in museums are the large quartzite box holding Tut’s three golden coffins and the mummy of the 19-year-old pharaoh, protected under glass. Early-arriving tours like Trafalgar’s pay off: your group might have Tut’s tomb to yourself—ideal for imagining what it must have been like when it opened 100 years ago.
Likely no: while all eleven rooms of Seti I’s large and deep tomb (KV17) are meticulously decorated and well-preserved, the ticket costs 1000 EGP. You can get a similar experience at a tenth the price with the KV9 ticket.
Choosing your three other tombs: while you could wing it, avoid that FOMO feeling by doing some advance thinking about what you most want to experience. Good guides should be able to recommend the available tombs that best meet your preferences according to whether you want:
– A fairly shallow or a very deep tomb.
– To avoid stairs or steep ramps.
– To minimize how much walking you’ll do under the blazing sun.
– A good chance of being in a tomb all by yourself.
– Less crowded tombs (and note the more popular tombs often have glass protecting the walls, which could affect your photos).
– The best-preserved and highly decorated tombs.
– To see particular art (like sarcophagi, ceilings depicting the heavens, unfinished drawings that hint at the skills required to create these royal resting places, ancient graffiti, or even the Egyptian gods you learned about watching Black Adam and Marvel’s Moon Knight).
Going Inside a Pyramid
Wonder what it feels like to be in a passageway surrounded by the 2.3 million limestone blocks of the Great Pyramid, other than claustrophobic? A limited number of tickets to go inside Khufu’s pyramid, or one of its smaller neighbors, are available for 100 to 400 EGP.
Some of the narrow sloping passageways are only three feet high and require you to crouch to get through them. It’s hot, humid, poorly ventilated, crowded, and some visitors complain pyramids smell like mold or ammonia. Inside most, there’s little to see other than undecorated passageways and a small room or two. Worth it? Likely not.
But if you really want to go inside a pyramid, try the almost 4,700-year-old Step Pyramid of Djoser at Saqqara, 40 minutes from Giza. Trafalgar is one of the tours that stops here (not all do, though this is the world’s oldest stone pyramid, and its exquisite temple walls are carved so precisely they look laser cut). Ask your guide if there’s time and available tickets to explore some of its 3.5 miles of tunnels and 400 rooms .
Should You Go to Abu Simbel?
The massive Abu Simbel temples are on the shore of the 340-mile-long Lake Nasser near the Sudan border, usually reached by plane from Aswan. Due to the time (most of a day) and cost (about $350 US), many tour companies offer it as an optional excursion, although some skip it altogether. Because of the plane tickets, you’ll need to decide whether to go before you’ve seen anything else in Egypt.
Carved into a Nubian mountain almost 3,300 years ago in honor of Ramesses the Great and his favorite wife, Nefertari, the two temples were hidden by sand for centuries and unburied beginning in 1813. In the 1960s, UNESCO created an artificial mountain and moved the temples a few hundred feet to protect them from the rising waters created by the Aswan Dam. It’s difficult to imagine the feat, especially since the rising sun still perfectly penetrates the large temple on the 22nd day of every February and October. The colossi statues outside are magnificent, and hieroglyphics, statues, reliefs, and paintings of gods and goddesses decorate the inner chambers.
Flights are timed to give you a little over an hour to see the temples—it’s enough, but barely. Note that you must take your carry-on bag off the plane, but you can leave it on the transfer bus. Carrying bags with you is an option, but it’s a 20-minute roundtrip walk to the site, temperatures are hotter than Luxor’s, and the only shade is inside the temples themselves. Still, you’ll likely only have one chance in your life to see Abu Simbel. It’s worth it.