Egypt: To Tour or Not To Tour, That Is The Question

Egypt is a place I’ve been wanting to visit for years! When was the best time to go? Is it safe to go as a single female? What if I couldn’t find anyone to go with me? So many questions that always held me back, but what is life if you keep it “safe” all the time based on stereotypes you’ve heard? So I decided to check it out for myself. Here is my personal experience in Egypt, this is not sponsored in any way, and please note that everyone travels differently and has different experiences. All money will be written in USD to keep it simple.

Best Time To Visit Egypt

I had read the best time to visit are the months of December and January. It is their “winter” time and I put winter in quotes because the temperatures still get up into the 90F. I decided to go at the beginning of November. The weather was still hot, but there was generally a nice breeze and it wasn’t “as busy,” although still crowded. Egypt actually has a huge tourism population with around 6+ million visitors per year.

Do I Need A Visa

If you are coming from the US, you need to get a visa. It is obtained easily once you get to the airport. Before you leave immigration you need to go to the BANK to buy your visa. It cost $25 USD and can be paid in either US dollars or Egyptian Pounds.

What You Need To Know

Clothing: Keep in mind this is a country where the majority of people practice the Islamic religion. It is a conservative religion where it is expected to cover up, shoulders to knees. While this isn’t mandatory for tourist (with the exception of entering the mosque), it’s still something I would highly suggest doing, especially traveling as a female if you want to lessen the stares and comments.

Language: The main language spoken is Arabic

Currency: Egyptian Pound (Note: If traveling to Jordan, they will not exchange Egyptian money. When coming back to the US, they will not accept coin currency)

Food: Most of the food is Mediterranean based— Falafel, Shwarma, Hummus, Kofta, Grape Leaves, etc

Internet: Most places we went either didn’t have wifi, you had to pay for a wifi package at the hotel, or there was poor wifi connection in the lobby of the hotel. If being connected is something you need, I recommend getting a SIM card for your Egypt trip.

**Tipping**: You are expected to tip for everything in Egypt… Nothing is free. Even people who offer to take your picture or show you where a good photo shoot location is wants a tip. Some will offer you a picture with them or their camel, they are also expecting a tip. Never hand over your camera, if you don’t tip or don’t tip enough they will hold onto your camera until you do. With this tour, you already paid tips, so if someone is asking for a tip, don’t give it to them.

Children in Egypt: You will be approached by many children asking to take a picture with you. They are excited to take a picture with a tourist. However, if you say yes to one of them, then you will be swarmed by many more. There are also children selling souvenirs or asking for money. Our guide said many of the boys will take the money to buy cigarettes and alcohol and to not give them money.

Bugs/Fire Coral: For the most part, I was fully covered with shoes, pants, or long dress, so I didn’t get bitten too much. I highly suggest getting bug spray. The mosquitoes weren’t as bad as the sandflies. Also, if you decide to go snorkeling in the Red Sea, be careful of Fire Coral. These are the legs of two girls on my trip.💀😂

Why You Should Take A Tour

Reason 1: I would highly recommend taking a tour, especially as a solo female traveler. I want to note that I NEVER felt unsafe in Egypt, but was more annoyed by the comments made by men even though my knees and shoulders were always covered. It goes against our nature to be friendly to not answer the “hello, how are you?” or “where are you from?” questions. But my tour guide said it is best to ignore all comments, especially from those trying to sell you something. To answer these questions or even smile back means you are interested and they will follow you around until you buy something.

Reason 2: There is SO much to see! While the Pyramids in Cairo are the main attractions, there is so much more to Egypt. It was nice having a tour guide that could get us into the each place quickly and had the answers to almost every question. Also, with so many temples to visit, there is no way I would have see everything that I did without a tour purely out of laziness. Our days would start around 6am and finish around 10pm. We would get to some of the tour sites early enough to be the first ones in, which was great for taking pictures.

Reason 3: The cities are not super close to each other. During our bus rides from city to city, there are many security stops. I had heard stories of people getting pulled over at these stops and fully searched by the police without any warrant for it, just a safety stop. With a tour bus, we were never stopped for very long and it wasn’t something I had to worry about.

Reason 4: The hotels were decent. It’s always a shot in the dark what your hotel will actually be like when you show up. Tour companies work with certain hotels that have been vetted by the tour company. While they weren’t luxurious, they didn’t have bedbugs and were clean.

What Tour Company Did You Use

I went through Tour Radar, which a is third party company that puts tours together. The people in my group were split between two local companies, Timeless Tours and Expat. There were two groups each with 12 people and you were grouped based on which route you were taking to the sites. There were two to choose from, by land or Nile River Cruise. I chose to do the land tour because it was a lot cheaper and it included one night on a Felucca boat cruising the Nile River. I also opted for a private room throughout the tour. The base price, not including roundtrip airfare from the US, was around $1400 for a 15 day tour of Egypt (10 days) and Jordan (5 days)… (I will write about Jordan in a different post). For my private room I paid total $1800, so an extra $400.

Overall, it wasn’t a terrible tour company, but had just a few issues you should know about. I was forgotten at the airport when I first arrived in Cairo and the pick up person was a bit rude about it, trying to make it my fault that “I didn’t see him.” When I arrived at the hotel, there were extra crew members to collect money if you wanted to pay for the extra tours available. However, when I got on the tour with my actual guide, it wasn’t marked that I had already paid for these extra excursions. There is also an extra fee of around $152 USD to pay for entrance fees and tipping (not including the tip for the guide). One of my favorite nights was the night on the felucca boat, but the toilet didn’t work, so as someone with Ulcerative Colitis, it’s nerve-wracking to not have a toilet. We basically just had to go on top of each others poo.

What Were The Extra Excursions, Was it Worth It

Cairo:

The Great Pyramid Sound and Light Show $32 USD— DON’T DO IT! Remember when you were in elementary school and you had to watch those movies that were made in the 70’s with crappy background music? It’s like that, but worse. I wanted to experience everything, so I went even though it was a few hours after I had arrived in Egypt and I was so tired. I literally fell asleep. Not worth it.

Walking into The Great Pyramid of Giza $25 USD— I can’t say yes or no to this. It is cool to say that I walked into the tomb room of one of the 7 Ancient Wonders of the World. It’s a long and super narrow low path that takes you into an empty concrete looking room. You will exit with frizzy hair and covered in sweat. I don’t recommend doing this if you have health issues or bad knees. You’ll definitely get a workout.

Mosque of Muhammad Ali $12 USD— I personally did not go into the Mosque. It was at the end of our tour when we arrived back in Cairo and I was running out of money. The people who did go in said it was beautiful and worth it.

Nile Dinner Cruise $46 USD— DON’T DO IT! While the food was ok, the entertainment was pretty terrible. It was so loud and the singer guy gets right in your face while you are trying to eat. I ended up sitting outside and looking at the passing lights of Cairo.

Alexandria City Tour $90 USD— DON’T DO IT! While it is a cool city, and lots of locals go there for vacation, the tour itself is not worth $90. You see a modern library, Pompey’s Pillar, a citadel, and a catacomb.

Private Day Tour: Fayoum Oasis, Whale Valley, and Sand Boarding (price varies based on number of people in your party)– I wish I had done this instead of Alexandria and the Nile Dinner Cruise. A couple from my group found this online (not affiliated with the guided tour we were on). Worth looking up NILE VALLEY TRAVEL

Aswan:

Nubian Village Dinner $25 USD— DO IT! Here you will take a Nile cruise to a Nubian Village. The Nubian people speak both Arabic and Nubian (a language only known by the Nubian people because there is no written documentation of the language, it is just taught from generation to generation). The people look more African than Egyptian, and tend to only marry within the Nubian population. I highly recommend going, dinner at the hotel will cost around the same, and the home cooked meal was delicious.

Temple of Abu Simble $90 USD— DO IT! During the drive out to the temple you stop in the Aswan Desert to watch the sunrise… Absolutely beautiful. The temple is one of three that were actually moved due to the flooding in Aswan. While the “mountain” was created to represent the original mountain it was carved into, the original statues and art are incredible. It was originally built by King Ramsey II, who was the longest reigning king of that time, ruling for around 67 years. During this time he had 200 wives and also married 2 of his own daughters. But he had a favorite wife, Nefertari, who he made a matching temple for right next to his and was also moved to the same location. We arrived at opening and were the first people in. it was cool to see the temple empty and great for pictures before the crowds rolled in.

Luxor:

Hot Air Ballon Ride $130 USD— DO IT! Such an incredible experience! You arrive before sunrise, each balloon has 4 baskets and there are 6 people per basket, but you don’t feel squished. It was so beautiful to watch the sunrise of one side and the moon still up over the King’s Valley mountain on the other side. Depending on the direction of the wind, we flew over the homes in Luxor and had kids in the streets and on the rooftops waving at us. The landing was smooth, but a little sad as we were surrounded by hungry children asking us for money.

Red Sea, Hurghada:

Scuba Diving $65 USD-– DO IT! I have my PADI license, but you don’t need to have your license to dive. Since I have my license I was able to go a little deeper than the intro divers. Intro divers, those without a license, were paired up with a Dive Master who held their hands the entire time and went at a max depth of around 6-8 meters. We went to touristy dive areas, but it was still a really cool experience, especially since I love to dive.

I opted to go a second day which was another $65. I was the only one and was placed with more advanced divers where we did drift diving. This day we went around 30 meters deep and to less crowded dive sites. On our way back to the docks we went by a whale shark!

Quick Overview Of The Tour Itinerary

Cairo:

The Great Pyramids: One of the Ancient 7 Wonders of the World, the Great Pyramid was built for King Khufu around 2560 B.C. It took over 20 years to build and the smallest stone estimated to weigh 10 tons!

Giza Plateau: A great view of all three pyramids for Khufu, Khafre, and Menkaure. Here they offer camel rides. I am very much against riding animals that appear malnourished or aren’t treated well.

Great Sphynx of Giza: Said to have the face of Pharaoh Khafre and the body of a lion. It is made of limestone and faces West to East standing on the west bank the Nile

Saqqara Archeological Site: Pyramid of Djoser— Djoser was the first king of the 3rd dynasty dating back to 2575 B.C. This is a 6 tier, 4 sided step pyramid that is the earliest built stone building in Egypt. Pyramid of Teti, the first King if the 6th Dynasty. You can walk down the steep narrow path into the tomb room of Teti.

Khan El-Khalili Market: This is the best place to barter for souvenirs. Don’t take the first price and remember there are at least 20 other shops with the same stuff.

Cairo Museum: Super crowded, but has a lot of cool stuff to see. They even have some mummies open for viewing, and for an extra charge, a separate place where most of the mummies are kept (I didn’t pay extra, seeing 2 mummies for free was enough). The Tomb of King Tut is also located here along with many items found with him.

Aswan:

High Dam: Aswan use to flood twice a year and would damage the town, crops, temples. Egypt didn’t have the funds to build the dam, but it was Russia that stepped in and helped with the funding.

Philae Temple: Accessable by boat, the temple was one of three that were moved due to the flooding. It was an UNESCO Nubia Campaign Project where the temple was cut into 47,000 pieces and reassembled in it’s current location.

Felucca Nile Overnight: Felucca is a small sailing wooden boat that is lined with cushions that we slept on. It was one of the most fun nights as we swam in the Nile and had a cooked meal on the boat. However, bug spray is a must, there is a mosquito net that covers the open boat. There was a toilet, but it didn’t work and there isn’t air-conditioning, but the temperature cools down at night.

Kom-Ombo Temple & Crocodile Museum: There’s a couple cool things about this temple. One, the hieroglyphics depict medicine back in that era, and as a healthcare provider I though it was pretty cool to see carvings of their medical equipment. Second, there is a crocodile museum. Crocodiles were worshiped and seen as protectors of the land. When one would die, they would mummify them and the museum has some of these mummified crocodiles dating back to 333 BC.

Edfu Temple: The 2nd largest temple in the world and most well preserved of all the Egyptian temples. The hieroglyphics gave archeologists a lot of information about the language, myth and religion of that time.

Luxor:

Valley of The Kings: There are an estimated 142 pyramids in Egypt where many of the Kings and Queens were “buried.” But what happened to the rest of them? Valley of the Kings is a mountain where 63 burial tombs have been found so far. They are still excavating more and more each day. With your ticket, you can enter 3 of the tomb sites. Our guide recommended these three:

Tomb of King Ramses IV,

Tomb of Merenptah,

Tomb of Ramses III

Al-Deir Al-Bahari Temple: aka Temple of Hatshepsut. Hatshepsut is the only female Egyptian ruler. There is not much left of the temple, here’s why: Hatshepsut married her half brother in order to become queen. However, she never bared children because it was said that she was only interested in women. Her half brother took another wife, and after he died, Hatshepsut sent her stepson/nephew away and convinced a high priest that she was the rightful heir to the throne as the daughter of the God Armun Re. After her death, her stepson/nephew came back and destroyed the temple that was built to honor her in retaliation for keeping the throne from him. What is left are statues that depict her as a man. They have a feminine face, with a beard and mens hairstyle. This was to show her dominance while she was in power.

Karnak Temple: Largest temple in the world, taking over 90 years to build and many dynasties taking part in the creation of this temple. Even over 90 years, it was never finished. The Temple was dedicated to the God, Armun Re, The God of the Sun.

Luxor Temple: Best seen lit up at night. Unlike many other temples, Luxor Temple was not dedicated to a King or God, but dedicated to “rejuvenation of Kingship.” This might have been the place where many Pharaohs were crowed.

Overall I enjoyed my time in Egypt. There was so much to see and do, and nothing is really roped off, so you can get the full experience. Egypt gets a bad rap since it’s considered the “Middle East,” but I’ll say it again, I never felt unsafe while I was there. Yes they have had their share of attacks, but so has the US and parts of Europe! I wouldn’t give up this opportunity on a “what if” situation that could very well happen in your own country.

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