In July 2017 my husband and I set out on a tour of Egypt with Travel Talk Tours. We also added time in the Sinai Peninsula and Jordan as an optional tour extension afterwards. This post details my Egypt experience with this company, and also provides ideas on things to do, see, and what to expect!
Before our tour officially started, my husband and I arrived to Cairo 2 days early. We wanted to make sure we had enough time at the Pyramids since we felt the tour itinerary didn’t provide enough. We stayed at Pyramids View Inn, and had a wonderful experience!
Breakfast on the rooftop, while staring directly into the eyes of the Sphinx, is easily one of my most memorable travel moments! The location was perfect, and the staff were incredibly kind. I arrived alone at night into the Cairo airport, and as a solo female traveler I felt very safe and well taken care of before my husband arrived.
The first day we had in Cairo, we went to the pyramids on our own. Hardly anyone else was there (it was the last day of Ramadan), and we explored the entire complex on foot. We rejected the numerous horse and donkey ride requests as the animals didn’t look well cared for, but we did pose on some camels!
While we did have to fight off constant nagging from local vendors, it wasn’t anything too terrible. Just be prepared to say “no” (l’a shokran) over and over. Be assertive, and they won’t get too far with you. Will they ever stop hassling you though? Probably not.
Day 1: CAIRO (Saqqara & Giza)
During a buffet breakfast at the Oasis Hotel near Cairo, our tour officially began! We met the members of our group, and were introduced to our tour guide, Adham. We didn’t know it then, but he is an absolutely amazing guide- knowledgeable, funny, charismatic, and a great tour leader!
By 7am we left on the charter bus for the thirty minute drive to Saqqara. In its prime, the complex of Saqqara was a vast burial ground serving as the necropolis for the ancient capital of Memphis. Its most famous point is the ancient step-pyramid of Djoser. This is the oldest complete stone building complex known to history- let that sink in!!
While there, we were able to enter a few of the tombs, and it was honestly SO amazing. We had a close-up view of the hieroglyphics on the walls, and some even have original color. Photography is not technically allowed, but if you give the guards a small tip, it suddenly is!
As it was the first day of the Muslim holiday, Eid, the crowds at Saqqara were a bit crazy. Our group was followed and ogled the entire time by groups of teens and kids. Tons of locals were there, but they were all men, which was intriguing. We also had a few issues with the “tomb guards” harassing people in our group for not paying enough tip money for photos. Since it was day one of our tour, most of us weren’t entirely used to the “baksheesh culture” which exists among locals.
What is baksheesh? – It is basically the expectation that foreigners will give tips or bribes to locals for anything and everything. Read more about this and other cultural advice for traveling to Egypt by visiting my other post here
Leaving Saqqara, we headed towards the Great Pyramids of Giza. On the drive, I was equal parts amazed and appalled at the amount of litter in the city of Cairo. It seems to be a huge issue, and most streets had mounds of trash piled up in the center. As a visitor to Egypt, be conscious of this and do your best not to contribute to this problem.
When we arrived to Giza, it was absolutely INSANITY thanks to the holiday. It was the total opposite of how it was the day before! (See photo comparison below!):
Our group was instructed to stay very close together. As young foreigners, (and many in our group being young, blonde girls with shorts on) we were followed and photographed by the locals like no other! It was like entering a mob, and we were celebrities. We barely saw or enjoyed the pyramids from up close sadly. Every kid was trying to take selfies with us, and groups were just following us around. See my video below:
Eventually, we went further away for a distance view of the three Pyramids of Giza. There, we all did a camel ride, which was fun and surprisingly relaxing. Next, we saw The Sphinx up close too. We had some free time to explore, and a few people went inside one of the Pyramids. Overall, we felt very rushed, but were also overwhelmed anyways by the heat and crowds.
Lunch at a tourist restaurant with a set menu was next. The food was average, but that seems to be the case for tourist places. Next up we stopping by a local perfume shop. This would have been fine, except we had to stay for 1.5 hours, which is longer than we were at the Pyramids! The demonstration by the owner was interesting, but I was annoyed at how long we were there.
Finally we returned to the hotel, and got acquainted with everyone. Our group was primarily Australians in their early 20’s, but we met a few Brits, and one other American! We then began our 9 hour bus ride to the town of Luxor, arriving at 1:30 in the morning!
Day 2: LUXOR (Valley of the Kings & Hatshepsut Temple)
Today we stopped first at giant statues called the Colossi of Memnon, which were built in 1350 BC. Battered by desert winds and occasional Nile floods, these two statues have been here for over 3,400 years! Legend has it that the statues used to make a mysteriou whistling sound, but over the ages these stopped, and now they are lost to history.
Next, we made our way to the Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut. Located beneath surrounding cliffs, it is impressive to see from a distance! Up close, there are many statues, carved pillars, and original hieroglyphics in excellent shape. I was also excited to see a place dedicated to the first female Pharaoh!
While the temple’s 3,400 year-old history is fascinating, I’ve never been so sweaty in my life! Since we went in June it was almost 110°F that day! While our guide Adham explained the site to us, our group was, as usual, hounded by vendors. It is honestly super annoying, but you get used to it.
Our next destination was the famous Valley of the Kings. This was one of the most absolutely fascinating parts of the trip, and possibly my favorite. I could almost FEEL the sheer history of this valley, which I’d learned about in pure wonder since I was a kid. When you enter, they are very strict about no photos, so it forces you to just soak in what you’re seeing with your own eyes.
While there, we learned the extraordinary history of this area. Adham explained the layout of the multiple underground tombs of these ancient Pharaohs, laid to rest in all their splendor. The most famous burial site here is of course King Tut’s!
A ticket allows you entry into three tombs, so we descended the adorned passageways into the 4,000 year old burial chambers of Ramses IX, IV and Seti I. The artwork and hieroglyphics on the walls were still colored, and it was seriously awe inspiring. It truly felt like going back in time.
After returning to our air-conditioned bus, we drove to a nearby Alabaster Factory (a.k.a. Tourist Trap). Then, we were on the road again for another 3.5 hours to Aswan. There, our group split up, and those of us who opted for the “Nile Cruise” tour option (instead of the felucca boat option) boarded our ship. We had dinner with our group, met our new guide Peter, and played cards on the deck with a view of the Nile!
Day 3: LUXOR (Abu Simbel)
We decided to do the optional excursion to Abu Simbel, so we departed at 3:30am with a few other group members. Then, we were off on the 3.5 hour drive south towards the Sudanese border! Once there, we had time to explore these two amazing monuments carved into the cliff-sides next to Lake Nasser.
Not only can you admire these monuments from the outside, but you can go inside and see sarcophagi and hieroglyphics too. Built in 1244 BC, I learned about these iconic statues in history class and had dreamed of coming ever since! Their 3,200 year old history did not disappoint!
We then had a daunting 3.5 hour drive back towards Luxor. On the way, we stopped at the Aswan High Dam to take a look at the construction. At that point, it had reached 113°F! We almost couldn’t even tolerate being off the bus!
Eventually we reunited with our falucca group members, and took a tiny boat across Lake Nassar to the island temple complex of Philae. We had it mostly to ourselves, which made exploring it very peaceful. Philae Temple is dedicated to the goddess Isis, and was built around 360 BC.
From there, we went back to our cruise ship and down the Nile a bit more, stopping near sunset at the Greek influenced Temple of Kom Ombo, built around 180 BC. Our guide Peter told us its history, and we learned that one half of the temple was dedicated to the crocodile god, Sobek. Nearby, there was a small museum where you could see 4,000 year old mummified crocodiles!
Back on the boat, our now 7 people group had dinner, bonded over some drinks and awkward dancing, and spent time conversing on the boat deck over the dark Nile river.
Day 4: NILE RIVER CRUISE
Another early morning on the tour, we left at 6:30 and had to go on a very sad carriage ride to the huge Temple of Horus at Edfu. We did not want to go on the carriage as the horses were in bad shape, but there did not seem to be any other option sadly.
We arrived at Edfu, with our guide Peter. Completed in 57 BC, this is considered one of the best preserved sites in the country. We explored this huge building and its series of secret passageways and underground tunnels, and I really enjoyed getting to pretend I was Indiana Jones!
After Edfu, we were back on the boat for some food and pool time. We had some great relaxation time with views of the Nile River Valley. Lunch and dinner were on board too, so this was basically a full day on the cruise ship.
Day 5: LUXOR
Around noon we left the boat, and reunited with the other group members who had chosen the felucca boat option. We all checked in to the Hotel Oasis in Luxor, and then had free time. A few of us took a taxi to a nearby (non tourist) market, where we had a rare taste of local life. I fed some kittens, haggled for a silk scarf, and a few of us tried some local fruits.
Next up, our group went to the famous Luxor Temple at sunset for a nighttime visit. It was a nice change thanks to the oppressive heat during the days, and the temple lighting made for a very surreal and magical seeming vibe. Luxor Temple was constructed in 1400 BC, and is known for having huge obelisks in great condition. My favorite part though was the mile long “Avenue of the Sphinxes”.
Day 6: LUXOR (Hot Air Balloon + Karnak)
We had chosen to do the optional hot-air balloon ride excursion, so it was another early morning. We were up at 3am and went from van to boat to bus to car to arrive at the balloon launching point for sunrise.
It was extra windy, so the pilots had to delay launching to see if conditions would improve. Loading into the balloons, along with the massive flame, was a mildly terrifying ordeal. Once in the air though, it was smooth and barely felt like we were moving! We flew over Luxor Temple, the Valley of the Kings, and the Temple of Hatshepsut.
Next on the agenda was a visit to the MASSIVE complex of Karnak Temple. The intact paint and architectural skill behind the 4,000 year old obelisks there is honestly mind blowing. The whole complex is physically huge, and gives you a small insight into what life in ancient Egypt would have been like during its prime.
From there, we went to a nearby shop for a papyrus making demonstration, and of course shopping time in the gift shop. We had a blah buffet lunch, then started our 9 hour bus ride from Luxor to Cairo. Sunset over the desert was gorgeous, having armed military escorts was intriguing, and the bus getting a flat tire in the middle of nowhere, unexpected!
Day 7: CAIRO (Souks, Churches, Mosques & Museums)
After breakfast, our group boarded the bus and headed downtown to the Egyptian Museum. I was very nervous security wise, and was sad to notice the museum doesn’t have A/C. It is very outdated given the historical treasures it houses, but apparently they are working on a new one at the moment. Inside the museum was a bit suffocating, but we saw so many amazing pieces! Some include King Tut’s tomb contents, his sarcophagus, mummies found at the Valley of the Kings (several with original hair, teeth, and nails!), and a crazy amount of ancient artifacts.
We next visited a famous Coptic Christian church. I was nervous about this as there have been a string of recent terror attacks in Egypt targeting members of this religion. I talked with our guide, and he assured me it would be fine. However, the security at the site was surprisingly relaxed given the situation. We toured The Hanging Church, a 3rd century Coptic church built on top of ancient Roman ruins.
Next was a visit to the most well known mosque in Cairo, the Mosque of Muhammad Ali. Us ladies had to cover up, remove our shoes, and wrap up in head scarfs or full body coverings (read my other post for advice on how to dress in Egypt). It trapped in the heat, and I was miserably sweating. I don’t know how the locals do it! The inside of the mosque was beautiful, and the view of the pyramids enveloped in smog from the city was a memorable sight to see.
From there we all went to the alleyway maze of souvenir shops known as “The Souk”. There, we had the chance to barter to our hearts desire! After some tea in the square, we went back to the hotel for a farewell dinner by the pool. We said goodbye to the group members who had only signed on for the Egypt portion, and met our new guide Ramy who would lead us on the Jordan extension of the trip (coming in a future blog post!).
Book the same trip with Travel Talk Tours for yourself HERE
For other Egypt tour and excursion ideas- check HERE
To read my other blog post about cultural tips and advice to know before visiting – check HERE!
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As always, all reviews and opinions are my own. However, I will receive a small commission should you choose to book any of the tours or hotels linked above.