“ Country: Egypt / World Region: Africa „
Egypt is fantastic as a holiday resort, stuffed to the hot sandy brim with great weather, fascinating history which leads to breathtaking scenery and a whole variety of venues to meet the needs of many travellers.
I've stayed in Luxor as a base which I found to be a safe option and now, with experience of a Nile Cruise, my favoured option. I paid £350 for a fairly late deal, spent the night before the very early flight in The White House Hotel near Heathrow and had to be available for my flight at around 5am.
It's a five hour flight, worth planning for in terms of books, drinks and general entertainment. It's a fairly painless experience with sufficient leg room, I've had one roomy flight and one sardine flight, I would recommend checking it out and paying extra if you need it. My travelling companion on one journey hovers at 6' 4" and was unamused to find himself on the sardine can flight. We did manage a free upgrade though.
Arriving in Luxor, when the plane doors open and the steps are wheeled in place, is like stepping into paradise, blissfully warm but wonderfully dry, none of the sticky humid nonsense we suffer here in the UK.
Luxor is a military airport, not luxurious and not overly welcoming, you'll need to queue to pay for a visa before you can get out, it costs around £15 depending on the exchange rate and is only accepted in sterling. Have a pen ready for this and get off the flight pronto if you can.
Once you can grab your luggage keep a tight hold and avoid eye contact with the locals, they will grab your cases and demand baksheesh (tips) for wheeling it 100 m for you. It pays to have a pocketful of change and be ready for any services you are willing to pay for, most tips are around 50p to £1.00, it's up to you, don't be taken in by the look which is designed to make you go back in your pocket for more.
The experience of Luxor is multi sensory, it smells of many things, you will cease to notice soon enough as it becomes the norm. The heat is one of the things which hits you, even breathing in such warm air is different but still so dry it is not uncomfortable. There are spices sold in enormous baskets at the side of the road, the smell assaulting your senses and building a memory of Egypt you'll never forget. The kaleshes cause a stink, the horses with carriages used as local transport (see later for more details on kaleshes), horses obviously have droppings which stink.
Aurally you will hear the Muslim men called to prayer several times a day, the sound of the call is the cementing epitome of being in an exotic and foreign land and it is beautiful. The sun sets much earlier in Egypt, when seated on the roof of a hotel, watching the sun descend and listing to the call to prayer, it feels truly amazing.
I took £300 to pay for anything else I needed and my credit card, since this was my holiday of a lifetime I intended to do everything I could.
I spent the whole £300 on excursions, I did everything, I did an overday trip to Cairo by flight, very early in the morning. The descent into Cairo stinks, it's a revoltingly smelly city but still fascinating and wonderful. We drove through the insane traffic, 7 lanes side by side and no one obeys the delineation and made our way to the Giza Plateau to see the three pyramids and Sphinx. We arrived before it was too hot but not in time to be one of the 100 people who are allowed into the Great Pyramid each day. It is limited to that to prevent the deterioration due to sweat, breath exhalation and general wear and tear. It has been suggested that all the historical venues will be closed to the public soon to preserve them. Special video work is being undertaken with NASA equipment in order to create a special online experience and to recreate a display of the originals. Make the most of time at the Giza Plateau if you can.
Less historic, but highly amusing and worth photographs, are the camel parks. Much like we have car parks, the Egyptians in Giza park their camels. Further tickling me was the policeman parking his police camel. I have numerous photographs which depict the scene very well. It should have been very normal and sensible but not to me.
The Sphinx is beautiful, despite the defacing by Napoleon and his men. If you line it up you can get some amazing pictures of the Sphinx with the Great Pyramid in a direct line behind it - gorgeous!
We also visited a restaurant for lunch which reeked because that's how Cairo is, it was hard to eat as a result. Cairo is a phenomenal city with enormous and well developed central areas but flanked by poverty stricken slums with little or no hygiene facilities.
As part of the overday trip we took in the Cairo Museum which is where the majority of the greatest finds are kept, they are truly amazing to view. The Mummy Room is my favourite, a large room filled with 9 glass caskets, each temperature controlled to preserve the nine royal mummies on display there. The elements of Tutankamun's tomb which are not on show in the tomb are here and displayed with amazing details of exactly how it was found. Dr Zahi Hawass is frequently there, conducting work on Egypt's greatest historical artefacts.
Each of the antiquities has a line of gift stalls and souvenir shops to get through, like running a gauntlet. Eye contact is an invitation so wear sunglasses if you can, you'll probably need them anyway given that Egypt is perpetually sunny. The street vendors do have some lovely items and they can be worth looking at but you have to know what to expect to get the best of the situation.
When buying items barter and expect to pay around a quarter to a third of the initial asking price. Never ever pay first price.
Everyone will ask for baksheesh (tips) its just the way of life out there, don't tip more than 50p to a £1 in Uk pounds. Even when they look at you in disgust - that's how they milk people for more.
Wash your hands, use waterless soap or take antibacterial wipes with you wherever you go and use them EVERY time you handle the money. Men frequently don't have pockets in their galabias, so guess which crevice the money gets kept in sometimes?
The money is primarily in Egyptian pound notes, coins are an incredible rarity.
An approximate value would be 7-10 EGP to each GBP, based on the exchange rate over the last 6 years.
Because the currency is pounds they will state an amount in pounds but want Uk £s rather than Egyptian because it's worth more. They also use US dollars and Euros, be careful not to be used as a bureau de change, they benefit financially.
Use a body bag from Blackwells or CCC, an under clothes, thin bumbag and keep your valuables in it but in plastic bags, the sweat will make your money, passport and spare digi cam memory cards pretty gruesome.
I travelled alone and arranged many of my excursions the first time with the travel agency, second time around I was confident enough to travel to the antiquities alone, for much less expense and with greater freedom and experience of local life and interest. Unless you feel especially nervous, I would say you should feel confident to make your own way around, the people are multilingual, helpful for baksheesh, honest and enthusiastic. Some will tell you some loony stories about the historic sites, most of that you can take with a pinch of salt, but it's part of the fun for me.
The best and only TOTALLY effective mossie repellent in my experience is homemade. Buy some standard moisturiser (like Simple or Superdrugs own etc) and mix 20 drops eucalyptus oil with 10 - 20 drops of tea tree and a little citronella - maybe 5 drops in the bottle with the moisturiser. Apply to your entire body, careful round the eyes, first thing in the morning and again around 3/4pm. My partner and I have never been bitten. You could take DEET as well if you are so inclined.
I'd suggest you don't use the kaleshes, the horses and carriages, for transport . The horses are invariably underfed and it's a current issue to boycott them. If you really want to use one, look for a plump and shiny horse and agree the cost before you get in. Same with taxis, feluccas and all other transport, agree ALL costs and in which currency and whether it's one way or not. They might be honest people but they are devious too.
Check the caps on water bottles before you drink. Some people have been known to refill them with tap water and the result is pretty disasterous.
The people are Coptic Christians (normally marked by a cross tattooed on the wrist) and Arabic Muslims. Neither are keen on people wearing little or drinking to excess, except in the hotels etc.
Kids might ask you for things on the street, normally money, it's better to give pencils or pens etc, they actually NEED them for school and the money only gets taken off them by their parents. The kids speak a phenomenal amount of languages, it's pretty impressive really.
Watch out for 'free' gifts, they are normally a trap to make you buy something. They will insist it is a gift and then harass you to buy various things and if you don't they snatch the 'freebie' back and get in a huff!
If reading and diving are your main plans then you'll be fine, if you do the tourist thing and check out the antiquities and bazaars you will get hassled. Although your appearance will count too, dark haired men get less hassle than blonde and if you have a little colour about you instead of the typical British anaemic look. As a blonde woman I was very popular and stuck out like a tourist until I acquired a slight tan, then you look like a semi resident, only the pale ones and the lobsters stand out.
A frequent sight which will affect you is the police. There are tourist (Antiquities) police and just standard police. Tourist police have an antiquities badges on their sleeves. Don't trust any of them. They all either carry guns or wooden replicas painted black, hard to tell the difference at times.
My partner and I got taken for a few quid by a police man who got us alone, he insisted on us giving him money and it's hard to say no to a man with a machine gun over his shoulder. That was in the back , non populated areas of Karnak temple. Totally amazing to explore if you know what to look for - we did. But a definite police trap! They won't hurt you though but it wasn't the best place to be really so I don't recommend you recreate our trip despite what we saw.
Don't ask locals to take photographs, it's like the baksheesh thing, they may want money for it or bribe for money to get your camera back. Ask other tourists if you need help.
And if you get the stereotype opportunity to go on a camel - make sure you know what is involved. They can be so cheeky as to charge you to get on and make a second charge to get off! (Never happened to me though.)
Make sure you have high factor sunscreen, the locals will be wearing jumpers in the equivalent of our hottest summer weather, it was 50 degrees last time I was out there, in winter. The deck of the ship was too hot to walk on barefoot, the seats too hot to sit on wearing shorts, it was February.
If it's Ramadan while you are out there that will open a whole host of new opportunities. Great smoking if you're a smoker but rubbish drinking since most hotels are owned by Muslims who don't/won't drink or handle drink during holy month.
Be careful of drinking the local wine, not always good stuff brewed with local water which you should really avoid. The bottled beer is cheap and tasty.
Evening entertainment is a tad slack for most people who want drinking and dancing at night, it is a far cry from that and tends to centre around your accommodation and tourist pleasures. If desperate find a hotel run by Copts. Typically you'll see whirling dervish dancers, a belly dancer and some traditional musicians. It suited me just fine to explore and enjoy the company of other guests.
Many of the antiquities are open in the evenings, wonderfully and dramatically lit and with fantastic audio presentations from Royal Shakepeares actors, it really brings the history and more famous figures of Egypt to life.
However, despite everything else, evening entertainment improves enormously during Ramadan and there's lots of local celebrations going on which tourists can generally indulge in too. Basically a party every night for a month, normally in a big tent somewhere.
Local music, food, great big hookah pipes, alcohol for tourists and copts, dancers and much, much more. It's extremely relaxed but natural fun, unspoiled.
Are you going alone or with male or female company? Women really have to cover up anyway but especially during Ramadan, the men are fasting in EVERY way and it becomes very offensive to them. The same can apply for gay men although the opportunities are there for those that care to indulge.
Avoid going in The Nile if you should travel at all. There's things in there that you don't want inside you, in particular there's a creature which burrows it's way through your skin and keeps eating it's way through before laying eggs inside you. Paddle at your peril!
In shopping and souvenir terms, saffron is sooooo cheap, same as all other herbs and spices, I brought lots and lots of spices back as gifts.
Be careful buying anything fabric, often cheap dyes wash out straight away once home, keep an eye on anything alabaster, hold it up in front of the sun or a lamp if you can see light through it- fine, if you can't it's actually plaster, commonly know in Egypt as Aliplaster, a cheap and cheeky tourist rip off. Basalt doesn't chip if lightly knocked on something hard, plaster obviously does but the vendor won't take kindly to you whacking it to test it, especially if it is fake.
My companion had problems with airport security in Abu Simbel because he was wearing a metal belt and had metal strips in his shoes. Be careful what you wear if you go on internal flights. Or, you could end up stripping off in all of them, like a mate of mine did on one trip, not good in Cairo where it truly reeks and you want to escape the smell!
Take an extra layer if you go anywhere before 7am, it's cooler than you would imagine at that time but temperatures soar quickly. Many day trips will happen very early to avoid the heat and take the travelling into account.
Having also cruised in Egypt it's worth knowing that most Nile cruises of:
Early morning trips to lots of places, most days if you want to, huge meals and on board entertainment.
You'll probably visit Luxor as a starter which is fabulous but smelly, don't be afraid to explore.
Buy the cheap misspelled tourist books available for each place. most of the info is very accurate.
There's a new Mummy museum on the main promenade (The Corniche), not to be missed, plus the Luxor Museum has an excellent cache of statues from Luxor Temple. Luxor Temple is fabulous too. You may have to pay a small amount extra to take your camera in, otherwise you can check it into security in each venue.
You won't be allowed to use your camcorder in some places, mark it carefully with your info, it will be ok, they have places to store it until you come back out.
Karnak Temple is three miles away from the centre of Luxor, the biggest temple complex in Egypt and the most historic and has the earliest evidence of history other than the Sphinx. It is actually joined to Luxor Temple via a 3 mile long statue lined avenue, much of this is buried beneath people's homes and one of the oldest temples in the world, eventually it will be resurrected as no one is allowed to build on that strip anymore.
Karnak is where the Rosetta Stone was discovered, one of the earliest pieces ever found and identified to ancient dates. It is the key to our comprehension of the amazing pictures which are the beautiful language used to decorate everything in Egypt, hieroglyphics.
From Luxor you'll probably be taken into the Theban mountains, the Valley of the Kings where you can explore the tombs a little, normally three tombs but photography is limited and you have to buy a ticket. Probably worth visiting as they plan to close them to tourists as the moisture from bodies is damaging the paint. Some of the paint work is truly remarkable in that it looks so fresh it might just have been applied.
Tutankamun's tomb is there with one of the inner coffins but not the outer one which everyone sees on photographs. Still a remarkable place, especially if you have time to read the biography of Howard Carter who found the otherwise elusive tomb.
It seems hotter in the Valley Of The Kings than any other place and it is typical of the guides to gather their groups outside in the baking heat to tell you of the tombs you are visiting. The pale sand and stone around bounces heat and light everywhere, I'd recommend that you cover up well, wear a hat, preferably with a wide brim and use mosquito repellent and sunscreen. Take a bottle of water too.
Then there's Deir El Bahari, Hatchepsut's temple, another amazing place which was where the media covered massive terrorist attack took place. Egypt has got armed guards EVERYWHERE now, you will be fine, forget the terrorism. Deir El Bahari meets the Valley Of The Kings through a mountain, excavated in Hatchepsut's time, so desperate was she to be regarded as a king but also for her own sly secrets, you can find the information there or with research online.
You may stop via The Colossi of Memnon - which is amazing, a major photo opportunity. And there's the temple of Ramesses which has the biggest statue I've ever seen (other than the Colossi) but laying down. It stays with you, it's amazing to see.
There's a lot of half day stops on the actual cruise which you could read about in advance like Kom Ombo, Edfu and Dendera.
If you get the chance to go to Aswan and the Aswan Dam, I recommend you do. The statues at Abu Simbel are fabulous. Same goes for flying up 'overday' to Cairo to visit the pyramids and Sphinx and Cairo Museum.
If you do all that - you can honestly say you have done the main attractions in Egypt.
The extra costs can come to between £300 and £1,000 depending on what's included in your cruise. Aswan/Abu Simbel and Cairo won't be and normally cost around £300 each which includes internal flights.
There's a fantastic but slightly bizarre floating market on the Nile too, lots of men with boats rowing like mad, who throw bags of things onto the boat for you to look at, and try on then if you like it, you throw the money down in a bag. Truly unique shopping. We were shopping from a fairly high deck on the cruise ship and one of the bags ended up in the swimming pool. Thankfully someone was actually swimming at the time and rescued it. Unfortunately the bag had a small hole in it and the contents were soaked.
On the plus side, everything is so cheap if you haggle that you could easily take £100 spending money and come home with change, I did. Just remember to tip everyone, they expect it, it's a way of life out there. No more than 50p - £1 though.
Oh and if you decide to go about in Luxor alone, which is fine by the way, negotiate your taxi costs in advance. The taxis are huge blue and white Peugeots and not particularly inspiring in terms of safety, MOTs are not in their vocabulary as far as I know. Vehicle traffic drives where it likes and with emphasis on the horn, accelerator and brake, that's it. Drive fast, brake fast and beep like mad. Anyway, a trip from one side of Luxor to the other should cost no more than £20 EGP, about £2 UK pounds. Wear your seatbelt!
Gold is cheap, a very worthwhile investment in Egypt and Yorkshire Bob in Luxor is the most honest chap going, (he has nothing to do with Yorkshire but speaks English with a Yorkshire accent bizarrely). A taxi will know how to get there.
Gold is worked out by weight and in different carat values but invariably is worth much, much more than you paid for it when you get back here. The gold marks are different too, obviously. I bought a 25 carat white gold ring which is worth far more than the £23 I spent on it.
There's an orphanage on Television Street, run by a British woman, called Sunshine Orphanage, the taxis know where it is and don't approve because the children are illegal (out of wedlock or out of faith). But they will take you. If you are so inclined, this is a great place to offer your support. Some of the kids there are the product of tourists visits and abandoned in fields to die. If you had time to take a small donation of any sort it would be welcomed, crayons and paints are difficult to get in Luxor and highly valued at Sunshine.
There's a brilliant market (bazaar) in Luxor and another is Aswan, haggle everything and wear sunglasses so you can walk past if you want to without hassle.
In Luxor feel free to get off the cruise ship and go to a hotel for a drink, treat them like bars, or possibly to watch local entertainment, just be sure you know when you need to be back. There are no bars, it's a Muslim country, therefore hotels are the only safe/legal place to drink.
Young, pale skinned women are highly desirable. If you are female your hubbie/partner will probably be offered camels in exchange for you .
My companion was offered all the camels in Egypt bar one and a Porsche for me. The last camel was for me to ride on. It's obviously a flirtation and buttering up to make you spend money but the genuine attraction still remains. In particular I recall drawing a hell of a lot of attention whilst wearing a white cotton ankle length skirt, a vest top and a loose sheer shirt, covered from the sun, covered for modesty and still summery and respectful of their religion all at once, several men commented quite openly and my Egyptian friend was highly amused to accompany me at those times. He was able to translate many of the comments and respond where necessary.
I adore Egypt and despite having been and done most of the things I wanted to do, I will go back and again. If I had a spiritual home, Egypt would be it. It is a poor country which is evident very quickly but it is tremendously rich in its cultural heritage.
My writing may appear on other sites such as Helium in the same format or very similar.
We booked a two week holiday in Egypt through Thomas Cook. One week on a Nile cruise and the second week in a 5 Star hotel in Luxor. We went in May and the holiday cost £480 each. This was 5 years ago and extraordinary good value. The temperature then was very hot. I am told that June, July and August are not good months to be there as the heat is unbearable for many Europeans.
First the cruise. We were on a medium sized cruise ship with accomodation for about 80 passengers. The rooms were not large but comfortable enough and kept immaculate by the house crew. Every afternoon we would come back to new and often funny 'sculptures' in clean towels on the beds.
I can honestly say that nothing was too much trouble for the crew on our ship. Sometimes I have been on holiday and the attention and friendliness of the staff has felt forced. In Egypt kindness, consideration and good humour seemed to be the natural order of the day.
We embarked at Luxor, travelled in a leisurely fashion up to the incredible Aswan Dam and then back again. The scenery was stunning. We were taken on many excursions on the way, sometimes getting up at six to beat the heat of the day.
We visited the Valley of the Kings, The Valley of the Queens, Many temples and bazaars. Too many to detail.
We haggled with men selling their goods from their little boats and flinging them up to us to look at, trying to get us to buy before the ship overtook them. (Very few of the flung goods went into the Nile)
The itinerary was really too extensive to go into here, suffice to say it was absolutely riveting, well escorted and well explained. The two on board guides were both Egyptologists and delighted to answer any question you could think to ask. ( And a few you didn't!)
Every night on the ship the evening meal had a different theme, Italian night, American night, French night and the cuisine always matched the country theme perfectly. Those chefs really knew their business. There were at least six choices every night and woe betide you if you didn't ask for some dessert! All the food on board is included in the price of the cruise. Alcoholic drink is not included but beer worked out at under £1.00 a pint!
The final night on the ship was, of course, Egyptian Night and we were warned to dress accordingly. Normally I would hate dressing up but peer pressure and the relaxed atmosphere saw me dressed up with the best of them! (I have however hidden the photos from my children!)
The time came too quickly to disembark and be taken to our hotels. I was very amused because we were taken by minibus to a fabulous hotel directly across the road from where the boat was moored. All of 100 yards! (I think they were worried about losing us!)
The hotel was luxurious, spacious, clean and inviting. It was a bit odd to be in a bed that stayed still and didn't rock gently.
The first night we went to a Son et Lumiere at Luxor Temple. Do not miss this! The temple is huge and well preserved, the history is fantastic and the setting is the most beautiful I have ever seen. It rivals the Taj Mahal and that is saying something!
The following day saw my Husband having to return home to be with his very ill mother. The Reps were superb they arranged his flight home within hours and even came up to see if he needed help packing. He decided that I would stay and finish my holiday (not without a bit of arguing I might add!)
Before long folk in and outside of the hotel knew what had happened. I was stopped constantly by strangers asking how my Husband's mother was? Could they do anything for me? Did I need anything? The kindness was overwhelming.
I would go out in the Morning and the taxi drivers and the Horse drawn carriage drivers would all crowd around and see if I was okay. They brought me sweets, flowers and little sweet pastries nearly every day.
Whilst this half hour or so ritual was going on each morning, the kids for some reason, used to stand and take turns tidying my shirt or my hair or my laces. ( I never found out what that was about, I just let them get on with it, they seemed to enjoy it!)
Luxor is a paradise for people who enjoy history. It is like being in a five mile square living museum. Every corner you turn a breathtaking suprise awaits you. Whether it is a temple, a thousand year old statue, carvings, grumpy camels still being harnessed the way their owner's ancestors did it, spice bazaars. It just has to be seen and experienced moment by moment. Haggling is a must. It is their way of life and you have to get the hang of it. Either that or stay in your room and watch the telly!
After a while you get sensory overload and have to sit and drink tea with the locals to recover. Or go and lie down in your nice cool room.
I know I could have given much more factual and historical information, dates, names, eras etc. in this review but I just wanted to share my impressions of the big heartedness of the place and the people.
If you get the chance take two weeks like we did. You will never forget it.