â€œ Discover Egypt is one of the UKÂ’s leading specialist operators to Egypt, offering quality holidays at affordable prices. Whether you choose to enjoy a glorious cruise down the great river Nile; the gorgeous beaches and crystal-clear seas of the Red Sea Riviera, or the bustling cities of Cairo and Luxor, you can be sure that with an in-depth knowledge of this mythical land, our experienced staff will be able to assist you in making a trip to this fascinating country one of a lifetime. â€ž
We used Discover Egypt for a cruise and hotel deal in March 2009. They are one of the smaller tour operators but we will use them again without hesitation. The arrangements were put in place from this end without fuss and they delivered exactly what was promised. We travelled on Royal Viking, a new addition to the Viking fleet, and enjoyed the whole experience without reservation; great cabins, helpful and reliable staff, first rate guides and perfectly good food even if it did tend to be the same basic ingredients served up in different ways. For the hotel stay we used Maritim Jolie Ville (after much research) and that was absolutely fine; a separate review will be posted for the hotel. Two words of caution: the street traders lining the quayside at Edfu are a bunch of thieves so just ignore them all, and the trip to Cairo we organised through Discover Egypt at the Maritim was OK so long as you INSIST that the guide at the Cairo end does not take you shopping... We lost about an hour of our day before we put our foot down, not entirely Discover Egypt's fault except of course that they chose the local guide...
My dad and I had always wanted to go to Egypt so this year we decided that we'd push the boat out (excuse the pun) and do it. We booked up with Discover Egypt after a friend had told us how good they were and what a good time they had.
We took off from Manchester airport at ten in the morning on a Monarch flight, we had to pick up passengers at Gatwick so this added at least another hour onto the flight, I managed to sleep most of the way. The flight lasted around seven hours in total.
When we arrived at Luxor airport we were met by a Discover Egypt rep and went to get our visa which cost Â£15 Sterling. We then had a short coach ride to pick up the boat in Luxor centre.
When we arrived at the boat, Viking II, one of the crew took our suitcases down to our cabin. It was on the lowest level of the boat and was very small, with just enough room for two single beds, and a very small shower room. The window was just above the waterline so when the boat was moving you could hear the water against the side. I loved watching out of the window and seeing the Nile and the scenery pass by. The size of the room, while a bit awkward, wasn't much of a problem as we didn't spend much time in it apart from sleeping.
The boat itself is looking a bit tired, it could certainly do with a refit. I have heard that they are scrapping it at the end of the season. Viking II is a four star boat. On deck at the front of the boat there is a small splash pool that was a great way to cool down in the heat, you won't be swimming in it though as it's basically a large paddling pool. There are cushioned sun beds on deck that are very comfortable. On deck at the rear of the boat is an area with tables and chairs that is shaded, believe me you will need some time out of the sun because the heat can be intense.
There is small shop selling souvenirs on the first level, the bar and restaurant are also on this level. The bar is small but cosy and has a small dance floor, we had a lot of fun in here with the other passengers at night.
The board is full board so you are provided with breakfast, lunch and evening meal. The food is adequate, quite tasty with a good choice considering the limitations of space in the restaurant. We had meat such as chicken and beef a lot of time with rice. However if you are a vegetarian you might find the choice limited.
The first night we met up with a few other passengers and sat on deck drinking, chatting and watching the scenery go by. The local brew sold on the boat is called Sakkara, and is surprisingly good. The price of the beer was about Â£2 sterling. We were told by some of the other passengers that the spirits were not very good.
Some nights we played games organised by the crew. On one occasion we had a belly dancer and a whirling dervish, a man who spins around very fast for a long time without getting dizzy. One night we even dressed up in Galabeyas, these are Egyptian dresses that they all wear due to the heat, which was a great laugh.
During the first night we were awoken by a change in the sound of the engines, there was quite a lot of engine noise. We went on deck to see that we were passing through the Esna lock.
When leaving the boat often we were docked along side other boats and had to walk through them to get to the bank. Having seen some of the five star ones I would definitely recommend anybody thinking of going to book five star. The five star boats look like mini cruise liners
All of the cruise boats are small in size having around 60 to 100 passengers, they have to be small to get through the Esna lock. As there aren't all that many passengers, you get a more intimate feeling on board.
Read on for a daily diary of our cruise...
The first morning we had breakfast, which was very nice, you can get cereal and the chef will cook you omelettes or eggs to your liking and you can have a nice cup of tea or coffee. Just after breakfast they rang the bell to let us know that it was time for our first excursion. They always ring a bell to let you know when you should be going to do something.
We were taken by coach to the temple at Edfu. This was our first sight of Egypt in daylight, the roads are busy, the cars they drive are old and there are lots of donkey's pulling carts. There does not seem to be much attention paid to the Highway Code there.
The guide gave us our tickets and took us past some shops into the temple. This was our first experience of the hassle you get from the locals. As you approach the temple you start to get an impression of the sheer size of the place. Almost all the ancient things in Egypt are on a big scale. The temple is very well preserved as until relatively recently it had been completely covered by sand.
The guide we had was always very informative, they are all Egyptologists. It was impossible to take in all the information he gave us.
After our first temple visit we went back to the boat and set sail, after tea we arrived at the Kom Ombo temple, it was now dark so the temple was lit up. This temple is made the more interesting because in one of the rooms there are two mummified crocodiles, that's something you don't see every day.
During the night the boat sailed on to Aswan, we and a couple of other passengers waited up to see us docking, who needs sleep? I really enjoyed it when the ship was sailing, very relaxing and just the thought that you are on the Nile makes it interesting.
The second day we really had a full itinerary. First thing after breakfast we were picked up by coach and taken to the unfinished Obelisk. This is one of the tall pointed objects which are carved out of a single piece of rock, the same design as Cleopatra's needle in London. It is unfinished because it cracked while they were cutting it out of the rock. It would have been one of the biggest. The size of the Obelisk is huge, how they transported them and erected them in the temples is really an amazing achievement.
Following on we were then taken to the Aswan Dam. I actually find Dam's really interesting. You get a brilliant view of Lake Nasser from the dam. This is the lake that the dam created. Almost all of Egypt's electricity comes from the dam. You spend about twenty minutes at the dam. It is also used to regulate the Nile and allow more irrigation.
From the dam we were taken to the temple at Philae. It is on an island so to get to this you are taken on a motor boat. The temple was rescued before it would have been submerged in Lake Nasser. It was moved stone by stone, amazing. The temple is very similar to the Edfu temple, the island setting makes it more scenic.
The last trip of the day is to a papyrus factory, paper made in the ancient Egyptian way and painted. I bought one for my girlfriend and had her name written on it in hieroglyphs.
At night some of us took ourselves off into Aswan itself and into the market. This was an eye opener. The place was filthy, crowded. There was meat hanging up with flies buzzing around it. These people must have amazing immune systems. I wouldn't like to do it again but it was definitely an experience I will never forget.
The next excursion, to Abu Simbel, is an optional extra and has to be paid for separately, but I would highly recommend going on it, it cost Â£45 each. You are woken up at quarter past three in the morning, have a quick breakfast then are picked up by coach. You then travel through the dessert for approx two and a half hours.
After a small walk you are presented with what must be one of the most amazing sights in Egypt. Three huge statues, a fourth was destroyed by an earthquake, straddle the entrance to an the amazing temple of Ramses II, a temple built to show the power of the Pharaoh to the Nubian people. Inside the temple the level of preservation is amazing.
Twice a year, 22 February and 22 October, the sun passes through the entrance and lights up three of the four statues at the back of the temple, on Ramses II birthday and coronation day. One word of warning, don't try to take a picture inside the temple, I tried without a flash but and almost had my camera confiscated, I found that a bit strange because you are allowed to touch the walls.
There is also a smaller temple at the site that Ramses II dedicated to his favourite wife Nerfertari (not to be confused with the famously beautiful Nerfertiti). Both temples were saved from Lake Nasser and there is a fascinating room at the site describing the process.
We spent two and a half hours at Abu Simbel, and despite queuing for quite a while was easily enough to take in both temples. On the way back, if you can stay awake, keep your eyes open for the mirage, which looks like a mass of water. We arrived back to the boat just in time for lunch.
In the afternoon we went on another optional trip to a Nubian village on a felucca, a sail boat. The village itself is very run down, all the children are begging. You are given some time to wander around the village, you do feel like you are imposing. We really did not enjoy the visit.
This day was spent on the boat cruising back to Luxor. It's was a good chance to recharge out batteries as there had been a lot of early mornings and lots of walking. When sailing at around four they rang the bell to announce afternoon tea which was very nice.
The morning of this day was taken up visiting the largest temple complex in Egypt, Karnak temple. It is on a massive scale and is actually the combination of five temples connected together. Ram head sphinxes that are well preserved flank the approach to the temple. There are two tall obelisks in the centre of the temple and some very fine statues. There is a large lake, known as the Sacred Lake.
All of the temples were busy, but this one was the busiest, it's easy to get lost in the place as it really is huge.
After lunch on the boat we were taken to Luxor temple. After Karnak this temple looks small which it certainly isn't. There was once an avenue of Sphinxes linking the two temples together. Part of this avenue still exists at the Luxor temple.
There is an obelisk at the front of the temple, however there should be two, one was taken to Paris and now stands outside the Louvre, I think it should be brought back where it belongs. There is a statue of King Tutankhamen and his wife, one of the few that were not destroyed as Tutankhamen's father was not looked upon kindly due the changes he enforced, most notably the worshipping of one god only, the sun god Aten.
In the evening we went on an optional trip to the sounds and light show at the Karnak temple. This was disappointing, really it's just a few coloured lights and a fairly tacky commentary. We would recommend giving this a miss.
This was one of the days I was looking forward to the most. After breakfast we were picked up by coach and taken to the West bank of the Nile. Our first stop was the Collosi of Memnon, two enormous statues standing on their own that were once part of a large temple. The statues are impressive due to their size but lack features.
The next stop was one of my favourites, Hatshepsut's temple, built back against a cliff, this temple looks really new, I think this is due to the extensive restoration work going on there. It has a significantly different design to the other temples that we visited. There is a long staircase up to the temple, the temple is on two levels with columns on each and statues between the columns.
I was told by one of our fellow passengers who had been here before that this was the scene of the Luxor massacre in 1997 where 58 people were killed. I tried to put this out of my head.
The next port of call was the Valley of the Queens, where we went into our first tomb. The tomb was very deep, with many excellent carvings on the walls.
We were then transported by coach to the main event, the Valley of the Kings. I had been looking forward to this since we got there. Not all of the tombs were open as they rotate them to help preservation. We were given tickets to go into three tombs.
The most famous tomb of course is that of King Tutankhamen. However, our guide told us not to bother as it's not very impressive. However, we were determined and paid for our tickets ourselves. Personally, I was very impressed with the tomb. It is very small, consisting of one room, but being in the most famous tomb in the world gave me such a good feeling, I was entranced. There is a replica of the gold coffin that is now in the Egyptian museum in Cairo, however his mummy is still in the tomb, you can't see it, but knowing its still there is enough. His is the only mummy found that has been left in its tomb. Of course I now have to be wary of the famous curse.
We had now followed in the footsteps of Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon who discovered the tomb in 1922 after decades of searching and stood in the tomb of the boy king.
This was the perfect end to our Nile cruise, we have many unforgettable memories and have made many good friends. It's a shame that we had to leave, however we said goodbye to our new friends and headed to Cairo to see the Pyramids and the Cairo Museum (if you are interested in the museum please see my review of it).
Advice (Tips on Tipping etcÂ…)
Currency is the Egyptian Pound, one Egyptian pound is about 10p. We didn't see any coins only notes. The notes are quite dirty and we were advised to wash our hands after handling them.
You are expected to tip in Egypt, the amount you give is of course at your discretion, one Egyptian pound is sufficient for small courtesy's such as washing you hands when you've been to the toilet etcÂ…
Most of the passengers experienced diarrhoea, I was lucky and was not affected by it. On the boat they sell some highly effective pills that are supposedly much better than Imodium, luckily I didn't have to find that out myself.
We had to have injections before we went, this is not compulsory but I wouldn't take any chances. Malaria was not one we needed to have, I expected there to be lots of mosquitos on the Nile and found there to be none.
I'm sure you have gathered that we had the time of our lives on this holiday. I can't recommend it enough, Discover Egypt provided us with a great package from start to end. It is a very tiring holiday, but that's a small price to pay. Egypt has so much to offer, especially if you are interested in ancient history. It really was the holiday of a lifetime.