Archives for December 2017

Egypt: What To Know Before You Go

After vising in Egypt, I can tell you that we were happy we went.  But, there are some things we wished we knew before we got there that would have made our trip better.  Below if a list of those things, as well as some things we did that we were glad we had:

1.  You must purchase a visa when you land.  There are no signs that assist in this regard.  Our guide took care of this for us, but if you have to do it alone here is how: when you land you will be funneled into an arrival hall before you collect your luggage and go through customs.  On the right hand side, you will see a bunch of bank kiosks.  You can buy the visa there and also change money at the same time.  The visa must be paid in cash and costs $25.00 USD per person. Once you get the visa, you can proceed to passport control and then to collect your luggage.  The Cairo airport is a disaster when it comes to luggage collection. It takes FOREVER. If you can get away with just a carry on, that will be your best bet, and a HUGE time saver for the rest of your trip.

2.  Hire a local guide and driver.  This will be the best spent money for safety and peace of mind. Comparatively speaking, it’s not that expensive, and it makes navigating the sites and the city A LOT easier. Trust me, you do NOT want to drive in Cairo, and you also do NOT want to take what they call public transportation. It is little more than a mini van crammed to the brim with people. It is so full that they often can’t even close the door! People just jump on and off mid-traffic! Do you want to be stuck in that, in the most insane driving ever? I don’t think so. The photo above was borrowed from Mr. Google, but it is a pretty accurate representation of what goes on on the road: cars in every direction, livestock, and some pedestrians peppered in for fun.  Also, there is Uber, but again, it’s local drivers, with local cars, who likely don’t speak English. And, don’t get me started with the taxis.  All I read and heard about were horror stories of bait and switch pricing and not letting you out of the car until you paid. Plus it is a lot easier to have a local do all of the translating, hassling, and negotiating for you. Finally, with a guide, we rarely waited in line for anything anywhere.

3. Spend two days in Cairo and two days in Luxor and take the cheap and short flight to get between the two.  Everyone kept recommending a Nile River cruise; but honestly, unless there is a way to do it with a very small group or privately, this is not for me.  See those big ass boats, back there.  Those are the Nile cruise boats.  The boats are huge, kind of old, and they do not look that comfortable. As in,they did not look as nice as the lowest level cruise liner in the U.S. But, it is a great way to cover a lot of ground and see some beautiful countryside.

4.  You must change money into local currency (they prefer their own currency and USD and credit cards are not widely accepted), but be sure you have a lot of smaller bills because …

5.  EVERYONE expects a tip for every single little thing.  If a worker at a site takes a photo of you, their hand will be out.  If someone gives you directions to the bathroom, they expect a tip.  They are not shy either.  They will ask, hand out, and follow you around continuing to ask.  To avoid this, get your own guide and ignore everyone around you. Don’t let them take photos for you. Don’t let them show you a “special” place. Just ignore them and avoid them.

6.  This brings me to your bathroom experiences in Egypt.  Bring your own toilet paper and hand sanitizer everywhere. This was the best thing we did.  There will either be no toilet paper or paper towels in any of the bathrooms or they purposefully take them out so a person can hand two squares of toilet paper to you (like, literally two squares) for a tip. Also, sometimes you have to pay to use the restroom, so keep small bills with you at all times.

7.  On the other hand, it is very much a pay to play economy.  If you want to stay at the pyramids after they close, offer the guard some cash. If you want to enter a prohibited or closed off part of a site, pay the site keeper.  There is a price for everything here; and honestly, I am not so sure that they do not purposefully “close off” portions of sites just so people can pay to get into them.

8.  Negotiate. Negotiate. Negotiate.  Never pay the asking price of anything. Ever. Well, except in restaurants.  Everything else is up for negotiation.

9.  Often times you will see a no photo sign. In most sites, if you are caught taking a picture they will take your phone or camera and make you delete the photo and kick you out. This is, of course, sporadically enforced. However, almost every single site sells a photo pass.  If you buy the pass, snap away.  Keep the ticket on you because they will ask you for it, but once you buy it, take all the photos you want. Is it a scam to make more money? Probably. But the ticket is usually like $2.00, so it’s worth it to be able to take pictures.

10.  This one sounds obvious, but don’t drink the water anywhere.  Make sure you have bottled water to brush your teeth.  Also, make sure all ice is made from filtered or bottled water.  The better hotels will have free water for you.

11.  There is security everywhere so be prepared for that.  When you enter a site or the property of a nice hotel, there is a law enforcement stop.  They will question the driver and search the car and its trunk with dogs and under-car mirrors. Once you get through that, you will have to go through security again at the entrance of  every site and before you enter any hotel. You will go through detectors while your bags get scanned.  Sometimes they will open the bags and check inside. I didn’t mind this one bit.

12. The locals are fascinated by Westerners. They will whip out their phones and take photos of you.  They will even come up to you and ask you to take pictures with them. One word of caution: if they see you are willing to pose for a picture with them, they will line up for pictures, and you can be there all day taking pictures with complete strangers and sometimes entire families! What are they doing with these pictures?!?  Actually, I don’t want to know. My advice is to be nice and take a few photos, but then say no. Trust me, if you don’t, it will never end. Which brings me to my next thought, should I have asked for a tip for allowing them to photograph me?!? Just kidding.  Kind of.

So, with that, I hope that my primer here helps to make your trip more enjoyable and less of a hassle. Again, Egypt is a wonderful place that offers a multitude of unique opportunities to experience legendary antiquity, up close and personal, and I highly recommend that you go. I just prefer to know what I’m getting into before I get there and figure you do too!  Have you been to Egypt and have any tips to add?  If so, I’d love to hear from you!

Cairo (Giza), Egypt: Land Of The Pharaohs

“Egypt?!? Why would you go to Egypt?!?  Isn’t it really unsafe there?”  If only I had a dollar for every time I heard this (or some variation thereof) from every single person who learned that Chad and I would be spending Thanksgiving in Egypt this year.

Granted, the Egypt of today is probably not like what it was.  It is not the easiest country to navigate, and some of the locals can be a little overbearing by Western standards.  But that shouldn’t stop you from visiting Egypt. It is, after all, the home to one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, as well as numerous other historically significant and interesting sites.  There are fewer tourists, giving you a more personalized experience.  And, it happens to be a super affordable trip, even when it is completely privately guided and staying in the best and most iconic hotels that Egypt has to offer.  As for safety concerns, I am sorry to say, but those are concerns for everywhere in the world these days.

So, we set off over the Thanksgiving holiday to spend four action packed days in Egypt.  Unfortunately, only one of those days was spent in Cairo.  Hindsight being 20/20, I would have added an extra day in Cairo because I think you need half a day to visit the Great Pyramids of Giza and probably another day for the Egyptian Museum – especially starting 2018, when the new museum is slated to open! Cairo’s Grand Egyptian Museum will be the world’s largest archaeological museum when it opens in 2018, and it will have an expanded exhibit dedicated to King Tut.

We started our day off at the Mena House Hotel in Cairo, which I guarantee you has the best breakfast view in all of Egypt! It used to be a palace, so the digs are not too shabby!  Book a pyramid view room because there is nothing like a sunrise or sunset with a pyramid view!

We booked our entire trip, which was privately guided, with Memphis Tours. Their guides and drivers were excellent, which is important, especially in a city like Cairo which has the worst and most chaotic traffic I have ever experienced anywhere else in the world.  They were also very responsive during the booking process.

After breakfast, we headed to Coptic Cairo to visit Saint Virgin Mary’s Coptic Orthodox Church, also known as the Hanging Church. The Hanging Church is the most famous Coptic Christian church in Cairo.  It named for its location above a gatehouse of Babylon Fortress.

We also visited the Saints Sergius and Bacchus Church (Abu Segra).  The church is believed to have been built on the spot where the Holy Family, Joseph, Mary and the infant Jesus Christ, rested at the end of their journey into Egypt.

From there, we made our way to the Egyptian Museum to explore the wonders of the pharaohs and of King Tut. Now, if you are really into museums (like my husband, Chad) or Egyptian history, set aside a full day to visit the museum.  It is uber-crowded and showing its age, so I can’t wait to go back and see the new museum.  This one will remain open, but all of the King Tut relics will be relocated to the new museum. Also, the museum is not very well laid out and the artifacts are not well marked at all, so I highly recommend you visit with a guide.

If you only want to hit the highlights of this museum then you should definitely go to the second floor where you will find the King Tut artifacts, including a room with his sarcophagi and the famous death mask, which can be found in room three.  Along the way, you will see all the items that were found in his tomb, which is located in Luxor in the Valley of the Kings.  These items include his bed, his chariot, his cane, his shoes (his sandal game was so on point), and his childhood games.

A couple of lesser known, but not to be missed pieces are the Seneb Statue in room 32 and Kaaper Statue in room 42. But other than Tut, the other MUST see in this museum is the Mummy Room. Now, the museum entry fee does not include a visit to the mummy rooms, which costs an extra $15 (and which must be paid in cash at the entrance of the exhibit), but it is probably one of the most fascinating exhibits in the entire museum, especially if you are going to visit the tombs of these mummies in Luxor! Each mummy occupies its own temperature-controlled case, and they are very well preserved.

We ended our day at the Giza Plateau, where we visited one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, the Great Pyramids of Cheops, Chefren, and Mykerinus, and, of course, the Sphinx. I would HIGHLY recommend a guide for this site.  Not because it is complicated and requires a lot of explanation.  I say this only because it reduces the amount of harassment you will encounter at the site by vendors who want to sell you crap, locals who want you to take camel and horse rides, and scammers who claim to work there and can show you around and take your picture.


Also, our guide showed us this pretty cool ancient ship exhibit, which we would have totally missed if it weren’t for him. It is located in the Solar Barque Museum, which is located behind the Great Pyramid. The ship was thought to transport pharaohs to the underworld.  You have to buy a separate ticket for this exhibit, but it is only a few dollars, and you get to wear these super stylish shoe covers!

In case you were wondering, it is now illegal to scale the pyramids. You can, however, go into them.  First, while you can visit the pyramids every day, all year long, you can only access two of the three pyramids each day- the Great Pyramid and then one of the two smaller pyramids.  Each requires the purchase of a separate ticket for entry.  Allegedly, there are only 300 tickets sold per day, the first 150 tickets are sold early in the morning and the next 150 tickets in the early afternoon.  We got there two hours before closing, and were able to get tickets without a problem.

So, what’s inside? Nothing really, but it’s kind of cool to be IN an ancient wonder. So, I definitely recommend going into at least the Great Pyramid, unless you have severe claustrophobia.  Chad is a little claustrophobic, but he was able to do it.  Also, when we went, there weren’t that many people coming in and out. If there were, I can see where it would be a little anxiety inducing.

Here is what you are in for. First, you climb up a brief way from the outside until you reach the entry way.  Once inside, you will go through a small two-way tunnel where you are able to stand up right.  It will take you about a minute or two to get through this tunnel. You will then reach another tunnel that is two way but looks like it should only be one way.  This tunnel goes up at an angle and has handrail on each side with wood planking on the ground, but you have to crouch to get through it.  It is about three to five minutes long. You will then come to an open space where you can stand up right.  On either side will be a make shift ladder that you climb so that you can walk upright at an angle into the chamber room.  This will take you another three to five minutes. At the end, you will step into an empty room with a vault in it. The pathway to get here is lit, but kind of hot.  The chamber room is dark and hot.

The treasures from inside the pyramids have been removed and can be viewed at world-famous museums around the world like the British Museum, Berlin’s Egyptian Museum, and Italy’s Turin Museum.

After exiting the tunnel, we were driven to a view spot where you can get a great view of the Great Pyramid.  From there, we took our camel ride around the complex to see the six pyramids.  This particular activity conflicted me. I discussed with our guide that I did not want to engage in this activity if the camels were treated inhumanely.  He assured me that while that was the case with some camels and camel herders, their company worked with locals who did not engage in this practice. Our camels looked healthier, but, honestly, I am not 100% sure that they were treated completely humanely.  In hindsight, I wish I would’ve asked if we could walk the trail or drive it instead because it is actually quite an amazing view and it is almost as if you are there alone as there are few other people around.


We stuck around for the sound and light show.  It is about 30 minutes, and it is kind of cheesy.  It explains the history of the pyramids in story format with lights and music.  We upgraded our tickets to VIP so we could be in the first row for about $4.00. It was pretty nice to see the pyramids and the sphinx lit up.  I wish they would’ve left them lit up after the show so we could get some pictures.

At the end of that action packed day, it was time to get back to our hotel to prepare for our trip to Luxor the next day. The one thing we did not have time to do was to visit Khan el-Khalili bazaar, and I am still annoyed by this. It is a major souk in the Islamic district of Cairo, and, from the photos, it looks beautiful!  The shops sell souvenirs, antiques and jewelry, but there are also still many traditional workshops that continue to operate in the surrounding area. There are also several coffeehouses, restaurants, and street food vendors, including one of the oldest and most famous coffeehouses, Fishawi’s, established in 1773. Until I can get back to Egypt to take my own, photos from Mr. Google are going to have to do to give you an idea of what the market looks like.

Anyway, if you’ve been to Egypt, I’d like to hear about your experience.  If you have always wanted to go, stop hesitating and book it!  Our entire trip, including international airfare, one in country flight for two people, private guides and drivers, all transfers, stays at two five star hotels, all breakfasts and lunches, and entrances to all sites for two people for four days was under $4,000.00 total. We probably spent an extra $500 in country on visas, tips, dinners, extra entrance tickets, and incidentals. And, we were surprised to see more Americans than we anticipated there, including families with children. So, fear not! The pyramids await you!