I spent 8 days in Egypt in early January 2018. I wanted to visit Egypt since a very long time, but the last several years of political uncertainties kept me away. Finally I decided things were stable enough for me to visit.
Is Egypt safe?
I personally did not face any problems, nor were there any demonstrations or incidents during my visit. One cannot predict what could happen, nor can one “avoid crowds”. You have to go to the pyramids or the museum in Cairo or the Karnak temple. There are going to be crowds no matter where you go. I did not feel shopkeepers or boatmen or camel riders were “more” aggressive or unreasonably persuading because of the lack of tourism, everything was as I expected. So at least in the near future, I would encourage people to visit Egypt, unless things change dramatically.
My Overall Impressions
I found Egypt very exciting, all the sights I visited were absolutely worth it, the lack of tourists was a great blessing for me, I got several temples all for myself to explore. A few sights were quite crowded though, Abu Simbel for example. I was in no way prepared for grandeur of the tombs and temples, I was absolutely overwhelmed by almost all the sites, except perhaps the pyramids. The lesser known temples around Luxor had absolutely no crowds, I could really appreciate the colors and structures of the temples with no people around. A few sites though, had significant crowds. But, on the whole, I was more than happy with all the sites I visited, though I wish I could have visited some more.
The food was great, the people were helpful, barring the constant hassle of vendors/taxi guys/so called guides/horse carriage-men and the tipping culture. Very quickly I learnt to deal with that and not let it come in the way of my enjoyment.
- Abydos and Dendera!
- The Valley of the Kings and the Temple of Hatsheptut
- The Nile around Aswan
- Islamic Cairo
- Luxor Temple at night
- The interiors of Abu Simbel
I am a vegetarian, I generally got good food wherever I went, most of it being centered around foul, falafel, vegetable curries and rice, koshari and hibiscus juice. However, a few places had much more variety.
Cairo: Felfela, excellent food.
Luxor: Al Husseny and Sofra, both had amazing vegetarian varieties of dishes.
I stayed mostly at cheaper hotels, for around 10-12$ a night for a single room. They were pretty good value for money.
Cairo: Blue Bird Hostel
Luxor: Bob Marley Peace Hotel
Aswan: Tiba Hotel
Taxi recommendation(Cairo): Wagih, firstname.lastname@example.org
Day 0: Reached Cairo
Day 1: Giza, Saqqara, Dahshur, leave for Luxor by the late night seating train.
Day 2: Luxor: Karnak, Luxor Temples, Medinet Habu
Day 3: Luxor, West Bank, VoK, Tomb of Nobles, Ramasseum, Temple of Hatsheptut, Deir Al Madina
Day 4: Abydos and Dendera
Day 5: Edfu, Kom Ombo and Aswan
Day 6: Abu Simbel in the morning, Aswan in the evening
Day 7: Philae Temple, some more of Aswan, leave for Cairo by late afternoon train
Day 8: Islamic Cairo and a little of the Museum in Cairo
Get an ISIC card if you are a student.
Luxor is brilliant, and so is Aswan, spend at least 2-3 days at each destination. The itinerary I followed is the bare minimum. I wouldn’t come to Egypt if I have anything less than what I spent.
Be aware of all the prices, especially felucca, taxis, transport, shopping.
Visit sights when tour groups don’t visit them. Google maps is a good way to find that out.
I got a Vodafone sim, the plan was pretty reasonable.
Felucca ride: Around 80 EGP per hour, but you could possibly do in less, about 60 EGP for lunch.
Tour to Abu Simbel: 150 EGP
Abydos Dendera: 900 EGP for the whole taxi, there were 2 of us, so 450 each.
West Bank taxi for the day: Around 220 EGP, but less is possible.
Guide in Luxor, 100 EGP per hour.
Guide for Efdu, Kom Ombo for the whole day: 250 EGP
Horse ride at Giza: 600 EGP for about a couple of hours, but you could probably find a better price. I wish there was a way to avoid this.
Taxi for Giza, Saqqara and Dahshur, followed by the Giza light and sound show and drop off at Giza train station: 50 USD. You could find lower prices, but my driver was really good.
Reached Cairo on a Friday afternoon after a fairly exhausting flight from Mumbai. Cairo was unlike what I had expected. All through the drive to the downtown, where my hotel was, we saw several historic, old, beautiful buildings. Driving over the flyovers you could get nice views of Islamic Cairo. The downtown area was pretty busy, and it reminded me of Amman, but much more busier. Since I was coming from Mumbai, Cairo did not feel crowded enough.
I decided to walk to the museum, since the website said it’s open until 7 PM, however I found that the museum actually closes at 4 or 5. I spent a beautiful evening along the banks of the Nile, walking along the bridges and the riverfront. Finally dinner was at Felfela, I had some of the best falafels, some good foul, hummus, baba ganoush some really well made bread, hibiscus juice and a vermicelli based dessert. Everything was extraordinary. Went to the hotel and slept off early.
Giza: Woke up with a sore throat the next day, which was to accompany me throughout the trip. The search for koshari was in vain, since most places hadn’t opened up b y then. My driver, Georg picked me up, we got an Egyptian breakfast of pita bread stuffed with falafel and foul and proceeded to Dahshur. The ride was very interesting , a lot of it was through rural and semi-rural areas, the villages just outside Cairo seemed quite traditional, in terms on building structures, and the general activities of the residents. I was awed by Dahshur’s size as we approached it, the structure was very interesting as well. The scaffolding was obviously obstructing the view. The tombs behind next to the pyramids were worth a look, but that is when I got a taste of Egypt’s baksheesh culture. Our next stop was Saqqara. The pyramids were wonderful. The inside’s of the pyramid were a little underwhelming for me, the old smell did not help as well, but I was still glad that I went in. A walk around the pyramids, the bent one, and the other, was very satisfying.
Next was Giza. I had a nice koshari lunch at one of the koshari restaurants my driver took me to. Really good place. This was actually the best koshari I was to have on the trip. I got a horse rider to take me to different spots around the pyramid. Not my kind of travel, but you need the horse to take you to the sandy view points around the pyramids. The pyramids looked absolutely wonderful in the soft late afternoon light. Later on found a nice spot at one of the cafes outside the Giza gates and spent the rest of the evening staring at the beautiful creations, while sipping hot tea. What an evening! I went for the Light and Sound Show as well, I thought it was ok, significantly under lit, but nevertheless, a good experience if you happen to be around there. I would rather spend an evening in the hustle bustle of Cairo. I was dropped off at Giza’s train station, where I got a really good koshari, right outside the station. Boarded the train to Luxor.
I’ll first talk about my last day in Cairo, before going towards Luxor and Upper Egypt. I arrived early in the morning from Aswan, checked into my hotel, had an Egyptian breakfast on the go of falafel and foul sandwich. Took a taxi to the Saladin Citadel, however I was dropped at the nearby Mosque-Madrassa of Sultan Hassan, because of a little communication gap with the taxi driver. Nevertheless, the time was well spent, since the site was excellent. The structure was massive, and not a soul in sight, just my kind of a place. Next was the Saladdin’s Citadel. An interesting complex, the views of the entire city of Cairo were great. Reminded me of my trip to Istanbul. Next stop was the brilliant Ibn Tulum Mosque. The vastness of the site was something to be seen. The tower leading also has excellent views. Headed to the Museum after this. got a ticket for the Mummy Room as well. Spent about a couple of hours wandering about, the Mummy Room, the burial cases, the Gold Mask interested me the most. The visit was absolutely worth it, although a little more time would have been great. Headed to Abou El Sid for lunch. I had very high expectations from the restaurant, which unfortunately the restaurant did not live up to. Ordered a couple of mezze items, both of which were just about average, and the dessert, Um Ali, also was low on flavour. Nevertheless, the trip was worth the visit to the locality. Green and well kept yet local in flavor.
Took a taxi to the Islamic Cairo area. This was the Cairo I was looking forward to! Tiny streets, vendors, full of local flavor, unending historical buildings, beautiful shops selling goods, so many tea houses. I was glad that the vendors weren’t too pushy, my visit was quite smooth. Started with exploring the Al-Azhar mosque, walked in several back alleys in the area, climbed up one of the mosques near the Bab Zuweila for a wonderful view of the Islamic downtown area. Had mint tea at one of the tea shops, walked a lot through the streets and finally went for the Sufi Performance, Tanoura at the Al Ghouri Arts Centre. Brilliant, however make sure you at least 30 minutes in advance to get a decent seat. Came back to the downtown, had a koshari at Koshary Abou Tarek, it was alright, pretty expensive and a little lower on taste than some of the other places I had been to. But not bad at all, if it’s the first time.
I reached Luxor after a long train ride from Cairo. Reaching my hotel, Bob Marley Hostel, was an easy walk. Started the morning with a visit to the Karnak Temple. It was early in the morning and the crowds were still not there. I got a guide, Elinour, please e-mail me for her contact details, who gave me a brief but good tour of the temple. Her commentary made the temple alive for me, and it was easy to visualize how things would have been back in the day. The temple was magnificent, the Hypostyle Hall was the most impressive. However, by noon it was pretty hot. I found a lunch place close to the temple, Al Husseny, I had a standard order of rice, vegetables, aubergine, bread, salad and some hibiscus juice, all made pretty well, especially the vegetables. Post lunch, I headed to the West Bank, got a taxi to take me to the Medinet Habu. The temple was pristine! Hardly any people, huge dimensions, beautiful well preserved colors, exactly how I imagined Egyptian temple would be. Spent a while and came back to the East Bank. The ferry ride around sunset was beautiful. Spent the evening marveling the post sunset lights at the Luxor Temple. A brilliant site! Dinner was at Al Sahaby, I had a really well made lentil soup and Fatayer, pastry with cheese and spinach.
This was the big day, I was going to visit the Valley of Kings! Elinour was my guide, for VoK. Took a boat to the other side, got a taxi booked by her, and we set off. Our first stop was the Temple of Hatsheptut. The sun was pretty strong even at 8 AM. The temple was excellent, the overall layout was great, the colors were well preserved, quite vivid actually. The commentary made it even more interesting. We headed to VoK. The tombs that Elinour selected Ramses III, Ramses IX and Imerhotep. I as tremendously impressed with all the three tombs, they were pretty different from each other, everything was well preserved, well lit, while there were quite a few people at each of them, I still managed to get plenty intermittent silence and space to observe the place and click good pictures. Elinour had given me a good idea of what to look out for in each tomb, so that helped. We dropped her off at the ferry gate and I proceeded for the rest of the trip with the driver. It was lunch time, I had the standard rice-vegetables-aubergine-salad + dessert meal, at one of the West Bank restaurants.
The next stop was the Tomb of Nobles. I took tickets for 3 of the most popular tombs, I can’t really recollect the names. One of them was spectacular, however they were a bit of a anti-climax after the VoK, plus, not having a guide meant plenty of hassle around the sites. So, not the most enjoyable experience. The Worker’s Village, Deir Al Medina, was much more exciting. The temple, several tombs were absolutely brilliant! Next was the Ramasseum temple. The temple was actually quite stunning: huge dimensions, well preserved and no people at all! What else does one need? Headed back to the East Bank and went for the Light and Sound Show at the Karnak. I found the show a little underwhelming, very dimly lit and not the best commentary. But not a bad way to spend an evening in Luxor. Dinner was at Sofra, had a vegetable moussaka, Bosara and Baba Ganoush, all very well made.
Next on the list was Abydos and Dendera. I booked a taxi with my hotel, sharing with another guest as well. Both of us payed 450 EGP for the trip. Our first stop was Abydos. The temple was immensely impressive. I got a local archaeologist to guide me around the temple and that greatly improved the experience. The colors were spectacular, the dimensions of the temple were great and the best part is that there were no tourists around. I had the entire temple to myself. I simply didn’t feel like leaving the place. However, life has to go on, so I left and we had a good lunch right outside the temple, bread, rice, vegetables, salad and foul. Next was Dendera. The temple at Dendera too blew me away! The ceiling was wonderful, the blue color and detail of the reliefs were incredible. I believe I spent at least an hour in the outer part of the temple. The zodiac sign is something to watch out for, and one has to pay the guards a little baksheesh to get to the “Dendera Light”. Later we headed back to Luxor early in the evening, after which I spent a bit of time on the Nile and had a brilliant dinner at Al Sahaby again, of Muhammara and Freekeh, which is broken wheat tagine.
Aswan and Abu Simbel via Edfu, Kom Ombo
I took a taxi with the same driver. The plan was to visit Edfu followed by Kom Ombo and reach Aswan by late afternoon. The drive was quite a dusty one, passing through several villages. The temple at Edfu was quite full of people by the time we reached. Nevertheless, the temple was spectacular. The most interesting portion were the huge inscriptions of the battles in the outer walls of the temple. And the temple looks magnificent and imposing from the outside! Next was Kom Ombo. It was quite an interesting temple with a nice river side location. Worth the detour. The drive to Aswan was a good one. As we approached Aswan, you could see a more vibrant Nile with beautiful dunes on the other bank. A gorgeous combination. Checked into my hotel, the staff at the hotel was really good and friendly. They showed me how to get around the town and booked an Abu Simbel tour for me for the next day. I spent the evening around the Nile corniche, such a beautiful sight! The Tomb of Nobles and the hills next to it looked brilliant. I took a long walk along the corniche, had dinner at the El Massry, where I had rice, vegetables, salad and bread.
The next day was Abu Simbel, the most awaited destination. The journey itself was great, passing through the desert, then the view of the Nile, the sunrise and finally Abu Simbel. I guess our tour was a bit late, because several hundreds of tourists had already arrived then. The sunlight however was still a little golden in hue. I was certainly super awed the statues at the exterior. Unbelievable. However, what I found the best was the interiors of both the temples. The details and colors were fantastic. Quite crowded, but completely worth it. After spending an hour and a half, it was time to go back. Pity that’s all I could stay, I would come back some day and stay for a longer period. The journey back too was interesting. Lots and lots of mirage and great views of the Nile. I was dropped back at Aswan after which I proceeded for a Felucca tour. I sailed for about an hour around the islands at a leisurely pace marveling the views of the dunes surrounding the river as the sun set. It was quite relaxing to sit on a felucca and look at the Nile flow by. Next was the Nubian Museum. The museum was really good, plenty of artifacts from Nubia, and you get a perspective of the life in Nubia, and the history, which is a little different from that of other parts of Egypt. Dinner was koshary at one of the koshary stores, which was pretty good, but the Cairo koshary had spoilt me, so this one ended up just alright. So ended a long day.
This was my last day in Aswan. Started with the Philae Temple, I took a taxi along with another guest staying at my hotel. None of the boatmen agreed to take us at the set price for Philae and back. So we informed the policemen just outside the ferry terminal and they straightened things for us. The temple was fantastic. Similar to Edfu, but unique in many ways. I absolutely loved the location, however artificial it was. I wish I would have come at a time when there would have been less people. Nevertheless, a very impressive temple. Came back to Aswan, and got a Felucca. I spent about 4 hours on the felucca visiting the Tomb of Nobles and the Simeon Monastery. The ride was beautiful! Very relaxing. I loved the feluccas, the breeze was great, the weather was good and the views were superb. The Tomb of Nobles was an interesting place, if you pay the guards some baksheesh, you get to see some really good tombs. The views over the river too are spectacular. We had lunch on the felucca, the food was really good, we had three different kinds of vegetables, rice and bread. Next we headed to the Simeon Monastery, the walk although small, was a little tiring for me. The place was quite interesting, but I didn’t really the energy to explore it. We lazed around the river for a while and then ended the trip. Had a refreshing glass of sugarcane juice near the train station, boarded the train for Cairo and had a great journey back. Spent a day in Islamic Cairo and finally left Egypt.