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So, the planning for Egypt began. We have travelled in a number of MENA countries and knowing some of the difficulties with these places we decided to book a private package trip, to still have some control over the travel plans but to have someone else do the real hard work of booking and getting us from place to place.
In the end I settled with Nile Cruisers which overall we were happy with. The price was set in advance, we had the option to tinker with and adjust the itinerary to suit us. We had airport, hotel and sightseeing transfers all booked in advance and a place on one of the many cruise ships going down the Nile. This all comes at a higher price than we would normally pay but also with the convenience of not having to worry about things while travelling with the kids.
Our overall impression of this trip as a family was that it was a great trip and certainly one that we would recommend to others, couples or families. The kids had a great time, we had few worries with the young kids travelling around and going to sights, the boat trip was well suited to families, and it was a fun trip for all. We saw Pyramids, walked around the craziness that is Cairo, went to old temples, drove through deserts, saw mummified crocodiles (and people of course) and so many well preserved old painting and scripts. The cruise was also a nice way to spend time and the little boats rides were fun for the family.
As with so many trips we started our holiday with a flight, this time on Christmas day, to Cairo. I couldn’t say this out loud at the time, but this is also the time I am most worried about booking and paying for most of the trip in advance because I had no idea just how legit the travel company was and if there would actually be someone at the airport to meet us as planned.
Thankfully there was someone at the airport holding up some paper with out names on it and so with a huge sigh of relief we get our bags and go to be put in our first minibus to the hotel. And this is where it all paid off, we didn’t have to talk to the drive or negotiate, it was all done for us, and we were delivered to our hotel (Steigenberger Pyramids View) with no problems.
We checked in and agreed what time to meet our guide for the next day’s tours in Cairo and took the kids up to the room where we got them some food from room service and settled in. The food was plentiful and tasty and the included breakfast the next morning at the hotel was also very good. Overall, the hotel was a little dated, but it does have a view of the pyramids as the name suggests and it will be in a prime location for the new museum that had not quite been finished and opened when we were visiting.
Cairo Tours: Day 1Today we left early to go to the Egyptian Museumhttps://www.egyptianmuseumcairo.com/egyptian-museum-cairo/ just off Tahrir Square. We thought at first that it was a little excessive how early we were asked to leave the hotel for this but after being there and seeing how many people were arriving in mass groups on huge busses after us, we were happy to have been there when we were there. Again, it was great having a guide as we were lead to a shady section to wait while he went ahead and got our tickets before coming back to get us and show us into the building. Our guide showed us around some of the most popular exhibits and gave us information about the different things we were looking at and then we were given free time to go back and see other parts of the museum we had not seen yet. The kids loved the mummies (human and animal) and it is amazing just how well preserved many of the artifacts are, especially considering their age.
Next up we were taken to a papyrus workshop. There was a little presentation about how the papyrus was made, and then the sales pitches. They tell you how this is the only place with a license to make papyrus, that it is all done traditionally and the usual speal. However, this saleswoman was actually really nice and not pushy, so Vanessa was suckered in to buy something. It is a nice memento from the trip, but I do not believe all the sales pitch (very similar to ones we have heard in many places).
After the papyrus workshop it was time for lunch. I think the guide had a budget to feed us and when Vanessa said she wanted a specific local lunch he must have been more than happy to make it happen for us and pocket the rest. As all the guides and drivers are independent, they get their payment upfront from the agents and must make it work from there. The lunch was (Vanessa to add) and it didn’t quite live up to her expectations and was not that well liked by the kids. But she got what she wanted.
And then off to the Pyramids. You can see them in books and on tv and in films as many times as you like but they will still impress you when you are standing at their base. They are huge and I can only shudder at the thought of all those slaves making it. There is no way something like that could be built today. Our guide gave us plenty of information about the sites and we all got to climb on the lower levels for some photos before being driven to the main viewpoint to get some more photos. At this time, we were offered a camel ride at a small additional cost, and we accepted this, it was a reasonable price and we all enjoyed it. Vanessa was not very comfortable on the back of a camel but that only made it even more fun for the child sitting with her. They were both giggling and laughing the whole of the short walk on the camel towards the pyramids.
And then we moved onto the Sphinx. Inside the same complex we got another very good explanation about the Sphinx and its history and about the site in general. More photos and some free time to explore a bit and then it was time to make it back to the hotel.
On the journey back to the hotel, we were asked if we wanted to do dinner and the sound and light show at an additional cost. We had heard that the show was good so we thought we would do this. We were picked back up from the hotel in time to go to the show with a new driver and no guide this time and were taken to the place for the show. Our tickets were got for us, and we went into get our seats. It was a lot colder than we had expected and the show was very outdated. Also, a lot of the information in the show we had heard earlier that day from our guide. We decided to leave the show early and to go find the driver to take us to the dinner that was arranged. Unfortunately, the dinner at the place recommended was not good, it was a complete tourist trap, and we were charged prices for drinks that were higher than we would pay even at home in Switzerland. It was outrageous and even led me to leave a 1-star review on trip advisor. Don’t get suckered into this place if you are visiting Cairo.
Nile cruise Day 1 – Boat check in and Karnak temple.The next morning, we had to get up very early for our transfer to the airport to fly down to Luxor.
The domestic terminal at the airport was full of so many people and it was here that we experienced the tipping scam that we had read about beforehand. As you go through the airport there are a number of times when you need to put your bags through an x ray scanner. At one of these, we put our bags onto the scanner, and they went through, but before we got through to the other side of the scanner to join our bags someone had already taken them off the scanner and out them onto a trolly and then insisted on pushing the trolly for us the 50m to the check in line. He was rather pushy about the whole thing and when I gave over a small tip (but totally suitable for the amount of work the person did, especially as I didn’t ask for or didn’t want the service) he complained that the tip was not enough and then got rather pushy with me and started harassing me about the tip. This meant that I did not start the day in the best of moods, but it certainly improved as the day went on.
When we arrived in Luxor we were met by our new guide for the next few days, and he helped us get our stuff into a van and then started telling us all about Luxor.
After getting in the van, we were taken to the Karnak temple. It was really nice to be taken there before all the large crowds arrived. As the first old temple we had been to in Egypt this was super impressive to see the scale and how well preserved it is. We had a short tour around the temple with the guide, got told a lot of information and then were given some free time to look around the temple with the kids and see anything we wanted to look at more closely or to find things that were not part of the main tour.
By the time we finished walking around this temple it was starting to get hot and we were transferred to the boat to check in and get our room sorted.
The boat we were on was the MS Tulip by Coral Sea Resorts group. https://www.coralsearesorts.com/en/destination/luxor-aswan/m-s-tulip/ It was a really nice boat with good staff, decent Wi-Fi on the boat, a little pool on the top deck. Plenty of spaces to sit in the sun up on top and nice rooms (even if they were just a little small for a family of 4). As our children were 5 and 3, we were able to book a standard cabin and they gave us a single portable bed for the room for the two children to share. I think we paid a small supplement to have the kids with us on the boat, but the room was a comfortable size for us all to sleep, and we spent most of out time on other parts of the boat. The meals served on the boat were all buffet style, but they had a good mix of local foods and western foods, and the drinks were extra but all reasonably priced. We spent the rest of the day relaxing on the top deck of the boat and settling into our home for the next few days.
Nile cruise day 2: Valley of the Kings complex.The following day after breakfast on the boat we were met by our guide and driver to head out to the Valley of the Kings. It seemed like a long drive, and we got plenty of information from our guide on the way out there. Even though it felt early to us by the time we got to the Valley of the Kings there were a lot of other people already there. Our guide got our tickets, and we went into the main site. We were told that because of covid guides were not allowed to go into the tombs with us and he gave us some minimal information about the site before suggesting which three tombs he thought we should go to. The tombs were all different and the level of preserved detail inside the tombs was insane. It was so impressive to see. Many of the tombs though were crowded inside, with pushy people and no one really respecting any sort of queuing system. The whole site was very hot and dusty and the shop inside the site was an obvious tourist trap overcharging for drinks and ice creams. We were already getting frustrated with paying prices for things higher than we would pay in Switzerland which is by far one of the most expensive places in the world to visit. Every time this happened it made us feel even more frustrated and annoyed at the rip off culture, they have towards tourists in MENA countries. We did find some nice quiet places away from the crowds along the paths further back in the valley complex, and some of these had a little more shade and shelter as well.
After we had walked around and seen the three tombs, we were allowed to see with our pass we found our guide again and headed on to the temple of Queen Hatshepsut. On the way though we were taken to a factory where they made alabaster jars and things. It was another tourist trap and was again overpriced, with pushy sales staff and a story from the guide about it being the only place you can get real alabaster from, that just didn’t fell real or believable.
The temple of Queen Hatshepsut was very impressive and walking around this site with the kids was a lot of fun. There were a lot of little side places to go and plenty of well-preserved statues and carvings to see.
After visiting this site, we headed back to the boat for our lunch and some relaxing time on board the boat that afternoon while we moved down the river to our next location. We all enjoyed sitting up on top, reading our books, playing in the pool and having some afternoon drinks. Vanessa even headed off for a massage on board the boat.
Nile cruise day 3: Edfu and Kom OmboThe next morning, we woke up and the boat had stopped at Edfu. After breakfast we found our guide and headed out to the road for a horse and carriage ride to the temple of Horus. Again, we were glad to have a guide who had sorted a horse and carriage for us before we even left the boat. Many of the horses were malnourished, the carriages were old and worn out and the drivers were all very aggressive trying to get business from those who were leaving the boat without a guide. The kids loved the horse ride.
The temple was very impressive. Having watched many Egyptian documentaries as a child and reading many books and even playing computer games I had impressions of what I thought ancient Egyptian monuments should look like, and this is exactly like that. There were signs of so many civilisations having spent time in these ruins after the time of the ancient Egyptians as well. But the way that these monuments and all the detail have withstood the elements and time is so amazing. We had our tour with the guide and then had our free time and made our way back to the boat on the same horse and carriage as we had gone out on.
Lunch was had on board and the boat started moving again to take us to the next stop in Kom Ombo.
This next stop was very cool as we arrived in Kopm Ombo as it was getting dark and so we got to tour the temple at night with lights on the antient monument. It was a interesting temple but actually, he most interesting thing at this stop was the trip into the crocodile museum. While they did not have any live crocodiles here, they did have a lot of mummified crocodiles here and the kids really liked this museum.
We also went for a walk down the market street here and Vanessa bought a bunch of stuff in the shops for herself and for the kids. It was a nice evening walking around and seeing the sights.
Back on board the boat and we were moving again for our final destination in Aswan.
Nile cruise day 4: AswanWe woke up the next day and we were in Aswan. The river here felt wider than many of the other stops and the city looked bustling from the boat.
Out first activity for the day was to go for a sail on a tradition boat on the Nile. Unfortunately, there was not good wind, and our trip did not include a motorised tow upwind to allow us to then sail back easily. This meant that we spent a lot of time in the same part of the river tacking back and forth but not actually getting anyway. The kids and Vanessa still really enjoyed being on the boat and the lea surly pace of the sailing meant that the men working on the boat had time to sell some traditional wares to Vanessa and the kids.
After the sailing we headed to the Aswan high and low dams. There is not a great deal to see at the dams but both of them do show just how impressive a feat they were. The amount of water behind both dam walls is impressive.
After viewing the High Dam, we went back towards the low dam where we got a boat out to the Philae Temple. This temple was really nice as the boat trip was pleasant, the water made it a little cooler to walk around and most impressive is how they had moved the whole temple to higher ground when the dam was built. You would not necessarily have been able to tell that this was done as it was done vey well. Our guide pointed out the original site that is now under water. We did our tour, and then had a nice long time wandering around with the kids and seeing all the parts of the site.
After getting the boat back from the site we were then back in the van and our driver took us to a Nubian fragrance shop. They were really friendly at the shop although I did feel like they were a little patronising in the way they described the processes and smells. Anyway, we still liked some of the things they had and made some purchases and headed back to our boat.
Nile Cruise day 5. Abu Simbel and return to CairoThis was our last morning on the boat. We had breakfast and then checked out of the boat. A new guide and driver met us to take us on the long drive to Abu Simbel. We settled the kids in with their tablets as there was not going to be a lot to see as we crossed the dessert for hours on end to reach the amazing temple.
While this temple is a long way out and the tours for this are always extra and not the cheapest, you soon realise why people still make the effort. The price is high as it does take a whole day to get out there and back by car, but the temple is so well preserved and the history of this specific temple that was cut into the hills at the side of the river and how the whole hilltop was cut and moved to preserve the temple are amazing. The old videos and photos of the process to save the temple from the rising waters of the dam were inspiring.
One of the most refreshing things about the drive there and back was this little rest stop along the way. They had music, clean toilets, snacks and drinks at local prices. It felt like the first place we had been to in Egypt where people were not trying to rip us off. It was so nice to find this in the middle of nowhere.
After the long day trip out to Abu Simbel we headed back to Aswan and to the airport for our flight back to Cairo.
We were gain met at arrivals but there was a huge delay getting our bags and by this time it was after midnight. We were disappointed that the tour company had booked a flight so late for us given they knew we had small children with us and given that there were so many flights from Aswan to Cairo each day. The person who met us at the airport arranged for a van to take us to our hotel but there was a bit of miscommunication between the driver and the rep at the airport and so the driver didn’t really know where he was taking us. He also didn’t speak any English, so I was unable to help him despite trying. This whole journey was an experience. It was new years even and our hotel was right on Tahrir Square which was very busy even at that time of night. Our driver not knowing where he was going even at one point tried to reverse down a one-way street to get to the hotel. Thankfully he gave up on that crazy plan and finally took us around the block to get into the hotel the normal way.
We checked into the Steigenberger Tahrir Square hotel and got the kids settled in and finally got to bed ourselves.
Cairo self tour: Tahrir Square and ZooThe next day we relaxed a little at the hotel, went for a little swim with the kids at the hotel pool and then Vanessa was getting restless and wanted to go out and explore the city. We went out to walk around the blocks near the hotel and saw many of the old buildings that make up Cairo centre and then also walked over to the island in the middle of the Nile tying to find some park for the kids. We didn’t really find what we were looking for from here we decided to walk down to the Cairo Zoo. Although the walk was quite far for a young family it was really nice walking through the different areas along river and seeing Cairo by foot.
The final road we had to cross to get into the zoo reminded me a bit of my time in India. It was about 8 lanes wide in each direction and there was no pedestrian crossing. To cross you just had to walk out into the road and cross lane by lane and all the cars move around you until you are on the other side. Vanessa was not very comfortable with this, and we both held the kids in arms as we did not trust them to walk sensibly across this road. We made t no issues and the kids were very excited to go to the zoo.
The zoo was very cheap. It was priced for locals and what we would soon realise once inside was that by being this price there was not a lot of money to reinvest into enclosures and facilities. While the kids really liked seeing all the animals Vanessa and I were not impressed with the conditions of animals, cages and facilities here. We felt like they should certainly charge more and use that money to improve the zoo. But it was nice to see so many locals here enjoying the animals and the site.
We decided after the zoo that the kids didn’t need another 5km walk back to the hotel, so we caught a taxi and headed back.
That evening we went out to get dinner at a local fast-food chain that Vanessa had discovered, Kazaz .
It was packed with locals when we arrived, and the food was really nice and cheap as well. We sat there for a bit and enjoyed our night with the kids, chatting with a really nice local family as well.
Final day: relaxing and flight home.The final day was rather uneventful. We mostly just relaxed around the pool and in the hotel room until it was time to checkout and get our transfer to the airport. We had plenty of time to think about our trip and shared some of our experiences with other people we had met in the hotel.
- Egypt is a great place to go with kids and family. The types of attractions and activities are well suited to children, and everyone will have a good time.
- The tipping culture is something I could not get my head around. While it was not much money to us, I do not believe in giving people money for nothing or for no added value on top of the tourist prices we were already paying for things. And in some cases, they were quite aggressive about tips.
- Booking a tour was a great way to deal with the country. There was much less hassle doing it this way than if we had to deal with every transfer, hotel and tourist site ourselves.
- Definitely take the extra tour to Abu Simbal. It is worth the time and money to get there.
- It is a shame that the attitude towards tourists leaves you the whole time feeling like they are out to rip you off.
- The ancient Egyptians were able to achieve awesome feats that still stand today and are still marvels to look at.