Egypt 2006


Western Desert - Cairo to Luxor

Nile Cruise - Luxor to Aswan

The Rest - Abu Simbel to Abydos

Click on the above links to see some pictures from my recent trip to Egypt. The trip was amazing, and I've written a brief description below:

egypt map

We arrived in Cairo and spent the first two days visiting the Islamic and Coptic areas of the city, its markets, and the fabulous Museum of Egyptian Antiquities. On the third day we saw the pyramids of Giza, Sakkara, and Memphis.

A note on security in Cairo:  Someone told me that Cairo has more police per capita than any other city in the world, and I can easily believe it.  Whether being around a bunch of young policmen toting lethal weapons actually makes one feel safer is open to personal interpretation, however they are obviously very serious about ensuring the safety of tourists and all my interactions with them were very pleasant. There are also metal detectors everywhere, but don't expect anyone to pay much attention when they go off. All the Egyptians I encountered were extremely friendly. The almost uniform reaction to discovering that we were American was "America, powerful country, good people, bad president." It was also clear that most believed that the vast majority of Americans (99% said one cabbie) also do not like their current president, which may reflect the opinions of the Americans they meet, or it may be because they can't believe any reasonable person could think otherwise, but it certainly is not difficult for them to believe given the way elections work in their own country. Anyway, regardless of what else can be said for Mubarak, he does manage to keep the country stable and the economy going. Overall, I felt very safe in Egypt, and I strongly encourage others to go, since it is an amazing place to visit, and since many Egyptian people depend on tourism for their livelihoods.

A note on driving in Cairo:  I wouldn't do it. Street lights are extremely rare, lanes non-existant, and all road markings merely suggestive.

A note on entering the pyramids at Giza:  The pyramid of Cheops is only open to visitors twice a day (8 AM and 3 PM I believe) and there are a limited number of tickets for each entrance.  I went into the pyramid of Chephren, but with some trepidation since most of the people I saw coming out looked somewhere ranging from quite unhappy to on the verge of collapse.  Personally, I didn't find anything in the tomb that should lead to such a reaction, but the tunnel going in is very small, much is only about 4 - 4.5 feet tall,  and you have to be able to climb up and down ramps while inside, as is visible at the entrance. Some people complained of claustrophobia, and if you are worried I would simply wait until there are not very many people inside the tomb. 

We left Cairo on the fourth day, heading into the Western Desert, and spent the next six days traveling through the desert oases. Our first stop was Bahariya Oasis, followed by a night camping in the breathtaking White Desert, then onto Farafra Oasis, Dakhla Oasis, and Kharga Oasis. Leaving Kharga, we took the new direct road into Luxor.

A note on security in the desert:  Upon leaving Dakhla oasis we were joined by a plain-clothes policeman who accompanied us on our visit to Kharga oasis. At a checkpoint near the border of Kharga oasis we also picked up an escort police car containing five more policmen, and who provided us personally with around the clock security until we left the oasis. Unable to resist asking what we did to rate such attention, we were told "You are Americans, you are VIPs."  More like VEPs (Very Endangered Persons), we thought. However, I have to say that if I was a policeman stationed in a little concrete hut in the middle of the desert, it wouldn't take alot to convince me that tourists hanging out in town were in great need of my protection.

A note on our desert tour:  Our private, personalized, desert jeep tour was arranged through a company called Egypt Legend. In general their service was very good (Abdul was clearly the most skilled driver around), and much less expensive than other companies we contacted. If you are considering booking a desert tour with them, I would be happy to give a more detailed review. Booking things in Egypt ahead of time can be somewhat of a headache, since the banks can cause a lot of hassle before approving a credit card, and even then companies seem afraid of being held responsible for credit card fraud. We ended up tranferring money into an Egyptian account, which was quite unnerving at the time, but everyone we interacted with in Egypt was very honest, and in general people seemed to be more trusting there than what I am accustomed to here.

A note on requests of oasis children:  Children in the oases, particularly Dakhla, constantly request pens from foreigners. This request apparently has its origins when some early tourists to the oasis brought in striptease pens.  If you would like to make these children happy, bring a stack of pens with you.

After arriving in Luxor we spent the next four days on a Nile Cruise to Aswan (on the Oberoi Shehrayar). The cruise was much more luxurious than travelling in the desert, but also much more touristed. The number of well preserved temples, tombs, and monuments from ancient Egyptian times is absolutely overwhelming. Unfortunately some places we visited did not allow photography, like in the amazingly colorful tombs in the valley of the kings.

A note on touts and tipping:  There are many touts around the more touristed areas of Egypt, and many Egyptians and tours will try to take you to local shops which sell papyrus, perfume, alabaster, etc. I generally find this kind of thing annoying, especially because I'm not a big purchaser of tchotchkes. However, I think it is worth keeping in mind that this is the only means for many people to make a living, and tourists are comparatively very wealthy. Our Egyptian guides would often give money to children or help them sell their goods. Similarly, Egyptians tip for everything, and it is expected that you do as well. About 5 egyptian pounds or 1 US dollar is a reasonable tip for most small things (getting your luggage from the car, etc.).  There are no coins in Egyptian currency, and small bills, which are needed for tips, are hard to come by (in fact store cashiers will often lower their prices in order to hold on to their small bills) and should be hoarded.

From Aswan we flew down to Abu Simbel and back, then spent the rest of the day hanging out in town, we saw the lovely Nubian Museum, and then took the train back to Luxor. The next day in Luxor we joined the daily (8 AM) caravan to Abydos and Dendara, and then flew back to Cairo bringing our time in Egypt to an end.