Cairo International Airport’s Terminal 3 makes arrivals in Egypt much more convenient than in years past if you are flying a Star Alliance carrier. With roomy concourses and expedient immigration and customs areas, we were in and out in no time. The same cannot be said for Cairo’s streets which are clogged with drivers who, in their frustration with the maddening traffic and congestion, use their horns liberally and stop for only the boldest of pedestrians.
Our first stop was the Fairmont Nile City Hotel, a new 5-star property north of the city center along the banks of the famous Nile. Its modern rooms and rooftop pool make a comfortable although slightly remote base from which to explore this bustling city of 20 million plus people. For dinner, we ventured to the famous Abu El Sid restaurant. There, after a long wait at the bar (reservations recommended), we enjoyed the best Egyptian meal of the trip. Favorites included the kofta and the most delicious falafels I’ve ever had. (One obvious key is using fava beans instead of chick peas). Drinks are pricey here as they are all over this Muslim country.
The next morning we toured the famous pyramids of Giza with our outstanding Egyptologist, Zainab, who should be counted amongst the many treasures of Egypt. Our afternoon was spent at the Egyptian museum, the highlights of which are the King Tut exhibit and the mummy room, the latter of which may not be appropriate for children or the fainthearted. We also visited several hotels, our favorite being the Four Seasons Cairo at Nile Plaza.
Day 3 began with a short flight to Aswan, a pleasant city below Aswan Dam which holds back the Nile to form Lake Nasser which stretches into Sudan. Philae Temple is a shot boat trip from town and a real highlight. We also enjoyed seeing the “unfinished obelisk” in the nearby granite quarries. Here we also boarded the Nile Adventurer, a luxury ship sailing the Nile from Aswan to Luxor for 3- and 4-night cruises.
The Nile Adventurer has just 32 cabins including 2 deluxe suites and 2 presidential suites which are both well worth the money if you are willing to spend it. The standard cabins are fine but book early to get a king bed on the top two decks. The dining room and lounge are very comfortable and the food is delicious and plentiful. Drinks are not included. The lounge was the site of our Galabeya night, where guests dress in tradition garb. Some really got into it and had a big time dancing. Note: You have to buy your own costume either on the ship or in town. The two covered outdoor decks are only surpassed by the great roof-top deck and pool. Umbrellas dot the top deck providing much needed shade from the hot sun.
Speaking of hot, Egypt can be very warm in May. We had several days above 105, and June to September can be hotter, so bring a hat, lots of sunscreen, and your patience. This last one will come in handy as you run the gauntlet of aggressive vendors hawking wooden camels, stone pyramids, pharaonic statues, papyrus pictures, hats, and more. If you do decide to buy something negotiate hard, and try to pay 30 to 50 percent of the original asking price. That’s about what we got on some silver chains (at least we hope they are silver) in Luxor, which was our next stop.
After cruising for part of the day, and enjoying the scenery as we sailed, we stopped at Kom Ombo, dedicated to the crocodile god, Sobek. Then we continued on to the impressive Edfu Temple, built by the Greeks. More sailing brought us to Luxor, home to more tombs and temples than anywhere. Our touring the next day was a blur of Valleys of Kings and Queens and temples including those of Ramses, Luxor and Hatshepsut, one of three female pharaohs along with the famous Cleopatra VII. Frankly, by this point in the tour, my brain started to fry and the sites blended together, but they are still worth seeing.
A last night docked in Luxor brought our farewell dinner along with local music, a belly dancer and a whirling dervish (tough gig). The next morning, some guests flew out early but we explored the markets of Luxor on our own, first on foot and then by horse-drawn carriage. At this point Kelly was giving me “the look” but later agreed that Ali our driver did a nice job of taking us to areas we wouldn’t have found by ourselves. He also took us to a “government” tourist market where everything was half price because there was no tax and no commissions to the guides – Hah! The big savings must be why he tripled his price for the carriage ride when he dropped us at the end.
After flying back to Cairo we navigated only slightly horrible traffic for our last night at the Sofitel El Gezirah Hotel. Although not beautiful from the outside, we loved this place. The rooms are airy and modern, the lobby and pools are great, and it has seven different restaurants and a casino. Best of all is the location on the tip of Zamalek Island with plenty of river frontage.
In all, we highly recommend this tour.