We have been wanting to visit Egypt for a while now so when the opportunity to get away over the Christmas and New Year period arose we knew we needed to head there for a break. We joined Expat Explore on their 10 Day Explorer Tour through Egypt taking in the sights of Cairo, Aswan, Luxor and Hurghada.
The reason we chose Expat Explore was that they were the cheapest in price with all the same sights and in the end we were happy with our choice.
Pre-departure they emailed us our itinerary with the optional excursions and additional costs for entry fees included so that we could budget properly. As well as following up with our pre-trip questions regarding flights, insurance and uhealth and safety advice.
From the start they were very professional. Landing in Cairo we were personally greeted the day before our tour and transported to our City centre hotel. That drive was an eye-opener to Egypt with crazy lane changes, honking, swerving, flashing lights with animals, people and vehicles everywhere.
El Tonsy Hotel is your base for your arrival and last night. Luckily we didn’t expect much as our door didn’t lock which was a bit dodgy and the rooms were freezing cold with a broken heater and only one blanket. You wouldn’t think you would need heat in Egypt but it was the middle of winter and it was chilly at night. No complaints with the location though as we could see the Pyramids in the distance and were only 5 minutes walk from the Nile and 15 minutes to Tahir Square (perfectly safe by the way). Plus they have a little bar/restaurant with cheap food and free Wi-Fi. Just buy your snacks and water from the supermarket across the road and you will get on fine.
It’s quite hard to break down a whole trip into one post but here goes:
Your tour starts with the best in my opinion by touring some sights of Cairo. The steeply angled Step Pyramid, mind-blowing Pyramids of Giza and the smaller than expected Sphinx. This day was definitely the highlight.
That night is spent aboard the train for 10-12 hours to Aswan. I highly recommend the Sleeper train for an extra £50 per person. Others that caught the standard train froze their butts off while we had a toasty sleep with a served dinner and breakfast. Unfortunately Expat Explore never told us about the provided food so we ate before we got on-board but what we could fit in was delicious.
The tour splits in Aswan as one group embarks on a River Cruise aboard a 5 star ship while the others spend time in hotels and on a Felucca. No surprise that we went with the cheaper option aboard the Felucca so the next few days are from that point of view.
The afternoon is yours at Sara Hotel on the banks above the Nile. We lapped up the beautiful rays of the sun and managed to turn our pasty white bodies a more fitting slightly white shade. The Hotel was great until the toilet next-door erupted sending a river of smelly waste across our bedroom floor (throw your toilet paper in the bin not the loo)! Luckily we woke in time to rescue our bags from the watery mess! Not the fault of Expat Explore and we didn’t blame the Hotel either as shit happens.
Your day begins by visiting the monstrous High Dam for 10 minutes (fairly boring) and a drive past the Unfinished Obelisk. While the highlight is definitely the Philae Temple. When the sunsets across the Nile reflecting off the stonework it really is quite magical.
The evening ended with an optional dinner in a traditional Nubian families house. The food was scrumptious and you better bring your singing and dancing shoes.
The following day and night is spent relaxing aboard the Felucca for a sail up the Nile for several hours. Sleeping no more than 8 people you will be snug if you bring your own sleeping bag like us. The rest of our crew were jealous as it did get quite chilly in the evening however blankets were provided.
With delicious pita bread and falafel cooked on the boat you will not be disappointed with the food either.
The day ends with a bonfire on the Nile shoreline as you sing and dance with the crazy fun Nubian crews. This was definitely one of the highlights of the entire trip for us.
Travel Tip: Don’t be put off by doing your “business” amongst the reeds of the Nile. Just enjoy the view and remember to bring your own toilet paper (which you need everywhere in Egypt anyway).
By all accounts, from the other tour members, the River Cruise is just as great with 3 nights on-board in comfortable accommodation, a pool and buffets morning, noon and night.
Waking to a sunrise breaking the morning chill is a glorious way to start a new day. Unfortunately there is little time for relaxation before you are off the Felucca and on a bus to Kom Ombu and Edfu Temples. I must say, all of the transportation was more than adequate with toilets on the buses and room enough for everyone. It’s lucky because you do spend the majority of the time being driven around.
The Lotus Hotel in Luxor was probably the pick of them all. Situated on the Nile bank with a swimming pool and tasty buffet breakfast.
One more day, one more busy schedule. Rushing to beat the crowds at the Valley of the Kings it’s another 8am start. You are only allowed to visit three tombs and we recommend the guides picks which were Ramses II, IV and IX.
Travel Tip: You are NOT allowed to take your camera with you off the bus. Please don’t ruin it for everyone by taking photos as you will be charged by security when caught.
We also squeezed in the crowded rock carved Hatshepsut Temple but only drove past Luxor Temple as we ran out of time as you need to drive 6 hours to reach Hurghada that night.
Day Seven and Eight
The next two days at the Red Sea are yours to do whatever you like so use them wisely. We joined most of our group for a spot of snorkelling and diving. The dive and the staff were great but the whole day seemed a little rushed which was a shame. Keep an eye out for our post on our diving experience in Hurghada.
So nice being able to relax on a beach and read a book after such a hectic schedule. It’s hard to leave and the 6 – 8 hour bus ride back to Cairo is tough.
Travel Tip: If you plan to do the tour over New Years Eve then you will have to depart Hurghada half a day early which sucked as it meant celebrating the New Year at the Hotel in Cairo. Bit of a let down but when hasn’t New Years Eve been!
Your final day of sightseeing is spent around Cairo. Our favourite part of the day was definitely the Cairo Museum with an excellent tour guide. It fits perfectly at the end by seeing all the history close-up after having learned about it over the last 8 days.
By the time we hit the old area of Cairo and the Coptic Hanging Church we were spent on history but our guide made a good effort at keeping us entertained.
The last group activity is free time for an hour or so at the Khan El Khalili souk markets where the touts try to prise your cash from you for the last time from every nook and cranny.
With the tour over it’s time to head home. Our flight was late the following night so we walked around the city and Souks on our own for the day. Expat Explore provides transport back to the airport which was great.
The trip was awesome but we think it’s important to note the little things that could make a huge difference to the overall experience:
- It felt like we were always hungry. Maybe it is just Kiwi’s and Aussies that eat all the time but it seriously felt like we were constantly starving with lunches being served usually after 4pm and dinner at 9pm onwards. It might be the Egyptian way to eat at those times but not for us. Travel Tip: Buy lots of snacks for the road which are very cheap at supermarkets.
- There was sometimes a lack of direction in what seemed to be happening. Everything is done on Egyptian time so be patient.
- We were often delayed or behind schedule with little to no guidance as to how long it would take to get from place to place. A little knowledge goes a long was as then we can plan ahead.
- More free time would be great to explore places on your own rather than have our hands held everywhere.
As we said above, the trip was amazing and the little positive things far outweighed the negatives which helped make it a memorable trip.
- Pre-departure information and care was extremely good.
- The tour was exceptional value for money and it was the cheapest tour we could find even though we still saw all the same sights the other groups did.
- The guides were extremely knowledgeable and never failed to answer any questions we had. The insights into the daily lives of the people around us was a nice break from all the history. They also ensured you never felt unsafe or uncomfortable.
- The Felucca trip was better than expected and overall so was the accommodation and transport options.
All in all we highly recommend you book with Expat Explore if you are considering a trip through Egypt.
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Disclaimer: Expat Explore provided us with a discount for our 10 day tour of Egypt however as always our thoughts are always our own.