A huge bucket list destination for many people is Egypt! It is a country linking northeast Africa with the Middle East, dates to the time of the pharaohs. Millennia-old monuments sit along the fertile Nile River Valley, including Giza’s colossal Pyramids and Great Sphinx as well as Luxor’s hieroglyph-lined Karnak Temple and Valley of the Kings tombs. The capital, Cairo, is home to Ottoman landmarks like Muhammad Ali Mosque and the Egyptian Museum, a trove of antiquities. I set our family friends up with a Tour with High End Journeys to Egypt over Christmas Break 2022 – here’s what they had to say about their experience.
Day 1 & 2
For the last few years our family has been traveling over the Christmas holiday. We’ve always enjoyed traveling and exploring. This year we decided on Egypt. Admittedly, this is not a part of the world I felt super confident going to so we decided to have Amy help us with finding a tour group that would plan out our itinerary and the sights/activities that were a must see. I wouldn’t do it any other way! The tour company made it so simple. They arranged everything! From the moment we stepped off the plane in Cairo, we had someone at the airport to escort us quickly through customs with the Visas ready to go, gather our bags and straight to a private van to take us to our hotel. It was quick and stress free which was so nice especially since it was 1:00am. Kirollos was our contact in Cairo and was there to make sure we were taken care of. We were all handed a bag with our itinerary of the week, plane tickets to Luxor, phone numbers of all contacts in case of emergencies, a box of chocolates and a small purse with small bills (to use at public toilets that you had to pay to use) I was relieved that it went so smoothly. Before leaving us at the hotel, Kirollos let us know when to be ready to go the next day for the beginning of our incredible week in Egypt.
The next morning (not too early) Kirollos met us in the lobby and escorted us to our private van. Everyday we had our own private van/driver for the day. We could leave personal belongings and know it was safe plus unlimited cold water bottles. Each of the vans had small personal coolers. It was a definite plus! We were taken to lunch at a traditional Lebanese restaurant. It was so yummy! Hummus, Baba Ghanouj, pita for dipping, chicken dish, lamb, fried cheese. It kept coming! The dessert was the most interesting! It was “ice cream” that looked like “hair” but melted in your mouth like cotton candy. Very unique! It tasted good but definitely not ice cream! After lunch we went to the Egyptian museum which was a perfect way to introduce all things Egypt. We had an Egyptologist take us on a personal tour throughout the museum. It wasn’t too overwhelming, only a couple of hours. We were able to see King Tutankhamen (King Tut’s) sarcophagus and golden mask, plus many items were found buried with him. Unfortunately no photograph was permitted.
After the museum we finally met our guide Mohammad, who would be with us the rest of our time in Egypt. He was also an Egyptologist (have to be to be a tour guide) He then took us to the Islamic side of Cairo and we did a walking tour. We also went through the Khan el Khalili bazaar. We were glad to have a guide, otherwise you could get lost in the maze of the shops through the bazaar. It was filled with shops, cars and restaurants and many cats. I would definitely go knowing what you want to buy or look at otherwise it’s overwhelming!
Driving in Cairo is another thing I would NEVER do! The amount of cars, honking lack of street signs and no lines in the road make for a precarious situation. Happy to have someone drive us around. Mohammad took us back to the hotel and prepared us for the itinerary of the next day.
Giza Pyramids! Our Guide Mohammad met us in the morning at the Hotel with the personal driver and van for the day. He informed us that we would have personal security accompany us today as well. We weren’t sure why, except Mohammad explained that the state hires many police, so they send security out with tourists. They usually accompany large tours first, but if they have others they send them with smaller groups. We commented that he looked like he was from the show Narcos. He was even carrying a small automatic machine gun tucked behind his suit coat!
The pyramids were only 20 min outside downtown Cairo. Mohammad told us you used to be able to see the pyramids from downtown, but between urban development and pollution, you have to drive closer to see them.
It was amazing! So much bigger than we expected. Mohammad explained the history of the largest Egyptian pyramid and the tomb of Fourth Dynasty pharaoh Khufu. Built in the early 26th century BC during a period of around 27 years, the pyramid is the oldest of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and the only one to remain largely intact. King Khufu and the other two for Khafre and Menkaure, his son and grandson. Khufu’s pyramid is both the oldest and largest of the three. It was built from the inside out and only worked for 3 months of the year. Lastly, we found out that the kings didn’t use slaves to build the pyramids, they actually paid farmers and others to build them. Excavation is happening right now to uncover the work camps/housing areas where workers lived while building these!
The outside of the pyramids were incredible. The sheer size is amazing! 1 stone is almost as tall as Grace! I can’t even believe we are here. Mohammad had tickets for us to go inside the largest pyramid. We all decided it was like waiting in line at Disneyland😂. The only thing we couldn’t understand, while waiting in the “Grand Gallery ” (Very narrow passageway) to ascend to the King’s Chamber, people were coming down out of breath, and sweating. It was cool outside, so we had coats and layers. We all commented that it must be a workout! We finally got to the stairs (extremely steep) that lead us to the King’s chamber! WOW it was narrow and VERY warm, very humid and the air was thick. You had to share the narrow space with others coming down, single file both ways. When we finally made it to the top of the stairs, then you had to crouch down another corridor (about 4’ high) until you finally reached the King’s Chamber. The Chamber was about 15’x30 and had a granite sarcophagus . It’s so crazy to think that you are inside a structure that was built 4,500 years ago. We were deep inside this ancient tomb! So Awesome! Now that we had a workout getting to the tomb, we had to descend! Crouching down and making our way past, barely being able to pass. Incredible! I would do it all over again, after giving my back and knees a rest. Definitely not an activity to do if you are claustrophobic, or have problems with back, knees or other physical limitations.
How can you top that! Well the day was far from over. After the Giza pyramid (just behind the pyramids) we made our way to ride camels! I know it is totally touristy, but how can anyone resist? Riding camels in the desert with the Giza pyramids as a backdrop! Bret was elected to ride the “special Santa camel”. The rest of us all climbed on (not gracefully) and then went for a ride. At one point the guide who was leading us turned the reins to me and I was leading myself, Grace and Preston. My camel wanted to run and I was extremely worried, but all went well. Grace was laughing that Prestons camel was farting the entire time she was behind him. After riding camels, we took a billion more pictures of the incredible scenery around us. A real “pinch me” moment!
Our day continued as we made our way to another side of the Giza Pyramids and saw the Sphinx. The whole day I just kept saying unbelievable! Incredible!
After visiting Giza, we were ready to eat! We went to a local authentic Egyptian Restaurant. Sakkara (Saqqara) Restaurant. The women were making their traditional bread (like naan) in a wood fire oven. So yummy!
Final sight was a visit to the Step pyramid of Djoser(Saqqara) . This pyramid is older than Giza at 4700 years. It was the first pyramid the Egyptians ever built in the 27th century BC, for Third dynasty Pharaoh Djoser. This is the oldest stone structure of its size in the world.
It was much easier to visit the inside of the pyramid. It had a few steps down and a long paved path to the end to see the excavated 90 ft deep section where the burial chamber of King Djoser. The surrounding area (complex) is still being excavated. Pretty much all of Egypt is one big excavation sight. Our guide Mohammad told us that people find things daily. We all went back to the hotel exhausted.
We had a nice leisurely morning with a fabulous breakfast at the hotel.(every type of food you would want. Everyone LOVED breakfast)
Mohammad was coming to pick us up to take us to the airport, but before that, he wanted to take us to a couple of restaurants to try some authentic Egyptian food. FOOD TOUR! I forgot to get the name of the restaurant!?!😬🤣 but we had a traditional Egyptian meal. Mohammad said most would eat this weekly. It was 3 types of pasta, ground beef, lentils, garbanzo beans, mixed with a tomato sauce and vinegar. Sounds super weird, but it was quite good. All of us loved it. The only problem was we were so full that by the second stop, none of us wanted to eat. We then headed off to the airport to Aswan. The Nile cruise (4 days) started in Aswan and ended in Luxor. Things went smoothly getting to the airport and through security. The only notable difference is that women had to be in one line and men in another (muslim country).
We landed in Aswan, made our way to the river boat. There were so many boats at the dock that we had to go through 3 boats before we boarded ours. High End Journeys who planned our itinerary made it very easy to check in, deliver our luggage etc…
The rest of the evening we settled in. Mohammad was joining us on the cruise as our personal guide. It was nice to have a rapport with the same person our entire trip. This is where Mohammad introduced most of us to Shawarma.
We stayed docked in Aswan, so in the morning we set off to see the Temple of Philae -Temple of Isis, on the island of Philae. We drove to a place where we took a motor boat over to the island. What a beautiful setting and a very well preserved temple. The temple is covered in ancient hieroglyphs. Philae is the last place hieroglyphs were written by ancient Egyptians (August 24, 394 AD). What makes Philae interesting is that it had an ancient Egyptian Temple, but then it was added on through the years by Greeks (Macedonian-Augustus and Tiberius both added decorations and the famous emperor Hadrian added a gate to the complex.) Greece took over this part of the world but to win over the people it was ruling, they adapted to their gods/culture. The other interesting fact is that Philae was built in the middle of the Nile 2000 years ago, but after years and years of the Nile flooding and the island often being covered with water, Egypt decided to move it to another island in the middle of the Nile that had higher ground. They took apart every building on the island and moved it to the new island to help preserve it. We saw the island it used to be on, there wasn’t much showing. What an incredible task!
Next, we took the motor boat back and did some shopping. We ended up at an essential oils shop. It was fun to see all the oils they offer and what they are used for. The ancient Egyptians used essential oils for the well being and medicinal purposes. They also demonstrated how they blow small glass vials to keep oils in.
After that, Mohammad arranged a Felucca ride (Egyptian Sailboat) down the Nile. It was wonderful. Very relaxing and a nice way to see more of our surroundings. The Felucca “driver” gave us tea and showed us the jewelry he sells. Most of us bought something to remember this. Then some kids came up to the boat on surfboards, singing french songs to us; Of course asking for money. They went from Felucca to Felucca singing for money.
We sailed to Elephantine Island (on the Nile) Where we explored and learned of the Nubian Culture (descendants of ancient African culture) and more ruins. It felt like we were in another country even though we were in the middle of the Nile! One treasure was we came upon a man weaving scarves on the loom. We all wanted to purchase the beautiful scarves. We finally headed back to the riverboat just before dinner to officially start our Nile Cruise. I’d say the best part of the river boat was the top deck! It was relaxing and had lots of places to lounge plus a small pool and hot tub. We just enjoyed the pleasant weather and the views.
We only cruised about 2 hours then made a stop at the Temple of Kom Ombo. Many of the ancient temples and sights are right along the Nile river. Kim Ombo is another temple (180 – 47 BCE). The temple is unique because it is a double temple-dedicated to 2 deities Sobek (Local crocodile-headed god) and Horus (falcon-headed god) This was deliberate to be double dedicated. It had 2 sets of courts, sanctuaries etc…This is also where many mummified crocodiles were found. Also notable are 2 different hieroglyphs, an ancient calendar and Surgical tools that were used.
We finished this very long day (New Years Eve) with on board entertainment. We were first introduced to Whirling Dervish. The guy was literally spinning over 7 minutes without stopping. Then we were entertained with Belly dancing. Logan and Halsey were good sports to dance with her. No one made it to midnight since the next morning was starting at 5:30 AM.
VERY early morning to visit Edfu Temple – Temple of Horus-falcon god head (237 BC and 57 BC). Met at 5:30AM on the dock and found our way to horse and small carriage rides to the temple.1 horse, a driver and 2 passengers. I kept thinking that we’ve done almost every mode of transportation possible on this trip. Walking, cars, bus, plane, motor boat, sail boat, river boat, and now horse and carriage. Just missing a tuk tuk ride (which we could have done but chose to do the carriages). It was nuts because it was so early in the morning yet there were tons of carriages out on the streets taking tourists to the Edfu temple. When we got there it was a mass of people waiting for the gates to open! The gate finally opened and we walked in to see this enormous entrance Pylon. It is one of the largest ones! What is unique about this temple is that it is considered the best preserve. There is still color on the carvings on the walls and ceiling. The reason it was preserved so well is that it was buried under 40 feet of sand and silt for about 1000 years. Restoration started in 1860 by the French.
We took our horse and buggy back to the boat and left, heading down the Nile to Luxor. This would be our final stop on the Nile cruise, except we spent 2 days here. It was only a couple of hours cruising before we docked at Luxor.
Once we docked in Luxor, we made our way to Karnak Temple. This was next to my favorite and the most impressive sights so far! So many things to see in Egypt and all impressive!
Karnak Temple/complex is a city of temples that was built over 2000 years and covered about 200 acres. The Hypostyle hall was so impressive with 134 HUGE columns of all sorts carved differently and another 12 Leven larger columns (80 ft high) lining the outer perimeter. At one point this area would have been covered with stone as a roof! A good way to explain what it looked like is a “forest of columns”.It is believed that Karnak temple is where all creation began and where Amun-Ra and the Egyptians interacted.
Before we went into the temple we walked down a road lined with ram headed sphinxes “Road of Rams”. The ram head sphinx is the symbol of the God Amun-Ra. These are actually 3,000 years old and this “road” you can walk from Karnak temple to Luxor temple. It’s lined with 1057 statues and the road is a little over 1 1/2 miles. This road was used to celebrate “obit day” and the king’s coronation day. The path is also called “way of God”
We explored Karnak until closing. Then we went to Luxor temple. It was dark when we came to Luxor, but they had the entire temple lit up.
Luxor temple was not built in adoration to a god or to a god figure of the kings and pharaohs. Luxor Temple was built in dedication to the rejuvenation of kingship. Many kings were crowned at the Temple of Luxor, including Alexander the Great. It was built by 3 Pharaohs during the “New Kingdom” era, most famously finished by Rameses II. HE had the two huge statues erected at the entrance and the matching obelisks, but only one remains in place; the other has been at the Place de la Concorde in Paris since 1836 (Cleopatra’s needle). When the Romans took power in 284-305 AD they built a fort around the temple then they plastered and painted frescos. At the rear, you’ll find the Alexander the Great chapel, complete with frescoes of the king dressed as a Pharaoh. Luxor has always been a sacred site. There was even an older temple that Luxor was built upon. The original temple was buried beneath the streets. There is also a monastery and a mosque built in Luxor. This shows the different powers over the centuries and the importance of it.
We went back to the boat for our last night. The next day would be our last day exploring Egypt.
Our final day! It has gone way too fast. There is so much to see in Egypt, and I wish we could have made it down the Nile to Alexandria. Regardless, we will have to enjoy our last day. We slept in port, so we could leave whenever. We packed up, suitcases were taken to our van for the day. This was the first time I actually saw the river boat we were on. Every time we had docked it was sandwiched between other boats. I can’t believe we finally saw what the boat looked like on the outside.
We were heading first to the Valley of the Kings (royal tombs) which is considered a royal cemetery to ancient kings, queens, rulers and pharaohs, 63 tombs have been discovered so far but its believed to be more. Only the rulers were buried in the Valley of the Kings within their own tombs but other royal family members were buried in small rock chambers near the king’s tomb. Entrances to these tombs were hidden to keep the treasures buried with the kings and queens safe from grave robbers. It was common knowledge that the kings were buried with precious gold and other treasures. They believed that they would need them in their next life. These new graves were deep and had long corridors. Extra shafts were intentionally dug to confuse tomb raiders. Inside the tombs were storage chambers where furniture, jewels and any other treasure were stored.
As we were driving to the Valley of the Kings, we saw tons of hot air balloons. It was such a cool thing to see. One activity that we could have done if time would have allowed it. We arrived at the Valley of the Kings and it was very inconspicuous. I guess that was another way to not show attention to the area, It was literally between the crevices of some large hills. We had tickets to go into 3 tombs. I know that they only allow a few tombs opened at a time to be visited. We of course went into King Tut’s tomb, where they actually had his mummy on display! I think the thing that was surprising was not only all the engravings in the stone walls each of the tombs had the amazing color that was applied to the carvings and how vibrant it was. In other funds you can see some colors still, but the tombs being protected definitely helped to preserve the colors. The carving would talk about the specific kings, family and the story of how to find their way to the afterlife with all their riches.
After the Valley of the Kings, we stopped at a shop that sold alabaster. They showed us how they carve out this heavy rock into light airy, even see through pieces, Vases, bowls, dishes etc…all sorts of times made of alabaster. It can be left in a natural state or carved and then polished to give it a luster.
We went onto our last visit/site before we would be flying out from Luxor back to Cairo. It was the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut. She was a self appointed queen after being “regent” when her son was too young to rule. Her reign was one of the most peaceful and prosperous in Egypt’s history. Successful trade and a good economy. The mortuary temple had to be designed to tell the story of her life and reign and surpass any other temple. The temple was built into the mountain of sandstone so it blended in as part of the mountain. It took 15 years to build. It’s considered one of the most impressive architectural achievements in the ancient world.
This was our last sight. Mohammad decided to take us for 1 more authentic Egyptian meal before taking us to the airport. It was quite the backdrop sitting on the terrace overlooking a farmers plowed field with 2 enormous Egyptian statues. The food was pretty good too! This pretty much summed up what Egypt is all about. It is so strange to be living in the modern day, and have such old ruins everywhere you look. It’s just the norm for them. Mohammad said that most people who even dig a bit in their land will find artifacts. He said it’s a problem because it’s so common the government can’t regulate it and lots of artifacts can be sold on the black market.
We said our goodbyes to Mohammad at the Luxor airport and headed back to Cairo. Kirollos would be meeting us at the Cairo airport. We arrived in Cairo about 4:30pm, but our flight back to Paris would leave until 2:20 AM!! High end journeys set up a “day room” at a hotel attached to the Cairo airport. We all could freshen up and even have a long nap before the flight back. It was so nice to have a place to relax since we had 8 hours. We had been going non-stop all week. I think we all were ready for a bit of a break. Side note, when we landed back in Paris, we had 1 more day there before we flew home. We brought it full circle when visiting the “missing obelisk” from Rameses II temple, Luxor Obelisk at Place de la Concorde. This was gifted from Egypt in 1833.So fitting to take a picture in front of each obelisk from the same temple in tow countries.
Take away…Egypt was definitely a bucket list trip. It was incredible to see and be immersed in history…ancient history. It really is unbelievable to see civilizations from thousands of years ago leave their legacy.If I could do it again, I’d make sure to spend a couple of weeks to see the rest of the temples, and ruins along the Nile.