Welcome to part 2 of my review of Trafalgar’s Best of Egypt from late 2018. Here’s a link to part 1 if you missed it.
Day 5: Aswan & Island of Philae. The highlight of Day 5 was seeing the Temple of Isis on the island of Philae which required a short motorboat ride on the Nile river north of the Aswan dam. In the 1960s, this temple was disassembled and moved to higher ground from its original location due to flooding issues. Other than the external appearance and the fact that it’s on an island, close up this temple looks very similar to many of the other ones we saw, however there is a unique structure inside that our guide called the Music Building that has hieroglyphs of people playing various musical instruments such as a harp, a guitar of some sort, and a hand drum.
Other things we saw on this day were the Unfinished Obelisk, Aswan dam, and the botanical gardens on Kitchener’s Island – all places that were great to kill some time during the day but overall pretty meh. There was also an optional excursion to visit a traditional Nubian village, but we skipped it. From what it sounded like from the people who did go, we didn’t miss much. It was ridiculously hot that day as well, so cooling off back at the boat was a good choice.
This evening there was a show on the cruise ship featuring a belly dancer and a whirling dervish. I’d seen plenty of belly dancers over the course of my life, but never even heard of a whirling dervish until this trip–both were interesting to watch while we kicked back and enjoyed some of the local Egyptian beer.
Day 6: Abu Simbel. This day for me is tied with the Pyramids day for the most awesome day of the tour. We woke up, ate a huge breakfast on our final meal on the cruise ship, and made our way to the airport for a very short flight to Abu Simbel airport. Below is a photo of Abu Simbel if you’ve never seen it before (I didn’t know much about the place before our trip).
Magnificent right? This actually isn’t the original location of this temple. That place is now underwater. In the 1960’s the entire temple was disassembled and moved, piece by piece, to its current location. Pretty amazing the job they did.
Visiting Abu Simbel is an optional excursion on this and I believe every Trafalgar tour that goes to Egypt. This would be one of my very few gripes about this tour; there is no way that Abu Simbel should be an optional activity. I can’t imagine any situation other than profound illness where any sane person would go through all the effort to visit Egypt but not want to go here. Just include it in the standard tour and adjust the price accordingly.
One other minor issue with Abu Simbel is that most tours don’t give you very much time at the site. From the time the shuttle bus dropped us off to when we had to leave was about an hour and 15 minutes. I could have easily spent 3 hours there, so it did feel rushed. This isn’t the fault of the tour company though – there are only a certain number of flights each day in and out of Abu Simbel from Aswan, and the flights are unfortunately just scheduled that way. There are some hotels nearby, so if you were going on your own you could stay overnight if you wanted to, but spending an entire day there seems unnecessary for most normal people since that’s the only site in the area.
There are two temples, the Great Temple and the Small Temple. Both are awesome, so don’t short change yourself by spending all your time in the Great Temple. I actually liked the smaller one a bit more than its larger sibling.
This is another place where photos aren’t allowed inside the temples unless you buy a photography pass. I bought one and would recommend it. There’s a lot of great stuff inside that you’ll want to take pictures of. Same as the other tourist sites, there are lots of locals loitering trying to scam you into giving them money, so do not give your camera or your photography pass to anyone you don’t already know. One guy tried to steal my photography pass out of my hand, and I had to summon all the control in me to not punch that jackass in the face. Be careful and watch your stuff.
After our time here, we took a series of short flights back to Cairo, got on a big bus, and headed to our hotel where we’d be for the next 3 nights: the Ramses Hilton. It’s conveniently located across the street from the Egyptian Museum (which will be moving to a new location in less than a year) and just like the first Cairo hotel, it’s gigantic and has a number of shops and good restaurants inside.
Day 7: Cairo sightseeing. The day began with visits to several mosques and churches. I’m not going to go into this in any detail because I don’t get much out of visiting religious sites – it all looks the same to me.
The Egyptian museum was next up. Lots of really great stuff to see in there. This is another place where photos aren’t allowed without paying for a photography pass, but it’s the one time during the tour where I didn’t bother to purchase one. The pass is only $3, but it’s cheap for a reason. The really cool stuff that you’d want pictures of is in the room with all of Tutankhamun’s tomb contents including his famous death mask, but even with the photography pass you cannot take any pictures in there. I took advantage of the opportunity to put my camera away and simply immerse myself in the moment. Our guide had all kinds of interesting stories about the various artifacts inside the museum, and we had a good time walking around and looking all the four thousand year old relics.
Day 8: Pyramids. So many great sights on this day. We visited 3 complexes: Giza, Memphis, and Sakkara. The last two are compact and don’t require much explanation, so I’ll focus my attention on Giza. A few weeks before the start of the trip, I considered planning some extra time at the pyramids on our first free day because I was concerned we might not get enough time to roam around there during our official visit. I ended up not doing that, and it turned out not to be necessary. I think we spent around 3 hours inside the Giza complex, which for most normal people is plenty of time to see everything.
Instead of having to walk around the complex, the Trafalgar bus dropped us off at all the major sightseeing areas to maximize our time at each place. The bulk of our time was spent in front of the Pyramid of Khufu (the big one). For people who are interested, you can pay extra to go inside the pyramid. Mrs Lite did this, but I wanted to spend more time checking out the exterior, so I opted out. I did briefly go inside one of the much smaller pyramids off to the side – no charge for that one – but had to turn around halfway because it was so hot and stuffy down there, and there were too many people. Made me feel nauseous. Lots of great pictures to be had here, and your tour guide should be able to point out all the good spots.
Panorama point is where you’ll go to get a great scenic view of all the pyramids with Cairo in the background. There are also camel rides in this area if you want to do a quick 10 minute camel ride. We did one and thoroughly enjoyed it. 10 minutes is definitely long enough though.
The last stop in the complex was the Great Sphinx of Giza. You can really tell how much they value this structure because tourists can’t get anywhere close to it, which I was extremely happy to see considering how old it is and the ingenious stupidity of the average human being when it comes to destroying valuable things (like this worthless nutsack). The sphinx is a lot bigger than what I imagined it to be.
Day 9: We had to catch a 12:30 AM shuttle to the airport for a super early 4:30 AM flight. Exhausting. It was the right choice leaving on this day though; I thought about scheduling us an extra night in Cairo, but we would have had to wake up at the same time the following day anyway, and I’d rather have an extra day at home recovering from all the travel.
Overall, Trafalgar did a great job putting together this tour, and it was totally worth the money. Trafalgar is generally more expensive than most other tour companies, but once you begin the vacation, you’ll see exactly where the extra money goes. Everything from the hotels to the food, and especially the tour guide, was better than what we typically got with other operators. Apart from this specific tour, I really enjoyed the relative lack of visitors compared to what it was like pre-revolution. There wasn’t any place where I felt it was too crowded, and in the Valley of the Kings we even had the entire tomb of Tutankhamun to ourselves for the whole 20 minutes we were down there. And despite what you might hear on the news from time to time, safety was never an issue. If Egypt is on your bucket list, I’d advise going now before the tourist numbers inevitably start going up again. Highly recommended for anyone wanting to experience this wonderful part of the world.