Traveling in Egypt – Small Group Tours
There are places we find it easier and more enjoyable to travel on our own (maybe hiring a private guide for a tour or two). And then there are places where going as an organized group is better and a more enjoyable experience. Traveling in Egypt is one of those times where doing small group tours is better.
Egypt is one of those BIG Bucket List places, there’s so much to see and so much rich history. Had we done it on our own it, would’ve been more difficult and much more expensive. Small group tours while traveling in Egypt is the way to go.
Many Americans think it’s too dangerous a place right now and tourism from the US has declined. With the US dollar to the Egyptian pound at about 18 to 1, the high dollar value and tour price being lower, it’s a win win situation. So now is the best time to travel to Egypt!
But is it safe to travel to Egypt?
The short answer, yes! The people are wonderful, there’s a lot of security (more on that later) and tourism is on the rise. And there have been more terrorist attacks lately in popular European destinations. But you wouldn’t hesitate to go to Paris would you?
So why do we suggest going with a trusted travel company? And how do you choose? We went with a local Philadelphia based company- Divas, Passports & Stilettos in combination with The Sharpe Traveler. Della Beaver and Jennifer Sharpe are the owners. Both are black, female owned companies that specialize in individual to medium sized travel.
Through Divas, Passports & Stilettos they concentrate on women only travel. We worked with them to collect imagery through photos and video to show what their companies can offer. They built the perfect (but packed!) 10-day itinerary. 10 days was a good amount of time to see the most popular sites and get a good variety of city life, small towns and even river boat travel down the Nile River. Out schedule was filled with activities but there was time for people to be able to do their own thing as well.
So what are the advantages to traveling with a tour group in Egypt?
When there aren’t too many people in your group you can pretty much meet everyone’s needs (within reason). They can build an itinerary that suits what you as a traveler are interested in.
Travel by small van
It is best to travel by a van versus large tour bus so you aren’t waiting for 50+ people everywhere you want to go. We all fit in 1 van and that made getting places a lot easier. The traffic in Cario is bad enough to get around in a van, I can’t imagine in a big bus. For this trip there were eight of us. This was the perfect size to get around with our tour guides and driver.
Unless you speak Arabic (which no one in our group did) it’s a good idea to hire an English speaking guide. Without one, you will have a harder time getting around. In Cairo at the larger hotels you can find people who speak some English but you aren’t going to find that in smaller cities and less touristy areas.
You can fly to Cairo and hire guides to take you on day tours but it’s great to have someone else to arrange all that. With a small group tour, all you do is show up where and when you are told for that days pick up! We had our own van drivers that were with us and representatives from the Egyptian company, Nile Holiday that Jennifer and Della worked with.
They met us at the airport in Cairo and Aswan, took us back to the airports and did all the hotel check-in for us. They also had our tour tickets and helped us if we wanted to go anywhere on her own. And they moved us through the crowds of vendors and gave ideas on how to haggle even!
If you want to learn about where you are traveling, it is great to have someone who knows the significance of what you’re seeing. There is so much interesting ancient history in Egypt that actually relates to things we still do today. Sometimes it was a bit of info overload especially in the heat. But if you are on your own you wouldn’t learn nearly as much. Talk to your guide and let him know exactly what kinds of information you are interested in.
Someone who knows the lay of the land
It is great to have someone to navigate and help you get around, bargain for the best prices (you are expected to haggle a lot in Egypt) pointing out places you may want to explore on your own and how to do it and always keep a supply on those hot days with plenty of water and snacks. Bet you didn’t know there were chicken and kabob flavored Doritos lol!
There is also somebody always available to help handle any emergencies. They can always send somebody to a pharmacy or store to get any supplies you may need.
Advice on tipping
One of the most helpful things our guide did was tells when our tips were already included and if they weren’t how much was the standard to give. Remember when you do tours, there’s all kinds of fun activities you can add such as a hot air balloon or riding a camel at the great pyramid. But there are lots of different people that need tipping. And we always added a bit to the suggested amount. When you see people living with so little what is an extra dollar or two?
We always felt safe because we had a local tour guide and at times even had a armed security guard with us. There is a lot more police and heavily armed military and checkpoints than we are used to in the United States. This is all to make the country safer for locals and tourists alike.
Also all our hotels had a checkpoint to allow the van to be searched with bomb sniffing dogs. At our hotel in Cairo (the Kempinski Nile) and Giza (the Marriott Mena house hotel) you would walk through metal detectors to get in.
The amount of security at the airport for our flight back to New York was intense, so many extra checkpoints to go through. Again all this is to make sure everyone is as safe as possible. Like I mentioned at certain locations an armed guards joined us. This was something that was just set up by the tour company in Egypt and is often standard for Americans.
It is very important to reiterate that at no time did we feel unsafe. Al and I walked around Giza at night by ourselves. And in Cairo as well as several stops we made on the Nile River cruise. We always like to get a flair for local life. We had some super fun adventures and made new friends.
A trip of a lifetime
We’re so happy to have had the opportunity to share traveling in Egypt with our readers. Stay tuned for our blog post on tips and pros and cons for traveling in Egypt as well as our itinerary with more photos and the video we’re producing for The Sharpe Traveler and Divas, Passports & Stilettos.