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Just Returned from Egypt: Info on Hotel, Visa, Optionals, Money, and More

14 Nov 2010 gator717 said

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I took the Egypt & the Nile tour from Oct. 29th to Nov. 8th so feel free to ask any questions you may have. I have posted some of this information on the various threads but I decided to compile it to one thread. I am currently working on my travel blog since I had no time to work on it during the trip! I have just completed the blog on day 1 and I still have 9 more days to write about.

I absolutely loved this tour and I think Contiki did a wonderful job in organizing the trip. I am someone who studies Ancient Egyptian history as well as the culture and religion of Egypt so I am rather familiar with the country. I think Contiki covered the main sites rather well and kept everyone, from the history buffs to those just going to get a glimpse of the main sites, quite happy and content. Since I am so obsessed about Egypt, a fellow tour mate and I are already planning a return trip but we plan on doing an indepth and extensive 2 week trip! Regarding your tour guide/manager Sherif, he is extremely knowledgeable and he did such a great job organizing the trip and making sure everyone was having a great time and making the most of their journey in Egypt. Sherif also went out of his way in helping you organize things like if you were interested in taking a trip to downtown Cairo for the evening or if you were interested in visiting sites not included on the tour.

Please let me know if you have any questions!!! Smiler

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Visas:

The visa was very easy to get at the airport and it cost $15 USD (you must pay in dollars not Egyptian pounds). When you arrive, first go to the two visa stations and then make the line for the passport verification station. After getting your passport verified and stamped, you'll move to the baggage claim area where the Contiki rep will be waiting for you. Just look for the bright Contiki sign and the rep should be wearing a suit. If you get the same guy, he is very sweet and he'll answer any questions you have on the ride to the hotel. There were a few tour mates in the airport transfer so I wasn't by myself.

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Victoria Hotel:

I found the Victoria Hotel to be a very decent, clean hotel! I spent two nights at the Victoria hotel and every thing I saw was clean. My sheets and the bath towels were super clean. The bathroom was stocked with plenty of toilet paper. The rooms were rather large and the beds were quite comfortable. The first night I had plenty of hot water but the other two days I had to wait a few minute for the water to heat up. The bathroom has a hair blow dryer which works really well. Actually, both the hotel and the cruise had blow dryers so I won't waste luggage space packing one. On this trip, I never used my power converter, just the plug adapter. My laptop, my phone charger, my camera charger, and my straightening iron are all set to be used between 110V and 240V therefore no need for the converter. If you check your chargers and a few of your electronics, you'll notice they can be used overseas without a converter. The hotel had two outlets and the cruise I believe had three. The hotel had a large lobby and a garden area where you can hang out with people.

Now the area around the hotel is not the best in Cairo but my tour mates and I did a lot of walking around the neighborhood and we never had any problems. We even took a long walk at night! There is a Mobil Gas Station with a convenience store, called On The Run, where you can buy all sorts of American snacks, water bottles, and other items you might need for the trip. I didn't stock up on water bottles because every morning Contiki gave us a large bottle (The week I was there, 10/29 to 11/7, it was rather cool in Egypt. We only had one warm day!). Across from the gas station was a great falafel shop were a bunch of my tour mates and I feasted on really inexpensive but delicious falafel sandwiches. Also, grabbing a taxi from the hotel to downtown Cairo was pretty easy and a few of my tour mates headed there to go bowling, shopping, and to eat at "American" restaurants.

There is no WiFi in the hotel or cruise but they do have computers and you could purchase internet access for thirty minutes at a time. I don't remember the rates since I had my BlackBerry with an international plan and used that to access the internet and contact my family and friends. I did bring my mini laptop but I just used that to upload and back up my pictures every night.

As for the breakfast provided at the hotel, it was a pretty good breakfast. They had a selection of breads, cheeses, eggs, and juice. They also had coffee and tea.


Another note, you can exchange currency at the hotel for a very good rate!

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Optional Tours:


Below is a list of the optional tours and I am sorry if I can't remember the prices at the moment. I have the prices listed on a paper that is somewhere in my luggage (yes I arrived a week ago and I still haven't unpacked!!). Also, a few of the optional tours were paid together so I don't have the individual prices.

On the first night, you pay for the Abu Simbel tour, the Light & Sound Show, and the mandatory $25 tip. I paid for this in US dollars and it totaled $317 with the Abu Simbel being the most expensive at $260 something dollars. Everyone on the tour did Abu Simbel and it was worth every penny. As someone who studies Ancient Egyptian history and plans on traveling to Egypt a few more times, this is a definite highlight and one of the most amazing sites in Egypt. In my humble opinion, I find the Temple of Ramses II and Queen Nefertari at Abu Simbel to be more impressive than the pyramids. It is just not the temples themselves but the story of how they were moved to higher ground when the Aswan High Dam was built and Lake Nasser was created. One of the reasons the tour is a bit expensive is that you need to fly from Aswan to Abu Simbel so the price includes the round trip airfare. Regarding the Light & Sound Show, 29 out of 36 tour mates did this optional show. I found the light portion of the show to be amazing since it was definitely great to see the Pyramids and the Sphinx all lit up in different colors. The narration is a bit cheesy but we all got a good laugh and it provides for some good memories. Everyone who went did not have any regrets since again, seeing the Pyramids all lit up is amazing. The $25 tip covers the tip given to the bus drivers, Nile Cruise managers, those who handle our luggage, etc. This does not cover the tip for the tour manager (please see note below regarding this).

On the second day, the optional tours were the Mummy Room at the Egyptian Museum of Antiquities (100 LE), the camel caravan by the pyramids, the official group picture, and an Egyptian lunch. I'm not quite sure how many visited the mummy room but those that did enjoyed the visit and at times got a good scare. You get to see the mummies of various pharaohs (Ramses II, Ramses III, Amenhotep III and a lot more) but these mummies are not wrapped up!! You can see their hair, eye lashes, nails, and with one mummy you can see his eyes!!! The ticket also covers the mummy animal room where you'll see various animals like dogs, cats, and goats mummified. This optional tour you pay it at the museum if you are interested in visiting the mummy room. I paid $31 US dollars for the camel caravan, the group photo, and the Egyptian lunch. For the camel caravan, you get to ride a camel out to the dessert and take some amazing, unobstructed pictures of the pyramids including a picture of when the three pyramids line up. Everyone did this tour and while a few were a bit scared, no one fell off! As for the group picture, I purchased it because I thought it was a nice memory but not everyone purchased it. I look at it now and I laugh at how happy and well rested we all looked that first day!! (You don't sleep much on this trip!!) As for the Egyptian lunch, we all paid for it because that night was the train ride and the food on the train is not edible (Sherif your tour manager will advice you not to eat the train dinner, the train breakfast is ok to eat). Actually, the lunch was more like dinner since we ate at around 5:30pm. That first day, you are just go go go to make the most of your day and no one complained!! We were all so excited about the museum, pyramids, camels, and Sphinx that we didn't care about food. We munched on our snacks as the day went on and a few, like myself, forgot about food all together. Trust me, when you see the pyramids the last thing on your mind is food!!! The lunch/dinner was great with a lot of variety and great quantities: rice, pita bread (Egyptian pita bread is the best ever), veggies, falafel, fries, different meats (not sure what they were because I sat in the vegetarian people table), hummus, and a few other items.

Towards the end of the trip, another optional tour was the visit to a West Nile Village. Quite a few tour mates did this tour and we all found it to be very interesting. You have the option of riding a camel, donkey, or donkey cart through a village and you get to see first hand how people live. I found the visit to be a total eye opener at the poverty in Egypt and the condition people live in. Towards the end of the tour, we stopped at the house of one of the villagers where we were offered tea and bread while the owner of the house talked about life in Egypt. It was hard to believe the owner was a lawyer but had to work two jobs to make ends meet and his house was falling apart. We walked through the house and I was speechless. This tour was $20 US dollars.

A few other extras we paid for:

Inside a pyramid: You can pay 30 LE to enter the pyramid of Khafre, the second largest pyramid. None of the pyramids have anything inside but just being able to climb the interior ramp and be inside one of the burial chambers is quite amazing!!!

Pictures of the belly dancing night. I didn't purchase these pictures since so many of my tour mates took pictures of the group and throughout the night. You can find the pictures available for purchase at the cruise gift shop the morning after.

Picture of you on the camel/donkey/donkey cart for those that do the West Nile Village Tour. I bought this picture (I think I paid 10 LE which is about $1.74) because I did the donkey cart with two other tour mates and it was a nice memory.

Valley of the Kings, extra tombs. The tour includes a visit to three of the tombs at the Valley of the Kings. The tomb of Ramses VI is 50 LE extra and the tomb of King Tutankhamen is 100 LE extra. Being the Egypt freak I am, I purchased both and I was not disappointed. The tomb of Ramses VI was amazing because of the vaulted ceiling that resembled the Sistine Chapel. The ceiling was covered in beautiful paintings as was the whole tomb. It is amazing that the colors have survived for so many years!!! The interesting thing about King Tut's tomb is that you are amazed at how small it is (especially after you visit the museum in Cairo and you see everything they found in there) plus you can see the mummy of King Tut! A lot of tour mates did the King Tut but hardly any did Ramses VI. I highly suggest you visit it because the paintings and colors are amazing.

I think these are all the optional tours and optional things available! The hot air balloon rides are no longer available after a few accidents, i.e. balloons dropping to the ground. Sherif, the tour manager, said he can arrange the tours if interested but they are not offered or covered by Contiki. No one in my tour bothered or was interested in such a tour.

After your trip, if you have an extra day, Spring Tours, the parent company of Contiki in Egypt, arranges a day trip to Alexandria for $99 US dollars. There were 10 of us that had the extra day so we took this tour! The price included the round trip bus ride to Alexandria and the tickets for 5 sites. We left Cairo at around 6:30am and returned at around 6pm. The morning of the trip, breakfast is included, since the Contiki tour officially ends Saturday morning. The hotel prepared breakfast boxes with breads, cheeses, and an egg for us and we ate on the bus. Make sure you talk to Sherif about this because he will arrange the trip.

On another note, regarding the tip for Sherif, the tour guide/manager. Nothing was officially organized but we individually gave him tips. There is no set amount but you give what you feel is right. Some gave him $20 while others gave him $50, it depends on your personal preference. Sherif is beyond amazing in so many ways and he is what makes this trip. He goes out of his way to make sure everyone is enjoying the trip and everyone is making the most of their time in Egypt. If you are interested in seeing something or in doing something, he will arrange it so you can have the best time possible. He has an amazing personality and his love for Egypt is very contagious!

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Train:

I had heard so many horror stories of the train that quite honestly I was a tad worried. All I can say is that a lot of the stories are greatly exaggerated! While the rooms/cabins are small, I found the beds and room to be clean. I found no bugs, rats, etc in the room or anywhere in the train. It is a bit difficult to sleep in the train with all the rocking and braking but I managed to get a few hours of sleep on the two nights we were on the train. The bathrooms start of clean and get progressively worse throughout the night but I think that depends on who you have in your car. The bathrooms require some balancing because of the training rocking and moving around but if you have to go, you have to go! Just remember to bring your own toilet paper because sometimes there wasn't any. Also, the train has a club car and we had a great time partying there on both nights.

As for the food, Sherif warns you not to eat the dinner and no one from my group did! Before the first night on the train, you have a huge late lunch so that fills you up for the a while and then you can just munch on some snacks. Same for the second night on the train. The breakfast is not too bad; an assortment of breads, butter, cheese, and jam. Sherif told us not to eat the butter but I ate the breads without a problem.

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Cruise:

Ah the good life! The rooms and the boat overall were very, very nice. Comfortable, clean beds and hot water for the showers!! Also, the food on the cruise is plentiful with all meals being all you can eat. And there was a lot of variety!!! The cruise also has a pool but few used it on my tour since the water was rather cold. We actually had a lot of cool days during our tour and some mornings it was cold! If you are going to Egypt in November and December, pack some long sleeve shirts and a jacket. The cruise also has a gift shop with set prices so no haggling and a jewelry shop where you can buy a cartouche with your name written in hieroglyphs. I purchased a cartouche for myself, some scarves for my mom, an ankh for my brother, and some scarab beetles for my dad. They had tons of items in the gift shop which is where I purchased a lot of my souvenirs because I really didn't care for the haggling.

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During the tour, you stop at a perfume shop and a papyrus museum. At the perfume shop, you can purchase perfumes, essential oils, and handblown glass bottles. The owner of the shop gave us a talk and then we could purchase some items. I was quite annoyed because the sales people were really pushy and will not back away!! The papyrus museum was amazing and you can walk around at your own pace without have anyone bother you. A lot of us purchased a painting or two since they had a good selection and some beautiful works of art. Being the Egypt freak I am, I bought these two amazing papyrus paintings for a total of $115. Of course, one of the paintings I purchased was a rather large, limited edition work of Ramses II offering the goddess Hathor some lotus flowers. Both the perfume shop and the papyrus museum accept credit cards.

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That's all for now! Let me know if you have any questions!! Smiler
  • 28 Jan 2011 gator717 said

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    Hello everyone! I’m still here, just a bit confused about this new format.

    If you have any questions, visit my blog, http://gatorworldexplorer.blogspot.com/ .

  • 28 Jun 2011 deebz171 said

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    Thanks for all of the info. My husband and I are going on the Egypt tour -end of July. Besides the Victoria hotel what other hotels did you stay in? Can you tell me anything more about the hotel accommodations? Also did you visit Hurghada? Any additional info on hotels or Hurghada would be appreciated. Thanks!

  • 28 Jun 2011 Explorer1212572 said

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    Deebz,
    Gatorgirl did the tour before they changed it. So she did not go to hurghada. If you want info on the new tour go to the bottom of the April 2nd on this Egypt and the Nile forum. The hotel you stay in at Hurghada is the Triton Empire Hotel. Which tour are you and your husband going on? I’m on the July 29th one.

  • 26 Jul 2011 Astrid90 said

    Astrid90

    this is on my list of tours to do next april or may! can’t wait!!!!!! :D

  • 8 Aug 2011 Explorer1262227 said

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    What time did you land at the airport and do you know if the airport visa booths are open 24 hours?

  • 8 Aug 2011 ams_174 said

    ams_174

    @Explorer1262227 I arrived at 5am on a Friday and I had no troubles getting a visa

  • 27 Nov 2011 Explorer1320148 said

    Explorer1320148

    Thank you Gatorgirl, i enjoyed reading your blog. It has calm my nervous a bit. This is my first time going overseas alone. I am taking my tour January 13, 2012

  • 29 Nov 2011 Pete said

    Pete

    Hey guys,

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    We have online postcards from every continent that you can send via Facebook or email.
    No more stamps or coming home with unsent postcards. Just visit the nearest internet cafe. It’s in its infancy, and we’re trying to get the word out. So please check us out at ThePerfectPostcard.com before you go and spread the word.

    Happy travels.

    p.s. It’s all free.

  • 23 Dec 2011 catherine said

    catherine

    Wow, thank you for such a comprehensive overview. I leave tonight for this trip and I am so excited. My only issue is, as a woman, what clothes to take. How conservative must one dress? I understand no tank tops etc, but if I wear a dress to my knees and a cardigan, is this OK?
    Would knee length shorts be appropriate?

  • 23 Dec 2011 Explorer1212572 said

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    Catherine
    I went this past summer in scorching heat. The girls were in short shorts and tanks and no one bothered them when we were in the south. Cover up in Cairo and when you go to the market in Aswan. Sherif will remind you to cover up for the market in Aswan. Have fun!

  • 2 Jan 2012 Explorer1341142 said

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    extremely helpful, thank you

  • 1 Feb 2012 Ekta said

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    thanks for all the information…its very useful!
    i just had a question, i just read somewhere that i can take 5000 EGP into the country without having to declare, is that enough spending money for the 8 days?

    Thanks.

  • 5 Feb 2012 Big Dave said

    Big Dave

    Ive also done this trip. And I beleave this is a very good inturpritation of the entire trip. Thanks for writing and bringing back all the great times.

  • 3 Apr 2012 Airrie said

    Airrie

    I’m doing this trip in July and I was wondering what time on the last day does the trip end? I want to book a day trip for the last day and don’t know what time to book it for?

  • 10 Apr 2012 Ekta said

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    i just returned from the tour last week, and it pretty much ends on the friday night after dinner, because people have flights to catch on friday night or early saturday morning. So, we pretty much said our goodbye’s on friday night.

  • 12 Aug 2012 Marlene said

    Marlene

    I am doing the Egypt/Nile trip in November of this year (2012), and found this to be extraordinarily helpful. I think most of the things we are doing are the same as what you had on your trip in 2010. I wonder if we will have the same guide.

  • 13 Aug 2012 Dyntar said

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    Thank you for such a detailed review. So much helpful information. I start this trip in just under 4 weeks.
    I really appreciate the effort that has gone into you review.

  • 19 Dec 2012 Sara said

    Sara

    Hey gator :)
    I am thinking of doing the tour in May 2013. Could you please inform me of how much money I should budget for daily (excluding the extras as I already have them totalled up) for food etc. In USD will be fine, I am from Australia. If I just bring Egyptian pounds, will that be okay for paying for tours etc?
    thank you.

  • 26 Feb 2013 Dyntar said

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    Hi Sara
    Its difficult to say how much you will need daily. Depends on how much you want to spend in the markets.
    I wasn’t used to bartering to get the price down. Its just not something we are used to in Australia.
    I took a combination of US dollars and Egyptian pounds. There’s a few things that you’ll need Egyptian pounds for like a couple of meals in restaurants, buying bottles of water, souvenirs, food from stores before you go on the train and for tipping. I took about $30 in $1US notes for tipping. It might seem like a bundle of money but you end up having to tip for everything. $1US equals about 6Eyptian pounds. So a tip of $1-3 US is usual.
    I think I took a total of 1000 Egyptian pounds with me. Which was probably more than I needed.
    All of the optional tours and group photos are paid for on the first night. You pay in cash US$ for that.
    On the cruise you can pay by card for any drinks or soft drinks you order. You pay this on the last night of the cruise. There is also a souvenir shop and jewelers on board most of the ships.
    There is also a perfume factory/glass maker and papyrus museum visit. These places also take card.
    We also gave Sherif the guide tips at the end of the tour. He’s the regular guide on this tour. Sherif lets you know when and where you will need to take money. And when we will next find an ATM machine. He’s also great at pointing out where to take the best photos and helps to haggle for bargain prices in the market stalls.

    Hope that helps a bit.

  • 26 Feb 2013 anita said

    anita

    Hello! Thank you for all the details – I’m going to book up for April and can’t wait! How do you pay for all of the tours? Is it in USD cash or can you pay by credit/debit card? Thanks!

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