Salam! Where do I even begin...
Let's start with the BEST tour guide ever, Sherif Aboelwafa, who is a local Egyptian passionate about his country and truly loves what he does. You hear his enthusiasm through his voice when he teaches you about the rich history and stories about ancient Egypt. The best part is that he very comical and makes it fun to learn because he engages you and paints a picture in your mind about what happened in ancient Egypt. He is highly educated and knows everything about Egypt.
Not only does he know everything... he knows everybody! He has 20+ years experience doing tours and has built a strong reputation for himself and for Contiki. Everywhere we went, everybody respected him and knew who he was. This makes traveling a whole lot more comfortable and makes the experience feel more local. For example, we wanted to get Egyptian art on papyrus paper so he took us to the best authentic art studio to get it. We wanted to get the best Egyptian cotton, a simple phone call and the shop could send someone to our hotel. We wanted fine Egyptian engravings on jewelry, he phoned a friend to have it made and delivered. We asked him where the best place to spend New Years Eve was and he got us into a hip local hot spot with our own table including food & drinks. This is what I call going out of your way to please! Finally, when shopping at the street vendors he tells you exactly how much things should cost and he will teach you how to negotiate! With Sherif being so well connected, it made the trip incredible and we were able to get the best local memories to bring home!
Sherif manages the tour very well. Luckily for us our tour was small and only had 18 people but there were other tours going on at the same time. He realizes this and makes sure we get to certain historical sites early to beat the rush so we are able to get the best pictures and experience. This means waking up before sunrise but always well worth it! He takes you to the best locations at the sites where no other tours goes and teaches you about the rich history by the animation in his body language, the enthusiasm through his voice, and depicting the well preserved Egyptian art. He also always tells you exactly where the best places to takes pictures are by telling you where to stand, at what angle, at what time of day, with or without flash, etc. Amazing!
Enough about the best tour guide ever. Let's talk about the trip and visiting Egypt. One word: Breathtaking! People were telling me I was crazy wanting to visit Egypt after the revolution and the up rise in protests and the violence that has taken place. The worst thing about traveling is the feeling of not being safe. You will NOT have this problem whatsoever because all the sites you go to are away from the protest mostly at Tahrir Square. Sherif and crew really makes you feel safe. They tell you where to walk/travel and where not to go.
You'll hear Sherif saying that there are different "highlights" of the trip. But essentially, the entire trip was a highlight! Every place we went was mind-blowing. To see how this ancient civilization lived through their art, temples, statues, tombs, obelisks, pyramids, etc. was fascinating. I've been to Greece and Italy to see the Greek and Roman ruins but what sets Egypt apart... preservation! You still see the COLOR in the art! In some instances it looks like someone just painted it yesterday even though what you're looking at is 3000 years old! All in all, every single "highlight" we went to was well worth it so definitely purchase all the optional excursions because… how often will you get go to Egypt?
The tour is short but the amount of things you do seems endless. You take all modes of transportation from taxi, bus, train, cruise ship, felucca boat, airplane, horse buggy and even a camel! There are things to do for everyone from shopping, to sightseeing, to camel riding, to feasting, to nightlife, to smoking hookah, to relaxing, to swimming, to snorkeling, and even to dress up in Egyptian attire! You must try Falafel (deep fried balls of ground chick-peas and fava beans) and Koshery (classic Egyptian dish). As for the accommodation, the first hotel (Victoria Hotel) is in the heart of downtown Cairo in close proximity to 26 of July Street where restaurants and shops are. It is an older hotel and a bit dirty but sleep able. The overnight train was tons of fun because we stayed up all night but the rooms and bed was teenie weenie (avoid eating the train food). The cruise ship was a nice upgrade with comfortable beds and clean bathrooms. Finally, the Safir Hotel in Hurghada was very clean and has it's own private beach! All in all, I was very pleased with the accommodation, the food, and all the crew was very nice and helpful!
One of the best parts of the trip... was meeting fellow travelers from all over the world! Making friends was refreshing because everyone I met was awesome. Even though it's a short tour you really get to know your new friends. I can honestly say that I will stay in touch with all the people I’ve met on the trip! That's how amazing they are. One person on the tour was someone I've met a year prior on my trip to Greece! Small world! It was wonderful building a bond with others and being able to freely laugh and enjoy each others company. I loved spending every minute with them from telling funny stories at the dinner table, saying "whoa" together while Sherif shows us a masterpiece, playing bowling in the train, relaxing together on the top deck of the cruise, dancing the night away at a local club, sharing to someone that Rosetta Stone is really a stone to decipher Egyptian hieroglyphs, so on and so forth. An experience becomes an experience because of the people you're with!
I close this long review by saying, GO TO EGYPT! Take the Contiki Tour because they take you to all the best Ancient Egyptian ruins and you’ll have nothing but FUN! Sherif is simply the best at what he does and he will ensure you learn about Egypt while having a blast and keeping you safe! Finally, go with an open mind because you’ll build some lasting friendships! It’s been just over a week since I’ve returned home but everyday I’ve thought about how special my experience in Egypt was!
One last thing, if possible go one day ahead so you can explore the city yourself. I went to the Citadel (famous Islamic fortification and mosque) and the Cairo Bazaar for street shopping. The extra day at the end, 8 of us and Sherif (another reason why he's the best b/c he spent his off-day Saturday touring with us), traveled 2.5 hrs north to Alexandria and it is a whole different world compared to Cairo, Aswan, and Hurghada. Being at the mediterranean you feel, see, and taste the mediterranean influence. Simply Beautiful and well worth it!