This last minute trip ended up being the trip of a lifetime.
We were supposed to head to Morocco for half-term break... but our trip was cancelled by the tour operator at the last minute and we had to punt FAST. We felt deflated because there were still a lot of Covid restrictions all over Europe and we weren't sure if we wanted to put in the effort. We ALSO wanted to go somewhere warm... and no where in Europe was fulfilling that criterion.
"What if we just go to Egypt? We just do it. Make it happen!" We checked flights... they were reasonable. We checked Covid restrictions... we could get in. We checked activities and accommodations... they still had availability. "We're doing this."
I will preface this by saying we went fast and furious, but I don't regret anything about this itinerary. We had nine days to spare and we PACKED. IT. IN.
Transportation- We took an Egypt Air from London to Cairo. It was a direct flight and perfect for our needs. We landed and had plans to take an Uber to our hotel- but Ubers aren't allowed into the Arrivals area and we were directed to a parking lot to find the Uber. Needless to say, after several attempts and an hour later, we never found our Uber. We ended up taking a taxi- which are more expensive than Uber drivers. NEGOTIATE YOUR PRICE up front or they will try and gouge you a little bit. They'll also ask for a tip. Be very clear on how much you're paying.
**Quick warning- driving in Cairo is insane. After our experience there, I would highly recommend not renting a car. It was the craziest driving I've ever seen in my life. A few (many) things we remember...
Cars going wrong direction
OUR car going the wrong direction
Small baby sandwiched between parents on a motorcycle
Bus driver hanging out the door while driving
Horse cart U-turning in front of us
Guy selling food in the middle of a five "lane" lane motorway with actually ELEVEN lanes of traffic in it!
U-turn lane under construction so we drove across the median
Completely surrounded by pedestrians coming out of Giza
Little kids riding horses
No pedestrian crosswalks - people crossing EVERYWHERE darting between traffic
One of our drivers said " You need to know three things for driving in Cairo - good brakes, good horn, and GOOD LUCK!"
No seatbelts in most cars
Drivers texting and calling while driving
Literally no traffic lights. Ever. If they want you to slow down they throw in a speed bump.
It was nuts.
We got to our hotel and had the most amazing view for dinner!
Accommodations- Our hotel was very bare bones and bordered on hostel accommodations, but you can't get a better view of the pyramids for the price. It's very cheap, breakfast is included, and you wake up to this view. Linking the hotel here. This hotel has free pickup from the airport if you're staying three nights or more, which we didn't know until too late. We tried to get them to give us the return transfer for free, but it is only for the arrival transfer.
Note- This hotel is in Giza. Some people do not prefer to stay in Giza because it is a little more raw and real than Cairo. We didn't ever venture out on our own, but always felt safe.
Great Pyramids of Giza- I would recommend booking a tour guide to the pyramids. They know exactly what lines to get into, who to pay, and who to pay off! Our guide was always slipping people money and we weren't sure why. Totally shady. They know their way around and if you're with a guide then you are harassed less by vendors. We booked our guide through Airbnb experiences. I am not linking him here because I don't think he was great. He was able to get us from Point A to Point B, but he wasn't very knowledgable about anything we asked. He was, however, able to get us a camel ride around the pyramids- which was incredible. If you don't have a tour guide, I have heard that haggling for a camel ride is really arduous and time consuming.
I would recommed getting to the pyramids as soon as they open because they do get VERY crowded as the day progresses.
Saqqara Pyramid- Did you know that there are more pyramids to see in the Cairo area? Neither did we! The 4,700-year-old step pyramid, built in the 27th century B.C. for third dynasty pharaoh Djoser, is deemed the oldest stone structure of its size in the world. This pyramid was VERY cool and we would have loved to learn more, but our tour guide really didn't know very much. Again- hire a tour guide that is a certified Egyptologist. What we liked about the Saqqara Pyramid is that you could go inside and actually view one of the burial chambers.
The Egyptian Museum- This museum is a classic. It is everything you'd expect in a museum in Egypt. It is full of mummies and stuffed with artifacts of things that have been found all over Egypt. Don't expect there to be very many plaques saying what things are! We had to use our imagination for a lot of things. You CAN bring your own tour guide into the museum OR outside the museum there will be a lot of tour guides saying you can't go in without one. They're lying. You CAN go in without a tour guide. We actually liked being by ourselves exploring all the nooks and crannies of this interesting place.
Note- A lot of the museum collection is being moved over to a new building closer to the pyramids. However, when we went the Tutankhamun exhibit still remained at this location.
National Museum of Egyptian Civilization- This museum now houses the "mummies hall" which used to be kept at the museum above. We went to this museum specifically for this collection, and it didn't disappoint. It was mind blowing to see these pharaohs who were thousands of years old with skin still attached to their bones and hair still attached to their heads. Incredible. Our seven year old got kind of spooked out by the end, but the adults loved it. No photos are allowed inside of the mummies.
We spent two full days in Cairo and felt like we had a good amount of time to see what we wanted to see.
Although we wouldn't recommend our guide, I did receive a personal recommendation (after our trip) from a friend who used this tour guide and LOVED him. She said he arranged their transfers and all their tours in Cairo and was very family friendly: Hany Mahmoud, +20 1003887814, contact via What's App.
Travel Tip- It is VERY common in Egypt for tour guides, taxi drivers,
and generally anyone in the hospitality industry to contact you via Whats App.
It felt very shady at first... but we soon realized this is really how
everyone does business.
Transportation- We flew from Cairo to Aswan early one morning. This was the quickest and most direct way to get to the southern part of the country. We had the most incredible tour guide and will link their website here. They arranged all our transfers, tours in Aswan and to Abu Simbel and were so friendly and kind.
Accommodations- This hotel was much nicer than Cairo and would 100% recommend to anyone traveling: Tolip Aswan Hotel. We had a spacious bathroom and room with a view over the Nile River. The sunsets were incredible. One thing we did regret- is that this pool was not heated. We came in February and the pool was still very cold. We wanted to swim but unfortunately couldn't bear the cold! This hotel also had a playground and a bowling alley. It was perfect for a family stay.
Aswan High Dam- A modern engineering marvel! This stop was very much appreciated by the engineer in the family. Our tour guide told us the history of the dam, of the Nile River, of the Nubian communities and so much more.
Philae Temple- This place blew our minds. I feel like I say that a lot in this country. Well... it's just all so incredible. Due to the damming of the Nile River and rising water levels, this temple was submerged for nearly fifty years. Egypt launched an international appeal to UNESCO to save the temple and so excavation began. They built a barrier around the temple, drained it, cut it into 47,000 pieces and moved it to a higher island. Just wow! Our tour guide taught us all about the symbols used in the temples and was full of knowledge about the Egyptian Gods and history.
Unfinished Obelisk- We were kind of skeptical about this stop on our itinerary but it ended up being a place we found fascinating. Lying in a bed of granite in Aswan, is an obelisk that was never finished.It would have measured about 42 meters if completed and is estimated to weigh around 1,200 tons. It's thought that the female pharaoh Hatshepsut commissioned the work during the 18th dynasty, more than 3,500 years ago.
Abu Simbel- One of the reasons for flying all the way down to Aswan was to be able to see the famous temple of Abu Simbel. It is quite a long day trip from Aswan with three hours in the car each way BUT it was the highlight of our trip. It was made even MORE fun by reading Agatha Christie's book "Murder on the Nile" as we toured Aswan and Abu Simbel- which is where the book takes place. Abu Simbel is remarkable because it was also submerged under water when the dams were built on the Nile. They also moved this temple to a cliff directly above where it was submerged. We really couldn't fathom the engineering feat this was.
Although this was kind of far out of the way- it was a highlight of the trip.
Travel Tip- All our tour guides were very gracious with giving us water. They know that their local water does *weird* things to the tourists stomachs and so they provided us with bottled water wherever we went.
Transportation- Some may think we are crazy but we took the train from Aswan to Luxor. It was an experience and a half! We got early to the train station but things were still very chaotic as we tried to find the right train and cabin to sit in. I would recommend pre-booking your train tickets online so you can just hop on the train you need without having to wait in line to purchase tickets. Once on, we had trouble finding our seats because the numbering isn't intuitive and a lot of the numbers are rubbed off. In the end, we had a nice person help us out as they could see we were CLEARLY not local. There were lots of people roaming the train selling stuff and lots of police on the train chasing them down. It was entertaining to say the least! After arriving into Luxor, we could have walked to our hotel but with all our baggage we opted for a taxi.
Accommodations- This hotel was a great location and also very clean: Iberotel Luxor. Breakfast was provided and they are accustomed to packing breakfast boxes to go due to early tours. It was also situated right on the Nile with a view of the river. Again, the pool area was lovely but not heated which made it too cold for swimming. It was within walking distance to Luxor Temple complex.
Luxor McDonalds- Would it be a trip with the Brames without a meal at McDonalds? This one has a great view. If you're getting hangry and need a quick meal- I would recommend eating at the McDonald's in Luxor because it overlooks the Luxor Temple. Sweet!
Luxor Temple Complex- There are really no words to describe the awe that we felt when contemplating all that the Egyptian civilization accomplished. They were architects, engineers, scientists, astrologists, doctors, philosophers and more. We wandered around Luxor without a tour guide- which is how we wanted it. Tour guides are really great for gathering information, but sometimes it is a little too much for our kiddo. We loved wandering around and having a rest at our own speed.
Karnak Temple Complex- From Luxor, you can walk along the "Avenue of the Sphinxes" for about a mile to reach Karnak. Karnak was MASSIVE. The temple complex just kept going and going and going. We kind of wish we had a tour guide for this location so they could show us all the highlights. We walked around for several hours and still didn't see it all, but had a very tired kid on our hands.
West Bank Tour- Our second day in Luxor we booked this full-day tour with "Get Your Guide" which sources local guides and puts them into an easy booking format. A "West Bank Tour" of Luxor typically includes Valley of the Kings and Temple Hatshepsut.
East Bank tours typically include Luxor and Karnak. What we liked about this tour provider is that we could add on extras like the "hot air balloon ride" and "entrance to King Tut's tomb"... WHICH I would highly recommend. The hot air balloon ride was MY favorite thing and King Tut's tomb was my daughter's favorite thing from the entire trip.
I mean... these views, right?
It was an incredible experience.
Travel Tip- Most of our hotels had free breakfasts and cheap room service menus. We found this extremely helpful when traveling with kids!
Transportation- We wanted to experience some beach life on the Red Sea, so we ended our time in Egypt on the coast. We chose Hurghada because it was the closest resort town to Luxor. We took a "Go Bus" and in true Egypt fashion- was an experience! We felt safe and the bus was clean- but it was also very crowded and the seats were small with little leg room. Apparently there are different levels of buses that you can choose with more luxuries- but the one we chose felt tight.
Accommodation- This place truly felt like we were in a gated community in Florida: Azzura- Sahl Hasheesh. It was very new, lots of pools, overlooked the ocean, and were all self-catering. Again, the pools were not heated and it was just a little too cold for us to swim. But you betcha we lounged in the sun and dipped our toes in.
Hurghada, and more specifically- Sahl Hasheesh- had a true resort town feel. It was gated and it was really only for tourists. It is a very popular destination for Russian tourists and shop owners kept trying to speak Russian with us. The water is incredibly clear and beautiful- perfect for snorkeling. We found the main pedestrian street to be full of great shops and restaurants. We spent two days here enjoying the sun before we had to head home.