A first timer’s travel guide to visiting Egypt


Thinking about planning a holiday to Egypt? This handy travel guide runs you through the entire experience – through the eyes of a first time traveller.

Egypt has always been a destination I wanted to visit, and when I had the chance to experience the beauty of this historically-rich country with Encounters Travel in January 2018.

I tried their 9-day Discover Egypt small group tour, which included covered Cairo and the Nile Valley as well as the Red Sea at Hurghada.

Arriving in Egypt

I travelled to Egypt from Cape Town, South Africa and arrived at Cairo International Airport at the early hours of morning. Waiting for me on arrival was an Encounters Travel tour leader called Khalifa, who helped collect my bags and make the process of getting out the airport that much quicker.

It wasn’t long until we reached the car, and Khalifa gave me a brief rundown on what to expect over the next few days. I was also given a welcome pack with an Encounters Travel T-shirt, the tour itinerary as well as general information such as fun country facts, currency rates and a list of contact numbers to call should the need arise.

Sightseeing in Egypt

I got my very first glimpse of the Pyramids the moment I woke up and stepped onto the balcony of my room at the Le Meridien Pyramids in Cairo. The hotel is world class, the staff are friendly and the services, amenities and entertainment are outstanding – it’s no wonder Encounters Travel uses it as the very first hotel of their Discover Egypt tour.

The tour itself took me to the majority of Egypt’s top attractions. Here’s a list of what I saw:

  • The towering Great Pyramids and its guardian – the Great Sphinx of Giza
  • The massive Egyptian Museum which houses an uncountable amount of Egyptian artefacts. In fact, I was told that they’re building an even bigger museum, which will hold more remnants from Egyptian history – a good reason to plan my next Egypt holiday!
  • The island Philae Temple – which we travelled to via a boat on the stretching Nile River
  • The Kom Ombo Temple and the Edfu Temple
  • The impressive Abu Simbel Temples – an optional addition to Encounters Travel’s Discover Egypt tour, but definitely worth the visit. Get in-depth insight into my Abu Simbel visit here.
  • The Karnak Temple in Luxor – we visited it at night and the light bouncing off the walls were such a spectacular sight.
  • The Red Sea – we stayed at a luxurious all-inclusive resort in Hurghada
  • The busy Khan-el-Khalili Bazaar

I also managed to try a hot air balloon ride over the West Bank of the Nile River during my time in Luxor – what an experience. If you want to know what it was like – have a read here.

Accommodation in Egypt

As I mentioned above, our very first accommodation on my Discover Egypt tour with Encounters Travel was the Le Meridien Pyramids hotel in the heart of Cairo and a stone’s throw away from the Great Pyramids and Sphinx of Giza.

From Cairo, we boarded an overnight sleeper train to Aswan. The facilities in the train were not as good as the 5-star hotels we stayed at throughout the tour, but it definitely wasn’t uncomfortable. Inside my compact cabin was linen, a wash basin to refresh myself and a convertible couch / bunk bed, suitable for two people.

In Aswan, we stayed at the Helnan Hotel, which provided me with spectacular views of the Nile River and the hub of activity along its banks. We only spent one night in this little piece of heaven before we spent a night on a traditional felucca on the Nile River.

The felucca experience is quite unique. The floor of the boat is completely covered with a mattress-like foam, giving you the chance to simply lay back and take in the beauty of your surroundings. At night, covers are added along the boat to prevent any wind from disturbing our peaceful nights rest and linen and pillows are also provided if you don’t have a sleeping bag. I do suggest taking a sleeping bag with though, as it does get cold at night on the Nile, especially during the winter months. During summer it may be different as it does get quite hot, but then mosquitoes become a problem. Luckily, mosquito nets are provided and it’s also worth stocking up on your own repellent as well.

A support boat joins the felucca every now and then, and it houses a hygienic kitchen where our meals were prepared as well as bathroom facilities which rivalled some of the 5-star hotels we stayed in.

From the felucca, we made our way to Luxor, where we spent a night at the impressive Nile Palace Hotel, which also gave us breathtaking views of the Nile River. Definitely one of the more eye-catching hotels, the interior was spectacular, with a massive courtyard in the centre where one can relax, have a coffee or a meal before heading back to your room.

From Luxor, we made our way to the Red Sea beach resort of Hurghada, where we stayed at the Sunrise Makadi beach resort on an all-inclusive basis. The stay here was a welcome one, a nice break from all the sightseeing on the tour. The resort is one massive hub of activity, with the Red Sea a mere two minute walk away from the main areas of the resort. There are also a huge number of activities that travellers can join in, such as early morning yoga, beach soccer, beach volleyball and so much more.

My last accommodation stay during the Discover Egypt tour was at the Steigenberger Hotel in Cairo. Set in one of the busiest parts of Cairo and within walking distance of the Egyptian Museum, it was definitely the most modern hotel during our stay in Egypt. Digital mirrors, modernised finishes to the taps, lights and amenities throughout the hotel makes it a great place to end your stay in Egypt.

Transport in Egypt

One of the best parts of the Discover Egypt tour was that I never had to worry about sorting out my own transport at anytime. All transfers to the hotel and airport were included. Our visits to Egypt’s top attractions were led by a designated driver and guide in a comfortable, air conditioned mini bus.

I heard mixed reviews of the overnight sleeper train ride from Cairo to Aswan, but the journey was a comfortable and safe one.

Safety in Egypt

Safety is often one of the biggest concerns for a lot of people planning a holiday to Egypt, but honestly, the country is really safe. Egyptians take their security measures really seriously – many times we passed through police barricades, however, at no point of the 9-day Egypt tour did I ever feel scared or wary of the locals or my surroundings.

Common safety sense should prevail though, but treat your own safety in Egypt as you would in your own city and you will generally be fine.

Explore Egypt with Encounters Travel

If you’d like to experience what I have – have a look at Encounters Travel’s Discover Egypt tour.

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