When planning a trip, it can be hard to convince yourself to pay for optional excursions, because after all, they’re optional. You’ve already paid a fair amount of hard-earned money to go on this trip, why pay more?
Because it’s worth it.
Optional excursions give you a chance to tailor-make your trip and make it the best that it can be. Afraid of heights? Maybe don’t do something high. Can’t swim? Should probably steer away from water activities.
But just don’t *not do* something because of money.
I went on the Discover Egypt tour and sampled quite a few excursions, and I talked with other people on the trip who did the others to see which optional extras are worth it!
Abu Simbel is just hands down not to be missed. It was built by the infamous Rameses II (the “Bible Rameses”) as a monument to himself and his wife, Nefertari.
The astounding craftsmanship of the numerous matching statues is made even more unbelievable when you find out that they have been moved! Both twin structures (and the hills they were carved from) were moved because of the impending flood from the newly created Lake Nasser. You can see some of the dissection lines of where rock was cut, but it’s truly a wonder that they were all put together again so well!
The entry to the main temple is guarded by 4 giant statues of Rameses that still hold a remarkable amount of detail even today.
However the most detailed part of the temple is how it aligns with the sun. On two specific days a year, the sun is perfectly aligned to light up the back chamber to cast light upon Pharaoh’s face once again. Those days are his birthday and his coronation day. What planning!
This excursion comes with an early wake up time, but it’s well worth it because we beat the crowds! It’s a few hours drive, but it was very easy to snooze on the bus and snack on your provided breakfast box!
Hot Air Balloon
The Hot Air Balloon was another special highlight of the trip. Like Abu Simbel, it required an early wake up time in order for the balloons to rise with the sun and welcome the new day.
From start to finish, it was a special experience. Teams of men laid out the balloon while still others fed the inside with gas and fire. It was a beautiful sight watching the balloons flare up with life and color, go dark, and then light up again as more fire heated the air inside the balloon.
The only part of the adventure that was fast was getting into the balloon once it was ready to go! We all scrambled into the basket with room to spare. It could have easily held 20 people even though we were only about 12.
Once the balloon started to climb, there’s a panoramic view of the Valley of the Kings and the Nile! It was quite a treat to watch the sun slowly threaten to rise, and when it finally did, it lit up the whole valley.
The pilot was very cognizant to make sure the balloon rotated, so everyone was afforded views from all sides as we lazily drifted where the wind took us.
I wasn’t sure how the landing was going to go since it’s not like a hot air balloon has a steering wheel! It actually went very smoothly. We could see our van following below us. As we got closer to the ground, the teams of men appeared again (along with very excited children) to grab the ropes and get us safely back to Earth.
I managed to convince my friend to join me on this excursion (she had originally declined due to a fear of heights), and she had an excellent time! The basket walls were very high, so she felt secure, and so should you!
Nile Dinner Cruise
Prior to coming, I was really excited for this cruise. I think it mostly lived up to my expectations, and in some ways, it also surpassed!
It’s a very large boat, so it wasn’t as small and intimate as I had thought it would be. But because of the size, there was ample room for a large buffet of salads before the main course. The main course was a large serving of chicken and sides. I was impressed because I have some food allergies, and my food came out perfectly the first time.
While eating, the entertainment was a mix of singing (in Arabic, English, and surprisingly, Spanish!), instruments, and dancing. The main dancing events were the Sufi and Belly dancers.
The Sufi dancer was amazing just in that he kept spinning and spinning and didn’t stagger all over the place! All done in a very intricate costume while also spinning a prop! It was truly a sight. I have since learned that this is a “spin-off” from a form of dancing commonly known as the Whirling Dervish.
The belly dancer was very enthusiastic and had several costume changes!
Our guide brought us early to make sure we had good seats, so we were right in the thick of the action. I think the food and Sufi dancer made this event worth it! The belly dancer was a fun bonus!
The only downside was that this was on the last night, so we missed the “group goodbye dinner,” which is a shame. However I can keep in touch with my new friends on Facebook, and I didn’t want to miss the fun dancers!
Saqqara, Dashour, and Memphis
This is a great option for pre- or post- tour. Because it’s a less popular tourist spot, there are way fewer crowds of tourists and vendors trying to sell souvenirs.
Memphis used to be the capital of Lower Egypt, and it has many ruins to prove it! There’s a temple for the god, Ptah, and a pyramid that you can enter!
Saqqara is close to Memphis and was used as a “necropolis” for the tombs for people from and around Memphis. There are of course pyramids in Saqqara, including a step pyramid!
Dashour is yet another necropolis, but more interestingly, it has some of the oldest and best preserved pyramids in Egypt! It was here that the Egyptians slowly starting segueing from the more classical step pyramid structure to the smooth sides of the pyramids we now associate with Egypt.
For that reason, I really think taking this tour pre-departure would really enhance seeing the Great Pyramid of Giza!
It’s a half day tour that leaves at about 9 am and returns at about 3 pm. It’s well worth doing if you have the time!
Felucca Upgrade To Hotel
This upgrade was the most hotly debated one on our tour. Hotly because of the heat (I went mid June)! Most of us weren’t sure how we’d handle the heat that still remained even after the sun went down. About half the group opted for a hotel, and the other half decided to stick with the boat.
I can’t say for sure which decision is best since a sandstorm came in, so no one was allowed to stay on the boat overnight anyway.
However, I can say that it was overall much more pleasant than anticipated. Even if you don’t stay the night on the felucca, you still get lunch and dinner on it. I was expecting it to be hot, but with the gentle breeze and overhead cover, it was a really nice time.
The boat was fully padded with pillows, so it was a very comfortable lounging experience (bring some playing cards!). After it was dark, the Nubians even treated us to some traditional music!
Almost everyone agreed once we were actually on the boat that we could definitely sleep on it. The boat itself is pretty primitive, but there was a support boat with bathrooms and showers, so no need to fret–just bring a towel!
June or July: You might want to make a last minute decision on this one.
December or January: It might be pretty cold! Make sure you bring a sleeping blanket!
If you’re going during a different month, I really suggest staying on the felucca!
The Cairo City tour does more than just casually acquaint you with the layout of Cairo. It gives a deep understanding of the Coptic Christian aspect of Cairo. Egypt is a fascinating mix of religions, and this tour will give you a better understanding of the Egyptian form of Christianity.
Because it’s likely that not the whole tour will have the Cairo City tour, it’s also a more intimate affair with your guide providing information and direction as you get a better feel for Egypt’s capital city.
And if that isn’t enough, you also get a panoramic view of the whole city!
This is a great option if you have extra time after the tour before leaving. The main portion of the tour is learning about Ancient Egypt, and the Cairo City tour takes the time to showcase a more modern Egypt.
Aswan Flight Upgrade
I can only recommend the flight upgrade to Aswan if you just flat out don’t like trains or are possibly claustrophobic. The train ride was actually quite pleasant!
The train attendant brought trays with a hot dinner, which was surprisingly good, and a breakfast of bread. The breakfast wasn’t super great, but every breakfast seemed to be mostly bread anyway.
The car had room for two beds, a small closet, a washbasin, electrical outlets, and some luggage storage. The attendant even sets the beds up for you!
Versus the flight which might actually get into Aswan late depending on flight time, so it doesn’t really afford as much downtime as there was on the train.
At the end of the day, I think it all comes down to what someone on my tour said when a few of us were balking at paying extra to visit King Tut’s tomb… “Why did you pay all this money to come to Egypt and now that you’re here, you don’t want to pay just a little more to enhance it?”
Whatever you choose or don’t choose, this will be the trip of a lifetime!
Article written by Carly Heyward of flightoftheeducator.com