Starting and finishing in Istanbul this 17-day small-group tour visits some of the region's most important ancient sites while also taking in the beautiful scenery of the Mediterranean coastline, inland forests, and the surreal landscapes of Cappadocia
Finally made it to Egypt!
Why Egypt is safe for single ladies to travel to. For years I have dreamed of vacationing in Egypt, and I decided now was the time. So I booked on a tour with Encounters Travel, to where the Nubian people of Egypt live. As usual, I had the horror stories of everything that ‘could go wrong’ from strangers and friends – all of whom have never visited Egypt. But as a seasoned traveller, those stories fall on my ‘deaf ears’. I was determined to go.
The trip started perfectly. I was collected at the airport, and more of a surprise, was when I was walking through the airport, and there waiting for us inside the customs area was their Cairo Representative – all cheery and welcoming. He waved excitedly at me like I had a friend meeting me! He assisted with purchasing my Egyptian Visa, and then proceeded to guide me directly through the customs area with no so much as a luggage check, whilst I noticed others having the contents of their bags being pulled apart. I was so impressed, and it was a nice touch to the start of my tour. As we drove through the empty streets of Egypt in the early hours of the morning, he pointed out how ‘normal’ the city felt – like any other city.
The tour group congregated together on the first morning, and most of the ladies were also single, with a lady from Zimbabwe, and others who were from New Zealand, Australia, residing in UK, and an America too. And some couples as well, but we ladies seem to be the majority in this group.
First day out just had to be the pyramids. Our guide gave us some good tips on avoiding the haggling sellers, who really were suffering with the lack of tourism – in fact we almost had The Pyramids of Giza to ourselves it felt, and in fact, a few from our group went into a pyramid, and we were alone – it was so cool! Being in a group and driven around meant that we were never expected to walk the streets on our own. We were even driven inside the Pyramid area, and then driven again to the Sphinx.
Next was the Cairo Museum to see the Tutankhamun exhibit next to the square where the 2011 Revolution started, so the Egyptian Army has a heavy presence, and tanks and soldiers greet us, but this is because they won’t allow any demonstrators or problems to occur again – it felt good in a weird way.
The Hotel Soluxe had really great wi-fi so I was able to share my latest photos and Tweets with my family and friends when we returned.
We all went as a group to the airport, and the guide gave us a bulk check in and handled al the tickets – it was a breeze so far.
In the morning we arrived as a pretty tired group to the beautiful Hotel Helnan in Aswan on the River Nile.
There was a nifty under the road tunnel to get to the pool area, and I ordered a pizza. Most of the ladies were already out in their bikini getting a tan by the time I arrived, and I sat reading a magazine by the Nile on a sunbed – what a life!
After lunch we all met and went to the Aswan High Dam and then a motor boat to Philae Temple. It was a time we could learn and take some photos, and the locals hung around and wanted their photo taken with us too. Quite often we found that school girls or young guys all wanted to pose with us and have their photo taken – and one time all the girls were individually cheered as we hopped off the bus – it was hilarious.
Early that evening we went as a group to the Aswan Souks / Market at sunset. Again our guide helped us, and told us what to buy that was good in the area, and what to avoid, and even how much to barter the price for. Pashmina scarves and spices are the main things here that are recommended.
Then it was a traditional Nubian Restaurant on the River Nile with some fresh juices. Being a Muslim country, a lot of places just sell fresh juices or soft drink, so there are no experiences I had with any drunk guys either. But we did have the chance to buy wine and spirits at the airport so we could enjoy a drink tomorrow – but more about that later.
Super early next day we all went to Abu Simbel. Because this is quite a few hundred kilometres and close to the Sudanese border, the police offer an escort service to assist the tour buses. This escort service operates two times a day in each direction, and the convoy must stay together. It helps if anyone breaks down, aids in keeping track of tourists, and also as they stop the many trucks on the side of the road, we found it was a clear road of traffic. I think there must have been about 40 tour buses that morning – maybe more, and can only imagine what it used to be like before the Revolution when tourism in Egypt was in full swing.
We headed on back to the Helnan Hotel and packed the room. Then it was time for lunch to be served on the felucca boat, and they even catered for special dietary needs (you need to advise when booking). We had one big felucca which meant the tour group could all stay together, and there was also a 2nd motor driven boat. This boat housed the two toilets, showers, the crew and also a kitchen and upper deck where we dined.
That evening before the sunset we were all relaxing; talking; playing cards; drinking (I could purchase beer on the felucca, or we could use our own); telling stories and getting to know each other.
That day all the meals were included and I started with a great Egyptian breakfast which was super healthy and nice.
We sailed off but the wind picked up, so the wise crew sailed to a safe sandy bank and waited for the wind to die off while about half of the ladies in the group went for swim and some sunbathing to top up their tans.
Later we found a nice spot on the river bank, and the local kids came down on a donkey and some jewellery and other items to try to sell us – they know girls like to shop – anywhere!
I had a walk on my own next and headed up the river bank – I felt really relaxed and there was no-one to bother me.
It was a fun camp fire that night with some dance music – Nubian style, and learning to play the musical instruments. We spied another felucca not far away, and that was mainly guys – we should have asked them over, but we were a bit embarrassed for some daft reason. A few days later we met them, and they said the same thing about us!
Day five was visiting the Kor Ombo and Edfu Temples. and I hit the local market stalls, and helped my friend pick some nice pieces of jewellery out. There was always places to stop and shop at the temples and attractions.
The hotels on this tour ere really, really nice. Rooms are usually shared, but you can talk about that with the tour company if you want to be alone.
This hotel had an amazing and heated swimming pool, a Jacuzzi hot tub, and you could order food and drinks by the pool.
At sunset it was tour time again with a visit to Luxor Temple as the evening breeze started to gently blow. It was a beautiful and different way to see one of the incredible pieces of Egyptian history. It is nice to walk around on our own, but it is OK to stick with the guide if you feel you want to.
I found it good to carry a heap of Egyptian Pound coins and a packet of Kleenex or a toilet roll for the bathrooms though, as a hint, but usually when they charge they were pretty clean. This was great as no-one had any bad illnesses on our tour. The tour guide was always on our backs ensuring we only drank bottle water, and a lot of it!
The next morning we had a really early start so I was dressed for the cold but it wasn’t cold at all. You might ask why? I’d selected an optional tour with Dream Balloons so silly me figured it would be cold up there, and it wasn’t. I never was hassled for wearing shorts, or summer strappy tops either, but if we went into a temple or mosque, we just carried a scarf, and made sure we had decent footwear for the nice hotels, so all those stories I’d heard about people being nasty just wasn’t true for me either.
I was joined on the hot air balloon ride by the American girl on our tour, and the bus then collected on the way, and then to a motor boat for coffee and a snack, and to reach the opposite bank of the Nile River.
We enjoyed our breakfast boxes from the hotel, we then joined the rest of our group to visit the Valley of the Kings. To see these ornately decorated walls as we tunnelled down inside their graves was really great, and I was so glad we came when there is a lull in tourism and not as busy as it would have been before the Revolution in 2011, which has caused Egyptians to suffer greatly. Egyptians are generally friendly and eager to have tourism return in full swing, and their livelihood depends on it.
For any of you reading this, let me tell you that Egypt feels incredibly safe, and our guide and drivers always made sure we were where we should be at the right time and place. There has been a lot of negative media publicity giving Egypt a bad wrap, and this is causing the tourism to really suffer. For those wishing to visit, and who might feel concerned, then can I suggest you use Encounters Travel to book your tour. They can minimise risks, and put your concerns at ease, and the tour guide will only take you to places that are of course safe (most of Egypt is safe anyway).
Later we visit the Temples of Queen Hatchepsut, Medinat Habu and Colossi of Memnon and then it is the end of our morning – it has been a long one for me and I wanted a bit ore sleep.
There was free internet in the hotel lobby so I opted to jump on Facebook etc, but the rest hung out by the pool again that afternoon.
We finished off the afternoon with a visit to the Temple of Karnak. Then it was time to learn at the ISIS 2 Papyrus Museum.
Next was a nice feed – the Irish Pub for dinner. Our group individually decided on either a flight back to Cairo or to sleep on the train.
It was back for a sleep and a late start next day – yay. I was able to get really good internet in our room here, and the group sat around the pool with a jewellery maker and ordered some exquisite pieces from him.
After lunch we as a group decided with the help of our guide to organise our optional tour and to visit old Cairo and the souk markets and mosques.
I selected the optional tour of the Sound and Light show Pyramids of Giza, along with a few other ladies in the group. Then we returned and gathered for farewell drinks on the rooftop of the hotel.
Egypt is an amazing place to visit. I’m so glad I didn’t listen to all those nay-sayers about not coming. It has just been the greatest time, and I leave here with a small bag of treasures I shopped for, and a head for of memories, and a heart full of friendship.