Contiki Egypt and the Nile Review
Lindsay and I did our first Contiki adventure on their Egypt and the Nile tour and have A LOT to say about our experience. It was a lot of firsts for us so we were super excited when Contiki reached out to us to partner.
Our first trip to a Muslim majority country, first trip to a country in Africa, and our first trip to an anti-LGBT country. It was an eye-opening experience that I will remember for the rest of my life. But before I get ahead of myself – let’s start with the basics.
What is Contiki?
Contiki is a global tour company for 18-35 year olds. Contiki believes that life’s greatest lessons are learned through travel. That real life doesn’t happen when you color inside the lines. It’s only when you break free, trust your impulse, and intentionally live with your eyes wide open, that you become the person you’re meant to be. This is what it means to live life with no regrets. Their philosophy is so closely aligned with the way that I view travel that I knew I had to experience a Contiki adventure.
In fact, I’ve had my eye on Contiki for years now but couldn’t decide which tour I wanted to do most. Contiki runs 300 trips spanning 6 continents, so I had a lot to choose from.
Each tour has a standard set of included activities that come with the tour, but they also offer additional activities that you can choose to enjoy for an additional cost or not – it’s really up to you. Contiki offers flexibility through their 8 ways to travel, 5 ways to stay and endless free time and options. Some tours are on a shoestring budget and some are a little more luxe. It really depends on what style of travel you’re most interested in pursuing.
All the tours come with transportation, generally in the form of coach travel – but some include inter destination flights as well. Each tour also includes most of the meals and a tour guide with knowledge and experience traveling within your destination.
Why We Selected Contiki Egypt?
There are lots of Egypt tour packages, we selected Contiki Egypt because they have a great reputation for running well planned out coach tours with lots of extra bells and whistles. We generally travel independently without a tour group, but we knew Egypt was a high-risk destination for us because it’s illegal to be LGBT in Egypt. Traveling with a group is always safer in high-risk countries because it allows you to blend with a crowd and gives you direct contacts with bilingual people in case there are any complications.
Plus, we knew we’d be with a group of young people who spoke English. If we’re going to be in a group, I’d prefer to bet on a group where we know folks will be around our age. Young people tend to be more open to LGBT couples which was just one less thing we would have to deal with while we’re on the road. Another deciding factor was the Nile river cruise portion of this trip. The three days sailing down the Nile was an added bonus that many of the other Egyptian tour companies just don’t include.
Your Contiki Trip Manager Is Key to Having a Great Trip
From the minute we got off the plane in Cairo Airport a Contiki staff member was there to walk us through the immigration process. We were directed to the bank inside our terminal where we could each buy our $25 USD visa. From there we were directed how to exchange our US dollars into Egyptian Pounds and then sent to the customs and immigration lines. Once we collected our bags and met up with four of our fellow travelers, we were loaded into a minivan and taken to our first hotel. It’s literally a door to door service with someone there to answer questions at every possible turn. We were looking for a place to grab food but a Contiki staff member let us know it would be easier to wait and do it at the Oasis Hotel Pyramids, where we would be spending our first night.
Our trip manager, Sherif Aboelwafa, was phenomenal. I literally cannot say enough good things about the way he ran the tour. He was obviously very experienced and loved his job. He also had excellent people skills and was able to answer probing questions about the current state of Egypt’s political climate honestly while redirecting any misconceptions. For example, at one point during the tour, someone said, “I heard ISIS was bombing Egypt all the time and lots of Egyptians are supporting them.” At which point, Sherif laughed and said loudly enough for the rest of the group to hear, “Where are you getting this information, this is why we have no tourists in Egypt – all this fake news.” His point was gentle but clear and created a teachable moment without making anyone feel put down. His people skills and diplomacy were on point.
Sherif had a gentle way of ensuring that everyone was taken care of while on the trip. A few people fell ill with the infamous “traveler’s gut” and Sherif went out of his way to make sure medicine, soft foods, and drinks were delivered to their rooms. He took care in making sure that everything went smoothly – even when it wasn’t as smooth as he would have liked.
Sherif’s background is in Egyptian history which lead to amazing explanations at many of the temples without being overwhelming. Sure, he’s a scholar but his explanations were never dry. Usually, when we’re traveling on our own, we don’t have the benefit of understanding the deeper cultural or historical significance of what we’re looking at. It was incredible to really be able to dig deep into the understanding of ancient Egyptian culture. Sherif was able to explain things to us that a tour guide who wasn’t from Egypt would never have known. In our conversations, he’d point out things like the animals being raised on the roof of apartment buildings in urban areas of Cairo and was able to explain why rooftops became goat stables. The short answer, urban sprawl mixed with people coming to Cairo post-revolution. As we walked through the museums Sherif explained that many of the Egyptian royals were educated in Europe – France in particular. When they returned from school they created large public gardens, museums, and government programs which is why so many of Egypt’s historical relics are so well preserved. Other details like the mandatory military service for all male citizens except kids from a single son family helped us to conceptualize modern-day Egypt. If for nothing else, but this reason alone, we will definitely be taking more guided tours in the future.
Contiki is a choose your own adventure way of traveling
I’d heard that Contiki adventures can be a giant mobile party bus filled with drunk Aussie kids, but this couldn’t have been further from our experience. Sure, there were a few people who had drinks but to my knowledge, no one was out of control or outrageous. We talked to multiple people in our group who were experiencing their second or third Contiki. They talked about how this trip was certainly a bit more mellow than what you’ll find on a fast-paced Contiki Europe trip. One interesting thing was that each one of the returning travelers told us one of their favorite parts of Contiki is the ability to create their own experience. In a group of 40 people, you’ll be able to find those people to have a late night drink with or a group to catch the sunrise in the Sahara Desert with you.
Our tour was 8 days long and covered five different cities. We spent a day in each city – which doesn’t leave much time for exploring but it allowed us to see the breadth and depth of diversity across Egypt which we wouldn’t have been able to do if we spent more time in any single city. For Contiki, this was considered a slower pace trip but compared to our typical style it was very fast.
The biggest difference between our normal style of travel and Contiki is that the logistics were handled for us. We didn’t have to mess with the details of where we’d eat or how we’d get from point A to point B. Trying to book a Nile cruise, sleeper train or multiple bus rides per day would have been much more difficult on our own. Typically, I’m a bit of a control freak, but it was really nice to be able to just show up and enjoy this trip without the stress of the details.
How Contiki Egypt Works
The Contiki Itinerary is built with a solid combination of group activities and what they call “Me Time”. No one has to follow the group if they don’t want to. As long as your back to the bus in time for the headcount, we could have as much free time as we wanted. We decided to do a lot with the group despite Lindsay’s extreme introversion. We actually did all but one of the optional extra activities. I had a serious case of FOMO and didn’t want to miss out on any of the adventures but because of the way the itinerary was set up, Lindsay was able to have little breaks throughout most of the days to get her introvert on, solo, without feeling like she was breaking the rules.
Because we did so many of the “Me Time Options” we ended up getting up between 4 AM and 6 AM each morning to make it to breakfast before we had to be on the bus. The super early mornings were great because we were able to fit so much more into our days. They also meant that we were in bed by 10 PM each night because the days were so full that we’d be exhausted by the end.
When folks were leaving the group, Sherif would still help to make arrangements or point you in the right direction. It seemed like he knew everyone! We had missed out of the earlier trip to the perfume factory because Linds had a bit of a stomach ache. A few days later we were across from a different one and let Sherif know we were going to walk across the street. In less than 3 minutes he had called someone who met us where we were and walked with us to a different perfume shop where we had a private experience! It ended up being one of our favorite parts of the trip. It was things like that Sherif, did for everyone that continually showed us the benefits of traveling with an experienced local guide.
Egypt budget-conscious travel
Contiki tours are a great value for the money you’re paying. The tour is $1314 USD per person. It comes with tons of activities, meals, transportation, accommodations, and of course the English speaking tour guide. Could we have done the trip cheaper on our own? Possibly – but not without a ton of work and sacrificing the quality of our experience. Not including our free time extras we spent about $250 a person on tips, some extra tours, a couple meals, snacks, and souvenirs. We did all of our Christmas shopping while we were there so our budget was a bit more extreme than normal. We could have easily cut that down by eliminating some of the souvenirs and gifts for family. The average cost of a souvenir was less than $2 USD. We purchased a few big ticket items like the cartouche nameplate I bought for $50 USD that was made from solid silver and displayed my name in hieroglyphics. We also came home with six bottles of perfume – which might have been a bit excessive in retrospect.
Is it safe to travel in Egypt?
Egypt was our first experience traveling in a Muslim majority country. Unfortunately, being from the United States, Lindsay and I have spent most of our lives being exposed to unfair and sometimes blatantly incorrect media representations of Muslim people. We knew it was important to explore areas of the world first hand without making rash judgments about entire populations of people. Which is one of the reasons we decided we wanted to visit Egypt in the first place. Egypt is not without their problems. The recent political revolution threw the country into uncharted turmoil in 2011, some of which the country is still recovering from. The revolution and subsequent political issues resulted in a major drop in tourism – which is one of Egypt’s biggest industries. As you can imagine, the drop in tourists visiting Egypt resulted in financial struggles for people working in tourism, hospitality, and service related jobs. People who need money to feed their families behave differently than those who are comfortable and financially stable.
Contiki had an armed security guard with us during our time in Cairo and Aswan. He was very attentive walked with the group to and from some crowded attractions as well as preventing merchants from coming on the bus. The only times I felt unsafe while we were traveling was when we were surrounded by merchants in the local markets. They would yell at our group, sometimes with funny slogans like“Good morning – my shop is the best in the West – no hassle in my castle” or “Welcome to Alaska!” Other times they were just yelling about their products “I have lots of scarves – try my scarves!” But really, they’d yell just about anything to grab our attention. Being surrounded by people in a large group combined with the yelling and the aggressive sales tactics made the situation very stressful at first but eventually, we got used to it. Each time the bus pulled up to a new location the merchants from the shops would come out and surround our group asking us to buy their trinkets. They have different ways that they try to get you to buy. They’ll tell you “it’s only 5 Egyptian pounds” which equals roughly 30 cents. Even in Egypt – nothing is 30 cents. They try to get you to agree to the price and then guilt you into paying more. They’ll also try to hand you something and tell you it’s a gift and then demand payment. Or they try to block your way out of the little shop and aggressively argue with you until you agree to buy their stuff. Of course – this isn’t every Egyptian merchant – these are just some of the behaviors we witnessed while we were there but we were warned before we got off the bus that these were common scams.
When we first got off the bus at the Pyramids we were immediately swarmed by aggressive salesmen, to be honest, it kinda ruined our first impressions. Merchants selling scarves and small statues of the pyramids encircled our group and tried to hand us their trays filled with statues. The idea being that they’d then refuse to take them back and we’d be forced into buying. Several of the vendors had camels, donkeys, and horses. They’d ask us to take photos with them and then demand payment. Usually, it’s only around a dollar or so for each of these items but it’s really annoying to be aggressively asked over and over. One member of our group took a photo sitting on a camel and then the merchant took off with him into the desert and demanded that he pay 50 Egyptian pounds before he’d bring him back to the bus. The fee for his return was less than $4 USD but it can be scary to be in a situation where you feel helpless. It can also be scary to be surrounded by groups of men yelling at you to buy things and making comments like, “where you from? America? You’re beautiful – I love you.” In these moments I was glad that we were in a group and our trip manager was able to quickly shoo them off and protect us from the bulk of the issues.
Keep in mind when we’re talking about safety, that we were with a group most of the time that we were in Egypt. There were a few times that we were alone – one afternoon when we decided to walk to a currency exchange and cell phone store in Aswan by ourselves. Before visiting Egypt we thought we’d want to cover our hair the entire time but soon realized that it wasn’t necessary. Many Egyptian women wear hajibs but not all of them. Those who do not cover their hair stand out a bit more but it’s not unheard of for a woman to be uncovered. We decided to cover our hair with hajibs for the walk because we wanted to keep a low profile. We were unsure how people would react to Lindsay’s androgyny outside of the group. The hajib was an immediate identifier that Lindsay was a woman which was helpful because it left no room for ambiguity that often leads to uncomfortable or dangerous situations.
According to the US Department of State, Egypt is a risky travel destination – to be fair they also say France is a risky travel destination. But when you’re properly prepared and traveling with a group you’ll avoid most of the risks associated with traveling solo.
What should you wear in Egypt?
We had a tremendous amount of debate on this topic. We were not only unsure what was expected but also what would be safest for us as LGBT people. A common misconception is that LGBT travelers can just choose not to engage in public affection and no one will ever know we’re gay. But for people who are androgynous like Lindsay, she’d be identified as gay even if she wore a dress. She can’t turn off the fact that she’s 6 foot tall and athletic looking. Her appearance plays into every stereotype for lesbians in the west which can create issues while we’re traveling to anti-LGBT countries like Egypt. We decided to go with more conservative choices for both of us. I kept my shoulders covered and wore mostly long dresses while Linds opted for mostly leggings and long shirts. We both kept scarves on us or in our backpack so we had the options to cover our hair if it felt necessary.
Many of the women in our group did wear things like shorts and tank tops but they also attracted a different level of attention. Many of them were stared at or catcalled by passing men, but as far as I know, no one was physically touched or hurt. In hindsight, we are both happy with the packing choices that we made. Lindsay was comfortable in her typical androgynous style and I even received a few appreciative gestures from local women for my clothing choices. Ultimately, I’d recommend that women and LGBT travelers should lean on the side of caution and dress as conservatively as possible.
Traveling as an LGBT Couple in Egypt
Egypt is an anti-LGBT country. There’s no other way to put it. It’s illegal to be gay there and there are policies in place that can land people in jail if they were discovered to be a member of the LGBT community. That being said, the vast majority of the arrests that are made are of local Egyptian people. Unfortunately, Egypt has a lot of work to do in terms of women’s rights and LGBT equality. We’ve written at length about why we choose to travel to anti-LGBT destinations, but I’ll briefly summarize our feelings by saying this if local people have first-hand experience with LGBT people they’re more likely to think favorably of our community. People cannot be expected to accept that which they have no positive experiences. That being said, not every traveler wants to be an activist and you shouldn’t have to be.
I believe that Egypt is a destination for the experienced LGBT traveler. I would also recommend traveling with caution, completely avoiding any displays of public affection, and paying attention to local gender norms. Bathrooms, one of the struggles Lindsay usually has wasn’t as much of a problem as we initially thought it would be. All of the accommodations had private bathrooms with the exception of the night train where the bathrooms were gender neutral. When we were out at the temples or in public places Lindsay was able to put on her scarf and immediately be identified as a woman or was able to blend in with the group of Contiki girls which helped. At a couple places we had to pay to use some bathrooms – so there were a few questioning looks, but the scarf really helped in those situations.
The other travelers in our group were very accepting of us as a couple. It wasn’t exactly talked about but it was pretty clear to anyone who knew what they were looking. The other travelers were mostly Australian, Canadian and a few Americans. The only time we ran into an issue was when we were heckled by a merchant outside the Pyramids of Giza who was annoyed that we wouldn’t buy one of his postcards. He yelled, “Buy a postcard” when Lindsay said, “no thank you.” He replied, “I thought you were a man – you look like a man – you must be gay.” My heart skipped a beat but luckily we just picked up our pace to stay with the rest of the group and he left us alone.
The Contiki Egypt and the Nile Itinerary Review
We got picked up at the airport and met some of fellow Contiki squad for the 45-minute van ride to the Oasis Hotel Pyramids. We had high hopes of adventuring to Tahrir Square but ended up taking a nap that lasted far longer than expected. We knew our next few days would be packed so we just listened to our bodies. In the evening we met Sherif and the rest of the team for the first time. He went over the detail of all the “Me Time Extras” so everyone could make informed decisions when signing up. Even though most of us had just come off long flights the energy in the room was high. The crowd of 40 fellow travelers was diverse in so many ways. To some people, this was a stop in the middle of a longer holiday and for others, it was their very first time out of their home country, That energy was refreshing and contagious to be around.
The Oasis Hotel Pyramids is a sprawling property with tons of rooms, people, and amenities. We loved the outdoor restaurant by the pool and the large breakfast buffet offer. The rooms were simple, clean and offered a great first nights sleep.
Day 2 Cairo
This was the day we all had been waiting for, Pyramids of Giza, camel rides and the Sphinx. Multiple times we were just looking at each other like “what is our life? Can you believe we’re here?!” It was amazing, magical and everything we had hoped for. Coming from someone who’s never even been up close to a horse I thought the camel ride was completely terrifying. We typically try to steer clear of anything animal tourism related but decided to stay with the group and go for it. In hindsight, I’m not sure that we would make that same choice again.
After having plenty of time to wander we were getting pretty hungry and hopped back on the bus to head to dinner. The streets of Cairo were busy and traffic was moving at a crawl. Even though our bellies were growling we enjoyed seeing how alive the streets were. At one point the bus was stopped and we sat looking down a small side street. There was a cart filled with fresh pomegranates for sale, another with dates and a young boy carrying a large tray of fresh pita bread. Sherif turned back from the seat in front of us and said “this is everyday Egypt”. We went to a typical Egyptian country restaurant it was our favorite meal of the trip. They brought out course after course of fresh pita, hummus, Egyptian falafel and kabobs. There was fresh juice and you could go sit on the patio to smoke shisha.
From dinner we headed to our overnight train to Aswan. The room was equipped with two bunks that converted into train seats, a small sink with two washcloths and soap and an outlet to charge devices. Each bunk had sheets, pillows, and blankets. The bathroom was down the hall and shared by the car. Some folks on our trip had trouble sleeping in the train but we both slept just fine after a long day of touring the pyramids in the sun. I’d rather spend 12 hours on a train being able to lay flat in a bed and stand up to walk around than being in a bus or car. Each car has around 18 or so rooms with two beds and two people in each room. Each car has two bathrooms at each end. The bathrooms were hilarious. They’re basically mobile porta pots. But there’s nothing to catch your business at the bottom. It goes straight out onto the tracks. Our trip manager warned us not to use the bathroom when we pulled into the station because everyone on the platform can see your shit falling on the platform. We really took that rule seriously. Moral of the story, if you’re ever in Egypt – don’t walk on the railroad tracks. The train did offer some dinner but we were stuffed and opted to just relax.
We woke up to the click-clack sound of the train on the tracks and were pleasantly surprised how rested we felt. Breakfast was delivered to each of our rooms complete with 4 varieties of bread and some delicious mango juice. Getting changed in the room with the beds down was similar to an intense game of Twister but we were thankful to have had that option.
The Medea Nile Riverboat was our first stop after the train. We were each given keys to the room we’d be calling home for three days on the Nile. The boat was beautifully appointed large ferry complete with lounges, dining room, shops, roof deck and a swimming pool. During the evening the boat would sail to a new destination while we slept. Each stateroom was nicely appointed with large comfy beds and giant picture views to watch the scenes of the Nile as we sailed. Lindsay sat for hours in front of the window taking pictures of donkeys, temples, and local fishermen as we passed. The cruise came with three buffet-style meals a day with international foods from around the world. I would have preferred more local food on the boat but to be fair, not everyone enjoys local food so it gives folks options. Honestly, the boat was the ideal way to explore because it allowed us to relax in our room while we traversed the river rather than being squished into a bus between stops.
After a good shower and settling into our rooms we took a ride on a felucca down the Nile. At one point we even pulled to shore and had the option to jump from the top of the boat, swim or climb the sand dunes. We even saw some water buffalo grazing nearby! Unfortunately, this is when Linds started not feeling well and we had to miss the remained of this day’s adventure. The rest of the group continued on to the Perfume Factory and night market. They came back with stories and souvenirs that made us even more disappointed to have missed out.
We woke up early to catch the bus to Abu Simbel, a temple located in the Nubian Village in southern Egypt near the Sudan border. Depending on the time of year Contiki has an option to take a short flight bus since we were there in the off season with took a 3.5hr bus ride. We left so early that almost everyone slept most of the way there and we stopped to break up the drive on the way back. The temple was just as large and impressive as we had expected. We had about an hour to wander in and around both before jumping back on the bus.
About an hour into our drive back we pulled over and had a chance to run in the Sahara Desert and chase a mirage. The sand had such a deep color, the sky was bright blue and our small group was the only thing in sight. It was a really fun moment and good excuse to break up the drive.
When we got back to the boat we had a few hours to relax and enjoy the boat as we sailed to Linds was obsessed with the large window in our room. We spent an hour or so just laying on the bed taking in all the sights.
That evening we went to the Temple of Kom Ombo, the crocodile god. This was my favorite night of our entire time in Egypt. We got there just as the sun was setting and the temple was glowing in the evening light. The temple itself had some really neat details that made it distinctly different from the others including tunnels for trapping the crocodiles when the Nile would rise. At one point we stopped together to take in the moment, the moon was high and bright and the sound of evening prayers could distinctly be heard. We had talked about skipping this stop because of our early wake-up but we’re really glad we went.
After a night on the move, we woke up docked in Edfu. We had another early morning. This one included a carriage ride through the city of Edfu to the Temple of Horus the falcon god Horus. The carriage ride was a really cool touch, we got to see the people in the city eating breakfast and smoking. Our carriage driver pointed out some highlights on the way including the market and even picked us some local flowers. We sifted through the vendors and toured the beautiful Temple.
We followed that up with a lazy afternoon on the boat as we cruised towards Luxor, our next destination. We enjoyed a good lunch and then caught some on the top of the boat around the pool. While we floated through the Esna Lock we got to negotiate with merchants for tablecloths, tunics, and scarves. They would toss goods onto the boat and yell prices back and forth. If we decided against a purchase we’d just toss the goods back to them. It was totally unique and entertaining to be part of.
We were warned to not be on the left side of the boat in bikinis because it would attract a lot of attention. Some of the girls decided against changing and we had almost an entire school of teenage boys outside waving and staring as we drifted by.
Shortly after arriving in Luxor we set out for a tour of an Egyptian village. We’re always a bit skeptical of village tours around the world. We’ve been on some that felt very gross because in the past they’ve come off like commercialized poverty tourism or a human zoo for lack of a better description. We’ve been on similar tours before where they did things like forcing kids to do choreography and trying to pass it off as “normal everyday activity” and we’ve also seen ones where you could pose with cardboard cutouts of the local people. Gross. Needless to say we walked away with a bad taste in our mouth from those experiences. This tour didn’t feel that way at all. We started the tour with the option of taking a donkey cart, or going horseback on donkey, camel or horse. We decided to go by donkey cart because we thought it’d be less pressure on the animal to pull us with most of our weight in the cart rather than directly on the donkey’s back. We aren’t sure if there is any truth to that logic but in the moment it felt like the best choice.
Each animal was led by a young boy. The boy with us was about 10 years old. He was driving our donkey cart showing us his town and pointing out different things in his limited English. He pointed out banana and orange trees along with other crops and showed us where his school was located. We broke bread and shared tea with the family from the village and were shown around their house before walking back to the boat.
On paper, the village tour was just fine but it left me with more questions than answers regarding the morality of such tourism. On one hand – should we be riding animals that are clearly unhappy to be ridden? And how do people who live in these communities feel about foreigners coming into their homes and being shocked by the levels of poverty? On the other hand, a visiting tour group provides income to the local community and improves their lot in life. Money gives access to food, education, and the visiting tourists increase their worldview. We left the village with mixed feelings on the experience and can say that we can see both sides of this debate. We both wholeheartedly believe that if this is something you’ve yet to experience you should go on the tour and form your own opinions on the topic.
From the village, we took a short boat ride across the Nile to Luxor Temple. All lit up at night this temple is absolutely stunning. We walked up on the hill to get photos and here the story of how the obelisk was brought in. We learned that you can now find the other Obelisk in Paris, with the top painted in gold. We also had the chance to walk part of the two-mile Avenue of the Sphinxes. We learned stories of how many of them we found in people’s homes prior to being moved here. Being inside for so long really helped preserve them.
If you ask Linds she’ll call this her absolute favorite day of the trip from start to finish. Our first stop was the Hatshetsup Temple or as Sherif called it the Hot Chicken Soup Temple. We arrived at the perfect time and practically had the whole place to ourselves. A few of our other stops were pretty crowded so we enjoyed running having a few moments to just soak it up. We actually paid a few Egyptian pounds to a guy that showed us all the best photo spots inside the temple. While I suspect, he was mostly motivated to do so by my blonde hair he did show us some cool spots towards the back, even helping me pose for some photos. One thing we really enjoyed was being able to see the plies of new artifacts being uncovered. Sherif explained to us how they are numbered and categorized. It’s just crazy to see the amount of stuff they are still finding each year.
Valley of the Kings was the next stop with 63 tombs, King Tut’s Tomb and King Tut’s Mummy. We took a short tram ride into the mountains where the tombs were located. With our ticket we were able to enter three tombs. Apparently they rotate the tombs that are open to minimize the wear and tear on each on. What really stuck out to me was how vibrant the colors remained deep inside. Sherif was able to explain to us how the tombs were booby-trapped for potential thieves before we went inside. As we climbed in we could easily visualize what it would have been like climbing through the dark tunnels in the pitch black. We also purchased a separate ticket to see King Tut’s Tomb and Mummy. Everything they found in his tomb has been moved to the museum accept from his mummy, which is to fragile. It is absolutely worth the price of admission.
The next stop was to a Papyrus Shop. They gave an explanation of how the papyrus is still made by hand and we had the opportunity to shop for some pieces painted by local artist. The pieces were unique and beautiful. Most of our group ended up making a purchase of some kind.
Linds and I took this opportunity to sneak away to the only thing we’d missed, the perfume shop. As I said before I had serious FOMO, usually, local markets are my favorite parts of our trips. When we arrived at the Papyrus Shop I saw a perfume stand selling local Egyptian oils across the street. I walked over and let Sherif know we were going across the street and to ask what time we should be back. After his assistance within minutes, he had arranged for someone he knew to walk us down to a reputable shop. We walked in stride with our guide, down the road, like everyone else dodging cars buses and the occasional horse cart for a few blocks before entering an Egyptian oil merchant’s shop.
The shop was huge and completely empty. The owner of the shop and two assistants had us take seats in the corner while they brought us tea and showed us dozens of different perfumed oils and explained the properties of each. The oils could be mixed according to your preferences and you could even tell them your favorite brand of perfume and have them replicate it for you. We sat in the shop for about 45 minutes and bought six bottles of perfume – excessive I know – but it was easily my favorite part of the trip.
Temple of Karnak was our last temple stop in Egypt. Karnak was gigantic what some truly stunning design. At one point someone actually said, “if this was the first temple we saw, we’d have been here for hours”. Unfortunately, at this point it was hot and we’d wander a lot of temples already. There is not a doubt in my mind that we wildly underappreciated this stop. Judging by the nap most of us took directly after this on the bus to Hurghada we were just tired.
A little more rested after a 5hr bus nap all 40 of us got together for our last dinner together. It was a feast served on the beach. The music was playing, drinks were flowing and everyone was recapping their favorite moments together. It was so interesting to hear what part of the adventure really touched each person. Everyone had different reasons for coming to Egypt but I believe it’s safe to say we all walked away impacted by our experience. We always recap our trips with a “top three” moments, this night we got to live that joy with 38 other people.
The last day was a total change of pace and it was perfect. Let me say that again, the last day was the perfect recap. Hurghada is absolutely beautiful. Take the Red Sea cruise! Fight the urge to snuggle into your bed for one more morning, you won’t be disappointed! We grabbed a snorkel, flippers and a towel at a seaside hut before climbing aboard our ride for the afternoon. The boat was big enough for everyone to spread out and really relax. There was room on the front to tan and shady spots in the back if you wanted to avoid the heat. After about an hour we dropped anchor to hop in and snorkel. I love snorkeling, Linds, on the other hand, isn’t typically a fan. Despite being a strong swimmer she always struggles with it. Sure enough, 3 mins in the water and her snorkel is laying on the bottom stuck in some coral. Despite the rough start we both loved it! The fish were as big as dinner plates and the coral was bright colors. Unlike many other places we’ve been, there was something to look at the entire time we were in the water.
After we got back on the boat we cruised to a deeper spot where we could swim again. A bunch of people took the opportunity to jump off the deck of our two-tier boat. The water was warm, clear and so so salty. As we climbed back to our seats Linds said her lips felt like she’d had 10 margaritas.
We cruised back and ate lunch as we soaked up the last bits of sun. Soon we were climbing back on the bus for the 6-hour ride back to Cairo. We made sure to stop at a local market so we could load up on road trip snacks. Don’t’ sleep on the pomegranate Schweppes! We didn’t discover it until the last day and have been trying to recreate it since getting home.
We got back to the Oasis Hotel Pyramids abound 10:30 for our goodbye meeting. As we sleepily stumbled into our room we were greeted with a bottle of champagne and fruit in our room. We had hot showers, cool glasses of champagne and drifted off to sleep in preparation for our early wake-up.
We took a flight out at 9:30 that had us leaving for the airport at 6 AM. Book your flight home for later in the day if you can. The Cairo airport is wild. It took us almost three hours just to get to our gate. Some of the folks on our trip booked flights out in the middle of the night or very early hours of the morning which forced the entire coach to return early to Cairo. Book your flight later in the day so it’s not as rushed to get back. Some people even stayed one day later after and Sherif arranged for them to hop in with another tour group to Alexandria for the day.
We’ll be taking another Contiki adventure
At the end of the day, we were very pleased with our Contiki adventure and would love to do another tour with them sometime in the future. It was the perfect means of traveling to a destination where we were slightly uncomfortable and helped to put our minds at ease as we stepped outside our comfort zones and our safety bubbles. This tour is a great option for LGBT travelers, solo travelers, and folks looking for a bit more support while traveling around Egpyt.