Currency: Egyptian Pound
Language: Arabic and English
As many of you know by now, I had a goal to visit 30 countries by 30 and obviously Covid did throw it for a loop, but I am happy to say I hit my goal!
Travel Hack: Once you have booked your flight with SoarFare to Egypt, know that they require a tourist visa for entry. You can buy the visa for $25.00 USD when you land in the airport (have exact change in cash) or you can buy it ahead of time for $100.00 haha. So, buy it when you arrive! It’s called Visa Upon Arrival and it’s good for 30 days.
Traveling to Egypt: I had to bring proof of a Negative Covid-19 test and had up to 96 hours before my flight to take the test. When we (myself and my mom) checked in at the SLC airport, right away they asked for the test and Egyptian visa. I told them that I had read online you could buy it when you arrive, but they pushed me for about 20 minutes saying you really should have done it ahead of time. I showed the woman checking us in where I read “I could buy it there” which was on the United States State Department website. Be sure and bookmark this yourself. She finally agreed and we got on our first flight. In Atlanta ready to board our next flight to Paris we had the same issue. They asked for our Covid test and then asked for the visa. Once again, I showed them that I could buy it on arrival, she seemed skeptical, but let us continue. The flight to Paris was easy especially because I had a row of 4 seats to myself (thank you Covid, in a weird way.) On our layover in Paris, I started to get a little nervous about the Visa and was trying to read everything I could about it. Everything I read said you could buy it there (my brain: but what if you can’t or what if they say “no?”)
Finally, it was time to board our final flight to Cairo. We got in line, they took our temperature asked for our Covid test and then let us on. Once we landed, we showed proof of our negative test one more time and then headed towards customs. At this point I was stressed about the Visa. We walked up to the window and the man working said you need a Visa? I said “yes” and handed him my passport he then said “25.00 dollars”, I handed him the cash and he tossed the Visa over the desk to me. He didn’t even look at my passport! (inserts are you for real face.) All I could think was, I just panicked for about 26 hours straight about this dang Visa and he just threw it over to me. So, travel hack, buy it there! And don’t spend 26 hours stressing and reading every document you can find on Egyptian tourist Visas.
Pyramids of Giza: Our first morning in Cairo the plan was to head to the Pyramids of Giza. We went down to the hotel lobby and asked them to get us a car, we did find out later that Uber is very popular in Egypt and is definitely the way to go! It is very safe and very cheap. Taxis are nuts and there is definitely a language barrier problem. If you don’t speak Arabic they really won’t have a clue where you want to go unless it is a major destination and you can provide pictures and addresses in Arabic. They will just keep driving in circles and eventually you will want to give up and try again. When we pulled up to the ticket office at the Pyramids, I couldn’t believe we were actually there. One more World Wonder to check off my list! It was 200 EP to enter the complex which was about $12.00. When we pulled around into the parking lot, we realized there were only about 3 other cars in a parking lot that typically held hundreds. Due to Covid-19 Egypt has seen little to no tourists in over a year and they are feeling the financial impact. We met a guide who walked us around to start and then asked us if we wanted to continue the tour for a very high price in American dollars. Before we even said yes to it, he said, “okay great” and took us off in a horse and buggy. Imagine a very old wooden buggy that you must climb up into it, it has two large old metal wheels and is attached to the horse. It was bumpy and a little sketchy not gonna lie, haha or as our guide said, “Egyptian massage.” We were flying over rocks and dirt and were bounced all over the place. The sentence “it’s all part of the experience” came out of my mouth at least 5 times during this ride, it was that or jump out and cry, haha. We finally pulled up to a look out where we could see the 3 large pyramids of Giza. They were built in the year 2500 BC. and finished around 2490BC. What most people don’t know is there is actually 9 pyramids in that complex. The 3 large ones for the king and 6 smaller ones for the queen.
My tip for you here is to negotiate the price before they take off. Egyptian venders and people who work with tourists are extremely pushy; you will need to bargain everywhere you go and tips are expected everywhere so you need lots of smaller Egyptian currency every place you go, including bathrooms. Agree to a price before you walk with them or go with them anywhere, or they think the price is still whatever they come up with, not what you think it should be.
Coptic Egypt and Saqqara: Coptic Egypt is where all 3 of the main religions meet peacefully; Muslims, Judaism and Christianity all converge in the same place. On this tour we walked around the area with another guide. Our guide showed us a few Christian churches and a Synagogue. He also showed us the well that used to be part of the Nile where the Pharaoh’s daughter found Moses in a floating basket. Our guide was extremely knowledgeable about history and the different religions. The tour guides attend college to learn their history so a guided tour will tell you everything you need to know and more about the more popular destinations.
The Pyramid of Djoser or the Step Pyramid was the first pyramid to be built, dating back to 2670 BC. Our guide Yasser took us into the tombs so we could see the hieroglyphs carved and painted on the walls. He pointed out that ancient Egypt documented everything, so archaeologists did not have to guess who it belonged to, they knew. Something to look for was an oval shaped object called a Cartouche with a name in the middle. That meant the person was a king. My favorite quote our guide kept saying was “no Cartouche, no king.” I look forward to the day I can say that to some guy who is annoying me. 😉 On the way out of Saqqara we ate at a local farm where they spoiled us with authentic Egyptian food, kababs, bread, rice and popular dish called Koshari. It is also where they make all the beautiful Egyptian rugs if you are in the market for something like that.
Driving in Cairo: Cairo is a crazy city with high energy and people everywhere. Cairo alone has a population of 25 million and I’m pretty sure only 1 traffic light. The driving is the craziest thing I’ve ever seen. Imagine a lane most likely meant for 2 cars that has 6 across on it once, no actual lanes or lines on the road. You drive in whatever space is open, or almost open, or your driver feels like should be open. Then, throw in a person every 5 ft or so trying to cross the street with no crosswalks or lights. YOLO! On top of that add in a few horses and donkeys pulling wagons of random things and a bunch 12–14-year-olds driving TukTuks. In the four days we were there, we were what they like to say “bumped” 3 separate times while driving. To which they respond with nonstop honking and waving. Again, it’s all part of the experience. I did think about trying to drive there it looked almost fun like in a car video game where you can drive wherever you want and do whatever you want. You don’t tell the road what you need to do, the road tells you what you need to do!
Sailing the Nile: Taking a sailboat ride on the Nile is a must. The traditional boats they use are called Felucca and it was the original way to cross the Nile before modern bridges. In a city as crazy as Cairo it was nice to get out on the River, it felt quieter and peaceful. It is a beautiful and relaxing way to see some of the city and river. You can take as short as 1 hour sail or a couple day long cruise. Either way it is worth it.
Camel Rides: Camel rides are not for the faint of heart. Camels are extremely large creatures, and they have an attitude. I have been on a few camels in my day, but it’s always a little scary. I had booked the tour on TripAdvisor ahead of time for a camel ride to view the pyramids, it was about $20.00, and it included hotel pick up and drop off. At the last second my mom backed out and I don’t blame her. If you are afraid of heights, it’s not worth it. Haha. Due to Covid it was just myself, my guide, and the camel guide. The Camel I was given was named Michael and he was giant. Michael and I became close friends quickly. I swung my leg over him to get on the saddle and then prepared myself for him to stand up. Camels stand with their back legs first, so you must hold on and lean back so you don’t forward roll off of them, then they stand up onto their front legs. Once we were up, we started our journey into the Sahara Desert. Camels tend to sway when they are walking so you have to squeeze your legs tightly around their bodies and hold on to the handle. My Apple Watch went off at least 7 different times saying, “looks like you are on an elliptical, should we track this workout?” not sure if I should be proud or embarrassed that my heart rate was up high enough and me holding on for dear life was burning enough calories that my watch thought I was working out. We spent about an hour in total traveling out to look at the sunset and the pyramids. At the end of the ride, I said goodbye to Michael and my guides. I’d never forget the experience, plus my legs were sore from squeezing so hard for the next 4 days that I really didn’t forget the experience.
Luxor: When planning my trip to Egypt I knew I wanted to see Luxor, this is the place I’d recommend the most to visit. This is where most of the Ancient Egyptian history starts and it is unbelievable! The quickest and easiest way to get to Luxor is flying, it is about a 1-hour flight. Round trip tickets are anywhere from $40.00-80.00 and with your SoarFare membership only a few points. There are other travel options to Luxor including a Nile Cruise, 9-hour train ride or car ride.
West Bank: I decided again to book a tour ahead of time called East to West bank full day tour on TripAdvisor. It was about $80.00 for the entire tour including pickup/drop off and lunch. We started on the West bank where all the tombs are. East bank meaning life (where the temples are located) and West meaning death (where Tombs and Valley of the Kings are located). Think about the rising and setting sun. We stopped at the tomb of King Hatshepsut. This tomb is giant and beautiful. King Hatshepsut was one of the few Queens to declare herself King and ruled as Pharaoh for about 25 years. Yassssss Queen!!
We then moved onto the Valley of the Kings. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but this is a mountain where so far, they have discovered 67 tombs of past Pharaohs. Each year Egypt will open 5 different tombs for tourists to enter. For some of them, it is a steep journey down and be prepared to again hold on. For the steeper ones they have wooden slats on the ground that you can use to climb down. The Tombs are filled with beautiful hieroglyphics and stories of whom is buried there. They used to also be filled with treasures and the King’s belonging but most of those have been moved into museums or have been pillaged over time. While there we decided to pay a little extra to enter the Tomb of King Tut, he is actually in there right now. Yes, you did read that correctly. The Mummy of King Tut is hanging out in his tomb waiting to be moved up to the new museum in Cairo. King Tut has a very small tomb with little to no hieroglyphics on the walls. For the most part it was because no one was expecting the 19 year old King to die so soon. However, his tomb is famous for all the gold treasures that were found inside with him.
East Bank: Karnak Temple is by far one of the coolest places I have ever seen. It was built in what they call the Middle Kingdom around 2000BC but most of what borders the complex was built in the New Kingdom around 1500BC. The Egyptian view of what constitutes “new” and the American version are two different things! Karnak is full of temples and sanctuaries. The original one was destroyed and was partly restored by King Hatshepsut. Many of things she improved were either erased or covered up by her jealous stepson when he became the next Pharaoh. However, because Karnak was an offering to a God, and even at that time you didn’t mess with the gods, her stepson built walls around Hatshepsut’s obelisk and other pillars in order to hide them from anyone to see. What he thought would erase the memory of her actually ended up preserving them. Karma’s a B... well you know what I mean.
By the end of my trip, I was exhausted, happy and felt rest. Overall, I had an amazing trip to Egypt. This trip was unlike any other trip I have gone on. The history is fascinating, the people are kind, the food is amazing. I would recommend going a little earlier in the year or Wintertime so it’s not so hot, we did have 1 day in Luxor where it was 108 degrees and that was a little much for late April. I am so happy I was able to hit my goal of 30 countries by 30! If you have a travel goal let SoarFare help get you there! It’s never too late to start traveling and there is a big, beautiful world out there just waiting for you to go see it!