For our visit to Egypt we chose to book 8-days with the highly reviewed Emo Tours. While you can certainly explore Egypt on your own, we felt more comfortable allowing Emo Tours to plan everything. They will provide you with an experienced tour guide and driver during your stay.
To suit your needs, Emo tours has a variety of options on their website, which range anywhere from duration to budget. You can choose from one of their pre-planned trips and then add to your itinerary once you are there via an a la carte list of activities linked here. Our tour was a private tour which was ideal for our schedule. Wanting to see as much as possible, we didn’t want to be slowed down by any one else’s itinerary.
Arrival at the airport in Cairo was easier than we expected. Immediately greeted by an Emo tours representative, we paid the $25 per person in cash for our Egyptian Visas. This is essentially just a sticker they put in your passport upon arrival. Then we proceeded through immigration. Make sure to check the visa regulations for your country of origin prior to arrival in Egypt to ensure a smooth entry.
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Since we packed light and only brought our North Face duffel carry-ons, we skipped baggage claim and headed straight out to greet our driver and guide.
We were greeted by our guides directly outside of the Cairo airport, Tonsi- our guide and Mohamed- our driver. On the way to our hotel in Cairo we stopped in the Vodaphone store to get SIM cards for our phones. This is something I always do in foreign countries to make my life easier.
In this post, I will outline our 8 day itinerary with Emo Tours. We chose one of their standard packages and customized it in order to maximize our visit to Egypt.
Cairo Day 1
Our flight into Cairo arrived in the afternoon. Due to heavy traffic (which is normal in Cairo) we didn’t reach our hotel until after the sun had already set. We checked into the Le Meridien Pyramids Hotel and Spa where we were escorted to our spacious room. The Le Meridien Pyramids Hotel and Spa is located in the heart of Cairo across the street from the Giza pyramid complex. It has incredible poolside views of the three Great Pyramids Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure.
The Le Meridien Pyramids hotel offers a very nice buffet style dinner and breakfast service, as well as, a la carte. Within the hotel they have their own selections of small shops, a spa, an ATM and even a cash exchange.
Cairo Day 2
After a delicious and filling breakfast at the Le Meridien Pyramids Hotel and Spa we packed our bags and checked out. Our first stop for the day was to the city of Saqqara. Here we visited the Imhotep Museum and the Step Pyramid of Djoser.
The Imhotep museum is located directly in front of the grounds of the Step Pyramid complex. It is a small museum filled with artifacts and antiquities from local excavations and serves to give visitors some insight to ancient Egyptian life.
Designed and constructed by the great architect Imhotep in the 27th Century BC for the burial of Pharaoh Djoser, the Step pyramid is the oldest in Egyptian history. The Djoser Step pyramid is an important piece of the Egyptian pyramid architecture history. It was an early attempt to prevent looting of the treasures of the tomb by stacking steps of stone on one another. The complex surrounding the pyramid contains many tombs, tunnels and other structures.
Departing Saqqara, and just a short drive later we arrived at the City of Memphis. This was the old capital city during the Old Kingdom in Egypt. Here we entered into a large open-air structure which houses the Colossal Statue of Ramses II.
Outside of the structure are many statues and tombs including the more famous Sphinx statue that was carved from a single block of Alabastar stone.
Leaving the City of Memphis we drove back towards the Great Pyramids (Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure). Tonsi, our guide, chose to save the pyramids for the late afternoon so that the sun wouldn’t be directly overhead during our visit.
Once we arrived at the site of the pyramids, we collected our pre-paid ticket to enter the Great Pyramid of Khufu (or Cheops) and passed through security. They did stop us about the tripod in our backpack so I would recommend leaving it in the car to avoid any problems.
The Great Pyramid is the tallest of the three, rising 481 feet from the earth. It was built over a span of 20 years during the reign of King Khufu from 2580-2560 BC. Even though nothing remains inside the pyramid it was still an incredibly amazing experience to be able to crawl up the narrow, steep path leading through the Grand Gallery to the burial chamber.
Upon exiting the Great Pyramid of Giza we were led over to the camels. We participated in the very touristy (but still a must do) camel ride around the Great Pyramids. The base tour price includes a 10 minute camel ride but we chose to pay a little extra to extend the time to be able to see all three pyramids.
Unfortunately, by the time we finished the camel ride the entrance to the Sphinx was just closing. The local police were clearing stragglers for the Sphinx laser light show. Luckily, we were still able to see the Sphinx but were unable to get super close to it.
That evening, we had some time to kill prior to heading to the train station so we relaxed with a cup of coffee at a nearby cafe’s second story balcony overlooking the pyramids.
After a coffee and tea, our guide and driver escorted us to the train station and onto the overnight sleeper train from Cairo to Aswan. They ensured we found our way to our modest cabin and we were off. For tourist security reasons there was a plain clothed police officer with a side arm in our train car.
At 7:45 pm we were settled into our room on the sleeper train. The bed on the train was more comfortable than we anticipated. However, due to the constant noise, accompanied by the shaking and jolting of the moving train, we were unable to get a good nights sleep.
Aswan Day 3
We arrived in Aswan on our overnight sleeper train around 8:30 am and were greeted by our guide, Hani who is a very educated Egyptologist. Hani was our guide for the duration of our time in Aswan and Luxor.
To start our day, we drove directly to the Aswan High Dam. Constructed between 1960 and 1970, the Aswan High Dam is a rock-filled dam designed to control the high levels of water caused by the annual Nile River flooding.
The dam stretches across the length of the Nile River and creates Lake Nasser. This is one of the largest reservoirs in the world which aids in the management of the irrigation system that the agriculture is dependent on.
A short ways downstream of the Aswan High Dam and situated in the center of the Nile River is the small island that houses the Philae Temple. To reach the temple you must board a small boat and sail a few minutes to reach the island.
Built to honor the Goddess Isis, the Philae Temple has many carvings of scenes depicting her life as the wife of Osiris and mother of Horus. The Philae Temple was once submerged under the Nile River. Fortunately, with the help of UNESCO, the temple was deconstructed and then reconstructed on higher ground. This process took 10 years.
After our visit to the Philae Temple we drove to the Helnan Hotel-Aswan where we would check in and spend the afternoon relaxing at the pool which overlooked the Nile River.
Aswan Day 4
Our day started very early as the journey from Aswan to Abu Simbel takes 3.5 hrs one way by car. Built in the 13th century BC when Ramses II was the Pharaoh, the two temples of Abu Simbel were carved directly into the mountain. The most recognizable of the two is the temple with the 4 very large statues of a seated Ramses II at the entrance.
The interior of the temple is very impressive with many large statues, carved scenes and hieroglyphics. Unfortunately, no photography is allowed inside so be mindful of that when entering.
The smaller temple at Abu Simbel was built for Queen Nefertari and includes 2 statues of her alongside Ramses II at the entrance.
After spending the morning at Abu Simbel we drove back towards Aswan. From here we took a walking tour of a Nubian Village. Reachable only by boat, we arrived at the colorful Gharb Souhel Village located on the banks of the Nile River.
The Nubian people are welcoming and cheerful and happily invited us into their home. We drank tea, chatted about the Nubian life and learned a bit about their history. Leaving the Nubian village we walked past many shops trying to sell us things that we did not need nor want.
Unfortunately, there has been a decrease in tourism in recent years and their profits have been suffering. This is also the case for many of the places we visited in Egypt. It is important to inform your guide that you are not interested in purchasing the items so that they can relay that in Egyptian to the shop owners. Our guides were very good at making sure we weren’t uncomfortable. However, if you feel pressured or harassed in any way about purchasing something just make sure you are very stern with your answer. Most of the time we found that the best way to deter the harassment was to just ignore the shop owners. This is very difficult for me because I never want to be rude or disrespectful.
Departing the Nubian village by boat, we sailed along the Nile until we reached our hotel.
Later that evening, Hani greeted us at our hotel so we could walk into town to experience the market night life. For dinner we enjoyed Aswan’s famous fresh fish while sitting in a park, on the grass, hilariously surrounded by very hungry cats.
Luxor Day 5
This morning we checked out of Helnan Hotel-Aswan and took the morning train from Aswan to Luxor. We started our tour in Luxor at the West Bank, visiting the Valley of the Kings.
We visited 3 of the open tombs that were on rotation at the time. For their age, each of the tombs were incredibly preserved with many of the colors still intact. The long corridors leading to the burial chambers are completely covered in scenes and hieroglyphics depicting the life of each pharaoh. Over a span of 500 years, 63 royal tombs were carved out with precision and hidden underground in the Valley of the Kings.
Photography is forbidden and your guide is not allowed to enter the tombs with you. Therefore, they will usually give you an overview of information prior to entering.
Our next stop was to the Hatshepsut Temple. Situated below the Deir el Bahari, a site filled with mortuary temples and tombs is the grand Hatshepsut Temple.
To reach the multi-level mortuary temple, which was constructed for Queen Hatshepsut, you climb aboard a small train-car that will drive you right up to the entrance. We wandered around the Temple on our own, admiring the intricate carvings on the large columns.
Leaving the Hatshepsut Temple we made a short stop at the Colossi of Memnon. We’d passed it on our way to the Valley of the Kings. The Colossi of Memnon is 2 enormous statues made of stone depicting the Pharaoh Amenhotep III.
We stopped for lunch before boarding a motorized boat (to save time instead of driving) that would take us over to the East Bank. We began our tour of the East Bank at the Luxor Temple.
Built around 1400 BCE, the Luxor Temple is quite grand.
All around the well preserved complex we saw many sphinx, statues, columns and hieroglyphics. The Luxor Temple was constructed over a long period of time. Starting with the Pharaoh Amenhotep III, then Tutankhamen, Horemheb and finally Rameses II.
The Luxor Temple, and nearby Karnak Temple will eventually be re-connected by the 2.9 km of a paved pathway lined with Sphinx statues which is currently under excavation.
The massive Karnak Temple complex was built over the span of 2000 years and, in addition to the Luxor Temple, is a cult temple dedicated to the Theban triad: Amun, Mut and Khonsu. The amount of detail in the carvings and statues can be see all over the premises and in some areas the colors have even been preserved.`
That evening we stayed in the Sonesta St. George Hotel in Luxor in a spacious room with a balcony that overlooked the Nile River.
Luxor Day 6
We eased into our morning with a cup of coffee on the balcony. There, we watched several hot air balloons floating in the sky over the Nile River and the Valley of the Kings. We chose not to add the hot air balloon ride to our itinerary (we had previously taken a balloon ride over the Serengeti in Tanzania) but you can easily add it on to your trip when you arrive.
We checked out of our hotel and began our day at the Dendera Temple Complex.
The Dendera Temple complex is magnificent and is easily one of the best-preserved temples in Egypt. It also happened to be my favorite of all the Temples.
Built for the Goddess Hathor, this multi-level temple is so well preserved. After careful cleaning, the original vibrant colors are now exposed in many of the rooms.
In the main room we walked amongst towering columns topped with large headed statues of Hathor, the goddess of love, beauty and joy. Within the walls is a spiral staircase that leads up to the roof. At the top there is a small structure, as well as, a mummification room.
Our next stop was to the Medinet Habu Temple complex. This mortuary temple for Rameses III is well known for having very deep hieroglyphic carvings all over the temple.
Located on the West Bank in Luxor, the Medinet Habu Temple was first built in the 18th century by Queen Hatshepsut and Thutmose III. However, this structure was eventually taken over by Rameses III. He used the site for his massive memorial temple complex where it was built up even more.
After our visit to the Medinat Habu temple complex we drove to the Valley of the Workers. The Deir El Medina is a large area of land filled with the tombs of the artists who created the intricate reliefs and hieroglyphics in the tombs for the Pharaohs in the Valley of the Kings.
The scenes that are carved and painted along the walls of these tombs depicts the everyday life of these workers.
That evening, before we boarded the overnight train back to Cairo at 10pm, we visited the Luxor Museum and the Mummification Museum. The Luxor Museum is a small, very well organized archeological museum that houses many beautifully displayed artifacts.
After a thorough visit to the Luxor Museum we headed over to the Mummification Museum. This museum is also small but is packed with information about the mummification process and the history of mummification. You’ll even get an up close look at a few mummies!
Cairo Day 7
We arrived almost 2 hours after our scheduled arrival time in Cairo from the overnight train and were greeted by Tonsi and Mohamed. Our first stop back in Cairo was to the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities (Egyptian Museum). The Egyptian Museum is absolutely incredible but completely chaotic.
The amount of artifacts that lie within those walls is unbelievable and truly overwhelming. However, the museum is so poorly organized that it’s almost impossible to fully appreciate the amount of history and antiquities from Ancient Egypt.
With over 120,000 items, including the treasures found in Tutankhamun’s tomb, the current museum is just too small. Fortunately, they are currently in the process of building a larger museum near the Great Pyramids of Giza that will be able to fully display the extensive amount of pieces they currently have.
After our visit to the Egyptian Museum, we drove to the old part of Cairo. We walked around Coptic Cairo (Old Cairo) exploring some of Egypt’s Christian churches.
The first church we visited was the Church of Abu-Sergah and St. Barbara, where it is said that the Holy Family stayed during their time in Egypt. Our second stop was to Saint Virgin Mary’s Coptic Orthodox Church. More commonly known as the Hanging Church, it is one of the oldest churches in Egypt. Lastly, we entered the Ben Ezra Synagogue before leaving Old Cairo and heading back to our hotel.
For our last night in Egypt we stayed at the Le Meridien Hotel and Spa in Cairo. Enjoying the evening hanging by the pool and watching the sun set behind the Great Pyramids.
Cairo Day 8
Ending our trip with a little bit of adventure, we chose to add the quad biking to the last day of our trip! We arrived at the place to pick up the 4 wheelers and after a quick lesson on how to operate the quad bikes, we were off! We started by driving along the dirt roads, weaving in and out of horses and camels along the way. Finally passing through security, we saw the pyramids emerge on the right. Picking up speed in the open desert we were flying up and over the hills. The quad bikes stir up a lot of dust so make sure to wear sunglasses (or any type of eye protection) and a scarf to cover your mouth and nose, if needed.
Quad biking in the desert was so much fun and the perfect way to end our trip to Egypt!
Planning your trip to Egypt? Message me if you have any questions!
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