by Michaela Franklin, a contributor based in Oman who travels with her partner. All photos are provided by Michaela Franklin.
We begin in Cairo. First off, Cairo is a CITY. A large one. It’s a bustling, metropolitan community filled to the brim. The people are spirited, energetic, and fun. This was especially evident in our tour guides. We used the Egilika Tour Company, a family-owned business, and the cost for their services was $1,400. I’d highly recommend them.
Note that tourism is a huge field of study and most tour guides there actually hold bachelor’s and master’s degrees in tourism. You can see the difference in this, in terms of how seamless and informational the tours are. Every day was an adventure and we learned a ton.
Because this is what you came for, right?
We decided to visit the Pyramids on Christmas day. Let me manage your expectations. It is NOT like in the movies. You know how in the movies, when you arrive everything opens up, there’s a long trail, and you can hear the trumpets blazing? Yeah, it’s none of that. First off, the pyramids are basically in the city. If you are familiar with the Washington Monument and the National Mall, it’s like living in Washington, D.C. and seeing the monument everyday.
When you first arrive, there’s a heavily guarded entrance area and it’s super crowded with way too many tour buses and taxis. Also Cairo is heavily militarized with police, police guards, and foot cops EVERYWHERE. But once you enter? My GOD. It is beautiful. The pyramids are huge and truly a wonder of the world. The sheer engineering involved is genius.
Take ALL the pictures. Do all the corny things like ride the camels, use props, go into the tombs. We visited the tomb of King Khufu. If you are claustrophobic, it’s NOT for you. It is a long steep walk directly upstairs. The space is only about six feet high at most and about five feet across. The “stairs” are super rickety. People are going up and coming back down in the same hallway. It’s also hot. We are an adventurous lot, so we toughed it out and played Afrobeats on our phones the whole way up to keep things happy and upbeat.
We opted to stay in the middle of the city at The Nile Ritz Carlton, which costs $150-180 per night. The Ritz is super central, and close to mainly everything. A lot of people choose to stay at resorts in Giza. But Giza is close to nothing but the pyramids. If you are a person who prefers to explore the city and see local stuff, stay somewhere central. The traffic is crazy heavy in Cairo, so you’ll be able to get the most out of your trip if you stay closer in.
Transportation & Food
We had a driver for most of our tour-related visits. For pre- and post-tour activities, we just Ubered, which is inexpensive. Also Talabat, which is the Uber Eats/Door Dash of the Middle East, is also really cheap. Before arriving, I was already a huge fan of Egyptian cuisine. Definitely try koshary. My favorite dish is kawara’a, which is basically cow feet in a delicious soup. (Think pig feet and hot sauce for my Southerners.) Also note: while most places accept US dollars. Make sure to grab some local currency, specifically for taxis and tips. A typical tip is 18 to 20 percent. PLEASE tip.
Nile River Cruise/Belly Dancing
We had dinner at a cruise ship. It was advertised as a luxury cruise, but didn’t quite live up to the hype. My suggestion: most tours include this excursion as part of a package deal. Find out your excursion destinations beforehand. The belly dancing, however, was FIRE. I was obsessed with the dancer. What the atmosphere lacked, the dancing definitely made up for. We also enjoyed belly dancing at our hotel. While the atmosphere was dope, it was a bit sterile. We got a few referrals for some local places and decided to head there.
Another tip: if you stay at a hotel, don’t ask the hotel reception staff or the concierge for the best places for nightlife because they are probably going to send you to the local tourist spots. Ask the drivers, the maître d’hotel, servers, and hostesses where the best places are. Whenever I travel, while I love all things bougie, I like a local atmosphere in the mix as well. I’m less interested in places where there’s a lot of Western tourists, as the vibe can sometimes be watered down. I want to hear music in local languages, listen to live bands, and eat street food and local cuisine. If I wanted to see a bunch of Americans and eat westernized food, I would visit the States. For Cairo, I really wanted a more local experience, and luckily we had a nice mixture of that.
The Citadel is a very historic landmark and is also the site where the first irrigation system was created. It also is home to the Great Mosque of Muhammad. The Mosque is absolutely beautiful. When visiting here or any mosque, make sure you dress modestly.
Sharm El Sheikh
If you are looking for a more resort-like feel with beachy vibes then Sharm El Sheikh is for you. This is definitely a popular tourist location. We stayed at Rixos Sharm El Sheikh at $500 to $580 per night. Make sure you pick the adult side.
If you like luxury things, the First Mall, located at the Four Seasons hotel is about a ten-minute drive to the Ritz. You will find most luxury brands there, including but not limited to Rolex, Audemars Piguet, Gucci, Bvlgari, Emporio Armani, and more. At the end of each tour day, you are typically sent to a few shops wherein you will be directed to purchase items from a commission sales person. In some cases, your tour guide will also receive a percentage.
I’ll keep it 100: many don’t like this portion and felt like it was a hustle for Western tourists to spend money. To that point, I say, you can simply say NO. No one is forcing you to buy anything. Tourism is the economy in Egypt. This is how locals make income.
We ended up with some lovely souvenirs for ourselves and for our families. I would recommend the Royal Perfume and Oils shop and Gold Souk areas. The perfumery itself was like a small museum, filled with gorgeous colorful oil cases, and the guests were lovely and engaging.
Also, I love to haggle and negotiate- maybe too much- so I love the idea of going into a place and bargaining. If this is not your idea of a good time, don’t go to the souks, or basically any place with a market because hustling and negotiating is a way of life in Egypt.
All in all, I enjoyed our time in Egypt. Though I liked Cairo, I’m not pressed to go again. Next time, we will try South Egypt, specifically Luxor and Aswan as that’s where most of the “folks,” also known as the “Nubians,” reside.