What about Egypt?
A DREAM WAS BORN
Have you ever wanted to go to a place so bad that when it actually happened you had to constantly remind yourself it was not a dream? That's Egypt for me. Going to this country has been on my bucket list before I even knew what a bucket list was. I was in 5th grade, so I might have been 10 or 11 when I first learned about Egypt's ancient civilization, and since then I have been captivated by its history and culture. I'm not a history buff by any means but I have a healthy amount of general knowledge about the country's ancient history and seeing it all in person was an incredible experience.
Without delving too much into the past, if you've read my previous blog post you now know that I was born in Cuba, and if you know a little bit about Cuba you know that Cubans can't freely travel anywhere they want, and even if they could, most don't have the financial means to do so. So needless to say, a trip to Egypt for many years was just a warm and fuzzy dream.
DO DREAMS COME TRUE?
Even after I moved to the United States, Egypt felt distant. I mean, it's pretty far away, but so is any other country in Europe. Being totally transparent, I think the biggest hurdle is getting over that "fear of the unknown" and deciding to travel for the first time to a Middle Eastern country. It doesn't help that when you go to Travel.State.gov there is a big orange advisory telling U.S. citizens to reconsider travel plans to Egypt. And when I told my middle-aged Hispanic mom the news that we were going I think she cried a little, not necessarily of happiness (the drama!). Despite all this, in October 2021, as my husband and I were planning our next big trip after 2 years of a never ending pandemic, I kind of not so casually suggested Egypt, and we both said "why not?".
I immediately contacted Hussien, an Egyptologist that I had been following on Instagram for a few months after seeing another friend go to Egypt with him as their tour guide. He was very easy to work with, and extremely patient and responsive to all my questions. Fast forward to March 2022 and we are finally on a plane to London with a final destination of Cairo, Egypt.
Hussien organized an amazing itinerary for our family, perfect for a first time visit to Egypt. With the exception of our international flights, he took care of every single detail, from accommodations to transportation to and from every single place. As soon as we landed in Cairo Airport, we were greeted by someone that helped us get our Visa ($25 cash per person on arrival) and navigate through customs and baggage claim. After more than 19 hours of travel we were exhausted, and being in a new place where we didn't know the language the hand-holding was much appreciated.
IS IT EXPENSIVE?
There are two main ways to visit Egypt, on your own or with a guided tour (group or private). Both will give you completely different experiences and the cost will also be significantly different. In our case, we knew we wanted a guided tour, which we had never done in the past. I know this is a more sheltered experience, but it's also what we felt more comfortable with, and this is obviously the most expensive route but it's also great value for what you are getting. We had a private guide and driver with us the whole time, and also a concierge at the airport every time. All our meals, accommodations, entrance fees to the museums and temples (except Abu Simbel), the Nile cruise and domestic flights were included in our tour package price. Add to all that the peace of mind that everything was taken care of and it's honestly priceless. The additional things we had to cover outside of our package were our international flights, visas, covid tests, souvenirs, three dinners and TIPS. And I wrote tips in capital letters because those do add up, be prepared to tip for everything, it's just expected.
During our time in Cairo we stayed at Sofitel Cairo Nile El Gezirah. I had read so many blogs that said even a 5 star hotel in Egypt was not up to American standards, and that might be true in some cases, but this hotel is BEAUTIFUL and felt very luxurious. It's right next to the Nile in the center of Cairo, very close to the Egyptian Museum. Our 17th floor room had a great view of the river and the Cairo Tower. It has many amenities available to guests including several restaurants, a spa and pool, and the staff was very friendly.
We also embarked on a 4-day Nile cruise aboard the Movenpick MS Royal Lily. Our room in the cruise did feel a bit run down but I think that's just the standard since these riverboats are clearly old. With that said, the common areas were nice and clean, the staff was out-of-this-world attentive, and the food was to die for. To me that far outweighs the room not being as modern or luxurious to American standards.
And lastly, on our last night we checked in at Le Meridien Cairo Airport, which is an extremely modern and beautiful hotel conveniently located inside the airport. I wish we would have stayed here longer to explore all the amenities but we left very early the next day.
WHAT DID WE WEAR?
Outfits are a big part of our travels, I mean, we want to look cute in pictures! But we are also very practical and try to always travel with carry-on bags only. So far, we've been successful. For us, the stress of not knowing if our bags will make it to our destination, and the wait at baggage claim are just not worth the extra outfits that we may not even get to wear. In preparation for Egypt, I read and watched many vlogs about dress codes. I think the general consensus, which I agree with, is to dress modestly to be respectful of the culture you are visiting. Considering we were traveling in March, dressing modestly was easy because the weather was actually cold for us (between 50s and low 70s). I ended up wearing a cozy sweater the whole time we were there on top of all my outfits, so much for picture perfect outfits but I'm practical, remember, so I'm not about to suffer just to be cute.
As I pack, I always plan my outfits for each day of the trip so I know I'm taking enough without over packing. Once at my destination, I sometimes change things around but since these are all pre-planned and within the same family of colors most outfits can easily mix and match. For this trip I went with a color palette that consisted of warm colors: brown, mustard yellow, green, white, black and animal print. This is a quick overview of what I packed:
- 3 long jumpsuits (mustard, black and brown) and a calf-length chambray dress (wore them all, some more than once)
- 3 linen shirts (white, yellow and green) and 2 long sleeve t-shirts (white and black) (the only clothing item I didn't wear was the green shirt)
- 1 pair of striped pants and 1 pair of black leggins
- 1 calf-length animal print skirt that matched with all my tops
- 1 bikini that I wore once on the cruise to chill by the pool, it was too cold to get in
- 1 pair of sneakers that I ended up wearing every day because it was too cold and dusty to wear sandals during the day
- 2 pairs of flat sandals, one casual (that I never wore) and one dressy pair that I wore at night to go to dinner
- 1 sun hat that I only wore once because it was easier and more convenient to wear a headscarf
- 1 headscarf, only wore it once because our guide bought us all headscarfs so we ended up using those instead
For my daughter I used a similar logic, she brought a long skirt, one pair of pants and one pair of leggins, a couple of linen shirts, an animal print blouse, some t-shirts, one jumpsuit, denim shorts and a swim suit. For shoes just a pair of high top black converse, sandals and espadrilles. My husband stuck to a similar combination of pants and shorts, t-shirts and shirts, tennis shoes and boots.
THE BIG QUESTION
Is Egypt safe? There is no shame in ignorance as long as we are willing to learn and yes, I did google that question many times before and after booking my trip. I am a mom, moms worry and scenarios that I would never even think of in the past now plague my head full of sometimes irrational fear. I think we can all agree that there is nothing wrong with a healthy amount of fear, but it's important not to let it paralyze you. In short, the answer is yes, as soon as we landed in Egypt I felt safe. The energy in the air was warm and inviting, if you know what I mean. I think Egypt is as safe as any other country in the world is to foreigners. Tourists will always be vulnerable, specially in countries which culture and language are different to our own, so it's a matter of applying common sense to every decision you make and always being alert and aware of your surroundings, which I always am even at home. Even when we were surrounded by sellers at markets, which happened a couple of times, I didn't feel threatened or unsafe. There are also a ton of checkpoints for tourists (before leaving the hotel, before entering a sightseeing site, when returning to the hotel, etc.) which honestly made me feel like the government was looking out for the safety of their visitors.
Safety looks different for everyone. In our case, we felt safer and more comfortable with a tour guide so that's how we planned our trip. Others might be totally comfortable traveling on their own and navigating everything themselves which is definitely a challenge and can be exhausting when you don't know the language. But I read many blogs of travelers that do it this way and they are perfectly safe doing so.
WILL I RETURN?
Maybe not for a few years, the way we traveled this trip was a big investment, but I certainly want to return to Egypt one day and I already have an idea of the top places I want to visit next time: Siwa Oasis, Red Sea and Alexandria.