For many people, traveling to Egypt is a once in a lifetime dream. Our board members have all traveled to Egypt, and we have some tips for you to consider when planning your own travel. Our advice will focus on antiquities-based travel; if your main interest is a beach or water sports vacation on the Red Sea, we can’t be much help.
Many people who travel to Europe and Asia independently may ask if they can do the same in Egypt. Of course, but you might prefer the advantages that a tour operator can give you.
Be aware that specific sites may open or close without advance warning, due to capacity management issues, damage at sites, need for refurbishment, or even spontaneous holidays, local or national. Some sites, like the Great Pyramid or the Tomb of Nefertari, sell limited tickets at specific hours. Fluent English and European languages are not routinely spoken at ticketing locations. If there are specific sites you want to visit, your chance of seeing them is better with local assistance.
There are general tour operators who take you to a standard list of highlights, often at peak hours, so you are person number 500 in line to see a stele. There are specialty tour companies whose expertise in antiquities and connections with the Egyptians and foreigners working to preserve the heritage are unsurpassed. Both types of companies offer tours in all price ranges.
Do you have your heart set on a site you saw on a TV program? Most sites under current excavation are totally off limits to tourists, but an archaeological-based tour might get you in. Such sites require special permissions negotiated and paid for by specialized tour firms from the Ministry of Antiquities.
A few other things to evaluate:
Is it safe? The Egyptian Revolution began in 2011 and continues. The main focal point of demonstration activity and TV filming of unrest has been Cairo. If we had a crystal ball, we could tell you if this activity will continue. Savvy tour operators are staging tour groups outside of downtown and bringing folks in by bus to see key magnets like the Cairo Museum. Luxor has experienced little unrest during the revolution. The general drop in tourism means shorter lines at key “attractions.” You may register with your government’s Department of State/Foreign Office for travel advisories, which they will email you. Travel insurance is worth your consideration for all destinations outside of North America and Europe.
Nile cruises form part of many itineraries to Egypt, and most of them operate between Luxor and Aswan. The government has just re-opened the long cruise from Cairo to Aswan, after years of not allowing this journey. Companies are experimenting with offering these beginning in 2013, and time will tell if that market is successful.
There are may be a hundred Nile cruise boats of varying degrees of luxury and maintenance, varying in age from brand-new to fifty years old. If a tour you are considering includes a cruise, do some independent research on the web about the boat. Determine what kind of ambience and amenities matter to you.
What does it mean to have an Egyptologist as your guide? It means different things. Egyptian universities provide degrees in Egyptian history and tourism, and those graduates call themselves Egyptologists. These courses do not include field work, and these guides may not be up to date on current discoveries or may never have set foot on an operating excavation site. Certainly, they have not personally used a trowel in the field.
Guided tours are significantly different when touring with a famous Egyptologist who has excavated at important sites or whose interviews you have seen on TV. Many big-name excavators and expedition leaders sign on with museums, National Geographic Society, tour companies specializing in archaeological travel, and/or universities to guide one or two tours a year. Most museums with Egyptian collections and universities with Near East degree programs offer these periodically, and you could scout for them.
The specialty tour companies specializing in archaeology around the world, some with an emphasis on Egypt, also have contacts with the expedition leaders all around the country and may plan visits to meet with them and hear lectures by them on site. In a normal year, they may offer a dozen departure dates with varying emphases and sites.
Over the years, our board members have traveled with the following specialty companies, listed in alphabetical order, and we know their owners. There may be other companies out there, but if we personally have not traveled with them, we are not listing them, because we have not experienced their level of service.
Specialty Archeological Tour Companies:
Ancient World Tours
Seven Wonders Travel