Since we were not able to go on our Eastern European trip in July and were itching to get in some overseas travel, we booked a trip to Egypt, Israel, and Jordan for November, thinking surely coronavirus would be over by then. Albeit originally hopeful (and in hindsight, probably a bit naive also), we were wrong about that, as coronavirus was still very much prevalent in most of the world. Luckily, however Egypt opened up for tourism in September, so we did not have to scrap the trip completely, just adjust it a bit. We had hoped Israel and Jordan would follow, but sadly they did not, so the trip just ended up being Egypt only.
Tourism during coronavirus is doable but very limited, as not all countries are welcoming tourists, especially Americans, quite yet. In order to visit Egypt, we had to have a PCR test within 96 hours of travel. This varies depending on your country of origin – if it’s even needed and the duration of time before the trip you need to have it, so it is best to check with your airline to find out what is required. All that aside, we had a pretty hassle-free experience so please read on to learn how we spent our 10 days in Egypt.
We arrived in Cairo late at night and checked into our hotel, Steigenberger Tahrir Square. This was a very nice hotel, where we very much enjoyed our stay. Since we arrived so late, we just slept to be up early for our journey to the Pyramids. We had a 10 hour layover in CDG earlier in the day, so we passed right out.
Day 1: Pyramids of Giza
This morning we got an uber from our hotel to the Pyramids. It’s best to go when it first opens. Not sure if it was Coronavirus or the time of day or a combination of both, but it was pretty dead here – we practically had the place to ourselves! While the beauty here is breathtaking, there are some things to be mindful of … when we were walking from our uber toward the entrance, there was a man motioning to us to follow him to the entrance. We followed him for a bit, and he kept trying to pester us to ride a camel. After walking a bit further, we realized where he was taking us did not look right and we turned around. He was trying to take us way out of the way so we’d get tired of walking and then give in to getting on the camel. The entrance is not so clearly marked but you will see the booth where you can buy the tickets. That is where you need to go. Once inside the complex, we were also harassed to ride camels. Just say ‘no thank you’ and keep walking if you are not interested. The other way locals try & ‘get you’ is to ask if you want a photo, or grab your phone/camera, take a picture and then try to charge you for it. Despite all this, we did have a great time and enjoyed the Pyramids, but these are some things to keep in mind while going about your day. The entire complex is sand so if you plan to walk, bring shoes you are comfortable walking in the sand in and don’t mind getting a little dirty/sandy. The place is big – so some people do prefer the camels. We walked and didn’t mind it and had a great time. Something to keep in mind, Coronavirus has hit people’s jobs and livelihoods all over the world, tourism has been hurt badly, so while yes it can get annoying to constantly be harassed by these people, they ARE trying to make a living and have probably been largely effected by the downturn in tourism.
There is an option to pay an additional fee to go inside the Great Pyramid. We opted out and instead just took a look inside through the opening. We didn’t feel like we missed out doing it this way.
Also at the Pyramid complex, is the Sphinx which was also amazing to see.
We can’t remember what the cost was, but most places only accept cash and charge a different free for locals than they do tourists. It was a few hundred Egyptian pounds, around 200 or 300 for entrance.
Nile Dinner Cruise
At night, we signed up to do a dinner cruise on the Nile. There are cruises that go for a few days and start/end in Aswan but we just did one for the night, it was a few hours in duration. The name of the boat was Scarabee and we were able to book it the day of, so there is no need to book anything beforehand. On the boat, they gave us a delicious dinner and provided entertainment that consisted of a belly dancer and a tanoura dancer. Tanoura translates to ‘skirt’ which is what the dancer, usually a man, wears that is decorated with lights and is long & very heavy. The dance consists of a series of twirl after twirl. It was pretty exciting and one has to wonder how he does not get dizzy after that!
On our second day in Cairo, we just toured around the city before heading out that night to our next destination.
We started our day with a hearty breakfast of Ful, which is a popular breakfast in Egypt consisting of a stew of fava beans, veggies & various herbs & spices. It is typically served warm and a staple in most places in Egypt and throughout the Arab world. We picked up some of this awesome morning chow at Felfela in downtown Cairo but it is served at most places, including all hotels we stayed at. Another thing popular for breakfast is of course the traditional Egyptian tea.
Khan El Khalili Market
This is one of the more popular markets in Cairo. We visited and found a lot of nice things here, including a plate that we purchased that has a picture of Nefertiti on it. The market was pretty empty, not sure if it was because it was a weekday and early or again, because of Coronavirus. Not all of the stores were open but we found it sufficient enough to be able to stroll around and get a nice peek at some of the items. One of the signature items to purchase in Cairo is the Papyrus painting. It can be found in many of the shops & ‘museums’ (which are really just galleries). These paintings are done on pieces of papyrus paper and donned with colorful & traditional Egyptian designs. We ended up purchasing one and now it hangs on our wall here at home, a little piece of Egypt here on Long Island.
Haggling here and throughout all of Egypt is commonplace and you might be missing out on something for a great price if you don’t. Don’t be afraid to state the price you want to pay and be firm about it. Walk away if they do not come down to the price you are comfortable with. Most of the time, if they see you walk away, they don’t want to lose out on a sale and will give you your price.
Mosque of Muhammed Ali
This is a beautiful mosque and probably the most well-known in all of Egypt. It’s just as gorgeous inside as it is out and provides a lookout where you can get an amazing view of the city below. It is encouraged to dress conservatively here as well as in most of Egypt.
City of the Dead
The City Of The Dead is an area within Cairo, encompassing many cemeteries and mausoleums, but people live here as well. We had heard about it and asked our uber driver to pull over on the side of the road so we could get a picture, but he ended up also just driving us through it. It was interesting and very eye-opening to see how the people live here.
For dinner, we found a local spot called Kazaz that had amazing food. The bottom was a take-out, grab & go area and up the stairs you could sit down for waiter service. We did the upstairs option and everything was so tasty, the menu was gigantic and the service was great. There were also mostly locals in here, so we think that is one of the ways to know whether a place is good or not.
Overnight Bus from Cairo to Hurghada
After dinner, we packed our things, checked out of the hotel and headed for the overnight bus to Hurghada. The bus we booked with was Go Bus. They have many routes and are among one of the more popular bus companies for tourists. We booked online the day before and they do accept credit card (which is quite a rarity in Egypt). The bus ride was 7 hours in duration and pretty uneventful but lo & behold we did make it to Hurghada and it was nice, too, to arrive early in the morning so you have the whole day there. That’s one of the main reasons we chose the overnight bus.
Where We Stayed
Steigenberger Tahrir Square
We enjoyed our time in Cairo but were excited to live the beach life in Hurghada!
Our day in Hurghada started by checking into our hotel, Marriott Hurghada. We were able to partake in the delicious breakfast this morning that consisted of many Egyptian and Arabic foods but also traditional ‘American’ breakfasts also. Here we also had some ful, as well as omelets, pitas, fruit, coffee, tea & various fruit juices. The breakfast space had an outdoor seating area overlooking the Red Sea that was just gorgeous. We loved having breakfast here every morning – what a great way to start the day!
After breakfast, we just hung out on the beach all day. The Red Sea is so beautiful, warm & clear. You can see for miles & miles and there are some little fish that swim around as well (harmless).
From what we were told, due to COVID, many of the ‘public’ beaches were closed, but luckily the Marriott had a private beach just for guests and it was very much open and hardly crowded. They even had a bar you could order from right outside and the bartender will bring the drink right to your beach chair.
After our beach day, we wanted to check out the town @ night. We walked around and mostly did some shopping and then found a place to eat. An amazing spot we stumbled upon was called Starfish and they had a very large menu of fish from various places in the world – including fish specifically from the Red Sea and also the Mediterranean Sea. The fish below is called Sheor fish, which was so tasty and moist. This one was from the Red Sea and they served it mezgoof style.
After dinner we went to a sweet shop and tasted some of the desserts popular in Arabic culture, such as kunafa.
This day we went on a scuba & snorkel trip. We were able to book this the day before also, right from our hotel. The Aquarius Diving Co had an office at the Marriott so that was pretty convenient. They also had all the equipment there, like wetsuits, fins, goggles, scuba tanks etc … all we had to do the morning of was show up. The tour lasted all day, with one long dive and one shorter dive. Sam scuba’d & I only snorkeled. The underwater landscape in the Red Sea is truly remarkable – so many beautiful & colorful fish every which way you look … and we even saw Dory & Nemo (what up guys!).
Dinner was spent back @ Starfish again. This time getting a different fish called Kaross (bass), one from the Mediterranean this time.
Day 5 was another day on the beach, but we didn’t even need to be on the beach to get spectacular views. Our hotel had a balcony overlooking the water and it was nice to get up and have some tea and coffee before starting our day.
This day we did another snorkel trip, but this time snorkel only, no scuba and a chance to see dolphins, as well as partake in banana boating. We were able to see a pod of dolphin and it was incredible; they tell you to get ready and once they’re there you jump into the water and try & swim with them. They were really fast! In addition to the dolphins, we also some various kinds of beautiful fish, many different than what we had seen 2 days prior.
For dinner, we had room service brought to the room. We did this 2 of the nights in Hurghada and it was delicious. We felt, even though we loved Starfish, there were not too many restaurants in Hurghada that appealed to us. They do have a marina with lots of restaurants but most of the food were things we could get at home and we thought the hotel had a better selection of Arabic food, as the marina caters more to tourists.
Where We Stayed
This morning we took the bus to Luxor. It took about 4 hours and we got there early enough to be able to see Karnak Temple. This temple was incredible and we felt we didn’t need a whole day to spend there either. The cost was approximately 200 EGP and you pay by cash. We enjoyed our time @ Karnak Temple. The beauty & history was second to none.
Since uber doesn’t exist in Luxor, we had to take a cab to the temple. We ended up booking the cab driver (Ali) for the duration of our time in Luxor. This was super convenient because he picked us up from our hotel and then drove us from temple to temple and then back to the hotel. He just waited for us to finish at the temple and we also had his whatsapp where we could message him when we were ready. We set up the price with him at the beginning. It’s best to set up an agreed upon price at the beginning so you are not stuck at the end being charged unfairly. We negotiated a price of roughly 450 EGP to be our driver from roughly 8 am to 5 pm. If you are going to Egypt and would like to know his contact information I would be more than happy to share his contact info.
Valley Of The Kings / More Temples
The next day we went to 3 more of the temples including Valley Of The Kings, Hatshepsut and Luxor Temple.
Our first stop of the day was Valley Of The Kings. The cost here was approximately 300 EGP. All the temples only took cash. With the basic ticket you can see 3 tombs and then it’s an additional cost to see the tomb of Tut, which we did see and was very worth it – and very cool to see. While you do not see the gold mask here, you do get to see his mummified body.
Here are the tombs we chose to see.
KV2: Ramses IV
KV11: Ramses III
KV 14: Tasert-Setnakht
King Tut’s Tomb
Our second stop of the day was Hatshepsut Temple. The cost here was approximately 140 EGP. This was one of the more crowded temples of the day, but we still enjoyed our time here.
After our visit to Hatshepsut, we asked our driver to take us to the Colossal Statue of Memnon. This is something you can see from the road but we asked our driver to pull into the parking lot so we could get better pictures. It is free to come see the statues. They are basically just 2 massive stone statues of Amenhotep II.
For lunch, we stopped in town for Koshari and Hawashi at a place that our driver recommended, because we said we specifically wanted Koshari. Koshari is the national dish of Egypt consisting of Egyptian rice, lentils, chickpeas and macaroni cooked individually and then tossed together in a cumin-spiced tomato sauce. Hawashi is just a pita stuffed with meat & spiced with onions, pepper, parsley and chilis. We enjoyed our lunch and always try to have as much different cultural foods as we can and always the national dish.
After lunch, we made our last stop for the day, Luxor Temple. This beautiful temple cost approximately 160 EGP and we enjoyed the many beautiful artifacts found here.
Finally, at night we had dinner and then got on the overnight train back to Cairo. Before we talk about the train, we want to say we definitely recommend hiring a driver. This worked out very well due to uber not being available and we liked that he waited for us at the entrances of the place so we did not have to call him every time, he just waited there.
Where We Stayed
Our experience on the train was ok. We had some problems purchasing the ticket so the driver was able to help us out, which was nice. Apparently you need an Egyptian phone number to buy the ticket, so we had to have the driver give his number. It ended up being fine, but took kind of a while for the credit card machine to work and get the actual tickets into our hands. We are not too sure what people would do if they don’t have access to an Egyptian phone number but we were very grateful to our amazing driver, Ali. We ended up purchasing the ticket at the train station the day before. We tried to purchase online but it proved difficult, because it also asked us for an Egyptian phone number, which we didn’t have.
The train itself was a mediocre experience. We found it to be small & somewhat dirty but the bed was comfortable enough for a train. We had taken the overnight train in Vietnam and compared to that, we felt the experience in Vietnam was much better. Ultimately the train was an efficient mode of transportation and at $80/each we felt ok about it. The Sleeper train takes approximately 10hrs and the good thing about it is you get to Cairo early in the morning, so you have the whole day there.
Since we had a whole day in Cairo and we had already been there at the beginning of the trip, we needed something to do to kill some time so we chose to visit the Cairo Egyptian Museum, as we heard the gold mask of King Tut was there.
While incredible to see, unfortunately they do not allow photography of it up close. We were, however, able to get a picture of it through the glass enclosure.
After the museum, we just got a hotel for the rest of the day to shower, rest and hold our bags. After a few hours at the hotel, we had dinner again at Kazaz and then headed to the airport for our flight back home.
We had a great time and are glad we did not allow COVID to cancel our trip. We’re not advocating everyone travel during these times; certainly do what you’re comfortable with, but we are glad we did. We felt safe on all flights, all modes of transportation, in hotels, restaurants and all attractions. We wore masks whenever possible and always recommend doing so around others.
If any of you have some travel planned during Coronavirus, let us know where you’re going and what your plan is to keep safe. Thanks for following us & stay ‘saif’.