Trip Report Jewels of the Nile October 2021
I know that some upcoming travelers are interested in hearing from people who have completed this tour. We returned to the US on November 2 after a great trip. We had booked the tour pre-COVID and had some concerns about going forward, as we have not travelled at all since before the pandemic. We are glad we did not cancel.
Getting there: we flew Lufthansa from Chicago to Frankfurt to Cairo. The gate agent in Chicago looked at both the CDC card and the PCR lab report. In Frankfurt, surprisingly, the Lufthansa lounge required the CDC card. Arrival in Cairo was less hectic than I had anticipated. Upon disimbarking there were two health check lines. The man we went to was interested in only the PCR lab report. Shortly thereafter, we came to the area in which we met the Tauck rep with the sign. There were 8 in our Tauck group of 24 who were on our flight. The rep had our visas, which he affixed to the passports,he took us to immigration, which was very quick, and to a bus.
Cairo traffic is crazy! interesting ride to the Mena House. I will never forget my first glimpse of the pyramids. Check-in was easy. Our room had a fantastic view of the great pyramid. Because we arrived on a Saturday, that night there was an outdoor wedding on the property. Four of us ate outside at the 139 Restaurant, with a nighttime view of the great pyramid and a birds-eye view of a very elaborate Egyptian wedding. Because we arrived early with our gift of time, we had the next day free (Day 1 of the tour) until the Welcome Reception at 5:30. We chose to have a leisurely breakfast, swim and relax by the pool, have lunch by the pool, and then work out. We also went to the Bank on the property (near the front gate) and change some US dollars to Egyptian pounds. You can walk to the Bank, or someone will take you in a golf cart. There is an ATM near the lobby area, but I heard that people were having trouble with it. Our dinner of Egyptian specialties was at the restaurant near the pool - it was good. But a lot of meat.
Day 2: Early breakfast at the 139 Restaurant. (By the way service very good, and plenty of coffee, which was good). Then we headed to the pyramids, the camel ride and the Sphinx. Fabulous morning. Buffet lunch at the Palm Club. We were the only group there. Then we headed to Saqqara. We visited 3 of the Mastaba tombs (noblemen). Teti, Mereruka and Kagemni. A couple of people took a pass on Teti, as it was challenging to walk in and out bent over. Then to the Step Pyramid. By the way, we had a great guide in Cairo, Dina. We could see the Bent and Red pyramids in the distance and I asked her a lot of questions about them.
Day 3: Very early flight to Luxor (6:30 am) because Egyptair was not running the usual flight. But what a bonus! We went to the Winter Palace for breakfast. I was thrilled, as I have read so much about this hotel. We also had a chance to meet our fabulous guide, Mustafa. Good breakfast, but even better, time to explore. This is where Howard Carter announced that he had discovered Tut's tomb. Then to the beautiful Zahra and time to settle in and have lunch. Food and service excellent on the boat. At 2:30 we headed to the Valley of the Queens. There, we visited Nefetari's tomb, QV66. Beautiful. And we were the only group there. We entered in two groups. We then had a picture stop at the Temple of Hatshepsut. Then to the Valley of the Kings, after the day visitors had left. Mustafa walked us to an area where he took us to the outside of 4 tombs, which he discussed. We were then able to choose the order of our visits to these tombs, so that we could split up and enjoy them with very few others. The four tombs we visited were KV8 (Merenptah), KV 11 (Rameses III), KV6 (Rameses IX) and, of course, KV62(Tut). Quite a memorable experience to be there at night and just with our group.
Day 4: We headed to Karnak Temple at 8:00 am. Fortunately, we arrived before the busloads of Russians from the Red Sea. Very impressive. Then we drove to Luxor Temple. Also impressive. In both places we saw the ongoing work to prepare for the opening ceremonies for the Avenue of the Sphinxes. We returned to the boat for lunch and to sail to Esna and pass through the locks. We spent a lot of time on deck swimming and enjoying the River.
I think that we enjoyed the pool 3 times. Some people had massages on the boat. Also, there was reasonably priced laundry service.
Day 5: We sailed to Edfu early morning and took a 10 minute bus ride to the Temple of Edfu (Horus) at 9:45. Then more time to enjoy lunch and the boat while sailing to Kom Ombu. There, we had an evening walk to the nearby temple of Kom Ombu. It was impressive, especially at night, but crowded. There is also a small crocodile museum there, which did not impress me. Great Egyptian dinner on the boat that night.
Day 6: We headed out at 8:30 am for St. Simone Monastery. Quite a drive. It was extremely hot, 100+, and our bus did not have properly functioning air conditioning. But the Monastery was interesting and striking, in the middle of the desert. Back to the boat for lunch. Then in the afternoon we headed to Temple of Philae (fortunately on a different bus) and then we had our sunset felucca sail. Beautiful.
Day 7: 6:30 am departure for the airport (unfortunately on the bus with the broken air conditioner which had allegedly been repaired) to fly to Abu Simbel. Again, a very hot day. But we could see the temples from the air on our descent. Very impressive and memorable visit. We then flew back to Aswan, were picked up on the bad bus, and sweltered on the way to stop at the High Dam and then to the Old Cataract Hotel. Beautiful suite overlooking the Nile. Needless to say, we went swimming. Then we had a sunset cocktail. Beautiful. But the major disappointment was that we did not have dinner at the 1902 restaurant, as they had a big group in there. So the guys dragged their sport coats to Egypt for nothing. They set up tables outside overlooking the Nile, which may have been ok if it hadn't been 95 degrees. The food was just ok.
I think Tauck should consider a second night at this hotel, as there was not much time to enjoy it. Plus, that would allow a visit to the Nubian Museum and other sights of interest. Also, a day of more rest would help because the next morning, we were off to Cairo.
To be continued.
Great report. I look forward to the rest.
Day 8: 6:30 am transfer to the Aswan airport to fly to Cairo. Upon arrival, we drove to the Ritz Carlton in Tahrir Square where we had a good buffet lunch. Then we walked over to the Egyptian Museum. I was looking forward to this visit and it did not disappoint. While there are clear signs of missing exhibits, there are plenty still there. Tut's mask and other items remain. Also, I enjoyed the exhibits related to Akhenaten and Nefertiti, as well as YuYu and Thuya, who i had learned about on tv documentary. After this visit we headed to the St. Regis. Needless to say, we went swimming! We had our PCR tests at 6:00 pm. They were $130 each, cash or credit card (with a fee). We brought the cash. We had dinner on our own in the Italian Restaurant. The pasta was good.
Day 9: We headed out by bus at 8:00 am for Old Cairo. We were dropped at a pedestrian only area, where we walked to and visited the Hanging Church and the Cavern Church. The Holy Family allegedly stopped at the Cavern Church on their travels through Egypt. Then we took the bus to the 2 mosques that we visited, which are side by side. The Mosque Madrassa of Sultan Hassan and the Mosque of Al-Refaei. Very impressive and interesting. And, yes, you have to remove your shoes, so wear socks. Then back to the St. Regis, where we went swimming. I know that some people did venture out to walk around and/or go shopping. Our farewell reception was at 6:00 pm, at which time we received our PCR results. Dinner was at the Italian restaurant and was not very good.
A group of 10 of us headed to the airport that evening at 11:00 pm for a 2:00 am Lufthansa flight to Frandfurt. PCR test results were scrutinized at least twice in Cairo. Upon arrival in Frankfurt. police boarded the plane and removed a woman who had repeatedly refused to wear a mask. Then the passengers departed the plane in small groups. The German police carefully examined passports and PCR test results. The test results were examined again at other checkpoints.
We had a wonderful tour director on our trip. She is very experienced and knowledgeable about Egypt and loves the country. Her able direction and delightful personality enhanced the tour. As I indicated earlier, our local guides, Dina and Mustafa, were excellent. I learned a lot from them.
Miscellaneous: I recommend traveling light with hand luggage. A number of the flights required walking up and down the stairs of the plane. I also recommend good walking shoes. Many sights are sandy and rocky.
I did bring mosquito repellant, but still got bitten at least six times. I forgot to bring benadryl cream. Vaseline helped.
I would be happy to answer any questions.
Good to know about laundry on Zahra.
A few questions if you don't mind-
p.s. to avoid too much typing- you can copy and paste my questions into your response and just add "yes", "no" or other brief answers.
A much less technical/academic question than Alan’s:
Lotusgirl - Sounds like there was only one camel ride. The itinerary mentioned the possibility of two, the first by the Great Pyramid and the second near St Simeon. Was it too hot for the second one? Did they mention a second camel ride at all?
Did you have the opportunity to enter the Great Pyramid of Khufu?
We did not enter, but did climb up to and walk past the entrance.
Did you just visit the exterior of the Step Pyramid or could you go in?
We visited the exterior only.
Did the guide point out the nearby digs where they discovered 30 + wooden sarcophogi and the underground embalming lab?
I don’t think so.
What are the locals saying about the opening date for the GEM? (Nov 2022?)
Yes, both guides mentioned November of 2022. The GEM is an impressive building- very large. The goal is to have some sort of trams run between the GEM and the pyramids and eliminate vehicles at the pyramids site.
Did a Egyptian expert/guide ride the buses and provide background about what your would see, or was it only your TD?
Our knowledgeable local Egyptologists rode with us and provided commentary. I should have taken notes.
Could you comment on if there were any photography restrictions in VOQ and VOK and the possible need for a special photo ticket?
You can take photos with your phone at the tombs except Tut’s tomb, where no photos are allowed. Separate tickets are required for cameras.
On the way to VOQ did your TD or guide point out significant locations you passed by, e.g. Colossi of Memnon/Amenhotep III temple ruins, Medinet Habu, dig site of newly discovered Golden City of Aten ruins, Deir el-Medina (village of the tomb builders), etc.?
We had a photo stop at the Colossi site. Very impressive. Our guide pointed out many other sites, but I do not specifically recall them.
Did the boat anchor or dock for the night near the Esna locks or just transit the locks and sail slowly to Edfu?
We docked in Edna overnight and sailed for Edfu at 5:00 am.
About a half hour or so north of Kom Ombu did the TD or someone point out the quarry and temple ruins at Gebel El Silsila (featured in the Nat Geo shows)?
Did TD mention or arrange for those interested, a short trip from the Old Cataract to the nearby quarry and site of the Unfinished Obelisk?
I do not know whether anyone asked her to do so. We did drive by the quarry.
Smiling Sam - I wondered about that too, but did not ask. One was enough for me. 😇
Lotusgirl - Thanks for the excellent and informative post, as well as your thoughtful formatting.
I should have also mentioned that I brought with me Drip Drop, which is a powdered electrolytes mix that is added to water. I used it on two of the really hot days.
Based on what you and mil said about Saqqara (on your Jewels and mil's J&E), I think I have the info I need to make a decision on booking a guide to take us to Saqqara on our free (fly home) day before our flight leaves after midnight.
Your comments bring up a few additional questions, if you don't mind-
Would love to see the group photo.
Lotus Girl - Fantastic reports ! Thank you so much. We are booked on the March 24th, 2022 trip and really can't wait.
Did you have an international plan with your US phone company or did you buy a local SIM card?
Infinity has a reasonable international plan. However, I did not need to take the phone off of airplane mode. Wi-Fi was good at the hotels, sporadic on the boat. My significant contacts have IPhones, as do I, so we could text via IMessage. Fortunately, we did not have any matters going on back home which necessitated constant availability.
How was the laundry on the boat (quality and prices) and what was turnaround time?
Laundry was good and reasonable. We left it the first morning and it was back just before dinner. I also washed out some quick dry shirts and other items in the sink.
Please confirm- no photography at all in Tut's tomb. If that is so, what a bummer!
The official rule is no pictures. Unfortunately, however, the guard solicited and accepted backsheesh for pictures. One person who did this said the guard took pictures with her phone. They were of the mummy and her with the mummy.
You said some in your group passed up entering the pyramid tomb of Teti because of the steep ramp and low ceiling, but did anyone pass it up because of potential claustrophobia or because the pyramid itself is just a pile of rubble?
My impression is that it was physical limitations, but I do not know for sure. At that point, we were split into 2 groups. While the local guide took one group for a comprehensive and interesting tour of Mereruka, the others went to Teti and Kagemni.
Was your group photo taken in front of the Sphinx?
Tauck has ceased the group photo because of COVID. However, we did one on our own with a photographer at the pyramid site. He took a very nice picture. He also took camel pictures. He was waiting for us back at the Mena, and the pictures were available for a reasonable $5 each. I am thinking of framing our camel picture.
In my opinion, there is no reason for Tauck to decline to start up the group picture tradition.
Along the same lines, Tauck is not doing the seat rotations on the bus. That may have made sense with 8 people on a tour, but I think they should reinstate that process.
Smiling Sam - sorry, but I am not comfortable with posting people’s pictures on a public forum. It is a very nice picture of the group, tour director and local guide with the pyramids in the background.
Thank you, Lotusgirl, for being respectful of the privacy of other travelers by not posting their photos without their consent.
I’m very sad to hear there is no seat rotation, perhaps it was just you tour. There was no rotation on one of our ship tours when we were on the bus. The TD said we were all capable of doing it and could police it ourselves but it didn’t stop the same two couples being at the front of the bus on every trip
Without a grid to know who everyone is on the group photo, which one TD for each and every one of us did, we have found it useless for remembering who was who. Maybe they could consider doing individual photos for us all but then it’s something else to cut costs on for them at the moment.
All these wonderful Egypt reports will have me going to Egypt before too long at this rate. We watch all the same documentaries that Alan watches but it has never been on our radar, too many ‘Mummy museum’ visits in Elementary school and comments about Cairo from my dad during the Second World War
British - they ceased the seat rotations because of COVID, but it really did not make sense to me. We were not assigned a seat that we had to stick with for the duration of the tour. I can certainly understand it with a very small group.
Nothing to do with the Nile, but just FYI -- we had seat rotation on our Hawaii trip (late Aug.) and on Adriatic Treasures (late Sept.)
Thanks again! You and mil have been a great source of info.
One last question- did you ever reach a point where you had seen enough temples, tombs and pyramids?
I doubt it
AlanS - Are you suggesting Egypt’s temples, tombs, and pyramids are the equivalent to Europe’s cathedrals, churches, and castles?
Alan - I did not tire of the temples, tombs and pyramids. 😁
I was, however, happy to get that negative PCR test and head home.
Thanks! I am anticipating that at the end of the tour I will wish we had another week or more! Too much to see and not enough time. For me what keeps me wanting more is the information conveyed by the guides. Each place has a different story that keeps me interested.
I wrote a little poem that I was going to read at our farewell dinner two attempts ago. I had to update it, but it still needs work. I am obviously no poet!
As we wish each other bon voyage and say good bye
Except for a bit of desert dust and tears of joy
May our hearts be full and our eyes clear and dry,
After a tour that must be one of Tauck’s best
Let’s hope for a negative on our last CPR test
Alan - four of our group headed for Alexandria for a few days, with a guide. Both of our local guides spoke highly of it. Our fellow travelers were really looking forward to visiting the library there.
I've been there many years ago, but only had a chance to stroll through the suq (on my only other free day I took a tour to Cairo and Giza.)
According to the Nat Geo shows, there have been a lot of recent discoveries in Alexandria and surrounding area- Taposiris Magna, and the newly-discovered sunken city of Heracleion, etc. I contemplated an add-on there but we already booked our flights and momma will be ready to head home by then anyway.
I never really thought about it much, but it wasn't until I started prepping for our tour and started studying Egypt the last few years that I realized the Rosetta Stone was named after the Egyptian town where it was discovered- Rosetta (Rashid) 40 mi. east of Alexandria!
If we continue to travel, a return to Egypt to visit some of the lesser known or lesser visited places like Abydos, Dendera, Alexandria, etc. might be possible.
One of the highlights of my trip to Egypt was a separate day trip that I had booked to Alexandria from Cairo (I had booked it through my travel agent, and had an English speaking guide pick me up at the hotel in Cairo, drive me to Alexandria, and turn me over to an English-speaking guide there who led me through the city's highlights before turning me back over to my driver for the ride back to Cairo.). Among other things, Alexandria has a fantastic multi-level catacomb that was discovered around the turn of the 19th to 20th century when a donkey stumbled and fell into a hole. I recommend that anyone who goes to Egypt think about adding Alexandria to his or her itinerary.
MCD - how long is the car ride from Cairo to Alexandria?
I'd like to know what Egypt plans to do with the remains of the famous lighthouse which were found in fairly shallow water, right where they suspected the lighthouse actually stood. The same goes for the submerged ruins of Heracleion which at one time was the largest and/or busiest seaport in the eastern Mediterranean.
BKMD -- The car ride was about 2 hours each way -- but well worth it, in my estimation. Alan, some of the submerged ruins from Heracleion were on display next to the Roman ampitheatre that was excavated right in the middle of a residential area. I don't know whether they've been moved since I was there in 2016 -- but I'm sure that the catacombs haven't moved!
Thank you so much for the in-depth report. I’m hoping weather will be a bit cooler by the time I’m there at the end of November! I’m excited to see that first image of The Giza Pyramids from the Mena House. I don’t arrive until almost midnight, so hopefully the weddings will be winding down!