Make Your Next Trip Extraordinary

We traveled to Cairo for a short, 5-day trip February 29-March 5 since we were going to be in the region after an event. We had a great trip orchestrated by James Berkeley’s team. We were able to see all the highlights of Cairo and the surrounding environment—the pyramids and various museums—in just a few days. Despite the unrest in Israel and Gaza, we felt no tension in Cairo. Our team on the ground in Cairo were helpful, smart, and attentive. We couldn’t have done the trip without a guide and driver to get around. We stayed at the Kempinski Nile, where the team was able to get us a room facing the Nile with a small balcony. The hotel felt safe due to the security staff checking all bags as well as all cars dropping off and picking up passengers. The rooms were comfortable with good service at the restaurants, and we loved the pool on the rooftop where we could have a drink and a meal and enjoy the view of the Nile.

A highlight of the trip was the visit to the Great Egyptian Museum (GEM) outside Cairo near the Giza Pyramids. It was not yet fully open, but even so it was spectacular to see and to spend a couple of hours in it. It’s a beautiful building—open air, multi-story inside featuring a 35 ft tall statue of Rames II in the lobby area, and a large staircase full of statues that leads to a huge picture window with the Great Pyramid in the distance. When the museum is fully opened there will be many individual rooms to investigate, but they aren’t yet accessible.

We visited the pyramids in Giza and the Sphinx nearby, and in the next few days visited the Egyptian Museum of Antiquities where we were able to see King Tut’s mask up close, and the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization where we were able to see many mummies of Pharaohs—including their faces—because their heads were unwrapped. It was really interesting to see these larger-than-life characters as people, including their hair styles, all intact due to mummification.

Another highlight was visiting a couple of tombs of high-ranking officials in Sakkara. The colors and detail on the tomb walls were breath-taking. We were the only people in one of the tombs which was truly special compared to the large number of visitors we saw in Giza at the pyramids.

This was a great time of year to go weather-wise. One word of caution is to check the timing of Ramadan. It was about ten days away when we were there. As a result, we got stuck in a few traffic jams and had to scrap a plan to visit a market and restaurant since so many residents were out shopping for their Ramadan supplies, we just wouldn’t be able to get in and out easily.

There is so much to absorb in Egypt. The immense history over the millennia is hard to grasp. We’re already thinking about the potential of a future trip where we would be able to visit Luxor and the Valley of the Kings.

From the very beginning, Arlene Santos on Jim’s team was available to clear all questions and doubts until we finally agreed on a final itinerary for myself and a good friend who I was traveling with. Information on initially proposed hotels, to flight schedules in Egypt (particularly very early ones) were discussed at length in order to shape the itinerary to our needs and expectations.

Once we arrived in Egypt, the local company used by Jim, South Sinai, again met our expectations. The tour coordinators to the guides at every point of the itinerary were excellent. The Egyptologists in Cairo, Aswan and Luxor as well as during the cruise were clearly knowledgeable and helped us enjoy through historical information much more this wonderful trip. As well, the captain and crew on the dahabiya were wonderful. The cruise was not only an experience of history but also of the pleasures of Egyptian cuisine.

The friend I was traveling with did not receive her luggage upon arrival in Cairo from Madrid. The tour coordinator in Cairo, Mohammed, followed up every single day with Egypt Air until the luggage was retrieved, albeit the last day of the trip. In any case, Mohammed went well beyond his responsibilities to obtain this result.

Jim’s is a company I have no hesitation to recommend highly.

Trip was planned by Jim’s office. Seema was our main contact. First of all, everything was planned and executed seamlessly. Having a handler greet us at every stop was great. The drivers were all exceptional. The Egyptologists were all very good, but our favorite was Andrew in Cairo. We really enjoyed our time in Luxor and on the dahabiya.

Trip highlights:
Cairo: National Museum of Egyptian civilization
Luxor: Karnak Temple, Luxor Temple at twilight, Valley of the Kings with special entry to Queen Nefertari’s tomb (SPECTACULAR!), Valley of the Queens.
Esna: Dahabiya Loulia. The crew was great, bed was comfortable, food was excellent. Very relaxing after Cairo and Luxor.
Temple of Kom Ombo
Picnic dinner off the Dahabiya
Aswan: Elephantine Island
Abu Simbel tour

Hotels:
Cairo Four Seasons: Beautiful hotel with impeccable service. Our room was lovely and overlooked the Nile. I would suggest asking clients what they prefer: A view of the Nile which is VERY noisy at night until about 4 a.m., or a quiet room on the other side of the hotel overlooking the pool. Because you cannot have a quiet room overlooking the Nile.
Luxor: Sofitel Old Winter Palace: It’s a beautiful old hotel with stunning grounds, beautiful pool, great service, and good food. The hotel is quite dated, however, and could use a little freshen up, especially with regard to electrical outlets. There’s no place to charge devices without unplugging lamps, etc. Also, the beds are very hard and feel like you’re sleeping on a concrete slab.
Aswan: Sofitel Legend Old Cataract: Perfection. This hotel is absolutely stunning with beautiful, quiet rooms and wonderful beds. My only complaint is having to leave after only 2 nights!
Cairo: Waldorf Astoria: Lovely hotel, beautiful, quiet, comfortable rooms and beds. Excellent rooms and good food after a very long travel day. Convenient to Cairo Airport for an early morning flight.

Restaurants:
Cairo: Khufus: Excellent food, good service, fantastic views.
Naguib Mahfouz at Khan el Khalili Bazaar: Terrible. Food was awful. Restaurant was so smoky (cigarettes), we could hardly breathe, let alone eat. Tourist trap.
Blue Lotus: Cute little family-run place with good food. Like eating at your mom’s.
Luxor: Aisha: Great little restaurant. We were scheduled to go to a cat restaurant, having over 100 cats! Glad we told our guide that I am extremely allergic to cats beforehand. He changed the reservation to Aisha. Excellent food, lovely atmosphere.
Aswan, Old Cataract hotel: 1902. Really nice breakfast. Dinner here requires men to wear sportcoats. The food was fine and the service excellent, but I don’t think it was worth schlepping a sportcoat all over Egypt.

Guides:
Cairo: Andrew was excellent.
Aswan: Samir: Very knowledgeable.

Suggestions:
Perhaps Cairo could be shortened by a day, and more time spent at the Old Cataract Hotel in Aswan.
The day excursion to Dendera & Abydos is far too long. If clients are not avid Egyptophiles, this is a skip. Although the temples are pristine, at this point in the trip, it was 9 hours too many.
Perhaps add a day trip to Alexandria to the library instead.

Those are our thoughts. We had an exceptional experience and appreciate the detailed planning and execution. Thank you so very much for a wonderful, memorable trip!

Travelers visiting the Sphinx in Egypt.

Laura Chaverri and her son had the Sphinx almost to themselves.

I traveled to Egypt from November 24 to December 7, with my adult son.

First of all, let your travelers know it is extremely safe there and the lovely Egyptians need to have the tourists back. They have lost 30% of their business. There were no demonstrations at all and everything appeared status quo. I was more afraid of getting into a car accident in Cairo than anything else!

Still coming down from the excitement of our fabulous trip. It’s hard to pick our favorite part of the trip, we enjoyed every minute. Perhaps the Giza pyramids were the best, they are indeed magnificent. But so was the Valley of the Kings and the Karnak Temple.

At all times we were well taken care of. Everyone was prompt and very professional. We never had to wait for anyone at any time. I guess there was a last-minute change for the guide and we ran into him at the Cairo hotel and he knew us by name, as he had prepared for being our guide.

Mina was waiting for us as the escalator came down at the Cairo airport. He had done his homework, he recognized us before we even saw his sign. As the local staff person he helped us negotiate the airport and logistics of getting through all the immigration stuff and on the way home he even filled out the passport control paperwork for us and stayed at the luggage check until he made sure we were ok. For some reason there was something that was causing concern in my carry-on (it was the placement of my camera) and they kept yelling at me in Arabic. He was very sweet and very professional and we made him share stories about his little girl.

Titto, the guide in Cairo, was excellent, as was the driver Mohammed. He kept us from being killed in that crazy traffic. It was so nice to be in a private group. Before I left for the trip, I injured my knee (turns out I tore the meniscus) and although I felt a bit better by the time we left I needed a walking stick and patience getting in and out of the van and a little more time managing the ramps in the tombs. They were flexible with the schedule if we wanted to stay somewhere longer or cut time down on something else.

The lunch at the Pyramids Lounge was one of the highlights! We took photos there and they all looked like they were green screened. The food tour was great and it was nice to get an idea of what life is like for a Cairo native from the perspective of a young person. However, I would recommend not scheduling the food tour the same day as the lunch in the city (by the Bazaar) because we were not hungry. Luckily the food tour company has an agreement with the restaurants and they package it to go and add a little extra and it was handed out to someone on the street who could use it (usually a woman with a child). Maybe on the day of the museum?

The cruise on the Farah was beautiful; thanks for letting them know it was my birthday month! They had a little gift for me and a birthday cake with an Egyptian happy birthday. The food on the ship was the best. They had a wide variety and their staff took good care of us. From Cairo we got into the habit of having strawberry and mango juices and they had them waiting for us at breakfast daily. Andy (my son) is the same age as most of the crew so he got along with them all. I asked the executive chef how he made the rice and with a translator he sat down and told me step-by-step how to make it. Then we started talking about cooking, etc. Then he later came out with a tray of containers with all the 7 spices for me to take home! That was so sweet. Then that evening for dinner, he made a special dinner with about 6 different typical Egyptian dishes just for us. That was extremely nice of him, he was very proud to show off his cuisine.

We did have a little more dead time at the beginning of the cruise, the day after we boarded when we were still docked, that I wish we would have known about so we could have scheduled an excursion. Some other passengers went to Abu Simbel and although I wouldn’t have wanted to go all the way down there I wish we would have known and perhaps have gone elsewhere. By the way, I don’t regret not going down to Abu Simbel, we saw so much already!

And of course, the Old Cataract Hotel was divine! My friend who recommended we stay there was right, you never want to leave! Little kittens playing at the restaurant during dinner. What could be better? And they have the softest, fluffiest beds I have ever slept in. I was so tired when I laid down that I didn’t even want to get up to put on my pajamas. Chocolates and macaroons waiting in the room along with sweets and fruit! A huge wide balcony facing the well manicured gardens that were lit waiting for Christmas. We had dinner overlooking the Nile close to sunset. It was like Moses was going to pop out amongst the rocks any minute. Everything looked like a well-composed photo. Teak and walnut floors. Ornate doors and entry hardware. Moorish architecture. The lighting fixtures! The waiters dressed in typical dress appropriate for the period in Egypt, wearing fezzes. I never got tired of that perfect view of the Nile and the sailboats. So gorgeous!

This was a bucket-list trip for me and I am happy I extended my proposed budget and opted for private guides. It was soooo nice to bypass the large groups with guides with little flags. We were able to go around everyone and scoot around them. It was a much more efficient use of our time and we could ask all the questions we wanted and really ask about how life is for a typical Egyptian, politics, daily life, customs, education, etc.

Thanks to all for a memorable trip!

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