Make Your Next Trip Extraordinary

The trip to Egypt was wonderful. All our expectations were met in relation to the guides and the places we visited. We really enjoyed going and seeing the temple of Ramesses at Abu Simbel. Something special about it being inside a mountain. Another highlight was actually entering deep into the pyramids and the tombs. Tip: Always go early to the sites: The lack of crowds enhances the magnificence of the pyramids, temples, statues, etc. against the backdrop of the desert. Tip 2: Bring more tipping money than you think you need… As an aside, we took every opportunity to stroll the city streets alone. Everyone was friendly and we did not feel anxious or alarmed that the current crisis in the neighboring region would affect us.

Travelers posing in front of one of Giza pyramids

With the right strategy, you too can see the Pyramids without crowds marring your view. Photo: Traveler Beth Nury

Arlene on Jim’s staff meticulously planned a 17-day adventure for our family of four that began in Egypt. Egypt continues to be an international tourist hot spot, and since we started planning a bit late, few accommodations were available. However, she was able to use her contacts for stays at the Four Seasons/Cairo, where we took advantage of the strong USD and had two five-star dinners at one of its six restaurants, Riviera. Arlene took a calculated risk and recommended the Sonesta Sun Goddess Nile cruise ship, a recently refurbished ship. Her insight paid off — the ship was great! As we sailed down the Nile over four days, we happened to see that our ship was one of the only that had an outdoor balcony, which my husband and I used regularly. The staff was attentive and friendly and there was a good variety of food. Once back on land in Cairo, we really enjoyed our WOW Moment, a VIP/behind-the-scenes tour of the Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM), not yet open to the public. Very few crowds. We then drove over to Giza, where our guide, Remunda, cleverly started our pyramid/sphinx tour backwards, avoiding long lines. Our photos were incredible! They look like we had a private tour of Giza since there are very few tourists in the background.

One of our favorite memories was the food tour in Cairo. Our tour guide, Amina, did a great job and took us to some authentic neighborhood spots that locals frequent, like a juice bar that used over 10 fruits indigenous to Egypt. Kudos to her for finding restaurants that were open early (prior to 8:00), during Ramadan!

Following Egypt, we moved on to Jordan for three nights. We specifically requested a stop in Amman so our 18-year-old daughter, who lived there in July 2022 while learning Arabic, could show us her neighborhood and school. We capped our Jordan adventure with a two-day visit to Petra. Petra is worth the hype and has definitely earned its Wonder of the World status. The archaeological park is over 2,500 acres and provides plenty of space and freedom to walk and explore the numerous rock-cut architectural masterpieces.

We finished our Middle East adventure by staying four nights in Israel. We toured Old City Jerusalem by entering through the Jaffa Gate and meandering through the four quarters to see the mix of architecture and learn more about how religious groups lived harmoniously despite different beliefs.

We will never forget the tour of the West Bank. Our tour guide, Daphna, drove us to an area very close to the Israeli military checkpoint where we nervously waited for her friend Iesaa. When he arrived, we quickly hopped into his car and drove away. Iessa gave us an inside tour of the West Bank, highlighted by a tour of Bethlehem/Church of the Nativity. While stuck in traffic, he pointed out some Bansky graffiti and drove us through a refugee camp. He explained the politics, his perspective on the ongoing Palestinian/Israeli conflict and his hope for the future.

Other trip highlights that we would recommend for any future Middle East travel include: day trip to Abu Simbel, Valley of the Kings and a caleche ride to see the Temple of Horus at Edfu.

For spring break this year in early April, my husband and I took our 8- and 9-year old children to Cairo, Aswan, Abu Simbel — and then did a spectacular Nile cruise for a few days on a small dahabiya, ending in Luxor. Thanks to Jim’s great team (and Arlene’s endless patience!) we were able to have the bucket-list family vacation of my dreams! We were taken care of every step of the way, met by kind guides and cool cars that helped up beat the heat while seeing loads of spectacular sites efficiently.

In Cairo, Max met us at the airport and sped us through security — he was a consummate gentleman. Iman, our guide, was deeply knowledgeable, and her ability to stay one step ahead of the crowds really made the difference when we visited the pyramids and Sphinx — where we had the Sphinx all to ourselves, silent in the morning! When our children faded early on our first day (a combination of much walking and the heat), Iman transitioned smoothly into dropping us off so the kids could rest. It was such a treat to be able to visit the Grand Egyptian Museum before it officially opened to the public — even though all of the spaces weren’t open to viewing, it was a tantalizing peek at a world-class institution.

We were grateful to have Max’s assistance navigating the Cairo airport for our domestic flight to Aswan — and when we arrived in Aswan, to stay at the Old Cataract was mind-blowing. We were in the newer tower of the hotel — it was slightly suboptimal to not have adjoining rooms, but they were on the same floor at least. The Philae temple and the quarry were astonishing. Our day trip down to Abu Simbel was a memory we will all cherish as well — the engineering feat that the Egyptian government & UNESCO accomplished by moving the temples to higher ground was truly an astonishing feat.

Our Nile cruise on a five-cabin dahabiya was beautiful and calm, and a lovely respite. I worried about bugs, but we didn’t have any problems, and the food was delicious — every meal was delicious! Our favorite temple was the Temple of Horus at Edfu; the Egyptologist on the boat was terrific and really picked up on our kids’ favorite gods and made a point of highlighting them when we’d tour sites, which really brought the temples to life for them.

We disembarked at Luxor and went straight to the temple there — the hypostyle hall full of columns is astonishing. From there, we went to the Valley of the Kings, where our guide recommended a set of tombs to visit. It was hottest in Luxor — fortunately the Al Moudira was a luxurious oasis!

After flying back to Cairo, we had an unexpected last day to fill due to an evening flight — so Max’s team stepped in and got us tickets to the mummies at the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization and King Tut at the Egyptian Museum.

We were a little trepidatious because it was Ramadan — but we had no problems finding food, nor were we ever in an uncomfortable position eating in front of our guides. We felt safe the whole time, and are eternally grateful for everyone’s kindness!

Jim Berkeley and Arlene Santos put together a wonderful last-minute trip to Cairo and Luxor for my family. The communication and responsiveness was just what we needed. The guides, drivers, itinerary and accommodations, as well as restaurant recommendations, were excellent. What a service it is to have a list of experienced and talented people for specific destinations. Thank you Wendy and all for arranging a wonderful trip for my family.

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