PANDEMIC TRAVEL My sister and I just returned from an extraordinary five days in Jordan and 17 days in Egypt. We worked with Jim Berkeley to design a February 2022 trip that included our top requests (Petra, sailing on a dahabiya), and thoughtful and inspired suggestions from Jim. The trip could not have been more marvelous thanks to Glenda, from Jim’s team, and the group of representatives, guides, drivers, and Egyptologists we worked with, all of whom were the best of the best.
The first and last thing we want to say about our trip is that we felt safe the entire time. Our guides, or the dahabiya staff, were with us the entire time. Even if they hadn’t been, there wasn’t a hint of concern in either country. Our guides asked us to spread the word that Egypt and Jordan are safe, and we are glad to pass this message along. Further, we felt that the team and our guides and drivers took Covid seriously, wore masks, were vaccinated, and were cautious about staying away from crowds.
We arrived in Amman, Jordan then traveled with our beloved guide Ahmad, and driver, Mohammed, to Mt. Nebo, Petra, and Wadi Rum. It was a pleasure to work with these gentlemen and we shed a tear or two when we had to say goodbye. Thank you Ahmad and Mohammed. Petra is extraordinary. We spent a day there, including hiking up all 850 steps to the Monastery, and could have spent more time. The civilization that created the Treasury must have been extraordinary. Further south we drove through the Wadi Rum, the desert where Lawrence of Arabia staged the attack on Acaba. Ahmad had us stand up (in the back of our 4 x 4) and listen to the desert. The quiet will stay with us forever. What a memorable experience. Then we glamped camped at the Discovery Bedu camp where our tent was charming, the food was fantastic, and the welcome and care from the owner and staff could not be beat. Our recommendation is that you stay at least two days at this camp.
In Cairo we were met by Farid, whom we call the Miracle Worker. Farid is funny and kind and was wonderful to work with. He convinced Air France to check our bags all the way from Cairo to Seattle, and provide boarding passes for all flights, even though we changed airlines that weren’t partners with each other. Thank you for everything, Farid.
Our three days in Cairo included the amazing pyramids at Giza, the downtown mosques, and a day in Sakkara. We were treated here, and in other places along our trip, to local food in ‘mom and pop’ type restaurants, all of which were excellent. The only female guide of our trip, Reham, was in charge of our tour in Cairo. She is amazing, and so much fun to talk with. Thank you, Reham, for all you do to protect the animals of the pyramid and for all you did for us. In Luxor, Bassem provided a comprehensive background to the Valley of the Kings and the Tombs of the Nobles. As others have noted, the tomb of Nefertari was expectedly memorable. Thank you Bassen. In Aswan, we toured the modern wonders of the dams of Aswan and were impressed by the Philae Temple with Ashraf. The felucca sail around Elephantine and Kitchener Islands was terrific. Seeing Abu Simbel, looking out over the blue water of the Nile, was a highlight of the trip. Thank you, Ashraf.
We’d like to mention that many of our guides knew Jim Berkeley and all of them smiled when they talked about him. One of our guides volunteered that Jim’s was considered the best travel company operating in Egypt. We can concur that the planning and organization of our trip was flawless. Everything we expected to happen happened – guides were at the hotel to pick us up and always on time, the comprehensive knowledge of the guides was humbling, the drivers were careful, and every care was taken. Again, we were safe in Jordan and Egypt.
We need to mention the trip on the dahabiya. Our boat, the Adelaide of the Nour El Nil line, was a flat-bottomed boat with two sails. We sailed up the Nile with four other families or couples, for five days. If sailing on a dahabiya is the only thing you do in Egypt, your trip will have been well worth it. The boat sailed slowly with no motion at all, docked at least once a day to tour a temple or to take a walk, or to play soccer and swim in the Nile. The rest of the time we lay on the couches of the upper deck and read or watched Egypt glide by. The food, made up of local Egyptian specialities, was wonderful. The staff made the trip unique with their kindness, laughter, and joy. We can’t recommend this adventure highly enough.
Finally, we should mention the hotels. As Agatha Christie fans, we’ve always wanted to stay at the Winter Palace in Luxor, and the Old Cataract Hotel in Aswan. They were fabulous. We woke in Luxor to hot air balloons over the Nile, and the river traffic and the ruins on Elephantine Island in Aswan. Part of the pleasure of the trip was spending time in our rooms watching life go by on the Nile.
Thanks to Jim and Glenda, and the rest of Jim’s staff, and to Wendy Perrin and The WOW List that brought us such a memorable adventure.
PANDEMIC TRAVEL I contacted Jim Berkeley to work with me to design a long awaited trip to Egypt and Jordan for my husband and I for three weeks. We were to have gone on this trip last November but due to Covid, we postponed the trip until this past November. I had a pretty good idea of where I wanted to go and the sights of interest to us but Jim filled in the blanks and after working on a couple of drafts of our itinerary together he crafted a mind blowing, fabulous, once-in-a-lifetime journey for us! Jim and his team, especially Arlene Santos, were fantastic in handling all of the details and logistics of our trip, of which there were many. We had 6 domestic flights, plus our international flight to Jordan and a Nile cruise. Several flight cancellations prior to our US departure kept us busy finding alternative flights to fit our itinerary, but any itinerary adjustments were handled smoothly by Jim’s team.
The actualization of our itinerary was everything we dreamed of for this long awaited trip. From start to finish, Jim has a magnificent group of local agencies working with his clients on-site. Most everyone was extremely helpful, fun to interact with and made everything we did seamless, especially at the airports and with our Covid PCR tests (which by the way were so inexpensive compared to what we had to pay in the US!). Our PCR Covid testing experiences went very smoothly. Everything was so easy and convenient, and thus worry free. Arrangements were made for doctors to come to our hotel and administer the tests and we received the paperwork of results the next day. The only thing we feared was having a positive test that would prevent us from entering Jordan or coming back to the US. Fortunately, everything went well as we wore masks most of the time for that reason. It was also comforting to learn, once we were there, that everyone in the travel/hospitality business in both Egypt and Jordan had to be vaccinated.
Traveling international now is way more involved compared to our international trips taken before the pandemic. Both Egypt and Jordan required several different entry forms, including health forms, vaccination certificates, and PCR tests no greater than 72 hours (Jordanian and Egyptian time) prior to arrival in each country. The timing of our initial PCR testing proved to be a bit complicated because our flight from the US to Cairo had us transiting through Amman, Jordan. This meant that we had to fill out all entry forms for both countries and time our PCR test for both countries for just this aspect of our trip. To fit within the 72 hour PCR timeframe, we needed to find a PCR testing site that had an hour turnaround time because we were flying to Chicago the night before our international departure. Although there were no such sites in our city or the surrounding cities, I fortunately found a site down in Charlotte, North Carolina that was only an hour and a half from our house. We then had to repeat the entire process (PCR test and entry forms) when we finished our touring in Egypt and flew to Jordan for our week there.
Before I get into more of my review, Wendy, thank you from the bottom of our hearts for arranging with Jim our very special WOW Moment. It was truly incredible and caught us totally off guard, thanks to Michael, our local representative who met us at the Aswan airport. Michael told us that we had a boat ride that night at sunset. We knew that a felucca experience was on our itinerary and expected that to be our boat ride. Imagine our faces when instead we were taken to a motorized yacht for a private sunset cruise on the Nile all around Elephantine and other islands. We were in a total daze of utter amazement! Sunset was magical as the colors of the sky, Nile waters, and surrounding land changed from yellow to golden to pink and then deep purple, followed by the twinkling lights of Aswan as night fell. This glorious sunset experience was followed by a 5 course fine dining experience in the salon of the boat with a private chef and staff! The ensuing gourmet seafood feast of courses was delicious, well executed, and imaginatively presented. We felt like Egyptian royalty sailing on our own private yacht on the Nile! Despite us not feeling entirely well (traveler’s distress), we thoroughly enjoyed our time and experience. It was definitely an unforgettable WOW Moment!
We are seasoned international travelers, but we have never experienced such ground service as we did on this trip. Jim arranged for an airport representative from his local travel agency groups to meet us almost as soon as we got off any of our flights. We felt cossetted as the airport representatives guided us through the entry or departure process seamlessly as soon as we entered the airport, be they international or domestic flights. We had never experienced such service on any of our previous international trips and now we are spoiled! Besides an airport representative, each city we visited had a local representative who met us each morning and was in electronic contact frequently to make certain that our experiences went smoothly during our stay. Farid, our representative in Cairo, in particular was amazing and by far the most outstanding local representative throughout our entire trip. He met us at the airport with a lovely welcome bouquet of flowers for me and later in the trip he sent us a bottle of Egyptian white wine as a gift from Jim and himself! He was truly our guardian angel everywhere we traveled in Egypt. He was always in contact with us, even after we left Cairo. He checked in with us frequently to make sure everything was going well, even checking in with us during our transit through Cairo for Sharm el Sheikh and upon our arrival into Sharm! He was indispensable in assisting us with all of our Covid and entry paperwork for Jordan, especially after the last minute change in our flight from Cairo to Jordan on the day before our departure from the US. I had redone all the paperwork later that night and swore I put it in my folder, but then could only find the old paperwork once we were in Cairo! Farid worked his magic and produced the correct paperwork when he took us to the airport for our Jordan flight later in our trip. We could count on Farid for anything, anytime even at late hours, anywhere we were in Egypt. He was the absolute best! It’s this kind of detailed attention to guests and their traveling experiences that make Jim an absolutely outstanding WOW Specialist!
I knew that in Egypt we wanted to visit Cairo, Aswan, Abu Simbel, Luxor, and Sharm el Sheikh, and in Jordan we only wanted to spend time in Petra. However, Jim insisted that in Jordan we should also spend the time to visit the Wadi Rum area that is just south of Petra. Not being a big Lawrence of Arabia fan, I never considered visiting this region, but Jim was very persuasive in convincing me to add a night in Wadi Rum and staying at a Bedouin camp. Well Jim was right and Wadi Rum is a Do-Not-Miss experience that we are truly grateful that he insisted we have. It was a magical place that has to be experienced to really know and appreciate the moonscape atmosphere and beauty of the desert. My husband still dreams about the dead silence he experienced on his walk in the early morning around the camp. Silence like he had never heard before, and likely never again. The Bedouin camp and its staff was magnificent and our tent reminded us of our safari in Kenya at a tent camp. The Bedouin dinner of Zarb was so delicious, I wish we could’ve taken leftovers!
Our guides throughout our trip were fantastic and so knowledgeable. Surprisingly we only had three guides through our entire journey because two of them accompanied us for 6 days each. Having the same guide for such a length of time was unique for us but we thoroughly enjoyed being able to spend so much time getting to know these individuals and their insights into the ancient sites and into their own culture. We had Tarek, an Egyptologist, for our time in Cairo, who was indispensable in guiding us through the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities which can be overwhelming. He was also invaluable in retrieving items that I had inadvertently left in a shop where I had purchased a cartouche. However, our next Egyptologist guide, Sam, joined us in Aswan and then travelled with us to Abu Simbel, on the Nile cruise and during our entire time in Luxor! When we went to Jordan, our guide, Mohannad, and our driver, Mamoot, picked us up from the airport and then accompanied us throughout our destinations in Jordan until they dropped us off at the airport for our departure back to the US! Mohannad in particular had a wonderful sense of humor in keeping with what I had read of the Jordanian people in general. Interestingly, Mohannad does not usually work with couples but I think we showed him how fun and adventurous we could be. He grew up in Petra and so was the perfect guide for our time there. He seemed to know everyone and everything about the city. We love to hike and when we told him that we wanted to hike the steps to see the Monastery versus taking the donkeys, he was delighted to oblige as he is an avid hiker as well (more mountain goat I think!). Not only did we do that hike, but the next day he took us on another major hike up the mountain so that we could see the Treasury from above and across the canyon! Unbelievable sight it was! We really felt like we got to know Petra well just by walking and hiking with Mohannad, despite the fact that we only scratched the surface of this city. To spend a week with Mohannad and Mamoot was a wonderful experience.
The other great aspect of our tour guides is that they were exceptional in taking us to places for lunch where we could experience authentic local dishes. We are adventurous eaters and love eating all types of food. We especially enjoy trying different dishes in foreign countries as a way to learn more about the culture. I still dream about some of the dishes we ate, especially the camel koftas and meatballs with Tarek in Old Cairo! Unbelievably, I recently found ground camel at a store in a city about an hour from us and bought it to make at home!
Our itinerary and all the sights we saw were fantastic and amazing at every turn.
Some of the highlights in Cairo was not only of course the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities (unfortunately the GEM was not ready at the time of our trip), but also the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization. We primarily went here because they had moved the Royal Mummies here from the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities, but we found that the exhibits in the museum were so informative about the evolution of Egyptian civilization through the millennia. The galleries built for display of the Royal Mummies were very special in that the rooms were all black with focused lighting on each mummy. The bodies were displayed with such reverence and respect that visitors quietly and slowly shuffled through the multiple rooms without a word. It was a very humbling experience to walk through the galleries and a fitting homage to such noble Pharaohs and their queens. I would recommend this museum to anyone visiting Cairo. Besides these two museums, we very much enjoyed our day in the Old Cairo town, walking along the narrow shop lined streets and then the even narrower alleys of the Khan al Khalili. We gained a true appreciation and feeling of what the city was like in ancient times.
In Aswan, our favorite site was the Philae Temple Complex. To spend time there in both daylight and then again for their stunning Sound and Light Show gave us such an appreciation for the beauty and history of this magnificent site. We thought the Sound and Light show here was far better than the one we saw at Karnak. While in Aswan, both the Nubian Museum and the Nubian Village were delightful to see. Both were very informative about a part of Egyptian culture you hear little about and we appreciated being able to speak with a local in the Nubian Village and visit his home. It would be a shame for travelers not to experience either or both of these sites.
Seeing Abu Simbel was definitely a highlight of our trip and worth the effort to get there. Anyone who passes on seeing this site is missing two of the most magnificent structures and amazing pictographs in Egypt.
We loved our Nile cruise on the Farrah. It was a beautiful ship with terrific staff. The meals were delicious and we really enjoyed the Egyptian food they offered. The other wonderful unexpected experience was that we had a total of only 25 passengers on the entire ship for our cruise. Most of these individuals were Americans! Having only 25 people on a ship that can hold 120 made our cruising experience extra special and very safe from a Covid perspective. With such a small number of passengers on board, combined with the breathtaking design of the upper open air deck, we felt like we were on a dahabiya cruise rather than our ship!
Luxor had so many jaw dropping sites that every day there was outstanding. The Valley of the Kings tombs were amazing but the most magnificent tomb of all was that of Nefertari where we were the only people in the tomb besides the local tomb guide, who was very gracious in allowing us extra time there so that I could take photos of everything! Seeing Luxor Temple at night was breathtaking and I had long awaited to see Karnak and it didn’t disappoint. Four days in Luxor seemed like it should have been plenty, but frankly I could’ve stayed even longer for all the sites it contains.
In Jordan, there is nothing that we can say about seeing Petra that hasn’t been uttered by thousands before, but it truly was one of the best highlights of our entire trip! While seeing the many sites that we did was astonishing, it was truly having Mohannad as our guide that made seeing Petra extra special. Mohannad also worked his connections to gain us access to the Petra by Night experience an hour before it officially opened to the public! Walking through the candlelit Siq alone and coming upon the candlelit Treasury was mind blowing. We were awe struck.
The majority of the hotels we stayed in were absolutely wonderful and 5 star top notch. They had superb staff with excellent English speaking skills, good Covid protocols and who wore masks properly and continuously. In Cairo, the Four Seasons Nile Plaza, was really fantastic & we loved the balcony overlooking the Nile & the city. This hotel out of all we stayed in on this trip, had the highest standards of Covid protocols. Each seat at every restaurant had a small container of hand sanitizer & our room was given small tubes of hand sanitizer along with masks each day. We had some amazing meals at their restaurants, especially 8 which was Chinese and Zitouni’s which was Egyptian. What can one say about the Old Cataract Hotel in Aswan, but wow! We had the most beautiful and spacious suite we could ever imagine! The enormous bathroom and the 4 closet dressing room areas alone I could have lived in for a few days! But the real gem of that room was the huge balcony overlooking the gardens, hotel and Nile where we could view Elephantine Island and its ruins. The hotel had excellent staff at our every encounter. The dinner we experienced at the 1902 restaurant here was fabulous in all regards. It was exciting to dine in the room which was used as the ballroom in a scene from the 1978 movie, “Death On The Nile.” It was a shame that we had so few nights at the Old Cataract. The room we had at the Old Winter Palace in Luxor was similarly wonderful and nicely spacious. We enjoyed the 2 very comfortable chairs and coffee table in the room itself, but we just loved sitting on the small balcony that overlooked the Nile but even more so, gave us a commanding view of the Valley of the Kings, especially at night when it was all lit. The hotel’s 1886 restaurant was divine and we enjoyed dining there so much that we ate there several times! In Jordan, the Movenpick was perfectly located directly across from the entrance to Petra and was a beautifully designed small hotel with a gorgeous central inner courtyard and lovely Arabesque architecture. Our room was very nice but the best feature of the Movenpick was its a la carte restaurant, Al Iwan. What fabulous meals we had here and the staff were so friendly. We enjoyed the food so much that we ate here each of our nights! Jim had us stay at the Fairmont Hotel in Amman and it was beautiful. We were blown away by the very spacious and lovely room there! What a fabulous hotel and room for our last few nights.
The only hotel of our entire trip that disappointed us entirely was the Savoy in Sharm el Sheikh. We were originally to stay at the Marriott Sharm Resort but Jim had just been there a few weeks ahead of our trip and found that the resort was not following the proper level of covid protocols and thus he changed us to the Savoy. Many of the Savoy restaurant and bar staff had limited English speaking skills and thus there was a lot of miscommunication. Moreover, many employees wore their masks improperly and few if any guests wore masks at all. The hotel has no resort layout signage nor were we given a map upon check in, which made it difficult to locate where everything was as most of the restaurants and bars are scattered across the large resort. The beach was unspeakably small and so wall-to-wall packed with loungers that it was nearly impossible to just walk on the beach! In addition to these points, the resort had an absurd and abysmal restaurant system in which every restaurant (other than the buffet) required advanced reservations that could only be made the morning of the day you wanted to dine! Reservations were taken at 7am when breakfast was served and my husband was continually shut out of any reservations despite being there at 7am! Most of the a la carte restaurants were closed so that left basically only 2-3 available. Since most of these restaurants were very limited in their capacity, it’s no wonder that obtaining reservations was not attainable in such a large resort. I could not recommend this hotel to anyone, ever!
Other than our stay in Sharm el Sheikh, Jim and Arlene did such a fantastic job for us that I can see why he’s on your WOW List. Thank you so much Wendy for giving us this List, as the specialists on it indeed are invaluable in making memorable and smooth international trips of a lifetime come true! And thank you once again for a fantastic WOW MOMENT to remember!
PANDEMIC TRAVEL We had an epic family trip to Egypt over Christmas and NYEve break! Arlene & Jim set up this trip perfectly – and with very little input since we were too busy. We entrusted them to prioritize and plan our limited time in Egypt, and they did it quickly and brilliantly. The tool they use to share itinerary drafts and the final documents and suggestions were fantastic! When we faced some issues or had changes, they were quick to support us. When we had to cancel one of our group due to Covid, they tried to get as much $ back as possible. Scuba diving the Red Sea was a bucket list item for me and we pulled that off as well (even though it was a little cold). Tour leaders and Egyptologists were all awesome – helpful, knowledgeable, friendly and organized. St Regis in Cairo, Sonesta Star Nile cruise, and Savoy Sharm el Sheikh were all great choices too – especially NYEve party!
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Imagine standing inches away from King Tutankhamun’s funerary mask…or in front of a 4,500 year old Sphinx…or in a tomb with hieroglyphics dating back 3,200 years…or in front of a 2,300 year old Monastery carved in a mountain…with next to no one around you. Can you imagine it?? With the help of Wendy’s Trusted Travel Expert Jim Berkeley, we did more than imagine it…we experienced it during a fabulous trip to Jordan and Egypt. Thanks to Jim’s expertise, our trip was the perfect blend of history, culture, touring, relaxation, city, desert and river….all without the pre-pandemic crowds.
The Jordanians were so welcoming and gracious, repeatedly thanking us for visiting their country. Our guide in Jordan was just fantastic. Beyond teaching us about each site, he shared fascinating antecdotes and historical perspectives. He patiently answered our questions so that we could gain a better understanding of the Muslim faith and political climate in the Middle East. He helped bring Petra to life in a way I couldn’t have ever imagined. I was truly humbled as we gazed at numerous structures, still standing thousands of years after they were carved.
Our Egyptologist in Cairo was key to navigating the major sites. Upon entering the Egyptian Museum, he guided us to the second floor, bypassing the traditional route taken by all other museum visitors. Thanks to him, we stood in awe, marveling at the beauty of King Tutankhamun’s bejeweled, solid gold funerary mask, with nobody else in the room. We weren’t jostling other tourists, fighting for prime view. We saw the mask in all its glory for a good 5 minutes before other tourists reached the room. It was an invaluable, priceless opportunity. In Giza, he took us directly to the Sphinx, before proceeding to the pyramids, so that we had an unobstructed view well before other tourists arrived.
Had it not been for Jim’s suggestion, we would have missed out on the most beautiful tomb in Egypt. Found in the Valley of the Queens, Queen Nefartari’s tomb was absolutely exquisite, with hieroglyphics that looked as though they were painted yesterday. Standing in awe, mesmerized by the vibrant colors and the beauty of the artistry, I was struck by the fact that no one else was in the tomb but us. Another absolutely priceless opportunity.
After exploring Jordan, Cairo and Luxor, we set sail up the Nile in a dahabiya. What a fabulous experience…the perfect combination of touring and relaxing. Each morning, we explored a temple, quarry or village, and each afternoon we relaxed on deck, lazily watching farmers tend their fields and villagers cut down sugar cane as we slowly sailed passed.
Our final destination, Aswan, was just beautiful. Perfectly positioned along the first cataract of the Nile, it offered gorgeous views across the river to the desert and magnificent sunsets. Riding camels up to St. Simeon’s monastery was a definite highlight, as was the felucca sailing around Elephantine & Kitchener Islands.
From a Covid perspective, we were very comfortable with the protocols in place at each of our hotels and on the dahabiya. Shortly before departing the US, Jim notified us of a hotel change, as his team was not comfortable with the Covid protocols at our original hotel. We appreciated his proactive approach and efforts to minimize our health risk.
Prior to the trip, I had inquired about entering the Great Pyramid. Due to Covid, Jim advised against it, in light of the low ventilation and close proximity to other tourists as you navigate your way through the pyramid to the burial chamber. We greatly appreciated his guidance and have no regrets about choosing not to enter it. From the safety of the outdoors, we marveled at its creation and were mesmerized by its majesty.
PCR Testing in Jordan and Egypt went as smoothly & easily as possible, with Jim’s team having arranged onsite testing at our hotels. Both tests were quick and didn’t interfere with our plans for the rest of the day.
Yet another way in which Jim added value was the planning and coordination of our transportation, including timely transfers, dedicated drivers with private vehicles, and internal flights. When EgyptAir cancelled our flight to Abu Simbel, Jim‘s team in Aswan leapt into action. Without their help, I would have spent precious vacation time trying to rearrange travel plans. I was so grateful that Jim‘s team handled everything seamlessly, so that I could continue relaxing on the Nile instead of trying to coordinate new arrangements.
Traveling these days presents such wonderful opportunities to explore sites that are usually inundated with tourists. We are so grateful that Jim and his team facilitated our safe travels through Jordan and Egypt before the pre-pandemic levels resume. To be up close and personal with ancient creations and works of art was extraordinary and humbling. It was beyond special.
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Jim and his team were amazing, both pre-pandemic when we planned to go in 2020, and later as we had to reschedule three times. They provided guidance and support throughout, and were always flexible and understanding of our concerns. Although throughout Egypt masks were worn, especially in the tourist sites, it was particularly apparent with our contacts, guides, and the hotels/cruise Jim and his team selected – they were very diligent and we always felt safe. The itinerary itself was packed with everything we wanted to see and then some! They were able to make it work somehow within the timeframe we had, but yet we never felt exhausted or “toured out”. I wouldn’t hesitate to work with this team again, and have actually already been on the site looking for our next destination!
PANDEMIC TRAVEL •How did this trip differ from one you might have taken before the pandemic?
We’ve not taken a trip so well coordinated and planned as what we did with Jim and his team in Egypt. We felt zero impact from the pandemic during our travel, other than seeing plenty of people wearing masks. We got to do everything we wanted and planned for when we originally booked the trip in 2019.
•Did the trip planner suggest experiences, accommodations, dining options, travel logistics, etc., that felt Covid-appropriate to you?
Jim Berkeley asked us to “trust” him when he put together our itinerary. We did and were very glad about it. Everything, done to the smallest detail was taken care of by the local staff. The only covid related item was arranging for our pre-departure covid test, which they did and made is very easy.
•Did he/she solve particular challenges or destination-related problems?
We had a few minor issues at the airports during the internal air travel portion of the trip. The local agents intervened for us and solved these minor problems quickly and made it easy for us to focus on enjoying our trip
•What did the trip planner do, or not do, to minimize your health risk or financial risk?
We were not worried about health-related issues of our trip. Jim’s team did coordinate our pre-departure required covid test and they answered all of our covid related questions prior to the trip. In regard to the financial issues, again Jim answered all of our questions. We were originally scheduled to take this trip in 2020, but had to cancel just weeks before we were supposed to leave. Jim Berkeley was gracious enough to return our final payment at that time and promised that the cost would not change when we rescheduled for 2021 travel (excepting changes in vendor prices, which did not happen)
•Did the trip planner add value to your trip? If so, how
Jim and his team were absolutely AMAZING! They took care of every detail and made it possible for us to focus on enjoying ourselves without having to worry about any of the logistics of travel. They picked out five star accommodations (with our approval) and planned an excellent itinerary that allowed us to see what we most wanted without being exhausted. It’s impossible to outline everything that they did that added value to our trip. I can’t imagine a better, more enjoyable trip to Egypt than the one coordinated by Jim. Use Jim and his team!
Egypt Sept 19-30, 2021
My husband and I traveled to Egypt and Jordan – just barely ahead of the corona virus! We were in Egypt for three weeks and in Jordan for one week. Being in our seventies, we don’t like to pack and unpack often nor do we like to have too many days in a row of activities. Jim did an excellent job of scheduling our trip to accommodate our needs. We had personable, knowledgeable guides who let us choose how much to see and do.
Not only did the guides have encyclopedic knowledge about the ancient sites but they also knew the patterns of the masses of tourists. Often, they got us to places before or after the crowds. We saw too many amazing places to list here. We learned something new (often a lot) every day.
Our accommodations were excellent with one exception. The Nile cruise was very nice and the activities, food and staff were very good. The rooms were acceptable but our bathroom was in serious need of repair.
Overall Jim created a fantastic, well planned month of touring for us.
Jim Berkeley and Arlene Santos put together a wonderful highlights of Cairo trip for my husband and me. We were well taken care every step of the way of from our Greeter who escorted us to and from the airport to our driver who’s driving skill was as epic as the Pyramids in the chaotic Cairo Traffic. But our local guide/ Egyptologist “ Riko” was the one who made our experience exceptional. She was knowledgeable, patient, kind and passionate about her city, country’s history and culture. Hands down the best guide in all our world travels. She avoided the crowds not only at the Pyramids and major sites but literally unlocked and gave us private access to tombs not available to the public. What an experience to stand alone in an Egyptian tomb 4 thousand years old ! The accommodations Jim and Arlene selected at the Four Seasons was a luxury oasis from the desert heat while still giving us a beautiful sunset view of the Nile and a call to prayer from our balcony each evening. Thanks for fantastic trip and a bucket list item checked !
Jim Berkeley and his company planned a month long trip to Egypt, Jordan, and Israel for my husband and me and another couple. Because of health reasons we had to put the trip off twice. I spoke to Jim about safety concerns in all of these countries and he quickly put my fears to rest. Finally after putting him on hold for a year we were able to take the trip. We stayed in varied, interesting hotels, had different guides in all three countries, took several in country flights, crossed from Jordan to Israel all without incident nor fears for our safety. His suggestions were invaluable and his assistant Arlene was always quick answering emails before our trip. Our in-country guides helped us understand their culture, politics, and history in ways we could never have discovered on our own. We rode camels, took river boats, rode in horse drawn buggies, wandered in crowded markets. We always felt safe. All four of us learned so much and enjoyed all the planned activities. In Petra our driver and guide took our companion to the hospital. He was dehydrated and after an IV came to dinner that evening. Their attention, understanding, and care was invaluable. A trip to the Middle East is a must. I couldn’t recommend the agency and their staff more highly.
We had specific places of interest we wanted to include in our vacation to Egypt, Jordan and Israel and Jim was very creative in providing an itinerary that meet our needs. The guides and drivers at each destination were very responsible and courteous. They helped us avoid the crowds and see many amazing things up close and personal.
Jim Berkeley and Arlene Santos — WOW! What a fabulous Egyptian adventure they arranged for the four of us. From the very moment we stepped off the plane in Cairo, when our VIP greeter whisked us speedily through the airport, we knew we were in great hands! Jim and Arlene did everything to make us feel safe and well cared for. At every location — Cairo, Aswan, and Luxor — we were greeted not only by our local Egyptologist (each an incredibly well educated and personable guide!) and driver, but by a local representative who shared his contact information, answered our initial questions, and simply made us feel right at home. Our private Egyptologists, especially in Cairo, were exceptional — filling us with as much history and cultural information as we could absorb. They knew how to avoid the crowds and zero in on the most important sites to see. Our drivers were always there, ready for us the moment we finished visiting a site — and ensured our complete comfort in the van. The hotels Jim and Arlene selected for us were the tops in Egypt, each with its own fabulous view of the Nile — and in the case of Cairo — we could even see the pyramids 14 km away on a clear day! We loved the flexibility of our Egyptologists, giving us glimpses of local life, from meandering through a rural market that tourists don’t visit near Valley of the Kings to enjoying a great pizza lunch (Maison Thomas) and our guides’ favorite shopping haunts in Zamalek (Gezira Island). And so glad Jim urged us to visit Abu Simbel — worth the short flight from Aswan and back to spend time exploring two massive rock temples near Egypt’s southern border with Sudan. While every day was a highlight, the most memorable for us would have to be the pyramids, sphinx, Valley of the Kings, Abu Simbel, and our magical 4-day Nile River cruise on the Oberoi Philae. Truly I could write a book about how thousands of years of history came to life for us during our 12 days in Egypt! And, yes, we did feel safe throughout our journey as security is excellent throughout the country. Egypt rates high as one of the best, most memorable vacations we’ve enjoyed! Don’t miss Egypt!
Jim really listened to what we had in mind for our trip to Egypt. He talked to us twice in the planning stage and had the foresight to say that he thought we were good candidates for a trip down the Nile on a dahabiya and he was certainly right! We loved every second of that 5 day experience. He also booked us in at the most delightful hotels in Luxor and Aswan with gorgeous views and fantastic service. We had flawless pickups, guide services and transfers and always felt we were in good hands. Although Egypt can be hectic, crowded and noisy, our guides knew how to navigate the sites and always found a quiet pocket of calm so we could enjoy our time with the antiquities. All told, this was another great experience with a Wendy Perrin travel specialist. And to top it all off, we were treated to an evening sail in Cairo on a felucca as a WOW moment. Thank you Wendy!
Egypt and Jordan.
One of the favorite phrases we learned on our trip was mi’a mi’a, which translates roughly as “the best”. We got to use it often on the three-week trip Jim Berkeley and his team put together for my wife and me plus our daughter.
We often book small group tours but were unable to find any single tour that covered everything we wanted during our visit to Egypt and Jordan. After consulting Wendy’s list of travel experts, we decided on Jim. He listened carefully to our desires and then put together a trip plan that met our needs. But Jim didn’t stop there. Based on his understanding of our interests, he suggested several additions: Jerash, an ancient Roman city nearly as impressive as Ephesus; a stay in a Bedouin camp at Wadi Rum where we found the best scenery of our trip; the Temple of Philae, one of the single nicest temples we saw in Egypt; and the Tombs of the Artists, which provide a perspective on Pharaonic Egypt not available in the better-known Valleys of the Kings and Queens.
In addition, Jim suggested adjustments to our requests. We asked to include a one-week cruise down the Nile. Jim suggested that we would be better served by taking a three-night cruise instead, and then spending the extra days on land in Aswan and Luxor. His advice was spot on. We also told Jim that although we wanted first-class lodgings, we weren’t interested in paying for luxurious hotels that cater to the jet-set crowd. Jim encouraged us to allow him to make one exception during our visit, and as a result, we found ourselves in premium suites at the Old Cataract Hotel in Aswan. Each oversized suite featured 26 foot wide balconies with a spectacular panoramic view of the Nile and Elephantine Island. Our three-night stay there was a highlight of our trip.
The logistics for our trip were complex. We had 5 interior flights, a cruise on the Nile, lengthy rides in the desert including on a 4×4, two camel rides, a carriage ride, a thrilling burro ride to the Monastery in Petra, and probably 20 visits to sites that required tickets. Everything was flawless. We did not have a single hiccup during our trip.
Jim’s deep roots in the area paid off in several ways. He was able to secure upgrades at our hotels. He got us top-deck suites on the Sonesta Star Goddess cruise ship. His long relationship with the owner of the Sakkara Carpet school landed us an especially good price for an Egyptian rug after only a little haggling.
Finally, Jim was able to secure the best guides for us. Our guides were uniformly excellent. Each was knowledgeable about all aspects of the areas we were visiting. For example, our Egyptologists could read hieroglyphics. Our guides worked hard to get us to locations either before or after the cruise ship crowds arrived. For example, when we visited Tutankhamun’s tomb, we were the only people there.
When we decided at the last minute to add a hot air balloon ride, our Luxor guide made special arrangements with the operator to ensure personal attention, including securing the best spot in the balloon basket for viewing the monuments as we glided by. When the ride took longer than expected, our guide worked with the ship captain to make sure we still had a hot breakfast awaiting our return onboard after everyone else had already departed. And as a bonus, our guides suggested superb local restaurants, such as Makka in Aswan and Taboulah in Cairo.
And then there was our WOW moment. I am guessing that Wendy had some input from Jim on what would make a good WOW moment for us because it was inspired. Our planned trip included almost everything a visitor might hope for, with one exception. We had not included a visit to the tomb of Nefertari, generally considered to be the nicest tomb in all of Egypt. That turned out to be our WOW moment, and it was perfect. The tomb has restricted access, with a vault door at the entrance to enable better climate control than at the other tombs. Signs everywhere note that stays are limited to 10 minutes. Not only were we able to stay for 15 minutes, but we were the only people there. It was a magical moment, a perfect capstone to our trip.
All of this added up to a trip that was mi’a mi’a. We would recommend Jim to anyone planning a trip to the area.
Jim was extremely knowledgeable about Egypt and recommended we also visit Jordan and Petra, a truly worthwhile diversion. We had no idea he had lived in Egypt for years until a guide informed us. We made a change during the trip and his staff was very helpful n that regard, too.
We had a wonderful trip. Guides were very good. Wonderful hotel choices. Egypt is a must visit; just incredible sites that are hard to believe even when you are seeing them.
WOW Trip Review #2
Cairo & vicinity in 2.5 days. This was a stopover-of-convenience between two business trips and not something I would recommend for the average person.
Never having been to Egypt before plus a limited time window caused me to seek out professional assistance. I told Jim and his team that I wanted to accomplish the following:
* see the pyramids
* ride on a felucca (small sailing boat on the Nile)
* get pictures of a sunset/night view of Cairo
* as much as possible, avoid the constant harassment by people trying to sell me things I didn’t want
Everything else I saw would be frosting on the cake.
The pre-arrival documentation was detailed & very informative.
Upon arrival at the Cairo airport, I opted for the VIP treatment. It was a super cool experience and consisted of being met at the stairs of the aircraft, taken by private car to a nice lounge with food&drink while they took care of getting my visa.
I was then connected with a highly qualified Egyptologist (an academic who actually participated in excavations of antiquities) & driver for my tour. They did a pretty good job of adapting to my really brief stay.
Additionally, she shared a lot about Muslim culture, Egyptian politics and other subjects that I was curious about… no question seemed to be “off limits”.
Accommodations were at the Kempinski and the room had a great view of the Nile.
But there were a few misses:
* the felucca ride was supposed to be at sunset and include “with local beer and light Oriental Mezze.”. Unfortunately, the local rep showed up late and we just missed the sunset. Also, the Mezze never appeared. No mention of what happened and no apology. It was a small miss but I was pretty hungry by that time and was counting on the food to keep me fueled.
* we made a stop (not on the original itinerary) at the “Papyrus Institute” presumably to see how papyrus was made and see why it’s such an awesome, durable material; that part was very informative… However, I was not warned about the showroom and the slightly pushy sales pitch as a part of the “Institute”. I probably should have known better but when I’m paying for a private tour, I expect the guide to alert me to these situations. Also, this extra stop had a cascade effect on our schedule for the rest of the day and we only caught the final few minutes of the sunset over Cairo which was one of the stated goals.
Bottom line: super high-quality guide, good support & documentation but the unwelcome surprises slightly tarnished what was otherwise an excellent trip.
Still, I would absolutely use Jim and his team again.
From the outset, Jim established his credentials for planning our trip to Egypt for October 2018 for four adults. As the former chief of the Cairo office of a leading upscale travel company, he knows the area and the providers extremely well. He assigned excellent Egyptologists to accompany us, which meant that we explored some tombs off the beaten path…once even involving finding a guard to get a key for access. Our days were occasionally scheduled in reverse order from the crowds, meaning that we experienced spaces to ourselves. He advised where it was worth splurging, like the Old Cataract Hotel in Aswan, and where it was not. Great advice.
Positive: Terrific, knowledgeable, guides, great service at airports, picking up etc.
Negative: Hotel Kempinski was just terrible- used moisturizer, and shampoo, dirty carpet, rusted shower head and more- I think I received the single worst room in a hostel and it was less than 50% occupied and much more-
One hotel in Aswan and internet access just in the lobby – I run a business with clients in 72 countries and it’s my lifeline- but wasn’t told this! After making a big fuss they brought me up a router and it was fine- but a cardinal sin not to tell me upfront.
All in all a terrific trip.
My husband and I recently returned from Morocco. We have a particular style of travel that does not suit most and tried to be very clear about that when planning with our agent. As well, we have worked with other travel agencies over the years, but this was the first time we used Wendy Perrins services. None of our friends were familiar with the agency, so, even with the positive reviews and conversations prior to our trip, we were definitely apprehensive.
Well, there was absolutely no reason for our concerns. Helen Wilson, on Jim Berkeley’s team, was our agent and she did an amazing job. She paid attention to the information we provided her, made adjustments accordingly as plans progressed, and masterfully planned and executed every aspect of our trip!
We will absolutely employ Wendy Perrins agency again. Our only regret will be that we will be assigned a new agent, but if Helen is any indication of the quality of agents available, we will look forward to it.
Our trip to Jerusalem, Petra and Egypt was one of the best trips in a lifetime of travel. Jim Berkeley zeroed in on our interests, addressed our security concerns and worked with his extensive local contacts to organize an amazing 18-day itinerary. Thanks to Jim, the three of us had the freedom to avoid the crowds and travel comfortably with a series of personal guides who were knowledgeable, friendly and confident talking about their countries from ancient to current times. We especially enjoyed exploring The Valley of the Nobles and Deir el-Medina outside Luxor. These tombs were in excellent condition, incredibly beautiful AND there was virtually no one else there! Secondly, while all the hotels were excellent, the Old Cataract Hotel in Aswan is an experience in itself!
We loved the trip. It was especially meaningful for our friends who had this on their bucket list for 20 years but had been afraid to go. When we jumped in and told them we had a fantastic travel specialist that we found through Wendy, they were ready to go. I am truly grateful that for them it was so special as my girlfriend is picky! We were upgraded on more than one occasion and stayed in a true historical suite which was fantastic. We went to Cairo, Luxor, and Aswan in February. It is a great time of year to go and you want guides at all of these places. My biggest tip to you take lots of $1 bills and use this travel planner. Tell them exactly what you want so they can do what it takes to get it for you! Lauren Mescon
Jim Berkeley planned a well organized trip for us in Jordan and Egypt for our family of 4. He did a great job of getting us around to a few chosen locations and to hit the highlights in each locale. We came home feeling like we had really seen and experienced the culture of Jordan and we would love to return and see more! In Egypt, we saw the highlights and every day were somewhat awestruck with what we were seeing! Amazing!
Jim prepared an excellent trip to Egypt for us. The guides were generally quite good (the one in Luxor was fantastic!) and got us into all the places we wanted to see without the crowds and the pressure of mass tour groups. We’d definitely use him again for future trips.
Unbelievable experiences we had on our trip to Egypt. We booked Jim Berkeley and worked with him and his company Destinations and Adventures to plan our two week vacation. Our trip was fantastic. We learned so much about Egypt. Our guides were so informative and made our excursions to the temples, pyramids, and museums really enjoyable. The Egyptian museum was incredible – our guide maneuvered us first to the best rooms where we had time to ourselves before the crowds appeared. Each guide was SO informative and responsive. They truly got to know us and personalized our visit in each location. Our travel connections all along the way were seamless and we really felt that we were in excellent hands. Jim was able to book us for specific tombs that other agencies couldn’t offer. Our concerns about safety were never an issue. Accommodations were perfect. We did have one issue with a hotel and Jims immediate attention resolved it perfectly. I would highly encourage using Jim and his team for your travel plans. The wealth of knowledge, awesome guides, and the extras cannot be beat.
Jim was a pleasure to work with and he put together an incredible trip. My husband and I often tell others that our trip to Egypt was the trip of a lifetime (we are well traveled).
All of the highlights described above are really beyond description!
One of the egyptologists who guided us (he had also worked with the BBC and National Geographic) was encyclopedic about ancient Egypt. Because the ancient Egyptians documented everything, their culture becomes palpable – I remember being read (hieroglyphs) an IOU written on a stone from one neighbor who had borrowed wheat from another promising to pay it back!
I don’t know what it’s like to be in Egypt now, but I trust Jim not only to deliver a unique adventure in one of the world’s most fascinating places but also a safe one.
My husband and I traveled to Egypt and Jordan (including Petra) on a trip choreographed by Jim Berkeley in December 2009. The trip was flawless and now, six years later, our memories remain striking and vivid. Amazing history, landscapes, culture. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world and am thinking of going back.