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.
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.
Unless you speak Arabic fluently, traveling in Egypt and Jordan is not at all like the US or Europe. Having a reliable network of guides and fixers made the trip frictionless and very enjoyable. Jim’s office put together a complex trip with multiple handoffs, internal flights that allowed us to see what we wanted to see, and do what we wanted to do. The local guides and drivers were all knowledgeable and totally focused on our enjoyment and safety. Word of advice— bring lots of small US bills (1 or 5 USD) for tips for locals, and bigger bills to tip the guides and drivers.
My daughter and I just came back from an amazing week in Egypt! This was one of those trips that we will truly never forget. Arlene (we did not communicate with James directly) did such a fantastic job of giving us a week filled with visits to all the major highlights of this fantastic country. The end of April was a great time to go as the weather was really lovely. It was Ramadan during our time there, but this really did not impact any parts of the trip (certain attractions closed earlier in the afternoon, but this really worked well for us as it gave us time to relax after a full morning/afternoon).
Someone asked what our favorite parts of the trip were and to be perfectly honest, it is impossible to pick one thing. The local trip leaders and guides were so friendly, helpful and knowledgeable. Our guide, Abdullah, on our 4-night trip on the Nile was so passionate about hieroglyphics—we really got such a detailed instruction on how to “read” these stories within temples and tombs. The days on the dahabiya on the Nile were so relaxing. It was nice to only have 12 tourists on the boat (which was the maximal number); this allowed for nice conversations, particularly during meal time. The meals were pretty amazing, with plenty of options for any dietary limitation/restriction. Eman, with whom we spent 3 days in Cairo, was so informative. My daughter and I really bonded with her. We would love to have her again on another trip into Egypt!
This trip was really perfect from beginning to end. Arlene really made this trip successful from our arrival (very late) into Cairo until our departure (in the middle of the night) out of Cairo. We were so well taken care of by the drivers, trip leaders, and guides. We felt safe throughout. Definitely think of a trip to Egypt with Jim and Arlene as a “must-do”!
My trip to Jordan and Egypt over the holidays was fantastic! While there were a couple of times in planning that communication seemed a bit delayed, Jim and his colleague Arlene planned a great trip. All of our guides were absolutely top-notch and super knowledgeable, and everything was organized perfectly — we were met and escorted through airports, there were cars waiting with A/C and cold water, etc. Even though my friend and I are both experienced travelers, it was nice to be able to relax and not worry about where we were going next or how we were going to get there — for example, when we did the fly-in excursion from Aswan to Abu Simbel (which I highly recommend!), we were escorted past the rest of the people on our flight who were waiting for shuttle buses and directly to a private minivan, making us the first ones to the site with our guide). We felt like we were able to see all of the must-sees/highlights, but also, despite being there at a very crowded time of year, were able to get off the beaten path a bit to visit places with few if any other visitors. We only had a few days in Jordan, so our time going to/from Petra was a whirlwind, though we packed in as much as we could and our guide and driver were great about replanning our route and stops on the fly when some protests closed the main road. We didn’t love the Movenpick in Petra (we had rooms on opposite sides of the building but the dozens of barking dogs outside kept us both up all night, despite noise-canceling headphones), but understand there really aren’t any better options in the area and it was super-convenient to the site. All of our other hotels were wonderful. We absolutely loved the Old Cataract in Aswan, where we had great spa treatments and only wished we could’ve had a few more days to laze around on their terraces and explore the grounds. Our Nile cruise was very comfortable, and the Four Seasons in Cairo was lovely — our rooms were upgraded and mine had a balcony overlooking the Nile with views of the city (and even the pyramids!). Our day visiting Giza and Saqqara I think really perfectly illustrated the benefits of using a WOW list professional – our Egyptologist guide knew exactly when to get there, and where within the complex to start, the benefit being that we were able to experience the Sphinx and the side of the Great Pyramid with virtually no one else around. Similarly, in Saqqara we visited a few stunning tombs that had few, if any, visitors. And our lunch stop was for delicious, traditional Egyptian food served in a beautiful garden; it felt like eating at someone’s home. We also loved our food tour in Cairo. Egypt had been on my bucket list for years and I’m so glad to have finally made it. The only disappointment was that the Grand Egyptian Museum had not opened as planned by the time of our trip, which I suppose just means I’ll have to go back in a few years!
Two friends and I just returned from a private three-week trip to Egypt planned by Jim Berkeley and his staff. Jim started working with me over a year ago on the details and did a great job planning a very interesting, educational, diverse and fun trip for us, and Arlene and Glenda fine-tuned the details as we got closer to our departure date. The hotels, the Oberoi Philae cruise ship, the private guides and Egyptologists and drivers were all top-notch. The local reps they used were fastidious about details/logistics and kept in close contact with us at each location to ensure that they were meeting our expectations.
We started in Cairo on the Giza plateau with a private tour of the Sphinx, then moved on to the pyramids, temples and tombs that we all see in our dreams when we think of Egypt. On the first day of what turned out to be a very diverse 21-day tour…we had a lovely random encounter (and photo op) with Zawi Hawass, the very engaging, world-famous archeologist, who was exiting the Sphinx as we were entering. Other highlights in Cairo were the Egyptian Museum, a preview of the new GEM, a walking “bellies” food tour (which was fantastic and a great introduction to Egyptian cuisine in the trendy Heliopolis neighborhood) and Tahrir Square.
From the hustle and bustle of Cairo (where driving rules are considered mere suggestions) we moved on to the tranquility and beauty of an eco lodge in Siwa, a desert oasis west of Cairo and about 250 miles from the Libyan border. What an unexpected treat. Adrere Almallal is a stunning lodge which offers guests an opportunity to unplug (no electricity and no wifi) and experience the life and pace that the desert affords. The tranquility, the staff, the FOOD, the candlelit rooms with wood-burning fireplaces and the night sky bursting with stars was such a gift. Highlights in Siwa were a trip into town to tour the Temple of the Oracle of Amun and the Spring of Juba (Cleopatra’s pool), a visit to an all-women’s workshop, shopping and sharing tea with the local Siwa merchants, and a 4×4 trip into the desert to ride the dunes, dune surf, hunt for fossils and watch a stunning sunset. The lodge also had a very nice gift shop where we all bought locally made table linens.
Leaving the tranquility of Siwa, we transferred to Luxor, where we were met by Michael Samir Shaker, a delightful and intelligent young man who has a terrific personality and gives a highly informative and interesting tour of the Valleys of the Kings, Queens and Nobles. He also gave us great insider advice about where to shop for jewelry and spices (wait ‘til Aswan).… Before getting on the Oberoi Philae for a four-night Nile cruise, we enjoyed a sunrise balloon ride over the same valleys that we had toured with Michael the day before.
The Nile cruise was a true delight. With just 22 cabins, the crew/passenger ratio on the Oberoi Philae was perfect for us and the service was impeccable. Between the three of us, we made use of the spa and the workout room when not out on an excursion. We were also pleased to be able to make arrangements for Michael to continue on with us for the daily excursions.
When we arrived in Aswan, Michael took us on a wonderful day tour of the High Dam, Philae Temple and the Nubian Museum, and at our request, took us on a shopping spree (jewelry, linens and spices) at the end of the day before returning us to the boat. The spice shop he suggested was quite an experience. In addition to spices which included Iranian saffron, we walked out with bags of dates, coffee and tea. Michael also left with a few bags of spices to take to his mother in Luxor. Our WOW Moment came in Aswan after we disembarked the next morning and checked into the famous Old Cataract Hotel on the Nile. Wendy arranged for a private sunset dinner cruise that night which was just stunning. The crew members were lovely and the scenery was fabulous! Thank you again, Wendy!
From Aswan we flew over and back in the same day to Abu Simbel, to tour the two massive rock relief temples of Ramesses II and Nefertari located on the banks of Lake Nasser. Very much worth the effort as these temples, particularly Ramesses II, were very impressive.
The next morning we flew from Aswan to Sharm el Sheikh on the Sinai peninsula for the final four days of our trip. Highlights in Sharm included a day trip to St. Catherine’s Monastery (a day full of biblical history…the story of Moses, the burning bush and the 10 commandments…which was fascinating). On our last day, our local guide, Islam Wahba, chartered a boat for snorkeling in Ras Mohammed National Park, a stunning underwater coral reef. Islam arranged for a diving instructor to be on board, so in addition to snorkeling, we were treated to a personal diving lesson and our first “dive” to see the coral up close. Our dive instructor, Luca, was patient, encouraging and adventurous. It was an unexpected and exhilarating experience for each of us.
On our last night in Cairo before heading stateside, our very first guide, Ayman, met us one last time for dinner at our hotel and brought us each a box of “sweets.”
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that, among the many, many experiences we had, the thing that stood out to each of us the most was the warm and welcoming spirits of the Egyptian people…to a person they greeted us with a smile, volunteered to help us navigate the traffic in Cairo, gave us directions and generally chatted with us happily. This trip was made all the more special by the lovely Egyptians that we crossed paths with along the way. Don’t miss the opportunity to experience this beautiful country.
Egypt has a variety of police forces, all very visible, one of which is the Tourism Police. Travelers to Egypt who are going to Siwa (in the Libyan Desert) and to St. Catherine’s Monastery on the Sinai Peninsula, three hours north of Sharm el Sheikh, should not be surprised to be accompanied by either a police escort (as in the case of Siwa) or private security (as in the case of St. Catherine’s Monastery).
Jim’s office did a spectacular job with our Egyptian tour. Ahmed our Egyptologist, Helen our rep, and the other 8 travelers in our group made the trip memorable.
There were many highlights, but our 3 nights spent on the Nile on a dahabiya boat had to one of the best things. Being able to go in the GEM for a sneak peak. Spending nights at the Old Cataract Hotel in Luxor conjured up memories of Agatha Christie & Death On The Nile. Nefertiti’s tomb in Valley of the Queens and all the other temples and tombs we saw along with the Ahmed’s explanations to accompany them.
Our transportation was always very comfortable and our meals were tasty and we were able to sample a wide variety of the local cuisine.
We just returned from a terrific 2-week trip to Egypt that was planned with the help of Jim and Arlene Santos. Egypt has been on our bucket list for a decade, so with the pandemic winding down and the new Grand Egyptian Museum (“GEM”) set to open in November 2022, we figured early 2023 was a great time to go. Setting up a trip like this requires great planners that can provide expert guidance and adjust quickly as circumstances change, and Jim’s team worked with us interactively to plan the itinerary before we left and adjust it as things happened during it.
As one example, our plane to Cairo connecting through Europe left 7 hours late! That meant that we missed the last flight to Cairo from Frankfurt. We had engaged the flight advisor that Jim’s office recommended and were so glad that we did! She quickly responded to us on a Saturday night (!) and re-routed us Frankfurt-Munich-Cairo the same day. Jim’s office then had their Cairo team meet us at the plane with an electric cart (at 1:30 am), sped us through not only the airport but the immigrationeprocess, got us to our hotel and arranged for our next day to start a bit later. We woke up to see the Pyramids and Sphinx and visit the GEM that day as planned and didn’t miss a beat!
The story on visiting the GEM continued to morph for months as the opening was pushed back from 2022 to an indefinite 2023 date. Right before we left, Jim found a way for us to walk inside to see the fabulous architecture of this museum, which is spectacular! While we didn’t get to see it fully open with
its acclaimed exhibits, seeing the building up close with the enormous statue of Ramses II was terrific. Once it is open, it will be spectacular!
Our ambitious itinerary covered Cairo, Aswan and an Abu Simbel side trip, a Nile cruise and Luxor. The only way to see everything we did is through careful planning with people on the ground who know the intricacies of how to put it together. For example, we are not sure how anyone in one day can see the key tombs in Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens without the help of experts, given the landscape and the ticketing system. Jim’s team helped us to plan so we had the tickets to everything we wanted to see there and a guide and driver to get us to each. We are convinced that there is no way to see these major sites without proper guidance.
We also recommend taking a dahabiya boat to cruise the Nile rather than a large cruise boat, as you get the opportunity to stop at sites along the Nile where the bigger boats can’t dock. With only 4 couples on our boat, it truly was an intimate and interesting experience and the food was amazing! And lastly, the value of a team on the ground was proven once again when one of us got food poisoning. Jim’s team sent a doctor to the hotel at night with necessary medication. That allowed us to continue the tour as planned the next day.
We highly recommend seeing Egypt now, as it is not overwhelmed with visitors, and also highly recommend employing Jim’s office to help plan it. Some trips can be planned independently, but in a destination like this, a knowledgeable team with great connections both on the ground and for flights is invaluable, as our experience proves!
The plan put together for our trip by Arlene Santos (Jim was in the process of moving to Nashville, so he was not directly available) was ultimately just perfect. The accommodation choices were spot-on-amazing properties that, while luxurious, were also good value, and the service of the local team was great. All that said, it was the pace of the 2 weeks that really made the trip a pleasure. I’ve wanted to go to Egypt for about 20 years and between my schedule and their revolutions, it’s not worked out. Our trip was even better than I’d imagined or hoped for and worth the wait.
What we loved was the perfect mix of seeing “the sights” that you’ve read about and seen in photos and getting a sense of contemporary life in Egypt—both urban and rural. Our notable highlights included Sakkara, Luxor and environs (tombs), the Old Cataract Hotel Nile View suite and the amazing Abu Simbel temples.
But hands down, the most special part of our experience was our 4 days and 4 nights on the Dahabiya Orient. We are SO glad we did this rather than a larger standard river cruise boat. From the moment we boarded to the moment we stepped off, we felt well cared for by the crew, who treated us both like honored guests and close friends. We opted for the “Terrace Suite,” which was at the stern of the boat and had a large private deck at water level. Honestly, we did not use it much, since the main deck space was so large and lovely and the other couples on the cruise were delightful. That said, it was a treat to have a 180-degree view of the river from our room (as opposed to the other cabins with only a standard window looking either starboard OR port). And had the other guests been less compatible, it would have been a nice space to escape for privacy. The food was Egyptian and extraordinary, and we, as vegetarians, were seamlessly accommodated. We were amazed what the chef was able to create in the tiny on-board kitchen.
Our guide on the cruise, Dr. Abdulla, was much more than a guide. He was the boat host and the English (and other languages) interface between guests and crew. He was not only extremely knowledgeable, but a gifted storyteller, bringing to life the history, geology, stories—and the stories behind the stories. He seemed genuinely to enjoy sharing the perspective of the life along the Nile. All the shore stops were great, but our sunset walk through a farming village one evening was special and our visit to the huge camel/livestock market and local market in Daraw was an exciting, novel and sensory-overloaded experience. We saw all manner of 4-legged animal sales, including camels. We would have NEVER even known about that as an opportunity, much less ventured to something like that on our own. And it was clear that not many tourists ventured there, since we seemed to be quite interesting to locals, some of whom had traveled from far away in even more rural areas and we were asked to pose with them for THEIR travel photos!
Other observations: Coordination by the team on the ground was excellent, although sometimes it was not completely clear what the role some of the people we interfaced with played. Also, we would suggest guides ASK if clients in advance want to go on “factory tours.” In Cairo, this happened twice without notice/asking. For instance, we were dropped off in front of a papyrus vendor and guided inside, having not been even told in advance where we were headed, much less given the option to pass on it. Even when we told the guide on arrival (as the driver drove away) that David had actually been to that VERY store on a previous trip, we were shepherded in and then obliged to watch the demo and (unless we wanted to make a scene or seem ungracious) view the wares. In Luxor and Aswan the guides gave us options to skip these “tours,” which we appreciated.
I am very happy to be traveling again and the logistics went well. The trip went very well and it helped to have both a guide and logistics person helping with the details at each stop. When my handcarry had an issue with the zipper, appreciated the person in charge of logistics looking for a substitute. It was great that special visits to certain sites like Tomb of Wahtye and Grand Egyptian Museum could be arranged, and the trip planner was good at quickly moving the schedule when these special visits had specific time requirements that required the schedule to be amended.
I am very happy to be traveling again and the logistics went well. The trip went very well and it helped to have both a guide and logistics person helping with the details at each stop. When my handcarry had an issue with the zipper, appreciated the person in charge of logistics looking for a substitute. It was great that special visits to certain sites like the Tomb of Wahtye and Grand Egyptian Museum could be arranged, and the trip planner was good at quickly moving the schedule when these special visits had specific time requirements that required the schedule to be amended.
Jim did a wonderful job at helping my husband and me maximize our time in Cairo at the end of a business trip (and planned a lovely interlude for my husband while I was finishing meetings in Sharm el Shek). The team in Egypt were truly some of the most lovely people and went above and behind to ensure we had a wonderful trip — even stepping in to help fix some mishaps that occurred on the business portion of my trip. They gave me a sense of calm in an otherwise very stressful situation when they had no obligation to do so (as that portion of my travel was booked via my employer). From a private snorkeling and scuba excursion in Sharm, to being at the oldest pyramid near Cairo as the sun rose, to a lovely visit to a centuries-old perfumery, the time we spent in Egypt is one for the memory books!
Long before Covid 19 stopped the world in its tracks, Jim planned a three+ week trip for us to Egypt and Jordan for October-November 2020. In November 2022, after several one-year delays caused by COVID, we finally completed an expanded five-week version of this trip. Throughout, Jim consistently looked out for us, patiently dealing with our questions and requests for modifications. However, the long delay made us vulnerable to certain unrelated factors. During the six months prior to the trip, I developed a back problem that required surgery as soon as possible after our return. As a practical matter, I couldn’t walk far or stand long without risking stabbing pains. If you’ve been to Egypt, you know that a trip there requires lots of walking and standing. As just one example, parking lots can be over a quarter- to half-mile from the site. Fortunately, Egypt has its own version of handicapped access. If your guide and driver are firm and persistent, the police/military barricades can be opened and you can drive right up to the entrance. In some places, electric golf carts are available. My new physical limitations also necessitated a lot of attention from Jim and his on-the-ground team to find ad hoc ways to accommodate my needs. In the end, Jim was successful in finding and implementing adjustments. We are extremely grateful to him and his team. What we ended up with was far more than expected. With their help, I not only got through the trip, I thoroughly enjoyed it.
I had previously been to Egypt under highly unusual circumstances. Due to regional political issues, tourism was non-existent and I had the pleasure of seeing many of the “standard” tourist sites without a single other tourist present. But my husband, Jamie, had never visited Egypt. Jim did a superb job of planning a trip to meet Jamie’s needs but added things even in places I’d already visited that gave me a deeper understanding of Egypt’s past and today. He had us go far beyond the standard tourist circuit by adding multiple days at Siwa Oasis in western Egypt, near the Libyan border, and multiple days at Fayoum Oasis, three hours south of Cairo. What so impressed us is that Jim found ways to continually surprise and educate us, even in the usual places. While at Fayoum Oasis, we went way out in the desert to Wadi-Al-Hitan (Valley of the Whales)—a UNESCO World Heritage Site I’d never heard of that contains the world’s greatest number, concentration and quality of fossils that demonstrate how the whale evolved to an ocean-going mammal from its earlier life as a land-based mammal. The fossils here are of those mammals in the last stage of losing their hind legs and feet. Who knew? It was extraordinary. While at Fayoum, Jim’s team also linked us up with an excellent birding guide for an extraordinary bird walk that included many life birds. These two oases were just two of the places we visited that went far beyond what we’d expected of this trip. Similarly, besides going to Petra, as do most tourists to Jordan (and oh, is it worth it), our guide stopped off to visit his friend Abu Ali, a local “character” who lives in a cave below the Crusader-era Shawbuk Castle. He runs the world’s tiniest hotel (a VW bug). Abu Ali apparently took a shine to me, because he gave me a genuine and valuable Nabatean coin from the reign of Arestes IV. At Siwa Oasis in Egypt, we stayed at an eco-resort with no electricity lit only by candles and lanterns and built in traditional Egyptian mud and salt-brick style. We were the only guests for our four-night stay. We got to see the suite where Prince (now King) Charles had stayed for his visit. We also were treated to the best food and service of the entire trip.
We sailed up the Nile from Luxor to Aswan for five days on a traditional dahabiya that allowed us to see sites along the Upper Nile not available to those who take typical Nile cruises. We also had a relaxing interlude with only 18 other guests. It was a memorable week. Did you know you can swim in the Nile? We did. (Note: the crocodiles are all south of the Aswan dam.) It was amazing.
In addition to Petra in Jordan, we visited the amazing Roman ruins of the city of Jerash. I’ve been to lots of Roman ruins but these blew me away. Built on the edge of the Roman Empire, the city was massive and had surprising details both large and small. So, too, were the Roman mosaic floors that had been uncovered and were displayed on the walls of a simple but impressive church at Mount Nebo, reportedly near where Moses was buried. It is a pilgrimage site and I now understand why. Overall, Jordan was a far more interesting country to visit than we had expected.
Virtually any reputable travel agency can plan a nice trip to Egypt hitting the standard sites most tourists want to see. What you get with Jim is something different. Oh, you’ll see the Giza Pyramids, but if you give him the time, you’ll see how the pyramids evolved in Egypt’s Old Kingdom. Giza is only the most famous. At Saqqara we saw early attempts (including the “Bent” Pyramid, where the angle was wrong and had to be changed midway.) But we also visited some out-of-the-way pyramids with nary a tourist in sight – but lots of military and police in residence to stop looters. These included Meidum Pyramid outside Fayoum Oasis, a key interim step between the earliest (Pyramid of Djoser at Saqqara) and the pinnacle (The Great Pyramid of Khufu at Giza) that helps fill in the gaps of the evolution of Egypt’s pyramids. We also saw the 12th-dynasty Pyramid of Hawara to see how Romans and local inhabitants stripped the exterior limestone coating and reused its blocks for local projects.
Other highlights included seeing Abu Simbel from the air. Thanks to Jim and his team, we had seat assignments on the “right side” of the plane (that is the left side) to get good photos. Sometimes, it’s the little details that make huge differences. The art in Ramses II’s famous temple is superb, naturalistic and not to be missed. The neighboring temple to his wife Nefertari gets far less attention but is almost as impressive (if only for his recognition of his Great Wife’s importance). Discovering a just-completed Avenue of the Sphinxes linking the Temple of Karnak and the Temple of Luxor, lined with 1,200 sphinxes, was a delight for me. It had not existed on my previous trip. Gorgeously lit by night, it has reconnected the temples as they had been in antiquity. For me, the trip’s most moving moment was my tour of the Royal Mummies in the new Museum of Egyptian Civilization (not to be confused with the grand, yet-to-be-opened Egyptian Museum.) Seeing these 3,000-4,000 year-old New Kingdom royal mummies brought to life historical figures I’d read so much about and touched me by their individuality. Seeing the best-of-the best tombs in the Valley of the Kings, Queens and Nobles (especially Nefertari’s stunning tomb) was worth every extra penny. Jim’s recommendations were right-on. Tour bus groups do not include the extra-cost tombs, so we saw them with almost no other visitors.
If you are a thrill-seeker as I am, head to Siwa Oasis to surf the dunes of The Grand Sand Sea with a driver as enthralled as we were zooming up, over and down the steep dunes of the vast eastern edge of the Sahara in a 4-wheel-drive SUV. Then stop on what looks like a rocky cliff amidst this vast sea of sand to discover below you the evidence that this was once truly a marine sea and now is covered with millions of marine fossils. Thanks to Jim, his excellent logistics staffer Arlene Santos, our guides on the ground and excellent drivers, this was a trip worth the long wait.
Jordan and Egypt was a trip of a lifetime. Everything was planned well and we had a wonderful time. Probably the most fascinating finding of the trip was how massive all the pyramids, Petra, and Abu Simbel were. The food was good and we even found the only wine-tasting room in Jordan.
We stayed in five-star hotels throughout the entire trip. They were over the top.
Turkey, Jordan, and Egypt were always high on our priority list. With over 25 years of independent travel around the world, our expectations were high, and we were looking forward to working with Jim Berkeley and his staff. Our trip was fantastic, but exhausting. We have been sheltered in for so long due to Covid, we wanted to see and do everything. We were pleased with the final itinerary, but in hindsight, we could have eliminated a couple of excursions.
Arlene’s suggestion to bring walking sticks and shoes with good treads was very helpful. The advice on tipping and to bring tissues was also greatly appreciated. The Egypt packing list needs to be updated, however. For example, flashlights for use in the tombs are forbidden and binoculars created problems with Jordan’s airport security – we were detained and reached our destination hotel after 1:00am. We were grateful for the representative’s help in this matter. In another situation, we were thankful for our Turkish guide, who rebooked one of our flights after we missed a tight connection.
Aside from a few sites at the Topkapi Palace and inside Khufu’s pyramid, we were able to avoid major crowds. We were all boosted and wore masks when we encountered large crowds. The majority of the activities were outdoors.
The guides provided were outstanding and were key to making the trip memorable. We had one guide throughout our travels in Turkey and another in Jordan, which gave us the opportunity to bond and to form a friendship with each. Egypt, however, had a different guide and representative in each city, which became a bit confusing. All the drivers throughout the trip were professional, courteous, and personable. We appreciated the cold water that they provided.
Some of the trip highlights included:
1) Our wonderful Turkish guide, Berkay Vardioglu, arranged a private feast at a restaurant’s cave dining room, accompanied by an amazing saz musician.
2) Our equally wonderful Jordanian guide, Wajeeh Brezat, invited us to his home for tea. We met his family and loved learning about the Bedouin culture.
3) Experiencing Wadi Rum in a Bedouin camp and having the desert all to yourself on a camel.
4) Sailing the Nile on a dahabiya. Our terrific guide, Abdulla Yosef, added value to the experience. The chef fulfilled our request for fish and grilled a meal that was out of this world!
5) Ramy (do not recall last name), our enthusiastic Luxor guide, encouraged us to hike to the Tomb of the Nobles. It was totally worth it!
6) Last-minute decision to ride a hot-air balloon over Cappadocia. Thank you, Arlene, for strongly recommending this activity!
A few disappointments included:
1) We were emphatic about not being subjected to high-pressure sales at the carpet factory or any other shops, and were assured that it would not happen. Nevertheless, we encountered relentless staff at Sultanköy carpet and the Avanos pottery center in Turkey, and Thutmoses Perfumes in Aswan.
2) No acknowledgement of anniversaries, even though we were asked about special celebrations.
3) We had some difficulties with both Jim’s recommended travel insurance agency, Redpoint, and travel agent for our international flights, Liza with ProTravel, that required Arlene’s intervention. We spent more time dealing with the insurance and international flight than we normally would have as independent travelers.
4) For convenience and proximity to Cairo’s airport, we asked the Cairo representative to book a night stay at Le Meridien. We were assured the rooms were booked on Oct 26. On Nov 1, the rep informed us Le Meridien was fully booked and instead reserved us rooms at a hotel about 20 minutes from the airport. The rep confessed his colleague did not follow through with the booking for Le Meridien. Toward the end of the trip, the Cairo rep became less responsive and rather dismissive of our concerns.
This is the first time we used a trip planner and a travel agent for flights. While we felt using a trip planner added value to our trip, there were certain situations where we questioned our decision:
1) We decided to use a travel agent because we needed help to use AMEX points for our flights. We are still unclear of the full benefits in using a travel agent to book international flights. For example, we were unable to check in online 24 hours prior to departure due to an airline computer glitch. Therefore, we called the airline and asked them to check us in, but were told they could not because a third party booked the flights.
We were grateful, however, that Liza rebooked our cancelled return flight while we were abroad, although we do not understand why it took 12 days after the original flight was cancelled to do so. There was a lack of follow-through and communication from this agent that created a lot of stress for us. In the end, we did not use our AMEX points and paid for the full cost of the flights. Had we known early on this was to be the outcome, we would have booked our own flights.
2) Now that I am widowed, I notice rooms offered to couples are always superior to rooms with two double beds. In the past, whenever I personally booked and paid for several rooms, the hotel gave me an upgrade. But when a trip planner books the rooms that I pay for, I do not receive the upgrades. Two of the hotels (Yunak Evleri, Old Cataract) did not accommodate two double beds. For example, I paid for an upgrade to two suites at the Yunak Evleri Hotel. The couple’s room had a terrace on the 2nd floor with a view. My room had a single king bed and a narrow sofa in the living room converted to an uncomfortable bed. The sofa bed had no headboard or nightstand, and people using the stairs outside looked right into the bed. My room was below ground level with a view of the stairs, and two of the three windows did not lock. The hotel was fully booked that night, but luckily, the next night a rare room with a second bed in the living room was available, although we lost the living space. I do not know if it is an industry standard where the better rooms are designed for couples. Obviously, a trip planner has no control over how hotels design their floor plans for beds, but it would have been nice to be forewarned about the sofa-bed situation so that we could decide if we wanted an alternative hotel.
In a nutshell, we felt it was the right decision to use a trip planner for this particular itinerary. We are thrilled to finally resume traveling and have a number of new destinations planned for the next three years and beyond.
A trip to Egypt has been on our wish list for quite a few years. We finally decided that the right time and opportunity would be for a celebration of our 50th wedding anniversary, November 4, 2022. We usually travel independently, sometimes arranging the trip details ourselves or on other occasions relying on a travel consultant. Early in our planning for this trip, it became apparent to us that working with a knowledgeable trip planner would be vital to help us sort through all the possibilities that Egypt offers. At that point and as we have done before, we looked to Wendy Perrin’s list of Trusted Travel Experts and found Jim Berkeley and his team.
The planning process with Jim Berkeley was a model of collaboration. In our conversations, Jim learned about our interests, dreams, goals and limitations. He then applied his knowledge to suggest a complete trip of an appropriate length, with stopovers and accommodations that were right for us, and specific guided, private tours in each location. The trip plan that resulted focused on the Nile River. We began in Cairo and Giza. Then we flew to Luxor, where our touring included extraordinary temples and tombs. After Luxor, we boarded the Dahabiya Zekrayaat and sailed for four nights up the Nile to beautiful Aswan. Jim’s expertise resulted in some unforgettable experiences in our trip plan. While we intended to include a cruise on the Nile by some means, Jim’s recommendation that we sail up the Nile on a dahabiya in one of the two panoramic suites on board was perfect. Queen Nefertari’s tomb and Abu Simbel were magnificent. Our exclusive dinner cruise on the Nile on a private yacht sailing from Aswan on the night of our 50th anniversary was an extraordinary highlight and most memorable celebration of our lives together.
The documentary output from Jim and his team that resulted from the planning process was impressive: a comprehensive, detailed and descriptive itinerary; entry visas for Egypt; a packing and preparation checklist; contact information for everyone who would support us during our trip; and lots of useful guidance that would help us feel comfortable, confident and prepared to make the best use of our time during the trip.
The trip plan produced by Jim Berkeley and his office was executed virtually flawlessly by the staff and representatives in Egypt. The representatives in Cairo and Aswan were cordial, punctual and very effective in facilitating our interactions with hotels, airports and airlines, customs offices and any event venues. They coordinated schedules with our local drivers and guides. To the extent that any hitches arose, they resolved them. When adjustments to the schedule could enhance our experience, they suggested them and implemented them when we agreed. For example, our representative in Aswan suggested moving our attendance at the sound and light show at the Philae Temple to a different night when the primary audio presentation would be in English. Then he made all the contacts that were needed so that the remainder of our activities in Aswan were adjusted seamlessly to fit our time there.
Jim’s team arranged for the services of Egyptologists to guide us in Cairo, Luxor and Upper Egypt. Our guides in these locations – Reham in Cairo, Michael in Luxor and Amany in Upper Egypt – were outstanding. All were knowledgeable, fluent, flexible and interesting. They were adept at providing us with commentary about the sights in a conversational manner that was not pedantic. All were also effective in avoiding or overcoming obstacles that can come from crowded places, limited facilities, or other real-time complications. In just the first couple of hours on our first morning in Cairo, Reham and our local driver Mohamed felt like new friends that we had just met.
Jim Berkeley, his team and all of their representatives and associates in Egypt created an awesome 50th anniversary celebratory trip that exceeded our grand expectations.
Jim and his colleagues curated for us a wonderful trip to Egypt from October 23 to November 16, 2022. The itinerary was perfect, the in-Egypt personnel were excellent, and the lodgings outstanding.
The itinerary got us to all the places we wanted to go, and got us there in style. Further, the trip plan did a fantastic job of alternating busy and full days with days that were more relaxing. And it alternated busy and sometimes chaotic places with restful places: Cairo then Siwa; Luxor then the Nile cruise, with Aswan as the final cherry on top.
The folks in Egypt who helped us were top-notch. Just two examples. Farid, our representative in Cairo, is fantastic. He is on top of all details and misses nothing. He listened to us and took care of us. He was able to improvise and quickly and efficiently handled the few glitches that cropped up. Mina Atef is a top-notch guide. He fully understood our desire not just to see, photograph, and learn about the sites/sights, but also to experience them. He got us to the Valley of Kings well before the crowds (we had Ramses VII’s tomb to ourselves for almost 20 minutes) and we were the first folks to arrive at Dendera (having the whole site to ourselves for much of our time there).
As with all the trips we have taken with Wendy Perrin-identified travel curators, all lodgings were outstanding, and they were all different from one another. Just one example: The Old Cataract Hotel in Aswan. We were in room 2904. Without doubt this is THE BEST room in Aswan. We enjoyed the view from our terrace morning, noon, sunset, and late at night.
My husband and I went to Egypt and Jordan Oct 17-Nov 7, 2022, and we booked with Jim Berkeley and his team (Seema and Glenda). We really enjoyed building the itinerary with Jim—so knowledgable and all his advice and comments were spot-on. It seems small, but one of our greatest joys was having the full-on airport extra assistance—no thinking required—visas taken care of, customs, where to stand, where to go—we were sad they couldn’t help us find our seats on the plane LOL. But really, we felt well taken care of the entire trip, in both destinations—very skilled drivers, very informative guides and always visits from the local office member. Egypt is a country that can be intimidating (traffic, people, language, customs) and to be able to have an entire team just looking out for you and making sure you are happy is so wonderful! The hotels and room/suite suggestions were always on point, and in fact, always upgrades! In Egypt we did:
4 nights Cairo—we wanted extra time to acclimatize and we really liked Fairmont Nile City in a Gold floor suite
2 nights Luxor—so much to see here, Valley of the Kings etc, loved it
5 nights on a nile cruise—The Adelaide was my choice, probably 4 nights would have been better, but I would suggest seeing what Jim recommends
2 nights Aswan—we loved the Sofitel, if we had time, would have loved 3 nights—Jim was so right to include the day trip to Abu Simbel—so worth it
2 nights Alexandria—my husband really wanted this and he enjoyed the catacombs and library
As for Jordan, it’s a lot of driving. We went because we really wanted to see Petra and LOVED it! And then, once you are going to be there…. BUT we LOVED the desert camp in Wadi Rum that Jim suggested, and for us, we enjoyed walking Jerash and trying to “float” in the Dead Sea was fun—and the Kempinski (with an awesome upgrade) was really nice. Overall, we really felt that Jim and team had great resources in both destinations and that we were in great hands. Again, small item but so helpful—he told us to bring 50-100 $1USD bills for additional tipping—very important and so glad we had!
My husband and I just returned from 17 days in Jordan and Egypt planned by Arlene Santos in Jim’s office. This trip was very special for us, as we were celebrating our 25th anniversary and Arlene really delivered on our many requests. Of course, we got to see mind-blowing ancient sites, like Petra and the pyramids, but the quieter moments also really delivered. Viewing the night sky in Wadi Rum, cruising around the small islands of Aswan at sunset and snorkeling in the Red Sea are things we’ll always remember.
Although travel is immensely rewarding, it can often be stressful. Arlene’s on-the-ground team took almost all of this stress away, whisking us across borders and through airports. We felt safe and well cared for throughout the trip. And the planning process was really fun as well. Arlene is the rare mix of knowledgeable, capable, personable and caring. It was a pleasure to work with Arlene and if you’re considering travel to this area of the world I can’t recommend working with them enough.
We haven’t even unpacked our bags from our Honeymoon tour of Egypt and we are already planning to return for another one! Arlene, Jim, and everyone on the ground in Egypt did a spectacular job making us feel cared for, and the trip went off without a hitch, even in these uncertain times. Our Egyptologists (Reham and Bassem) were so knowledgeable and on top of their game that we would often have temples to ourselves, avoiding all other crowds. Our only regret is that we didn’t extend our trip for another extra week. If you’re considering taking this tour to Egypt, just book it. You will not regret it. (And don’t forget to add a hot-air balloon ride over Luxor. I promise it will be magical!)
Jim Berkeley and his team check all the boxes.
Excellent guides, check!
Well curated—not days so full, I forgot what I saw—check!
Customized for me, check!
Flawless execution, check!
A high-quality, on-the-ground team, check!
Comfortable vehicles, check!
Flexibility with start time and itinerary, check!
Private experiences, check!
Behind-the-scenes opportunities, check!
Here are some stories to provide a flavor of what made this trip a WOW experience.
In Cairo, my hotel room wasn’t what I was expecting. Jim’s logistics person, who met me at the airport and took me to my hotel, was determined to change that. He wouldn’t leave the hotel until he spoke to the manager, and then shortly after that, despite the hotel being full, I was moved to the room I wanted.
Not only was my Cairo guide well-educated and knowledgeable, I felt as though she was matched to me. We had so much in common; we felt like friends by the end of our time together.
Jim provided a comprehensive itinerary and assured me it was flexible, and it was. The on-the-ground team was terrific about flexibility. I felt like they were my “genies in a bottle.” Whatever I wished for, they went out of their way to make it happen, even on the same day! When I thanked my guide for this, her response was, “You don’t come to Egypt every day, we want you to have the best experience.”
I could share many examples of what made this trip a WOW experience; here’s my favorite.
I wanted to see Jewish history in Cairo, in particular, to meet the “leader” of the few remaining Jews and visit the Jewish cemetery. Jim’s team tried hard to arrange these two requests in advance but was unsuccessful. The leader was out of town, and the government said no to visiting the cemetery. Unbeknownst to me, they were not giving up. Both my guide and the driver (who was also Wow, btw) were determined to make it happen, and they did. The driver drove down a road that didn’t seem drivable, stopped in front of a gate, and tested it. It was open, and in we went. It turned out this was an old Muslim cemetery. My guide spoke to some men she found. They knew about the Jewish one, called someone, I gave them some baksheesh (she told me how much), and off we went to the Jewish one, where someone was waiting to let us in for a bit more baksheesh. It was a wonderful experience seeing a centuries-old resting place of my ancestors, but what made it a lasting memory was the effort of the guide and the driver to make it happen.
I could go on and on with examples. Jim took me on rather last-minute because I was in a bind. The planner I had started working with had dropped the ball, and I was anxious because I was traveling alone. I had just learned about Wendy Perrin and contacted her, hoping to rescue my trip. Jim said yes despite being busy and in the middle of a move. From beginning to end, he and everyone on his team continued to say yes, and the process was flawless.
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Our family just returned from an outstanding 12-day trip in Egypt…finally…third time is definitely a charm!
To start, I can’t say enough about Jim and his team. We had been planning this trip for some time and with slight trepidation due to Covid but complete assurances from Jim that we would be “kept whole” should there be any Covid related issues. We booked the trip with an anticipated travel date in December 2021. As our departure date approached, Canada decided to prohibit travel to Egypt. Jim was a man of his word and without much fuss moved our trip to the first week of May 2022. One week before our May trip, our whole family came down with Covid. Again, Jim and (the spectacular) Seema moved our trip to begin in mid-May.
The DAI team was truly meticulous with their communication, planning and execution. In each city, we were met by the local representative and guide. They provided everything we needed, answered all of our questions and tailored our time to best meet our needs.
We toured Cairo, Luxor, Aswan, Abu Simbel and cruised the Nile on a Dahabiya. Each city was completely unique from the next – its own culture and vibe.
We all loved the dahabiya. The small sailboat had the ability to sneak in and out of smaller ports (beaches). That gave us the opportunity to visit small villages and interact with those who lived there. We even had a short soccer game with some children at their village schoolyard. A huge bonus was travelling for three days with 8 other travellers from various corners of the world. The food was great and the company was even better.
Food Tour with Bellies En Route in Cairo. Mariam, a young millennial, spent 3.5 hours with us walking and eating our way through the streets of Cairo. Most of these restaurants/kiosks were family-owned. The owners were super friendly and the food was beyond delicious. Not a joke when I say that it was the best food that we had eaten during our time in Egypt! I would highly recommend having Bellies En Route consult with you prior to visiting Cairo to help choose your dining options.
Over the years, our family has travelled with many of Wendy’s WOW advisors. We were lucky enough to have a surprise WOW Moment while in Aswan – a private dinner cruise! We were treated like royalty and enjoyed delicious food and a beautiful sunset. Thank you Wendy!
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.