You always see us catching a bus, booking a train and wandering the streets ourselves at any location. That gives us freedom and a sweet time to spend wherever we love. With the same idea, our dream of seeing the Pyramids got triggered by Assasin’s creed origins. Throughout the game, I kept wondering if all the places in the game existed in reality. Like a cherry on top, Sahana was simultaneously teaching Egyptian architectural history in her college. So it was easier for her to identify many temples and pyramids. The one place of ACO which ignited my curiosity was the “White Desert”. I was startled looking at the google results for my question,” Is the white desert of ACO exist in real” Yup, it does exist.
Thus began the extensive research on “Everything about Travel in Egypt.”
“We need a minimum of four days in Cairo + Giza to see all possible pyramids and mummies plus Old Cairo. After that, we have to go to the whale desert. We need to camp one night each in Siwa Oasis and Bahariya Oasis. I can’t wait to see Alexandria, where the Nile meets the Mediterranean sea. We can’t skip the city of the dead at El Safa- it is different from all. I want to see the mosque at Sharm-El-Sheikh. – My lady said
Let us do scuba diving in Hurghada – I added my Bayek stuff.
Oh, Dandrah temples are the most colourful ones I read. I could become Bayek there. Luxor and Karnak will be amazing with a hot air balloon ride. Aswan is the best. I want to go to the Nubian village from there. Abu Simbel is the greatest of all. I can’t miss the temple on the water at Philae. I struggled with Sobek in ACO; we should see Sobek temple at Kom Ombo.”
The google map showed a solid 3600+km journey! Sahana had to add minute details to a complicated plan to make it further complex.
The lady got into minute details (as usual, and she is best at it)
“I have read and learned so much about Ar. Hassan Fathi, I badly want to spend time at his New Goruna village. I want to see all the temples in the Karnak complex, including Khons. I want to eat Kosher meals in Old Cairo. There is an abandoned building in Cairo that resembles an Indian temple. I want to explore that too. I want to see St Sergius and Bacchus church where Jesus and Mary hid from Romans. Lunch at Banana island of Luxor is incredible, I heard. So we should spend three days in Luxor.”
It was now time to come to the ground reality. Our Egypt itinerary got ultra-complicated, somewhere between Sahana’s passion for Hasan Fathi’s Goruna village and my obsession with Assasin’s Creed Origin’s locations + Beach vacation, + Desert campings. That 3800km Egypt itinerary is good enough for 30 days! So the research got more vigorous.
It was difficult and painful to drop places in an enormously large and beautiful country like Egypt.
Nobody can ever drop pyramids and mummy museums out of their itinerary. The regular package tours always got Luxor and Aswan on their list. Then it must be good, but touristy. But we can’t be “not seeing” the place because everyone sees it. All the places we listed were too mainstream.
A bit of off-beaten track got to be there. The white desert is the place that excited me most about Egypt. So added that. While Sahana listed the temples she wanted to visit, I sorted out Assassin Creed locations. Ultimately we agreed upon Cairo–Giza–Bhariya –Luxor-Karnak– Edfu-Kom Ombo–Aswan–Philae- Nubian village–Abu Simbel.
This is exactly how we felt after knowing exactly where we wanted to go in Egypt! Pic Above – Abu Simbel
It was the most challenging part of the trip to decide what we wanted to see in just ten days. Somehow, we did it. Then came the time for air ticket booking and figuring out our way around Egypt. That is when we read about a few facts & bitter truths about Egypt.
Thoughts and facts we knew before going to Egypt
- Egypt is not unsafe; it is not a war zone. But it isn’t safe enough for solo/ small group travellers to be alone, especially within the Libyan, Sudan and Israeli Borders. But the Bahariya White desert is closer to the Libyan border. What to do?
- In 2015 Security forces in Egypt mistakenly killed 12 people, including Mexican tourists who had entered the” Restricted zone” of the white desert during an anti-terror operation -So, it is unsafe to go to the Bahariya white desert without a guide and the local driver. So let us pre-book a driver and a guide for desert camping only.
Bahariya Oasis White desert is one of the most isolated places in Egypt – That is Sahana and Mamdouh trying to fight cold at 6 AM
The insane traffic in Egypt – the bloggers, said.
- Most Egyptians do not follow traffic rules. Driving could get stressful. Driving in Chaotic traffic is our daily routine. So we were firmly against facing the same crap on holiday. So dropped, the idea of self-driving in Egypt.
- Egyptian road trips are memorable with the view of the Nile on one side and the rocky mountains on the other – That sounds like a plan. But who will drive us around?
How do tourist get around in Egypt?
- Taxi scams are the biggest threat in Egypt- Whom do we trust?
- Shall we take Nile Cruising for all eight days to avoid this fuss? But cruising the river throughout the trip and stopping to see a town might be boring. Also, it will spend more time with foreign tourists than local Egyptians. So no Cruising.
- Egyptian food is excellent – including veg food – Perfect! But street food is not safe enough & we love street food! How do we seek food guides?
Egyptians are friendly but conservative.
- Egyptians love music and are fun people to hang out with.
- Catcalling at women, Shopkeepers not leaving foreigner’s side until they sell something is expected- Yet again, something similar to India. So how to avoid all this?
- The public hygiene and civic responsibility among Egyptians are still not up to the mark. But after the 2013 revolution, Egypt is trying very hard to overcome this.
- Public transport in the city and connecting two cities exist, but it might be stressful for short-time travellers.
While travelling to rural Egypt, we found Donkey pull carts are common.
Can you travel independently in Egypt?
After reading and discussing abundantly, we decided to get our travelling in Egypt tailor-made by a” Made in Egypt” or an originally Egyptian tour organiser. So that we are with locals from the beginning of exchanging emails until the last spot of our trip in Egypt. We contacted around ten tour organisers based on fellow tourists’ reviews online. Few of them did not respond. Others said Bahariya white desert could not be arranged. Most were not professional enough in their replies. Your Egypt tours were the only organiser who sufficed all the requirements with excellent communicating skills. Mona Hamdi, the coordinator, was patient to exchange 69 emails to clear all our doubts! So with her help, all the bookings were made.
So was it a good idea to travel to Egypt with a local guide?
This pic is real – Not photoshopped.
What we find extremely difficult could be someone’s routine. After flashpacking in a few countries, I find Egypt challenging to do the same. Online booking for hotels and rooms can be made quickly through regular websites like in any other country. But you can not rely on those booking as the Egyptian hotels or organisers tend to alter them without notifying you. If you are in Egypt for nearly a month and ok with trial and error methods, you can flashpack. But make sure to be accompanied by an authorised guide while you head to the border desert areas. Be prepared to face the chaos of traffic. Be cautious with taxi drivers. If you aren’t ready for this, go for a local tour guide. It is worth paying extra money for the peaceful exploration of this mysterious land.
I have nine stories about why our decision to hire a guide was apt for travelling in Egypt.
We experienced these peculiar scenarios only in Egypt. It might help you decide if you should be accompanied by an Egyptian or yourself.
Also, we show you the “non-touristy” side of Egypt –
My intention is not to discourage you but to prepare you for the reality you will face while travelling in Egypt. In fact, Egypt & Iran are the only two nations that we have planned to visit again.
Egypt is not flawless. Educated & responsible Egyptians are trying to uplift the economy and improve socio-cultural conditions. They are striving to preserve their history now. They are trying to set the wrong things right. These flaws seem silly in front of its history, heritage and breathtaking nature.
Travelling in Egypt Story 1: The mighty Pyramids & trash-filled streets of Giza.
Outside the Cairo Airport, we were picked up by pre-arranged taxi. I thought I would see the Pyramids right from the airport. Unfortunately, the buildings of Giza and Cairo have swallowed the skyline & shadow the Pyramids.
The galloping horses and their poop in Giza
It is the next day’s morning sun-rise that left us mesmerised. Right from our hotel terrace cafe, we could see them! The areas surrounding the pyramid seemed to be cleaner until we stepped out! We could not see the streets the previous night properly. It was shocking to see the trash-filled streets of Giza leading its way to the Pyramids. If you arrive at Giza in the morning, you see the Pyramids for the first time at the junction filled with garbage and trash. Then and there, I realised” Strolling on the streets” casually would not work here.
Egypt Voyage Story 2: Stuck in the Sandstorm in the cleanest part of Egypt.
A contrast to Giza’s not- so clean streets is “The Old Cairo.”
Constantly looked over by police officers, the street is kept ultra-clean. This is the best place to “sit and watch Egyptians.” We could have spent an entire afternoon alone if the weather was in our favour. Unfortunately, The sandstorm was so strong that we could see nothing. Instead, the city turned into Sepia mode. Sahana and Ibrahim held each other’s hand, leading us to walk to the car like kindergarten kids! If Ibrahim were not there, we would have suffered.
Early spring is the best time to visit Egypt as the prices are at the lowest. But during this season, sandstorms are common in Cairo. So we highly recommend you get accompanied by a local driver at least so that you will escape the sandstorms safely.
Egypt Travel Story 3 – The maniac traffic
Somewhere between Giza & Saqqara
When we started towards Memphis, the same sad story of traffic continued. At 8 am, Giza was still waking up, but the vehicles were speeding in all possible directions. Self-driving could get stressful in a country where most people do not obey traffic rules. While coming back, we were stuck in traffic after Saqqara. Ibrahim asked,” Do you mind if we drive the Egyptian way? You are losing time n the traffic. We can reach Giza faster if the driver takes this one-way road.” Laughingly, I said, “Oh, I don’t mind. It is the Egyptian and Indian ways too”.
Egyptians say –” You follow traffic rules; that is how you die on the road.”
Egypt Travel Story 4- The smiling Egyptians asking for a photo
Although we had an entry ticket to enter the pyramid at the Red Pyramid, the guard asked for extra money while exiting the pyramid. As guides were not allowed to go inside the pyramids, Ibrahim had to stay back in the car. Without him, we tried to convey that we had paid for the ticket already. But the caretaker was bent upon taking money from us. Luckily, Ibrahim had asked us to keep the wallet in the car.
The guard continued speaking in English-” My photo is 50 Egyptian Pound- Give me money.”
Then we understood – Many tourists have a habit of clicking Local pictures. The locals run a scam out of it now! Fair enough, why should they pose free for a random foreigner’s picture? We said we didn’t need a picture—that disappointed him.
All I had was 10 Indian Rupees in my pocket by mistake. His face was lit seeing that! I tried explaining that currency to him, and he would get nothing. He was not ready to give up. I was not worried about losing my ten rupees. But what would he feel when he knows that 10 Rupees is useless for him later? I gave away the money. Smilingly he puts his hands on my shoulders for a picture. After Sahana clicked, he called her too and said, “Selfie?.” Is it innocence? Was he greedy or needy?
From then onwards, we were careful about clicking pictures. The temple caretakers wearing Jalebiya intentionally came in front, cleverly photobombing to look like we clicked his picture, so they could ask for money later.
Story 5 : Travelling Egypt’s hot air balloon and a young boy on a donkey.
The beautiful Luxor from above
In Luxor, while we were landing, a group of young kids, with one of them on a donkey, approached the tourists.” Haaaai Hellloooo. Seeee, I am a poor Egypt boy on a donkey. Take a photo and give me 5 Ginieh” Whoever started the trend of taking poor people’s pictures for whatsoever reason, tourists have taken it to an end now. We repeatedly said “La Shukraan” until they leeched onto other tourists.
Story 6: Tourists are unaware of local culture and get into trouble with locals.
Nobody is allowed to enter the Necropolis after 4 pm. But many tourists misuse their privilege and Egyptians’ weakness by bribing poor caretakers. A few days before we left for Egypt in January, A Danish photographer posted a picture of him with a fellow female traveller on top of the pyramid at night being nude! Somehow, he got to the top and posted a nude picture in a sex position. Disrespectful and Idiotic! This made Egyptians very angry. Later, when he was interviewed, he said it was a nude pose, not sex. Here is the link to the article about the devastating act.
There have been similar incidents at the pyramids. We witnessed one such thing at the Giza pyramids. A lady tourist removed her jacket to reveal her skin for a sexy pose with pyramids in the background. She was teased and troubled by young local Egyptian guys until our guide Ibrahim scolded the boys severely and sent them away.
Story 7: Egypt Travel Chronicles with Strange scammers,
Touristy markets and archaeological sites are hotspots for scammers in Egypt.
Giza Pyramids are always filled with tourists. So there is nothing peaceful about the place. These pyramids, in particular, are best seen from far. Egyptians selling miniature pyramids and horse /camel rides to Panorama point will not leave the foreigner’s side unless you buy something. They understood we were Indians and called us with names “Shah-Rukh Khan, Amitab Bachhan, Kareena Kapoor” continuously. By mistake, we smiled at once acknowledging- Kaboom, we were swamped by camel and horse owners. So keep on saying” La Shukkraan” politely until they give up.
You can never enjoy the pyramid by yourself unless an Egyptian accompanies you. These have strong and fascinating facts stories/facts. Without learning that, YOU CAN’T GET THE FLAVOUR OF REAL EGYPT
Story 8 : Egypt travel chronicles of street food.
What is the fun without hogging on street food in any place? Likewise, we got addicted to Fawa bean sandwiches in Egypt. Whenever we were hungry, we asked our guides to stop at a place for some falafel sandwiches.
Trust me, not even once did they let us get off the car to go to the place to buy it ourselves! Mamdouh did it n Giza. At Edfu, when we wanted to go to the town for falafels, Mahmoud asked us not to join him, saying,” You might find it uncomfortable walking on these ‘not so clean” streets. I know a hygienic place nearby. I will get it for you.”
The final Egypt travel story 9- Not all Egyptians are scammers.
The meal was tasty, and the company was the Greatest. From left – I, Sahana, Ahmed ( 4w jeep driver+cook+singer, basically an allrounder), Ahmed (one who drove us from Giza to Bawiti, who loves to sleep and introduced us to some good Egyptian songs), Ragab ( The Bawiti village head and nicest host we have ever met), Mamdouh ( Our official guide who was humorous, wise and a great friend)
At Bawiti village, near Bahariya oasis, we had lunch in the village head’s house. The house was tiny but tidy. Host Ragab was beyond friendly. He was never satisfied with the amount of food we consumed; so he kept feeding us. When we asked where we could get fresh dates, he plucked some from his backyard and refused to make money! The entire journey with all guides was fun. We never felt rushed and time-bound. We learnt history, heard fascinating stories, and understood the Egyptian way of life a little from these kind and witty humans.
Ibrahim at Cairo and Giza
Mamdouh and Ahmed from Bawiti
Mahmoud at Luxor and Aswan
They accompanied us throughout but gave us our private space. From drawing cash from ATM to choosing a restaurant to eat, Dancing in the car to Egyptian music to having Karkare wherever possible- they made it perfect. We never felt a guide accompanying us. Rather we felt like we were travelling with a couple of friends. At the end of each town trip, we had to leave behind a friend and go ahead. We are still in touch with them and talk regularly,
Tips for Indians travelling to Egypt
Mamdouh said he was surprised to see Indian travellers opting for Your Egypt tours. They have served thousands of clients. But we were the first ones from India. They mainly cater to USA & Canadian tourists. I am not boasting here, but he said hardly any Indians approach them and show interest in places like the Bahariya desert or Hasan Fati village. He was kind enough to put his words politely to say, “Indian tourists are notorious for being noisy and have no sense of time.” Since we both communicated with them via email professionally, we were the first Indians Mamdouh ever guided in his past five years. It is time to change our image in the outside world, guys!
Do not underestimate the things Egypt got to offer you.
Do not believe everything the media shows. All countries struggle. Few of them are ahead; few have just begun the race. Read our post” A guide to making Egypt Itinerary beyond Pyramids and temples” to know what we want to do on our next trip and how you can spice up your itinerary beyond temples and the pyramids.
What are your thoughts on flashpacking/backpacking in Egypt? If you have any recent experiences, let us know in the comment section below.
Heads up, we are very honest and keep it no secret.
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