In November 2017 I embarked on a journey that took me completely out of my comfort zone. I traveled alone to a country that made my friends and family express great concern and near-confusion as to why I would want to do this. Almost everyone I knew (including my neighbors), seemed so incredibly relieved when I came back home in one happy, fulfilled and content piece.
The country? Egypt. Home of the last remaining wonder of the ancient world and a land adorned with beautiful scenery and a never ending scattering of ancient temples and ruins that continue to be discovered until this day.
I stayed in Egypt for two weeks. Nestled into those 14 days, were eight days on the Egypt Adventure tour with Intrepid Travel that I booked just two weeks prior to leaving. I snagged the last spot. Intrepid’s itinerary was unique, ambitious and offered a genuinely authentic Egyptian experience. I had never done a group tour before. I usually like exploring on my own. This was new to me. The ticket to Cairo was booked. I was nervous and excited and had no idea what those two weeks would look like (spoiler alert: I had an amazing time!).
There were many highlights of Intrepid’s “Egypt Adventure” tour for me personally. Now that I’ve been back home to real life in icy cold Canada for a couple months, these are some of the things I remember fondly and made me so happy I chose a group tour over doing this on my own:
You thought I was going to say the pyramids, right? I’m getting to those. I’m putting Abu Simbel at the top because it is not an official stop on this particular tour. It was an extra excursion that we could opt in or out of while we were in Aswan. Abu Simbel is located roughly 40km north of the Sudan border and home to the massive temples of Ramesses II and Nefertari. On some Egypt tour itineraries you can choose to fly there for an even higher price, but there is no need. The early morning drive was such a special part of the whole experience. Watching the sunrise over the Sahara Desert made everything worth it.
The site itself is incredible. The temples are massive and they are a sight that really need to be seen in person. I’ll say this for everywhere in Egypt: Pictures don’t do it justice. This place left me in complete awe.
24 Hours on a Felucca
A felucca is a traditional wooden sailboat, still in regular use in Egypt today. One of the most amazing highlights of this trip was getting to spend a whole day and night sailing along the Nile River. We docked at night and I shivered like a baby as the November Egyptian temperatures dropped to 12C (little did I know that a month later I’d be shivering at home to temperatures that were 30-40 degrees colder!). We had delicious food cooked for us for both dinner and breakfast. At night, I nerdily gawked at the sideways angle of the constellation Orion just above the horizon, as I never get to see it on that angle at home. It’s my favourite constellation and I always look for it wherever I go. Everyone bonded, laughed, shared stories and got to know each other better. It was a really great vibe and a really great day and night. I can see how this day is often cited as the favourite for many people who take this tour. You are either going to learn to love or hate your tourmates on “Felucca Day” and thankfully for us it was all love and laughs!
I seriously loved Karnak Temple and my only complaint was that I had to leave. We went later in the day and eventually the crowds thinned out. Soon I found myself virtually alone, as the sun was about to set, walking among staggering columns while trying to wrap my head around the fact they have been here for thousands of years. I had a moment here and felt so lucky for those few minutes I was completely alone in this magical place. Wandering through ancient history and the feelings that came with it left me speechless numerous times throughout our journey through Egypt, but especially here. If I go back to Egypt someday, Karnak Temple is a place I absolutely want to visit again.
A very unique part of the Intrepid itinerary included two separate visits to authentic Egyptian homes. Our first was in Aswan, where we took a boat along the Nile at sunset to a Nubian village and ate an amazing home cooked dinner inside a Nubian family’s house. From the beautiful boat ride, to interacting with the family and listening to their stories, then enjoying easily one of the best meals of the trip – This inclusion on the tour was incredible and something we just wouldn’t be doing had we tried to do Egypt on our own. In Luxor a couple days later, we visited another family for lunch and had yet another amazing feast. I really enjoyed these visits and am beyond grateful for the experience.
I didn’t realize this until the end of the tour, but pretty much everything we ate for the duration of the trip was Egyptian or what Egyptians traditionally eat. Egyptian Falafels (they’re made with fava beans, not chickpeas, and they’re amazing), Feteer (like an Egyptian pizza and seriously delicious), Koshari (Egypt’s most popular dish), Hibiscus Tea (I raided a supermarket and brought back boxes of this and will cry when I run out), shawarma (I’ve had shawarma many times, but the chicken shawarma we had at a place near the pyramids is something I’m still dreaming about and I sadly don’t remember the name of the restaurant!). The emphasis on trying authentic Egyptian food was something I really ended up appreciating the longer I was there. I eventually found myself totally not craving Western-style foods in my last days in Egypt. So much so, that I complained to a manager at the airport hotel I stayed at on my last day about the lack of Egyptian food on their menu (they had none). He looked shocked that I was upset about this. Oh how times had changed in those two weeks!
I’ve mentioned it a few times now. I was really looking forward to the boat and felucca rides scheduled along this historic river. I was actually giddy about it when we got to Aswan. The majority of Egypt’s staggering 96+ million population lives relatively close to the Nile River. It has been Egypt’s source of water, thus life, since ancient times. Our hotel in Aswan sat right at the edge along the water and the patio had the most beautiful view. This was the only place in the hotel to get decent Wi-Fi and it also had the best view. Needles to say, I hung out here on my own late at night quite a bit and just relaxed and took it all in whenever I could.
I’m not sure how other tour groups interact with each other and get along. This was my first week-long group tour experience and I feel the bar was set extremely high. We were a group of 11, plus our tour guide, and by the end of the week I was genuinely sad to say goodbye and see everyone go. We hailed from different corners of the globe: Australia, USA, South Africa, UK and me: the lone Canadian. They were a very entertaining, well traveled and adventurous bunch, who kept me laughing throughout the week. One tourmate decided to start a Facebook group as a way to share our photos and keep in touch. So glad she did. Over the course of the next few weeks, after we all returned to our corners of the globe, everyone gradually started to post photos from the trip. Seeing everyones photos weeks after I got back was such a nice treat as I shivered in the Arctic cold snap that gripped Canada for a month after I returned.
While every Intrepid Egypt review I read highly praises all the Egyptian tour guides, I think we all agreed that we lucked out with ours. Ahmed was brilliant, not only in his vast and remarkably extensive knowledge of both ancient and modern Egyptian history, but also with the seamless execution of every last detail of our entire trip. We never had to worry about a thing. On numerous occasions he went above and beyond what any of us expected (like the night he surprised one of us with a birthday cake) and his infectious love for his country couldn’t help but leave us loving it too. One of the guys in my group said it best: “Whenever you Google anything about Egypt, Google asks Ahmed.” That was hilarious and accurate and pretty much sums up how we all felt by the end of the trip.
Oh, yes. The pyramids! How could I forget? “Pyramids Day” was our first full day on the tour and it didn’t disappoint. I won’t bother describing what it was like to finally see them in person, as there are no words. I opted in for the chance to walk inside the Great Pyramid of Giza. There is a disclaimer that those with back or knee problems or claustrophobia shouldn’t do this. I will admit: I fall under the slightly claustrophobic category. I almost didn’t go in. However, I figured since my back and knees were okay, then my genuine fear of getting stuck in the narrow tunnel Winnie The Pooh style would just have to be dealt with. I came all this way and I’m not going to go in? Screw that. I was doing this. When we finally made it back outside, I felt a huge adrenaline rush and sense of accomplishment. I did it! The claustrophobic Canadian didn’t pass out (a longer post about my pyramids experience is coming in the near future).
So many things...
I could write for days about my entire experience on this Intrepid tour specifically and Egypt in general (stay tuned). We saw so much and there were many early morning starts. No day was ever wasted. I was exhausted at times, but looking back on it, I wouldn’t have it any other way. The places we visited were beautiful. Egyptians are friendly and genuinely happy to see you visiting their country. I never felt unsafe in all our travels on this tour. Quite the opposite actually. There are parts of Toronto where I feel less safe than anywhere we went in Egypt. It was an intense and magical experience in a very unique country and my only real regret is that I didn’t stay longer and see more of it. Now is a good time to go to Egypt, as tourism is low and our dollar goes incredibly far. Check it off your bucket list now and if you do – Please bring me back a slice of feteer! I’m hungry.
Disclaimer: Intrepid didn’t pay me to write this. I honestly enjoyed the week enough so, that I wanted to write a review for any would-be travelers currently sitting on the fence. It took me forever to decide which company to go with and when to go. Just sharing my experience!
Intrepid Travel: Egypt Adventure – This was the 8 day tour I took. They have longer tours with slightly tweaked itineraries that also come highly rated.
8 Best Reasons to Visit Egypt Now – An article I wrote for The Savvy Dreamer about why you should drop your scary newspaper and finally tick Egypt off your bucket list this year.
Egypt Tourism Authority – Official website for Egypt’s tourism board. Loads of info on things to do, places to see, etc.