So I am writing this blog post fresh back from my trip from Egypt and I really wanted to get this all written down as soon as possible. A lot of the times when I go on trips, I always think I’m going to write this grand blog post updating you all about it – but then life gets so busy and I forget and it gets put onto the back burner and you’ll never hear about my trip. So here goes!
When we were planning our next trip, the plan was to go to Paris. I’ve still never been there so I hope to someday go there! But our trips usually are in the Winter time – since I’m booked solid from Spring – Winter for weddings and husband teaches and most of his vacation days are only available during the big breaks- so January is our usual travel time. As much as I wanted to go to Paris, my husband brought up a really good point. It’s going to be SO COLD. We were in Berlin a few years back in January- and it was REALLY cold- so we learned from our mistakes. So after some careful thinking, we decided to put Paris on the back burner and try to go somewhere warm… but where? If my husband had his way, we’d be sitting in the Caribbean at a all-inclusive resort sipping mango juices- but that’s not how I like to roll. I love sightseeing and particularly seeing things that I just cant ever see in America.
Someone suggest Egypt out of no where- and it peaked my interest. Since I was a little kid, I’ve always wanted to go to Egypt. Learning about the pyramids, hieroglyphics and queens, pharaohs was just so awesome… and mysterious- so I’d always had it in my heart to see all of that. So I did some intensive googling research to see how the political climate and security of Egypt was- and it was looking like a pretty good time to visit. They had their revolution in 2011, so things are starting to seem relatively safe today in 2018… And Egypt is a desert, right? So it should be warm? Okay, tickets booked! (Albeit a lot of issues went down when I was trying to book through Air Egypt online- their website is terrible and I ended up having to book through the phone) But I wanted to book my flights from Air Egypt because they’re the ONLY airline that provides a direct flight to Egypt. (I hate layovers…)
After reading a few other blogs, I decided that it would be a smart idea to book a tour group to take us around. Partially because I just came out of a really stressful wedding season and my brain was really burnt out- and I used to love planning vacation trips but I was just tired as heck, so I just wanted someone to do everything for me. Finding tour groups and hotels in Egypt was a struggle. There were so many out there I didn’t even know where to start- so of course I looked at Trip-Advisor and read reviews after reviews… and finally decided on Memphis Tours. Then I remembered that one of my old wedding clients had went to Egypt about a year ago- so I popped them an email asking about their experience. They also took a tour with Memphis tour (!!!!) and it was a relatively good experience- so I was even more elated that I had found a reputable tour group!! So I opted to book with Memphis Tours for their 8 day tour of Egypt and Jordan (because I’ve always wanted to go to Petra!) But the experience was a lil shady. Their website to pay the deposit was shady as heck and I had really no idea what I was walking into.. but I prayed for the best.. (and it was a good experience in the end!)
After the tour /sight seeing, we still had another week to “stay-cation” – so I really wanted to get a hotel that would be suite our needs. Memphis Tours booked all the hotels for our first 8 days in Cairo and Ammann, but it was up to me to find another hotel for our last 6 days in Cairo. So off I went to Trip advisor, reading up about every hotel in Cairo. Hotels in Egypt are dirt cheap- you can stay at 5 star hotels like the Ritz Cartlton for like $250/night—but here’s the caveat- the hotel is so outdated and unkept that it’ll feel like you’ve walked into the 1980s. I read up on a lot of other hotels with thousand and thousands of reviews but then I started to realize a LOT of these reviews were fake/scam reviews because they repeated a lot of a few phrases and it just seemed too shady… so this whole process was a nightmare. After researching for about 2 weeks, I finally decided on the JW Marriot Hotel- because it had the best reviews (from Americans) and I trust the Marriot brand, but it also had a lot of great amenities and was reviewed as a “newer/better kept” hotel… and that was my deal breaker. So, I had my airfare, tour and hotels booked and we were ready to go! I really had zero expectation as to how our trip would be like.
PS: If you’re planning to go to Egypt- DO NOT BUY VISAS ONLINE !!! THERE ARE SO MANY SCAM WEBSITES OUT THERE. You can buy your VISA after you land in the Cairo Airport for $25 USD per person. Easy peasy!
About 5 days before our trip, my best friend sends me a text to an article in BBC stating that there was a terrorist bombing in Cairo nearby the Pyramids. EEK. I was a little freaked out- but there is honestly terrorism EVERYWHERE- including in America and Europe… so, what can you do about it? Almost everyone we knew were warning us to be careful and aware at all times when we get to Egypt… so I was on high alert when we were flying in.
Once we got to Egypt, it was about 2pm. We got through customs pretty quick, bought our visas and was immediately approached by Memphis Tours. They checked us in, made us pay the rest of the total balance owed, told us our driver and tour guide would meet us tomorrow morning at 7am, and set us off to our hotel to rest for the day. We stayed at the Steigenberger Hotel - which was a great hotel! But the neighborhood was a little unsafe. I was super dead tired after the plane ride (I can never fall asleep on planes for the life of me…) so it was nice to get in and just rest.
My first reaction of the drive to the hotel was … omg we are gonna die. No one seems to follow the traffic lanes and everyone just drives super fast and SUPER close to each other. We got to the hotel, and another !!! moment was when we had to go through metal detectors just to get into the building. I guess that made me feel…. Safe. We fell asleep at around 7pm and slept til the next morning and woke up at 5am. Breakfast was provided for at the hotel and it was a breakfast buffet. (A very popular thing here in Egypt… haha) We took advantage of it because we were starving and we knew it was going to be a long day of sight seeing. Then we were picked up by Memphis Tours, with our driver and our tour guide, Irene and was whisked off to see the Pyramids!
What a HUGE delight it was to see the Pyramids! They drove us RIGHT up to them, and we were able also buy tickets to go inside the Great Pyramids. Going inside is rough- I don’t recommend it if you are claustrophobic or just can’t climb/hike. Its literally a small tunnel that BARELY two people can fit through … so don’t expect yourself to be standing up either. You’re literally crawling through and climbing little ladders in a TIGHT space with barely any air… so enter at your own risk! We went in, but we didn’t go too deep… just enough!
Afterwards, our guides took us to some other views of the great pyramids, a panorama view and then she booked us a camel ride into the desert to see more views. Okay, one thing I realized tour guides love to do here is take CHEESY PHOTOS. Not gonna lie tho, it was pretty funny and cute- but as a photographer I was really apprehensive about it at first… and a little annoyed- I was like- “Cant you just take a STRAIGHT SHOT?” and also, “STOP ZOOMING IN ON MY IPHONE BECAUSE YOU’RE RUINING THE QUALITY OF THE PHOTO!!” AHHH!! Lol but in the end I appreciated the tour guides photos a lot an cherish these photos… haha!
Okay so; on riding a camel: IT IS A LOT SCARIER THAN IT SEEMS!!! First of all, camels are REALLY TALL- and i am REALLY short, so when you are hoisted up- its quite a scary experience- there’s no harness, saddle or anything to keep you balanced. There is a wooden peg for you to hold on it. I was freaking out when my camel went up (he was a little woobly!) and my husband was straight up laughing at me. It’s also super scary when the camel is walking downhill because you feel like you’re going to slip right off and fall to your death….. I’m not the only person who is scared when they ride camels …we saw A LOT OF OTHER people we were freaking out too. -___ -
Our next stop was to the Sphinx, Valley temple and then we drove to the city of Sakkara to see the first pyramid ever built: the Djoser Pyramid. Then we also drove to the city of Memphis (the capital of Egypt before Cairo) and saw the ruins of the Old Kingdom. Then we had a nice bbq lunch at a local restaurant.
Okay some more insight on Cairo. There is an OLD city of Cairo, and the NEW City. Our hotel was located in the OLD city, and by old- it IS old. Everything is very run down and looks abandoned. It’s unkept, no one follows ANY traffic laws, crossing the street is like playing dare devil and cars are just all over the place. People are begging, harassing and following you at all times- especially if you stand out like a sore thumb – like Jeddy and I.. as tourists. It’s actually really tiring to walk around the streets because people would be coming at you in all directions to get you to buy something, give them money, take their taxi or give you insight so you can pay them. The current president has basically abandoned the old city and moved East, to the new city; NEW CAIRO.
Returned back to the hotel at around 3pm and Jeddy and I pretty much passed out at around 7pm again. (Jet Lag)
Next morning, we began our day at 7am and they drove us to see the Salah El Din Citadel and Mohammed Ali Alabaster Mosque.
Then we saw the Coptic Church, “The Hanging Church” and a Jewish Temple: Ben Ezra Synagogue.
We were then taken to Khan el Khalili Bazaar and spent some time there haggling and purchasing some souvenirs. We then had lunch, and after lunch, our tour guide brought us to the Egyptian Museum and we got to see Tutankhamun’s treasures! (King Tut was someone I learned about extensively when I was young so it was SO cool to see his treasures in REAL LIFE!) His actual tomb is in Luxor (another city in Egypt that we didn’t get a chance to visit this time- but maybe in the future we’ll be back! If you’re planning a trip to Egypt- try to get to Luxor and let me know how it is!)
Our tour guide gave us extensive and informative tour inside the museum and we got to see real Mummies!!! It was so creepy and I was not about to take photos of mummies because I think its super disrespectful in some way and honestly; what am I going to do with photos of mummies….? It was pretty cool to see that they mummifies animals though. Also, it’s crazy to see how advanced the Egyptians were!!! Apparently the technology of mummification is a lost art. The Romans had tried to replicate the Egyptians methods of mummification but they had all failed- and to this day, we cannot replicate the mummification process as well as the Egyptians had done. (correct me if I’m wrong- but this is what my tour guide told me) She also told us that this museum will no longer exist next year, as the president has also moved this natural treasure to the NEW city and will be demolishing the current one in 2020. Sad to see this treasure go; but I’m sure it’ll be cool to see the new building with all these treasures inside as well!
The next day, we were booked to go to the city of Alexandria- which is about a 3 hour drive from Cairo. We were on our way at 7am, but as we got onto the highway, the police shut down the entire road due to lack of vision- the fog and dust was CRAZY. We ended up waiting about 2 hours to see if they would reopen the road but it never happened… and the entire highway was packed with cars; people just came out of their vehicles and started dancing and hanging out… it was a complete shut down. My husband was like, “so this is what a zombie apocalypse would feel like…” LOL My tour guide was great, ended up walking us to the back of the traffic and was able to wave down a taxi to drive us (against the traffic- scary as HECK btw) back to our hotel. We ended up getting a taxi and our tour guide suggested us to check out New Cairo Mall – a new and modern shopping center, for the day. So we took her advice and she asked the taxi driver to take us there. We had agreed on the rate of $150 EGY for the trip, and even though the taxi driver didn’t take us to the right spot, (he ended up dropping us off at Katameya Downtown, which is a DIFFERENT shopping center) he tried to make us pay more when we were getting out of the cab, and I was a little annoyed about it; so we just left. When we got out of the cab the first thing I saw was a STARBUCKS- I literally jumped for joy. First because I was holding in my pee the entire ordeal of being stuck on the highway- and secondly, I hadn’t seen any westernization/modern type buildings or stores since we got to Egypt…. And for awhile I thought these places didn’t exist… but as our week goes on, I come to find out there is a WHOLE other part of Egypt that is VERY modern and up on the times. And I think that’s the biggest reason why I wanted to write this blog post. As an American, I think we are completely unaware of what the world is like – especially in the middle east. And coming to Egypt took a huge risk (as most people would think) but honestly it’s pretty safe here and there are a lot of great things to experience and enjoy here!
We walked around the shopping center and then walked 30 minutes to the mall that we were originally told to go to, Cairo Festival City- and then that was like walking into an American MALL. It was just nice to see so many familiar things and brands as we explored a bit. Finally we decided to take an uber back to the hotel- and OH boy I am so glad Uber exists here. Our Uber rides here are dirt cheap, the uber drivers are really easy going and its so much easier to deal with an uber driver than a random taxi driver that is trying to rip you off at every corner. If you come to Egypt- make sure you have uber installed and internet- you’ll thank me greatly!
We packed up our things that night since we were checking out of the hotel to head to Jordan the next morning. We got on our flight and got to Jordan ( about 1 hr 15min), was greeted by our tour guide there and they made the whole experience easy. My first impression after landing into Jordan was—wow, this city is so much more modern [than Cairo]! The airport in Ammann is beautifully built and extremely modern architecture. It was impeccably clean and well organized- very different from the impression I had gotten from landing at the Cairo airport. Doing some more research, I had learned that Ammann, Jordan is one of the most expensive Arab cities. Memphis Tours drove us to our hotel and told us that we would be meeting early the next morning for our tour!
The first night in Jordan, I have to admit, my ignorant American self was super paranoid. My husband wanted to go out and find food, so we started walking around. THERE WAS NOTHING near the hotel. Finally we got smart, google mapped a good restaurant and I decided to Uber there- best choice we ever made. We ate some amazing indian food!
Then we were taken to Mount Nebo- the memorial of where Moses died and also stands a church that was built on top of the remains of a Byzantine church. They actually still hold mass in this church.
Then we were driven to the Dead Sea, where we got some free time to spend on the beach and enjoy the water. This isn’t our first time at the Dead Sea (We went to Isreal in 2013- and that year we went full into the water) – but this time we just dipped our feet in and enjoyed the sunshine together.
Dead sea water is SUPER salty- so any cut or scrape you may have on your body- it’ll sting like #4324@@#OIJLDKJDLKJ!!
We had lunch and then our lovely driver dropped us off back at the hotel. It was still early, so we wanted to explore the city more- I had done some google research the night before about the city of Ammann and learned that it’s a really hip and upcoming city- with tons of creative folks bringing the city’s art culture alive- so I wanted to check it out. People recommended Rainbow Street, so our driver dropped us off at the market place and we made our way over to rainbow street. We walked a LOT. Also- omg the streets here are super steep at some parts. Rainbow street ended up being a cool street full of hip restaurants and dessert spots. We were able to try a few things. Like this delicious chicken shawarma spot: Shi Shawerma.
We then kept wandering and found this awesome coffee shop called SADE. Got some great coffee and tea there and perched there for a bit before heading back to our hotel to rest for the next day.
The next morning, we began our trip early because we had a 3 hour drive to PETRA from Ammann. I was super excited to go here!! When we got to Petra we were met with a local tour guide there and he walked with us through the gorgeous Siq canyon landscape and taught us about the Nabateans (who were an Arab people who inhabited northern Arabia. Their settlements, most prominently the assumed the city that is now called Petra). They explained how they lived, their agricultural systems, and how the canyon was a great fort to be able to defend against attacks from outsiders.
IT WAS BEAUTIFUL. Definitely one of the coolest places I’ve ever been to in my life. The rock formations were amazing and the famous “Treasury” (that building you see in Indian Jones) was just a whole other story seeing it up close and in person. We then walked in deeper to see more of the Royals tombs and the Pharaohs castle. PREPARE FOR A LOT OF WALKING. My tour guide and I were laughing at some tourists that were wearing HIGH HEELS. (obviously not prepared for this). But it was a long walk into the canyon and a very long and uphill walk out of the canyon. It was all worth it though. Every. Single. Moment.
I wish I had more time there, but our tour only had 1 day in Petra- if I were to ever go back again or give advice, I’d say 2-3 days would be cool there. There are lot of extra hikes and routes you could take to see things in different perspectives… so keep that in mind! Bring LOTS of water and TISSUES!! There are never tissues anywhere. We had lunch and was brought back to the hotel. The next day we were brought back to the airport and we flew back to Cairo.
Back to Cairo!
Now we were back in Cairo and we had finished with all the sightseeing and touring- and boy were we tired. It had been a pretty long and eventful week and we were just ready to relax. So we checked into our hotel and did nothing for about 1.5 days. (Also husband got SUPER sick right after we got back to Cairo, so he got a full day of sleep to recuperate!)
Finally when he was back to 100%, we decided to do a little exploring on our own. The first day, we took an uber to another shopping center… but that was pretty much a ghost town that was an abandoned mall (there are a lot of those here…) So we then decided to go back to Cairo City Festival (the biggest most modern mall in Cairo). We hung out at the mall just walking and looking around and then decided to watch Aquaman there for $5/per person!! (We hadn’t seen it in NYC and had wanted to see it, and we had a lot of free time here- so why not!) Plus it’s always interesting to see what other countries movie theaters are like. There was a lot of popcorn and babies in the theater…. also the seats weren’t very well kept but overall I had a decent experience and enjoyed the movie.
The next day, I wanted to go back to the Great Pyramids. The first time we went, I enjoyed myself but I felt that the tour guide rushed us a little bit- and I wanted to go back for another look and view. So we hopped on an uber and took the 40min ride to Giza. (Which by the way was only like $10USD) When we got there, the uber driver dropped us off at the entrance- which was completely different from the one our tour guide brought us to. So PRO-TIP: Having a tour guide is CLUTCH- they take you RIGHT up to the pyramids – less walking and less human traffic, AND they buy your tickets. When we got to the ticket office, it was a NIGHTMARE. No one would line up, and people were ACTUALLY trying to haggle the entrance ticket price—Really?! Then when we finally got into the “park” – people we coming up to us left and right trying to pretend to be “government workers” and trying to get us to pay for camel/horse/buggy rides… and they really wouldn’t leave us alone. That was super irritating. But anyways, we got past that and started walking up towards the pyramids again. It was super awesome to see it all again, and this time from a different view. We just took our time walking and saw more things that we didn’t get to see the first time we went- so I’m really glad we did it. I’m also really glad we got the tour guide, since it did bring us to a lot of different spots as well—so if you ever go, try going with a tour guide an without- it’s all good.
After we finished there, we made our way through the souvenir shops, haggled a bit and picked up some really nice onyx rock pryamids- that I am OBSESSED WITH. We then ventured into a random restaurant (Abou Shaka) outside the entrance of the Pyramids and was pleasantly surprised by the food. It seemed like a tourist trap- but it was delicious and clean- with a working bathroom- so that’s all plus!
The next day we decided to find a place to brunch. My husband is the master of finding good restaurants whenever we travel, so I left this task up to him- and BOY DID HE DELIVER. We found this place called Eish W Gebna- and had an amazing brunch there. Service and food was great. The pancakes weren’t my favorite- but I would recommend you guys get their egg dishes… haha- coffee was also great!
After our brunch I wanted to possibly explore the Cairo Tower (think: Tokyo Tower or Empire State Building) – so we ubered over there and it was a bit lackluster so I didn’t bother going to the top. I also was really curious about bubble tea in Egypt- so we ubered to the ONE and ONLY bubble tea shop in Egypt- “Bubbilicious”- and tried their bubble tea. It wasn’t too bad. I got their milk tea with their coconut tapioca- only their tapioca is not tapioca. It’s more like popping juice balls. It wasn’t terrible though- fun to try. We also got their nutella bubblicious balls- which were basically like mochi-egg-douch balls filled with nutella – IT WAS AMAZING.
The next day, we went to WATERWAY. Which is another modern and populated place to hang out, eat and shop. But mostly EAT. The entire area is all restaurants!! And it was a really great find. (Thanks Husband) We picked a Lebanese restaurant here called Tamara, and had an amazing meal. Then we just ended up walking around, and chilling inside a coffee shop, relaxing and giving myself time to write up this blog post!
Tomorrow we are leaving Cairo and heading back to NYC!! It has been a really great trip and I’ve learned so much on this trip. It really comes to prove that traveling really opens your eyes up to all the cultures around you. The people in Egypt was REALLY kind and really liberal, contrary to what the American Media tells us. I was under the impression that they were an extremely Muslim country- but people here are very open and don’t really care what religious background you have and are super welcoming!
Other final tips and bits:
-Exchange some money before you go so you have money for tips for drivers/tour guides, etc! The exchange rate for EGP is $17.50 to $1 USD. (as of 2/16/2019) - TIP FOR EVERYTHING - Drivers, tour guides, bell boy, waiters, etc
-THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NO PORK. At every restaurant I’ve been to, we have never seen pork on the menu. Their bacon is ALWAYS beef/turkey bacon, and they only have chicken/turkey/beef sausages. It’s totally cool with me because I don’t really like pork. But yes, it’s against the Muslim law to eat pork so don’t expect any pork in Egypt or Jordan.
-The City of the Dead is real. They have a whole section of their city that is ONLY tombs and graves and no one lives there at all. (except for the extreme poor) You could probably could book a tour to check it out - but just be really careful
-Uber is GOLD here. You can get anywhere easily and inexpensively.
-Tmobile is GOLD here. Having a phone service that works internationally is both security and CLUTCH. Makes you feel 1000% more safe.
- When at the OLD CITY: Be VERY aware of your surroundings, there are people out to scam you most of the times, they may even pretend to work for the government, but just disregard them, walk away or ignore. They put up a good fight.
-PEOPLE WILL PRETEND TO BE HELPFUL – unless you ask a person for help, DO NOT take anyone’s help/tip- most of the time they just want to sell you something.
-Lines don’t really exist- people here are aggressive- so if you’re going to the ticket offices at the tourist sites- be prepared to fight. I mean if you’ve been to China, this will be a cake walk. A lot of the ticket purchasers are trying to bargain with the ticket administer, so you’ll have to fight through all that just to get your ticket at regular price. They love the tourists because they know we will just drop the money and take our tickets without a battle.
So there you have it! My trip to Egypt and Jordan in full! I hope you guys would also be open to traveling there and enjoying what it has to offer! And I hope my tips and info would help you out on your journey!!