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Two Wonderful Weeks in Egypt: A Travel Report

Two Wonderful Weeks in Egypt: Travel Report
Part I: Intro and Cairo
With much help from posters on this forum, I spent much of 2021 planning a trip to Egypt for me and two dear friends (DF and DM, a married couple). All of us are in our mid-60’s and newly retired. I used Djed Egypt Travel to arrange the trip and was very happy with their arrangements, support, and the Djed folks who accompanied us/drove us/helped us throughout the trip. I will break down my trip report into the following:
Itinerary: Where we went and what we did
Covid testing and documentation for the trip
Travel Insurance
Money
Medical Issues

Itinerary: When arranging our private tour for 3, I told Mr Mohamed Nasser at Djed by email that we had a moderate budget and preferred smaller hotels. He suggested one in each city, and also said that he could book wherever we wanted to stay. I researched his suggestions and agreed to each choice. We liked each hotel and guesthouse at which we stayed.

We arrived in Cairo at 8:00 pm after transiting through Houston and Frankfurt, and were met before Immigration by our lovely Djed host in Cairo, Ahmed Abdallah. He carefully ushered us through customs and immigration, took us to a bank office at the airport and showed me where to purchase a bottle of wine at Duty Free. Our hotel in Cairo was Longchamps Hotel in the Zamalek neighborhood. The rooms were extremely clean; they are very Covid-aware, with masks being worn everywhere, hand sanitizer at multiple stations, and tables very spread out in the breakfast area. There was a great breakfast buffet of hot and cold choices. I really liked the Longchamps Hotel.

The way that Djed works is that they arrange a driver with private van, an Egyptologist, and a city representative in each location. Our drivers were all safe and kind, the Egyptologists brilliant, sensitive, and personable, and our city reps all incredibly helpful.
Cairo: Day One was spent at the Pyramids and in Saqqara to see the older pyramids there, with a “farmhouse lunch” near Saqqara. Even though I’ve seen photos of the pyramids for so long, being up close is just stunning! The farmhouse lunch was delicious. We also (at our request) stopped at a papyrus shop/studio to see how papyrus paper is prepared. The Cairo traffic is incredible. It’s amazing to watch the dance of cars, vans, tuktuks, horse drawn carts, and pedestrians. They all seem to understand the rules of the road, but it was crazy to me! Day Two was spent in the Coptic Quarter and old Cairo, visiting the Citadel - what a view of Cairo, all the way west to the pyramids from that high point! We went in several historic mosques, the Coptic Museum, and the “Hanging Church.” (Egypt’s oldest synagogue was closed for renovation). We appreciated that our Cairo Egyptologist, Mohamed Bekhit, recognized our slower pace (one of us walks with a cane) and adapted our itinerary to our speed and energy levels. Lunch was at delicious Restaurant Al Khan, near the Coptic quarter. In the evening we went to Cairo airport and flew one hour to Luxor.

NOW A MOMENT ABOUT THE WEATHER:
Egypt was experiencing a freak cold spell while we were there. I had researched weather history for late January on timeanddate.com, but this weather was at least 10 degrees F colder the entire trip than expected. Nighttime temps consistently were in the low-mid 40’s F. Although we stayed in well-rated hotels and guest houses that were perfect for us in every other way, our guest houses in Luxor and Aswan did not not have heat/AC wall units, although they provided small portable electric heaters and lots of extra blankets for our two rooms. These heaters only barely took the edge off, and the bathrooms were quite cold. We learned that many/most Egyptians do not have any form of heat in their homes; we were well taken care of by people who did not have access to the heat resources that we were provided.

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Two Wonderful Weeks in Egypt: Travel Report
Part II: Luxor and Sailing on a Dahabiya

Luxor:
We stayed for 3 nights at the lovely Villa Nile House Hotel, a beautiful Nubian guest house built around a pool, on the quieter west bank. On the evening of our arrival, the staff stayed late to prepare us a delicious late dinner of several tagines (mine was fish and veggies), and what was to become the ubiquitous hummus, baba ganouj, and pita. Our rooms had thick walls, rugs and decor in Nubian style. One evening I walked a few blocks to Shop Sandour, a fair trade shop with fixed prices. This is a great shop, with lovely proprietor.

Our Egyptologist in Luxor was the incredible, charming, brilliant Amani Ahmed. She and our delightful driver, Shahad, picked us up in the morning for a day on the east bank, visiting first the stunning Karnak temple complex. Amani explained stories, hieroglyphics, and architecture in a way that made it all come alive. In the later afternoon, we went to Luxor temple and were there at sunset as the rose and golden light shone between the columns in the front courtyard, and the electrical illumination lifted the columns even higher. It was magical! The next day we started out early for the Valley of the Kings. Amani suggested which tombs were open that might fit our interests and abilities to climb lots of steps. We also went to the mortuary temple of Hatshepsut (what a woman!) and saw a fascinating tomb in the Valley of the Nobles. There was also a stop at the temple of Medinet Habu (a celebration of war victories for Ramesses III). For lunch we stopped at Marsam Restaurant on the west bank. This was truly delicious food, at a table looking out over the countryside. My fish baked in foil with many herbs was succulent and flavorful.

Sailing the NIle:
On Day 6, we left in the morning by van to travel an hour to Esna. There, we met our amazing guide Abdullah Yosef, who would be with us for many days. He walked us through the markets of Esna to the Esna temple - a temple to fertility, with images that are not “G rated!” We then boarded the Dahabiya Nora, which would be home for the next four nights. The crew were warm, welcoming, kind, and sensitive. The rooms were warm (!), with incredibly comfortable beds, linens, and big terrycloth bathrobes! Although the Nora can hold up to 12 guests, we three were the only guests aboard. The dahabiya is non-motorized and travels by sail, with an assist by a tug that pulls it when the wind is low. The food was nutritious and delicious. The cook bought fresh food at our various stops, and secured fresh fish for me several times (I do not eat red meat). When they realized that GM liked potatoes, those starting appearing on the menu at almost every meal. On the upper deck were many chairs, sofas, and lounging areas. I enjoyed sitting in the sun, watching the farmlands, the wetlands with many birds, and waving back at children along the bank who yelled “Hello!!”
One day we stopped at the town of Edfu, where we took a horse and buggy to the magnificent Edfu temple. Another day, we stopped at the small temples, tombs, quarries and petroglyphs at Jabal Selsela. That afternoon we stopped to visit the temple at Kom Ombo, which was a leisurely walk from our docking site. The temple is an unusual double temple to Horus and to the local crocodile god. Yet another day we stopped in the town of Daraw and - although it was not a day for the local camel market - we went to a camel “shop” and admired the wares. That afternoon, we stopped at a local Nubian village, walked through the fields to town, and enjoyed afternoon mint tea sitting at a table in front of a local shop and re-learned how to play dominoes with Abdullah (and watched the local men at the next table smoke shisha and get excited about their dominoes game). A group of girls approached us on our walk, excited to use their English to talk with us.

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Two Wonderful Weeks in Egypt: Travel Report
Part III: Abu Simbel and Aswan

Abu Simbel:
Our last night on the dahabiya was spent docked at Aswan. In the morning we boarded our next Djed van for a three-hour ride through the desert to Abu Simbel. After a delicious lunch at our guest house there, we went to the temples. Abdullah (still with us from the Nile) talked us through various checkpoints so that we drove up close to the temples and did not have to walk “all the way around” from the usual parking area. Abu Simbel: Oh my! Stunning! Worth the drive! The incredible engineering feat of moving the two temples up from the lake bed was wild! Our dinner was served back at the guest house. We stayed at the Eskaleh Nubian Ecolodge, and it was just lovely. Again, there were thick mud brick walls, with Nubian carpets and lots of blankets. (We also appreciated the heat pouring from the wall-mounted AC/heat unit).

Aswan:
Day 11 began with a drive back through the desert to Aswan, with Abdullah telling us about the development of the desert with new cities and towns being constructed by the government. Back in Aswan, we boarded a felucca to sail around Elephantine Island. We elected not to get out and explore the botanical gardens there (an option for those who want to do so). Our home for our two nights in Aswan was the Nubian Holiday House Hotel, again on the quieter west bank. I would have liked this guest house much better if I had not been cold. The rooftop has a large lounging and eating area looking out over the Nile. I missed it because I was hunkered down in bed with lots of blankets.
The next day began with a drive to Lake Nasser where we boarded a small boat to go out to see the lovely temple to Isis, Philae, which has been relocated to an island from lower level, now-flooded land. We later took a different boat to the larger complex of Kalabsha, a more recent Ptolomaic temple. Finally, we stopped along top the High Dam, which was very impressive!
Back in Aswan, we ate a delicious meal at Makani restaurant alongside the waterfront. The top side is a locals gathering spot; down some steps is a local restaurant with tables facing the river, where we skipped eating our usual Egyptian fare to enjoy wraps and burgers.
That afternoon, as friends rested, I spent several hours walking through the Aswan market, which is a mixture of tourist-oriented shops, and shops offering veggies, meat, clothing, and housewares for local folks. I enjoyed mint tea at a tea shop and people watching. I found this market easy going and enjoyable; I did not feel hassled by sellers as I would later back in Cairo. I did cover my head.

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Two Wonderful Weeks in Egypt: Travel Report
Part IV: Back in Cairo

Back in Cairo:
On Day 13, we flew in the morning back to Cairo, where we were met again by our personable and lovely Cairo rep, Ahmed. We then connected again with Egyptologist Mohamed and fabulous driver Omar (“Pharoah of the Van”) who took us to the Egyptian Museum. Many of the artifacts have been moved to the Grand Egyptian Museum, (GEM) which is “supposed to open at the end of this year….” However, enough is left in the Egyptian Museum - including many of the King Tut Treasures - to make a stop very worthwhile. At our request, we went to the Street of the Tentmakers, an ancient couple of blocks (1400’s?) where the lower level shops are now occupied by those craftsmen who do traditional applique' techniques. I bought two beautiful pieces. We also walked for a little while through the Khan al Khalili market where - yes - the shopkeepers are VERY determined to sell you something! We had a lovely late lunch in the Khan al Khalili market at historic and beautiful Restaurant Naguib Mahfouz.
The next day began with a visit to the National Civilization Museum which, although not large, is beautifully laid out with great lighting and descriptions of various artifacts from many of the cultures which have been part of Egypt’s history. On the lower level are the mummies and sarcophigii of various great rulers of Egypt long ago. At my request, we then went to the crafts school at Fustat (NOT the “souk at Foustat, which is clothing). There, we saw a demonstration of throwing pots on a wheel, and were walked through the process of their creation of ceramics. I purchased several lovely pieces for VERY good prices in their showroom area. This crafts school also has areas where they do metal work and woodwork. We just saw the ceramics area.

That last evening was our last trip to the Cairo airport, for our journey homeward. We were exhausted and ready to go home, satiated with so much history, beauty, good food, physical exertion, and kindness.

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I’m so excited to see you posting here! I’m thrilled to hear that, overall, you had an amazing trip and were happy with Djed tours. Welcome home!

I’m reading as you’re posting and your trip sounds amazing! Everything I like about this type of travel - especially the personal connections made with people. Lovely.

I’m hoping to go at the end of the year and Djed tours is the company I’m considering at the moment.

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Two Wonderful Weeks in Egypt: Travel Report
Part V: Covid documentation and Travel Insurance

Thanks to changing and varied requirements by various countries. this was far and away the most complicated document preparation that I have experienced in many years of travel. We had to know the requirements to enter Egypt, AND the requirements to transit Germany (flying to Egypt through Frankfurt) AND the requirements to travel back to the US. I had in hand the following in paper (hard) copy: My Covid-19 vaccination record WITH QR CODE. Multiple airline desks and multiple gate agents wanted to see this. I used “VaxYes” website, uploaded by CDC card, and the website generated a single page with my vaccine info and the requisite QR code. I also had another version of my vaccination record with QR code, generated by my hospital/health clinic. Friends and I also paid for quick PCR tests two days before travel, and had those in hard copy but those results were never asked for. I also had my CDC card, of course, but was never asked for it.

I was glad that I had researched the requirements for transiting Germany because a young gate agent in Frankfurt tried to tell me that I needed a more recent PCR test in order to be cleared to get on my flight onward to Cairo, but I showed him a screenshot of the German requirements for TRANSITING Germany and another agent nearby agreed with me that I did not need the PCR test.

Leaving Cairo, we needed rapid tests taken ONE DAY before departing (current US govt requirement). Because Friends’ flight left after midnight, we stopped at a Cairo clinic in the afternoon a few hours before flight departure and got tests. Paid for those with VISA, approx. $48 USD. Our Djed Cairo representative then brought us our results (with lots of fancy seals and stamps on them) to our hotel when he picked us up to take to the airport in the evening. He had earlier reassured us that if any of us tested positive, that Djed would take good care of us, arranging hotels, food, etc. I also learned that there is a delivery service in Cairo called Talabat that is like a super UberEats. They have a great website in English and also can deliver from pharmacies. However, our Djed representative reassured us that “none of our clients have ever tested positive….”).

Travel Insurance: I used Trawick International and made sure that there was plenty of Covid coverage, to cover lengthy hotel room stays, food, meds, and one million $ in “emergency medical evacuation and repatriation” coverage. I did not need to use it, but it was peace of mind. I spoke with someone at Trawick on the phone before purchasing online and she was quite helpful.

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Two Wonderful Weeks in Egypt: Travel Report
Part VI: Money and Medical Issues ("mummy tummy")

Money: Most costs were covered in our package with Djed, except for some meals and tips (lots of tips!). Food was delicious and not expensive. I took approx. $500 in USD and changed that at a bank office in the Cairo airport upon arrival (for tips and gifts). I also got approx. $200 from an ATM machine in Aswan later in the trip. Few places take credit cards; all restaurants and shops (except a fancy alabaster shop) only wanted cash. I used my credit card just twice during the trip.

Medical issues (preventing “mummy tummy”)
I have experienced this in Cuba and in Mexico and did not want to repeat the experience. I made sure to ONLY drink and brush teeth with bottled water. I also did not eat any fresh fruits and veggies that I did not peel myself, except on the dahabiya Nile boat. I had not read of anyone getting sick from the food on the Djed dahabiyas and they told me that they washed all of their veggies in purified water. Foregoing some lovely salads at various restaurants was difficult, but worth it. I also did not drink any fresh fruit juices (except on the dahabiya) unless they were 100% fresh squeezed, with no chance of water having been added (so no lemonade). I also took a probiotic every morning, and a few minutes before almost every meal I took a “Travelan” tablet which likely helped a lot. I bought these on Amazon. When GF got a bit queasy, our Djed Egyptologist in Aswan gave her Antinal, which is sold in many countries by various names for stomach issues, and it helped her immediately.
Finally, GM had to carry with him some medicine that he injects once a week, that needs to be kept cold. Djed supplied him with a cooler when we landed and made sure that his ice packs could be refrigerated or frozen at each hotel/guest house/boat. They made it easy for him to keep his meds safe.

Again, I appreciate the earlier posts by other Egypt travelers, and am glad to answer any questions that you might have about our experience.

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56 posts

As I wrote earlier, I love this report and am very happy to hear how professional Djed is. I feel pretty confident that we will use them when we do go. Given that I’m reading about tourists currently traveling who have contracted COVID in Egypt, it’s reassuring to know that 1) you (and other Djed tourists) have not gotten sick and 2) that Djed would help if someone tested positive.

I’m sure I will have more questions over time, but my husband and I will have more time to travel. What would you change, if anything? Where would you add more time?

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2212 posts

Wow, I was so excited to read your TR this am and so glad you had a wonderful trip. For us, those temps would have been wonderful! Here in AK we wear shorts in those temps! We had the opposite, we were too hot in October!
And, if it is the same person (I realize there are probably more than one Abdullah’s who work for Djed) then he was our guide as well on the dahabiya.

Here is my photobook of our recent trip and I have a photo of him. You can let me know if it is the same guy?

https://photos.app.goo.gl/ZbqEi9TkLDCq9EYU6

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69 posts

Thank you for the detailed trip report. Egypt is high on my bucket list.

Did you have your souvenirs, particularly the ceramics, shipped to the U.S. or did you carry them with you on your flight home?

Also, can you give us approximate amounts for the various tips? Guides, hotel staff, boat attendants, etc.

Thanks in advance.

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7988 posts

So happy to read a report on a good experience in Egypt during COVID. We went in January 2020 and it was very cold but sunny. We had our winter coats, gloves, hats with us as we had stayed in London prior to arriving in Egypt. Many in our group had to buy winter jackets and coats in Cairo.

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1124 posts

Sounds wonderful, and thank you for writing such an easy reading report. I have wanted to go to Egypt since childhood. It was really fun to read about it, and I especially appreciated your comments about how kind everyone was, and the heating situations.

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1106 posts

I'm so glad that this trip report is useful for some of y'all. Yes, diveloonie, that's the same Abdullah. I was astounded at his knowledge of hieroglyphics. He gets so excited and enthusiastic about the hieroglyphics in temples. It was so much fun to watch him read them and interpret them. I learned so much that I didn't know that I wanted to learn! We also "relearned" to play cutthroat dominoes from him in the Nubian village.

gtjackets, I carefully packed my ceramics in my carryon bag, rolling my clothes around them. I also took an extra foldable nylon duffle which, after shopping, I unfolded and stuffed with non-breakables and checked that on my way back home. Also in their "Pre-departure information" materials Djed suggested a range of tips for different services (and they emphasized "suggested" - that "tipping is a personal choice"). Here is what they sent:
Egyptologist Guides: $7 - $10 USD per traveller per day
Drivers: $3 - $5 USD per traveller per day
City Representatives: $2 - $4 USD per traveller per day
Nile Cruise Staff: $10 - $15 per traveller per cruise day (shared between all staff on board, except for the Egyptologist)
A 10% tip is appreciated in restaurants and for room service
For small services, such as luggage carriers, chambermaids and porters, around 20 Egyptian pounds is usual.

I also tipped various other folks: the hotel guy who escorted us to our rooms and carried our bags (20 EP); the driver of the horse and buggy, etc. Also, it's customary to tip at almost every restroom along the way; 5 Egyptian pounds would work; 10 if I didn't have a 5; $1 USD got all three of us in. (Current exchange rate is approx 16 EP to 1 USD). We didn't have to tip in restaurant restrooms.
Because I had been forewarned that it is often difficult to get small bills in EP, we went prepared with around 20 US $1 bills each, and used many of them. Those were good for tips when out of small EP.

paulesue, it's hard to think of what I would change. Our schedule happily had some "down time" in it, an occasional late morning or an earlier finish, after late lunch. My travel partners especially appreciated this; I would sometimes take this time to wander into town, to a market or shop. I would not have added Alexandria, where the Roman buildings are a main attraction. (I've been to Rome many times.) The mix of big city Cairo, smaller cities like Luxor and Aswan with their glorious temples and tombs, and slower time on the dahabiya were perfect for us. I was really glad that we spent the night in Abu Simbel and did not try to do it as a day trip from Aswan (or flying in and back from Luxor, as some do). I also was glad that we did not opt for a bigger boat cruise. With Covid, I felt much safer on the smaller boat, much of the time in the open air, and with few crew and no other guests around us. I guess if I had had one more day I would have liked another day in Luxor. Also, it would have been nice to have an unscheduled day upon arrival to rest after the almost-24-hour-trip before beginning a busy Cairo schedule. I had considered doing this, but looking at flight schedules/days/prices, and which days a Djed dahabiya left Esna for Aswan determined that we would go ahead and start the Cairo touring immediately on the morning after arrival.

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2212 posts

Cool that we had the same guide on the boat. He was good, my only niggly complaint is that he pretty much told us what to tip him at the end of our cruise!

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56 posts

Thanks so much for your comments! I really appreciate the feedback - Alexandria was one of the places I had in mind, but I was mixed about it, and you’ve pretty much helped me make a decision. We will have the time to add a day here and there for a little more down time. Of course, the dhabiya is definite - sounds like heaven!

Thank you again for your great report - very helpful for impressions and practicalities.

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1916 posts

I loved your report! I haven’t had Egypt on my radar, but your report (and a few others) help me see better how a trip could go!

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2538 posts

Another thank you for the report. I would love to go to Egypt and your trip sounds like the right mix. Now we just have to figure out when and ask our travel partners who would like to come too.

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3453 posts

Wow, what a wonderful trip report. You captured all the important details!. Glad you and your dear friends enjoyed “Two Wonderful Weeks in Egypt.” Bookmarking for future reference!

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69 posts

jmauldinuu,

Thanks so much for answering questions about bringing your souvenirs home and tipping. We are on a tentative list for a trip to Egypt in 2023. I've always been fascinated with Egyptian history.

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1106 posts

In further answer to an earlier question: I wish that I had asked to put the Luxor Museum on our itinerary but by the time we were in Luxor our itinerary was so full that I didn't bring it up. If we had had one more day in Luxor, I would have wanted to go to that museum and to the temple at Dendara, which is a drive (1-2 hours?) from Luxor.

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492 posts

Thoroughly enjoyed your report!

Really need to get back to Egypt and visit the new museum.

BTW I grew up there. Got my first drivers license in Cairo - it's chaos, but organized chaos. Prepared me well to drive pretty much anywhere, I like to think. In the city itself you rarely got going fast enough to cause any real damage ;)

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1106 posts

Oh one more thing to be aware of…. poster “Marie” on this forum (who highly recommended Djed Egypt after her travels with them) gave me a heads up about this regarding emailing Djed: They can be initially very slow to respond to inquiring emails. I think that it took maybe over a week and a couple of emails from me before they responded to my first email to them in spring 2021. They are a smaller, family-run company and the owner - or his son-in-law - do the main organizing of tours from their Cairo office. Once we really started organizing my trip, though, they were quite responsive and usually answered my emails within 2-3 days. When we were “on the ground” in Egypt, everyone was extremely responsive and we felt well taken care of.

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455 posts

What a great trip report! I am so glad to hear that you had a great experience in Egypt! Your report makes me want to return for a third visit.

Amani was our guide in Luxor in 2020 and 2021, and Abdullah was our guide in Abu Simbel in 2021. They are both awesome. When we arrived in Luxor this year, Osama (our city rep) didn't tell Amani that we were returning. When she showed up to guide us, she immediately recognized us and greeted us as if we were family.

With regard to Dendera, yeah, Abydos and Dendera, which are usually visited together, will eat up a whole day. We did it in 2020, and I recall that we left incredibly early in the morning (5:30 a.m.?) and didn't get back to Luxor until evening. Dendera is stunningly beautiful; Abydos is more significant historically.

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4 posts

Great TR -- thank you taking the time to write it. Do I understand correctly that you started working with the travel agency in the Spring 2021 for a trip in January 2022? We are just starting to plan a trip for January 2023. Sounds like we will need warm clothes for mid January in Egypt . Thanks!

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1106 posts

Yes, wdc, I did start working with Djed Egypt Travel sometime in spring 2021. I was flying roundtrip on United using my United points, so had to book many months ahead to get the flights that I wanted. Once the flights were booked, I contacted three Egyptian travel companies recommended on this forum (and elsewhere), and after receiving initial email correspondence (and doing further research) I decided to work with Djed. We emailed back and forth over several months to fine tune our itinerary and costs. Sometime in September two friends decided to travel with me, so Djed adjusted the itinerary a bit in order to meet their needs, and adjusted the cost for me. By November it was all settled. Re. traveling in January: I was VERY glad that I had a puffer jacket, a thermal vest, and a scarf. The weather was much cooler than timeanddate dot com led me to believe that it might be. Given that unusual weather, if I had known ahead of time that it would be in the 40's at night, I would have asked Djed to make sure that I was booked into hotels that had HEATING units in each room. The folks at our guest house in Luxor made it work okay with a stronger portable unit but we were cold for our two nights in Aswan (and all other hotels plus the dahabiya had wall heating units in each room). I understand that there are few comfortable places to stay in Aswan in the "mid-range," that is, between guest houses and the 2-3 expensive resort hotels (and I did a bunch of research on booking dot com to confirm this). I was on a limited budget so did not consider those more expensive hotels, but given what I know now, I would have told Djed that I really needed a place with wall heating units in the rooms, even if that meant spending a lot more for those two nights' lodging.