Egypt: Impressions and Reflections After My Two Week Trip

As I was flying home after an amazing two weeks in Egypt, it was time to reflect on my trip: These were my main impressions and takeaways of travel in Egypt.

Flying home from Alexandria

After almost two weeks in Egypt, during which I travelled from Cairo to Aswan by night train, embarked on a Nile river cruise to Luxor, and returned by train from Luxor to Cairo and Alexandria, it was time to head home.

I wasn’t particularly looking forward to my flights, as the first one from Alexandria to Istanbul was a horrible red-eye, while the long layover at Istanbul Airport until my second flight wasn’t ideal either.

At least the time spent at airports and on flights gave me the opportunity to reflect on my Egypt trip and to write down my main impressions and takeaways, which I hope will be helpful to other travellers when planning their visit to the land of the pharaohs and pyramids.

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Alexandria was the last place I visited on my trip to Egypt. ©Paliparan
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The Turkish Airlines check-in desks at Alexandria Borg El Arab Airport. ©Paliparan

Reflecting my itinerary

First, a few words about my Egypt itinerary: Although I was ultimately quite satisfied with it, I would probably have made some tweaks to further optimise it.

This mainly involves my stays in Aswan and Luxor.

Upon arriving in Aswan in the late morning, I immediately joined the organised programme of my Nile cruise, staying overnight on the cruise ship while it was anchored in Aswan, and setting sail the next afternoon after my visit to Abu Simbel.

Although I saw all the main sights in and around Aswan, I would have loved to stay another night on my own in Aswan.

During my stay in Aswan, I made a short visit to the Nubian Village on Elephantine Island during my free time, and I loved it so much that I would have loved an entire day to look around there, which would also allowed me to visit some other sights on the west bank of the Nile.

This would also have meant that I could stay one night at the Old Cataract Hotel, an Aswan landmark in its own right.

Although I stayed two nights in Luxor – one on my Nile cruise ship while it was anchored in the city, and another one on my own after checking out the next morning, having finished the last bits of sightseeing with my guide – I still felt it was too short.

This wasn’t really about seeing any of the Luxor sights, as I had already seen pretty much everything, but it was rather about how much I loved the tranquil surroundings of the hotel I was staying, the amazing Winter Palace.

After some hectic days in Cairo and the intensive itinerary of my Nile cruise, which involved early wake-up calls to avoid the crowds at the ancient Egyptian sights we toured, I found myself utterly exhausted upon arriving in Luxor.

A second day of doing nothing apart from lounging by the pool and enjoying the fabulous palm gardens would have been a welcome reprieve.

Many travellers choose to spend a few days in one of the Red Sea resorts after touring the ancient Egyptian sights along the Nile, which could also be a great idea.

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View from Elephantin Island over the Nile and the sand dunes around Aswan. ©Paliparan
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Narrow street in the Nubian village on Elephantine Island. ©Paliparan
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I would have loved to stay one day longer in Aswan. ©Paliparan

Amazing hotels

This leads me to one of the main impressions I gained from travelling across Egypt: The country does have some truly wonderful hotels.

As hotel prices – especially for budget and luxury accommodation, but less so for mid-range hotels – are a lot lower than you would find in Europe, so you can really get your money’s worth out of your stay.

Even if you normally don’t have the budget for a stay at a luxury hotel, it’s definitely possible to splurge for a four or five-star hotel in Egypt.

That was certainly the case for me, as I thoroughly enjoyed my stays at properties such as the Sofitel Nile El Gezirah in Cairo with its lovely pool and excellent service, the grandeur of the Winter Palace in Luxor, and the Art Nouveau vibes and sweeping views at the Metropole Hotel in Alexandria.

Whether you seek a hotel with historical character, a modern chain hotel, a quality guesthouse, or a beautiful resort, you are likely to find some great accommodation options in Egypt that will meet all your criteria.

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My hotel room balcony at the Winter Palace in Luxor overlooking the palm gardens. ©Paliparan
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Yours truly at the Winter Palace in Luxor. ©Paliparan
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The lovely pool at the Sofitel Nile El Gezirah. ©Paliparan

Nile cruise

Although a Nile cruise is somewhat of a must-do activity in Egypt, I was a bit sceptical beforehand since I had never been on a cruise and this way of travel didn’t really appeal to me.

I was therefore pleasantly surprised to find that I really enjoyed my river cruise – in fact, I wish I could have stayed on board for even one or two days longer!

What I don’t like about cruises – the aspect of mass tourism – isn’t really as much of an issue when you travel on board a smaller river boat.

Besides, having a private guide allowed me to explore the sights on my own terms, rather than being herded around in a large tour group.

I also really loved the leisure time on board, particularly the lovely views over the banks of the River Nile from the upper deck and from the comfort of my own cabin.

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Enjoying a G&T from the comfort of my cabin while watching the wonderful views over the River Nile. ©Paliparan
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The pool on the top deck of the M/S Princess Sarah, the Nile river cruise ship I travelled on. ©Paliparan
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The lush banks of the River Nile. ©Paliparan
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A traditional felucca sailing boat on the Nile in Aswan. ©Paliparan

A must in Egypt: Having a guide

Perhaps the biggest of all my takeaways about travel in Egypt is this: It’s an absolute must to have a guide!

I don’t mean to imply that you need to have a guide with you at all times while travelling around Egypt, as that wouldn’t be necessary, but it does really pay off to have one when exploring the ancient Egyptian temples and other archaeological sites across the country.

As someone who is used to travel independently, I was initially sceptical about getting a private guide as part of my Nile cruise itinerary, fearing it might be a costly and unnecessary splurge, but I was ultimately glad that I did.

The fact is that ancient Egyptian temples are highly complex structures, and there is a lot of symbolism behind almost every single detail you see.

Without some expert explanation by a qualified guide, you would simply not have the same visiting experience as you wouldn’t understand what you are actually seeing, what exactly is being depicted, and why something was built in a particular way.

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I was happy I had Mohammed Badawy, a professional Egyptologist, as my guide. ©Paliparan
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Without a guide at your side, you have no idea what you are actually seeing when you visit an Egyptian temple. ©Paliparan
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There is a lot of hidden symbolism behind the layout of an Egyptian temple, as well as all the imagery. ©Paliparan

Egypt: So much more than just pyramids and temples

When you hear the name Egypt, you most likely think about the pyramids and all the ancient temples, and for many travellers these historical sights constitute the main impressions they have of the country.

However, one of the main takeaways I have after my travels across Egypt is that the country offers so much more beyond its ancient history.

Take the city of Cairo for example, which for many tourists is all about the Giza Pyramids and the Egyptian Museum, while the Islamic old town of Cairo is just as fabulous to explore with its stunning mosques and bustling bazaars.

I also really liked the city of Alexandria with its lovely views over the Mediterranean Sea from the corniche and the faded grandeur of its early 20th-century architecture.

Even when you are only interested in exploring the ancient Egyptian sights it’s well-worth to explore beyond the obvious sights.

The Giza Pyramids might be Egypt’s best-known and most-visited sight, and it’s certainly amazing to see in person, but you will likely leave with the impression that it’s also overcrowded with tourists and full of tricksters and annoying touts.

There is none of that when you head to the lesser-visited sights in the area, such as the Pyramid of Djoser at Saqqara and the Dahshur Pyramids, which are equally fantastic and you might have all to yourself with a bit of luck!

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The Pyramids of Giza. ©Paliparan
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The Step Pyramid of Djoser towers high above the Saqqara Necropolis. ©Paliparan
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The iconic Bent Pyramid at Dahshur. ©Paliparan

Egyptian trains

Train travel in Egypt is a controversial topic, as many people – both fellow travellers and travel agencies alike – try to dissuade you from taking them, saying that trains are dirty, slow, and unreliable.

Although older Egyptian trains like the “Spanish” express I took on my Luxor-Cairo train trip can indeed be grubby, that’s not the case with the more modern trains you’ll find on the tracks.

Indeed, my Cairo to Alexandria train – a clean and highly comfortable VIP Express service – was a world apart from that experience.

The Egyptian Railways have also acquired brand new Talgo trains, which should further elevate comfort levels, bringing the country’s trains up to modern standards.

However, what’s most important is that you get a much better impression of everyday life in Egypt when you take the train, an experience you won’t get when you fly between cities.

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Modern Egyptian trains at Alexandria Misr station. ©Paliparan
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Taking the train gives you a much better impression of everyday Egyptian life. ©Paliparan
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An old, fully packed commuter train arrives at Cairo Ramses Station. ©Paliparan
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Riding along the Nile on board the Ernst Watania Sleeping Train from Cairo to Aswan. ©Paliparan
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Yours truly enjoying a cup of tea in the lounge wagon of an Egyptian sleeper train. ©Paliparan

Street hassle

When you read about people’s travel impressions of Egypt, you’re likely to hear a lot of stories about street hassle.

In fact, for some travellers the street hassle is enough to make them think their trip to Egypt was their worst ever, and even a reason to dissuade others from visiting.

Let me start by saying that yes, there is street hassle in Egypt, and it can definitely reach annoying levels.

However, the hassle is mainly concentrated around the most popular tourist sights in Cairo, such as the Giza Pyramids and the Khan el-Khalili souq, and outside these areas the situation is significantly better.

Moreover, street hassle can be easily dealt with in a couple of ways, and it doesn’t mean that Egypt is an unsafe destination.

As it’s an issue worth highlighting, do read my full article about street hassle in Egypt, which has a lot of tips how you can avoid this nuisance.

In places like Giza you are likely to experience some street hassle, although that shouldn’t be a reason to dissuade you from coming to Egypt. ©Paliparan

My flights back home

With lots of amazing new travel impressions, I flew back home with Turkish Airlines from Alexandria to Istanbul and finally on to Bucharest.

During the night flight from Alexandria to Istanbul, I simply slept the entire time, so there isn’t much to report from that particular flight.

Courtesy of my Star Alliance gold status, I could access the Turkish Airlines Miles&Smiles Lounge at Istanbul Airport, where I spent my layover working and enjoying some of the excellent food and wine on offer.

The flight back home from Istanbul to Bucharest was on a Turkish Airlines Airbus A330, which I have reviewed before in economy class, so there is not much to add to that.

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Boarding my Turkish Airlines plane at Alexandria Airport. ©Paliparan
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Fortunately, the plane for my red-eye flight to Istanbul was mostly empty. ©Paliparan
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Turkish Airlines Airbus A319 after landing at Istanbul Airport. ©Paliparan
Turkish Airlines Miles&Smiles Lounge
Turkish Airlines Miles&Smiles Lounge. ©Paliparan
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Enjoying some pide and a glass of wine in the Miles&Smiles Lounge. ©Paliparan
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Waiting for boarding to start for my flight back home. ©Paliparan
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The Turkish Airlines Airbus A330 which would fly me home from Istanbul to Bucharest. ©Paliparan
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Boarding the Turkish Airlines Airbus A330 bound for Bucharest. ©Paliparan
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Turkish Airlines Airbus A330. ©Paliparan

Conclusion

Travelling to Egypt will leave you with wonderful impressions, although it’s crucial to have the right expectations and to make adequate preparations before your trip.

The main takeaways from my Egypt trip will hopefully help you with planning your own trip to the land of the Pharaohs.

For travel impressions of all the main sights in Egypt, do check out the individual chapters of this trip report, as they will show you what it’s like to visit the country.

End of the trip report

The Turkish Airlines flights from Alexandria back to Bucharest marked the end of my grand tour of Egypt.

If you missed any of the previous chapters of this trip report, you can find the trip report index below.

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Trip report index

This article is part of the ‘Walk Like an Egyptian: A Grand Tour of Egypt‘ trip report, which consists of the following chapters:

1. Red-Eye Ramblings of a Late Night Flight to Cairo
2. A Visit to the Pyramids of Giza by Camel
3. Review: Sofitel Nile El Gezirah, Zamalek, Cairo
4. Exploring the Medieval Old Town and Islamic History of Cairo
5. Visiting the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities in Cairo
6. Mar Girgis: The Churches of Christian Old Cairo
7. Review: Ernst Watania Sleeping Train Cairo to Aswan
8. The Ancient Quarry of Aswan and the Unfinished Obelisk
9. A Boat Ride From Aswan to the Temple of Isis at Philae
10. A Visit to the Aswan High Dam and Lake Nasser
11. A Visit to the Nubian Village on Aswan’s Elephantine Island
12. Aswan Guide: A Visit to Egypt’s Most Stunningly Located City
13. A Half Day Trip From Aswan to Amazing Abu Simbel
14. Nile River Cruise Guide: All Info for Your Egypt Boat Trip
15. Review: M/S Princess Sarah Nile River Cruise Ship
16. Nile Cruise: Sailing From Aswan to Kom Ombo
17. A Visit to the Ancient Crocodile Temple of Kom Ombo
18. A Visit to the Temple of Horus at Edfu
19. Nile Cruise: Sailing From Edfu to Luxor
20. Luxor, Egypt: Visiting the Sights of Ancient Thebes
21. A Visit to Luxor’s Giant Temple Complex of Karnak
22. Visitor Guide to Wonderful Luxor Temple
23. Valley of the Kings: A Visit to Luxor’s Ancient Necropolis
24. The Temple of Hatshepsut: A Visit to a Unique Mortuary Temple
25. Review: Sofitel Winter Palace Hotel, Luxor, Egypt
26. Review: Daytime Train Luxor to Cairo, Egypt
27. Review: Steigenberger Hotel El Tahrir, Cairo
28. A Visit to the Pyramid of Djoser and the Saqqara Necropolis
29. A Visit to the Dahshur Pyramid Complex
30. Memphis: Exploring the Old Capital of Ancient Egypt
31. From Cairo to Alexandria by Train: My Travel Experience
32. Review: Paradise Inn Le Metropole Hotel, Alexandria, Egypt
33. Alexandria: A Visit to Egypt’s Historic Mediterranean Port City
34. Egypt: Impressions and Reflections After My Two Week Trip (current chapter)
35. Epilogue: Safety and How to Deal With Street Hassle in Egypt

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Koen

Koen works as a freelance journalist covering south-eastern Europe and is the founding father and editor-in-chief of Paliparan. As a contributor to some major Fleet Street newspapers and some lesser known publications in the Balkans, he travels thousands of miles each year for work as well as on his personal holidays. Whether it is horse riding in Kyrgyzstan’s Tian Shan mountains, exploring the backstreets of Bogotá, or sipping a glass of moschofilero in a Greek beachside taverna, Koen loves to immerse himself into the local culture, explore new places and eat and drink himself around the world.

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