By Allyson C., Executive Assistant
Our Egypt and the Nile itinerary boasts all the Ancient Egyptian must-sees like the Pyramids, the Great Sphinx, the Temple of Karnak, the Valley of the Kings, and of course, the Egyptian Museum. Yet beyond the impressively designed and decorated temples and tombs, legendary pharaohs, and fascinating monuments, today’s Egypt is full of new experiences for the traveler.
Tempt your tastes buds and dazzle them with local cuisine. The Khan el Khalili bazaar is home to the best street vendors of falafel you’ll find. The fried balls of ground fava beans and chickpeas mixed with spices, stuffed inside a pita and topped with tahini sauce will not disappoint. Koshary stands are packed into the late evening in Cairo, serving up the national dish made of rice, brown lentils, chickpeas, and macaroni. In Luxor, take the tip of the tour manager and try a camel burger, sold under the name of kofta at McDonald’s. Craving something more exotic? Try the local delicacy of rice-stuffed pigeon. I know what you are thinking…the birds are raised like chickens.
Part of the appreciation and understanding of the culture comes from spending time with the locals. Egyptians are friendly people and have a wonderful custom of hospitality. At the traditional Bedouin home we stop at near Giza, try the mint tea which is super hot and seeped to perfection. The shisha, or hooka, is passed around and the experience with the Bedouins becomes the most relaxing time of the day. The optional excursion to the village near Luxor provides another opportunity for Egyptian hospitality of hot mint tea and homemade sun bread, as well as an insider’s look at the daily life of villagers. The visits to the mosques in Cairo provide insight to the Muslim faith and foster understanding, which is crucial in today’s global community. Not everyone you meet will be trying to sell you something, so be open to those who approach you in search of a conversation. My group was approached by a group of female students at the Aswan Botanical Gardens who just wanted to practice their English, and our interaction with the students became the highlight of our visit to the gardens. Other cultural exchanges can be had a street corner cafes while drinking tea or coffee, smoking the shisha, and playing a round of backgammon or two.
My experience in Egypt would have been less memorable without all my new habibi, or dear friends, especially the tour managers Sherif and Khalid. Both have a prefect blend of education and local expertise that make their knowledge priceless. Their pride and hospitality shine through and they truly care that each of their passengers has the best time possible while traveling through Egypt. Try to stump them on a piece of artwork at a temple or the pricing of a souvenir from the bazaar and you’ll quickly learn that it’s impossible. Thanks to Sherif, I did find that special souvenir that seemed like searching for a needle in a haystack. Thank you for going the extra mile.
Although interested in ancient history, I never considered myself to be an Egyptophile. In fact, my mom was a bit in disbelief that my first Contiki would be to Egypt since my first Egyptian museum experience as a kid was a bust. After traveling through Egypt over the holidays, I have a new found appreciation and understanding of the intriguing Egyptians, both ancient and modern. Now, I read about every new archeological discovery in the country and try to use it as an excuse of why I have to go back. Lastly, my suggestion to anyone considering traveling to Egypt, do it sooner than later. The Supreme Council of Antiquities can close any of the famous sites in order to preserve it. As tourist numbers increase, the likelihood that one or more of these renowned sites will close becomes inevitable.