Optimal Travel To Egypt
by Jimmy Dunn
I frequently go to Egypt to work, take pictures, visit with officials and tour companies and simply familiarize myself with various areas. But I also take tours, as I want to know what others will be experiencing when they go to Egypt, and it is one of the better ways to gain familiarity with different parts of Egypt. I have thus gained some amount of knowledge on this topic, as well as hearing back from thousands of readers who have made the journey.
Inevitably, every day I will receive requests from people who are looking for tours on two exact opposite sides of a scale. There are those who wish to tour Egypt without being in a group of any kind. That is, they want their own car, guide and a custom itinerary, which is certainly the most expensive way to tour Egypt. Or, they want a budget trip, basically as cheap as possible.
For those tourists who have very limited funds to spend, it is obvious that they must use a budget tour. But there are realities involved and those realities are hard to bypass. One sees budget tours all the time traveling about Egypt, and they are not hard to spot. One notices them perhaps most in the Tombs of Luxor, where 40 or 50 people, sometimes more are crowed around a single tour guide, and then you see them once again jamming themselves aboard a large, packed tour bus. But those are the realities of a budget tour, and for many who cannot afford other arrangements, it is better than never seeing this great civilization.
Most budget tours are European and there is a good reason for this. Airfare from various parts of Europe can be very reasonable, particularly in countries that offer charter flights to Egypt. Therefore, the airfare is not so large a "chunk" of the cost of the overall tour, and the idea of spreading the cost of the tour guides, tour managers and transportation over a large number of people becomes a viable means to minimize the coast of the tour. Therefore, one sees some week long tours from Europe, inclusive of air and accommodations for as little as $500.00 USD. But a budget tour such as this becomes less reasonable form other parts of the world, were the airfare along will often be one and a half times this amount all by itself. Then, the savings from spreading ground costs out over a large number of people to save a few more dollars makes less sense really.
Actually, there are budget tours that can be fairly comfortable, while others will not be. Probably the worse aspect of a large, budget tour is transportation on a crowded bus. Therefore, budget tours that are at least somewhat localized are far better than those that require extended transportation, such as in the Sinai or where ground transportation is used to visit locales such as Abu Simbel. Additionally, while it may seem that one might become "lost in a crowed" in such a large tour, in reality, individuals usually end up making small groups of friends that they get to know fairly well during the tour.
Custom tours with no tour group at all is the other end of the spectrum, but to be done well, can be very expensive. These travelers frequently want highly customized itineraries, and frequently tour companies no matter how good are not set up to easily provide this. For example, most tour guides are not trained as tour managers as well. Tour guides often have formal schooling as Egyptologists, and know the monuments well. But they are less likely to be able to handle the many administrative aspects of a tour, such as dealing with hotels, arranging meals and catering to the needs of the travelers. So most tour companies employ the tour guide to basically provide lectures on the monuments and other aspects of the tour, and have separate people who administer the tour.
Further, even if the tourist seeking to travel in this manager has carefully worked out his or her itinerary, the tour company must still do considerable planning before the tour ever beings, custom arranging hotels, meals and sometimes making custom arrangements to visit specific places if required. And even transport can be a problem, as the smallest vehicles ground operators use are most often vans meant to carry more than a couple of people. And in the end, tour operators make little money off such a tour, so the attention one receives may not be what one expects.
Finally, for an individual or even a couple, this can be a fairly lonely way to travel in a foreign land. After several weeks, one may feel considerably isolated.
Probably the most optimal tours to Egypt are small, regularly scheduled group tours of 10 to 20 people. The planning for these "packages" can be spread out over a number of tours, and the costs of the guides and tour managers can be divided up between a reasonable number of people. The best tour companies will use larger busses for these types of tours then required, allowing extra seating for "spreading out". Most tourists will accumulate various souvenirs, pamphlets and other material, and having a a few empty seats for this stuff, or simply being able to stretch out on a longer bus ride can be a true blessing. In addition, in a small groups such as this, everyone is likely to get to know the other tourists, and some will in fact make lifelong friends.
A small, intimate group at the Cafe Riche
But there is a final option that is probably the very best way to tour Egypt, and we are seeing this trend more and more. Most, or at least many people plan their vacation to Egypt well in advance. And this is an excellent time to talk a few close friends or family members into making the journey with you, thereby creating your own small group. By gathering a small group of 10 to 20 friends and relatives, a custom itinerary becomes much more viable. Certainly there must be custom planning on the part of the tour operator, but guides, tour managers and transportation and even hotel arrangements can become a lot more reasonable. And, of course, what could be better than a close group of people sharing such a trip, not only while in Egypt, but after their return home. While certainly not the cheapest way to visit Egypt, in this author's opinion, it is without a doubt the best method.
Last Updated: June 12th, 2011