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My experience from not paying for tours and guides. Information I gathered along the way to save time and money while do the trip the way I wanted - to do what the locals do and go off the beaten track. This is only for people who enjoy lots of walking! This is a post-trip update for my other list: How to Book a Cheap 5 Star Egypt and Jordan Trip. (Note: this trip was in 2008)
Stayed at Le Meridian at Giza instead of Cairo. Found it not necessary to stay at Giza since you only need to go to the Pyramids once, and you can take a metered yellow taxi for 30-40 EGP from Cairo to the pyramids.
Inside the Pyramids compound, it was easy to walk between all three pyramids and Sphinx.
I paid an extra 150 EGP to go inside the Great Pyramids. There was an empty room (obviously) but it was cool to be in there. Climbing up might be difficult for some. Narrow, low ceiling, steep ascend. You'll be walking with bent back and both knees at the same time (some older people were struggling), but it was worth it. You're inside THE PYRAMID!
Don't pay to go in the Boat House (even the tour guide said not to). Skip the Light and Sound show. It's like a show from the 70's.
Had read many reviews and articles warning about the camel rides, we decided not to do it before arriving. Luckily we didn't resist too strongly and ended up with some amazing photos on camels and three pyramids in the background, but not without some upsets.
The vendors led the camels out farther into the desert, where we took some great photos with all three pyramids in the background. At that point, I was thinking it should be fine, that it couldn't be more than $10 USD. After our 15 minute ride, the vendors aggressively asked for $45 USD each. But of course we weren't going to submit to that. Other reviews pointed out that there is a sign on site indicating the official price is $2-$3 each. We handed them $10 USD for two camels and left. Be thick-skinned. You don't have to give in. I handed them the money, thanked them and walked away. They just moved on to the next tourists.
Next day... Cairo.
Pretty court yard, pretty decor. Small, quiet and no tourists around. There was a prayer session going on and we weren't allowed to go in the room but could see in from the door. The chanting echos through the courtyard, it was quite nice. Worth going.
There are other sites near by at this Coptic Cairo area if you're interested: Church of St George, Babylon fortress, Abu Serga, Ben Ezra Synagogu, Coptic Museum.
There is a metro station a block away from the Hanging Church. Take it to get to the Egyptian Museum.
Spent 3-4 hours in there.
We didn't get a guide but there were soooo many guided tours going on, so we just stopped at wherever they stop to and listened. We found all the highlights of the museum by seeing where the guides were.
110 EGP to see the special Mummies exhibit and was sort of worth it for me since I've never seen a mummy in person. There were about 20 famous mummies.
That was the end of the day for part 1 at the city of Cairo... Next day: The Citadel.
Ali Mosque was nice but not as nice as ones I visited in Turkey. Head scarf wasn't necessary for tourists but I brought one with me anyway and used it out of respect.
Make your way to Mosque of Suleiman Pasha inside the compound. It was remote, quiet, nobody goes there so felt special and real.
Nice view over Cairo from the edge of the wall.
Then we left and proceed by walking to Mosque of Sultan Hassan.
The compound consisted of 2 mosques. After reading, we picked to pay to go in Mosque of Sultan Hassan instead of Mosque of ar-Rifai. I wish I brought my student ID (even though I haven't been in school for 10 years). Also count the money when they give back the change. I read that they tend to short change you and it happened to us a couple of times.
Walking through dimly lit corridor and came to a big bright court yard was interesting.
Continue walking to Islamic Cairo. Navigating the streets could be confusing but we were highly rewarded by getting lost and seeing the everyday lives of the locals. People don't bother you at all like in tourist sites.
Most interesting area in Cairo.
Busy, crowded, confusing, old buildings, lots to see! Don't miss the bazzar of Khan al-Khalili.
We got lost trying to get from the Mosque to this market place and it was fantastic! We got to see the local people going about their daily business and nobody bothers you like in tourist areas. People sat around, chatting, drinking tea. Some greeted us and offered us tea! I truly trusted that they had no ulterior motive and was nice to feel that way.
End of the day for part 2 at the city of Cairo. Flying to Amman the next day.
I believe there are 2 golf courses near by.
One is right next to the pyramid entrance. According to the New York Times:
"Greens fees for hotel guests are 50 Egyptian pounds for 9 holes and 75 pounds for 18 holes, about $9.50 and $13 at 5.8 Egyptian pounds to the dollar. Others pay double. Club rentals are 55 pounds, and caddies are 50 pounds for 18 holes."
The other one is by the Dreamland Amusement Park (next to Hilton and Sheraton) - Golf Tennis Resort is part of Dreamland. This one is a 18 hole course. Power Carts $25. Rental Clubs $20. Green Fees $60 I was at the driving range and did not see the pyramids (even though their website misleadingly shows a man golfing behind the pyramids - with a camel too). It is not close to the pyramids, about a 10 minute drive away.
This country seemed organized. New cars, clear roads. All the signs were in English so we rented a car to drive to Petra ourselves.
Arrived at the airport and being picked up by car rental guy to take us to their office in Amman. Filled out the paper work and start driving to Petra via King's Highway.
Our drive on King's Highway was miserable. Mainly because we started in the afternoon and it sucked when it got dark. We drove pass Madaba, drove along the nice scenic rocky sandy valleys, then to the castle at Karak.
At Karak, we should have cut across to the main highway because it started to get dark. King's Highway soon became pitch black. From point A to point B should have been quick but you are driving up the mountains and down the valleys, and the road winds. Some roads were closed and we missed the detour because it was hard to see the roads, etc.
It was tiring that you could see the light not far and directly ahead but it could take an hour to finally reach it. Once you arrive, you have to go through that again town after town. As the night got deeper, the more frustrated you got and the only choice was to keep going.
We were desperate to get to Petra.
Petra was huge. It took us 2 full days to scout out the area (see map, click the link above):
The Sig #1
The Treasury #5
Monumental Gates #16
The Monastary #21 - If you must, rent a donkey going up, not down. As going down is the easy part but we?ve seen people go downhill on donkeys. Took us over an hour to get up there but it was worth it.
The Urn Tomb and everything nearby #9
Petra by Night - It was romantic, mysterious and different. Walking under the starry night at Petra? I had to do it. Only available 3 days a week so plan ahead. 12 JOD per person. You can buy the ticket when you get there. They take as many people as they can so don?t worry about being sold out.
View of Treasury from the top - start the climb pass and behind the Palace Tomb (#12). There is a set of well carved out steps. Just keep going up and walk pass where the steps end at a flat giant rock surface with a small cave. Don?t stop, you?re almost there (the 2 people came with us turned around and left). Walk down the grassy/rocky path towards the cliff to your right. Once you hit the cliff, turn left and walk along the cliff. Look down and there is the Treasury. Keep walking all the way to the end and there will be a giant protruding rock right in front of the Treasury. Great place to enjoy your packed lunch and take amazing photos!
The Byzantine Church #14
High Place Of Sacrifice - We went the back way. From #24, #26, #27, #28 and start the climb. The first set of steps were narrow and steep without any rail, so be very careful. It also took forever to get up there and we took the other route down, closer to #6 which is near the entrance of Petra, made it easy to go back to the hotel.
We stayed at Movenpick Petra Resort. It's situated right in front of Petra entrance (see my other post "How to Book a Cheap 5 Star Egypt and Jordan Trip" about how to book it for $150 a night instead of $230 a night). During the daily buffet breakfasts, we stole boiled eggs, pastry and fruits as our pack lunch (hehe). I enjoyed the stay there, but the Crown Plaza next door had self-serviced laundry for guests! I found out on the last day, wonder if I could have used their laundry service because it must be cheaper than using hotel's service. Petra is very dusty and your clothes get inevitably sweaty and dirty.
Driving back to Amman but not wanting to get stuck like we did on King's Highway, we took the main highway and cut across to Madaba when we got close to Amman. It was a good choice.
I would strongly recommend not going to Panorama Complex (a tourist trap supposed to give you a view of the dead sea). First, the guy at the gate asked for entrance fee even though we didn't see any sign, and he didn't give us a ticket. We later asked a worker inside, he said the price was right but he looked concerned when we told him we didn't get a ticket. The gate keeper probably pocketed the money. The place was deserted. If you want the view, just drive a few hundred meters south and you can get a free view.
We were planning to use the facility at the Mariott. It was $60-$70 USD per person to use the beach and shower. We left and went to Dead Sea Spa Hotel's Medical Center next door.
It wasn't a "spa" where you get pampered and enjoy the spa atmosphere. No entrance fee to complex, just walk in the hotel and go directly to the Medical Center building (the hotel employees will direct you there). The place looks like a clinic, not pretty. We had a Dead Sea mud wrap, $45 USD. It hurt so much. I found cuts that I didn't know I had. We laid there hurting for 20 minutes and I still don't know what good it had done for my skin.
We didn't have to pay to use the beach after the service. Nobody was around so we keep our towels from the Medical Center and went to the beach. Swimming in the Dead Sea was so much fun. A few locals by the beach were selling mud to put on tourists for $1. I had the most interesting "swim" and my neck was encrusted with coarse salt by just being in the sea. We rinsed off at the outdoor shower hose, then on the same path back to the Medical Center, we found an unmarked and unlocked room, which turned out to be a hotel's outside rest room, to change our clothes.
Staying over night at Amman and flying back to Cairo. Without leaving the Cairo airport, walk to the other terminal for the connecting flight to Luxor.
Glad I wasn't on a Nile Cruise ship. Well, almost...
Luxor the town has been taken over by cruise ships, everyone eats and hangs out on the ship so now there are not many businesses in town. We had a hard time finding food. Ate at McDonalds and KFC, sad but beats paying more at restaurant with mediocre quality.
We stayed for 4 days but I felt like we only needed 2: one day at Valley of the Kings/Queens across the Nile, one day at Karnak and Luxor Temple on the same side as the hotels.
Bring lots of water!
Took the public ferry $2 USD to the other side of the Nile. Offered 20 EGP to a group of taxi drivers and one agreed with the price and drove us to the entrance of Valley of the Kings.
Bought tram ticket 4 EGP, but should've bought one way. Since you're limited to visit 3 tombs (80 EGP), we found the best 3 on internet prior to arriving:
KV 2 - Rameses IV
KV 14 - Tausert & Sepnakht
KV 34 -Thutmese III.
Even a guide we met at the valley said we picked correctly.
Although KV 57 - Horemheb, KV 11 - Ramses III and KV 35 - Amenhotep II were also recommended but they were closed. Click on the URL above for the picture of the map.
Climbed over the hill (although the signs says No Climbing, but locals were on it and the guide we met told us where to start climbing so it seemed ok - go up between KV 15 and 16, see my map) to Hatshepsut. Paid 30 EGP to get in.
Since the Tomb of Queen Nefertari was closed, so we decided to skipped Valley of the Queens and walked to the Ramesseum. But the ticket office was not onsite, so we took a couple of pictures from the entrance and left.
Negotiated 10 EGP for 2 people to be driven back to the ferry.
Karnak was a little further but we easily walked there. Just walk along with Nile, pass all the cruise ships, then cross the street at the end of the river-side path and continue to walk for 5-10 more minutes.
It was a really cool temple with huge columns. We spent all day there. After being there, we now are able to recognize this place in various movies.
It's in the middle of the town. You can see the whole thing from the outside or you can pay to get in.
I would suggest going at night when there is nothing to do. The museum is small and has a couple of mummies. I paid 110 EGP at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo just to see the mummies. These were as good.
At Luxor, on the way to travel agency to book a car, a guy on the street with a car found us and agreed to drive us down to Aswan for 300 EGP. The guy had a car with Tour license plate so we thought it would be ok.
We told the driver to stop at Edfu and Kom Ombo on the way down. Both are worth visiting. There was a third place but we decided to skip it.
The trip down to Aswan took 4-5 hours while it takes 2-4 days (some 7 days) on a Nile Cruise where you dance and party on the ship. I read that if you don't pay for a luxury boat which can cost $400 a night, you might get screwed (change schedule without notifying you, unprofessional services, etc). They stop at Edfu and Kom Ombo also.
After checking in our hotel, we went out to find *cheap* hotels/hostal to book a trip to Abu Simbel for tomorrow. Because nice hotels only want to offer you expensive private car for 600 EGP. I thought it was unnecessary because we didn't need a customized itinerary for this trip.
Found Philae Hotel who offered 100 EGP each on a mini bus to Abu Simbel, High Dam, and Temple of Philae. I read you can get it for 85 EGP.
Aswan the town wasn't big or very interesting. There was this one market street, selling dry food and souvenirs, and worth taking some pictures.
The only way there was by going with a convoy with armed guards. There is only one convoy a day.
It started moving at 7:45am. Slept on the bus all the way there (4 hours), but I think our driver stopped the bus for some reason and we got left behind. No big deal, I heard that convoy isn't necessary anymore these days.
The site was impressive, even knowing that they were moved from somewhere else. It was worth going to Aswan for.
You can't take pictures inside but you can try taking a few from standing outside of the entrance. A bunch of people, including us, did that.
20 EGP. Most people on the tour bus, including us, got off the bus and did not go see it. Waited for the people to come back and continue to Temple of Philae.
Not impressive, but the boat ride to it was interesting.
Flying back from Aswan to Cairo the next day.
Western Desert Hotel offered 300 EUR for 2 people for 3 day 2 night. Cheapest I found after comparing 15-20 tours. Refer to my other post "How to Book a Cheap 5 Star Egypt and Jordan Trip" to see pros and cons of the tours I compared.
Honestly, I couldn't get a feeling whether going with Western Desert Safari was good or not.
The problem was, we didn't get a guide, we got a driver that didn't speak much English, but he was nice. We were just driving and I *THINK* I saw desert roses and mushrooms. Whatever we passed, he didn't say anything. Well, I stopped asking on the very first day when he couldn't answer my questions. But I looked up the facts after the trip.
Our car was beat up, from the 80's, no AC, with cassette player and seats you can feel the springs. Some cars we've seen in the desert were pretty new but most were old. Most group in the desert were big, with 2-5 cars. Our car stopped working at least 3 times a day, but quick to restart. We even stopped to help fix someone else's car for over an hour. Because there wasn't a "itinerary", he just did whatever.
I felt that this tour was not very organized. We arrived and they thought we were leaving the next day, caused us to wait for over 2 hours while they scrambled to get the car and supply ready. I still don't know whether I missed seeing anything important, or whether it was enough to just drive around and see the landscape. If it's a matter of just being in the desert and enjoy it, then I think paying the cheapest was worth it.
First night was freezing and crazily windy, so be prepared! Don't leave anything outside (shoes) or it'll get burried in sand. Second night was nice, no wind at the location (white desert) but still cold. I was there in December, but it was warm during the day, 60-70 degrees.
The cheapest water we paid for a large bottle of water was 2 EGP. Most people are willing to sell it for 3 EGP without negociation.
Don't ask once you know how much you can get it. Just tell them how much you are willing to pay. Otherwise it'll just take forever to negociate.
On tourist sites, such as at Valley of the Kings, they will ask for 10 EGP for the same size and brand. It worked for me whenever I just waved 3 EGP around and say that's all I have. They would either take it or you just move on to the next vendor.
The vendors are relentless. They can easily bother you for 10 minutes, follow you around. I always just smile, say "No Thanks", keep on walking and not engage them (I also tried being mean but it didn't matter, so just stick with the more polite method). Be persistent. I can say that we get bothered by at least 10 different people a day. Be aware of your reflex of automatically accepting things they hand you (surprisingly I get to see they succeed with this maneuver every day at touristy areas). Tourists would either end up buying it or waste a lot of time trying to give it back.
One thing I found out is that you should avoid replying that you are from the US or UK when they ask. One old man told me directly: "you, American have money. Give one dollar, no problem, little money to you.". We finally just made up some country and the response changed to "X-Country, good place, my friend" with thumbs up and walked away.
Also there seemed to be a little stunt going on. When you're walking about Central Cairo, there would be guys coming up to you and offer to help you out. He will say that he's a doctor and not to worry. Funny that we had been approached by 3 different "doctors" in one day wanting to direct us somewhere. The first doctor who "worked at the university over there" as he told us while we were looking at the map and he was walking somewhere. He gave us direction and seemed ready to move on. But for some reason he decided to walk us there, opposite direction of where he was heading. By that time we had already re-oriented ourselves and knew the direction. We "happened" to walk by his shop along the way and he asked us to go in. Being unprepared, we went in out of politeness. He told us to sit, offered tea and started showing his perfume and papyrus. He was polite but it was awkward, so after 2 minutes we got up, thanked him and got out of there. The other doctors didn't have much luck with us after this experience.
Happy Land Hotel - Cheapest Laundry In Town - see picture, click link above.
If you're interested in knowing where and how I booked air, hotels, car rentals and tours, please check out this link above to my other post. I did A LOT of research and hopefully they'll be useful to you. Feel free to message me, I am happy to help!
Also numerous TripAdvisor users had asked for my day-to-day itinerary to Egypt and Jordan, so here it is: