I have referred many times to my post-graduation trip to Africa on this blog; it was a summer spent with my friend Lauren ‘galavanting’ from Egypt to Kenya and finally to Tanzania. We had lots of travel plans that we wanted to cram in, in a mere 10 weeks time. Before we left we were hoping to make it to other countries as well, but we quickly realized that we were being a bit foolish. The trip kicked off with two weeks in Egypt, a country I longed to visit after my courses in design & art history led me to a love for this mysterious and exotic country. Two years later, in 2010, I had an overnight layover in Cairo. As I went out in the evening in search of dinner, I passed the former hotel I stayed at and the fruit market I had visited on my first trip. It brought back such wonderful memories.
When I was planning this post-graduation trip, Lauren thought she would be able to go. As it came time to book flights and reservations, she didn’t think she had enough money, so I made final plans as a solo travel. This included doing a tour in Egypt so that I could cram everything in that I wanted to see in two weeks time and not have to stress about figuring it out alone. Much to my joy, I got a short email from Lauren from her graduation cruise that said she was able to go. I was able to get her on the same tour as me and even got her the last ticket on our flight to Kenya.
Even with a travel buddy, I am so glad we ended up doing a tour in Egypt. In just two weeks, we toured Cairo, Aswan, Luxor, Alexandria, Siwa (a desert oasis), and the Western Desert. We took an overnight felucca ride down the Nile, and got to see so many more things than we could have if we had done it ourselves. We camped under the stars in the desert and made great travel friends. We were very fortunate that everyone on our trip was awesome and we are Facebook friends now with nearly all of them. While being ‘Facebook friends’ may not hold much water these days, I would be willing to contact any one of them if I were going to visit their country and make a point to see them. All in all, the trip was amazing.
I would like to spend the next few posts revisiting my trip to Egypt. Unfortunately, I’ve probably forgotten a lot of the details, but I will never forget the fact that I was forced to buy an itsy bitsy teeny weeny Egyptian bikini. Yes, funny stories to come and photos of beautiful temples and cool sites as well.
Tour: If you’re looking to do a tour, many budget companies travel in Egypt. We did ours through Intrepid.
Accommodation: Obviously our accommodation was included in the tour except for an extra night that we stayed in Cairo before our next flight. We just asked around in town for a budget place to stay, but when I returned to Cairo in 2010, I booked a hostel through Hostelworld. My hostel was really rough around the edges and on the top floor of what appeared to be a partially abandoned building but it seems like there are much nicer hostels listed now for just as cheap (ie you can get a bed for less than $5/night).
Transportation: The first time I went to Egypt I took a taxi to my hotel. The second time I decided to brave it with public buses which you can read about here. While a bit confusing, it cost me just $0.40 as opposed to a $10 taxi ride. Plus, it was more adventurous and I liked that. So there is public transport into the city from the airport.
Money: ATMs in Cairo are common. Even in other small towns I usually accessed my money through HSBC Egypt Bank. I did exchange some money at these banks, but a.) someone tried to rip me off once and b.) I find that it’s almost always cheaper to withdrawal the money since I don’t pay an ATM fee from my bank. At several banks during the trip, tellers tried to give other travelers the wrong amount of money so always make sure you do the conversion yourself before handing over your money!!
Food: Street food in Cairo is cheap and good! One of my favorite dishes we had was kushari, which is made of rice, lentils, macaroni, chickpeas, tomato sauce and fried onions. I even tried to make the dish a few months ago but failed miserably. My other favorite street food, of course, is falafel. You can go into any of their sweet shops and buy super rich and syrupy desserts (like konafah) for less than $1. And of course fruits from the market are also very reasonable. Be prepared to eat a lot of tomatoes, cucumber, and cheese.