Deciding to visit Egypt was the easiest decision Leš and I brought so far. We had an enormous luck when it comes to organising the whole itinerary (I’ll get to that later) so I want to do the same for you with this blog post. Like most of the people, we wanted to do it all by ourselves but we’ve learned along the way that Egypt is just not one of those countries. It is really fascinating to me – a country with one of the oldest tourism cultures in the world and yet they are still not well prepared and organised to that matter.Our first step was to sit and just write down all the locations we wanted to see. Turns out it was the whole country haha! Way down south we wanted to explore Abu Simbel and on the west we wanted to visit Siwa. That pretty much dictated our whole trip because those are the two most remote locations in Egypt. Since we had only 10 days to fit everything in, we prepared ourselves for long rides and moving a looot.
Naturally, our first stop was Cairo. We bought return plane tickets from Belgrade with AirSerbia and moved on to booking online visas and the accommodation. I found the one place on Airbnb that looked clean and it had an amazing pyramids view! I sent them my usual ‘hi I’m Matea’ message and I got the reply that we could also speak in Croatian because they were our neighbours from Slovenia living in Egypt! Not only they are Slovenian, but Brigita (the owner) turned out to be an Egypt tour guide for past 30 years and her husband (Mohammed – an Egyptologist with doctorate degree) was the owner of their travel agency. We hit the motherlode! I exchanged numbers with Brigita and in the following days we frequently spoke on the phone trying to organise our day-to-day itinerary. All the things I thought will be possible were simply not possible because internet doesn’t give you the crucial information like some roads being closed due to Egypt’s extreme caution towards refugees or needing the government approval to visit Siwa. Brigita helped us with all of that and more. I know this is a lot of text right now but whoever really decides to visit Egypt will hopefully find this all very helpful.
Our room view from Desert Moon Cairo hotel.
First lesson we learned right at the airport – we needed the sim card from the first moment on. Even though we arrived around 2am there were million taxi drivers outside and the heavy bargaining started right there and then. Brigita’s son advised us to take Uber to their hotel but since we didn’t have the internet we needed to take the taxi and of course the price was double the Uber price. At that moment we only wanted to go to bed and even after lowering the price drastically it was still more expensive than what Uber would cost us. The important thing to remember is that the Egyptians don’t really care about your personal space and they are a little bit aggressive when they try to sell you something – just learn to say no if you don’t want what they’re offering and you will be just fine 🙂
As for the money, the cash is much more needed than cards so bring US dollars and exchange them into Egyptian pounds somewhere in Cairo. I have read on the internet you can buy everything with US dollars but is not the case. You only need EGP!
After few hours of much needed sleep we woke up to the amazing traditional breakfast they had for us. We decided to take it slow the first day and just explore downtown Cairo. We wanted to visit the Egyptian museum – the biggest one in the world and just save the energy for the rest of our trip.
The museum was absolutely breathtaking and the best part was definitely witnessing King Tut’s golden mask along with all the other precious artefacts found in his tomb. It isn’t allowed to take pictures but it was enough just standing there. I think we lost an hour in that room just staring at everything. I couldn’t help but wonder how could this possibly be done with such precision thousands of years ago… It is beyond real!
After the museum we roamed around a little, ate dinner at the nearby restaurant and went back to the hotel. Tomorrow was Giza day so we were excited like little kids to see the pyramids!
I was surprised to see that Giza is huge and really different than Cairo! It seemed more raw and undeveloped but at the same time more warm and welcoming. Firstly, Mohammed took us to see the statue of Ramzes II. We then visited the Djoser pyramid – what is believed to be the very first pyramid in the world. To come closer to the pyramid you need to pass the door of Memphis which itself are a work of art.
Just near this pyramid are numerous smaller ones, a bit less known but also important. The Giza plateau is so vast and unexplored that just as we were there, they were uncovering a whole new pyramid from the sand!! We got the luxury of entering one and to this day I think about that experience every so often. It was beyond my wildest dreams! Hopefully pictures do it justice.
Finally it was time to visit THE pyramids. Did you know I’m actually a huge alien theory follower haha? I’ll just leave this picture here.
We had an amazing time exploring the pyramids but I would like to be 100% honest and tell you about the whole experience. During those 10 beautiful days in Egypt I felt an extremely small portion of what is like to be a woman in a muslim country and it was more than enough to lose all the respect towards their men. I’ve been to muslim countries like Jordan, Oman, UAE, Bosnia… and it was never like this. I, as a woman, couldn’t ask questions and get an answer but when Leš asked same questions everyone answered. Nobody was looking at me while telling us about history – they were only looking at Leš making sure he hears them. When they asked us about the food they only asked Leš what would we both like to eat, as if I don’t even exist and what I want doesn’t matter because Leš will decide for me. I handled it well I guess, because I know I can’t change anyone’s world but mine, but my heart definitely goes to all the women, regardless the religion, who feel abused and mistreated, not only as females but as human beings above all.
This is only scratching the surface when it comes to the full experience but please remember – this was only our case and this doesn’t mean yours will be the same 🙂
Just as we thought we’re about to have a sunset walk alongside the pyramids, Mohammed told us we will be late for the dinner and we needed to go. We didn’t really question his words even though we didn’t have an exact dinner plan for the day. Leš wanted to propose to me in front of the pyramids but this guy wouldn’t leave us alone so Leš decided to wait for a better moment in the next few days. Hearing about that later made me feel helpless because this is the main reason Leš and I travel alone and not ever with travel agencies – we want to be in charge of our own time and itinerary. Egypt is a country where you need to suck it up because you can’t go around by yourself unfortunately. What happened after we left Giza was Mohammed taking us to his friend’s perfume shop and leaving us there. I remember Leš asking we – where are we now? and me not having a single clue. 45 minutes later we found ourselves trying to escape from a very personal perfume presentation not being able to find the right words for him to leave us alone. When we finally convinced him we are not interested in buying anything, Mohammed magically re-appeared and took us to the hotel. We missed the sunset we could have by the pyramids and more importantly I can’t even imagine how Leš must have felt having his whole proposal plan ruined.
I’m telling you this because you need to make sure you are familiar with everything you’ll be doing. Talk to your guide and make sure you’re getting what you came there for. Rather learn from our mistakes than yours 🙂
We came back to the hotel, ate the dinner and took our bags because we were immediately headed to Siwa. There’s a night bus everyday leaving Cairo around 19h and arriving to Siwa at 6am. You don’t just book the bus tickets like you would do anywhere else but we also needed the permission to visit along with guide arrangements so we left it all to Mohammed. He called his friend Ahmed in Siwa and told him to wait for us at the bus station and be our guide for the day. We paid around 100$ per person for the whole trip. While we were still in Croatia we booked our one night stay at Albabenshal Lodge Siwa. Big recommendation 🙂
Ahmed picked us up, drove us to our hotel for a breakfast after which we started exploring Siwa! We visited The mountain of the dead, salt lakes, the old city, the famous coffee shop near the hot springs where we had the best coffee of our lives! After the bittersweet experience in Cairo we were able to fully appreciate Ahmed’s tender guiding approach. He is just the most caring person ever and the best guide we’ve had!
Mango mint smoothie, best ever!
After the coffee Ahmed told us he’s taking us to Sahara desert for the sunset dune riding! You should have seen our faces, screaming like kids!! We didn’t even know that the desert is that close but Siwa basically is in the desert! Ah, it was just the best news ever! Leš and I are a huuuge fans of the desert landscape, we might even like it more than the mountains. Ahmed turned out to be the best dune driver in the world and I was constantly saying I’m having the best day of my life which I still think I was 🙂
In one moment Ahmed asked us whether we want to have tea and watch the sunset on the highest dune. We gladly accepted his offer so he went to the nearby oasis to pick up the wood sticks for the fire. While he was away we were taking pictures and the sun finally broke through the clouds! The scene was unforgettable.
After few minutes Ahmed came back, Leš gave him the camera and started running towards me so we could have a photo together while the sun was still above the dune. Little did I know he was going to propose to me. The funny part is, Leš himself didn’t know he was going to do that. He was running towards me and he said I never looked happier and the perfect moment he was waiting for was right then and there 🙂 He didn’t even have the ring with him because he wasn’t planning all of this but it didn’t matter at all. He went down on one knee and asked me to marry him on the top of the dune in the middle of Sahara desert. I wasn’t really sure if he’s serious and everything was happening sooo fast. Next thing I know we’re rolling down the dune hugging and laughing our hearts out. It really was the best day of my life 🙂
We came back where Ahmed was standing and he just gave us the camera asking if could let him know if the photos turned out nice. We realised he doesn’t have a clue what just happened because he must have been too focused on taking pictures that he wasn’t really looking at what we are doing. We started laughing but we never told him anything. It felt more natural to keep this moment to ourselves for a bit. I didn’t even tell my family and friends until the next day afternoon and it took me a week to post in on instagram haha 😀
While still giggling we started to prepare everything for the fire and our small picnic with Ahmed.
After the tea, we went down to the desert camp to have a famous bedouin dinner! It is a sun baked food buried in the sand, a well known technique amongst the people living in the desert. The sky was full of stars and we were just happy we are there to witness it.
After the dinner Ahmed drove us to the hotel. It was our only night in Siwa but so worth the visit. If you decide to go, take your time and stay here at least 3 days. When we came back to our room Leš gave me the ring after which I started crying. I don’t why, but the reality of it struck me right in that moment. The ring he gave me was the most special engagement ring I have ever seen and so very me! I’m not your usual diamond girl and would never wear anything of that kind. It’s cute he knows me so well 🙂
Early in the morning, around 5 am, Ahmed picked us up and drove us to the bus station because we were headed back to Cairo. He gave us the bag with 4 sandwiches he made and 2 orange juices. I started crying again haha, he was so good to us. I will forever be grateful to have met him!
After 10 hours in the bus we reached Cairo and went straight to the train station to catch a night train to Aswan. That’s an additional 13 hour ride but definitely worth the effort. It was comfy and we slept just fine. We didn’t buy sleepers seats but the regular ones. Everyone says it’s way more comfortable and spacious so we believed them! When we reached Aswan our new guide Mohammed (same name, different man – 80% of Egyptians are called Mohammed) picked us up and drove to the Nile cruise ship because we were about to spend three days cruising the famous river! All of that was also organised by Mohammed in Cairo; we only gave him the money for the trip; since he has connections all over Egypt we felt it’s better to leave him do it.
Our Nile guide Mohammed
Unfortunately, however grateful we felt to have it all organised for us, there were some setbacks right from the start. Since our time in Aswan was limited (only one afternoon) we had to choose between visiting the Nubian village or three Aswan’s landmarks we haven’t heard of. Before coming to Egypt we told Brigita and Mohammed that our big wish is to visit the Nubian village (we said that several times and spoke on the phone two times about arranging that) only to be told by our new guide that we’re visiting those 3 landmarks instead. At first we were confused and just said no but Mohammed told us there is nothing he can do. We called the other Mohammed in Cairo and he told us that we have to visit those 3 landmarks and maybe visit the village in the evening if we pay additional 50$ per person. The point is, we didn’t want to visit Aswan, just the village but he said we have to listen and just do what we’re told. That’s where all my patience reached the maximum and I just went crazy explaining he can’t treat us like that telling us what we can and cannot do. After somewhat half an hour of a heated discussion we managed to have it our way. Our new guide Mohammed helped us a lot while remaining calm, unlike us. My whole point is – you will probably get into similar situations because it’s just Egypt. Be prepared to react and try not to be tricked into something you don’t want to do because it happens a lot.
The Nile boat ride from Aswan to the Nubian village is about half an hour and it is beautiful. When we finally reached the village I could not stop taking pictures! First we visited one family’s house and had a cup of mint tea with them. Nubians love to meet tourists and let us feel welcomed 🙂
The Nubians were actually, throughout the history, in complex relationships with Egypt. After some time they finally found peace and a certain level of symbiosis in their lives. Don’t confuse them with Egyptians 🙂
f you go to the village, try their peanuts. They sell them everywhere! The best peanuts of my life 🙂 Also say no to camel rides, please. Even though these camels didn’t seem tortured like those in Petra, Jordan I would definitely avoid any possibility of being involved in animal abuse. We had an amazing time, a very very patient guide (I took hundreds of photos) and because we almost didn’t go we appreciated it even more.
Early in the morning around 4:30am we got into the car and went to the south of Egypt to visit Abu Simbel. Although we thought we will be amongst first ones to arrive we were so so wrong. While we were waiting for the crowds to scatter a bit, Mohammed told us about Abu Simbel being moved from its original location to where it is now.. If they haven’t done that, Abu Simbel would be completely underwater today. The story is a bit more complex and the photos from the construction site are very impressive so I suggest looking into that if you’re interested 🙂
Abu Simbel is the only temple in Egypt where the king’s wife is shown in the same size as he is. You can see it on the pictures above (the one with the small door). That’s why is this temple so historically important. When we entered inside there were so so many people in there and we couldn’t really grasp the whole magnificence of it but just imagining people thousands of years ago building all of this was enough.
After few hours spent in front of Abu Simbel, we needed to go back to the cruise ship because we were about to start our Nile journey.
The ship was actually a disaster but it didn’t matter because we used it as an opportunity to humour ourselves. Just to paint you a picture – restaurant staff were saying ‘bon apetit’ to us only after our meals, while taking the plates and cleaning the table. I once asked whether the cake has eggs in it because I’m allergic and then they brought me a handful of ice with so much self-confidence. The best part was hearing instrumental Titanic soundtrack during the dinner. I would not be making fun of this if they had been nice and helpful but on the contrary, they were very rude and didn’t care at all about their clients. One afternoon Leš and I were asleep and a cleaning guy entered our of room. We were screaming what are you doing here (it wasn’t cleaning time) and he was saying sorry but at the same time he wasn’t leaving? I can’t even recall all the other similar situations but believe me there were a lot of them.
Every few hours we would stop the cruise and go visit a nearby landmark/temple all the way up to Luxor. We’ve visited the Kom Ombo temple, Edfu temple, Karnak and Luxor temples, The valley of Kings and Queens and we even had the hot air balloon ride above Luxor. All in all, amazing three days! The price for the boat (3 nights with all meals), transport to the temples, entrance fees for all the temples during those 4 days and a guiding fee was 450$ per person.
Karnak temple – our favourite!
Queen Hatshepsut’s obelisk was supposed to be made from solid gold but she changed her mind in the last minute. Today, it is only one of the few obelisks left standing and there were hundreds of them. From all the kings and queens she’s my favourite one. When she took the crown she pretended to be a man and even now if you google her it says she was a pharaoh even though it’s only a male title. She was the most successful yet peaceful emperor and above all she gave the orders for constructing The valley of queens, temple of Hatshepsut – one of the most beautiful and elegant architectural sites in Egypt.
As I mentioned, we booked a hot air balloon ride in Luxor (125$ per person). They picked us up from the cruise ship around 5am and we were supposed to be inside the balloon around sunrise time but of course, things didn’t go as planned and everything was late. An hour later we finally managed to fly and it was amazing 🙂 I forgot about everything and just enjoyed the ride.
After the balloon ride, we said goodbye to Mohammed and went to our last stop in Egypt – Hurghada. We had two more days and we decided it would be the best to spend it on the seaside relaxing after all the driving and riding in all kinds of transportation. The highlight of our stay there was definitely the Red Sea boat trip on Christmas day. Spending our very first Xmas under the sea was more than special. The Red Sea is the clearest sea we’ve dived in! The corals are just out of this world and not to mention the fish! Leš even saw a huuuge eel. I’m glad no to have taken the part in that particular activity hahaha.
That’s about it folks! To finish this blog post I will break down crucial tips to remember which should definitely help you when in Egypt!
download Currency app and put EGP, EUR, USD and your local currency in it. It will show you the same amount of money listed in all those currencies at the same time. It helped me in three different situations and I saved a lot of money by exactly knowing the price. For example when I was buying the bus ticket from Siwa to Cairo I only had dollars (because I’ve read on the internet you can freely use USD if you don’t have EGP, which is not the case). The man told me that he can’t sell me the tickets because ‘no dollars’. I told him this is everything I got; either that or a card. He told me ‘alright but it’s 50$ per ticket’ (if I had EGP it would be around 7 dollars per ticket). I used the app to show him that the ticket is worth 7 dollars and that’s all he’s getting from me. I never ever before in my life thought I’ll be threatening anyone, let alone a grown Egyptian guy but yes, I did it and I saved 100$ because of that.
buy a sim card! We used the one from Orange with 16GB of data. The price is great and the internet was very fast, it will save you a lot of trouble.
use Uber instead of taxi wherever you can. It is so cheap and since the route is given by default they can’t drive you around and charge more!
don’t think about renting a car, it’s not a great idea. There are frequent checkpoints with military stoping you and checking you and the car so it’s better to have a local person driving you!
eat traditional local food! Egypt has amazing food, just try not to go the famous tourist restaurants because they are overpriced. The food from unknown tiny local places is the best! Falafel is a must, but my favourite Egyptian dish is Omali! It is something I could eat day and night, non stopping. I’ve put a recipe here for you so you don’t have to go all the way to Egypt to try it!
most importantly, find yourself a local guide! There are so many travel companies in Cairo which can help you with that. If you read everything I wrote, you know we’ve had a very unusual experience where we didn’t have to look for a guide (and you can recreate our steps) but it might be easier to book certain travel packages depending on what you want to see. You will be travelling in a group but in this case it might be even better!
All in all, we’ve had a wonderful time despite all the negative things that happened. It’s just part of travelling experience and we had a bit less luck than usual 🙂 I wrote all those things down to give an honest review and hopefully prevent similar things happening to you! There were so many great things as well but it would have been a really really long blog post if I wrote it all down. Egypt was always my number one bucket list destination and I would do it all over again no matter how bittersweet it all felt. We’ve been travelling for a really long time now and we consider ourselves experienced travellers which could be the reason for both reacting well in given situations and being freaked out by them at the same time. We love Egypt no matter what and we accept it as it is! After all, we were only the visitors 🙂
Sorry for the rant and I hope you enjoyed the pictures! 🙂
Stay adventurous and I wish you happy travels!