Visiting Egypt, we had plenty of priorities – culture, tombs, temples, and food. We wanted to get out of our routine, shake the dust off, and meet new people. Our highest priority was to learn to sail a felucca, which we ended up doing in every city we visited.

The biggest surprise to me, and what stands out every time I think of Egypt, is how welcoming the people were at every turn. Everyone was warm, engaging, and happy that we were visiting. This is in part an impact of the 2011 revolution, which decreased international travel to Egypt, so the money we were spending was important to local economies. But the hospitality was not superficial, and people always lit up to talk to us.

I practiced some basic Egyptian Arabic before we arrived, which got us far in terms of goodwill & friendliness, plus it made the local kids giggle. Egypt is a predominantly Muslim country, so I mostly kept my hair covered in public. Still, my braid of blonde was sometimes out, and local schoolkids would stop me constantly for selfies together – very cute! Sometimes just on the streets, or in front of museums, or deep inside of tombs. We were sometimes quite slowed down, as entire groups of people would literally line up for their selfie, practice their English, and move along.


In Cairo, we stayed in this spectacular, over-the-top 10th floor apartment on Al Manial, a.k.a Rhoda Island. The apartment was covered in gaudy Rococo-gold decorations (that were all actually plastic), with spectacular marble floors, but it still had electrical wiring hanging down the outside of the building – like every other building.

Al Manial was wonderful, I would stay there again in a heartbeat. Cairo is a loud city, and Al Manial is no exception. Turn signals are irrelevant, and have been replaced by horns. I don’t believe we had a moment without horns, and we definitely slept with the windows shut. The apartment was nearly centered on the island, just above the main square/roundabout, a major hub of activity. Just beneath our building was a pharmacy (with incredibly helpful and expert pharmacists), a shawarma place (53 EGP ~$2.50 for 2 sandwiches, great for breakfast and dinner), a coffee stand run by the nicest guys (20 EGP for 2 turkish coffees), a plethora of ATMs, and plenty of places to get water, snacks, etc.

Just walking in new places is my favorite travel activity – other than eating local food – and that is what we spent most of our time doing. We walked the whole of Al Manial, which was a great snapshot of Egyptian life outside of the tourism industry. We walked at night and during the day, for 4 hours or just to pass half an hour, aimlessly and with specific missions (trying to find a pump for big water bottles, like we used in Mexico, or to buy a new phone for Charles, or to visit the old nilometer). We planned a trip to Kebabgy to celebrate my aunt’s birthday, recommended by our VRBO host in Cairo, which Google has listed in Garden City. We ended up on a sketchy walk around a lot of jumpy armed guards, preventing us from walking down the streets we needed to go down. After lapping our destination without being able to get close, we grabbed a cab and told him “Kebabgy” – he brought us to the Sofitel, and we had a beautiful dinner. It turned out that we were circling the prime minister’s office, and the guards were not pleased.

Nearly every time we left the apartment, we would stop to get coffee or tea at the coffee stand, which was always open, and run by a couple of guys in their 20s. At first, we took our coffee and walked, but by the second day we were sitting with them as we drank and trying to chat. They were great, so friendly despite our immense language barrier, and we all took selfies together when we had to say goodbye on our last day in Cairo.

We of course visited Memphis, the pyramids at Giza, the Sphynx, etc. They were impressive, stunningly impressive, but so crowded. There are armed guards everywhere – with huge machine guns and smaller guns be casually brandished to encourage tourists to move through the path. We went with a guide and a driver, which was convenient, but I think we would have been much happier and more impacted by the experience had we gone alone, walked between and among the pyramids, and relied on our own reading for the information.

I found Saqqara much more interesting because of the hieroglyphic depictions of everyday life, as opposed to many others of grand battles, the afterlife, etc. We saw carvings with medical information, childbirth instructions, processes for bread and beer, farming, butchering and tending animals, and much more of life as it was. 


We took a sleeper train to Luxor, where we stayed in a huge house on the Nile’s West Bank, opposite the tourist side. The Luxor Riverbank House and associated activities were run by Khyry, who I cannot say enough good things about. He is gregarious, knowledgeable, and knows everyone, and is an excellent businessperson, manager, tour guide, and friend. Khyry is also a great planner, fitting things together so as to make the most disparate group plans come together. Sayid and Faraj were our housekeeper and our chef. 

We were incredibly lucky to have breakfast and dinner prepared for us at the house each day, all tailored to our tastes and preferences – a.k.a. lots of eggplant, okra, stews, and vegetable heavy. When we arrived at the house for the first time, our hosts handed us papaya-banana smoothies. Having been strictly warned against any fresh fruit by travel doctors, we hesitated for a moment, but succumbed immediately and proceeded to eat everything put in front of us for the rest of the trip. 

We visited temples and tombs galore, which most pictures do not do justice, but many of the smallest places we went were the most impactful. Every day in Luxor was packed, but we still managed to relax in the late afternoon as the sun set, either on our rooftop patio or on a felucca. 

Luxor Day 1

We spent our first day in Luxor relaxing after our train trip, with poor Uncle Mark recovering from a bug. When we arrived at the house, we had fruit smoothies, toured the 5 bedrooms, and chose our favorite. By the time we were unpacked, a full breakfast was ready for us up on the rooftop terrace, with yogurt, fruit salad with pomegranate, omelettes, that tremendous feta, flatbread, and coffee. It was so leisurely and luxurious, and immediately the slower pace of Luxor (combined with the 99% reduction in traffic noises) set in for deep relaxation. Khyry joined us at the house, and we talked about each of our priorities and things we were most excited about in Luxor, as well as our favorite foods and dietary preferences.

By the time afternoon rolled around, Khyry had his friend Hasan bring his boat over to take us for a sail, while Dawn and (recovered) Mark finalized the plans for the next few days. We walked down from the riverbank house to the water, and walked a thin plank to get onto the boat. Hasan was awesome, and his boat “Freedom” is very well maintained. He told us about the maintenance schedules, sail-making and trim, and taught us a bunch of sailing-related words. He gave Charles the helm, and gave suggestions and adjustments to catch better wind. We went upriver/downwind until sunset, then turned downriver/upwind and sailed back for dinner.

Luxor Day 2

Khyry was our guide for our first full day of touring the area. We started at the Nobles Valley, which is under-visited and a great starting place. It helps contextualize the royal burials, which are extremely grand and colorful. The nobles have more intimate burials, but still intricate and colorful, sometimes more colorful, because they have been less damaged by time and tourism.

The Temple of Hatshepsut was our next stop, as the sun was at its zenith and it felt like even the rocks could melt. It was extremely crowded, and it was hard to find a moment for reverie, but the structures were striking. It is absolutely worth the visit, although I would recommend going the moment it opens to beat the heat and the crowds.

We ended our afternoon at the Queen’s Valley, where we arrived right as the ticket office closed. The valley is open for a full hour after ticket sales stop, so we were nearly alone – it felt magical and almost eerie after the clamor of Hatshepsut. The monuments are spectacular, the scale and drama of them is absolutely unbeatable, but the tombs were compelling and felt eternal. Queen’s Valley had such an impact on me.

Our ticket got us in to 3 tombs of our choice, and we added Nefertari’s tomb – the ticket price for Nefertari is steep at ~$80USD per person, and you can only spend 10 minutes in there to aid its preservation and conservation. Because it was the end of the day, we got a few extra minutes, and it was overwhelming. The color and the details were staggering, and each new room and antechamber was filled with color and life from thousands of years ago. Of all the tombs we visited, it is the most dynamic, colorful, and memorable – well worth the visit if you can budget for it.

Luxor Day 3

Once again, we spent the day with Khyry, who seems to know everyone. After another invigorating breakfast, we got to the Valley of the Kings early. A few days before we arrived, there was a massive discovery of mummies and coffins, and Luxor was abuzz with energy. Excavation was active during our visit, so even though we could not see the discovery itself (not yet in the museum), the excitement was there. The King’s Valley tombs dwarfed the tombs in the Valley of the Queens, and were phenomenal. One of our favorite things was the representation of the celestial sky goddess Nut.

Afterwards, we went to Deir el-Medina, the ruins of the worker village for the workers who built and decorated the grand tombs – many of whom had their own individual tombs. Once again, I was shocked by how colorful these teensy burials were. Deir el-Medina is also the first place to have a recorded worker’s strike. Highly worth the visit, and extremely inexpensive. Of course, everywhere you go, people in the tombs expect a small tip (or “baksheesh”) for showing you a room or details you may have missed, or (too often) for inviting you to touch the walls. We were absolutely not willing to touch anything, or tip anybody who suggested it, but it was important to carry small Egyptian cash to tip otherwise. 

After this full day, we went back to the house for a late afternoon siesta, then took a long walk around the west bank. We planned to grab a felucca for sunset, but there was absolutely no wind, so we just talked with local boat owners. We ended up talking to Abdul, and his brother Abdullah (“Our father, his name is Abdul…”), who were working on their felucca’s sail. A felucca needs a new sail every 1-2 years. When the time comes, his friends and family come together to help him stitch it. Abdul and Abdullah were happy to show us their stitching, and let me help wind bobbins. We showed them pictures of our boat (I learned how to say “I live on a sailboat”), and hung out until it was time for our dinner.

Luxor Day 4

After another phenomenal breakfast, we started our day at the Ramesseum, the mortuary temple of Ramesses II. It is on the East Bank, in ancient Thebes, and is unbelievable in scale. The wall is enormous, and its carvings are in relatively good shape. The wall depicts the Battle of Kadesh, seemingly Ramesses’ favorite story, fought between Egypt and the Hittites. It ultimately resulted in a peace treaty, and the Kadesh Agreement is the earliest known peace treaty – and both sides’ versions of the treaty still exist! Seeing the battle writ large on the wall was incredible.

That afternoon, we separated from Mark and Dawn and popped to the east bank to take a walk around. We wanted to walk to Karnak, which we did, and try to get lunch on the way. Unfortunately, there was nothing open. The park by the riverside was full of picnicking families, but there were no grocery stores we could find. Other than walking around, we had nothing to do (which was unhelped by it being a Friday, so things were largely closed). We had an unpleasant experience with a carriage driver, who doubled his rate after the ride ended, and then got furious when we did not tip on top of the doubled rate.

We never found something to eat (the only shawarma place was filled with flies), so we ate a Clif bar each and found a felucca to take us sailing and back to the west bank. Another beautiful sail, back to the house for another fantastic dinner on the roof.

Luxor Day 5

This was a big, early, exciting day. We had breakfast at 5 a.m., to get on the road to Abydos and Dendera by 6 a.m. It is quite a long drive, and since you travel between different “governates,” you need to get government permission to travel ahead of time, then the car must stop for a military checkpoint. The car is checked, destinations and travelers are confirmed, and then the next military checkpoint is alerted that you will be arriving. This happens each time you cross a county line, and despite being closely monitored, the roads are not particularly safe or well-lit – so we had a hard deadline of being back in Luxor by 4 p.m. If we missed our exit deadline, before the 3 hour drive back, we would not have been allowed to leave until the next day.

We visited Dendera first, since most visitors go to Abydos first, and we had such a love of being alone with the monuments. It was so quiet and empty, and air was crisp. Dendera has plenty of big structures, but it also has tight and intricately carved tunnels, which were very cool to explore.

Abydos was wonderful as well, and the power went out right as we stepped inside, so none of the harsh lighting was on! Instead, everything was illuminated by the most spectacular beams of light.

We had lunch with a host family near Abydos, then began the long drive back – arriving just before the road would close! Another marvelous dinner, this time focused around aubergine, and the deep relaxation of nighttime after a big day.

Luxor Day 6

On our last full day in Luxor, it was finally time for Karnak. We took a boat over, the little motorboat called a “lunch” which we had tried to avoid altogether.

Karnak was absolutely packed, and boiling hot, but the hypostyle hall was by far the most spectacular one we visited. I felt – and was – dwarfed by each pillar.

We went to a beautiful local place for lunch with Khyry, where Charles and I ate pigeon – apparently a traditional honeymoon food and aphrodisiac. Review: quite bony, and the meat is not worth the effort it takes to eat it. Charles and I caught our final felucca in Luxor, while Mark and Dawn and Khyry drove home.

Luxor Day 7

We began the morning by visiting Edfu, which was wonderful and grand beyond belief. We said goodbye to Mark, and brought Dawn along to see the boat before we cast off. 

We drove through winding streets to a cul-de-sac, hopped out of the car, and two men came to grab our bags. We walked behind them, through a banana tree grove, until we reached the waterfront and saw our new home for the next 5 days. Beautiful, romantic, cozy, small, and very open, I felt relaxed just looking at it. So began our sailing trip to Aswan. 


Aswan is beauty by contrast – on the west side, a sharp, rising, golden sand dune mountain, with a razor-thin strip of greenery separating the desert from the Nile. The Nile itself, weaving between countless small islands, with botanical gardens, hotels, homes, and birds occupying any that are big enough to be occupied. On the east, the bustling town of Aswan. 90% of our time in Aswan was sailing, which we can strongly recommend, but really only spent a sunset to sunrise on land. We were fortunate to be there during Mawlid al-Nabi, the prophet Muhammad’s birthday, where people crowded the streets with a celebratory atmosphere. In the morning, we crowded into a tuk tuk with the four of us and all our bags to get to the train station, and took the long local train towards Cairo to start our journey home.