Full disclosure: I always thought I did not want to have anything to do with an ‘organised tour’ and have in the past, while acknowledging there is an obvious demand, been a little critical. But when my long term desire to visit Egypt showed no sign of abating, and yet the political instability in this country remained, I saw no option than to bite the bullet, swallow my pride and book at tour. I chose the ‘On the Go’ Jewel of the Nile ten day excursion. I am so very glad I did.
Two weeks before the tour was due to leave an attack in Alexandria ensured Egypt strengthened its State of Emergency and I questioned if the journey would happen. “Phil” my representative in London confirmed it was ‘business as usual’ and if the situation did change I would be the first to be informed. Still with considerable doubts I left in April 2017.
The tour has now ended and I am writing to fulfil a commitment I made to a lovely Egyptian man who I came to respect and admire. I do not know when I have enjoyed a holiday more and if there is to be one upsetting component about my experience it is that more western tourists do not ignore the alarmist rhetoric and travel to this wonderful country. I purposely decided not to visit a couple of additional excursions on offer to ensure I would return to see them. And return I will.
At no time during the ten day tour (nor the additional four days in Cairo) did I feel threatened or un-safe. The Cairo based tour representative met me at the Airport before I had even cleared customs or presented my passport. He held my hand every step of the way and booked me into the wonderful room overlooking the Giza pyramids. My first night in Cairo could not have been better.
I was blessed to have the most wonderful tour guide who not only shared his considerable knowledge and pride for his birthplace, interpretations of hieroglyphics, fourteen years guide experience and fluency in English but also shared insights on the political, social and economic fabric of the society. As we passed by deserted hotels and visited temples, museums, places of worship and the iconic pyramids which were receiving few visitors he explained how numbers had declined, from a peak of twelve million prior to 2010 to barely one million. Sadly almost five million Egyptians lost their livelihood as a result. Consequently the pestering from the multitude of street vendors, which we were warned of, was a challenge, albeit an understandable one.
Ironically this unfortunate state of affairs granted a fantastic opportunity to those of us who ignored the alarmist rhetoric and visited the sites whose infra structure was designed to accommodate so very many more. Unlike the Empire State Building, Louvre, Vatican or Tower of London where visitors need to book months in advance to secure access, Egypt is devoid of crowds. For us there was no need to wait for tour groups to move on before a photograph could be taken, no lining up to purchase a ticket, no waiting for the crowds to disperse. And all sites had a number of tourist police and without exception x-ray scanners for bags and purses.
If you are ‘sitting on the fence’ and have reservations about visiting Egypt my advice would be to banish these thoughts. Commit now. Although friends, relatives, acquaintances and colleagues will all question your decision and like me, you may feel apprehensive beforehand, these thoughts will disappear upon arrival. It is a wonderful warm country with a history and culture which needs to be seen, appreciated and marveled at. It is a civilization which needs tourism. Go.
(On the Go Tours did not solicit this article nor provide any incentive. It was written to fulfil a promise I made to her Egyptian tour representative – Ahmed Helal – to do what I could to encourage others to visit his country).