Egypt and Jordan have so many amazing, world-class monuments and historical sites that it's almost surreal to realize you're actually in the middle of the Great Pyramid, or standing in the Temple of Karnak, or hiking through Petra. We saw and did so much, and will cherish these memories, as it really was one of the most incredible trips we've ever taken. The travel company's founder is a pleasure to work with, and each piece of the itinerary, including airline tickets, hotel bookings, and transportation, fell smoothly into place - we were never stranded or forced to wait anywhere.
On the ground in Egypt, the experience was a bit grittier. Our airport expediter in Cairo was brusque, unprofessional, and ill-informed. Upon arrival, we told him that we needed to change dollars into Egyptian pounds. He told us the airport currency exchange desk was closed (which it was not), and that there was no point in getting pounds, since we wouldn't be able to sell them back - instead, we should just conduct all transactions in dollars. The problem there of course, is that U.S.$20 is an excessive tip for a bathroom attendant, we didn't come with hundreds of dollars in singles and fives, and none of us wanted to walk away without tipping at all. Nevertheless, he hustled us out of the airport, brushing off our concerns/requests. As a result, my husband spent approximately 90 minutes the next day waiting in line at a bank near our hotel so he could exchange currencies. Far worse was our experience leaving Cairo for Amman. We had about U.S.$800 in Egyptian pounds that we wanted to change back into dollars (or possibly Jordanian dinar). We told the same expediter we needed to exchange currencies at airport; he once again brushed us off, hurried us through security, then tried to leave us at customs. When I insisted we stop to exchange currency, he told us there was no bank in the airport - which I pointed out couldn't possibly be true, since we'd just passed multiple bank signs on the lower level. He said to go ahead and try then, and promptly bid us adieu. My husband spent several frustrating minutes trying to exchange currency at ATMs that would only distribute Egyptian pounds, only to learn at the Information Desk that the currency exchange that would exchange dollars for pounds was located before security, to which we could not return, having already been rushed through security. To say we were displeased at this point is a gross understatement. (We have since learned that this individual is no longer employed by the travel company, and do appreciate the company's responsiveness to our concerns.)
Our tour guide in Egypt was very engaging and reasonably knowledgeable. He was where he said he would be each day, and got along particularly well with the kids and grandparents. He was always ready with tissues and reminders to bring small bills into the restrooms. That said, there were a couple of scheduling oversights/errors - he skipped the Valley of Nobles on the assigned day, and my husband had to call and request that we see it the next day. We were left with the impression that, had my husband not raised it, we wouldn't have gone there, despite already having paid the cost of the tickets. These were incredible tombs, and absolutely worth seeing. That sort of decision needs to be a group discussion, not a unilateral, unadvertised decision by the guide. Additionally, this guide is not particularly knowledgeable about Islamic Cairo, so he wasn't able to tell us much about the old mosques we were seeing, nor did we get to see inside any of them, which would have added to the experience.
Overall, Egypt and Jordan are incredible tourist destinations, and with a few exceptions, our travel company delivered high quality service at very competitive prices. The accommodations, in particular, were lovely - the hotel in Cairo, the unbeatable location at the guest house in Petra, Jordan, etc. Better, more knowledgeable expediters in Egypt, a more substantive guide for the Islamic Cairo tour, and a bit more transparency regarding restaurant selections and meal costs would have earned a five-star rating, and based on the responsiveness of the company to our concerns, I have every reason to believe many of these issues will not come up for future tours.
The historical sites in Egypt and Jordan do not disappoint. It is every bit as wondrous to stand before the Sphinx or the Treasury in Petra as one might imagine. The museums in Aswan, Luxor, Cairo, and Petra are literally bursting with historical treasures. There are a variety of luxury accommodations available - the breakfast buffet at the hotel in Cairo is a delight. The guest house in Petra is located at the very entrance to Petra, and could not be more conveniently located. Floating in the Dead Sea at the end of long journey was heavenly. These are parts of the world well worth seeing, and it can be done in a very comfortable, reasonably affordable style. To have seen so much in such a short period was immensely gratifying, and the entire traveling party will look back on this vacation fondly.
The Jordan leg of this trip was particularly pleasant. Our airport expediter was efficient and professional, and our guide was very knowledgeable and attentive. He went to great pains to make sure we got the most out of our day in Petra, and arranged some additional stops at old Roman ruins and Mount Nebo to make our drive from Petra to the Dead Sea that much more enriching and enjoyable. He had pallets of water waiting for us on the bus, and really did do everything he could to make sure we saw what we wanted to see and were well looked after. The resort at the Dead Sea was such a lovely location at which to end our vacation - in addition to the Dead Sea, there were several pools, nice restaurants, and the rooms were very comfortable.
We would probably try to book a college professor as a tour guide. Our guide was very engaging and friendly, but knew relatively little about Islamic Cairo, and was not quite as knowledgeable about the sites in Aswan and Luxor as we might have hoped. (To be fair, one of our party wrote his thesis on Medinet Habu, so the bar was quite high; probably more casual travelers would have been perfectly happy with this guide, who does know the sites quite well and whose English is excellent. He was a very personable, attentive guide for most purposes, and really did take very good care of us; we just wanted the really deep dive on a lot of these sites. We were also traveling with grade-school aged children, so he may have been tailoring his commentary to try to find the happy medium - it's hard to strike a balance between a real Egypt enthusiast and an energetic seven-year-old.)
We would also spend less time at the tourist traps that seem to be part of all travel through tourist companies - the pure essence shop, the alabaster shop, the papyrus shop....one suspects these are not necessarily the highest quality products and the prices were inflated to dozens if not hundreds of times what they would be elsewhere, but these are the places with which the companies have a deal in place to receive kickbacks for trotting the tourists through. It might be part of the way the companies do business, but in a place like Egypt where there is so much to see and not enough time, it's frustrating to be hustled through the genuine marvels to ensure there's time for the tourist traps.
We would also not pay for the Old Cairo by Night extra option. Since you see the same area during the day as part of the normal tour, the add-on just amounts to more time spent in traffic to wander through the same shops by night - not worth the additional cost.
Travel Company Comments:
Thank you very much for your comments on your trip with us to Egypt and Jordan.
We are pleased to hear that this trip was one of the most incredible trips you've ever taken. That’s really great. It was pleasure working with you as well.
We are extremely sorry that your experience in Egypt was a bit grittier. It was truly not our intention or in line with our usual standard to which we operate here at our company.
Your comments are taken very seriously, and we have passed them on to our local team on the ground in Egypt to ensure this will not occur again. Our guests’ feedback such as yours is always the best way for us to continuously improve our product and services so we do thank you once again for taking the time to provide it to us. Please do not hesitate to contact us if you would like to discuss anything further.
Thank you again for your feedback.
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