Excellent exchange rates, no crowds and a very warm welcome – as well as toasty winter temperatures – mean November is an excellent time to visit Egypt, says Liz Granirer.
Now that I’m back from my first trip to Egypt, I’m finding it hard to remember exactly why I was a bit anxious about going. I must have heard I’d be hustled by street hawkers, that there was some crazy three-hour drive through the desert to outrun baddies if I wanted to see the unmissable temples at Abu Simbel. Oh, and wasn’t there something about terrorism?
This might not be the most obvious way to start a piece on why you should visit Egypt and, in my opinion, go soon (more on this in a moment), but as it’s why people aren’t going in their droves any more, it seems best to tackle it head on.
First and last, I never once felt threatened, uncomfortable or unsafe during my three days in Cairo or on the week-long Nile cruise that came afterward. Sure, people tried to sell me stuff near the tourist sites and occasionally, the exchange rate being what it is – £23 Egyptian to £1 UK – I’d decide that at these throwaway prices, I’d actually like two of whatever was being offered. But? That drive through the desert wasn’t a race against anyone and there was no police escort. It used to be, our well-informed and ever-so-nice guide, Elia, told us, that there was no mobile-phone coverage in the desert, so if a bus broke down there’d be no way of getting help. Now that issue has been resolved. So, we left very early to beat the heat of the day and stopped to watch the sun rise – unmissable and, on the return, stopped again to take snaps of the Sahara’s largest mirage. Amazing.
My trip was booked through Orbital Travel, the river cruise experts, who also took care of arranging my Cairo stay. The great thing about using Orbital, a family-run business, is that you get taken care of as if you’re a member of the clan. You’re met at the airport by an experienced guide who takes care of getting your visa, directs you to luggage pick-up and then escorts you to your transfer. You can, of course, go straight on to Luxor to pick up the cruise at this point, but if you can spare the time, I’d recommend a couple of days in Cairo first. Orbital will send a guide and a driver to take you to the high points each morning – Cairo Museum, Saqqara (home of the Step Pyramid, the world’s oldest), Memphis (Egypt’s original capital) and, of course, the Pyramids and the Sphinx. Orbital will also arrange for you to stay at Mena House Hotel, the historic and best-placed stay in the city. Aside from being based around a beautiful old hunting lodge and having seen more heads of state, crowns and Hollywood stars than you can shake a stick at, it has the enviable position of being next-door neighbour to the Pyramids. That means you can gaze at them as you munch on your generous buffet breakfast and again while you’re sipping your sundowner. Trust me, you’ll feel sorry for everyone else.
The cruise was, hands down, the trip of a lifetime. Our home for the week was the freshly refurbished MS Orbital Royal Esadora, whose staff must have been chosen for their smiles and good memories. Chefs remembered who had a nut allergy, who was a vegetarian (note: if you are, there are always plenty of options) and who liked having their fruit made into a pretty display. There are two on-board shops for leisurely gift shopping, evening entertainment in the lounge, and the rooftop terrace has a welcome pool and a bar. Lying on a lounger, watching Nile-side life slide by – with water buffalo grazing, children playing and farmers in their ankle-length galabyas – looking as if it hasn’t changed in centuries, could have been entertainment enough. But of course there was a packed schedule of sightseeing excursions every day: temples, museums, statues, Karnac, the valleys of the Kings and Queens, the Aswan dam, Luxor, and visits to rug, perfume, papyrus and alabaster outlets for your essential shopping – plus extras like that trip to Abu Simbel, sunrise balloon trips or – a personal favourite – a horse and carriage ride through the Luxor market, to keep you busy.
I want to use cliches like ‘unforgettable’, ‘unmissable’ and ‘fascinating’, because if you haven’t been, you truly are missing out. And? Now really is the best time to go and here’s why: the temperature’s just right in winter,the masses haven’t yet cottoned on that it’s safe to go back, so there’s no queuing and no crowds, and have I mentioned that crazy-good exchange rate?
Liz’s trip was organised through Orbital Travel (tel 01763 274499), flights through Egypt Air and with thanks to the Egyptian Tourist Board. You can visit Liz Granirer’s travel blog at lizgranirershelloworld.blogspot.co.uk
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Orbital Travel.