The pyramids at Giza are
an unforgettable sight.
Your clients are quintessential independent travelers no tour
groups for them. Well, don’t hesitate to send them to Egypt. Many
U.S.-based tour companies specializing in Africa and the Middle
East can easily arrange all components of a successful vacation for
just one or two people.
This past April, I arranged to meet my daughter and three of her
work colleagues in Cairo for several days of city sightseeing
followed by a leisurely Nile Cruise. My arrival was timed to
coincide with the completion of their D.C.-based organization’s
meeting at the Cairo Marriott. Our goal was to see as much of
ancient Egypt in a week as we could. STI Travel, based in New
Jersey with head offices in Cairo, helped us realize this goal.
My early arrival into Cairo on EgyptAir was a sign of good
things to come. So was the efficiency of the tour company’s
transfer representative as he assisted me through the confusing
process of clearing immigration, claiming luggage and changing
Located on leafy Zamalek Island in the heart of Cairo, a
half-hour drive from the airport, the Marriott offers the
convenience of a centrally located hotel with enough distance from
the insanity of Cairo traffic to offer peace and tranquility after
a day of sightseeing.
The five-star hotel’s ornately gilded entrance portico shielding
the terra cotta-colored Moorish-style palace barely hints at the
opulence that greets visitors entering the lobby. Here guests will
see its carved wood ceilings; walls lined with handsome
19th-century oil paintings; pleasant lounging areas with plush
chairs; and vistas down the wide grand staircase and out to the
lush green gardens and pool. This elegant palace was built to house
France’s Empress Eugenie and her entourage while celebrating the
opening of the Suez Canal in 1869.
Two modern-style high-rise wings at either end of the palace
seamlessly blend the old and the new. Recently renovated rooms have
typically Marriott-comfortable beds, large bathrooms and balconies
with views of the Cairo skyline over the Nile River or the hotel’s
six acres of garden.
For a day and a half, I had fun exploring the hotel’s delightful
neighborhood. Small shops, art galleries, restaurants, bookstores
and a ceramic museum are all within an easy walk. A nearby wide
promenade along the Nile leads to the Cairo Opera House and Modern
Art Museum surrounded by beautiful gardens. Feluccas, their white
sails billowing, gently drift on the water. Large river barges
converted to restaurants and night clubs are tied up at the long
quay below. A short caleche, (horse-drawn carriage) ride brings
guests back to the hotel.
Throughout the area, and as I discovered all throughout Egypt,
armed Tourist Police are housed intermittently in small wooden
shelters along the streets to keep an eye on traffic and general
comings and goings. These officers are also posted at the entrances
to hotels, restaurants, museums and more. At first I found them
off-putting, but gradually came to appreciate their deterrent
Guestrooms Cairo Marriott Hotel
& Omar Khayyam Casino.
Our sightseeing began with an early-morning departure to see the
three great pyramids of Giza. Over 4,000 years old, they are
amazingly just a 25-minute drive away in a Cairo suburb on the west
bank of the Nile. Their imposing golden triangles rise abruptly
from the hilly desert.
Our own private guide and driver took us there in a comfortable
mini-van. Maja, our guide, was an Egyptologist with a wealth of
historical information and a provider of lots of practical dos and
don’ts. Under her tutelage we climbed onto the enormous blocks that
make up the Great Pyramid, rode camels and scrambled through the
claustrophobic pyramid tunnels.
Our touring consisted of standard sightseeing but oh what
sights. Heading south to the ancient city of Memphis and the burial
site of Saqqara with its prototype step pyramid, we stopped en
route for an arranged lunch with delicious meze (Middle Eastern
appetizers) and freshly caught fish. The road followed a tree-lined
canal some 10 miles thru rural Egypt. Planted in field after field
was wheat, corn and other crops. Water buffalo shared the road with
Of course, there were the obligatory stops for shopping at a
papyrus gallery and a rug-making school. But we all needed
souvenirs and the demonstrations were informative and pleasantly
On the Water
Feluccas on the Nile River in Luxor
Our three-day Nile cruise adventure began with an early-morning
flight south to Aswan. Much to our delight, Maja was accompanying
We were met at Aswan airport by the tour company’s minivan and
driver and explored the Unfinished Obelisk Quarry and the Great
Aswan Dam before boarding our ship for lunch.
The five-star M/S Monte Carlo that returned us north down the
Nile to Luxor has 66 cabins on three of its five decks. Classified
as Junior Suites, all are good size for a ship, made up in twin or
king configurations, with bathrooms accommodating a full-size tub,
plenty of mirrored closet space and large picture windows. A
comfortable lounge chair, television and desk round out the
Commissioned in 2002, the ship has an elegant marble foyer,
full-size lounge with entertainment in the evening and a separate
dining room serving three ample buffet meals a day with views of
the passing river scene out either side. There is one drawback,
however; with no elevator, a difficulty is posed for anyone who has
trouble using stairs.
The top deck of the ship is open and runs the length of the
ship. A small dipping pool is forward surrounded by chaise lounges;
the aft half is shaded with plenty of generously spaced tables and
chairs. A full-service bar open throughout the day and early
evening occupies part of this space. A modified high tea is also
served here in the late afternoon.
Over the next three days, the Nile Valley drifted by rock caves,
distant deserts and mountains, farmers tilling their green fields,
schoolchildren being ferried across the river and dramatic sunsets.
Maja ensured that our excursions to see the temples along the way
went smoothly. In addition to minivans, we rode in small
motorboats, feluccas and horse-drawn carriages. We were limited to
viewing three tombs in the Valley of the Kings on the West Bank at
Luxor, but were not disappointed in the choices available.
A fitting end to our Nile sightseeing was a nighttime
exploration of the illuminated Temple of Luxor on the East Bank of
the Nile. The temple’s rows of towering papyrus columns bade us
Marilyn Litvak is a home-based agent with Travel Arrangers,
in Arcadia, Calif.
Marriott Hotels International
Royal Trans Travel: For consolidator
STI Travel USA:
For tour, cruise and hotel arrangements (a member of Sakkara
Travel Group based in Cairo)