Egypt on Your Own

This agent is proof positive that you don’t need a group to enjoy Egypt

By: Marilyn Litvak

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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 money.

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 value.

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Guestrooms Cairo Marriott Hotel
& Omar Khayyam Casino.
Classic Attractions
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 cars.

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 presented.

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Feluccas on the Nile River in Luxor
On the Water
Our three-day Nile cruise adventure began with an early-morning flight south to Aswan. Much to our delight, Maja was accompanying us.

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 furnishings.

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 good-bye.

Marilyn Litvak is a home-based agent with Travel Arrangers, in Arcadia, Calif.


Marriott Hotels International

Royal Trans Travel: For consolidator airfare

STI Travel USA:
For tour, cruise and hotel arrangements (a member of Sakkara Travel Group based in Cairo)