Recently the US State Department downgraded their travel warning and considers it safe to travel to Egypt. With the Egyptian population yearning to welcome back visitors, there is no better year to see some of the most magnificent wonders of the ancient world than in 2014. Below Ker & Downey’s David Marek discusses new ways to see the classics and the peace of mind that traveling with Ker & Downey allows travelers.
I know some of our readers will be apprehensive about traveling to Egypt. Having just returned from Cairo, how safe did you feel?
I arrived the day they lifted the curfew after many months. There was a celebratory atmosphere with entire families out on the town enjoying street food and meeting with their friends and neighbors. I felt completely safe. I wouldn’t recommend going out alone unaccompanied at night anywhere, but I wouldn’t recommend that in some major US cities either.
What is your advice to clients who are worried about safety while traveling in Egypt?
If you are worried about safety, consider avoiding Cairo entirely. While I have no problem recommending travel to Cairo, I recognize some people are still nervous. If it puts you at ease, you can avoid the big city altogether. Upper Egypt, Sharm El Sheikh, Siwa and Alexandria can all be done without Cairo. Some airlines fly directly into Alexandria, Sharm El Sheikh, and Luxor making traveling into Cairo unnecessary.
How eager are the local Egyptians to receive tourists back in their country?
Egyptians are fun loving people and are VERY protective of the overseas guests. You will find they go out of their way to make you feel welcome and comfortable.
What are the advantages of traveling to Egypt right now?
The greatest thing about traveling to Egypt right now is the reduced crowds. You won’t see any lines or a sea of foreign tourists, but this won’t last for long. Many countries have lifted the warnings and bans so tourism is starting a come back. If possible I would try to go anytime from now to before mid-summer.
You traveled to Egypt last March with your family during a relatively safe time for foreign travelers. Would you consider taking your family back after the summer uprising?
Yes, I would absolutely take my family back. Even before we traveled last year, Egypt had spent several weeks in the news. Our family was well-taken care of and never felt nervous or unsafe the entire time we were in Egypt.
Egypt is renowned for having some of the best-preserved archaeological sites. What were some of the highlights of your trip?
I loved cruising down the Nile and seeing everyday life along the way. Seeing the tombs in the Valley of the Kings, Karnak temple, and the pyramids were a highlight for me. Everything is so different and unique. Having an Egyptologist along with our family throughout the trip made a huge difference in the experience we had because he was able to tailor the trip to our interests. There is no way to cover everything in each temple in one trip, but an Egyptologist is able to pick out specific areas to discuss in each.
Ker & Downey just released a new itinerary that does not include a stop in Cairo or a visit to the pyramids. Will clients still feel like they’ve been to Egypt without seeing the pyramids?
Egypt is such an antiquities rich country you need more than one visit to begin to appreciate all there is, so you can always come back if Cairo makes you feel uncomfortable right now. The Valley of the Kings and Queens, Karnak, Aswan and much more have way more to offer than just the pyramids and Sphinx.
Can clients add on a stop in Cairo to visit the pyramids if they wish?
Absolutely! We can make sure they are in places that make them feel safe even in the big city.
In the new Secrets of Egypt itinerary, clients spend two nights in the Siwa Oasis at Adere Amellal. What kinds of excursions can be arranged in the desert during their stay?
The Siwa Oasis is one of the undiscovered wonders of the world. Imagine your dreams of a true oasis when you were a kid. Well, Siwa delivers just that. The place is a virtual “oasis” in the middle of the Sahara Desert. Miles of sand and rocky terrain and then you arrive in a paradise. How much better can that be? You can visit the Oracle where Alexander the Great was deified, Cleopatra’s bath (actually take a swim there from the fresh artesian warm waters), or visit the Shali or ancient center of Siwa that was destroyed by rain a couple of decades ago. Take a 4×4 into the desert for exhilarating high speed adventure and stop at a spring in the middle of the sand for a swim or even sand surf. Siwan people are not Bedouin, they are Berber and have a distinct language and culture that is so apparent and rich.
All of Ker & Downey’s journeys to Egypt include a private Egyptologist. What is the benefit of having a private Egyptologist throughout the trip?
Even with the limited number of tourists, going on a nile cruise means you always have to share your Egyptologist with others and you can’t focus on what really interests you personally, so that is one of the reasons on a Ker & Downey Egypt trip you always have a private Egyptologist throughout.