Look, I don’t do tour companies. Personally I get annoyed when I see large groups of people led by a colorful umbrella or wand with a flag. We like the flexibility to do what we want and unencumbered by someone else’s speed. We had to eat our words when travelling to Egypt this March. As the first and only full tour company we worked with, Memphis Tours was the way to go for Egypt for several reasons:
Planes, trains, buses, cruises, horse drawn carriages you name it, Egypt has it. The complication of intra country travel is enough to give anyone pause on doing it themselves. One particular temple along the Nile, Philae temple, we quite literally went from our cruise boat, to a bus, to a taxi boat, to then arrive on the island where the temple stands. The Temple of Horus at Edfu had a similar story – cruise boat to bus to horse drawn carriage and back. Working with a tour group allowed to enjoy the experience and history rather than worry about and communicate with different transportation options. Over the span of 12 days we had 4 flights, two international and 2 domestic. Several folks that opt to visit Abu Simbel, a mere 10 kilometers from Sudan, end up taking flights to and from Aswan, adding another 2 flights to the running total.
Major cities like Istanbul are very walkable and easy with public transportation, however the challenge we found with Cairo is that it is such a massive and sprawling city that walking was not an option between tourist sites. In Cairo we had a private driver with our guide who picked us up at the hotel and drove us all across town to the different sites. I feel like we were able to see more within a single day by having a designated driver, rather than requesting ubers / taxis every time. There is a lot of lost time in commuting, so having that driver waiting on us was great for time management and efficiency. Even if you don’t spring for a tour company, I would absolutely get a private driver and/or do some sort of coordinated day trip around the sites.
Understanding the History
It may speak to the culture of independence in the United States, but one recurring trend we are finding in our travels are the fact that there is almost no information or placards in museums and important historical sites. The US loves to have detailed placards next to each piece of art so a guide is not really necessary. Egypt has the most spectacular history in the world spanning thousands and thousands of years, but very little information for the modern day tourists to learn or understand what they are looking at.
We had a guide alongside us the entire time and it was as if I received a masters in Egyptology for how knowledgeable they were. The Ministry of Tourism in Egypt in fact requires a masters degree for tour guides to be certified. From the moment we hopped in the car or bus to be taken to the next destination, our guide was giving us background on the era, rulers, wars, family lineage, religion and structures. Our favorite guide was during the 4 day Nile cruise, as he was laser focused on answering questions to the best of his abilities. Someone from our group might ask something, and after pausing to reflect and fully comprehend, he gave what was essentially an oral thesis paper on the topic. The guide was able to point to recurring themes within hieroglyphics across different temples and how different stylistic elements from the occupation of different countries were then translated to the scenes.
One temple in particular showed a king with two left arms, almost unnoticeable unless pointed out. Our guide showed us that as the power and faith lessoned from pharaoh reign, the folks actually carving and building temples were sloppier since they didn’t believe in their pharaoh. There was a shift from farmers and townspeople building these structures as their gift to God, to now commissioned builders and artists. The attention to detail waned alongside the faith and pharaoh’s power.
Culture & Local Customs
When I consider cultural norms of Europe, it is fairly similar to what you would see in The United States. Egypt is a bit different. Our guide recommended how much to tip and when it was inappropriate to take pictures, usually around important structures like High Dam, where police and military presence is prominent. We also received an education on modern day government and even between guides across the different cities we visited, there was a range of approval of the current president and policies in place. One guide was telling us about propaganda films his grandfather would watch that curse the English, and how now most of those movies are being removed given The UK and Egypt have closer ties.
Our guide in Cairo shared her personal experience raising two daughters and the differing experiences Muslim women across generations. One interesting anecdote she shared with us around Islamic dating culture is that oftentimes men and women don’t date prior to marriage. She was encouraging her girls to actively date men before choosing a husband and clearly building a culture of openness with her girls more on the friend level than parent-child level so she could be involved and confided in on such big decisions.
The history is a big part of why we travel to any country, but getting to know the social environment and norms of a country is just as fascinating. They say travel is the best education! And such a way to build empathy and recognize that your viewpoint isn’t the only one that exists.
Did you travel with a tour group? Would love to hear your experiences!
7 replies on “3 Reasons to Use a Tour Group in Egypt”