A journey to Egypt... in expert hands
Mr & Mrs Stone travelled on a tailor-made holiday to Egypt with Cox & Kings. Here they share their experience in the destination, saying that the time to visit is now.
Feluccas on the Nile
My wife and I are experienced travellers, who have either lived in or visited many countries in the world. Like so many of our generation, most of our early travel was done on a shoe-string. This never bothered us, getting there safely and back was all that mattered. However, as we grow older, and our funds are not quite so stretched, so our priorities have changed. Experience has taught us that it is better to talk to an expert when planning a holiday, rather than depend on the out-of-date and inaccurate reminiscences of friends, and to be in the hands of a professional organisation with global contacts should anything go wrong, or if plans have to be changed at the last minute.
This came home to us in 2011, when a Nile cruise we had booked with Cox &Kings had to be cancelled at the last minute due to the sudden eruption of the Arab Spring. We were immediately offered our money back, or as an alternative, a similar holiday at around the time we had planned to be away. Although time was short, we accepted this option, and as a result enjoyed the most wonderful visit to Assam, cruising on the Brahmaputra in a small but very comfortable river boat.
However, we have always wanted to visit Egypt, and as the situation seemed to be improving during 2013, we started to check the Foreign Office Travel Advice website, which by January 2014 was giving a cautious OK to the Nile south of Luxor and to Cairo, so we decided to try again. We spoke to Cox & Kings Middle East expert, Sabastian Gittany, who could not have been more helpful. Before discussing our plans in detail, he warned us that the situation in Egypt remained unpredictable, and things might have to be changed, or even cancelled at short notice. This proved to be absolutely right – between contacting him in January and departing for Egypt in mid-March, we had to adjust our plans three times, either due to Foreign Office warnings or cruise operators changing schedules. However, what would have been a nightmare to sort out on one’s own was dealt with quickly and efficiently by Sabastian.
The MS Mayfair
We eventually spent one night in Cairo, before flying down to Luxor, where we boarded MS Mayfair (the most lovely boat) to cruise down to Aswan. From Aswan we flew to Abu Simbel and cruised back up Lake Nassir on MS Africa Dream to Aswan, from where we flew back to Cairo for two nights; a wonderful itinerary, but involving two hotels, three internal flights and two boats. However, the arrangements made by Cox and Kings for our arrival and departure, and transfer to and from airports, ships and hotels, plus transport to the many ancient historic sites we visited along the Nile and in Cairo were excellent, and we quickly relaxed and enjoyed the holiday, secure in the knowledge that we were in good hands.
Everything about our trip impressed us; the quality of the ships and hotels, the friendly and efficient service provided by the crew and staff, the professionalism of our guides and the carefully planned itinerary, which allowed plenty of time to visit the majority of important historic sites, but with time to relax as well. We all agreed that a major contributor to the holiday was the quality of our three guides, one of whom accompanied us for each of the main parts of the tour. They were not only expert on the sites we visited, but also ensured that our transport (minibuses, horse-drawn carriages, motorboats, a felucca and on one occasion a tractor and trailer) were ready and waiting, took care of any other administrative matters, and were a fount of knowledge on modern Egypt, and more mundane matters such as tipping. Unlike some tours, our guides travelled with us, and soon became good friends. Our Cairo guide was also particularly good at taking us off the beaten track; we lunched at a gem of a family restaurant, spent our last evening at another restaurant on the banks of the Nile, and had a happy morning wandering around the souk.
Temple of Philae
So in summary, Cox & Kings provided what for us are the three main requirements for a successful and memorable holiday; expert advice, the expertise and facility to adjust and change the itinerary as the situation changes, and the very best help and support throughout the holiday. We will be back.
One cannot end without mentioning the current situation in Egypt. The reaction of many of our friends when they heard of our plans was, “you must be barmy, it's not safe”. A degree of instability exists in almost all Middle East countries, which varies depending on the current internal political situation. We saw and heard nothing during our all too brief time in Egypt to indicate that it was not as safe as one could expect, and if anything would stay that way, or even improve.
The real tragedy is the impact of the unrest on the Egyptian travel industry, with visitor numbers down to a trickle in comparison to only four years ago. As a result, those who do visit this fascinating country are greeted like long lost friends, and have previously crowded historic sites almost to themselves. It was not unusual for 10,000 visitors a day to visit The Valley of the Kings prior to 2011. I would estimate that there were no more than 200 spread over a large site the day we were there. There are indications that things might start to pick up at the end of 2014. So if you are thinking of going, there has never been a better time to visit Egypt.