Egypt is one of those fascinating journeys of exploration that make you feel you have travelled back through time and are living the History books!
What a trip! This will be the first post of our 12 days journey through Egypt.
We went there at the beginning of October 2018 when Liam and Santiago were 2 years and 4 months old.
Travelling in Egypt with toddlers presents some challenges, it is an amazing super fascinating country to visit, and I’m already thinking when we will be able to go back to see everything we didn’t have time to visit, BUT at times you could also experience some heavy moments.
In October the weather was still really hot, over 30 degrees, so you are constantly juggling the desire to visit more things and the reality of walking at 1 pm under a strong burning sun, possibly with a toddler attached to your neck.
It is quite a dirty country: this wasn’t a surprise for me because most people that travelled Egypt report this, but of course with Kids you are constantly cleaning faces and hands in the hope to kill some germs. On top of that there is sand everywhere, and what’s more attractive for toddlers than playing with and even eating sand!?
If you are comfortable travelling with small kids then you will soon get used to this, but I wouldn’t suggest Egypt to a family travelling for the first time abroad with 2 year old kids.
But let’s back to the best itinerary if you have 12 days to spend in Egypt.
We had 12 days in Egypt, but the first and last were travelling only days. Depending on your travel arrangements you can maybe use at least part of these 2 days, but for us wasn’t possible.
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Day 1: Arrival. We stayed at the Marriot Mena House in Giza
Day 2: Cairo. Piramyds visit. We stayed at the Marriot Mena House in Giza.
Day 3: Cairo. Coptic Cairo visit, Egyptian museum visit, khan el-khalili visit. We stayed at the Marriot Mena House in Giza.
Day 4: Cairo. Saqqara visit. Food tour in Cairo. Late flight to Aswan. We stayed at the Kato Dool Nubian house
Day 5: Aswan. exploring Aswan. We stayed at the Kato Dool Nubian house
Day 6: Nile cruise
Day 7: Nile cruise
Day 8: Nile cruise
Day 9: Luxor: Valley of the King visit, Karnak temple visit. Transfer to Red Sea Resort. We stayed at the Radisson Blu resort in EL Qusseir
Day 10: Red Sea. We stayed at the Radisson Blu resort in EL Qusseir
Day 11: Red Sea. We stayed at the Radisson Blu resort in EL Qusseir
Day 12: Flight back to London
As you can see there are many things left out, and our time in Luxor was sufficient for only a glimpse of it, but I really had a dream of doing a Nile cruise so I decide to cut time elsewhere to include it.
TOP TIP: DON’T SKIP THE NILE CRUISE, IT WILL BE THE HIGHLIGHT OF YOUR TRIP
We were visiting my Dad in Rome before to start our trip, so our flight to Cairo was from Rome (a short 3 hours) and passed without issue.
We were flying Egyptair: we got 4 tickets Rome-Cairo, Cairo-Aswan, Hurghada-Cairo-London for £1330 in total, not a bargain but not bad either considering we bought them only 2 months in advance.
Flying Egyptair was ok, good space in the seats, but the planes were old and needing some TLC, and the service was inconsistent, next time I would definitely try to get a BA flight instead.
Many nationalities need a Visa to enter Egypt which costs $25. You can only pay in US dollars, but there are options to exchange money in the Airport if you need to. As I wasn’t sure if the process would be as quick as many other people reported I decide to apply online. It is a long process because the website is not optimized and you also need to wait 24-48 hours to get the Visa approval, but I preferred to have the Visa in my hands. (As we travel with small kids I always try to do everything it to make the admin faster)
Our flight landed around 9:30pm, but our luggage took 1 hour, yes 1 hour, to arrive at the carousel, I was already planning out where to buy all basic necessities when finally they appeared.
HOT TIP: IF YOU FLY OFTEN YOU KNOW THAT IT ISN’T SO UNCOMMON THAT YOUR LUGGAGE DOESN’T ARRIVE, BUT DON’T PANIC, MOST OF THE TIME IT WILL REACH YOU IN THE NEXT 24/48 HOURS. HOWEVER IT IS OF COURSE WISE TO BE DILIGENT IN CASE YOUR BAGGAGE DOESN’T ARRIVE, TAKE ALL THE STEPS IN THE PROCESS: REPORT YOUR LUGGAGE MISSING TO THE RIGHT DESK AND BE AWARE THAT EVEN IF THE AIRLINE’S STAFF DOESN’T GIVE YOU MUCH INFORMATION YOU ARE ENTITLED TO BUY ALL NECESSITIES YOU NEED UNTILL YOU GET YOUR LUGGAGE BACK.
Happily reunited with our luggage, and after buying a local sim card to use in our portable WiFi router we headed out of the terminal.
Researching how to get to and from the airport I knew we should enter a round of bargaining with the various Taxi Drivers approaching us, but as we were arriving late we just wanted a smooth transfer so we discarded the opportunity to save 10EGP and I pre-booked a transfer online through cairoshuttlebus , a great move.
It cost 390 Egyptian Lira (EGP) from the airport to Giza in a comfortable minivan that in 50 minutes delivered us to the Marriot Mena House in Giza!
I booked a room with ex SPG/Marriot rewards points and then asked for and got an upgrade to a better room. The better room turned out to have an amazing view of the pyramids straight from the large Balcony. Waking up and opening the curtains to such a view was just AMAZING!!! I used 15000 points per night for a room that cost $180 and got an upgrade to a room that cost $250
DAY 1: day one we decided to dedicate to the pyramids. From the Mena house you can walk 5 minutes and you are at the ticket office of the Pyramids. You need to buy here all the tickets. Ticket prices have gone up a lot in the last 2-3 years and in October 2018 they were: 120 EGP to enter the site, 300 EGP to enter the Great Pyramid, 60 EGP to enter the Khafre’s pyramid.
There is a sense of magic to walk around and to be so close to something so unique and historic. The site wasn’t particularly busy, and when we entered the Great Pyramid we were almost alone. Inside the Great Pyramid you can’t take pictures or bring your camera. You can safely leave your camera with the guard at the entrance, 5 EGP will be enough as a tip when you exit. Don’t forget to keep your ticket because they use it to match it to your camera.
TOP TIPS: THE SITE IS BIG, BUT FOR AN ADULT IN GOOD HEALTH, EVEN IF IT IS HOT, IT IS ABSOLUTELY POSSIBLE TO WALK AROUND AND TO GET FROM THE PYRAMIDS TO THE SPHINX, AND, WITH A BIT OF EFFORT, EVEN TO THE VIEWING PLATFORM.
We are not in bad shape but I’m definitely not fit enough to walk in the strong heat with a 16kg baby on my back for too long. From the moment we entered (and also before), we were hassled from touts that want to sell us something or convince us to ride a camel or horses, so at some point we decided to look if any of them actually had any healthy looking camels and we agreed for 300 EGP (in total for 1 hour with 2 camels) to get to the viewing point and then down to the Sphinx.
HOT TIP: IF YOU TAKE A RIDE ON THE HORSES OR CAMELS BE SURE TO AGREE EXACTLY WHERE YOU ARE GOING AND THE PRICE. REPEAT IT TO THEM A COUPLE OF TIMES INCLUDING THE ACTUAL GUIDE. THE GUIDE THAT WAS GUIDING OUR CAMEL RUINED SOME OF THE MAGIC OF OUR CAMEL TOUR BECAUSE HE WANTED CONTINUOUSLY TO CUT IT SHORTER, AND PUSHED A LOT FOR ADDITIONAL MONEY.
There are many people with their animals around the pyramids and not all of them look in good health, before you agree anything with anybody ask them to show you which camel or horse you are going to ride, and only accept if they seem well fed and in good health. After Mark’s Camel Guide induced irritation had subsided he became philosophical wondering, “if you haven’t been ripped off by a Camel Driver have you even been to Giza?”, so maybe try to make peace with it in advance and enjoy the experience
When we arrived at the Sphinx we were tired of the guide and the boys were becoming grumpy so after a quick picture we took a taxi back to the Mena house, however if you are fit for it then walking is faster as Taxis must take a long route through heavy traffic.
We were back in our room around 2:30pm and for rest of the day we rested and boys recovered their sleep from the travelling the day before.
DAY 2: after a lovely room service breakfast, to try to be quicker, (we are notoriously slow in the morning) we spent the full day in Cairo. We took an Uber and went to the Coptic Cairo (54 EGP). This is a lovely small area, full of things to see and easy to walk around. We visited: the hanging church, possibly the oldest Christian church in Egypt; the church of St. George, St. Barbara church, the Ben Ezra Synagogue and the lovely Greek orthodox cemetery.
This visit took us 2 hours, but you will need more if you also want to visit the Coptic museum.
From there we took another Uber and went to the Egyptian museum (35 EGP). This was great as during the hottest hours we were indoors.
HOT TIP: YOU CAN BRING YOUR CAMERA INTO THE MUSEUM ONLY IF YOU PAY AN EXTRA TICKET, DON’T FOREGT TO BUY IT TOGETHER WITH YOUR ENTRANCE TICKET OR YOU WILL BE ASKED TO LEAVE YOUR CAMERA AT THE ENTRANCE.
The Egyptian museum was for me the biggest disappointment of our trip. I was prepared to find a place with old displays and in a transition phase (the new museum will open next year in Giza), but I didn’t think it would have been so poor.
Don’t get me wrong the pieces on display are amazing and fascinating truly historical artefacts, but they are poorly lit and often with no English explanations (or often no signage at all) and you can’t take pictures in Tutankhamun room or in the mummies rooms. (Mummies rooms need an extra ticket for 150 EGP which you can buy inside the museum near one of the Mummies room entrance)
Not knowing if Liam and Santiago would have slept in the pram during our visit (which they did) we didn’t organize to have a guide, but that would definitely help you to understand much more.
Our visit to the museum went too long so our plan to visit Islamic Cairo after the museum didn’t work because most of the places close at 5. I think that with small kids it was too ambitious anyway to try to fit Coptic Cairo + Egyptian museum + Islamic Cairo all in one day.
After a little rest we took another Uber to quickly see the Khan el-Khalili market (27 EGP). It is a nice market, but I feel I’ve seen better market-souk in other cities.
To finish our day we tried to get dinner at “8” or “the birdcage”, Chinese and Thai fine dining restaurants, but disappointedly they didn’t accept kids, so after an average meal we Ubered our way back to our lovely hotel (70 EGP).
DAY 3: with so many things to see in Cairo we also had a really busy third day. After a lovely breakfast at the hotel restaurant we called an Uber to go to Saqqara.
TOP TIP: if, like us, you are planning a short visit to Saqqara you can go with an Uber and when you arrive ask the driver to wait for you. He will keep the journey open on the app whilst you explore. We had the Uber for 2h 45min and from Giza to Saqqara return was around 50km. we payed $14 (261 EGP, but the fare was 1.5x higher than usual)
Saqqara is a massive site and would deserve a full half day, but we are very conscious of the boys under the hot sun, so only had a short walk around. Be aware some of the tombs close for an hour at 1pm (of course I went down one of them exactly when the guard was closing down the gate :()
Saqqara is an impressive burial site, the step pyramid is the oldest in the world but it isn’t the only interesting thing. To access the site you need to go through a superb limestone wall, higher than 10m. After entering the door you will walk through a gigantic colonnade almost intact for nearly 5000 years (the pilars are now covered with a concrete roof to protect them)
I will maybe be boring but I must repeat that travelling in Egypt will make you step back in time!
After wondering around a bit more we made our way back to the Mena house, because we wanted the boys to have a nap as the day would have been still quite long.
After a short nap (I enjoyed a splash in the magnificent swimming pool in the meantime) and repacking, we checked out at 3pm (I asked for and got a generous late check out) and headed off on our next adventure.
At 4pm we had a private food tour booked with Bellies en Route. It was a lovely way to spend 4 hours walking around in Cairo and tasting food that maybe we wouldn’t have tried. I will write a short article soon because I really enjoyed it and I think it is a great idea when travelling with kids.
Laila our food tour guide, met us in front of the Egyptian Museum and she was really accommodating letting us leave our luggage safe in her car while walking around. When we finished the tour we collected our stuff, took an Uber, and rushed to the airport to board a flight to Aswan (151 EGP). Traffic was horrendous and it took us more than 1 hour 15 minutes to get there, we thought we were missing the flight but in the end we realized that timing is a bit more relaxed in Egypt especially for domestic flights.
We took the last flight to Aswan so we arrived there quite late (around 11:30pm) but when we stepped out of the airport it was like another trip was starting.
The airport is really small and from arrivals you walk directly out into the street. There was no traffic, the air was warm, and the light wind made me immediately relax and put a smile on my face.
We had a driver sent from the guesthouse waiting for us, and in 20 minutes we were safely in our room. ($10 directly at the guesthouse)
When I was looking for our accommodation in Aswan I realized that something must be going on because all the nicest and well reviewed hotels were fully booked. Then I heard that a famous Egyptian was getting married and had booked most of the best accommodation. That’s why I decided to book a room in a guesthouse in the nearby Nubian village.
We stayed at the Kato Dool Nubian house directly on the river Nile, the room wasn’t a five star hotel room, but was nice and super clean, only a bit small for us considering we need 2 cots. In the morning it was lovely opening the door to the relaxing river view, and having a good typical breakfast at the colorful tables on the sand. For our stay we payed $85 per night including breakfast.
DAY 4: we embraced the slow river life. After breakfast we went for a walk through the Nubian village, which has lovely markets including very persuasive sellers, and then we just rested until 3:30pm. The owner arranged a transfer for us to Aswan by speed boat (200EGP) which was great fun and in 10 minutes or so we were there. We decided to walk around the city, the market, and along the Nile. We could have gone to visit Elephantine Island, but we took it easy just embracing local life.
This plan included sipping a romantic cocktail at sunset in the iconic Old Cataract hotel (hoping that Liam and Santiago wouldn’t be too noisy). Unfortunately we arrived at the gate to be told that the hotel was fully reserved for a private event (so it was true about the wedding!!!) and closed to external people…what a disappointment! Back at the Katodool house and after a lovely dinner (20$ US dollar for all of us) we relaxed and enjoyed the evening watching the Nile and preparing ourselves for the adventure we were ready to start the next day.
DAY 5: the most wonderful time in Egypt was starting. At 9am we were picked up and driven to board a Dahabiya boat to start our Nile cruise! The Dahabiya is a type of sailing boat, with only 5 or 6 cabins. The feeling when you board is like stepping onto the set of an Agatha Christie movie!
I was so excited! I’ve always said that I’m not interested in cruises, but a Nile cruise was one of my dreams from forever, and after all the research and the doubt of booking a cruise with toddlers the dream was coming true.
I want to go through in more detail about participating in a Nile cruise with toddlers, so I will write another article to focus on the 3 wonderful days we had on board, so here I will highlight just the main sites we visited.
The first day of sailing we visited Kom Ombo temple.
DAY 6: first thing in the morning we went out to visit the rock cut chapels and sandstone quarries at Gebel El Silsila, then in the afternoon we had a lovely stop by a little beach to have a splash in the Nile.
HOT TIP: IN THE STAGNANT WATER OF THE NILE THERE IS A PARASITE THAT COULD BE POTENTIALLY REALLY DANGEROUS. WHERE THE RIVER CURRENT IS STRONG THERE ISN’T THIS RISK, BUT ALWAYS CHECK WITH THE BOAT CAPTAIN IF IT IS SAFE.
DAY 7: after an early breakfast we went to visit Edfu temple then after lunch we visited the remains of temples and tombs in Nekheb. The 3rd night we arrived in Esna.
DAY 8: the cruise finished after breakfast around 10am, but we left much earlier at 7am because we had a busy day ahead in Luxor.
Luxor deserves at least 2 full days but I needed to make a choice. I really wanted to have a couple of days by the beach, so we have had to leave many sites behind for the next time.
Before arriving in Egypt I asked the company I booked the Nile cruise with to send me a quote for a driver to bring us around in Luxor for a full day, and then drive us to El Quseir, our final destination on the Red Sea, and we agreed 130Euro
HOT TIP: A TAXI FROM LUXOR TO THE RED SEA, NEEDS A PERMIT FROM THE POLICE WHICH USUALLY NEEDS TO BE ARRANGED THE DAY BEFORE THE JOURNEY. KEEP THIS IN MIND AS IT COULD THEREFORE BE DIFFICULT TO FIND A LAST MINUTE TRANSPORT SOLUTION. IF YOU STAY IN LUXOR I’M SURE YOU COULD FIND A MUCH BETTER PRICE BY ASKING DIFFERENT DRIVERS.
In the short time we had, we decided to visit the Valley of the Kings and the Karnak temple.
The Valley of the Kings is an incredible place: a trip into another world that will make your mind travel towards unknown territories.
This was also the first place where we found a lot of tourists, nothing to be worried about, but definitely many more than the other sites we had visited. When you arrive the first impression is quite underwhelming, but everything is happening underground so don’t worry, as soon as you step in you will be rewarded with spectacular scenes.
The general entry ticket costs 160 EGP (per person) which allows you to enter 3 tombs of your choice, except for those tombs which are closed (some are “rested”, some are being maintained etc), and those tombs which require a seperate extra ticket. We bought 2 extra tickets to enter the tombs of Tutankhamun (200 EGP each) and Ramses V/VI (80 EGP each) tombs. To take pictures inside the tomb you have to pay another 300EGP for each camera you take pictures with, and you can take pictures in only 3 tombs with one ticket (no photos in Tutankhamun’s tomb).
The tomb structures seem similar but none were the same as another. Common elements are: stairs or steep downhill entrance, long corridors with some side chambers, and at the end the chamber where the King Mummy would rest in a sarcophagus with storage chambers around it.
We visited the tombs of Ramses III, IV, and IX with the general entrance ticket. Ramses IV was particularly good.
We decided to enter Tutankhamun’s tomb even though I knew it is one of the less impressive and you can’t take pictures inside. I can’t recommend spending money on it…but the Tutankhamun legend has always been so strong in my vision of Egypt that I just couldn’t miss it. What is a bit creepy is that his mummy is still resting (well protected under a good glass box) in his tomb.
The site is perfectly accessible with a pram, until of course you need to enter the tombs. There is a bit of walking from the parking lot to the entrance, so a pram could be useful, and if you are there with a guide he/she can look after it while you enter the tombs.
The tombs we visited were all really close to the entrance and really easy to walk for Liam and Santiago, I would have liked to visit Merenptah tomb but our guide said that maybe for them it would have been too difficult as it has a lot of steep steps up and down (looking at the structure now it doesn’t seem so steep, but of course I trusted our guide)
The Valley of the Kings was one of my highlights of the trip but I wasn’t well enough prepared, I’m really happy with what we saw but I encourage you to look in advance at which tombs you would like to visit.
After the Valley of the Kings we jumped into our van and, after a brief stop to see the Colossus of Memnon, we went to the Karnak temple.
This is the most wonderful temple we have seen. It is just stunning!
…shame that Liam decided to have a meltdown just as we were going inside so we have had to split up, I went in with Santiago on my back, and our guide, while Mark joined us after he managed to calm Liam down…that’s also the reality of travelling with small kids 🙂 (..and generally living with small kids!!)
The temple is just incredible, if you stay in Luxor you can go back at night and see it illuminated, it must be magic. When you are wandering between the 134 gigantic pillars, you can’t help but feel you are in the “death on the Nile” scene (if you have seen it). I’m becoming boring but it is just amazing.
Unfortunately after the Karnak Temple our time in Luxor was finished and about 3pm we started our long journey to El Quseir. I didn’t know that you can’t take the most direct route (as google maps show), so it took us almost 5 hours to get there…luckily the van was comfortable and the boys also got some sleep.
In El Quseir I booked a sea view room in the Radisson Blu Resort using American Express points I transferred to Radisson reward. When we arrived we were greeted by the general manager that confirmed we got the upgrade I previously asked via email. We were given the best room available, a beautiful 2 bedroom duplex sea view room. I used 22500 Radisson rewards points to pay for a sea view room that cost around $180 a day (much cheaper if you book in advance) and got upgraded to a room that cost $350 a day!
DAY 10 AND DAY 11: the last 2 full days we had in Egypt passed by really slowly, relaxing and playing on the beach, eating really good food at the restaurant, kayaking in the little enclosed lagoon, enjoying the playground…
If you read my previous article you know that when Liam and Santiago were 13 months old we had a disastrous beach holiday, you can read my experience here. I thought I would have to wait years before to enjoy again time on the beach. This trip we made a test, and I can say that at 28 months we are ready to start again to visit the seaside!!!!
DAY 12: time to leave unfortunately. After a hectic breakfast (there were so many good things at the buffet ) we checked out and squeezed into the taxi that was waiting for us (booked again through Djed), and in an hour and half we were in Urghada to catch our flight to Cairo, from where we took the 5 hour flight to London.
Everything went well, and in Cairo we also managed to find a Priority Pass Lounge where we relaxed and ate while waiting for our flight.
When we leave for a trip I always hope that we will have a good time (of course who doesn’t?) but this time Egypt exceeded my expectations!
I can’t recommend this trip enough, it will fill your head with beautiful memories, and you will want to go back from the moment you are home. All the Egyptian people we met were lovely and we never felt unsafe.
I hope this article will make you consider to go to Egypt soon!!!