Sixteen international travel planners gathered at JFK International Airport in March for an overnight flight to Cairo and weeklong trip through Egypt. This familiarization trip designed by Aventura World had proven to be their best opportunity to see the remarkable Land of the Pharaohs for themselves. As they met, they shared the collective interest of their groups back home in the culture they would enjoy and the splendor they would see. Egypt, they thought, was undergoing a renaissance for travelers and could take a leap forward as an exotic travel offering for their groups upon their return.
Day 1 & 2
• JFK to Cairo
• Overnight at the Conrad Cairo Hotel
Ian Scott, general manager of Aventura World and host for the trip, greeted the travel planners as they arrived at the EgyptAir departure desk. They cleared customs in Cairo 10 hours later and headed to their hotel, the Conrad Cairo, a downtown property just one street from the bustling Nile River. Scott introduced them to their tour director for the trip, Egyptologist Ihab Wagdy, who offered them a few tips about traveling in Egypt before they checked into the Conrad to get some rest.
• Great Pyramids of Giza & Sphinx
• Papyrus Institute
Excitement energized the group as its members readied for the short ride to the Great Pyramids of Giza, Egypt’s archaeological wonders known throughout the world. The Giza Plateau, where the three largest pyramids were constructed more than 4,000 years ago, is just a few miles from Cairo, the country’s massive capital of 22 million residents.
Wagdy handled ticketing procedures throughout the week, and the planners entered the grounds quickly through a group portal. He briefed them on the history of these massive structures built by pharaohs to encounter the afterlife. Up to 10,000 workers toiled daily at Giza, and the granite used was quarried near Aswan, 500 miles away, and ferried up the Nile during the river’s flood season.
Great Pyramid of Khufu
The Great Pyramid of Khufu is the oldest and largest at Giza. Completed about 2570 B.C., its inner passageway has been retrofitted for adventurous visitors, and several paid to clamber up its labyrinthian steps to an upper chamber. Most viewed it from outside, where vendors offered camel and carriage rides to hundreds of visitors. The Pyramid of Khafre and the Pyramid of Menkaure stand nearby.
Afterward, the group headed to a nearby vantage point for photographing the pyramids, where several mounted camels trotted off into the desert sands. Wagdy assisted in negotiating a final price before they mounted because riders are at the mercy of the handlers to dismount.
The group made its way to the Sphinx, where everyone jostled to get a photo with the mythological being built during Khafre’s reign. Historians remain puzzled as to the symbolic nature of this lionlike creature, whose weathered countenance seems eternal.
Three Pyramids Papyrus Institute
Egyptian papyrus is an ancient artform, and the group’s visit to the nearby Three Pyramids Papyrus Institute sparked a buying binge. Purchases like this throughout Egypt proved to be a bargain. It’s a very inexpensive country for travelers.
Introduction to Egypt
That evening, the planners gathered for an introductory lecture by noted Egyptologist Faraq Alsharabasy. He said that Egyptians were masters of civilization, and he illustrated how they created early judiciaries, burial systems and forms of artistic expression.
• Cairo to Aswan
• M/S Mojito
• Temple of Isis
The intrepid travel planners left the hotel with bags in tow at 3:30 a.m. to catch their 90-minute flight to Aswan. Aswan means “market,” and this arid city was a crossroads for African commerce for centuries. Today, many know Aswan Dam as the product of years of international cooperation to stem the flooding of the Nile. Numerous temples were moved to higher ground for preservation before completing this massive impoundment, which covers 2,000 square miles in Egypt and Sudan, in 1970.
The group visited a quarry where huge Egyptian obelisks were shaped from granite for use in temples before boarding the M/S Mojito for a four-day cruise on the Nile. Similar to European river cruise vessels, the ship offered comfortable accommodations, a dining room and bar, and a spacious top deck with a lounge and pool. After lunch on board, they boarded a small vessel and headed for nearby Philae.
Temple of Isis
Construction of the Temple of Isis in Philae was begun around 690 B.C. Isis was the protector of the dead and mother to Horus, a god represented as a falcon. Artwork in this temple, like others, was later defaced by Christians and Muslims. The elegant Kiosk of Trajan stands by itself facing the Nile and has been painted by artists for centuries.
• Felucca Cruise
• Tombs of the Nobles
• Cruise to Kom Ombo
• Galabeya Dinner
The group left early for a cruise aboard a felucca, a traditional Egyptian sailboat, and enjoyed a sunlit morning on the Nile. Ancient tombs punctured the far hillside as the boat cruised by the Aswan Botanical Garden on Kitchener Island. They sailed as far as the Agha Khan Mausoleum, the prominent burial site of a wealthy imam who wintered there until his death in 1957.
Tombs of the Nobles
Several travel planners went with Scott to catch a boat to the far shore to hike up to the Tombs of the Nobles. They walked to the base of the hill where Nubian rulers’ tombs remain from 2,000 years ago and climbed several hundred stone steps to the site. An impromptu guide joined them and took them into several tombs. Then they continued up to the summit, where young travelers from Luxor welcomed them to Egypt and took photos with them overlooking Aswan.
Cruise to Kom Ombo
The group walked through the market in Aswan to buy Egyptian garb for a party back on the Mojito that night. The ship cruised that afternoon, and everyone went to the top deck for some sun and relaxation. The fertile delta of the Nile gleamed where crops and livestock flourished.
For planners who wondered about crocodiles, the Temple of Kom Ombo delivered. It celebrated Sobek, an ancient crocodile-headed Egyptian god, and Horus, the falcon god. Worshipping Sobek was intended to appease the Nile’s crocodiles. Here, the group saw its first nilometer, a deep sandstone well that measured flood levels for taxation purposes. The nearby Crocodile Museum features mummified remains of reptiles of up to 18 feet long.
That evening, the travelers gathered decked out in their galabeya evening wear. These traditional garments are available in any local market, and everyone donned the Egyptian finery for a festive evening event.
• Carriages to Temple of Horus
• Afternoon Cruise
• Luxor Temple
The next day brought an exploration of the Temple of Horus in Edfu, a relaxing day aboard the cruise vessel and an evening visit to the stunning Luxor Temple.
Temple of Horus
Wagdy stressed the importance of partnering up for the mad dash to the Temple of Horus in Edfu. Each day, hundreds of travelers make their way to the temple from the riverfront on two-person carriages. This horse-drawn commute was the loudest, dustiest, most chaotic cultural event of the week. The clattering of hooves lasted several minutes until Wagdy could be seen at the temple arrival area waving wildly.
The Temple of Horus honors Egypt’s god of the sky. Horus was a favorite of pharaohs, and this temple is among the country’s best preserved. It dates to 257 B.C., and its massive outer courtyard leads to ornate inner chambers and worship sanctums.
Afternoon Cruise Time
After lunch on board, Scott addressed the group concerning Aventura World’s trips to Egypt. He stressed the importance of the professional security detail that had accompanied the group in Cairo and the manned security stations along the river for riverboat passengers.
The Mojito headed for its last stop, the ancient city of Luxor. During another gorgeous afternoon, high tea was served on the top deck, and everyone enjoyed a last day afternoon on the Nile.
Upon arrival, the group went at dusk to Luxor Temple. Twilight and elaborate lighting made this the most photogenic temple of the trip. The Avenue of Sphinxes in Luxor, now being restored, will be a world-class promenade upon completion. It is highlighted by excavated stone sphinxes that stretch from this temple to Karnak Temple, almost two miles away.
• Valley of the Kings
• Temple of Hatshepsut
• Karnak Temple
The day started early as the group explored the Valley of the Kings, then went on to discover two more distinctive ancient temples.
Valley of the Kings
The group left very early to ferry across the Nile for its ride to the Valley of the Kings, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that features more than 60 excavated tombs of Egyptian rulers. As a result of this predawn start, it was the first group into the site, and when the planners left two hours later, hundreds of visitors were queued up to catch the incoming trams.
Wagdy briefed the group on Egyptian hieroglyphics found on the tombs’ passageways, as well as the Book of the Dead, the ancient funerary text created to illustrate the lives of the deceased. These hieroglyphics remain remarkably vibrant despite dating to 1400 B.C.
The group entered the tombs of Ramses IV and Ramses IX, and several entered the tomb of Tutankhamun, the site’s most prominent because of the wealth of possessions discovered within. British archaeologist Howard Carter found the tomb in 1922 after searching for years, and parts of its vast contents, including the golden death mask of the young pharaoh, have become Egyptian icons.
Temple of Hatshepsut
The group made its way to the imposing Memorial Temple of Hatshepsut, which stands against a towering cliff face in nearby Deir al Bahri. This reconstructed temple, built in the 1400s B.C., was gloriously landscaped at its original site on the Nile delta, where it stood across the river from the Temple of Karnak.
Karnak Temple, a series of ancient complexes occupying a prominent corner in the city, was the final stop in Luxor. By sheer volume alone, the temple lives up to its ancient title, “The Most Esteemed of Places.” Built and rebuilt for 1,500 years, its highlights include the Great Hypostyle Hall, known for its vast store of towering stone columns; the Obelisk of Hatshepsut, the largest in Egypt; and its sacred lake, the only such body of water on this tour of temples.
• Egyptian Museum
• Franciscan Joint School
• Al-Azhar Park
For its last day full day in Egypt, the group caught an early flight from Luxor to Cairo and some surprise visits to fascinating institutions that showcase Egypt’s multicultural society.
Egyptian Museum of Antiquities
The day’s activities in Cairo started at the Egyptian Museum. The group toured the Tutankhamun galleries, which are highlighted by the pharaoh’s death mask, his ornate sarcophagi and myriad other contents from his tomb. Halls filled with Egyptian mummies are displayed, and the preservation of detail for some is astonishing. Royal jewelry collections in the museum are stunning.
Franciscan Joint School
Scott surprised the group with a trip to the Franciscan Joint School in Cairo, where delightful schoolchildren of Muslim and Christian faiths entertained them with songs rehearsed for the occasion. School officials explained the school’s multifaith mission, and wide-eyed kids treated the planners like celebrities.
The group visited Old Cairo, a multicultural neighborhood that includes Coptic Christian influences dating to the third century and Islamic influences dating to the time of Mohammed in the 10th century. They visited Ben Ezra Synagogue and Al Moallaka Church, one of Cairo’s most influential Coptic churches. Old Cairo fascinated the group with its street-side vendors, marketplaces for sheep and goats, and suffocating traffic.
Wagdy arranged a police escort to circumvent the standstill and got the group to the week’s best lunch stop at Cairo’s Al-Azhar Park. Hundreds of local families enjoyed its beautifully landscaped grounds, many with picnics. Gifted to the city in 1984 by Agha Khan IV, this $30 million urban park has earned worldwide acclaim. The group enjoyed a wonderful Egyptian lunch with pita bread, hummus, fresh salad, grilled chicken and beef kabobs, and vegetables, a fitting feast for its last meal as a group.
• Departure from Cairo
These travel planners had become friends, and they recounted their collective experiences on their way to Cairo International Airport early the next morning for their flights home. From temples to tombs and from predawn starts to nightcaps on the Nile, it had been a week of shared astonishment. Many were already discussing their respective travel groups and who among their followers would return with them and Aventura World to see firsthand the remarkable sights of ancient, exotic Egypt.
For more information: