Daniela Bonnano, our intrepid Africa specialist, fulfilled a lifelong dream by traveling to Egypt last month. She examined ancient antiquities, unearthed hidden treasures in the souks, ate like a local, and learned things that any Egypt-bound traveler needs to know. Read on for Daniela’s inside scoop on the land of the pyramids…
Cruising The Nile
There are 280 ships sailing on the Nile River but only five are worth taking! I was on the Oberoi Philae but other great choices for deluxe clients include the Oberoi Zahra, the Sudan and the smaller Sonesta Dahabiya. There are a number of important considerations to keep in mind when booking a Nile River cruise – not only the ship and room category but which side of the ship to be on when going upriver vs. downriver. I have a lot of opinions on this topic and I couldn’t possibly go into all of the details here, so feel free to contact me for more information.
In Cairo, there are tons of hotel choices but the bottom line is that I recommend the Four Seasons First Residence and Mena House. However, Mena House’s Palace Wing, which is what we use for our clients, will soon be closed for two years so I will be booking mostly the First Residence. Incidentally, I get asked all the time why I prefer the Four Seasons First Residence to the Four Seasons Nile Plaza – there are many reasons but the quick answer is that the First Residence is smaller and has a more boutique style while the Nile Plaza is a larger hotel catering more to business travelers and groups.
The Egyptian Museum is fantastic and should not be missed! Its collection is so vast that much of it is currently in the basement. However, it will soon be relocating to a larger site closer to the pyramids so I expect it will be even better in its new home. Also, keep in mind that Absolute Travel can arrange private visits to the tombs of Nefertari and Seti, truly special experiences (but ones that come with a hefty price tag).
Egyptians like to eat fashionably late – wait until at least 9PM or the other diners will all be tourists. In Cairo, I loved Abou El Sid in Zamalek Island for its trendy atmosphere and Naguib Mahfouz in the bazaar for its excellent authentic local food. The restaurants in the top hotels are also reliably good – the brand-new Indigo in the First Residence Mall was a stand-out.
Aswan has the best souk for local crafts and souvenirs – I found some unusual Nubian artifacts there that I did not see anywhere else in Egypt. And upon learning that I wanted authentic Egyptian cotton sheets, my guide, a chic Egyptian woman, took me to a private showroom in a posh Cairo neighborhood where I bought hand-embroidered sheets, a silk bedspread and a few other treasures. She knew exactly what I wanted and where to find it – yet another reason why having a professional local guide is crucial!
A Perfect Day in Cairo…
Golfers should not miss an opportunity to hit the links at the Mena House Golf Course – it is literally in the shadow of the pyramids and might just be the most picturesque place in the world to tee off. Many Nile River cruises dock in Cairo in the morning but flights leave at night, so I suggest having lunch at Khan El Khalili, playing a round of afternoon golf, and then enjoying a last dinner at Moghul, one of Cairo’s best restaurants, before heading to the airport.
Please feel free to contact me directly with any questions or if you would like me to plan a private customized itinerary to Egypt – firstname.lastname@example.org! –Daniela