Our Trip to Egypt: Trip Merchant’s Travel Blog

Hello everybody, my name is Tom MacLean (Co-Founder of Trip Merchant) and thank you in advance for reading this blog. After being in the travel industry for over 18 years, the one destination that always escaped me was Egypt. I finally got the opportunity to go with my business partner, Ryan Mikucki in December 2018. The first time for the both of us.

It was a spur of the moment trip, planned only a month earlier. Once we told family and friends that we would be going, we got the inevitable question “Is it safe?”. The only way for us to be able to answer this question honestly was to go ourselves and experience it.  We wanted to feel the destination, eat the food and meet the people.


December 2nd, 2018

I flew out on December 2nd from Vancouver. The first leg of the journey was a 10 hour flight to Paris with Air France arriving in the morning. I took advantage of the 9 hour layover in Paris by taking a bus into town. After 50 minutes on the bus I got off near the Arc de Triomphe. Mission #1: Get coffee and croissants! In a split second that croissant was devoured. Mission#2:  See the Eiffel Tower, walk along the Seine River and walk up the Champs Elysees. And last but not least, order Onion Soup for lunch. It did not disappoint, a rich broth, lots of onion and topped with a healthy dose of fromage. Walked back up to the the Champs Elysees towards the Arc De Triomphe and waited a few minutes for the bus to take me back to the airport. I was ready to continue my journey to Cairo.


December 3rd, 2018

This second leg, Paris to Cairo was a little more than 4 hours. I was so excited to arrive and equally as excited for a horizontal bed. Almost there….. Who else likes following these route trackers?

Walked off the plane, followed the arrows towards customs and baggage claim, went down an escalator and there was Ahmed my personal guide through immigration and customs. He guided me to the Visa line (as a Canadian you need one). All you need is your Passport and $25 USD in cash (only US). If you forgot to bring $25 USD in cash with you, you will need to wait in the longer line to pay by credit card. After you pay them, they will take your passport and 5 minutes later you will have a Visa stamped in your passport.  

After getting my passport back, Ahmed points me to the customs line which was in the same hall. I waited in the line for about 20 minutes, while he went over to the other side of customs to wait for me. After passing through customs I reunited with Ahmed, we walked to collect my luggage at baggage claim and led me outside the terminal to the private car waiting to whisk me off to my hotel for the evening.

I arrived at the Grace hotel, a nice property suitable for a one night stay. Plugged in my laptop and goodnight Irene. Below is the adaptor that you will need for Egypt.


December 4th, 2018

Woke up at 8 am, showered and had a nice continental breakfast with 8 cups of coffee.

Back up to my room, packed my bags and back down to check out at 10 am. Ahmed and the driver were there at 10 am sharp to take me back to the airport to board my 1 hour flight to Sharm El-Sheik. I flew Nile Air (owned and operated by Egypt Air, the national airline). Domestic flights are about $150 on average per leg of the flight. In order to get from Cairo to any of the places in the South like Luxor, Aswan or destinations in the Red Sea like Sharm El-Sheik or Hurghada my recommendation is to fly especially if your limited in time.

December 4th – 7th – Sharm el-Sheikh

Arrived into Sharm, an Egyptian resort town between the desert of the Sinai Peninsula and the Red Sea. It’s known for its sheltered sandy beaches, clear waters and coral reefs. It was noticeably warmer in Sharm, than Cairo which averages about 17 degrees during the day in December. The weather was 24 degrees and sunny, not a cloud in the sky. I booked and stayed at the Savoy hotel, a seafront property on the Red Sea.  conveniently located in behind the hotel you have Soho Square with plenty of restaurants and shopping to keep you entertained in the evenings. I loved this resort! I booked 4 nights here for about $130 CAD per night, a property that one would easily expect to be $400 CAD per night in most other destinations.

This hotel boasts several pools, a fantastic buffet breakfast, gym and spa and 6 restaurants to choose from. This was my home for 3 nights to rest and relax before I was to start my tour of Egypt…ahhh life is good 🙂 The Red Sea is one of the best places in the world to go diving or snorkelling. The property will rent you all the snorkelling equipment you need for about $5 for the full day. There is a pier right in front of the hotel beach for you to go out and snorkel.

December 7th- Fly back to Cairo

After 4 fabulous days in Sharm, it was time to fly back to Cairo to meet up with Ryan and begin the sightseeing portion of our trip. Beyond excited at this point, knowing that very soon we would be standing in front of the Pyramids and seeing the Great Sphinx. Arrived into Cairo airport around 5 pm. Like clockwork there was Ahmed to meet me at arrivals.  He again guided me to my private car and then off to the Dusit Lakeview Cairo. An amazing 5 star property located in the downtown of New Cairo. Counter to my typical recommendation and preference of staying in a central location, the Old  city of Cairo struggles with traffic congestion and air pollution, for this reason we chose to stay in New Cairo. I checked into the hotel, and coordinated with Ryan who checked in earlier in the day to meet at the lobby bar. This hotel has several gourmet restaurants, including Tao which is known for its Asian fusion cuisine. Tao has other locations in New York City and Las Vegas. Our hosts, Mamdouh and his daughter, Sherouk met us later this evening and arranged a private meal for us at TAO. A mouth watering sampling of Chinese, Indian and Japanese foods.




December 8th, 2018 – Egyptian Museum of Antiquities and the Pyramids of Giza

Today was a day that we would never forget and we knew it when we woke up that morning.

Our Egyptologist, Ayman who has been a guide for over 30 years, picked us up at our hotel around 7:30 am with his driver in a comfortable air conditioned van with lots of leg-room. We drove into central Cairo, about a 40 minute drive; it’s not a great distance but the traffic slows it down. Along the way our guide gave us some great commentary on the country and what we were about to see at the museum. The Egyptian Museum is THE first stop for anyone visiting the country, especially if it’s your first visit to Egypt. The museum sets the stage for all the great temples in Luxor, Abu-Simbel, Karnak and the Valley of the Kings and the Queens. The reason for this is that it gives you a strong base of knowledge and prepares you for what you’re going to visit in person. There are over 120,000 artifacts of Ancient Egypt housed in the museum. Most of these have been discovered in the Valley of the Kings and the Queens, the famous burial site of the Pharaohs. Currently 62 tombs have been discovered in the Valley of the Kings and the Queens. The most famous is King Tutankhamen’s tomb, discovered in 1922 by the British Archaeologist Howard Carter. A significant portion of the museum is devoted to King Tut.


The Egyptian Museum of Cairo is located in central Cairo overlooking Tahrir Square. This site was made famous as the place for political demonstrations that led to the 2011 Egyptian revolution and the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak.  What an incredible museum this was to visit. Personally the best museum I have ever been to. It was unbelievably fascinating. The tombs, burial chambers, King Tut’s Death Mask, mummies that have been preserved, now encased in glass. We took about 50 pictures inside, here are 3. The picture on the farthest right is one of King Tut’s coffins. He had 2 outer coffins, before getting to the most extravagant innermost coffin.  I can’t emphasize enough the importance of having an Egyptologist with you to bring everything to life.


After spending several hours being overwhelmed by what we just learned and saw at this museum, it was time to make our way to the Pyramids. About a 30 minute drive to get to Giza, which is on the West side of the Nile River. This might be the time to talk about the rules of the road in Cairo. I will keep it simple, the rules are… there are no rules. You will see people walking/running across 8 lanes of traffic, as normal as we eat and sleep. Expect the unexpected. I believe they’re are angels in Cairo looking after people, because I can’t tell you how many times I expected somebody to get run over. There are all kinds of vehicles, people on motorbikes carrying there family on a two seater bike. And also this guy…

The Pyramids of Giza (our guide pronounced it “Jeezah”). We got to walk up on the Great Pyramid, the largest of the 3 Pyramids. There is an option to go inside. Not advisable for anybody with claustrophobia and breathing difficulties, as there is only enough room to walk in single file and you can’t turn around as the passageway is very narrow. It is also not very well ventilated as you can imagine.


Walking around this entire site is something to behold. When originally built, the pyramids were in the middle of the desert, but as the modern day city of Cairo has continued to grow and sprawl, the city is at the footsteps of the Pyramids. Nevertheless there is something very special about this place. It is my strong opinion that everybody at some point in their life needs to come and see this place for themselves.

We drove very nearby to the Great Sphinx. In the same vicinity as the Pyramids. It’s amazing how close you can get to all these incredible Egyptian marvels. In the evenings in this same spot there is a sound and light show that gives you the history of the Pyramids and the Great Sphinx. Today was a day that we will never forget.

December 9th, 2018 – Up at 4 am for our 5:30 am flight to Luxor

Waking up at 4 am is never easy, but a little easier when you know it’s a short 1 hour flight to Luxor, one of the magnificent and historical cities of Ancient Egypt. Mamdouh and Sherouk picked us up and our driver took us to the Cairo airport. We arrived into Luxor around 7 am, just in time to watch the sunrise over the city. Luxor is a very lush place, lots of flowers in bloom, palm tree lined boulevards and the Nile that cuts through the city. The air is fresh, the lifestyle much more relaxed and subdued than Cairo.

We stopped for some breakfast, our driver picked up some falafel and beans. Total cost was $15 to feed 4 of us.

Luxor is where many of the Nile Cruises either begin or end. Before the revolution of 2011, there were nearly 500 ships sailing the Nile, now because of the devastating impact this had on tourism there are only about 50 in full time operation. Tourism has only as of 2018 started to come back. The sad reality is there was no reason for this. This country has been stable for many years. The negative portrayal of this destination in the media has really hurt the Egyptian people. I can tell you by this point, both Ryan and I have witnessed the graciousness, friendliness and hospitality of the Egyptians. 90% of Egyptians are Muslim and about 10% are Coptic Christians, they peacefully coexist here and we saw many Mosques and Christian Churches that are next door to each other.

Before we were set to board our Nile Cruise, we did inspections of about 10 different ships. Here is one thing that we found: there are lots of “5 Star Nile Cruises”…but I can tell you, many are not truly 5 Star or anywhere close to it. Some of the better ones are the Sonesta Nile Cruises, Movenpick and if you want the best, pick the Oberoi. Oberoi ships, owned by the prestigious Oberoi chain of hotels based in India, are magnificent. If you really want to treat yourself, this is who you go with to be pampered in luxury. We had a tour of two of the Oberoi Nile Cruises; Oberoi Zahra and Oberoi Philae. Both are essentially identical and are known for excellent service and incredible food, not to mention luxurious cabins and surroundings. We had an amazing breakfast on board. Those freshly baked croissants were to die for.


After breakfast on the Oberoi, we got on board our ship. The Sonesta Moon, a solid 4 star ship and one of only 3 Nile Cruise ships that have balconies.

As we were traveling to Egypt on a familiarization tour, we did a shortened version of the cruise – 2 nights instead of 4. Sailings are typically 3 or 4 night Cruises between Luxor and Aswan, and are done in both directions. All meals and excursions are included when sailing on Nile cruises.



Sailing the Nile at sunset was so relaxing and peaceful…

December 10th, 2018 – Waking up in Edfu

We had breakfast on board our cruise, and then met up with our private guide. Everybody that is on the cruise gathers in the lobby level and are assigned a guide. There is typically one tour guide for every 15 guests. You’re given a boarding pass from reception, which  you take with you as you leave the ship for your excursion and then hand back once you return. Our guide led us to our our Egyptian Uber ride (horse and carriage) to the gates of the Temple of Edfu.

This temple was built in 300 BC, and took over 180 years to complete. As recently as 120 years ago, Egyptians were still living in the Temple of Edfu. It’s remarkable how well preserved this temple still is as we discovered when we entered. This temple was dedicated to the Falcon God, Horus. The Temple of Edfu is comprised of a main entrance, a courtyard and a chapel. The entrance that you see is 118 feet in height and is the tallest of all the Ancient Egyptian temples.


After the Temple of Edfu, we got back on board to continue on journey down to the Nile towards Aswan. We would then be in Kom Ombo about 1 hour before sunset.

Kom Ombo Temple, below is dedicated to the Crocodile God. At one time this area was home to huge numbers of Crocodiles. I remember shortly after taking this picture we could hear the Muslim Call to Prayer (which takes place 5 times per day). It was a very memorable experience being there as the sun was setting.


This was the evening of the Galabeya night back on the ship. Everybody gets dressed up in traditional Egyptian dress. It started shortly after dinner on the second level of the ship in the bar/lounge area. There are lots of comfortable seats, a bar area and a dance floor. The event was MC’d by the cruise director and there were some fun competitions like wrapping your partner in toilet paper to look like a Mummy. Another fun game was gathering everybody up on the dance floor to form a circle and the music plays as you pass a bottle to your left. The person left with the bottle when the music stops is eliminated from the game. I made it to the top 3 before getting stuck with the bottle.

December 11th – Waking up in Aswan

We woke up in the morning to find ourselves in Aswan. One of the hottest regions of Egypt, it can get upwards of 50 degrees celsius in the summer months. It’s a really beautiful city, a nice energy here. Nubians are those that are indigenous to this region and the south Sudan. This region is believed to be one of the earliest cradles of civilization. The high dam was built here in Aswan, to protect the city from the rising waters and flooding of the Nile and to also generate hydroelectricity, which was necessary to continue with Egypt’s industrialization. The reservoir that was created, was Lake Nasser, one of the largest man made lakes in the world at 480 km in length and 16 km in width at its widest point. Lake Nasser is not a place where you’d want to swim, as there are estimates of over 10,000 crocodiles that make their home in and around the bank of the lake.

Crocodiles are a big part of the local culture in Aswan, in fact many Nubians have crocodiles as pets in their homes. If you don’t believe me, google it.

This morning, our private guide took us for a short drive to board a small boat to take us to Philae Temple. This day, like every day we had in Egypt, was sunny with not a cloud in the sky. Each boat can accommodate about 6 passengers. It’s a short 10-15 minute ride to the dock at Philae Temple. The meaning of “Philae” in Ancient Greek is “the end” marking the southernmost limit of Egypt.

After Philae Temple, we were treated to a tour of the iconic property, the Old Cataract hotel. Made famous by Agatha Christie’s “Death on the Nile”, the property has been a favourite of royalty, heads of state and celebrities over the last century. We received a tour of the hotel, including the Winston Churchill suite which has its own magnificent private balcony. The main dining room, the 1902 Restaurant, is exquisite and opulent with a massively high ceiling. The property has an amazing terrace to have lunch or sip on some cocktails as you admire the views.


As we were here in Egypt, not just to sightsee but also a business trip, we needed to go back up to Luxor. So we took a local road that most tourists just wouldn’t do. The drive back was an exciting one, to say the least. We traveled through the back roads of Egypt, the drive was about 5 hours. We planned for a late lunch stop in the town of Kom Ombo (which we previously stopped at the temple only, while on the river cruise as we headed towards Aswan). In the heart of this town, there were no other tourists. Just us and the locals. The traffic was very congested once we got into Kom Ombo. One of the most memorable moments was stopping at this little corner shop. Ryan is in the picture below, and you will notice a small wooden chair beside him. The shopkeeper was taking a break to pray. That chair was there to indicate the store was closed. This is how trusting people are here in Egypt. We found this to be common throughout Egypt. When this shopkeepers, competing neighbour saw that we wanted to buy some snacks from this little store. He actually came over and processed the transaction on behalf of his neighbour. This was just one other example of the character, honesty and generosity of the Egyptian people and how they look after one another.


We arrived into Luxor in the early evening, visited Luxor Temple and the Temple of Karnak. Both were fascinating, there only about a 15 minute drive away from each other. We then got to our hotel, the Sonesta St. George Hotel in Luxor. After a long day, we had a late dinner at the Italian restaurant in the hotel and called it a night.


December 12th – Luxor/Valley of the Kings and Queens and Drive to the Red Sea

As the Sonesta St. George hotel overlooks the Nile, we had a nice view from breakfast.  This morning we made our way over to the Valley of the Kings and Queens. It was about a 30 minute drive. In order to get there, you go up the road and then cross a bridge to go over the Nile to the West side. Our first stop was the Mortuary Temple of Queen Hatshepsut. She was one of only 3 women in 3000 years of Ancient Egyptian history to become a pharaoh. Nearby is the Valley of the Kings where the burial tombs of 62 Pharaohs have been uncovered. The last tomb discovered was that of King Tut, back in 1922 by Howard Carter. There were many grave robbers back then, so the Pharaohs decided that this area would be a secret place for their tombs. As these pharaohs believed in the afterlife, they would make preparations for their tombs while still alive and would take with them their material belongings. These tombs are very elaborate, buried deep beneath the ground. The walkways to get to these tombs are fascinating.



We drove a short way to get to a local port on the west side of the Nile. From here, we boarded a little motorboat that jetted us across to our hotel which was pretty much directly across the Nile. No more than a 15 minute leisurely ride. We picked up our luggage, checked out and got in our private van to make our way across the desert to the Red Sea Resort in Hurghada. The drive was beautiful, about a 3 hour scenic drive through the mountains.

December 12th and 13th Red Sea

The Red Sea is world renowned as a diving and snorkelling mecca. What an amazing spot, and we were on our way to stay in the Oberoi Sahl Hasheesh, arguably the best hotel in the Middle East.

Upon arriving at the main entrance, we knew we were in for a treat. You enter through the security gates and drive a meandering path before arriving in front of the main entrance. The service here was absolutely impeccable, the food to die for and the accommodations..well you have to see it to believe it.


The property is spread out, and everybody gets their own villa. Inside you have a living room, bedroom, walk in closet, outdoor patio and courtyard and a lavish bathroom with a standup shower and bathtub. The dinner we had that evening was incredible, the best chicken I’ve ever had in my life. The buffet breakfast was perhaps the best I’ve had anywhere. Freshly baked croissants, smoked salmon, omelette and crepe station and so much more.


December 13th: Flying back to Cairo/North Coast Al Alamein

We drove to Hurghada airport, about a 20 minute drive from the Oberoi hotel. Boarded our short 50 minute flight to Cairo, to experience the last leg of our incredible first and definitely not last trip to Egypt.

Al Alamein is located on the Mediterranean Sea on the north coast of Egypt. This place is really popular in the summer months for Egyptians, it’s too cold for them here in December. Not so for a couple of Canadians. 22 degrees and sunny in December suits us just fine. It’s about a 3 hour drive to get up here from Cairo. The property that we were visiting, the Al Alamein Resort, was purchased from the Egyptian Government by Emaar, one of the largest real estate development companies in the world. This is the same company that essentially built Dubai. This location was originally the vacation home of the former Egyptian President, Nasser. Now redeveloped, this property is something else. Back in the 60’s many Egyptian celebrities like Omar Shariff would stay here. The hotel has only recently opened, and we were invited to stay – the first ever Canadians to stay there.


December 13th-17th – Rest and Relaxation at the Al Alamein Resort

The rest of the time was spent here in this remarkable place, alternating between laying by the beach and by the pool. There was essentially no more than 5 people that we saw each day laying on the beach. A true hidden gem, these places are increasingly more difficult to find. White sand beaches as far as the eye can see, magnificent sunsets and sunrises. What a great way to end our incredible life changing trip to Egypt.


December 18th – Flight back home

Egypt is a place that left us with so many great memories that we will not soon forget. Truly a place where all travelers must experience at some point in their life. We had an expectation of Egypt before we got here, all of which was exceeded. The sights, the people, the history, the beaches, what an incredible trip!


Travel Tips and Facts


  • Arabic, but English is widely spoken throughout


  • All-year round destination
  • All ways sunny and they promote that it’s sunny 360 days of the year
  • December/January are their winter months, but let’s face it, it’s not winter for most North American travelers as the temperature during the day can range from 20-25 C depending where. The morning and evenings can be cool, from 10-15 C but that quickly changes
  • Best times to travel September-May 


Voltage (Outlet):

  • The voltage in Egypt is 220 volts. You need an adaptor to plug into a wall outlet. Most electronics equipment (digital cameras, computers, smart phones) will have their own built in converter. Curling irons don’t, and so plugging in without could cause it to curl 


  • Egyptian Pound
  • 1 Egyptian Pound = O.075 CAD or 1 Egyptian Pound = 0.056 USD
  • 1 CAD = 13.42 Egyptian Pounds or 1 USD = 17.96 Egyptian Pounds
  • Can be difficult to acquire Egyptian pounds prior to arrival into Egypt (best to start looking for places in advance; Banks, Currency exchanges)
  • ATM’s readily available (most hotels, malls) 
  • Hotels or banks can exchange
  • Credit cards accepted throughout
  • Some places will accept USD 
  • *Note: cost of living is low! (example: 4 Starbucks coffees= $6 CAD)


  • Customary to tip 10% to restaurant staff (sometimes the tip is automatically added to your bill, check first)

Time Zone:

  • 7 hours ahead of EST, 9 hours ahead of CMT, 10 hours ahead of PST

Passport / Visa:

  • Passport of course
  • $25 USD for Visa upon arrival (give you a sticker to put in your passport) / then passport control

Driving, Cruise, Plane Distances:

  • Cairo: Drive from New Cairo to Egyptian Museum- 45-1 hour; another 15-30 min from there to Giza (Pyramids)
  • Cairo to Luxor: 1-hour flight
  • Luxor to Hurghada (Red Sea): 3.5-hours drive
  • Hurghada to Cairo: 1-hour flight
  • Cairo to North Coast (or Alexandria): 2.5 hour drive
  • North Coast to Alexandria: 1.5-hour drive
  • Cairo to Aswan: 1.5-hour flight

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