2018 Egypt- Luxury on a budget

Yet again, a long overdue travel blog is here. For a woman who has never set foot in another country, one might say Egypt is not a very safe ‘first time abroad option.’ I can tell you now from experience, that it is not true and as long as you are ready to blend into their culture you will be absolutely fine. I travelled to Egypt for 7 days in November 2018 which I think was very little to explore an entire country but I covered what I could and wanted to.

A month before the trip and after my visa was through, I did worry quite a bit about what I was going to pack. A middle-east country is not easy to crack for women. I’ll put up another post on my outfits for all days there. Here I’m going to talk about the activities and places.

 

Day 1

A 16-hour flight (2 layovers) from Bangalore to Egypt later, I landed in Hurghada at 6.30 PM. Travelling alone, I was picked up by some friends of my brother. We reached The Grand Resort, Hurghada in 15 minutes. Now before you roll your eyes at ‘resort’ like this is some fancy expensive trip let me stop you. We bagged a good deal at the resort for about 270 EUR that covered stay and food for 7 days. Which isn’t bad I think, cause if you can stay at a 5-star resort with the same budget as an Airbnb, why wouldn’t you?

 

For dinner we went to one of the restaurants in the resort complex, before unpacking and crashing. We were 9 of us in number which worked out great for all group activities, so I’d suggest having a group, it will work out cheaper. Also, work on getting your passport stamped well in advance because my brother joined us 2 days later due to some last minute issue in Belgium PO.

 

Day 2

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Grand Breakfast

At breakfast (which was super grand by the way), we decided to relax and explore the resort because some of us landed very early in the morning and needed some rest. We came across a few instances where we were looked at expectantly for tips for services that were all inclusive and already paid for. So a heads up here, carry plenty of 1 or 2 EUR coins to tip people everywhere, it is something that everyone does here. My roommate and I went ahead and indulged some pool time with some beer on the side while the rest got themselves a massage.

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The huge pool
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Panaroma of the Resort

Lunch was again a grand set up with all sorts of cuisines to suit all palates. After lunch, we visited the beach for a few hours. The sun sets earlier here than I’m used to so they shut down the beach by 5.30 everywhere. The water was crystal clear and to be honest, we were the noisiest people there. Lol.

 

We were well spent by dinner time, decided to visit a fancier restaurant which had some Egyptian entertainment in store for us. The food was great, yet again. But I’m afraid Egypt is not the best place for alcohol, it’s available in abundance but extremely diluted. Beer was still alright. The entertainment was amazing.

 

From what I’ve grown up hearing/ watching on cartoons or TV, I had a different image of the outfit on my mind. Much to my surprise here, they were all dressed conservatively yet graceful.

Day 3

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Fruits and meat for breakfast

The plan for the day was to explore the desert and get out of Hurghada. Interesting thing I learned here ‘Sahara’ is desert in Arabic. So I guess it’s wrong to call it Sahara Desert. Activities and site seeing wasn’t included in our resort package so this day trip costed us 40 EUR per person, dinner included.

Anyway, we were asked to dress up in rugged clothing and closed shoes as we’ll be surrounded by dust and sand. The drive to the destination was a treat to the eye. Clear Blue sky and desert on either side of the road for kilometres!

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Clear blue sky with desert on either side
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The destination

On reaching ‘Desert Adventure Safari’ we were further asked to cover up with the Arabic scarf, the sand particles can be quite sharp I heard. We had the buggy to drive for about 40 minutes which was fun and so easy as opposed to what was next. The Egyptians love to make couples of all members in the group, something I came across everywhere. My roommate and I were made to take one buggy and they would not buy that we were just friends. In fact, we had met just the previous day (facepalm). So I guess Egypt is a great destination for couples because they seem chill about it *coughs unlike India*.

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My Roommate and I
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Feeling badass!

The next ride was meant to be solo and we had to do a 1-minute test drive to see if we could handle a quad bike. (ladies please wear your best sports bra for this, you know the agony of having your assets flung around, I luckily wore  one) Of the 1 hour that we got to ride it, the first 20 minutes were absolute hell. It was like riding one of those raging bulls at a gaming complex, except that here, there was no cushion if you fell off. But I’m glad I got to the good part. You get used to it in a while and then it is just super fun riding over the dunes.

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I was smiling, can you tell?

After some tea and pee break we went back to our jeep and they drove us to a small village nearby. There was a little hillock where we climbed up and saw the sun set and clicked some nice pictures.

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Remember drawing scenery like this back in Pre-school?
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A better picture

Soon after, we visited one of the families and the woman cooked us some bread, using camel dung as fuel. Her daughters were a delight to talk to, such happy children. After this we headed back to ‘Desert Adventure Safari’ for dinner.

img_20181113_175145 The same place looked completely different at night with floor-level tables set up and filled with tourists. We had some belly dance and Egyptian entertainment followed by sheesha for a couple of hours. After this, we were gifted post cards with our names written in Arabic and then driven back to our resorts. On reaching the resort, we saw that my brother had finally managed to make it after all that delay and confusion in Belgium. Having Put some food in his belly and then smoked some more shisha we headed back to our rooms.

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The Brother!

Day 4

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Since day 3 had exhausted us we thought of doing something lighter like snorkelling, or lighter we thought. For this activity, we had two options, either Giftun islands which was 15 EUR but extremely crowded with tourists and may have unclean equipment, or Sharm-El-Arab which was 50 EUR for a private beach with minimal people and clean equipment. With majority votes, the latter won and that’s where we spent the day. On reaching, we were welcomed with beer and allowed to relax for a bit while being instructed on proper usage of snorkelling equipment.

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The grand entrance
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Just look at that view

Some of us had a peep in the shallow ends of the water, there were fish everywhere. The activity was for two sessions of 45 min each with a lunch break in between. We swam as a group to the deeper end (100m approx.) with life jackets on. The guides dragged a few tires along in case some of us got tired, and we did. But the view was breath-taking! The sea bed was invisible at one point and it was just different shades of blue with colourful fish swimming to us.

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Monkeying around underwater
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Exploring, am I Dora yet?

In the shallow end we could see corals all over the place. The guide also recorded our whole experience, clicking pictures for all of us alone and as a group. For lunch we had an array of sea food to choose from. This is where I was disappointed, apparently crab is only boiled and eaten?? Heh? Fish is grilled and served and you add salt to suit your taste?? I ate beef that day. The second session was super tiring, we were taken to a different location but took very long to get there, I was already holding on to a tire. Once back from this we had some light moments of wearing Egyptian outfits and getting pictures clicked.

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The guide did all of that for us. Oh, and we also had a 10 min massage included in the break, totally needed. We got back to our resorts before sunset to rest, to prep ourselves for an overnight journey to Cairo that night.

Day 5

We left Hurghada at 2 AM in a mini bus. Cairo is about 8 hours away so we were in the Egyptian museum, Cairo by 10 AM. Some of us who managed to get through the Q, freshened up at the public restroom, the rest of us chewed gum.

 

This trip costed us about 40 EUR each inclusive of transport, lunch, guide and all entry tickets. The guide took us through the museum explaining whatever caught our eye. They say, if each exhibit in there was explained in detail, it would take us 3-4 days to cover the whole place. There were these two large sculptures that stood right in the centre, apparently it was brought there first and then the museum was built around it.

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The main exhibit in the centre.

There were many interesting exhibits, Mummies, ridiculous jewellery, gold tombs, preserved gut of queens and I even came across my name somewhere! 2-3 hours later we were given the option of visiting the market or going for a cruise on river Nile. To cut cost, we chose the market and some of us wanted to pick up souvenirs. So instead we drove by River Nile and got a quick group picture. I expected river Nile to be blue for some reason but it looked like the Sabarmati in Gujarat, India. But I still get to say I saw the Nile!

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The Majestic Nile!
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Group picture 🙂

Lunch was at Cleopatra Restaurant which overlooked the pyramids offering a perfect view for the meal. We quickly fuelled up with food and beer and left to see the pyramids. I always thought there would be this large area of desert, at least as big as a city and in the midst would be this magnificent wonder. And probably the only way to access it was by camel or foot. Much to my surprise, there were roads till the entrance. In fact, we were driving by this main road and on the left side, we could see the pyramids amidst apartments.

 

It was a beautiful place nonetheless, words simply cannot explain how majestic in scale and appearance this wonder was! We went around on camels and got some must-have pictures clicked. However, we didn’t go inside the great pyramid because I’m a teeny tiny bit claustrophobic and almost died entering a smaller tomb there. Here again, the camel keeper kept asking if I was my roommate’s wife. Facepalm.

 

The sphinx is on the same site so we quickly went there and back so we could see the sun set by the pyramids. What a sight it was! On the way out of the sphinx complex, there is a street with stalls that sell souvenirs. We were told not to touch souvenirs from people without stores, they really will push you to touch it and then charge you a bomb. Even at the store, you will have to up your bargaining skills. I was told each piece would be 5 EUR and ended up buying 8 for 5 EUR. And this was only a small buy. Beware.

 

Happy and extremely tired we returned to our mini bus that drove us back to our resort by 11 PM.

Day 6

After three days of continuous travel and activities we decided to take it easy and cut off Luxor from our itinerary. I will be back again to see you, Luxor. We slept in late and had a good 60-minute-long Cleopatra massage around noon after a lazy breakfast.

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We were stretched out and beaten up and then wrapped in grated coconut. I’m kidding, it felt so good, the masseuses really know what they are doing. Found out mine was 19 and apparently she thought I was a child, well surprise to the both of us. We lazed by the pool all day trying to get a tan we didn’t need (Indian skin FTW). Before moving to the beach to spend the evening, a quick visit to the room left us in splits. The housekeeping boys had set up our bed with swans hugging our souvenirs. It was super cute, but only the rooms with girls in them had them, haha.

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Sunsets at the beach is always nice, besides, my brother had missed our beach day so I spent some time with him there. The last two evenings were for markets and shopping so we took a minibus to the city market to find some authentic food and articles. The street shops are open till late night so the only thing you need to worry about is the cold breeze. You will find all sorts of shops like fake perfumes that smell exactly the same, fake branded articles-  Gucci, MK, Chanel etc. and of course the standard sand souvenirs. They are all over the place. I picked up a few but they broke en route, so figure out a way to pack them if you’re buying.

 

Dinner was at ‘Starfish Seafood restaurant.’ We picked up a huge red fish fresh from the red sea. They grilled it for us and served it with some salad and bread and that was our dinner. It was extremely filling.

 

Since it was the last night that all of us would be together, we gathered in one room and drank whiskey till I passed out.

Day 7

The last day in Egypt before a 16-hour flight back to Bangalore, I spent panicking and packing up all morning. for someone who had a flight that night, my roommate seemed rather chilled. Mine was the next morning. Once done with packing we went back to soak in some beach sun.

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The red Sea

This time we came across this group of Egyptians dancing to a very old Bollywood number so obviously we stood behind them and danced like idiots. They even gave us a group hi-5. The afternoon was spent with some of us playing beach volleyball with foreigners there while others watched and cheered on. We headed back for lunch and a siesta before the final session of shopping. My money was spent by now; I was only a spectator after this. There was one thing that really caught my eye here. They engrave your name into a pendant in the Egyptian hieroglyphs which you can either wear as a bracelet or necklace. It costs 6 EUR at Cleopatra bazaar and in Cairo it costed over 20 EUR. But they take one day to make it and I couldn’t get one. We picked up a group T shirt of course for one last picture before we all went our separate ways.

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A beautiful country with extremely friendly people. There was not one street which I walked in where a local didn’t start up a friendly conversation with me. “Namaste” “You India?” “Mehbuba.” The airports though was a little rough on me as an Indian, I’m not complaining, I was safe and had a good time. I will definitely go back some day.

Total Cost

Resort- 270 EUR

Short trips- 130-150 EUR

Air tickets IND to EGP- 600 EUR

Total about 1000 EUR

*It costed nearly half the price for the people who travelled from Europe. The resort has a deal that covers air tickets and transfer for around 350 EUR

**Pictures by Jeevan, Curran and me.

 

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