If you're planning a trip to Egypt, it can be difficult to decide whether to explore independently or sign up for an organized tour. There are pros and cons to both approaches, as listed below. We have also included recommendations regarding the best itineraries, in case you decide that a tour is the right fit for you.
Are Egypt Tours Right For Me?
- Tours are often less expensive than planning your own trip. You can frequently find a package with airfare included that is cheaper than just the regular airfare alone.
- You can fit more sights into a limited time frame on a tour.
- Being part of a larger group with a guide that you trust can feel a bit safer than if you are traveling alone, especially if it's your first trip to Egypt.
- A knowledgeable guide who speaks your language will really benefit you at the numerous ancient sights.
- A tour is less flexible. If you find yourself bored by the temples you'll simply have to wait it out on a tour.
- Local tour guides usually earn a commission by taking a group to specific shops and stores near major sights. You may find yourself in a perfume shop when it doesn't interest you in the least.
- Traveling in a large group makes it difficult to meet local people other than those involved in trying to sell you something.
- Some tour itineraries pack so much in that there's little time for rest.
You can, of course, have the best of both worlds. Arrive a few days before your tour and you will find you have more time to get over jet lag and acclimatize to Egyptian life. You can also stay on after the tour and do some independent sightseeing. Some people choose to book several smaller portions of their holiday with a tour and then intersperse this with some independent traveling.
What to Expect on an Overland Egypt Tour
Classic overland tours include a few days in Cairo to see the Egyptian Museum, the Pyramids of Giza and more. Since most tours start and end in the capital, you can split the sights between the two visits. The next stop on most classic itineraries is usually Luxor; the gateway to some of Egypt's most impressive archaeological sights. These include the Temple of Luxor, Karnak and the Valley of the Kings and Queens. You'll usually spend at least two days in Luxor to see all the sights.
How your tour gets you from Cairo to Luxor is an important detail. If you are traveling by bus, make sure you have air-conditioning. It can get very hot and uncomfortable on this journey. Some tours choose to fly from Cairo to Luxor; this will save you time but add expense. One of the better ways to make it from Upper to Lower Egypt is to travel by train. There are several tours that include train travel on their itineraries. Overnight trains with berths travel from Cairo to Luxor and Aswan.
What to Expect on a Nile Cruise
From Luxor, many tours include a cruise down the Nile to Aswan, stopping en route at the ancient sights of Esna, Edfu and Kom Ombo. Some tours fly directly to Aswan and then work their way north along the Nile to the same sights. Either way, you'll want to spend at least three to four nights on a cruise. The best time to go on a Nile cruise is between October and April. If you only have a short time in Egypt, some tours offer a short one day cruise from Luxor to Qena with a stop at the Temple of Dendera.
There are many cruises to choose from, depending on your tastes and budget. The more luxurious boats have large, air-conditioned cabins with private bathrooms and the latest technology. Most cruise ships will have nightly entertainment on board – anything from belly-dancing shows to whirling dervish performances. If a floating hotel doesn't appeal to you, book a cruise on a traditional felucca instead. These ancient sailing vessels are not quite as comfortable as a large cruise ship, but certainly provide more adventure.
Optional Egypt Tour Add-Ons
There is more to Egypt than Cairo and the ancient sights between Luxor and Aswan, however. If you have time, consider adding a visit to the country's more off-the-beaten track highlights as well. Our favorites include:
Located on the shores of Lake Nasser in southern Egypt, the Abu Simbel temple complex was originally cut into the rock during the reign of Ramesses II. When the Aswan Dam was built, the site was threatened with flooding and the temple was moved block-by-block to higher ground. Tours include transport from Aswan and usually take a full day.
Built by Alexander the Great in 331 BCE, Alexandria was once an important center for Hellenistic culture, with iconic landmarks like the Great Library and the Lighthouse of Alexandria. These have since disappeared but it remains a great place to relax, soak up the atmosphere and sample fresh seafood at waterfront restaurants along the Corniche.
The Red Sea
For many tourists, the Red Sea is actually Egypt's biggest attraction. Head to a resort town like Sharm el Sheikh, Hurghada or Marsa Alam and spend lazy days swimming in the sea or lounging on the beach. Above all, the Red Sea is rated as one of the best scuba diving destinations in Africa, with thriving reefs and historic shipwrecks.
Located a two-hour drive from Dahab on the Red Sea coast, Mount Sinai is a place of exceptional beauty. Organized hikes get you to the summit in time to watch the sunrise from an elevation of 7,497 feet / 2,285 meters. The mountain is also spiritually important, as the place where Moses supposedly received the Ten Commandments.
Recommended Egypt Tours
If you decide that a tour is right for you, choosing which one to book can be tricky. After all, there are literally hundreds of options. Below, we have listed a few itineraries offered by reputable operators to serve as a helpful starting place. However, it's always a good idea to communicate personally with the company before booking to find out about hidden costs, group sizes, possible add-ons and more.
- Egypt Experience by Intrepid Travel. This tour lasts 12 days and starts and ends in Cairo. It includes a visit to Alexandria and a Nile cruise between Aswan and Luxor.
- King Ramses by On the Go Tours. Travel for 13 days from Cairo to Saqqara, Aswan, Abu Simbel, Luxor and the Red Sea Coast.
- Premium Nile Cruise by Exodus Travels. Sail from Luxor to Aswan in 5-star style on this nine-day tour, with the option to add on an Abu Simbel visit at the end.
- Nubians & Beaches by Encounters Travel. This 12-day tour takes you to Cairo, then on a cruise from Aswan to Luxor followed by a few days in coastal Hurghada.
- Egypt Family Holiday for Solo Parents by Intrepid Travel. This eight-day tour takes the stress out of traveling as a single parent and includes stops in Cairo, Aswan and Luxor.
- Family Egyptian Adventure by Explore!. A 10-day tour, this option combines the traditional sightseeing route between Aswan and Luxor with time on the Red Sea coast.
- Egyptian Family Adventure by On the Go Tours. This tour lasts for nine days and includes time in Cairo, Giza, Aswan, Philae, Kom Ombo and Luxor.
- Women: Goddesses, Queens and Heroines Tour by Wild Women Expeditions. Discover Cairo, Alexandria, Luxor, Aswan and Abu Simbel on this 12-day tour led by a female Egyptologist.
- Seniors: Egypt - Land of the Pharaohs by ElderTreks. This 22-day itinerary is exclusively for travelers aged 50 and over. In addition to the standard tourist sights, it takes you to Siwa Oasis, Mount Sinai and Sharm el-Sheikh.
- Gap Year: Egypt & The Nile by Contiki. Exclusively for 18 to 35-year-olds, this eight-day tour includes stops in Cairo and Hurghada, and a felucca cruise down the River Nile.
- Accessible: Alexandria to Abu Simbel Wheelchair Package by Memphis Tours. Travel the length of the Nile Valley on this 10-day, wheelchair-accessible tour.
This article was updated and re-written in part by Jessica Macdonald on August 7 2019 + fact-checked on August 11, 2020.