I traveled to Cairo and Luxor with my wife and 10-year old son from Los Angeles on Swiss Air through Zurich in February 2018. The trip was 9 days. The weather in Egypt was warm and mostly sunny the whole time.
This trip report covers:
Zurich Airport and area
Cairo, attractions, and tour company
Luxor, attractions, and tour company
Sheraton hotel and Casino Cairo
Hilton hotel and resort Luxor
This was our first visit to Egypt and, over-all, the trip was great. Egypt is such a special place. As in any international travel there were occasional snags and hiccups along the way, but that’s just part of the experience and makes for more colorful memories and stories later. Our experience with the Egyptian people was positive and enriching, and there was never a time that we felt unsafe or insecure.
A word of advice; understand that since the revolution, the economy has been in decline, so the Egyptian people are working as hard as they can to take care of their families. You will want to find a way to get your hands on small Egyptian bills. Lots of them, whenever you can. Everyone is very helpful and a gratuity is expected. Accept the assistance when you want it, and tip appropriately. Decline assistance assertively when you don’t want it. People can sometimes be a bit aggressive in their assisting. If you go in prepared with that expectation, you will be more understanding and it won’t reflect negatively on your experience.
Our Swiss flight itinerary included a 6-hour layover in Zurich in each direction – which was great for us because we like to take advantage of long layovers. On the way to Egypt we got a room at the Radisson Blu hotel in Zurich airport and my son and I rested and took showers while my wife ran on the treadmill. It was a nice break after the 11-hour flight. The room was $120 Swiss Francs for day use. (The Zurich airport is phenomenal. They even have rooms for such situations, but for the price and the privacy, we felt the Radisson was a better deal for us – but the airport hospitality rooms are definitely worth checking out).
(LAX to Zurich: Boeing 777-300)
I had arranged in advance for a private tour of the airport during that layover as well. It was great; a guide had us wear flourescent vests and ID badges and took us around the airport, showing us behind-the-scenes, and even took us down onto the tarmac to get close to planes pulling up to the gate and getting connected to the jetway, etc. It was a 90 minute tour. I recommend checking out their tour options on their airport website if you find yourself with a stop there. Most of them require several weeks advance reservation, but they were able to accommodate us with about 7 days notice.
Then we took the 4 hour flight to Cairo. (Bombardier C Series aircraft)
Our experience with Swiss was very positive, from the crews, to the planes, and even the food was fine on each leg of the journey. They provided pillows and blankets – and Swiss chocolates! All of the staff at Zurich Airport were also very friendly.
We arrived to Cairo around 2am. Once we got off the plane, I headed straight to one of the bank kiosks and purchased our visas and stuck them into our passports before going through customs. I had $75 USD set aside specifically for that purpose. Easy peasy.
I had arranged in advance for transportation to the Sheraton Cairo with Cairo Airport Travel (which I found and booked through TripAdvisor before leaving LA). Once we got our bags, we were bombarded by taxi drivers offering us rides. It didn’t take too long for us to find the booth for CAT. It did, however, take a few minutes for the employee to show up. Once he did, he had our names and car prepared and the ride to the hotel was fine.
The Sheraton Cairo hotel is nice. Two towers along the Nile with a few restaurants and a casino – which I didn’t visit. The hotel was apparently renovated not too long ago. There’s plenty of security and the staff is friendly, helpful, and professional. We got a non-smoking Nile view room with a balcony and two full-sized beds.
We ate most of our breakfasts in the club lounge which takes up the entire 26th floor of the hotel with great views on all sides. There’s even a balcony up there as well. There is plenty of food and beverages available throughout the day and extra food during breakfast and dinner. They strictly enforce the no food to-go policy, unfortunately.
On our first day, Monday, we took it easy. We just walked from our hotel across the bridge to Gezira island in the Nile and had dinner in Cairo Tower. We ate at the revolving restaurant near the top. It wasn’t at all crowded, so reservations were not necessary. The staff was attentive and the dinner was fine. The restaurant made one full rotation throughout our dinner, plus we went to the observation deck. There was a kid’s section of the menu which my son appreciated. My vegetarian wife got salad and vegetables, my son had pasta, and I had a local chicken and rice dish. We all had bread. In fact, we ate a lot of bread in Egypt. Every meal. Lots of good breads.
I don’t remember the cost of dinner, but it was very reasonable.
The next day, Tuesday, was a full-day tour including the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities and the pyramids of Giza. You can see that review here.
On Wednesday we had planned to go to Al Azhar Park and the Nilometer, then a one hour sail on a felucca. We hired a driver who took us to the Nilometer first- which we thought was very cool. It’s an ancient buiilding that Egyptians used to use to predict how much the Nile was going to flood every year. We were literally the only people there, other than the small staff. We got to climb the stairs down to the bottom. It’s a beautiful building. I first read about it on Atlas Obscura.
Unfortunately we didn’t make it to Al Azhar Park that day. Our driver got lost forever and we ran out of time as we had to get back for our scheduled felucca sailboat ride. That was a little disappointing. The ride in the car, however, was its own thrill ride! Cairo drivers are some of the most aggressive I’ve ever come across. It’s action packed.
The felucca ride was okay. There was very little wind that day so it made it a little tough. I’ve read that felucca rides are better left for Luxor and I would probably agree with that.
After the felucca, we asked to get dropped off at a restaurant called Mirai. It’s in a grouping of three restaurants including Sequoia and Left Bank. All three were very cool, with a nice contemporary vibe. We had dinner for the three of us including some wine, overlooking the Nile, for less than $40 in a really nice setting. I recommend it.
From there we got a Nile taxi boat ride back to our hotel. I called them and booked the ride while we were at dinner. The taxi stop was right next to the restaurant. It was a fun speed boat ride up the Nile for about $13 and they dropped us off right at our hotel. Perfect.
It’s called Nile Taxi and they were very accommodating. We ended using them again a few days later.
Wednesday evening we wanted to get laundry done so I found Mama Cairo laundry about three blocks from our hotel on El Tahrir street. For about $12, they did two loads of laundry – pressed, folded, and bagged, in about 4 hours. Good stuff. I could have haggled for an even better price if I was willing to give them until the next day to do it, but I needed the clothes back that same evening. I also got some shawarma from a nearby vendor. Delicious. I could eat that every day.
Thursday was shopping and travel day. We got gifts for friends and family and then flew EgyptAir to Luxor. (Embraer 170 regional jet for 50 min.)
We left the hotel around 2:30pm for a 4:40 flight. That was not the original plan. We meant to leave the hotel at 2pm. That would have been much better. With all the Cairo traffic and multiple airport security screenings, we made it to our gate during the final boarding call. Phew.
The flight was easy – just under an hour – and we had arranged for the Hilton to pick us up at the airport. So, when we exited the airport, the driver was waiting with a sign for us. The ride to the Hilton was smooth and easy. Not a lot of traffic in Luxor.
The Hilton resort is a beautiful property with three restaurants and two heated pools. We had dinner our first night at Olives which was a very nice open-air restaurant. I had the koshery which was very good.
Friday, we got up and had a quick breakfast at their main restaurant. Breakfast was included in the room price and the spread was impressive. There were lots of local choices along with plenty of western choices as well. A wide assortment of fresh fruits, pastries, breads, an omelet station, pretty much everything you could ask for.
That day we did a full day tour of Luxor, including both the East Bank and West Bank. You can see my review of the Luxor tour here.
Saturday was a rest day. We hung out at the hotel, went for a swim, wrote out some postcards, and generally took it easy until it was time to fly back to Cairo.
We arranged for a taxi to take us to the airport at 2pm for a 4:10 flight. It was more than enough time. From hotel to gate was 40 minutes – even with the two different security stops for the taxi and the three different security stations inside the airport, we got to the gate with an hour to spare before boarding. The Luxor airport is pretty small and clean. There’s a cafe, a little souvenir store, a duty free shop, a prayer room, and a smoking lounge in the terminal.
The flight on EgyptAir back to Cairo was fine.
Note: make sure to print out or at least have mobile boarding passes on your phone prepared in advance. Security asked to see them just to get into the airport building.
For EgyptAir, at both Cairo and Luxor airports, shuttle rides were required from the gate to the airplane.
On Sunday we were back in Cairo for one more full day. In the morning, the family stayed at the hotel while I went back to the pyramids to get some more photos first thing in the morning before the tour buses started arriving. I hired a local photographer to join me. We were amongst the first people through the gate and we walked all over the Giza plateau. We were literally the only two people at the sphinx. Quite a different scene from the last time. After getting some shots there, we Ubered to Al Moez Street for a little while. Got a few more shots there, then we took the Metro back to Sheraton. Al Moez was four stops from Sheraton. It was the newer third Metro line and it was fairly easy to navigate.
Once I re-joined the family, we got a driver to take us through garbage city to the cave church. That was quite an experience. The roads were tiny dirt roads through a labyrinth of stacks of garbage and flies. There were also lots of friendly people, cafes, bakeries, people sitting outside socializing and smoking huka. It was fascinating.
And the cave church was striking. A huge, 20,000 seat church carved directly into the side of a mountain. There are statues and scenes carved into the mountain as well. Remarkable.
From there we went to Al Azhar Park. It’s a lovely park filled with local people enjoying the day. We saw a wedding, some birthday parties, friends taking selfies with one another, young couples sitting together, and lots of families. My son played in the playground, we got popsicles, and there were food stands selling pizza and burgers. There was also a very nice restaurant called Citadel View restaurant. I understand there’s another restaurant as well but we didn’t happen to see it.
In addition to the playground, there are gazebos and walking paths, fountains and water features. It’s a very nice park.
From there the driver dropped us off at one of the other restaurants we had wanted to try; Left Bank. The menu was very western, so don’t expect to try local delicacies or anything, but the food was very good and dinner for the three of us, including a couple glasses of wine was $40 in a nice atmosphere.
Our Swiss flight to Zurich from Cairo was scheduled for 2:30am. We left the hotel in an Uber around 12:30am. When we arrived to the airport we got a text message from Swiss indicating the flight would be delayed about 90 minutes. That would have been very helpful about 30 minutes earlier, we would have stayed in our hotel room. Oh well.
When we got to Zurich, we got another room at the Radisson Blu for day use. Similar situation, but this time we took the 15 minute train ride into the city. We were recommended a cafe in Old Town called Conditorei Schober. It was about a 12 minute walk from the main train station. We all got some hot chocolate and we bought some chocolates to take back home. Otherwise, just walking around sight-seeing. It was below freezing, so we popped into little shops whenever we could.
We got the train back to the airport without incident. It was a simple process. And caught the plane for the 12 hour flight back to LAX. Luckily there were several empty rows so I grabbed one so we could stretch out for the long ride home.
A successful trip, thanks in large part, to all of the forum advice on Trip Advisor. Thank you TA community!