I entered my thirties with one goal: to get out of my comfort zone more often. Our recent trip to Egypt flung the door to my comfort zone wide open, and with surprising gentleness, ushered me out of it. What exactly does that mean? Well, it was way easier to travel through Egypt than I imagined it would be—especially considering that we decided to do it without a package. Read on for the full breakdown of our Egypt itinerary without a tour.
I tend not to be a fan of tours (with maybe one notable exception), but the blogs I read and the news I watch almost convinced me that maybe Egypt was too daunting for me. Go the easy route, book a tour, and have fewer things to worry about. I solicited a few offers for Egypt tour packages, but every quote I got back was absurdly expensive. So, Tim and I put together our own Egypt trip itinerary. We were pleased to find that it worked like clockwork (and was budget-friendly, to boot!).
7-Day Egypt Itinerary Without a Tour
Day 1: Travel + Cairo
We originally planned to stay in Cairo for the duration of the trip—and I’m glad AF we changed it. Cairo is chaotic and intense, and for those seeking a relaxing getaway, I advise you to minimize time here. We spent two days in the Egyptian capital.
Our flight (delayed out of Istanbul) arrived at Cairo International Airport in the late evening. By the time we processed our visas, found our hotel shuttle, and made it to our hotel in the Giza strip, we were pretty wiped out. Our hotel, located on the strip right beside the Sphinx, had a roof deck and bar overlooking the Pyramids, so we bundled up and enjoyed a glass of wine with a staggering view.
Definitely choose a hotel with a roof deck (there’s plenty to choose from). Sitting at the hotel eating breakfast or having a chilled wine with the pyramids practically in your lap feels unreal.
Day 2: Cairo – Zamalek, Khan el-Khalili, and the Egyptian Museum
This was the rockiest day of our trip. Cairo is famous for its tourist scams, and sad to say, we fell prey to one smooth operator pretty early on our first day. Though that put us in a decent grump, the rest of the day more than made up for it. We visited the Cairo Tower, the old Cairo souk Khan El-Khalili, the Egyptian Museum, and ended with dinner in Zamalek before heading back to watch the Pyramid Light and Sound show from the hotel balcony.
Pro Tip: Arrive at both Khan el-Khalili and the Egyptian Museum later in the day to avoid the big tours. We arrived at the Egyptian Museum at 15h, which gave us three hours to explore its riches before closing at 18h.
Day 3: Cairo and Travel to Aswan — The Pyramids!
Obviously, if you’re in Cairo, you must stop at Giza to see the last remaining Ancient World Wonder. I read a lot of TripAdvisor posts saying you need only two hours to see this site. I wholly and emphatically disagree. Yes, you can technically see the pyramids in two hours. But to really enjoy the experience, I recommend giving yourself a solid half-day. We first walked around two of the Great Pyramids, then went inside the Pyramid of Khufu. Then, we took a camel ride around the necropolis—which was completely worth the stress of haggling. Our visit finished with a stop at the Sphinx before heading back to our hotel to pick up our bags for an evening flight to Aswan.
Cairo has a lot of scams, especially around the pyramids. Learn what to be on the watch for here!
Day 4: Abu Simbel
If you’re thinking, “Hey Abu Simbel isn’t in Aswan,” you are completely right. Unfortunately, Aswan got the shortest end of our stay, with little over one night. At 4am the next morning, we were on a shuttle drive to Abu Simbel. We toured the temples there and then jammed back to the hotel and into a separate hired car to take us to Luxor.
Lesson learned: This was an aggressive day of driving. In retrospect, we’d’ve been better off taking the train to Luxor. Drivers of tourists aren’t allowed to use the main highway because it’s too dangerous, so a drive meant to take three hours took nearly six. The train is safe and cheap and would have been a better bet.
Day 5: Luxor — Mortuary Temples of Hatschepsut and Seti
After all that driving, we took this day pretty slowly. Through our hotel, the Jolie Ville Resort, we hired a private car for our days exploring the temples on the West Bank. We visited the very famous Mortuary Temple of Hatschepsut, which was crowded even in the “off hours”, then followed it up with the Mortuary Temple of Seti. Seti’s temple was completely abandoned and absolutely stunning. Instead of packing more into the day, we headed back to enjoy the pool and the sunset over the Nile.
Day 6: Luxor — Hot Air Balloon Ride, Karnak and Luxor Temples
We splurged on a hot air balloon ride over the Theban mountains, and it was worth the indulgence! The dreamy height of the balloon offered the perfect vantage point for previewing the Valleys of the Kings, Queens, Nobles, and Workers. After, we paused for a quick nap, refreshing swim, and a piping-hot Egyptian coffee. Then, in the late afternoon, we headed back out to Karnak. Once the light truly faded, we hired a caleche to the Temple of Luxor, which is completely lit at night, to explore more.
Day 7: Luxor — Valley of the Kings and Valley of the Queens
It seemed fitting to spend the Day of the Dead visiting the tombs of the lost Egyptian royalty. The early morning saw us at the Valley of the Kings, where we chose to see the tombs of Ramses III, Setnak, and Merenptah. We also bought the extra tickets for Ramses V / VI and of course, Tut Ahnk Ahmun. After deliberation, we finally went back and bought the extra ticket to newly-opened tomb of Seti I. In the afternoon, we headed to the Valley of the Queens. With the normal ticket, you can visit the three open tombs (Titi, Amenherkhopshef, and Kahemwaset). And again, if you want to splurge, you can visit the newly-opened tomb of Nefertari.
It was hard to know if we should spend the extra money to see the tombs of Seti I and Nefertari. At 50 USD per tomb, the cost is not insignificant. I wrote a post about that dilemma so you can decide if you should visit one or both of them. Read it here!
Day 8: Travel to Cairo + Cairo
Our flight left Luxor in the late morning, giving us a good chunk of free time in Cairo. With the German winter looming ever closer, we chose to spend it relaxing in the sun. In fact, Tim and I deeply debated whether we should have front-loaded the trip with the tombs and ended it with the Egyptian Museum. Specifically, to see all of the artifacts and mummies found in the tombs. It may be a useful note to others planning their trip… I guess an Ancient World chicken-and-egg situation. Do you prefer to see the mummies who inhabited the tombs first, or the tombs and then the mummies? In hindsight, I think I would have preferred to see the mummies at the end—but Tim heartily disagreed. To each their own!
Day 9: Travel Home
One thing to note about the Cairo Airport is that the security is no joke. Make sure you leave a healthy breather to a) get through Cairene traffic to the airport, and b) get through the multiple security checks to your flight.
With all the trouble in Northern Africa and the Middle East in the last years, the tourism flood has really slowed to a trickle. That means you can see a lot of the sites with few other tourists. Asides from a general uneasiness in Cairo, we found Egypt to be mythically lovely. And without embellishment, I have to say I haven’t been that sad to leave a place and a people in a long, long time.