Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Part I: Egypt - 5 Reasons To Visit Now

By Jacquelin Carnegie – (Luxor, Egypt)

The Sphinx & Pyramids, Giza (photo: JCarnegie)
It’s always important to have a sense of safety on vacation. Unless you’re a foreign correspondent, you wouldn’t plan to visit a war zone. But, that’s not the situation in Egypt. What’s happening is the extensive growing pains of establishing a democracy after decades of political repression. The street protests are just one part of the story. There are still many ways to tour Egypt in safety. Since this country has the most wondrous, man-made monuments on earth, it’s a pity not to visit. Here are five reasons to do so now. Don’t give up on Egypt!

1. The Touristic Areas Have Not Been Marred by Protests
To understand why planning a trip to Egypt is not insane, it helps to know the lay of the land. Most of the protests have taken place in Tahrir Square in Cairo. Cairo is a huge city and Tahrir is just one small square. For tourists, the protests have mostly disrupted entrance to the famous Egyptian Museum, right on the square, and have exacerbated the already-awful Cairo traffic.

Cairo market (photo: JCarnegie)
While protests have recently broken out in other areas of the country, they have not as yet affected the major tourist areas: Giza, where The Sphinx and the pyramids are located, is a half hour outside of Cairo, nowhere near Tahrir Square. To the south (Upper Egypt) Luxor, home to the most famous tombs and temples, is hours from Cairo. Aswan, with the “Philae Temple,” the Temple of Isis, is even further south. Alexandria, to the north (Lower Egypt), the former home of Cleopatra, has only had minor disruptions.

2. Watching Democracy in Action
If the idea of visiting a country controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood bothers you, remember that Morsi very narrowly won the Presidency. Almost half the country wanted more moderate representation. Along with liberal-secularists, there is a sizeable Coptic Christian population in Egypt who feel the current government has not adequately protected them from conflicts with hardline

Hatshepsut Temple, Luxor (photo: JCarnegie)
Nobel Prize-winner Mohamed El-Baradei is one of the chief coordinators for the main opposition movement, the National Salvation Front, concerned with protecting political and religious freedoms and women’s rights. Other opposition groups include the liberal Wafd party and the National Association for Change. The actions may be protests, but the goal is to ensure that the hard-won revolution, the “Arab Spring,” is not derailed by any one group.

3. The Majority of Egyptians are Warm & Welcoming

Tomb painting (photo: JCarnegie)
Despite what you might perceive by watching the protestors on TV, the majority of Egyptians want and welcome tourists. In addition to the fact that many Egyptians earn a living through tourism, they are genuinely proud to show off the ancient temples and tombs, undoubtedly the most marvelous, man-made monuments on earth.

4. The Price is Right
While the actual danger to tourists has been minimal, the benefits are many: there are currently deep discounts on excellent tour companies, first-class hotel rooms, Nile cruises, etc. And, with fewer tourists at the sites, you can walk right into the famous monuments that formerly had three-hour wait times.

Tutankhamun, Luxor Temple, Luxor (photo: JCarnegie)
5. The Best Way To Experience Egypt: Scholarly Tours
The history of Egypt is so rich, covering thousands of years, that the best way to get the most out of the experience is on a scholarly tour with expert guides and Egyptologists. These six companies have excellent reputations and are in daily contact with their associates in Egypt to monitor any disruptions:

Abercrombie & Kent (Tel: 800/554-7016; www.abercrombiekent.com)
“The splendors of Egypt are not to be missed. Now is the perfect time to visit since there are no tourist crowds. In addition to the well-known sites, our tours feature off-the-beaten path wonders, small groups, and the top Egyptologists.” - Rami Girgis, Product Manager, North Africa & Middle East
Road Scholar (Tel: 800/454-5768; www.roadscholar.org)

Red Sea, Hurghada (photo: JCarnegie)
“Discover the fascination of ancient as well as modern-day Egypt. Right now, travelers have the advantage of 5-star hotels at 3-star prices, of a Nile cruise with fewer boats on the river, and excellent discounts on tour prices. Our educational tours appeal to those with a life-long desire to learn and our Egyptologists are truly inspiring.” - Yves Marceau, Director of Program Development

Smithsonian Journeys (Tel: 855/330-1542; www.smithsonianjourneys.org)
“With our Egyptologists, the Egyptian past comes alive by exploring the realm of the pharaohs--their magnificent temples and tombs. Also, today’s Egypt is put into focus by discussions with locals who took part in the recent revolution. You'll get to visit cities full of architectural gems and meet people with a dream for democracy.” - Amy Kotkin, Director

Archaeological Tours (Tel: 866/740-5130; www.archaeologicaltrs.com)
"For nearly 40 years, we've introduced travelers to wonderful archaeologists and academics working in Egypt. The Egyptian people are always glad to see us and make us feel extremely welcome. Despite what you read in the news,
this is the best time to visit Egypt, with fewer tourists the experience is better." - Linda Feinstone, President

Spice market, Aswan (photo: JCarnegie)

Artisans of Leisure (Tel: 800/214-8144; www.artisansofleisure.com)
"We offer high-end, private tours and, if anything, travelers appreciate visiting Egypt now that there are no crowds at the major attractions of one of the world’s greatest ancient civilizations." - Ashley Ganz, Founder
Kensington Tours (Tel: 888/903-2001; www.kensingtontours.com)
"Our custom tours allow you to experience Egypt on your own or with a group of friends or family members escorted by our Egyptian guides who share their passion and enthusiasm for their country. Egypt has been and always will be a fabulous destination and now is the perfect time to go." - Karen MacRae, Egypt Specialist

While international travelers are aware of the current political situation in Egypt, many believe that their presence can be a positive force for change. Your vacation dollars will help the fragile Egyptian economy; you’ll see the most glorious, man-made sites on earth and meet wonderful people yearning for true democracy.

“Philae Temple” (Temple of Isis), Aswan (photo: JCarnegie)
Helpful Hints: a) To get the most out of your trip, read some great books about Egypt before you go. b) The U.S. Department of State Smart Traveler Enrollment Program - Before leaving on a trip to Egypt, sign up for safety updates and assistance in getting in touch with relatives in case of an emergency.

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