Packages for the Independent Traveler
Package tours are simply a way to buy the airfare, accommodations, and other elements of your trip (such as car rentals, airport transfers, and sometimes even activities) at the same time and often at discounted prices. In Egypt, they are also one of the best ways to save money. Most tourist hotels in Egypt are oriented toward travel-agency and group bookings. Walk-ins will often be charged double or triple what customers who have booked as part of a package are paying.
One good source of package deals is the airlines themselves. Most major airlines offer air/land packages, including American Airlines Vacations (tel. 800/321-2121; www.aavacations.com), Delta Vacations (tel. 800/654-6559; www.deltavacations.com), Continental Airlines Vacations (tel. 800/301-3800; www.covacations.com), and United Vacations (tel. 888/854-3899; www.unitedvacations.com). Several big online travel agencies -- Expedia, Travelocity, Orbitz, and Lastminute.com -- also do a brisk business in packages to Egypt.
Thomas Cook (tel. 0870/7505711; www.thomascook.com) is one of the biggest operators in the Egyptian package market, and it has well-trained staff in strategically placed offices around the country. (I'm a fan of its Luxor office.) In-country services booked through them tend to be higher-end than some of the local agents, but in the end you get what you pay for.
Thomson Holidays (tel. 0870/1650079; www.thomson.co.uk) is a British package dealer that specializes in keeping prices down and does a huge volume of business in Egypt. In addition to providing airfare and accommodations packages at substantially low prices, Thomson sells day and multi-day packages for everything from monument sightseeing to Red Sea snorkeling through representatives who can be found at the travel desks in the lobbies of most high-traffic tourist hotels in Cairo, Luxor, and Sharm El Sheikh.
Travel packages are also listed in the travel section of your local Sunday newspaper. Or check ads in national travel magazines such as Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel Magazine, Travel + Leisure, National Geographic Traveler, and Condé Nast Traveler.
Escorted General-Interest Tours
Escorted tours are structured group tours with a group leader. The price usually includes everything from airfare, hotels, and meals to tours, admission costs, and local transportation.
Despite the fact that escorted tours require big deposits and predetermine hotels, restaurants, and itineraries, many people derive security and peace of mind from the structure they offer. Escorted tours -- whether they're navigated by bus, motor coach, train, or boat -- let travelers sit back and enjoy the trip without having to drive or worry about details. They take you to the maximum number of sights in the minimum amount of time with the least amount of hassle. They're particularly convenient for people with limited mobility and they can be a great way to make new friends.
On the downside, you'll have little opportunity for serendipitous interactions with locals. The tours can be jam-packed with activities, leaving little room for individual sightseeing, whim, or adventure -- plus they often focus on the heavily touristed sites, so you miss out on many a lesser-known gem.
Egypt Magic (tel. 888/575-6941 or 352/402-0412; www.egyptmagic.com) has a variety of 1- and 2-week Egyptian packages. Its accommodation choices are solid and its itineraries are reasonable. The Egypt Adventure tour, which costs $1,700 to $2,100 depending on the season, doesn't include a cruise, but it sees Upper Egypt sites by car and includes good flexibility for travelers to do their own thing, with or without their guide.
British-based Insight Vacations (www.insightvacations.com) has economically priced tours that hit all of Egypt's must-see sites. Its 17-day Grand Tour of Egypt runs about $3,000 (£1,528) and covers Alexandria, Cairo, Upper Egypt (including a cruise), and a visit to St. Catherine's monastery on the Sinai Peninsula.
American luxury travel company Abercrombie & Kent (tel. 800/554-7016; www.abercrombiekent.com) is at the high end of the scale, with an 11-day Highlights of Egypt tour running around $4,000 to $6,000, with accommodations and food to match.
Intrepid Travel (tel. 800/970-7299; www.intrepidtravel.com) offers a number of trips to Egypt run by local tour leaders and guides. The company's focus on local experiences mean you get the real deal (house visits with local families in Aswan and Luxor, an overnight felucca ride on the Nile), and these experiences truly make the trip. Forty-four different trips are offered, ranging from 1 to 117 days. Examples include the 8-day Egypt Adventure ($925) and the 15-day Discover Egypt ($1,265) and Egypt Explorer ($945).