Life-Changing Egypt: 10 Questions with a Master Tour Guide!
In my last blog entry I took a few moments to introduce readers to Essam Ali Mahmoud, a gentleman who is one of today’s most gifted professionals when it comes guiding visitors through the myriad wonders of ancient and modern Egypt, whether you’re on a luxury couples vacation or a personal odyssey. Essam’s company, Explore Egypt with Essam, is one of the finest and most reputable of its kind due to the dedication and passion that our intrepid guide harbors for the ever-intriguing and legendary land of his birth.
Now, the introduction is about to get even more intensive and exciting, because Essam himself has graciously agreed to an interview, detailing his personal background, his journey to become one of Egypt’s most knowledgeable professional guides, and his own incomparable insights into the glorious country he calls home, along with the monuments that have beguiled and thrilled humanity for thousands of years.
It is an absolute thrill and privilege to publish this interview with Essam, and I’d like to thank him for his candor and generosity of spirit as he shares his story and his vision of the glories of Egypt. World travelers, take heed! This is a rare, in-depth interview with someone at the very heart of the world’s most majestic land of monuments and marvels. You won’t get a better “inside” glimpse into the possibilities of a life-changing trip to Egypt than you will with Essam. I must concur with him that, in this life, the opportunity to experience such wonder (in such timely, affordable style!) is one of the greatest investments you can make in your own humanity.
Be sure to investigate Essam’s broad and interactive online presence and follow him for the latest stunning deals and photos of his adventures … and the adventures that could become your own!
You can also follow Essam on Twitter!
Without further ado, I’d like to let Essam introduce himself to you and to the magnificent country that never fails to capture the human imagination like no other place on earth. Enjoy!
JON: Hi, Essam! Thanks for agreeing to take part in this interview about your role as one of the premier, most knowledgeable guides for vacationers and other travelers interested in exploring the majestic treasures to be found throughout Egypt, ancient and modern. I guess the first question I’d like to ask is what first inspired you as a native Egyptian to work in this exciting industry? Was it something that fascinated you as a child?
ESSAM: You know, when you live in an amazing country like Egypt, surrounded by history and antiques everywhere, you have no other options but to fall in love with these things around you. Egypt is like a lake of wonders and monuments.
I presume that I was a good student. I used to get very good marks in all subjects across all grades. My parents, who are not educated (they can’t read or write), were expecting me to join the department of science and math in my high school to help me enter one of two colleges for Medicine or Engineering. They would have loved for me to be a doctor. It was like a great disaster and magnificent disappointment for them when I decided to go against their wish by joining the department of Fine Arts and Literature.
As I told you, I was a good student and got 94% in my high school grades. These results allowed me to join the highest colleges of my department. I had my own dream, however, which I never uttered to my parents. I wanted to a journalist, and my high scores allowed me to join the Faculty of Mass Communication at Cairo University. I wanted to be a journalist because I like reading and I wanted to write about Egypt’s wonders, and why we are not as we once were in ancient Egypt, seeing as Egypt was the number one country in the world for so long a time. I always know Egypt a deserves better place than what we have at present.
I had to ask my relatives and doctors in universities what was the process to join this Faculty of Mass Communication. Then I was advised not to do it. It was a big shock for me. My dream appeared to be lost! “Why should I not do this?” I asked. The answer was, it is easy to join this faculty and easy to graduate with honors, but it is not easy to get your dream job. I was told that I did not have that huge connection with certain individuals who could ensure this kind of job for me. Because I’m from a poor family in a small village in Middle Egypt, I was advised to find another college.
They told me it was better for me to join the Faculty of Language, so that I could be a teacher of a particular language. I said “No way. I don’t want to be a teacher.” So I decided to join the Faculty of Tourism, Department of Tourist Guidance. That way, I could study history and Egyptology. I did not please my parents with this decision. They thought being a teacher was not bad, especially if I undertook private tuition lessons, which is a good job in a small village like mine.
I graduated from the Faculty of Tourism in 2004. For four years (2000-2004) I studied the great subjects of Egyptian history; Archaeology, together with Hieroglyphs, and Egyptology. These subjects started to deepen my love more and more, and as things turned out, I was happy that I was advised not to join the Faculty of Mass Communication.
To study Egypt’s history with its miracles in all fields in ancient times will bring you to a stage of fascination. Yes, I’m Egyptian and fascinated with Egypt. I’m in love with Egypt. It was a moment of great pride and honor when I was given my license of Tourist Guidance from the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and my membership in the Egyptian General Syndicate of Tourist Guides in October 2004. That enabled me to start my career and claim my title as an official Egyptian Tour Guide.
Up to this point, I guess I was not a “good boy” to my parents, and perhaps I disappointed them by not becoming a doctor, but I’m very proud that I made it and that I am now an official tour guide.
Why should I be proud?
Well, first of all, I’m very proud being an Egyptian and a tour guide at the same time. A tour guide is a storyteller of Egypt’s past and its present. A storyteller of Egypt’s wonders. I really don’t know how to describe myself when I’m at one of the Egyptian temples with my guests. One feels pride and confidence when hearing your guests tell you, “You’re very lucky, Essam, that you’re Egyptian and have this kind of heritage.” It’s amazing to hear them tell you, “Some items in your souvenir shops are older than our country’s age!”
The sense of pride has increased now that I have started another business as Founder and CEO of Explore Egypt With Essam, my new baby. I devote all my time to my guests through my agency. I am always working to invent new trips and itineraries for guests, together with the more classic holiday excursions to Egypt. Our itineraries meet and match the desires of all of our guests as we provide a very wide range of travel services, Egypt tour packages, combined Egypt & Jordan tours, budget Egypt tour packages, felucca trips, solo traveler tour packages, Nile cruises, Dahabiya Nile cruises, Lake Nasser cruises and daily guided tours in different cities in Egypt at very affordable prices. We are always ready to customize your trip to Egypt at a very competitive price.
Now, I must say, you have no excuse to make your trip to Egypt if you think about your budget. Our tours ensure luxury vacation at an affordable price. We will treat you like a pharaoh! Just contact us to plan your trip to Egypt and we promise you a very memorable vacation.
JON: Of all the many sites and wonders that you share with people who visit Egypt under your guidance, which one is your personal favorite and why? As a follow-up, what are the remaining four sites that would complete your personal “Top Five”?
ESSAM: I do love all the Egyptian sites and attractions, but my favorite place is the majestic Temple of Luxor. This is very close to my heart. Luxor Temple was built during the New Kingdom (1550-1080 BC) by pharaoh Amenhotep III (1392 – 1354 BC) and completed by pharaoh Ramses II (1279-1213 BC). Some other pharaohs, such as Tutankhamun and Heremhab, added to the temple.
Alexander the Great also has his own chapel in Luxor Temple. The Romans came to Luxor and converted a part of this temple into a Roman chapel known now wrongly as “The Church.”
Copts also left their traces in Luxor Temple. Coptic crosses can be seen in some places in the temple. Muslims built the Mosque of Abu Haggag 800 years ago on top of the temple, when the temple was covered in silt and dirt.
From what I mentioned above, you might say that Luxor Temple represents a kind of community history of religions: Ancient Egyptian; Coptic Christian; and Islam. This temple, for me, is like a microcosm of Egypt’s history. Pharaonic, Greek, Roman, Coptic and Islamic periods are all included within the temple precinct. I really feel a sudden comfort and relief when I visit this majestic temple. For me, it’s totally different from the other temples, in terms of the feeling I get. You know how you feel when you’re in a state of serene meditation? This is exactly what I feel when I visit the temple of Luxor.
You asked me what are my top 5 sites in Egypt. I can easily fill the remaining 4. My answer is:
The Great Pyramids of Giza.
The Abu Simbel Temples in Aswan.
The Valley of the Kings in Luxor.
Sehel Island in Aswan.
JON: Is your company okay with customizing certain aspects of a tour once people arrive in Egypt? For example, if you are guiding a smaller group and a couple of people would like to spend an extra day at a certain site because they especially enjoy it, is it sometimes possible for you to make special arrangements and unexpected adjustments?
ESSAM: We provide a wide range of prearranged tour packages to Egypt and we are ready to customize any trip. I’m very proud that I have an amazing team, very well experienced and educated, all bearing bachelor degrees in tourism. So they are quite ready to customize different trips and to deal with what we call urgent cases. So beforehand or once you arrive in Egypt and you want to add any extra days to your trip in a certain place, this will be easy for us to do at the moment—all the arrangements of transfers, accommodation, and guiding will be managed.
JON: What are some of the special aspects of enjoying the felucca tours that can be part of the Egyptian adventure for your guests? I can imagine that past guests have raved about this wonderful experience!
ESSAM: People in Egypt used to call the felucca trips, especially when they go for days on the felucca, they used call such people “adventurers.” I used to accept this term some years ago, when the felucca didn’t have the equipment they have nowadays. For example, felucca didn’t have toilets back then: we used to stop at one of the islands so people could “go back to nature.” Now, felucca have what we call a “toilet boat,” which never travels far from the felucca, and we summon it easily when needed. People who experienced traveling on felucca for a matter of days always came back with magnificent memories. They always love a particularly authentic experience in Egypt. They love to see the reality of Egypt with Egyptian food served on the felucca or on one of the Nile’s islands. We do highly promote these sustainable trips in Egypt, especially as they are eco-friendly trips with no pollution at all.
JON: I have always been impressed by the deliciousness of the foods available in Egypt. The hotels host some of the finest international cuisines available, but the traditional Egyptian foods are exquisite, too. What are some of the traditional Egyptian favorites you might recommend for first-time guests?
ESSAM: Hotels in Egypt serve very delicious international cuisines indeed. Nile cruises also serve international cuisines with one Egyptian lunch or dinner during your stay. But I do recommend for first-time visitors of Egypt to try some of the delicious Egyptian traditional dishes like Falafal or Ta’amiah—this is a type of fried paste made from beans, chickpeas, parsley and spices. There’s also Tahaini, which is sesame seed paste, mixed with garlic, spices and some olive oil, and served as a dip with bread. Then, too, there is Baba Ghanough, a dip made from Tahini and mashed eggplants. Kofta is a dish prepared with minced meat. Khoshari is made from rice, pasta, lentil, and onions.
Stuffed Vine Leaves are comprised of rice or rice with minced meat and wrapped in vine leaves.
My advice to first visitors is to try native Egyptian foods but in a good way. By that I mean bit by bit, in case you’re not used to this type of food.
JON: Alexandria is becoming more and more of a popular place to stop in Egypt. What are some of your favorite aspects of the city and which ones do you think will most impress potential guests?
ESSAM: Alexandria is very beautiful city and the second-largest city in Egypt. It was found by Alexander the Great in 332 BC. It was the center of the Hellenistic civilization in the world for about five centuries. Alexandria still preserves a big part of its Hellenistic appearance. So it has its own mixture of the Egyptian and Hellenistic nature. Alexandria is especially great as a summer destination for the Egyptian people because of its lovely weather. Alexandria has lots to offer to its visitors. My favorite place in Alexandria is the Roman Catacombs of Kom El-Shoqafa. This kind of place is not often found in Egypt. It is truly one of the lovely aspects of Alexandria. These catacombs started as private tombs for wealthy families, then became a public cemetery.
Another great aspect of Alexandria is the Roman Amphitheatre. This is the only one of its type in Egypt. This Amphitheatre also served as our modern Opera House. Recent theories suggest that it was also a parliament or House of the Representatives. Alexandria is indeed a lovely city—do not miss visiting it during your vacation in Egypt!
JON: Do you still stay in touch with or hear from some of the guests you’ve hosted in your years of experience as a top Egyptian guide?
ESSAM: Sure. One of the lovely things about being a tour guide is making friends from all over the globe. I made lots of friends, once they were my guests and now very good friends, and we still talk to each other.
JON: Of the many glorious monuments that Egypt boasts, which one, in your experience, usually proves to have the most wondrous initial impression on your guests over the years? Which one makes their jaws drop in astonishment the most?
The number one site in Egypt that impresses my guests the most are the Great Pyramids of Giza. The mystery of the pyramids, the construction methods, and the labor involved with these projects still impress all visitors to Egypt, just as the pyramids still hold great puzzles yet to be solved.
The number two site which always impresses people, in my experience, are the phenomenal Temples of Abu Simbel. I really I don’t know how or why the Abu Simbel Temples are not among the ancient wonders of the world.
People also admire the Valley of the Kings in Luxor, and how the pharaohs tried their best to hide their treasures from the tomb robbers, as well ensuring for themselves a safe journey to eternity. The beautiful colors and inscriptions of the tombs impress people quite deeply.
Overall, the labor behind almost every major ancient monument in Egypt impresses and amazes people. How, they wonder, did the ancient Egyptians organize their workforces in groups and unite them on such a level? How did they organize thousands of workers and provide them with food and materials?
The passion of the ancient Egyptian workers to magnify their country and their pharaoh always introduces a profound note of fascination and appreciation for my guests, and this passion is seen as the secret behind the wonders of ancient Egypt.
JON: Egypt is becoming more and more well-known for its luxury hotels and resorts, as well as world-class service. Can you mention a few that are your favorites to work with, and which ones tend to give your guests that “extra special experience“ during their vacations in Egypt?
ESSAM: Egypt has lots of well-known luxury hotels, resorts and Nile cruises with world class services. Let’s travel among the major tourist destinations in Egypt to know the top hotels in each destination. These top hotels are just from my personal view and my experience, as well as the impressions of my guests.
First, Cairo has the largest collection of luxury hotels in Egypt. Let’s look at the top hotels in Cairo:
A- The Marriot Mena House Hotel. This hotel was built in the place of the hunting lodge of Khedive Isma’il. The lodge was sold to an English couple who built the hotel in 1886. The hotel was named after the ancient founder of the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt, Mena, or Meni, or Menes. This hotel is next to the Great pyramid of Khufu, which gives you a great view of the world’s most awe-inspiring monuments.
B- The Four Seasons Hotel Cairo at Nile Plaza. Amazing location on the Nile and close to the Egyptian Museum at Taharir Square.
C- The Four Seasons Hotel Cairo at First Residence. This hotel is actually in Giza with a great location on the Nile and not far from the pyramids.
D- The Sofitel Cairo Nile El-Gezirah is an amazing hotel with great services.
E- The St. Regis Cairo Hotel. This hotel is also one of the Marriot hotels in Egypt.
F- The Nile Ritz-Carlton Cairo, next door to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.
Next we fly from Cairo to Sharm El-Sheikh, the beautiful city on the Red Sea in South Sinai. We’ll just mention the top 5 resorts of the city.
A- Rixos Premium Seagate.
B- Four Seasons Resorts Sharm El-Sheikh.
C- Coral Sea Sensatori Resorts.
D- Rixos Sharm El-Sheikh.
E- Royal Savoy Hotel and Villas.
Taking the ferry boat from Sharm El-Sheikh to Hurghada, let’s explore a lovely destination on the Red Sea, and the 5 top hotels therein:
A- La Maison Blue El-Gouna, for adults only.
B- Baron Palace Sahl Hasheesh.
C- Kempinski Hotel Soma Bay.
D- Steigenberger Aldau Beach Hotel.
E- Stella Di Mare Beach Resort & Spa.
Driving about 4 hours from Hurghada to the historical city of Luxor, we encounter some very good hotels and Nile cruises such as:
A- Hilton Luxor Resort & Spa.
B- Sofitel Winter Palace.
C- Sonesta St, George.
D- Steigenberger Nile Palace.
E- Jolie Vile Kings Island Resorts.
From Luxor to Aswan by Nile cruise, here are some of the most luxurious cruises:
A- M/S Sun Boat IV.
B- S/S Sudan. The oldest cruise ship still operating.
C- M/S Oberoi Zahra.
D- M/S Oberoi Philae
E- M/S May Fower.
There’s not such a large number of five-star hotels in Aswan, but the 2 top hotels there are:
A- Sofitel Legend Old Cataract Hotel, founded in 1902 during the construction of Aswan Dam.
B- Movenpick Aswan Resort.
Driving from Aswan to another Red Sea destination, Marsa Alam, we encounter a beautiful city with magnificent hotels and resorts such as:
A- Jaz Grand Marsa.
B- Jaz Solya.
C- Jaz Maraya Resort.
D- Jaz Dar El-Madinah.
E- LTI Akassia Beach.
Flying back to Cairo, we then drive to Alexandria. I’ll just mention four superb hotels in Alexandria, for now:
A- Four Seasons Hotel Alexandria at San Stefano.
B- Sunrise Alexandria Avenue Hotel.
C- Steigenberger Cecil Hotel.
D- Golden Jewel Hotel.
Finally, going from Alexandria to the fabled Siwa Oasis by car is a unique and exotic experience. There are lots of lovely eco-friendly hotels in Siwa Oasis. Among them are:
A- Taziry Ecovillages Siwa.
B- Adrere Amellal.
With this list, I think we’ve covered the most important and exceptional hotels in the main touristic destinations in Egypt.
JON: Tell readers something about how much value they can get right now for their money when it comes to visiting Egypt. In terms of economic savings, it must be one of the best times in history to visit Egypt safely and “in style.” Would you agree?
ESSAM: It is said that traveling enriches your mind, heart and soul. Also said: Learn to travel and travel to learn.
Visiting Egypt will accomplish the two quotes above. To visit Egypt is truly value your money and can be an endeavor worthy beyond price. Egypt has so much to offer to its visitors. We promise you a lifetime-memorable vacation in Egypt with us. Simply out, we work hard to provide great vacations in Egypt—luxury vacations at affordable prices. Moreover, every once in a while, we offer amazing discounts to our great guests via our social media channels. That alone is a good reason token an eye on the various sites because special deals can pop-up suddenly. Honestly, I think a person has little excuse not to travel to Egypt, if that person is thinking about value for their money.
Come visit Egypt, and I promise that you’ll go back with great, unmatched memories. Come visit Egypt and enjoy the history, the monuments, the people, the museums, the food, the beaches, the majestic desert and the great weather! We’re waiting for you. Just visit our website, Explore Egypt with Essam, to pick your tour package today. See you in Egypt very soon!
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