Vanilla Papers - 4 Unique Tour Guides You Must Try In Egypt
Egypt,  Travel

4 Unique Tour Guides You Must Try In Egypt

Unique tour guides in Egypt are making little-known destinations popular. If you want to see Egypt beyond the pyramids and Luxor, they’ll take you there.

It’s past midnight and I’m headed to Marsa Alam on a bus filled with Egyptian students, many who never thought this would be their next vacation.

We’ve been promised three days of pristine beaches, snorkeling and encounters with the endangered Dugong (a marine mammal related to manatees). The bus is loud with chat and laughter. Organizers pass out water, chocolate and blue pins that say, ‘I am an Egyptian Adventurer.”

Many of the students weren’t familiar with Marsa Alam. “I never thought I’d be here,” a couple of them told me on Day 2 of our itinerary, after we’d toured Qulaan’s mangroves and lunched on grilled fish.

For many Egyptians, vacations mean popular destinations at home like Alexandria, or trendy tourist havens abroad. Foreigners, on the other hand, often see Marsa Alam as a tiny resort town where life revolves around scuba diving.

This three-day trip to Marsa Alam would be an eye-opener. Organized by tour agency Footloose Egypt, it’s one of many offerings that have put Egypt’s lesser-known wonders on many bucket lists.

Vanilla Papers - 4 Unique Tour Guides You Must Try In Egypt

1. FOOTLOOSE EGYPT

When Footloose organized its first trip to Marsa Alam, only about 20 people signed up because nobody knew much about the destination, says Sherif Fawzy, co-founder and CEO. But word of that trip – and Instagram-worthy beach photos – spread quickly on social media. The company’s second trip to Marsa Alam (which I joined in 2016) had a packed bus of 45 people.

“We’re no Greece, but we’re better,” organizers had enticed on the trip’s Facebook event page. “Proof? Our Marsa Alam’s shore Hankorab is listed as the 13th most beautiful shore worldwide.”

Footloose has since grown quickly among young people as a reputable and affordable tour agency perfect for youth, backpackers or solo travelers.

Vanilla Papers - 4 Unique Tour Guides You Must Try In Egypt

Egypt off the beaten path

To date, Footloose has taken some 4,500 travellers of 36 nationalities to trips around Sinai, and offered off-the-beaten-path itineraries like stargazing in Wadi el Hitan, yoga in Ras Sidr and backpacking in Luxor. They also offer private tours, and packages for schools and organizations.

And while major travel agencies are concerned with bringing tourism back to Egypt, and convincing visitors that it’s safe, smaller agencies like Footloose are brainstorming new destinations and “trying to combine different cities in a way that’s never been offered before,” Fawzy says.

During my three days in Marsa Alam with Footloose, we snorkel, spot the illusive Dugong, dive and shop at Port Ghalib. The jam-packed itinerary includes a photographer who chronicles each episode for social media.

Vanilla Papers - 4 Unique Tour Guides You Must Try In Egypt

I return home tired yet refreshed. Others were similarly inspired, says organizer Lavinia Sawires. There were those who’ve conquered their fear of heights, or those with asthma who’ve climbed mountains.

“When we first started, on the very first trip we went to different hotels and camps, and we were the only ones there. We were the only ones in Nuweiba, and in Ras Shitan,” Fawzy says. “On our 10th trip to Wadi Hitan, we had 900 people on Facebook in four days saying they were interested in going.”

2. CAIRO D-TOUR

Downtown Cairo isn’t on many tourist itineraries. My first visit to Cairo included a few hours in the famous souq of Khan el Khalili and a visit to the Egyptian Museum.

I only started exploring downtown after I moved to Egypt. And I didn’t know about Cairo’s rich modern history until I explored it with a tour guide. There are no plaques on historic buildings, cinemas or squares to make a self-guided tour easy.

Cairo D-Tour is a free guided walk held every Friday morning when the city is quiet. Lead by tour guide Ahmad Al-Bindari, the tour goes through the city’s famous squares, like Tahrir, heritage sites and old cinemas that showed the Egyptian films that became famous in the Arab world.

Vanilla Papers - 4 Unique Tour Guides You Must Try In Egypt

You’ll see the Egyptian stock exchange on a sidestreet lined with potted plants. You’ll have a drink at Cafe Riche, where revolutionaries once gathered to plot against the British occupation. And you’ll peek inside the Yacoubian Building, the setting for Alaa Al-Aswany’s infamous novel depicting homosexuality.

But I love how the tour goes beyond the iconic sites to offer insights into modern Cairo life. There’s a stop at the hip cafe Kafein, bar El Horryia (my favorite spot for beer on hot afternoons), and bookstores, theaters and art galleries.

In an age of emboldened racism and stereotypes, it’s crucial to get realistic looks at people’s real lives and go beyond the typical postcard views.

3. WALK LIKE AN EGYPTIAN

Cairo’s City of the Dead is a dense Islamic necropolis where people live and work “amongst the dead.” Founded in 642, it’s the final resting place for generations of rulers, royalty and conquerors. It’s also home to Egyptians who moved to the capital in the 1960s and couldn’t find affordable housing.

During my first trip to Egypt, our guide said in a hushed voice that people there live among the tombs. A mysterious, impoverished district tinged with eeriness and danger.

But the City of the Dead is also the signature tour of Walk Like an Egyptian, a tour guide dedicated to uncovering Egypt’s hidden gems.

I joined this tour and found plenty of historic tombs. But I also discovered a bustling district full of street art and glass blowing workshops full of beautiful vases and lamps.

Vanilla Papers - 4 Unique Tour Guides You Must Try In Egypt

I also toured the Mosque of Ibn Tulun with the group’s founder Asmaa. The itinerary included a stop for an authentic Egyptian breakfast and a ride in a tuk-tuk. The guides were informative and spoke insightfully about Egyptian life to give visitors an authentic experience without the tourist cliches.

4. MOSAIC CLUB

Tour Guide Muhammad Zeineddin doesn’t have a marketing department. He markets his initiative Mosaic Club – which offers city tours, trips and cultural exchanges – solely on social media.

Social media has also made researching new destinations much easier, Zeineddin says. Even the smallest towns have their own Wikipedia pages.

And Mosaic Club offers trips you won’t find elsewhere.

Last year, Zeineddin lead a “Banknote Tour” around Cairo that hit an array of mosques found on Egyptian banknotes. Tours of little-explored museums like the Abdeen Palace have also proved popular, Zeineddin says.

Vanilla Papers - 4 Unique Tour Guides You Must Try In Egypt

The Mosaic Club’s cultural exchange events also give Egyptians an opportunity to experience new cultures. Zeineddin’s posts on volunteer work or scholarships abroad get thousands of shares and inspire many to travel.

Expats and foreigners both love the tours as a safe and hassle-free way to explore lesser known parts of Egypt.

“Egypt needs to promote itself outside of the desert and camels stereotypes,” Zeineddin says. “Tour agencies need to offer more variety. They need to give people something more interesting – because we have a lot of competition.”

Read more about Egypt’s hidden treasures in my guide to 5 Must-See Buildings In Downtown Cairo.

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Vanilla Papers - 4 Unique Tour Guides You Must Try In Egypt

29 Comments

  • ANITA

    Is it easy to find a good tour guide or agency in Egypt? I am curious if there are many of them just trying to cheat you and provide bad services or it’s ok. I am dreaming about going there, this post is so helpful.

    • Dee

      I think it’s pretty easy to find a good guide, though of course you should research and read reviews before you sign up with anyone.. Guides that go to less obvious destinations around Egypt are a bit harder to find because they don’t usually have big marketing budgets.

  • Amanda

    I would 100% join ALL of these tours. I love how more and more places are trying to show tourists the real side of life there instead of just the touristy “must-sees.” The Mosaic Club sounds right up my alley for weird tours like the banknote tour?! That’s so cool! I would have never thought to do something that unique. Definitely adding to my list.

    • Dee

      They really do get creative! And such unique and authentic tours are a great way to stand out from all the competition.

      I think more and more people are getting into this kind of travel; they want experiences that go beyond the typical bus routes.

  • Umiko

    They all sound interesting with their own niche. The Footloose is really smart by offering tours like stargazing, yoga, and backpacking. Things that people look for beyond the normal. Seems like Cairo D-Tour know their town really well. Walk Like An Egyptian presents you part of the cities that most tourists don’t know about, and who thought about offering The Banknote Tour like The Mosaic? I would like to take a tour with all of them. Sounds like they really want to give the best of their country to visitors.

    • Dee

      Definitely! They’re doing a lot of work with tourists, but also getting a lot of younger Egyptians to travel and explore more of their own country instead of always taking vacations abroad.. And I’ve been on that stargazing tour and it was really incredible. You can really see so much more of the night sky once you get into the desert and away from any city lights.

  • Laura Pedlar

    Four different ways to explore Egypt! I think each of them gives a different perspective of the country. I think the first two would be my favourites but liked how all of tours gave a real insight into Egypt from locals. A lot of research must have gone into finding such great tours!

    • Dee

      I found them all through Facebook, and a lot came recommended to me by other expats over the years! Once you’ve lived in Egypt for awhile, it’s great to have more options for travel off the beaten path..

  • Daniel

    All of these sound so exciting! I normally never take guided tours and explore places on my own (combined with doing a lot of research previously) but this post sure gave me some inspiration about my upcoming trip to Egypt. Thanks for sharing this, it made me even more excited about my trip.

    • Dee

      I don’t usually do guided tours either, but these have proved invaluable for me in Egypt because I don’t know many people here to travel with, and I don’t always have time to research and organize transportation and everything else for solo travel. I hope you enjoy your trip to Egypt, and please let me know if you need tips or anything else!

  • Annick

    I love hearing about tour guides and companies who are willing to show a country in a new way. I didn’t know that Marsa Alam even existed. Isn’t it amazing when we find a place new to us? I would have thought that downtown Cairo was a popular destination but I guess the tourists go elsewhere like the pyramids instead. Good to know about these companies if I ever get to Egypt.

    • Dee

      Downtown Cairo isn’t on most itineraries.. I think a lot of tour companies spend a day or two in Cairo, and that’s mostly taken up by a day trip to Giza and then usually a stop at the old souq at Khan el Khalili. Downtown isn’t an easy place to tour because it’s always very crowded during the week (weekends and early mornings are the best options to visit), but I think it’s definitely worth seeing!

  • Baylee Landowski

    Egypt is definitely one of the top destinations on my list. I am hoping that I can go for an ample amount of time and truly get to know the country on tours like these! Interesting read, looking forward to future posts!

    • Dee

      Thank you, Baylee, and I hope you’ll get to visit soon! There’s so much to see in Egypt that I’d definitely recommend a bit of research to narrow things down and just focus on the sights you really feel drawn towards..

  • Yukti

    Thanks for sharing a wonderful information on whom to hire as a tour guide in Egypt. Hiring a tour guide is always tricky and it needs a lot of research and it is great that I stumbled upon your post because very shortly I am planning for Egypt. Walk like Egyptian sounds interesting as it takes around to those lanes which have ancient historic past and never known to many tourists. Footlose is also great as they keep photography chronicles with them.

    • Dee

      It’s my pleasure, Yukti, and let me know if you need any more tips or anything else before your trip to Egypt! I haven’t had any bad experiences with tour guides here, but there have been a couple that I thought were too rushed or too cookie-cutter for my taste.. I like to wander and take my time, and I don’t just want to be herded on a tour bus from one site to another, so these tours are all highly recommended if you’re looking for a more authentic experience.

  • Suma

    The footloose tours spunds like a great choice as they suggest unique locations in Egypt. I haven’t heard about Marsa Alam but they sure sound divine. And yes the banknote tour is yet again very unique, I would love to do this tour. Thanks for the share :).

    • Dee

      Thank you, Suma, and I’m glad to hear it’s helpful! Marsa Alam is becoming more popular, and there are so many gorgeous beaches there that aren’t as crowded and commercialized as some spots on the Red Sea.

  • The Year I Touched My Toes

    Hi Dee, These guys have got it covered. Love that social media has enabled all of this. Love the Banknotes tour concept. My daughter has just moved to London and has a trip to Egypt planned so I will pass these posts on to her. Louise

    • Dee

      The walking tours are getting more and more creative! And thanks for passing on these posts.. I hope your daughter has a great trip and finds them helpful.

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