Breaking News: Our Red Sea, Egypt, and Lebanon Retreats for 2020 have officially been rescheduled for 2021, and there are a few spots left in each. More details at the end of this post!
Here, I’m recapping my travels in 2019, including my Wander Women Red Sea trips in September.
Twenty-one days. Sixteen yoga classes. Twenty dives. Three thousand photos. Twenty-four guests from six countries. Two more Wander Women Retreats in the books and countless dreams made true… including my own.
It all adds up to me, brimming with excitement to start these recaps of my two inaugural back-to-back Wander Women Red Sea trips! From my own first visit in 2018, Egypt blew my mind and I was honored to introduce this bucket list destination to so many incredible women as their host, yoga teacher, occasional dive guide, personal photographer, and retreat leader.
And it started and ended here: in Cairo.
As soon as I started planning my Wander Women Red Sea retreat, it hit me: ain’t nobody wanna go to Egypt without seeing the pyramids! So I decided to offer my first ever retreat extension tour: a two night whirlwind around Egypt’s capital city, from the base of a pyramid-facing pool hotel.
Having lucked out with an award-winning tour guide on my own first trip to Egypt, I knew just who to turn to for help. Sameh Makram, a registered Egyptologist and a tour guide to his native country since 2000, recently added entrepreneur to his resume as he started a business to lead speciality tours like ours. Sameh and I really hit it off on my first trip and he read all my blog coverage and even stopped using single-use plastics on his felucca trips as a result — how cool is that?
Anyone who has been to Egypt has probably noticed the there’s a fairly regimented tourism infrastructure. Some out of necessity, some of sterility. Right from the get-go, Sameh knew I was trying to do something really different with my trips — and he really helped me bring that vision to life. Also on our team was my girl Katie, our incredible retreat manager who kept me laughing for three weeks straight.
When the big moment arrived, we all were pinching ourselves — it was show time! (Okay, I think Sameh kept his cool. He’s been at this a while, after all.)
Welcoming our first group of girls to Cairo with a big hug was the absolute best feeling. After months of planning and preparations and months of getting to know each other online, it always feels so good to finally be together, live and in person. And we headed off to toast to our trip in the best way possible — a sunset sail.
When I started planning this Cairo extension, I knew getting up close and personal with the Nile was a must. And so I dreamed up a sunset sail on a felucca through Cairo, drinking Egyptian wine and dining on koshary, a simple local delicacy some of the girls were so smitten with they exchanged recipes after we got home.
Spending two nights on a felucca sailing from Aswan towards Luxor was one of my favorite memories from my first trip to Egypt, and I wanted to capture a little taste of that magic, even in a quick trip to Cairo.
And so we kicked off our tradition of doing things with a twist, right away. While most tours to Egypt include a noisy — and a tad tacky — cruise down the Nile with a buffet and bellydancing, I was craving something a bit more intimate and authentic. And after taking his own family out on a sunset cruise to test the waters, literally, Sameh and his business partner Roshdy made it happen.
I love these guys!
I can’t think of a better welcome party than this one!
On this particular trip we had guests from the US, UK, Belgium, Japan, and Canada. Everyone had traveled long and far to be there — some pretty much walking straight off the plane and onto a felucca and being incredibly good sports about it, too! — and I couldn’t help but feel a bit of magic in the hot African air as we watched the sun set over one of the most storied waters in the world.
For the second round of our retreat, the Cairo extension came at the end rather than the beginning of our trip. So there was no getting-to-know-you’s necessary — this crew was basically family by this point.
Fun fact about week two: every single guest joined the extension. It was a serious party!
I thought long and hard about how to structure these recaps by the way, and decided that probably no one but me and maybe the guests would be interested in reading two identical trip recaps back-to-back — ha.
Thus, I’m combining them. Doing so has reminded me how despite the same itinerary, dive sites, and plans, the people are what makes each trip so unique, and gives its its own flavor and feel.
Once again, the koshary — a conveniently vegan dish made of rice, lentils, pasta, and onions, layered and covered in tomato sauce — was a huge hit with both us and those around us.
Considered a street food, koshary is rarely served in fine dining restaurants. When we returned to our fancy hotel with the leftovers, the guards first waved us away, insisting no food was allowed.
“You eat koshary?!” they exclaimed excitedly, taking a closer look. “Okay, yes, you can take,” they assured us with a smile as they waved us in.
Also a hit? The heart-shaped glasses from the welcome bags — which you’ll get a peek into in a future post.
While my week one girls were collapsing with exhaustion post-travel, understandably, our week two ladies were fired up and ready to hit the town! We celebrated the end of our amazing adventure with a trip to Cairo Jazz Club, perhaps the city’s best hidden gem.
Mixed-gender nightlife in a country that doesn’t really drink alcohol is generally limited, to say the least, so I’m beyond thrilled to have found this hip, underground venue that hosts live music, displays original art, serves actually great cocktails (a true rarity, in Egypt), and attracts a great mix of young locals, expats, and at least on the night we visited, fourteen international tourists!
For the second day of the extension, we were up bright and early for the big pointy rock piles that bring just about everyone to Egypt — the oldest of the Seven Wonders of the World, the truly accurately named Great Pyramids.
I’ve written about visiting the Pyramids not once but twice before, and this being my third trip, I did start to feel a bit like a local!
Sameh brought us through a tried and tested route of the Great Pyramid of Khufu, where the girls could choose to go inside the pyramid — I stayed outside and held their cameras, my true proud tour guide moment — followed by a stop at the viewpoint of all three of the Great Pyramids, rounded out with a stop at The Sphinx.
All along the way he peppered us with accent history information, insights into modern Egypt, and of course, excellent photography tips.
I was so happy to have my girl Kat, who was with me on my very first trip to Dahab, join us for week one of our retreat! She had missed Cairo the first time and was thrilled to be back, and ended up being a much needed extra set of hands — and as a PADI dive instructor, a private dive guide for some of the lucky retreaters — and my eternal cheerleader, always.
Kat and I met abroad and it’s friendships like ours that I wish for all our guests to leave my trips with!
Now to answer your inevitable question, no I did not require nor even suggest that all my guests dress in the colors of the rainbow! However, once I realized we were so fantastically coordinated, I was pretty obsessed.
Let’s just say I might just have to run with this idea from here on out…
Week two we were back at it again — with almost double the group crew!
Don’t Katie and I look like experts at this by this point? Ha!
For our second Cairo extension, we were largely guided by Sameh and Roshdy’s associate Raina. I was super excited to work with a female tour guide, a rare treat in Egypt, and get her unique perspective on the country — what could be better for our Wander Women?!
The great thing about running two trips back-to-back — and knowing we were planning to make this an annual adventure — is we were able to test out a few little tweaks here and there and incorporate feedback on the fly. After some in our first group found going inside the Great Pyramid a tad overwhelming, and the extra ticket situation bordered on a hassle, Raina suggested we try going inside one of the smaller, less trafficked pyramids instead.
Not many know that in addition to the three Great Pyramids, there are also three small Queen’s Pyramids at Giza: the tombs of Khufu’s wives and sisters.
Hot tip: consider ducking inside the Pyramid of Queen Henutsen if you can’t stomach the deep, dark, crowded and tiny tunnel into Great Pyramid of Khufu. We had it to ourselves, it didn’t require an extra ticket, and it was a significantly less claustrophobia-inducing situation than the famous version everyone flocks to (though I admit, I’m glad I’d had both experiences).
Next up? Heading out of Giza and into Downtown Cairo.
The Museum of Egyptian Antiquities is, in my opinion, a must-see in Egypt, both for the treasures it holds and novelty of a national museum with no air conditioning, limited barriers between you and the artifacts, and one of the least MOMA-like gift shops I’ve ever exited a cultural institution through.
While I had been to the museum once on my own solo time in Egypt, I had never been with a tour guide before — and due to a bit of a dearth of signage, it’s amazing the depth and insight our guides bring to the pieces here. While I didn’t love wearing the required headsets — it’s a must for tour groups — I did love turning the dial and hearing guides from other groups explaining the history of Egypt in what felt like a dozen languages!
Also adding to the experience? Knowing that the mummy rooms gross me out, and happily waiting outside while the girls took a lap in there, ha ha.
Right now, a brand new stunning museum is under construction in Giza, overlooking the pyramids. I’ve seen it in progress and I’m envisioning a final result similar to the Acropolis Museum in Athens — and I’m simultaneously pinching myself with excitement to see this state of the art new structure, and feeling sad to say goodbye to the old one.
It’s pretty cool to watch history in the making, though. On our first retreat extension, the museum was pretty much intact. On our second retreat extension, the sculptures were being packed up to move — wild!
While the new museum was on track to open by end of 2020, due to the pandemic it will likely be pushed to 2021. Which means these tours may be the last of ours to take in this current historic museum building — and our next might get lucky enough to catch the new one!
Next up on our downtown tour? Lunch! With a packed day ahead, the girls were more than game to grab food to go from my favorite meg-hip and modern Egyptian eatery, Zooba. I’ve loved this place since my first ever trip to Egypt and hoped the girls would be as smitten as I was — score!
In fact, as we noshed, Zooba was in the process of launching their first ever USA location in New York — if you’re looking for authentic Egyptian eats, head to Zooba Nolita.
And then we were back on the road, heading towards Islamic Cairo for an afternoon of mosques and markets.
The mosques in Cairo are, from my experience and perspective, steeped in history and starkly beautiful. No, you won’t find the kind of intricate mosaics or modern grandiosity that you might find in mosques through the Persian Gulf. But nothing beats the setting.
Because right down the road, you’ll feel like you’re in a scene from Aladdin, come to life, at the Khan el-Khalili Market. In all my market visits in all the world, I don’t think I’ve seen anything quite as memorable as this — though Bangkok’s floating markets and Istanbul’s Grand Baazar come close, they just don’t quite make the cut.
From the hilarious recited sales pitches of the vendors to the enchanting hidden alcoves filled with lamps, spices, carpets, original art and more, to pausing to enjoy tea and shisha and the chaos of the central square, there is no mistaking it at Khan Al Khalili — you’re in Egypt.
And we loved it.
In fact, the number one piece of feedback we got from our guests was they wanted more time here! Asked and answered — we so love and appreciate guests giving us their thoughts so we can be ever improving our trips for the future.
All too soon, our time in Cairo was coming to a close.
Want to join us for 45 seconds? Watch the quick video below! Editing this made me want to fire the videographer (hint: it’s me) because I realized I really was light on footage. Luckily I love the clips I did shoot — they take me back to two incredible whirlwind trips through one of the most captivating cities I’ve ever seen with my own eyes.
Ah, Egypt. This weekend in Cairo was dreamy. So dreamy! But I realized I want the girls I bring to Egypt to have the opportunity to have the full experience I had on my first trip — but even better.
Which is why in 2021 I’m offering Wander Women Egypt: A Yoga + Ancient Adventures Retreat, a full week exploring mainland Egypt preceding my Wander Women Red Sea: A Diving + Yoga Retreat in Sinai. You can do one or the other, or even better you can join me for both.
The mainland tour will take in the ancient wonders of Egypt, from the Pyramids to the Valley of Kings to Abu Simbel. We’ll practice yoga along the banks of the Nile, dine on authentic Nubian dinners, have henna parties, sip local wine, travel with the best guide in the country, dance in underground jazz clubs, watch the sun set while sipping local wine and if you’re up for it — watch the sunrise from a hot air balloon over the Valley of Kings. And we’ll do it all from unique accommodation like a plush pyramid-facing hotel in Cairo, a colorful Nubian village in Aswan, a traditional Egyptian felucca (pinch me) and a chic and cheerful guesthouse in Luxor.
We are so proud to have crafted a trip that we think is unlike anything else available in Egypt right now — and more details are coming soon.
But for now — let’s head to Sinai together.
Onto the Red Sea!
Intrigued by Egypt? Our 2020 retreats have been rescheduled to 2021, and there’s a few spots left in each. We’ll be holding Wander Women Lebanon: An Adventure + Yoga Retreat from August 21-28th (waitlist only!), Wander Women Egypt: An Ancient Adventure and Yoga Retreat from August 28th-September 4th (three spots left!), and Wander Women Red Sea: A Dive + Yoga Retreat from September 4-11th (six spots left!)
Egypt is my dream destination. Can’t wait to hear about the diving portion of the trip Alex!
First edition went up last night! Many more to come!
Actually there is not one type of Islamic architecture . Most islamic architecture in Egypt is mamluk ,which is different from ottoman style of the grand museum for example. There are few ottoman and fatimid sites indeed in Egypt, but less than mamluk . Old cairo is actually quite big with many neighbourhoods but most of them are too local to be tourist-friendly???? but there are many projects now to improve old cairo’s infrastructure , but it is still a difficult cast because there are 5 million people living in old cairo. Cairo (i am cairo native btw) is very central to Egypt and have representations of the many layers of history of egypt but sadly due to many problems many of those attractions are not well kept or properly advertised.
Love your posts btw.
Wow Rowan, thank you so much for all this info! I love learning more about Egypt!