How to Plan a Perfect Trip to Egypt? Ask the Concierge.

Your Guide in Sharm El Sheikh

How to Plan a Perfect Trip to Egypt? Ask the Concierge.

In ancient Egypt, dogs were seemingly everywhere. Their likenesses were carved into the walls of tombs for royalty, their leather leads and harnesses have been found in burial suites, nearly 8 million mummified pups were discovered in 2015 at a site called Saqqara, and Anubis, the god said to guide the dead to their place in the underworld, has the head of a dog (OK, some say jackal, but those are probably cat people). But none of this quite explains the photo that was sitting in my room when I checked into the Four Seasons Hotel Cairo at Nile Plaza.

It was early in September, and after flying into Cairo from New York City, I wasn’t looking for more than a bed on which to collapse. But when I walked into my room, the first thing that caught my eye was a framed photo of my husband and I with our two dogs. At first, it seemed like a nice touch from a hotel brand known for nice touches, but then I realized—it was a picture we’d never shared. The photo had been taken by a photographer and we had plans to use it for a holiday card, but while she’d posted it to her Instagram page, we’d been holding off for a holiday reveal. Which means someone at the property did more than just print a shot from my social media and frame it; they really did the work.

It was a thread that ran throughout the trip, which took us to the brand’s properties in both Cairo and Sharm El Sheikh, a seaside retreat at the tip of the Sinai Peninsula. Little things were thought of for us long before we thought of them ourselves, and an expertise in not only the places we were traveling but the ways in which they would best be enjoyed proved time and time again to make the difference between a good time and great one. It isn’t that the people at the Four Seasons are mind readers, though, they just know how to listen.

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Our trip began months before we left the United States, on a call with members of the concierge teams at the properties who asked incisive questions about the trip we wanted to take, covering topics that felt big (what do you want to see; where do you want to go; is there anything you’d always regret missing) and small (still or sparkling?), and patiently listening to me make grand proclamations about how I hoped things would play out—knowing full well, I think, that months later I’d come around to the way of thinking they knew was best all along.

Take, for example, the guide with whom we were paired. After landing and indulging in a restorative morning spa visit (don’t miss the Cleopatra Ritual, a milk bath and massage that banished any post-flight fatigue) and lunch at Byblos, the hotel’s stellar poolside Lebanese restaurant, we met the freelance guide Ibrahim Hamza, who regularly works with guests at the property. An established Egyptologist with a friendly and outgoing manner, his chipper nature encouraged us to forget jet lag and head to the Egyptian Museum on the afternoon we arrived—getting to the storied collection late enough in the day to miss the crowds and get up close and personal with archeological artifacts including nearly 5,000 items associated with King Tutankhamun. With him leading the way, we deftly maneuvered around tour groups and slow walkers, taking in highlights of the world-famous institution, and preparing ourselves for the next day’s visit to the pyramids. A less experienced guide might have let us stop somewhere near Tahrir Square for a cold drink, or even slink back to the hotel for a nap, but Ibrahim encouraged us to power through with a bit of immersion therapy; our next step was the beyond-bustling, 5,000-year-old Khan El-Khalili bazaar, where we fortified ourselves with strong coffee from the famous Naguib Mahfouz Cafe and took his word about what to buy there (knickknacks for friends, a fez for the colleague who demanded one) and what to skip. Ibrahim’s patience and expertise had made two musts of the trip flow seamlessly into one another and turned a day we’d normally have earmarked for rest and recuperation into something much more. We hadn’t been in Cairo a full day yet but had already seen enough of the city—thanks to his tour and a sunset boat cruise along the Nile—to understand its enduring appeal and had brushed up enough on ancient Egypt to feel properly prepped for our next great adventure.

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Most people will tell you to visit the pyramids first thing in the morning, but Ibrahim knew better. We might have looked at him warily when he recommended spending our morning touring some of Cairo’s jaw-dropping architecture, including the Hanging Church and Al Rifai Mosque, where Egypt’s royals are buried, and visiting the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization before seeing Giza’s most famous sites in the afternoon, but the suggestion couldn’t have been smarter. After taking in the architecture and exhibitions, including a jaw-dropping collection of 20 royal mummies—not to mention the rare strong air-conditioning—at the museum, we drove a surprisingly short distance to the cluster of three pyramids for which the city is best known. In the middle of the day, there weren’t the crowds you might expect at a world-famous landmark and visiting the sites—including a somewhat harrowing trip inside the exceedingly small spaces in the Great Pyramids that are open to the public; Ibrahim advised against it, but we couldn’t go all that way and not—was as fascinating as it was painless.

A camel ride was vital for capturing social media content, if not helpful for my aversion to horses and similarly large creatures and having our guide on hand helped make clear which of the vendors pleading with us for a tip actually required one. Lunch nearby at Khufu’s allowed us a meal among actual Cairenes, something I’d asked the concierge for in our pre-trip chats, and the backdrop of the three pyramids didn’t hurt.

It’s amazing how little we think people listen to what we say around them. Sitting in the car with Ibrahim and our driver over those two days, my husband and I had discussed any number of things we hoped to do, see, or buy. We hadn’t spoken much to the Four Seasons team about shopping—after all, we’re a carry-on-only family and our international splurges tend to be on candy at duty free—but Ibrahim had been listening. So, after lunch as we made our way through Giza, we stopped at stores that could have been custom-made for us; my husband practically needed to be dragged from Cleopatra Palace Perfumes, a gorgeous fragrance emporium where he bought enough scented oils to necessitate checking that bag, and I walked out of the gorgeous textile store Wadi El Melouk with a rug I hadn’t planned to purchase but couldn’t live without. We’d been thrilled to experience the things we knew we wanted to do, but our trip was endlessly enhanced with the things that the people looking after us learned we’d love. And instead of loading up on touristy junk just to stop hawkers from haggling, we walked away with things that we will treasure, all because someone took the time to bring us exactly where we needed to be.

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And after a few days in bustling Cairo, where we needed to be next was undoubtedly Sharm El-Shiekh. The resort town at the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula was everything that the capital city was not: entirely meant for unwinding. It wasn’t that there was nothing to do at the Four Seasons in Sharm El-Shiekh, which completed a major renovation and expansion in 2022, but that everything that was planned for us was done so with relaxation in mind.

At this point, it wasn’t shocking to find a photo—albeit one we had posted to Instagram—framed in our room upon arrival, but the edible chocolate frame itself was a charming touch. The suite we were in didn’t feel like an oasis from urban madness, the way that the one in Cairo did, but instead like the innermost layer of the resort’s cocoon of luxury—complete with a private pool, an endless and rotating series of snacks that seemingly appeared from nowhere, and the little touches that separate a good place to stay from a great one—like the complete absence of decaf Nespresso pods, which serve no purpose in my life.

Our days in Sharm, as everyone who seems to know what they’re doing there calls it, began to melt together. During the tail end of summer, things were hot enough that we took advantage of the on-call golf carts to get around the property, popping from one pool to another for a change of scenery, making our way to one of the 12 restaurants and bars on site for yet another meal, or ending the night with a belly dancing performance at the indoor-outdoor Citadel Lounge.

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Some of our activities at the property came with experience, like how we ate almost daily at Luna, the poolside Mexican restaurant that had food far better than you’d expect nearly 8,000 miles from home (ask for the off-menu empanadas), while others came from the brain trust dedicated to maximizing our experience. We’d gladly signed up for a snorkeling session to swim along the eye-popping nearby Jackson Reef and take in the sites, like a stunning shipwreck, that sit in the water between Egypt and Saudi Arabia. But when the staff at the dive center insisted we come back the next day for a sunset ride to look for dolphins, it was an unexpected delight. And while we didn’t have a bad meal our entire trip, a suggestion to enjoy a Bedouin-style breakfast on the beach allowed us a delicious and memorable morning that no buffet, however delicious, could match. (The staff also seemed truly delighted to engage; on a visit to the spa, one employee spoke to my husband for much longer than anyone should about the various products they offered and what might be best to add to his already-elaborate skincare routine.)

There’s no real reason to leave the property in Sharm El-Sheikh—although some folks recommended a visit to the nearby SOHO Square shopping center, which is home to luxury shopping, local artisans, dining, nightlife, and even bowling, we didn’t make it—but who could say no to a camel safari? On one of our last mornings on property, we made our way to the lobby to meet a guide who drove us about 20 minutes into the desert to a camp where we drank tea, ate fresh bread with black honey, and trotted around on camels to our hearts’ content. Was I jealous of the other visitors who’d opted for speeding over the dunes in the ATVs also available? Maybe just a bit, but after a so-so experience with one of the beasts in Cairo, I was glad to find out that I liked (or perhaps that liked me) and to spend time with the locals who live on site. Would I have hopped into a car with strangers to drive to an unknown destination if the concierge hadn’t insisted? Absolutely not, but by this point I knew better than to question a recommendation from this team—and what had been a sunny seaside few days turned easily into something more memorable with a true sense of place.

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In the weeks since we returned, things in Egypt—and the entire Middle East—have become more complicated. It’s a place with a complex history and present, and while any trip should be planned with a traveler’s safety firmly in mind, it feels important to say that visiting the country, meeting the people who live there, and experiencing life in one of the world’s oldest civilizations left me feeling more connected to other people. That’s the secret about traveling; you haul halfway around the world to see ruins, to taste different foods, to shop in different stores, but what stays with you isn’t how different we are from the people who live among those things, but how similar despite our distance. For one, we all want to wake up—whether it’s after a nap or a few hundred years of gold-plated buried—and see our dogs.

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