Intrepid Egypt and Jordan Tour – A Comprehensive Review

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Thinking of booking a group tour with Intrepid to Egypt and/or Jordan? Here’s my honest review and what you can expect from this trip. All your questions answered!

This post will cover:

  • what’s the booking process?
  • what are the hotels like?
  • do you really need a sleeping bag?
  • what was the food like?
  • do you need to be physically fit?
  • how many people were in the group?
  • what were the buses and trains like?
  • do you get much time to yourself?
  • how much extra did I spend on tickets, food, etc?
  • what did I pack?
  • what luggage did I take?
  • what were the highlights?
  • where did I stay before/after?
  • benefits of taking a tour
  • thoughts on the itinerary
  • some final tips

The Monastery facade in Petra.

Which tour did you take? How much does it cost?

I went on Intrepid’s Jordan and Egypt Uncovered trip which is 22 days long and costs from £1936 (at the time of writing).

This itinerary is actually two tours combined:

Both of these trips are Lonely Planet branded itineraries at Intrepid’s Basix comfort level (more about that below).

If you’re interested in travelling to Jordan and Egypt but would prefer a shorter trip or a higher comfort level there are several further options?

I chose this particular itinerary because it was the longest trip for the least money and it was the only tour which included Dahab.

The Lonely Planet branded trips also claim to have a decent amount of free built in to the schedule. This was important to me because I’m a slow traveller and an introvert who likes my space (this was my first ever group tour).

Panorama in Amman, Jordan.

What’s the booking process like?

The website provides plenty of information on each tour. I recommend downloading the trip information PDF which will give you a day-by-day breakdown as well as packing and climate suggestions.

There is the option to pay the total or just the deposit upfront. If you select the latter option Intrepid will include a payment schedule with your receipt.

I received an initial ‘Thank You for Booking’ email followed a few days later by the full confirmation which states:

‘After a thorough review, we are happy to advise that, at time of writing, your trip will be operating as scheduled. *
* Subject to your trip meeting minimum numbers, if applicable.’ 

So you might want to hold off on booking any flights until you’ve received that full confirmation.

A quick moan: when purchasing, you can tick a box to indicate interest in help with extras transfers and additional nights. It’s also mentioned in several e-mails. But no-one ever got in touch, nor did they reply to the contact form.

Eventually I phoned only to be told I couldn’t book any extra nights through Intrepid because we were now outside the contracted booking period with the hotel. Which is fine but I wish this information was somewhere in booking info – I would have booked it sooner! It would be nice if you could just add these as part of the booking process but for now it’s still a manual step. 

What were the hotels like?

Twin room interior, New Star Zamalek Hotel in Cairo.

Twin room interior, Misr Hotel in Alexandria.

Room interior, Dyarna Dahab Hotel.

Intrepid do explain what to expect from the accommodation on different trip styles but you have to go hunting for it (you can find it here).

On Basix trips expect:

‘… clean and centrally located accommodation to give you a good night’s rest along with a great trip price. Generally Basix trips use budget accommodation, sometimes with shared facilities and occasionally on a multishare basis… Typical accommodation types include budget hotels, local guesthouses, camping or homestays. ‘

It’s worth noting that hotels in Jordan and Egypt are not of comparable standard to Western hotels with the same star rating.

I found most of the hotels basic but comfortable enough. Expect a few hard beds and pillows, crispy/small towels, lack of wi-fi, mouldy showers, AC/heating issues, street noise – but thankfully not all at once. 

If you’re used to roughing it or staying in hostels then you’ll be fine. If you prefer a certain level of comfort, cleanliness, and convenience then you might be better off choosing a higher category.

Wi-fi is patchy and in many hotels it’s outside the lobby only. Upload/download speeds are sometimes slow. If you want to upload a lot of photos/video then it’s worth buying a SIM cards, they are pretty cheap in Egypt. Your guide can help you with this in Aswan.

Do I really need a sleeping bag?

Bedouin hut - exterior, Wadi Rum.

Bedouin hut - interior, Wadi Rum.

Intrepid Nubian homestay interior.

I travelled in March which is towards the end of the winter season, and the trip information/packing notes suggested bringing a sleeping bag for the outdoors accommodation (the Bedouin camp in Wadi Rum and the traditional wooden felucca boat in Egypt). We were also supposed to stay in a beach camp but for this trip we were upgraded to a resort.

Most of our accommodation seemed to have plenty of thick blankets available so personally I didn’t feel the need for a sleeping bag. I did bring a sleeping bag liner but didn’t use it. Freshly laundered sleeping bags were also available to hire on the felucca.

I was colder in some of the hotels which only had thin blankets. If you’re travelling in the winter/shoulder season then I do recommend lots of thermals and layers.

The felucca deck is pictured below – everyone’s on the deck, sleepover-style.

Intrepid felucca interior.

How are the toilets?

Maybe this is one benefit of having a tour guide – they know where the good toilets are. We didn’t come across a single squat toilet in 3 weeks. Most toilets cost 5EGP to use, occasionally 10EGP. Nearly every toilet had paper but it’s worth having a small packet of tissues on you just in case.

Is there a toilet on the felucca?

Yes! But you’ll be sleeping on deck under blankets and there are no shower facilities. We were informed by our guide that most feluccas don’t have a toilet but if you’re travelling with Intrepid you should be ok.

What was the food like?

Eating koshari in Cairo.

Eating doughnut holes in Dahab.

To be honest, the food was not bad but a bit samey by the end of 3 weeks. There’s a lot of falafel (especially if you’re a vegetarian) and beans, especially at breakfast. The quality varies. Bring snack bars if you think you might get bored of the same breakfast. There were a few hotels with buffet breakfasts which we swooped on.

The best restaurants were in Dahab and Luxor. 

Even if you don’t have a sweet tooth I recommend trying the doughnut balls in Dahab!

Do you have to be physically fit?

Steps up to the Monastery in Petra.

Small ferryboats to Philae Temple.

Intrepid rate this trip 3/5 active – ‘ This trip will raise your heart rate. Moderate physical activities are included and a good level of fitness is required.’.

As a responsible travel company Intrepid don’t recommend using the camels/donkeys/horses at the ancient sites, and sometimes the only alternative is a long walk.

Petra was the day with the most walking – we easily did 27k steps. You could cut this in half if you don’t do the hike to the Monastery which also has lots of steep and uneven steps.

Electric carts are available at the Valley of the Kings and Abu Simbel. Coaches can drive between the main points at the Pyramids.

Balance might be more of an issue as there are several boats on this trip.

Staff at the snorkel sites are used to guiding those who aren’t confident swimming using a life ring. The life jackets will help you to float too.

How early were the mornings? And how late were the nights?

Bus journey to Abu Simbel at sunrise.

The pace of the tour wasn’t as gruelling as I expected. I found the itinerary well-planned in that respect.

The busiest bit was Cairo > overnight train > Aswan > early start for Abu Simbel. It probably wasn’t so bad for those joining the trip in Cairo who were still feeling fresh! Thankfully it was followed by the very relaxing felucca trip.

Most mornings were 7-8am. There were two brutally early starts for Abu Simbel and the hot air balloon. These are both optional but personally I wouldn’t miss either of them.

There were several days/scheduled activities scheduled in which were a slower pace, and the second Egypt week was less hectic than the first.

Nights were mostly early, perhaps because our group skewed slightly older but also everyone wanted to get the most out of the ancient sites.

Egypt and Jordan aren’t exactly known as party destinations and not all restaurants serve alcohol but your guide will point you to bottle shops (hello Drinkies!).

How many people were in the group?

There were just 4 of us doing the Jordan portion of the trip but the group size went up to 16 in Egypt.

Our group was 50% under and 50% over 60, the majority women but a few men. It was mix of people travelling together as either friends or couples, and solos.

It truly was an Intrepid bunch – most were well travelled and had been on at least one Intrepid trip before. Some had been on upwards of 10!

I must say that 16 felt a bit too many people for me – although it’s still much smaller than many other tour companies. In the future I would look for trips with a max size of 12.

I was very lucky with my roommate who was lovely. A single supplement is available if you’d rather have a room to yourself.

Do you get much time to yourself?

If there’s one thing I was really worried about before taking a tour it was was having enough time to myself.

When we did have free time I mostly spent it chilling in the hotel rather than doing any extra activities or sites. But I need plenty of time to recharge, your mileage may vary.

I ate with the group most nights but it’s another opportunity to go off by yourself if you’re craving some alone time. 

If you’re still concerned then I recommend getting a single supplement.

What were the buses and trains like?

Minivan, Wadi Rum.

Driving through Wadi Rum.

Interior cabin, night train from Cairo to Aswan.

Intrepid coach interior, Egypt.

One bonus of having a bigger group is a bigger bus. In Egypt we mostly travelled on private coaches. We used different buses in different places rather than one bus for the whole trip.

In Jordan we were a smaller group so used minivans. This can feel more tiring for long trips.

The longest drive was 6 hours, most were 2-4 hours.

Don’t be surprised if you get the odd bus which smells of smoke, it’s still very common in this region.

At most stops we were able to leave ours things on the coach and I felt perfectly safe doing so. There was no scary driving, all of our drivers were safe and careful.

How much extra did I spend on meals, tips, and tickets?

Petra ticket.

Intrepid do give guidance in the Trip Information PDF on how much to put aside for the tipping kitty and tipping your guide. Neither are compulsory but they are the done thing, so to speak. 

However they don’t provide much guidance on how much extra to allow for your personal spending. The Trip Information PDF gives a long list of prices for extra sites and activities but it’s really hard to work out how many you’ll be able to fit in, if any.

I had a quick look on competitor website G Adventures and found that for Egypt they suggested $250 per week. I found this to be roughly accurate for me if you exclude shopping but include food and the main optional extras (guided tours of the Egyptian Museum, Abu Simbel, Philae Temple, a few extra tombs and smaller sites, and the hot air balloon).

Jordan is more expensive, I spent around $330 in 5 days including a private driver for Jerash.

What was on my to-do list before flying out?

  • Book flights
  • Travel insurance (check if your government advises again all but travel in Egypt as this can invalidate your insurance and you’ll need to find a specialist company, I used Battleface as Intrepid suggested)
  • Book any extra hotel night in Amman and Cairo plus transfers
  • Scan your travel documents and save them somewhere you can access from abroad like Google Docs
  • Apply for any visas that you need and can’t get on arrival
  • Check vaccination/test requirements
  • Check in for your flight and print your boarding pass if necessary
  • Download Google Maps offline for your starting city with your hotel saved in it
  • Get cash if you need it (I mostly use ATMs but took some Jordanian dinars for my transfer and first day)
  • Charge anything that needs charging
  • Check that you have the right adapters
  • Let your bank know you’ll be travelling abroad
  • Take a photo of your luggage before checking it (I also like to keep a packing list with all my items, and make sure your contact details are easily found inside.

Me - cold and windy in Abu Simbel.

What did I pack/wear? And what did I take but not need?

I was expecting a mix of hot and cold weather in March so I packed two outfits of jeans/sweaters plus thermals and fleeces for extra layering, a few maxi dresses, and tunics/leggings.

Unfortunately it turned out to be a cold month with only one or two days warm enough for dresses.

So I wore my packable down jacket a lot. My sandals didn’t get a look-in.

I wish I’d packed an extra couple of pairs of jeans, t-shirts, and hoodies.

It wasn’t too much of an issue being a bit cold during the day but some hotels were very cold at night. I slept in a sweater and thermals most nights. I’m a cold soul so I also  brought a mini hot water bottle which I was very thankful for in Alexandria in particular.

If you’re travelling in warmer months then lots of light loose layers will be most comfortable.

You’ll need a scarf for visiting religious sites (every tourist shop will have them for sale). In more conservative places it’s appropriate to cover your knees, shoulders, and elbows.

A big water bottle (mine is 1.5L) is handy.

What about luggage?

Nearly everyone in our group had at least one rolling suitcase and one carryon. There were a few places we would have to walk with our bags for 5 minutes to reach the hotel so if you’re packing extra make sure you can carry them.

It’s recommended that you bring padlocks for your bags. We didn’t have any issues but better safe than sorry. Not all of the places we stayed had safes in the room.

What were the highlights of my trip?

The Treasury facade in Petra.

Hot air balloon in Luxor.

So many! Petra was a stand out. The site is so much bigger than I had expect and the landscape is totally stunning too.

Everything in Luxor was amazing – Karnak Temple, the Valley of the Kings, and the hot air balloon at sunrise. We had a fun surprise when we checked in and realised we could see the Avenue of the Sphinxes from our balcony!

I loved the chaos of Cairo and the lush beauty of Zamalek, our neighbourhood base.

I’ll never forget the night train to Aswan and the felucca – the Nile scenery took my breath away.

My favourite food was the baba ganoush in Jordan. The best restaurant was Al Sahaby in Luxor.

And my favourite place was unsurprisingly Dahab with its relaxed boho vibe and endless cafes.

Where did I stay before/after?

Tall trees in a Zamalek side street, Cairo.

In Amman I booked a few extra nights at the hotel Intrepid used. This was my least favourite of the hotels and if I was doing it again I’ll book myself into a nicer hotel to make the ease myself in gently.

It’s worth getting to Amman at least one day early because the itinerary does not include anything in the city, nor does it include the huge Roman site Jerash which is undoubtedly one of the country’s highlights. The easiest way to see it is to organise a private driver through your hotel, although it is possible to get the bus if you’re feeling adventurous. I paid 35JOD.

If you only have the one day then it’s worth booking a driver for longer to incorporate any sites you want to see in Amman itself (such as the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Citadel), because Amman is super hilly and it’s attractions are spread out.

I choose not to stay any extra nights in Cairo because I thought we would see enough on the tour. However all of our time there felt rushed. 2 or 3 extra days at the end would be perfect for extra tours to Saqqara, Islamic and Coptic Cairo, and extra shopping time.

I really liked the neighbourhood we were staying in (Zamalek) but I would probably move somewhere with a pool like the Hilton Zamalek which is just down the room.

Is it worth booking the transfers?

I think so yes. I’m a big fan of taking the stress out of arrival in a new place. Although Uber is popular (and cheap) in Cairo we had some problems getting them to actually turn up at the hotel.

A Bedouin tent interior.

Benefits of taking a tour

I’m so glad I went on a tour can’t even imagine trying to do all that by myself!

This point should really be at the top of this page because it’s really the most important – it’s so amazing to have a local guide in Egypt in particular. One who not only can introduce you to Egyptian culture but also has a degree in Egyptology and can translate hieroglyphics for you! Who can help you out with logistics, the tipping, the police permissions, SIM cards, tout hassle, cultural differences, shopping tips, and where to find the best falafel sandwich.

It certainly makes sense for an itinerary that includes a lot of historic sites.

As someone used to travelling solo, it was a real treat being able to leave all the organisation up to someone else. I felt quite relaxed by the end of it (if a little bit passive).

Both my Intrepid guides were amazing and really made the trip special.

Also some of the experiences would not have been possible travelling on my own – like the Nubian homestay and the felucca.

I would happily to return to Jordan, Cairo and Dahab on my own and hire drivers where needed, but I was thankful to be on the Intrepid tour for Egypt’s major sights.

Some thoughts on the itinerary

Street in Dahab.

The Jordan and Sinai section of the trip was perfectly balanced, I loved it.

The middle bit was busy but packed with riches.

But second week in Egypt felt like it was missing a focus. Alexandria was refreshingly untouristy but dedicating a whole day to the war museum didn’t feel like the best use of time. 

On the flip side, I could easily have spent more time in Luxor and Cairo – there were plenty of extra sites that we didn’t have a chance to squeeze in such as Edfu, Kom Ombo, and Saqqara. If your main priority is the Ancient Egyptian sites then consider an itinerary which spends longer in these areas.

I could also happily have spent more time drifting down the Nile!

Any final tips?

  • Make sure you read the detailed itinerary and trip information and are happy with the group size and standard of transport/accommodation before booking. 
  • Be prepared for a lot of sad looking animals in Egypt.
  • Make sure you have the Uber app on your phone for Cairo (but always have a backup plan).
  • Keep an eye out for Black Friday and post-Christmas sales on the Intrepid website, you can usually bag yourself a chunky discount!

All images © The Mediterranean Traveller