We arrived in Egypt in December 2023 to attend the Luxor Worldschool Hub : a self-directed learning centre led by Louise, a worldschooling mother of two, and her husband Abdel, who is from Luxor.
After landing in Cairo, we made our way to the Tahrir Square GoBus station to catch a night bus to Luxor. At this station, ticket sales and the waiting area were in a dilapidated building with flickering lights, separated from the parking lot where buses departed by a busy road. When it was time for our bus, we gathered all our luggage and went to the edge of the road but we could not see how we could cross through the honking, weaving stream of cars. Finally, an elderly lady gestured to us, stepped into the road, and shepherded us across – confidently shielding us from the oncoming traffic.
Our bus was clean and had large comfortable seats (we booked an ‘elite’ bus and the journey was still very reasonably priced). However, we found it almost impossible to sleep on the overnight trip due to multiple stops at security checkpoints and a light and chime when the bathroom was occupied. When we returned to Cairo, we decided to travel during the day to avoid losing a night of sleep. Also on our return trip, we arrived at Cairo GoBus Main Station rather than the Tahrir square station: Main Station was modern, well-lit, and clean and the parking lot was directly next the waiting area. We are not sure if it has a ticket office, but GoBus tickets can be purchased online in advance.
After our overnight bus journey to the hub, we were very happy to arrive on the West Bank of Luxor where we had booked an apartment which had been vetted by Louise and Abdel. The apartment owner greeted us with glasses of mint tea and showed us our new home: a beautiful two-bedroom apartment with a pool, private balconies off each bedroom, and a shared rooftop terrace with stunning views of the Nile, the Valley of Queens, the sunrise, and the sunset. Louise messaged to make sure we had arrived and were happy with our apartment: we told her we couldn’t believe we got to live there.
As we were settling in, a family who were staying downstairs and who had attended the previous hub knocked on the door to welcome us. As they were leaving in a few days, they gave us a load of left-over groceries and well as advice, including directions to their favourite juice and falafel spot and a WhatsApp number for “beer man” who would deliver to the door (alcohol sales are legal but complicated).
Soon it was time for hub to start: Amelia was thrilled to go off each morning with the other children in a little private mini-bus and as soon as we visited the hub, we felt comfortable with her being there on her own. The space was beautiful, peaceful, gated, and well-supervised. The kids did many activities at the hub and on the surrounding family farm. We loved hearing about the “juice bike” – a kid-powered blender for making fresh juice and smoothies) and the “banana slide” – a slide in the field made with a pile of banana leaves. They also had opportunities to experience cultural activities on fieldtrips.
Before we arrived, we wondered how we would fill our extra time while Amelia was at the hub but we always had something fun to do – participating in some of the hub activities such as a picnic on a deserted island and a family sports day, going with other parents for coffee or fresh juice, walks along the Nile, running errands such as buying beautiful fresh fruits and vegetables, relaxing in our apartment, arranging day trips like a visit to the amazing temple of Dendera, and participating in local community activities like Luxor POW popup walks.
The afternoons and evenings after hub were filled with playdates and sleepovers and dinners with other parents on the banks of the Nile while the kids played along the river. Louise and Abdel were endlessly helpful with arranging activities – we did a beautiful hot air balloon ride as the sun rose over Valley of Queens, horseback riding through the countryside on healthy well-treated horses, a visit to ACE animal sanctuary, a pottery class, a sunset felucca trip, and group visits to temples, with scavenger hunts for kids.
We even celebrated a wonderful Christmas with families who stayed after the end of hub. After Christmas, there was still so much that we wanted to do in Luxor that we decided to extend our stay – as well as spend a second month in Egypt taking advantage of activities that we arranged locally, like a four-day sail along the Nile. We can’t recommend the Luxor Hub more highly.
We knew we wanted to do a Nile Cruise while we were in Egypt but we preferred a dahabiya sailboat to a cruise ship. While we were in Luxor, we met a fixer who said he could arrange for us to have a last-minute unsold cabin on a dahabiya. After many discussions over delicious spiced coffee, negotiations, changed plans, changed prices, periods of no-contact, and doubts about handing over cash for a deposit to someone who we knew only as “Ahmed River” (he said his last name was complicated and he couldn’t write in Arabic or English) we were booked to leave the next day for Aswan, where our trip would begin!
Aswan was beautiful and very different from Luxor – the Nile was fringed with high rock formations and lots of greenery and dotted with feluccas. We stayed on Elephantine Island, where our host arranged amazing meals for us in at a neighbour’s home and took us on a boat trip along the Nile and to visit a small temple by moonlight. We also visited Abu Simbel as a very long day trip from Aswan; we tried to time our visit to Abu Simbel for a time of day when there would be fewer visitors but the site was very still very crowded. For us, Abu Simbel didn’t have a magical feeling (maybe because of the crowds) but it was interesting to see how the temples had been relocated to save them from flooding caused by the construction of the Aswan High Dam.
After a short stay in Aswan, we started our cruise. We were thrilled when we boarded a beautiful sailboat for 24 guests and were shown to a gorgeous suite with a private balcony overlooking the Nile.
We had promised not to tell other guests what we paid for our cabin and we weren’t sure who on the boat knew about our arrangement for the left-over cabin. It turned out the boat was a charter for two separate groups, each of whom had their own guide, so we had to constantly and discreetly ask questions to keep track of what was happening and how long we could stay ashore before returning to the boat. The boat crew didn’t know the schedule – they said it was up to the guides – and the bilingual French guide wouldn’t tell us (he disapproved of people travelling in Egypt without a guide and would give us return times hours earlier than the times he planned to come back with his group) – so we attached ourselves to a friendly Spanish speaking guide/group and even celebrated New Years Eve with them. When sites were not walkable from the boat, we had to arrange our own transportation but we had lots of practice and a good idea of costs from Luxor and were happy to make our own arrangements for tuktuks at a couple of the sites and a motorboat transfer once we got back to Luxor.
While onboard, we loved the peaceful sound of the Nile flowing alongside the boat, watching life on the river bank go by, and visiting places that were too shallow for the larger ships, such as the ancient quarry at Gebel el-Silsika. Our boat had the site to ourselves and our family had a brilliant impromptu tour from a guard who spoke English and who had worked there for 17 years. We could see prehistoric rock art, quarries where blocks and pillars of stone had been cut by hand from the cliffs, graffiti, shrines and temples, and holes in the cliffs where mooring lines from boats were tied. These boats would take the cut stone down the Nile to temples such as Karnak.
After finishing our Nile cruise and spending a few more days in our Luxor apartment, we returned to Cairo and followed our new hub friend Claire’s advice to visit the White Desert . It was simply stunning: geology that changed every 30 minutes, wild roaming camels, an unexpected camel ride, sandboarding, a Roman mummy, and Amelia’s first-time camping! We could not believe the spectacular views and the way the moonlight lit the desert like day. We had pictured deserts as empty and flat, but here there were incredible stone formations set amongst dunes; we camped at the top of a valley which rolled away from us into the distance with no other people in sight. A hill towered above us and on our first night we saw a small fennec fox climb up silhouetted against the moon.
We recommend at least a 3-day/2-night desert tour because it included camping in the Agabat area. We didn’t like the “New White Desert” as much – this is the famous White Desert which is visited on day tours and two-day tours – as we found that it had flies (attracted by lots of camping) and that it felt much less remote. One day, perhaps the deserts of Egypt will open further and longer trips will be possible: the first night of our tour in the Agabat was a once in a lifetime experience.
Fayoum and Egypt’s ancient shallow sea
After the White Desert, we spent a couple of days in Cairo before leaving on our next expedition, to Fayoum. We found a small guesthouse in Tunis Village, a town which is famous for its pottery, and the owner arranged for a taxi to transport us from Cairo. On the way, we stopped at a security checkpoint, which is normal in Egypt. Taxis require permissions to transport tourists by road. However, these permissions are expensive and, in our experience (with regular taxis, not luxury cars), the drivers almost never got them – our trip to Aswan was the only exception. As we were driving along well-travelled roads, along with many other cars, we never felt this affected our safety so we didn’t insist. Instead, money changed hands (between the taxi driver and the police – we were never involved), the cars ducked into the desert to dodge checkpoints (we just noticed the weird routes), or in our friends experience they were once asked to duck their heads. In Fayoum, however, a police car with four officers followed us all the way from the checkpoint to our hotel for “protection.” The next day, we woke up early to go to the desert but were told that the police would accompany us again so we had to wait for them. They escorted us to the edge of the Wadi Al-Hitan park and then departed.
In the park, the whale bones were visible in the desert protected by rings of rope. We were almost the only ones there and enjoyed walking around the site and thinking about whales previously inhabiting the desert when this area of Egypt was covered by shallow seas. When we finished visiting the site and the small museum, our police escort had not returned so we went back to the hotel unescorted.
When we checked out, our hotel owner apologetically said that the police had ask him to give them 100 Egyptian pounds (about $3 USD at the time) as a tip for our two days of “protection” and he wondered if we could pay him back. We said we had not wanted the police along but he said that he felt he couldn’t refuse so we gave him the money. We felt he was being honest as when we left a small tip in the room for the cleaner, he immediately called us in to say that we had left money behind.
After returning to Cairo, we took a bus to our next destination, Alexandria, where we planned to stop for a few days on our way to Siwa – a remote oasis near the Libyan border. In Alexandria, we had a comfortable apartment with a nice view, Amelia enjoyed a rhythmic gymnastics class, and we visited the famous library, but to us the city felt less “alive” than Cairo so we were happy to continue our travels after a short stay.
Our taxi driver cheerfully lashed our mountain of luggage to the roof of his small taxi but could not understand us or make out our destination (the bus station) in Google Maps, even though we switched the maps app to Arabic. He asked a man in florist shop who immediately came out, translated everything, gave directions, and checked our bus tickets and confirmed our terminal. He went back into the shop and returned with rose for Amelia. We offered him a tip which he absolutely refused, saying he hoped we had a good visit to his city.
Our next stop was the remote oasis of Siwa, where we met up with our friends Chris and Hayley and had an incredible experience visiting Camilla and Daniel’s family. Camilla has lived in Siwa for 16 years is raising her children there. She invites Worldschooling families with similarly aged kids to visit for a month or more, so that the kids can form significant friendships.
Amelia joined Camilla’s children and other visiting kids for activities and workshops that Camilla arranged in the afternoons. We were blown away by the richness and diversity of the experiences that Camilla arranged. Some of our favourites included weaving palm frond baskets with the guard at an ancient temple, learning about chemistry and making amazing natural soap with a nuclear scientist who fled Libya and started a small business in Siwa, cooking jam and salad dressing in an artisanal factory, stargazing in the desert with an amateur astronomer who moved to Siwa from Cairo, and doing pottery and art at a studio within the ancient mud brink fortress of Shali.
In Siwa, because the locations and transport varied each day and we were staying in different places we (parents) decided to accompany the kids to the activities. This was a different experience than what we had in Luxor but we couldn’t think of anything we would rather be doing in Siwa. We were always welcomed by the people running the workshops and usually offered tea (black, green, or with herbs like mint or lemongrass) made on bonfire or small burner.
In addition to the workshops, Camilla arranged or recommended many family activities, including a desert tour, hiking up mountains to watch the sunset, visiting ancient tombs and temples, picking olives at her beautiful property, swimming in salt lakes and freshwater springs, and soaking under the stars and eucalyptus trees in hot springs which are seldom visited by tourists. When we left Siwa, we suddenly felt like tourists – missing the local knowledge and connections that Camilla provided.
Siwa was spectacular and felt like a magical oasis from the hassle that we sometimes experienced in other parts of Egypt: we were always offered fair prices with no negotiation and everyone we met was welcoming, helpful, and generous. It was also rawer that Luxor: butcher shops lined the road in the centre of town and there was sometimes blood in the street. We got the impression that most tourists stay outside of the centre of town but we enjoyed some aspects of our location – close to a gorgeous garden restaurant, Ola, a falafel place, and a juice spot.
After almost two months, it was nearly time to leave Egypt. We wanted to see the Suez Canal on our way back to Cairo so we stopped in Port Said. We enjoyed several recommendations that had been giving to us such as sampling famous salsabila ice cream and taking a ferry across the canal while being mobbed by sea gulls, but this wasn’t a can’t-miss stop for us. In fact, on the day we left we stayed in our hotel until it was time to go to the bus station: enjoying the comfortable beds, inexpensive room service, and the fact that it had a “real” bath/shower – many bathrooms in Egypt do not have a shower cubicle or curtain so the floor (and sometimes the rest of the bathroom) gets wet when showering.
For our final stop in Egypt, we returned to Cairo. By then, we liked Cairo – noisy, crazy, people cycling with enormous racks of bread balanced on their heads. Everyone was busy going about their business so there was no hassle for us. We enjoyed visiting the pyramids in Giza, Sakkara, and Dahshur, especially going inside. While we visited the pyramids at the end of our trip, a guided tour of the pyramids and museums in Cairo would be a good stop when arriving in Egypt: guides in Cairo were experienced and fluent in English so they did a good job of overviewing ancient Egyptian history (though we came across a couple of guides who presented only unconventional theories, such as that the pyramids were built by a pre-Pharaonic people whose civilization was destroyed by a solar flare – ask about this before booking a tour).
We also recommend buying books on Egyptian history (especially kids’ books, which give a good overview even for adults) and watching the excellent National Geographic documentary series “Lost Treasures of Egypt” (we watched it before we arrived on Disney Plus, which was blocked from within Egypt).
For our last dinner in Cairo, we met up with Chris and Hayley’s family: our kids counted it as the sixth time since we met them in southern Albania the spring of 2022 (we met again in northern Albania, Luxor, Aswan, Siwa, and Cairo). We enjoyed wandering the city together, including cafes, an art gallery, lots of ice cream, and a visit to the famous Abou Terek restaurant for Koshary, which is a pasta, rice, vermicelli, and lentil dish with a tomato sauce. It may not sound appealing, but comes with separate toppings, including vinegar and chili to make the perfect bright, spicy sauce, and a toping of crunchy onions and chickpeas – we all loved it, including the kids. Abou Terek had seven full floors of people eating only pita chips, Koshary and its accompanying desert: rice pudding. Each floor had crystal chandeliers, fish tanks, or ponds with floating balls and rubber ducks. The meal cost about $9 for the seven of us.
On our last day, we visited Mall of Egypt where we watched the new Mummies animated movie in English in a cinema all by ourselves and Amelia tried out the ski slopes.
In addition to meeting up with old friends, we made great new friendships at the hub – the kids and parents are continuing to stay connected online and (sneak peak of future travels) we have already met again with two families, first in Namibia, then in Colombia, and finally in Baltimore and New York. For us, our experience in Egypt was Worldschooling at its best.