My wife and I were planning our honeymoon in January. Initially we were thinking about touring the British Isles. But then I asked her: “Is this the one place you’d like to go in the entire world, if you could choose any destination? Because this may be our only opportunity.” She replied, “I’ve always wanted to go to Egypt, ever since I was a little girl. But I guess it’s too dangerous.” Being a graduate student of middle eastern history, I have kept abreast of current events in the region and therefore immediately dismissed her fears. (If that is a concern, let me tell you that I felt safer there than I do walking around Denver.) I then proceeded to research Egyptian tourism. Mara House came up once I got away from the major booking websites. Encouraged by the reviews I found on numerous travel websites and the descriptions on marahouseluxor.com of the tour packages she offered (and seeing that she has the same last name as me, which is utter coincidence but I saw it as a sign), I requested information on the 9-day tour package she offers. The moment I saw the price my jaw literally dropped and I immediately booked the trip. We arrived the last week of May.
Everything went incredibly well, and our expectations were either perfectly met or —more often than not— wholly exceeded. Her staff was courteous and attentive, going above and beyond to make our stay in Luxor absolutely joyous. Mara has spent years vetting the people with whom she entrusts her clients and that was evident in every way. The hotel in Cairo and the cruise ship Mara booked for us were more luxurious than I’m used to. The tour guides were extraordinarily knowledgeable — and believe me, I tested them with some rather esoteric questions, particularly during the Medieval Cairo portion of the tour since that’s in my wheelhouse. For that reason I’m confident that the entire tour presentation was based in fact, as opposed to some tours whose guides, I think, would prefer to make something up rather than admit they don’t know the answer. If they were expressing an opinion or didn’t know the answer to a question (which was rare) they said so. Moreover, they were excellent at running interference and warning you about unpleasant encounters with locals who, and this is no secret, can be very aggressive. It simply can’t be avoided so be prepared, but also know that the guides won’t leave you to be harassed if you follow their recommendations. Or you can just be a total mark like myself and end up buying way too many souvenirs… I mean, gifts for all my friends back home because I totally intended to do that.
The group we were in was small; the difference that made on the experience was apparent when we encountered other groups at the sites comprising dozens of people following around one beleaguered guide. And I will say this: when booking, you have to decide if you want cooler weather or fewer crowds. The peak season is from October to April. Personally, I can attest to the fact that the heat was difficult at first, but you do get used to it quickly and there are strategies for coping with the heat that really help. Regardless, the tour buses and drivers Mara arranged for us all had powerful air conditioning, as did her hotel in Luxor, the cruise ship, and the Cairo hotel.
Now I’ll address some concerns from other reviews I’ve read.
First, if anyone complains about Luxor House itself, they must not have looked at the website very closely because Mara does not conceal anything. The hotel is very nice, clean, and has a really authentic feel. Breakfast is served before the tours and it’s terrific in my opinion. On one evening you will be served a traditional Egyptian feast and it was the best meal of the entire two weeks my wife and I were in the country. And, if you just got married a couple of days before arriving, the staff may surprise you with a small little something special, but that’s just me saying that so you better not insist that “well this guy on TripAdvisor said….” My point is just that the staff is simply terrific and will go well out of their way to make your stay very enjoyable, even magical. Our room did not have a television, and we weren’t expecting one because nowhere on marahouseluxor.com does she say that the rooms have TVs. Just as well anyway; why would you want to watch TV on a trip like that? Mara House is not in a central, touristy area. Its pretty much right in the middle of a densely populated residential area. Honestly, my wife and I liked that better than the super-mega-luxury hotel in Cairo (though I’m certainly not complaining about that either.) It is not in a “construction zone,” as some people complained about years ago. The bathroom was just fine, very spacious, and exactly as described. Everything in the room worked and it was, of course, as clean as can be.
Next, things than be a bit complicated concerning arriving at the airport, traveling throughout the country, local customs, tipping; etc. Mara gives you everything you need to know up front. If anyone was caught off guard by any part of the process, it was their fault for not reading her informative emails carefully enough or for failing to do their own research and consequently having completely unrealistic expectations. For instance, if you think that tipping is not a part of the expenses of traveling in a place like Egypt, you have only yourself to blame if it surprises you. Seriously; who travels to a foreign country like Egypt without doing their due diligence and finding out what to expect before they go? Fortunately, that is one of the things about which Mara provides detailed instructions, and for that I was extremely grateful. I don’t want to have to guess at things like that.
Mara herself was not in the country when we were there, which was a bit disappointing simply because my wife and I were looking forward to meeting her as she had been so helpful in planning our trip. However, she and I had some terrific conversations on facebook messenger during our time there, sharing my posts on her page and what have you. She is perfectly accessible even if she isn’t there in person (she was in Ireland, which I plan on visiting someday myself) and as someone pointed out, if the staff is extraordinarily capable then what does it matter if the owner of the hotel isn’t present? All of her staff speak perfectly adequate English. Amr, Fatma, Ahmed, they speak better English than many people born and raised in America. Some minor changes were made to the itinerary (that honestly worked out better for my wife and I, but I can see how that might be an annoyance) but they weren’t done out of convenience or sloppiness; there were legitimate reasons why they needed to be made and basically out of the hands of Mara House.
Upon our return to Colorado, everyone wanted to hear about the trip. The most accurate thing I could say was that it was indescribable, and then proceed to describe it as best I can. I’ll just say the same thing here: Egypt is indescribable. The next thing I say to people is that seeing as how there is no other place like it in the world, if you have even the slightest inclination to go I strongly suggest that you do, and don’t hesitate. You never know how future events may prevent you from taking the opportunity, whether they be political events in Egypt or here at home, or just in your own personal life. And then I tell everyone that they should contact Mara Vaughan in Luxor. I cannot possibly conceive of a better way to experience Egypt. If you would like to hear from me directly, find me on Facebook.
– Justin Vaughan in Colorado.