Friendly Planet Blog

Posts Tagged ‘Northern Africa’

New 2011 departure dates announced for Friendly Planet’s Pyramids and Nile Cruise

It’s finally easier to get a seat on Friendly Planet Travel’s signature tour to Egypt. Almost every tour sold out in 2010, so we’re jam-packing the beginning of 2011 with nine new departure dates for the Pyramids and Nile Cruise. They include: Jan. 12, Jan. 26, Feb. 9, Feb. 23, March 9, March 16, April 6, April 27, and May 4.

Egypt’s contrast of ancient treasures and contemporary cities has made it one of the world’s most popular travel destinations. It’s pyramids, temples, and architecture are just the tip of the iceberg. So we’ve put together nine first-class tours highlighting the most desirable sites and exotic locales Egypt has to offer.

Starting in the cosmopolitan city of Cairo, you stay on the bank of the Nile River in the Ramses Hilton or Cairo Sheraton hotel. Here you’re just a short drive from the pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx. Seeing these elaborate structures that were built by man 46 centuries ago will take your breath away.

Next fly to Luxor and walk the Temple of Karnak, one of the most overwhelming monuments of the Pharaonic legacy, and Luxor Temple. Then board the five-star Tamr Henna ship and settle into your outside balcony cabin.

From there you begin your luxury excursion down the Nile River. The first stop is in Esna to see the Valley of the Kings and the Deir El Bahari mortuary temple of Queen Hatshepsut. After Esna comes Edfu, home to the Temple of Horus, Egypt’s best-preserved temple.

Continue sailing to Kom Ombo to the Temple of Kom Ombo. It overlooks the Nile and features fascinating drawings on the walls, including detailed drawings of surgical instruments. Lastly, you’ll disembark in Aswan to enjoy a tour by felucca. It’s a swift Egyptian sailboat that takes you around Elephantine Island, once the center of modern Aswan.

Head back to Cairo by air to sightsee in the cosmopolitan city or take advantage of an optional guided tour of Old Cairo. If your time and budget permits, why not opt for the extension to the Lost City of Petra in Jordan. You’ll roam the Monastery and Treasury at Petra, the Amman Citadel, the Roman Amphitheater, and more with your English-speaking guide along to explain the highlights of this amazing site.

Packaged in the price, from just $2,099, are roundtrip flights from New York (JFK) via EgyptAir; five-star hotel accommodations at the Ramses Hilton or Cairo Sheraton; four nights aboard the five-star Tamr Henna ship in outside balcony cabin; all internal flights; ground transportation and transfers, with assistance and porterage; daily breakfast buffet and all meals aboard the cruises; comprehensive sightseeing programs, including a half-day in Cairo featuring the Giza Pyramids and Sphinx, and all touring on the Nile cruise; and professional, English-speaking local tour guides.

Although we just announced these additional departure dates, we expect them to sell out quickly. Don’t wait long to reserve your spot! If you want to experience Egypt, book the nine-day Pyramids and Nile Cruise for $2,099 by Oct. 20.

To enjoy a longer stay in cruise including a 7-night Nile cruise, Friendly Planet also offers the 12-day Treasures of Egypt tour for $2,199. Also available is the eight-day Pyramids and Petra tour for $1,799, which offers a taste of Egypt’s antiquities in and around Cairo plus a visit to Amman, Jordan’s capital and the amazing Petra.

If you have any questions, visit our website for the full itineraries of each tours. And as always, feel free to write to me or call 1-800-555-5765 and speak to our reservations team.

Three Egypt tours fit for a Pharaoh

There are few places in the world with more mystery and majesty than Egypt. The contrast of ancient treasures and modern marvels is what tempts travelers year after year.

The one conundrum travelers find themselves in is this: With over 46 centuries of history, there’s so much to see and do in Egypt. That’s why we offer more tours to Egypt than any other country. Right now we’re discounting all of them.

But don’t let the prices fool you. You’ll feel like a Pharaoh staying in five-star hotels in the heart of Cairo, and touring the most elaborate pieces of structure built by man.

Here are Friendly Planet’s Egypt tours.

Pyramids and Nile Cruise. Stand in the shadow of the Sphinx and gaze at the pyramids of Giza on this $1,699, nine-day tour. Walk the temples at Luxor and Edfu, visit King Tut’s tomb, old Cairo, and more. Then relax on a luxury excursion down the Nile River on the Tamr Henna for four nights. If you want more, an optional four-day extension to Petra is available.

Pyramids and Petra. On this eight-day, $1,699 tour, embark on an inspired exploration of the pyramids of Egypt, the oldest and only standing Ancient Wonder of the World. Stroll through the world-famous Khan El Khalili bazaars to try your hand at bargaining for unique jewelry and clothing. Then cast your eyes on the remarkable lost city of Petra in Jordan, one of the Seven New Ancient Wonders of the World.

While you’re in the neighborhood, take advantage of the four-day Dead Sea extension. There’s no other place in the world where you can float (without a raft!) in the saltiest and lowest body of water on Earth. Even better, it’s said that the mineral-filled seawater can take years off your skin. ;-)

Treasures of Egypt. And if you want more than a week in Egypt, this 12-day, $2,099 tour will satisfy your appetite. Be mesmerized by Egypt’s sweeping natural beauty on land, then board the M/S Tulip for a seven-night Nile River Cruise. You’ll dock at Edfu, Aswan, Kom Ombo, and more. While at port, wander the world’s greatest open air museum at Luxor and tour Abu Simbel, the site of the Great Temple of Ramses II and one of the most magnificent of all temples in Egypt.

Here’s what’s include in the prices: roundtrip flights from New York (JFK) via EgyptAir, fuel surcharges, arrival and departure transfers, all intra-Egypt flights and group transportation, superior hotels, many meals, comprehensive sightseeing tour programs, English-speaking tour guides, and much more.

To lock in these prices, book the Pyramids and Nile Cruise by June 16, Pyramids and Petra by June 2, and Treasures of Egypt by June 23. I can assure you of one thing. You’ll be itching to return to Egypt after just one visit.

For complete details about the tours, itineraries, and their extensions, visit the website. If you have any lingering questions, write to me directly.

A look inside Friendly Planet’s Iberian Coasts Cruise (part 6)

After our rocky start to the day, by late morning we had finally made it to Tangier, Morocco. It’s hard to describe Tangier without using words that make every writer cringe, such as incredible, breathtaking, and at times mind-blowing. But … well … it was.

BEST PART: Careening through the kasbah

Tangier was an assault to the senses. And I do mean assault in every sense of the word. As we wound our way through the dizzying streets of the city’s kasbah, men and young boys would pop out from dark doorways and around corners, pressing leather belts, tin trinkets, and Chiclets in front of your face. Five euro, one euro, for you good price, ten euro.

It seemed that my blond hair and our white skin was a magnet for hawkers of every sort of ware, who don’t take no for an answer, hoping their insistence would finally put a few euros in their pocket. It was exciting and eye-opening and, at times, exhausting.

But I can still say without hesitancy that our time in the kasbah was one of my favorite parts of the entire Iberian Coasts Cruise.

The sites, sounds, and smells of the outdoor markets, the streets so narrow it would have been a squeeze for three people to walk down side by side, the colorful doors leading into unimaginable homes, the communal water spigots for washing dishes and clothes, the poverty, the color, the desperation, the beauty, the sweat.

We spent most of the day with our group who had hired a local guide for the day, which turned out to be an invaluable history lesson.

TANGIER MARKET: Teeming with food

With our guide, we were given the best of the streets and a sense of relative security, despite essentially walking around with a flashing neon TOURIST sign around our necks. And without him, it’s unlikely we would have even been able to find our way out of the maze of the kasbah.

In the markets, rows of stalls seemed to go on forever. Some were teeming with olives of every shape and color. Others were selling skinned chickens hanging from gruesome hooks. Still more presented barrels of oranges the size of a child’s head and so juicy that I can still taste them today.

Our guide led us to a store packed with jewelry, knives, tin boxes, and just about every imaginable Moroccan souvenir. My husband and I politely browsed through the aisles when a young man tapped me on the shoulder. “Let me show you,” he said as he led us up the stairs into a room overflowing with ceramic plates, bowls, and vases. I assumed he was showing us more of the store’s merchandise. But he walked right past them all.

“Come please,” he said as he opened a door to the store’s roof.

“My city,” he said with a sense of pride as we stepped onto the roof and the incredible old city spread before us.

Never before had I seen such poverty crammed together in such close proximity. Houses in shades of white, red, and gray, dotted with antennas and satellites literally as far as the eye could see. It was breathtaking.

FROM THE ROOF: An incredible overview of the city

With a little free time to walk around the old city ourselves, my husband and I decided to test our haggling skills and bring something home uniquely Moroccan. Should we get a vase? Maybe a handmade ceramic bowl? A candle holder? With so many beautiful, handmade wares before us, we had a hard time choosing where to even begin.

As we browsed one shop’s selections, we were once again ushered up another store’s back stairs. The shop owner wanted to show us how he made their beautiful handmade rugs. Upstairs was a giant wooden loom with a half-finished rug. Piles of rugs were stacked throughout the floor in every room. The rugs’ intricacy, color, and craftsmanship was a juxtaposition to the crude wooden room.

And that’s when we decided that we wanted to bring home a genuine Moroccan rug. Back home, we were in the process of purchasing our first home, and frankly, we couldn’t think of a more perfect housewarming gift to ourselves than a gorgeous rug from one of the most arresting countries either of us had ever visited.

And this is where the fun of shopping in Morocco began. We haggled and haggled and refused his prices, and even went so far as to walk down the steps and out of the shop when the shopkeeper chased us down and finally offered the rug for 300 euros, less than what he said he refused to go below.

So my husband and I walked back to the bus with a giant carpet under his arm and a sense of triumph clouding our heads. It was exhilarating. And we had a beautiful rug to show for it. When we finally made it back to the bus, we dropped into our seats, put our bags down, and let out a long contented sigh. Our excitement of exploring the kasbah had overshadowed the exhausting that had been building throughout the day. Now that we were on our way back to the Louis Majesty, we felt it consume us.

Our time in Tangier was absolutely incredible, and as our bus pulled away from the city walls I already couldn’t wait to experience more of Morocco the next day in Casablanca.

Morocco: What you should know before you go

STUNNING: Koutoubia mosque, Marrakesh

When I heard from Peggy that Friendly Planet was introducing a nine-day Treasures of Morocco tour, it brought back a flood of images from my trip to this exotic country.

I’ve never been anywhere quite as bizarre, exotic, and diverse as this North African country, the world’s oldest surviving monarchy, dating to AD 788. Here African, Arab, Berber, and French influences have produced a culture as ancient as Fez’s medieval walled city and as cosmopolitan as Casablanca’s Hyatt Hotel, where bar staff dress in costume from the classic film “Casablanca.”

This predominately Muslim country was a French protectorate from 1900-1956. The two cultures, and some 270 different ethnic groups, raise interesting contrasts.

One day I sunbathed at a Casablanca hotel pool with bikini-clad Europeans. On another, I explored Old Town Fez, a walled medieval maze where mules carry goods, and veiled Muslim women sweep through narrow passageways.

One magical night I found myself in a nomad’s tent in the desert, sitting on carpets around a huge, low table, eating aromatic lamb stew and being entertained by belly dancers and horseback riders.

A few days later I was shopping trendy boutiques in Casablanca. The namesake of the famous Humphrey Bogart film is also home of Hassan II Mosque, one of only a few that is open to Westerners.

To me, the excitement of Morocco culminates in Marrakesh’s market square, Djemaa el Fna. In its “Court of Marvels,” snake charmers compete with acrobats and musicians. A turbaned man threw a small chattering monkey on my shoulder for a photo op. A few coins were expected in return, a small price to pay for entering this enchanting world where so many cultures mingle.

Unlike visiting a homogeneous country with one language and one set of traditions, visitors to Morocco will need a few tips for navigating this complex culture. It might feel like a movie set, but there are some things to keep watch for.

Shopping
Bargaining is standard practice. Offer half the price and work from there.
Shops close at noon and re-open around 2 p.m.
Stick close to your guide in Old Town Fez to avoid getting lost in the intricate maze of passageways.
Reserve the word “imshee” (Arabic for “take a hike”) for overly aggressive vendors and unofficial guides.
Keep your bag or wallet secure and consider a money belt.

Dining
Eating is one of the great adventures in Morocco, where you can dine on elegant French or Mediterranean fare accompanied by fine wines in European restaurants, but I recommend trying the flavorful Moroccan dishes.
Try my favorite dish, the traditional lamb stew of raisins, garlic, ginger, cumin, and curry atop a bed of couscous.
Order the sweet tea as your drink. It’s served hot in a glass stuffed with fresh mint leaves.

Manners
Never eat with your left hand; it’s taboo. The left hand is the “toilet” hand in many African and Muslim cultures. Never pat a person on the head or take a photograph without permission. Be discreet drinking alcohol in public.

Hygiene
Bring some toilet paper in your purse. It’s optional in Arabic bathrooms, and you might be required to pay for a few squares.

Language
French is widely spoken, and so is Arabic.
Practice these helpful Arabic phrases:
Hello: salaam wa laykoom
Goodbye: ma’salaama
Please: afak Thank you: shukran
Where is the bathroom?: Ayna Al Hammam?
How much?: bish-hal?
That’s too much: ghalee
Take a walk/leave me alone: imshee

I had a great time traveling through this country, and I can assure you that it’s an experience you won’t forget.

A look inside Friendly Planet Travel’s Iberian Coasts Cruise (part 2)

I’m sure by now most travelers interested in cruising have seen ads for American cruises such as Royal Caribbean’s Oasis Of The Seas. Have you ever noticed that not one of these ads tells consumers where exactly the boat takes cruisers? Rather, the entire appeal of the cruise is the cruise itself. The destination is the boat.

While this is wonderful for those who want to plan a vacation floating around the middle of the ocean on a boat that more closely resembles a thriving metropolis, that’s not what Friendly Planet Travel had in mind when they began planning the Iberian Coasts Cruise (or any of its cruises, for that matter). Why would they, when there’s Italy, France, Spain, and Morocco to see?

WELCOME: Louis Majesty reception area

During my time aboard the M/V Louis Majesty, I learned that they do it a little bit differently in Europe. When I first stepped foot on the Louis Majesty, I was struck by the vessel’s understated elegance. Less of a traveling circus, and more of a traveling hotel, with all the luxuries you’ve come to expect from Friendly Planet Travel.

The style on board is redolent of the art deco made so popular in the 1920s, which helps you feel that when you step on board, you’re about to embark on an adventure that transcends both time and place.

Many of the sights, sounds, and smells of Europe and Northern Africa are much the same today as they were hundreds of years ago. And life on the ship, with elegant common areas and impeccable service from a staff who truly appear to love their jobs — from the officers to the wait staff — is a small step back in time.

The outside cabin, while not overly large, offers all the comforts of home, including — and as a relatively seasoned world traveler, this was quite a pleasant surprise — power outlets for both European- and American-style plugs.

Imagine tucking into bed after a night at sea, including decadent dinner at the Four Seasons Dining Room, a stroll around the ship’s upper decks, and a quick dance at the Louis Majesty disco.

HOME AWAY FROM HOME: Louis Majesty outside junior suite

Now imagine waking, the room still dark with a hint of sunshine leaking in from the curtains behind your bed. You pull back the curtains to let the sun pour in and before you lies Marseille, France. The homes, stores, and restaurants all different shades of muted pastel. In the distance, you can see the Cathedral of Notre Dame de la Garde overlooking the city, with the island of Chateau D’If not far off the coast.

This isn’t hard to imagine on the Iberian Coasts Cruise, because this is your view on your first morning aboard the Louis Majesty. With an entire day at port before me, I didn’t waste any time to get into town.

BEST VIEW: Cathedral of Notre Dame de la Garde

While Friendly Planet Travel offers a number of optional shore excursions at each port, I set out this morning alone with my husband, who was able to accompany me on this incredible journey. We spent hours walking up and down the cobblestone streets with a map in our hands. The February weather was chilly, but nothing to keep you from spending an entire day taking advantage of all there is to see in Marseille.

We walked up to the Cathedral of Notre Dame de la Garde, which offers a breathtaking view of the entire city and port.

From there, we walked on, snapping pictures and ducking into cathedrals. Marseille is a fascinating combination of ancient buildings and traditional French architecture mixed with a subtle new world cosmopolitan flare.

Of course, we had to stop for a fresh baguette and some cappuccino too. Then on we walked. And when we felt like we had taken enough pictures and walked down enough narrow, winding streets, we popped into a small bar overlooking the harbor and enjoyed a cold beer and some olives while we watched the busy city.

EXPLORING ON SHORE: Strolling the streets of Marseille, France

When the day had finally come to a close, our cabin was a welcoming sight after an entire day spent exploring on shore. Marseille was truly an unforgettable city, and tomorrow … Barcelona!

A look inside Friendly Planet Travel’s Iberian Coasts Cruise

I’m sure it won’t surprise you to learn that here at Friendly Planet Travel, we can’t ever over-emphasize the importance of world travel and cultural discovery. That’s why Peggy makes a point of encouraging everyone in the office to get out and explore Earth’s riches whenever possible.

ALL ABOARD: The M/V Louis Majesty

The benefit, besides being surrounded by travel enthusiasts, is that every Friendly Planet Travel employee can talk your ear off about how a trek to Machu Picchu or a cruise down the Yangtze River or a meal of tapas y cervezas in a Spanish piazza changed their life. That’s one of the reasons Peggy sent me off on Friendly Planet’s Iberian Coasts Cruise the other week. And over the next few weeks, I’m going to tell you ALL about it.

The nine-day cruise aboard the M/V Louis Majesty embarks from Genoa, Italy and spends time at fascinating ports of call in Marseille, France; Barcelona, Spain; Alicante, Spain; Gibraltar, B.C.C.; Tangier, Morocco; Casablanca, Morocco; and Malaga, Spain. As you can imagine, it’s a dizzying adventure to some of the most culturally significant and extraordinarily beautiful sights of Europe and Northern Africa.

Here on the blog, I’m going to tell you about my own experience on the Iberian Coasts Cruise, and give you an in-depth look at life on and off the Louis Majesty. So stay tuned, because I’ve got a head teeming with stories, a camera brimming with photos, and fingers that are itching to unload them all here!

About Peggy

Peggy Goldman is a specialty tour operator and travel expert, who owns and operates Friendly Planet Travel, a full-service company that specializes in tour packages to exotic worldwide destinations at affordable prices.   More about Peggy

Tour & Cruise Packages Our specialty for 30 years! Find one now:
choose a region Europe Mediterranean Asia Middle East Africa Central America Caribbean South America South Pacific
  • Follow Friendly Planet Share the love of travel
    • Facebook
    • Twitter
    • Pinterest
McAfee SECURE sites help keep you safe from identity theft, credit card fraud, spyware, spam, viruses and online scams