Hi, we are two adults and two boys aged eleven and nine, from Australia. We are reasonably experienced travelers having taken the kids to South Eastern Africa and Malaysia and other places, and we've always done things on our own, but we'd like to hear from someone experienced if, in your opinion, it's wise to book a tour (mega dollars) from Australia, or can we risk it and book separate trips when we arrive?
As a single or couple, I wouldn't think twice about just arriving and doing it there, but with kids, what's the best thing to do?
We'd be looking to do the usual things that most tourists do.
I have been looking into going to Egypt myself and though I would be alone the consensus seems the same. It is recommended by many to book once you get there. There are tons of tour agencies in Cairo to choose from. This will cut out the middle man and provide you with more options. Unless you are traveling in the height of the tourist season I would wait to get to Egypt and book from there. It should save you a lot of money and give a more ejoyable trip. Hopefully someone with a family with respond to your post and give you a better idea. Enjoy.
You can try to arrange a lot of things over the internet.
I would actually try to contact the hotels/hostels where you will be going to and ask them to arrange things in advance. Many hostels do a pretty side business in the tour package deals, so if you email them a few weeks in advance and tell them you want a car with a driver for a day to take you to this and this destination, they will happily arrange it for a small commission and often at a good price.
Compared to what the prices usually are in Egypt, the tours in Cairo are still very expensive (like almost anything geared towards tourists).
It is assumed as a given that tourists have money and will pay the most outrageous prices. In some instances the price is actually reasonable, as you'll get 4-star service for it - but the price is 4-star too!
There are a few things/tours that are geared towards budget-concious travellers, and I can highly recommend them. (But you won't be able to book them in Cairo for the price I paid!The first thing is a felucca cruise from Aswan down the nile and on with a car to Luxor, the second a tour to Abu Simbel, also from Aswan.
For a 3-day, 2 nights felucca cruise including food and onward transport to Luxor I paid 110 LE - less than 20 USD. The day trip to Abu Simbel from Aswan was 70 LE - about 8 USD. I had everything arranged through the Keylany hostel in Aswan. You can email them your wishes, reserve a room for 4 with them and have them arrange the tour and cruise in advance. If you tried to book something similar from Cairo, you would end up paying 160 USD and more for the same thing.
If you have been to South East Asia, you will know that you cannot expect the Ritz at these cheap hotels/hostels, but like in Thailand they are very good value for your money. In Luxor I stayed in one that was the cheapest of the cheapest - for 3 USD a night I had a bed, a dingy toilet and a dirty shower. But it was all I needed, so it was ok. Something clean, spacy and with aircon will cost from 8-12 USD. 3-star quality with pool and private balcony can be had from 12 USD per night on. A travel agent in Cairo will charge you 300 USD per person for a week in the very same hotel!
So yes, my advice is to rough it like a true backpacker. From what you wrote, I guess you don't need any of those 4-star hotels that are usually part of a tour package. Your kids are not that small, they can put up with some adventure. You'll save lots of money if you can arrange things locally. Grab yourself a Lonely Planet Egypt and get planning and emailing!