If you’ve travelled anywhere, you’ve seem ’em–advertisements for quick and dirty, and often cheap, tours, purportedly taking in everything that you need to see in a matter of hours. There’s no end to the selection on offer in Southeast Asia, to help relatively impoverished and inexperienced backpackers plan their itineraries, or to help package beach tourists take in a manageable bite of inland culture. A few bucks to see the Killing Fields of Phnom Penh, daytrips to see the “Real Bali,” three-day packages from Hanoi for the mountains of northwest Vietnam.
These tours are not always bad (though of course they often are), and undeniably they are time- and cost-efficient. But, having an entire year to travel, it’s hard not to feel a bit sorry for those who have to opt for the worst of these tours. Our cheap Cairo hotel, or rather pushy travel agent with rooms as some reviewers have described it, offered insane four-day Egypt itineraries, taking in everything from the Pyramids to Abu Simbel in Nubia. Our hotel in Hama, Syria, seemed to offer one-day itineraries taking in a seemingly unlimited number of nearby sites, the time at each shrinking, I guess, with your sightseeing appetite.
But we saw the craziest one yet in Cyprus–Egypt as a daytrip by air, taking in somehow the Pyramids, the Egyptian Museum, a Nile cruise (including a dance show) and the markets of Islamic Cairo.
The Pyramids are indeed great–but if any country merits a trip on its own, wouldn’t Egypt be a strong contender? Even with intense preparation in advance–and I can’t imagine that the Cyprus crowd spontaneously flying to Cairo has such preparation–can one possibly absorb a meaningful amount of Egyptian history and culture (Egypt, of all places), in less than 24 hours? Most tourists to Cyprus are Europeans (largely Brits), and Egypt is hardly further away from home than Cyprus. Can’t they just enjoy Cyprus for now and go to Egypt some other time? Do these people get only one trip abroad in their entire lives, that they would have to go on such a tour?