Last Updated on February 10, 2023 by Maggie McKneely
Thinking of booking a trip through a travel agency, but not sure which one? Seen ads for Exoticca but don’t know if the company is any good? Check out my Exoticca review for all the pros and cons!
*This post contains affiliate links. That just means that if you happen to click on one of those links and end up making a purchase, I make a small commission (and you will have made my day!)
Exoticca Review: Egypt Tour 2021
I almost always do my own travel planning, from booking the hotels, to planning the tours, finding the restaurants, all of it. I’m one of those weirdos who actually enjoys creating their own vacation itinerary, so purchasing a pre-made vacation package, where someone else does all the work, has never appealed to me. I’ve also always assumed that packaged vacation tours can’t provide unique or unusual experiences, they only visit tourist hotspots, and are overpriced. So why on earth would I purchase one when I can plan my own trips?
But I had heard that Egypt was one of those places that you should really go to with a guide or tour group, no matter how experienced a traveler you are. And after having canceled so many trips in the era of COVID, I just didn’t have the heart to do all of the planning for yet another trip that probably wouldn’t happen. If I was ever going to make an exception to my “no vacation packages” policy, two years into COVID and for a country like Egypt seemed like the right time and place.
Enter Exoticca. When I had decided on Egypt as my next attempt at a trip, since they are fully open to tourists right now, I knew I wanted to book through an agency for the reasons above. I’d seen Exoticca’s ads all over the internet and in my email inbox. When I looked at their website, they offered a great-looking Egypt itinerary, they had excellent reviews, and the price was definitely right. So I rolled the dice and booked their 9-day Egypt tour.
Now that I’m back home, I can tell you about any drawbacks and if it was worth it with this in-depth Exoticca review (spoiler alert: OMG YES IT WAS WORTH IT).
What is Exoticca?
Before I get into my Exoticca review, first things first: what exactly is Exoticca?
Exoticca is an online travel agency. They offer package trips that include flights, accommodations, transfers, tours, and activities to countries all over the world. They do not themselves run tours (like Gate 1, for example), but partner with local companies in each location. They work with a team of over 50 curators who are experts extensively familiar with each destination in order to create holiday packages that provide unforgettable and unique experiences. And because they deal directly with the local providers rather than a middleman, they are able to keep costs low.
The Booking Process
The first part of my Exoticca review covers the booking process. If booking a trip is a hassle, that doesn’t bode well for the rest of the trip. Fortunately, the booking process with Exoticca was very easy.
Once you choose your destination and which package you want, you select which category of comfort you want. For the Egypt trip, we could choose either Superior or Luxury. We chose Superior, but several couples on our trip chose Luxury. The main difference was that they stayed in slightly nicer hotels than we did (but our hotels were just fine, by my standards!).
*Note: Most of us, and our tour guide, stayed in the Superior level locations, which meant we were always in the loop on what we were doing next, while the other people were not. I much preferred being in the same place as everyone else, even if it meant a less luxurious accommodation.
Next, you pick the dates of your trip. Exoticca’s helpful calendar tells you the price differences between different dates. You’ll then be given the option to add on any optional excursions, but you don’t have to make a final decision on that until 30 days before your trip. Along the way, Exoticca is completely transparent about the price of the trip, so you won’t be surprised by any additional taxes on the final payment page.
At the time of booking, you pay 60% of the trip cost and the final 40% is due 60 days before your departure date. Once you pay, you will receive an immediate email confirmation. Between booking and final payment, Exoticca sends multiple reminder emails, so there is no chance you will forget to either pay the final installment or book any optional trips you want to add on.
My only complaint with the process is how Exoticca handles booking flights. At least 30 days before your trip (it was about 2 months for me), Exoticca will book your flights and send you the flight details. The problem is that they don’t give you any flight options, so you are pretty much stuck with whatever flights they choose for you. My trip to Egypt included 2 layovers, both going over and coming home, and out of an airport I didn’t want to leave from. When I tried to change it, it was a big hassle and would have cost me a lot of extra change. I would love it if they let customers review their flights before booking them, but that is not how Exoticca does it, for now.
What about traveling with strangers?
Another reason I’ve never booked a package tour like this before is that I didn’t want to travel with a bunch of strangers I didn’t know. Because the fastest way to ruin a vacation is to be stuck in a foreign country with people you don’t like!
Most of Exoticca’s tours are, indeed, group tours, with a maximum number of 30 people. This is what I was most nervous about. Fortunately, a bunch of my friends decided that they wanted to join me on this trip, so in the end, I knew most of the people on the tour. And the small number of people I didn’t know ended up being perfectly nice.
I know this was a stroke of luck for this particular trip, and there is no way to guarantee that you will like all of the people on your tour. If you are REALLY concerned about this, Exoticca does offer a number of trips with a private tour option, instead of group tours (like this trip to Peru). So you can still take advantage of their great prices without the issue of a group tour.
The Local Tour Operators
The most important part of this Exoticca review actually has very little to do with Exoticca, but with the Egyptian company that they partner with.
As mentioned, Exoticca does not run the tour themselves but instead contracts with local tour providers. In the case of Egypt, that tour company is Planet Tours Egypt. Let me tell you, I cannot rave about them enough!!! I have never worked with a tour company that I liked as much as the gentlemen at Planet Tours. From the moment we landed in Egypt to the second we flew back out of Cairo, they took care of every single one of our needs and made sure every minute of our trip was amazing.
Planet Tours has someone based in each city to handle transfers and administrative details. When we landed in Egypt, Cairo-based Beemen met us inside the customs gate and helped navigate the visa process, the various checkpoints (the Cairo airport has many), and got us to our hotel (and was so excited to meet us, even at 2:30 in the morning!). Before going home, he made sure everyone had their required COVID tests taken care of.
In Luxor, when unforeseen events threatened to throw off our itinerary, Ahmed made sure the buses and riverboats were coordinated to save us time. And when we needed to get a new suitcase (oops, bought too much alabaster haha), Ahmed went into town to buy one for us!
Then there was our tour guide extraordinaire, Mohamed Raouf (if you ever take a tour with Planet Tours, you should request Mohamed – he’s THE BEST). Instead of being based in any particular location, like the other guys we met, Mohamed traveled with us for the entirety of the trip, staying in all of the same hotels, taking all of the same flights and bus trips. He was extremely knowledgeable, which was so important as most places didn’t have any signs or plaques to explain what we were looking at. There wasn’t a single question he couldn’t answer.
Whenever anyone needed anything or had a problem, he made sure it was taken care of. He helped us haggle with the street vendors and took us to off-the-beaten-track places that weren’t part of the Exoticca itinerary. He told us not to tip people unnecessarily (since everyone asks for tips), but he made sure that all of the local people we worked with were taken care of. He was both the tour guide leader we needed and just an extremely kind person. We all actually got a little teary-eyed when we had to say goodbye to Mohamed on our last day.
Having someone like Mohamed, a local familiar with the language, culture, and customs who was able to navigate everything for us, and who was an expert on Egyptian history, was worth every single penny of the trip cost. We could have very easily gotten into trouble without him.
As mentioned, Planet Tours is a separate entity from Exoticca, but they are proof that Exoticca does their research when deciding what local companies to partner with. If you don’t, for some reason, want to book with Exoticca, you can book directly through Planet Tours. They offer several Egypt, Jordan, and Israel packages that are different from what Exoticca offers.
Perks of Booking with Exoticca
One issue I had with canceling all of my previously planned trips during the COVID era was getting my money back, since all tours, hotels, and airlines have different refund policies. Exoticca relieves that major headache by offering free cancellation on all of their trips up to 60 days before your departure date. They also have a flexible booking policy. You can change your reservation up to 60 days from traveling with zero rebooking fees. Just pay the difference, if any.
Exoticca Quality Control
An important part of this Exoticca review is noting how the company ensures high quality while staying within budget. With such low prices, you might think that the quality of accommodations would be kind of meh. I can speak with experience that that was not the case in Egypt. Two of our three hotels were pretty spectacular – we stayed in a Hilton in Cairo, and a boutique resort in Luxor, right on the bank of the Nile, which was absolutely lovely. The third was the Nile Cruise ship. We did have a few issues with it, but no major complaints. It seemed like the ship just needed some upgrading.
When choosing hotels for their packages, Exoticca requires that they have a minimum of 3.5 stars (out of 5) on Tripadvisor. They also require that 65% of reviews left by customers be “excellent” or “very good.” That way you know you won’t be staying in any sketchy or rundown hotels.
Here is the one negative part of my Exoticca review. As mentioned above, I do not like how Exoticca handles flight booking. Had I been given a choice, I would not have chosen a flight path that took 24 hours of travel time, included 2 layovers, and left from the wrong departure airport. But I wasn’t given the choice, and it was too much of a hassle and too expensive to change it after Exoticca booked it. But, I know that traveling to a warm destination the week before Christmas made it difficult for them to find flights within the budget of the trip. If I book a trip with them during a different part of the year, the flight process might be better. Still – I wish they give flight options before just booking them.
Update 2022: Exoticca no longer does flights like this. Now when you book a trip, you can see your flight options at the time of booking, which is a HUGE improvement.
One other note is less a criticism and more just something to be aware of. There isn’t much flexibility with the itinerary. If there’s something you really want to do that isn’t already a part of the trip, you probably won’t be able to do it. For the Egypt trip, every day was jam-packed. We got up very early each morning and finished in time for dinner. I definitely didn’t feel like we missed out on anything, but if you are looking for a customizable trip, beyond the optional add-ons, this isn’t that.
I love the flexibility that comes with making my own travel arrangements, and I love being in control of the whole process. For me to hand over the reins to anyone else is a BIG DEAL. So the fact that I only have one major criticism of note in my Exoticca review is really saying something. The booking process was easy and smooth, the customer service was helpful, the local tour agency was AMAZING, and the price of the trip was a steal.
Would I book another trip through Exoticca? Absolutely. Working on it right now, actually 😉 Book your own trip with Exoticca today, and save $200 by using my link!
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Ah! Mid discussing an Egypt trip this fall with some friends and stuck between several tour companies. Thanks for this!
Hello, I’m interested in booking through this company I wanted to ask you more info can you please contact me?
Yes, I responded to your email! 🙂
Thanks for your review about Exoticca, I was concerned after seeing very bad reviews in tripadvisor. Your post gives me bit of confidence. It seems you might have departed from DC. Our group has options to depart from DC, Detroit and Chicago. I believe with exoticca you have no control over flights but based upon your and other members of group, any suggestion about choosing a departing airport to expect less travel times and stops ?
My suggestion is, first, call them when you book your trip to guarantee what airport you want to fly out of. I booked online and selected that I wanted to fly out of DC, but then when my flights were booked, they had me flying out of BWI. Yes, that’s technically the DC area, but BWI has no direct flights to Egypt, unlike Dulles. Friends who went with me on the trip also selected to fly out of DC, and they got to fly out of Dulles, with direct flights or only one layover. I can’t speak for Chicago or Detroit’s airports, but if you want to fly out of the DC area, make sure you are booked out of Dulles (IAD), and not BWI or DCA.
Thank you! I have read your articles several times. I would like to know when you get details of local contact people information. Or you just arriving at airport and looking for the sign with your name 😂. Thank you
I’m glad you found the article helpful! We didn’t get any info about the local tour guides until we arrived at the Cairo airport and yes, they had a sign with our names on it 😂 But it worked out fine! The local guides were absolutely fantastic.
Hi! I am interested in booking this trip and wondered about the flights. As I’m trying to book, it is having me pick out my own flights times, duration, airports etc. I know you said they sent you your finalized flight plan a few months out, or at least that used to. Did they have you pick out your own flight times upon booking(and still had to confirm/change it closer to departure) or is that a new feature they’ve added since you travelled?
They have recently changed how they do the flights (thank goodness!). So now you get to pick your flight times rather than waiting for them to send them to you.
That’s a really helpful review. I agree that flights with longer layovers can be quite exhausting.
I love Egypt and this sounds like a really great way to do it – I’m a huge fan of the fact that they use a local company on the ground to organise things.
I’ve always wanted to go to Egypt and this kind of tour sounds perfect.
I appreciate your honest review of Excoticca. I must admit that the flight issue would be a huge problem for me. I’d rather pay more up front and have the flexibility to make some decisions. But really loved your photos and thoughts on this tour.
Thanks for sharing your honest views about booking with Exoticca. I’d also never usually book with a travel agency or tour, but I totally agree I’d want to for Egypt, so it’s helpful to know a company that you recommend.
Really helpful review. I tried out my first group tour this year – somewhere near enough home that I could leave if I didn’t like it. I too enjoyed having everything organised, although there was plenty of time to explore on our own as well. I have looked at Exoticca itineraries many times and this review has given me confidence to try them out for a short trip to see how I get on. Thanks very much 🙂
We did our first visit to Egypt with a guide and when we had to deal with armed guards and timed travel through the desert to Luxor, we were sure glad we did. Good to know that you had a great trip with Exoticca to Egypt. I love that you are able to pick optional excursions to personalize your trip. I will keep Planet Tours Egypt in mind if we do a mix of group and solo travel when we finally head back to Egypt.
I loved reading this! I’ve seen their adverts before but didn’t know if I should trust it. I’ve booked my Egypt trip twice already over the past two years and it was cancelled both times. I’d completely given up on Egypt if I’m honest! I’ll have to check this company out when I go to rebook my trip. Third time lucky!
Oh my gosh, that flight sounds a nightmare! I definitely always opt to take the easiest possible flight even it means paying a little more. Thank you for sharing your honest opinion of the tour.
I’ve never heard of Exoticca but I’m glad it was worth it! Definitely good to know that it won’t have people staying in sketchy places. That flight time would be roughhhh though. Thanks for your honesty in this review!
Great read on Exoticca! I plan my own trips and have explored the amazing Egypt many years ago. That said, Exoticca seems to be a great option for those who are busy to plan and co-ordinate but still have flexibility in customizing the tour. 🙂
Sounds like an amazing trip for you. I would love to visit but haven’t given much consideration to a guided tour before. Thanks for the review and suggestion.
Did you enough time at the new Cairo Museum? I think it is a must.
Do you mean the new civilization museum? We didn’t have time to go to that one. And the Grand Egyptian museum won’t open until later this year. So the only one we went to is the original Egyptian Museum – I thought we had plenty of time there! It was fascinating!
I am going with a group of friends in April 2022 with Exoticca we are trying to change to the luxury package because of the outdated ship. Sounds like it wasn’t too bad though. Thank you for this review.
It really wasn’t too bad – you don’t spend much time on the ship anyway, and it was worth staying in the same place as our tour guide. The people on our trip who did the luxury package and were on a different boat were out of the loop on what was happening. Have a great time on your trip!!
Thanks for your review. We’ve done numerous tours with Gate 1 and this will be our first with Exoticca in May (Egypt and Jordan). We’re very independent like you but finally did our first “package tour” with G1 to Ecuador and Peru. Obviously, traveling to “first World” countries you can be completely independent, but when you start heading to 2nd World…it may be a necessity and you will learn more.
Thank you so much for this comprehensive but concise review – I read every word!! Question – we were thinking about booking the same Egypt tour through Exoticca and were a bit worried about how packed the itinerary is as we like to have a couple of lighter days when on vacation. How early would you say every morning was? And was it only early every morning because of adding on the optionals?
The earliest morning was 3AM for the optional Abu Simbel excursion – that’s very early, but it was my favorite part of the trip! The other days, we usually had to be eating breakfast by 7, leaving the hotel by 8. I think there was only one day that was later than that. Most of the additional excursions are in the afternoon, so they don’t affect how early you start each day. So it’s definitely a packed schedule, but it’s also only 7 days on the tour, so I’d say it’s worth it!
We are 2 people going to Egypt in Oct.Should we buy the optional tours with Exotic now or wait til we on the trip? Thanks
You can do either one! It’s easier to book them ahead of time but they do give you the option to sign up once you arrive in Egypt. There are also two extra tours that Exoticca doesn’t tell you about but that the tour operators offer once you get there (the Nubian village tour in Aswan and the Luxor hot air balloon ride)
I was wondering if you know/remember the name of the Nile River ship/boat you traveled on. I would be interested in knowing the name.
I am considering the trip to Egypt in March 2023 and would be traveling Superior class but am wondering what were the specific problems with the ship.
I have read that one should stay away from the tap water in Egypt Were you provided with bottled water?
What was the longest amount of time you spent continuously walking?
Excellent article. Thank you.
I’m so glad you enjoyed the article! Yes, we were on the Chateau Lafayette cruise boat. When we were on it, the ship needed some upgrapes. For example, the electricity in my room kept going out. We thought at first it was whenever someone used a hair dryer or something like that, but no, it just did it randomly, multiple times during the day. It was extremely annoying, especially if you were in the shower and suddenly the lights stopped working….That was the biggest problem. We didn’t have any other specific issues, it was just very obvious that everything about the ship was outdated.
Yes, DO NOT drink the tap water. Don’t eat raw vegetables. I have a sensitive stomach, so I didn’t even use the tap water on my toothbrush because I got sick on the first day. There is bottled water everywhere though. It’s not usually free (nothing in Egypt is free) but it is very cheap, like the equivalent of 25 American cents.
The longest time spent walking was probably Luxor, when we went to both the Valley of the Kings and Karnak Temple. There is a fair amount of walking each day, but it is broken up with bus rides or boat rides. Maybe the longest continuous walking spell was a couple of hours? Nothing too strenuous though.
THANK YOU so much for this review!
I have been looking for a tour guide to Egypt for weeks and have been hesitant upon this one because of the negative reviews. You sound just like me I always plan out everything! I am the panning and like being in charge but you have given me the confidence to let go and allow them to host our trip! I appreciate this so much!!
Has anyone taken the 16 day Jordan & Egypt Exoticca tour ? We are interested in this tour and wish to hear your experience. Thank you.
We’re doing the 16 day Jordan/Egypt trip next Friday 25th Nov. Really looking forward to it and have been trying to find reviews, hence coming across this one. Some of our hotels were changed last week. We’re no longer at the Cairo Hilton, now the Concorde El Salam, Nile cruise has been changed from Chateau Lafayette to Nile Quest which I can’t find any reviews on and now at Le Meridian Cairo airport hotel before flying home instead of Hilton. Desert camp in Jordan has also changed. I haven’t found Exoticca ‘s customer service very helpful through the booking process so hoping it will be better once we’re there and under the local guide. But found the reviews here of the Egypt trip very helpful.
I was on the 9 days Egypt trip the end of November. I was on Nile Quest ship. Food and room are all good.
Maggie : Thanks for your excellent article. I looked into the 16 day trip to Jordan and Egypt from January to March 2023. It showed the details of the flights such as the airline company, number of stops and hours of flight. Did you also get such details before you reserved your trip? Can they do the “bait and switch” by changing to a different flight once I reserved the trip?
Thank you for the reviews!!! I have booked my trip going in March 2023… Can’t wait . I am a solo traveler from the uk.. if anyone else going on the 8 day trip please let me know.
Was there air conditioning at the hotels and on the cruise?
Question about tips for tour guide: do you give him/her tip the end of every day or end of whole 7days trip?
Exoticca mentioned $50 tips for Nile river cruise. Did you get any suggestions for other tips?
For the main tour guide, he doesn’t ask for tips, but we all tipped him at the very end of the trip. Don’t tip anyone else as the tour guide takes care of all your other tips. He explicitly told us not to tip anyone else except for a few rare exceptions. Literally everyone will ask you for tips (and some will be pretty aggressive about it), even if they’ve already been paid, so you just have to walk away.
We are planning to book the 9 day Egypt for our 5 year wedding anniversary in May with Exoticca and your blog has been so helpful. I just have two questions I hope you are able to answer:
Did you do the 3 night option or the 4 night Nile cruise option? and if it was the 4 night Nile cruise option, did you get a chance during the trip to get taken to the Bazar?
Just asking because when I change the option from the 3n to 4n the trip to the bazar gets removed from the itinerary
I’m so glad the article was helpful! When I went, I wasn’t given the option of a 3 or 4-day cruise, so they might have changed the itinerary a bit. I’m not sure what bazaar they’re talking about. Maybe in Luxor? We did lots of shopping excursions but the only bazaar we went to was the one in Cairo, which is not part of the cruise. Sorry, I know that’s not terribly helpful!
I am just back from 9 days Egypt trip. If you arrive at Cario on Saturday and Sunday, you get 4 nights Nile river cruise. otherwise 3 nights plus one night hotel.
Thanks for this excellent, detailed information. Not sure why Exottica does not reveal the name of the Nile cruise ship, but we found a youtube video that gives highlights of this exact trip with Exottica and saw part of the name on the side of the boat. Anyone interested in that video, see
You said to be sure to ask for Mohamed Raouf as a guide. Is that possible with Exottica or should we book with Planet Tours instead to be able to ask for him? Are there advantages to booking through Exottica instead of directly with Planet Tours?
They told me the name of the cruise ship once I received my hotel bookings, so not sure why you didn’t know it beforehand. The benefit of booking with Exoticca is that they can book the flights and hotels at a cheaper rate, whereas if you book with Planet tours, they don’t include your flights. If you book with Exoticca, you may be able to reach out to Planet Tours directly and ask if Mohamed can be the tour guide for your trip.
I hope that helps!
we booked our Egypt trip with Exoticaa for Feb departure after reading your review. We want to book our own Private tour to Abu Simbel from Aswan, do you know if they let do your own thing if you didn’t book the group tour via Exoticaa?
As well, since Lunch and Dinner are not included outside of the river cruise, did you have any problem looking for restaurant to dine at and get to?
Thanks in advance.
Congrats on booking the trip! You will have a great time!
That is a question you’ll have to ask Exoticca. The tour you book with exotica is led by the tour guide that you have for the rest of the trip, and I really recommend doing that. Doing your own separate Abu Simbel trip might throw off the schedule with the cruise ship, so I’m doubtful they’ll let you do that. But I don’t know why you’d want to, the one you can book through them is awesome.
We didn’t have trouble finding somewhere to eat. We had dinner on the rooftop at our Cairo hotel, which was great. And there are lots of places to eat in Luxor when you’re there. When you’re out touring, your tour guide will make sure you get lunch somewhere.
Thank you for your article, it was very informative! We are thinking of doing the 9 day Egypt trip in October 2023. I have a couple of questions: What is the recommended clothing and footwear when walking around on the tour?
Do we pay for our own lunch and dinner when not on the boat, and if so, what was the average cost of the meals?
I’m so glad that it was helpful! I actually have another post on what to wear on the trip that you might find useful: https://pinkcaddytravelogue.com/what-to-pack-for-egypt-in-winter
Yes, when not on the boat, you do have to pay for your meals. But Egypt is VERY cheap. It’s even cheaper now than when I was there in 2021. It does depend on where you eat. We had dinner and drinks at the rooftop restaurant at our hotel in Cairo, and it was a little pricier but it was also upscale – maybe $20 a person. The day we did the pyramids, our tour guide got some kind of cheese sandwich things for us, which were $1 per person. But the average is somewhere between those two.
Feel free to let me know if you have any other questions!