The Cairo Marriott was Once a Palace
Somewhere in Egypt, there is a man carrying around a magic book that explains how hotels are to be ranked. That is, how many stars they should be given. Though we have often tried to track down this guy and his book, we have never managed to find him. We've asked hotels and we have asked the Ministry of Tourism, and others, but this information seems to be very elusive.
What we can say is that were we to construct a hotel using the finest fixtures with whirlpool baths, king size beds with silk sheets and and fine bedspreads, decorating the halls and rooms with original fine art, and serve cuisine created by a famous chef, we might achieve no more than a three star rating. On the other hand, we might also furnish a hotel with bargain basement furniture, place cheap posters on the walls and serve a bland buffet and walk away with a five star rating.
Such is the nature of the Egyptian hotel rating system. In reality, a common five star hotel will indeed by better than a common three star hotel, but certainly the best of the three star hotels may be better than the worst of the five star hotel, though the five star hotel will have more facilities.
The Cairo Marriott is one of our favorite Five Stars
We have gleamed a little information over the years on how this system works, though we cannot specify many specifics. Mostly, it is based on the size of the hotel (how many rooms), the size of the rooms whether or not the hotel occupies a ground floor (sometimes there may be several hotels in the same building, with none of them on the ground floor), whether it has a swimming pool and/or a restaurant, and even the price that is charged. In some instances, a four star could be a five star were it to charge more for the rooms. Of course there are other factors involved, but most of them have to do with different types of facilities, rather than a judgement of how nice the those facilities are.
The Hotel Longchamps is a Tour Egypt Favorite
Therefore, one may count on a five star hotel being large, having a swimming pool and a restaurant, along with probably a club or bar. It will also be somewhat expensive in relationship to other hotels in the area. On the other hand, we have also seen three star hotels with swimming pools, restaurants, bars and most everything else that a five star hotel might have, but lacking enough rooms and price to be considered a five star.
Some of the best examples of this are to be found in Luxor. For example, the St. Joseph Hotel in Luxor has a nice rooftop swimming pool, a club, restaurant and even a small number of shops, but is only rated a three star. Granted, the rooms are certainly not as nice as those in the Luxor Sonesta St. George, a five star hotel, but they come close to being as nice as some five star hotels I have seen in Cairo. Yet this is a very inexpensive hotel, with not enough rooms to be considered a five star. The Gaddis Hotel in Luxor is a four star, with similar facilities and nicer still. While it is more expensive than the St. Joseph, it is easily better than some of the five star hotels I have seen. And an even better example is the Basma hotel in Aswan, with a club, shops, a restaurant and very nice rooms. It is by far better than some of the five star hotels, but I suspect it remains only a four star due to room rates.
Small, Elegant Bar at the Longchamps
Basically, unless one has a real spirit of adventure and little or no care about their comfort level, one and two star hotels should be avoided. The only exception to this might be a hotel that comes personally recommended by a friend who has actually stayed in the hotel, but this author cannot site one such example. Such hotels are generally not meant for western tourists. Most tourist facilities begin with three stars, and some of these can be very nice. Examples include the St. Joseph mentioned above, and one of our favorites, the Hotel Longchamps in Cairo. Keep in mind that these are three star hotels, and do not measure up to the best of the five star facilities. But given their pricing, particularly compared to other similarly priced hotels in their specific cities, they are both comfortable and nice. They represent the best of the breed when it comes to budget hotels in Egypt. In fact, the Hotel Longchamps is probably the closest Egypt comes to a true western style bread and breakfast.
Nice four star facilities are more common, at a somewhat higher price, particularly on the Red Sea coast where they are numerous, and Southern Egypt. In Aswan, the best of these appears to be the Basma, but there are a number of other nice facilities one may examine in our hotel review section. Some are better located than the Basma. In Luxor, we really like the Gaddis, but there too are others.
The View from the St. Joseph's Rooftop is Grand
While Cairo is huge and I am sure that there are many good four star hotels, we have simply not found many of them. A favorite in this range might be the Victoria Hotel, but it doesn't come close to a hotel such as the Basma in Aswan.
Beware! Some three and even four star hotels may not live up to any expectations, and may in fact end up being outright expensive. Those listed in our hotel reviews can be trusted, except where otherwise noted in the reviews. However, I have seen examples of even four star hotels where the rooms and facilities were very dated even to the point of being depressing. Furthermore, and perhaps even worse, sometimes managers will attempt to increase profits by overcharging for items such as long distance telephone service and drinks in their bar. I have seen examples where these charges have been outrageous, but we never review such facilities.
Luxor's Sonesta St. George is always popular
In fact, Cairo seems to be a city that most often caters to five star customers, and indeed, some of the five stars may at times be as inexpensive as some of the four star hotels, particularly when priced by tour companies. Our favorite five star hotel in Cairo is probably the Marriott on Zamalek. This old palace has many facilities, a great location and comfortable western style rooms. However, there are a number of good five star hotels in Cairo, and depending on one's taste others might be more appropriate. For example, I also very much like the Sheraton Royal Gardens, but for completely different reasons. It is more of a western oasis enclosed almost as a fortress, where one might forget even their presence in Egypt. It is a hotel more suitable to completely guided tours, as its location is poor, but the comfort and security level is certainly high. In fact, most, but not all of the large western chain hotels are good, and some boarder on fabulous. Examples include many of the Sheratons on the Red Sea, specifically those in El Gouna and Soma Bay. Other consistently good chain hotels include the Sonestas, Marriotts, and obviously the Four Seasons and Ritz-Carltons. There are also some hotels owned by less well known chains such as the classic Winter Palace in Luxor, but don't count on all hotels owned by this chain being the same standard. Needless to say, there are many nice five star hotels that we have not mentioned, so once again we recommend a visit to our hotel review section. elegant
Notable however, are some hotels that do not stack up. Most are comfortable, but western tourists will not find what they might otherwise expect. Sadly, some of these are historical hotels that have lived off of their reputations a bit too long. Primarily, the problems with these hotels mostly involve dated rooms, though otherwise the facilities may be fine. A classical example of the is the Mena House, one of the best known and most beloved hotels in Egypt. However, to their credit we understand that this problem may soon be corrected, as the hotel is currently in the process of renovations. But there are other examples, including the well known Nile Hilton and the Old Cataract Hotel, owned by the same chain that handles the much better Winter Palace. Again, with all of these hotels, the major complaint is simply dated rooms. Otherwise, all of these hotels are great facilities.
The Old Winter Palace is one of Egypt's Classics
Hotel pricing varies considerably by region, and certain star levels may be more competitive from region to region. For example, Cairo's five star hotels are probably more competitive than the few examples found in Luxor or Aswan. However, three and four star hotels in Luxor, Aswan and on the Red Sea are very competitive and appear to be better priced than those in Cairo. Also, Cairo has few if any new three or four star hotels, while there are many to choose from on the Red Sea. Obviously, a new three or four star hotel can be very nice, as furniture and fixtures, as well as the rest of the hotel is new and hence usually very comfortable and undated.
Most hotels frequented by tourists in Egypt are very nice facilities. They range from basic accommodations, to exceptional facilities, and in recent years, more and more grand hotels are being built. However, use caution, and our review section, as I personally have stayed at most of these hotels, and those that I have not stayed in, our Cairo manager has. While there are many other fine hotels in Egypt, particularly when traveling independently, it is far better to stick to these and the other that we will soon review.