With the Egyptian economy struggling, it wasn’t hard to find a place to stay in Luxor. There were many hotels and seemingly, every hotel had vacancy. I looked at Booking.com and TripAdvisor to find somewhere that was reasonably priced and had good reviews. When I found El Mesala Hotel, I thought I found the perfect place – the reviews were great and the price was below budget.
We’ve all heard the saying, when something seems too good to be true it probably is. That turned out to be the case for us.
The Manager Karim
Everything that we read online talked about how great the staff was so we were shocked when we had such issues with the manager Karim. After doing some digging, we noticed that the common thread on the positive reviews all mention Mohamed by name. We never met Mohamed during the 3 nights that we spent at the hotel. But I’m getting ahead of myself, let’s start from the beginning.
When we arrived at the hotel we were greeted by Karim. He took us to our room, making a big deal of noting that even though we paid for a basic room, since there was availability, he upgraded us to a Nile view which we were pretty excited about. We dropped off our bags then headed up to the rooftop bar to get our free welcome drink.
This is when things started to turn for us. There is no such thing as a free lunch and there is no such thing as a free welcome drink either. He sat with us and talked while we waited about 10 minutes for our drink. We both were kind of over talking to him as he kept repeating the same things over and over again. He went on and on about all of the different things that we could see in Luxor and all the tours that the hotel offered. We kind of brushed it off saying that we aren’t big on tours but we’ll think about it and let him know. Finally the drinks came and we were relieved to have some alone time. We weren’t so lucky though, there were 3 drinks, that’s right he got a drink for himself as well. During the time we were drinking our drinks, Karim proceeded to sit with us, talking about all the tours until we finally had to excuse ourselves.
During the time that we were at the hotel, every time that we saw Karim, he was always pushing his tours. Eventually we relented, saying that we would have a conversation with a guide to get more information – he immediately called his friend over and 10 minutes later we were talking with the guide. I have to admit, the guide was very good at his job – not an easy feat as we are normally extremely independent travelers. He made us feel that we needed a guide in order to know what to see when we went to the tombs and temples. We said we would do a tour with a guide and driver for 1 day, then determine if we wanted to book more afterwards. Our guide, who was not the man that we met with, was fine but nothing special. If anything, it strengthened our beliefs that we are not tour guide people. We decided against booking any more tours, not something that made Karim happy.
Egypt is an exhausting place – no matter where you go, someone is wanting to sell you something or trying to scam you. The last thing that you want when you get to your hotel is to deal with with the same crap. Your hotel should be an oasis away from the chaos. It was so bad, that when we returned to the hotel we would get excited when we did not see Karim. Never knowing if he was lurking, we would run up to our room and shut the door. We just wanted to have some time that we could be alone and relax.
Karim tried to scam us 3 different times during our stay:
- We booked the room through Booking.com with US dollars as the currency. When we arrived, we wanted to pay in Egyptian pounds. Normally hotels pull the current exchange rate, multiply out and give you the total. This was not the case at El Mesala. The actual exchange rate is 7.83 LE to the dollar. Karim wanted to give us a rate of 8.6 LE to the dollar, an absolutely horrible rate. We ended up tapping into our emergency dollars to avoid getting overcharged.
- Since we didn’t have exact change when we paid in dollars, we had $10 to apply to other expenses. The exchange rate that he quoted us earlier would have been great for us. Because of that, Karim tried to change the rate to 7 LE to the dollar instead of the actual 7.83 rate. After we challenged him by pulling up the actual exchange rate on our phone, he gave us the real rate.
- Possibly the most annoying scam was our laundry. We came from our safari and needed to wash our clothes. We asked about laundry and he said that they do laundry for a good Egyptian price. We didn’t think too much of it since things in Egypt were cheap and laundry is generally not too expensive. Our mistake was not pushing for the pricing before we dropped off our clothes. When we picked up our laundry, he tried to charge us per piece, telling us that everything was washed and ironed. I challenged this, saying that our shirts, socks and underwear did not need to be ironed. The total that he gave us came out to $22 for an amount of clothing that could fit in a single washer. We told him that was insane and that in our 5 months of traveling the most that we have paid was $10. We told him that we would pay $22, instead giving him 80 LE or $10, a number I still felt was absurdly high, and ending the conversation there.
The most frustrating part of Karim’s act was that he played off the money, telling us that “money isn’t a big deal”, “he trusted us” and “a good review is worth more to him than money”. While this was a nice line, this was not the case at all. From check in to check out and everything in between, he was all about the money, trying to get us for every dollar that he could.
Room 206 at El Masala Hotel
As I said earlier, we were lucky enough to be upgraded to a Nile view room during our stay at El Mesala. We had our own private balcony complete with 2 chairs and a small table. We didn’t spend a ton of time on our balcony as there was a much better view from the rooftop terrace.
Our room was basic but clean which is all that we needed. The bed was not overly comfortable but was fine. The strangest thing was for some reason there were huge body pillows instead of normal size pillows.
The construction of the hotel was great as it allowed our room to stay cool without running the air conditioning even when the weather outside was extremely hot. This was nice as it allowed us to easily cool off after spending the whole day outside in the heat.
Every day when we left to go sightseeing, our room was cleaned. We even got a resort style towel decoration with flower petals one of the days which was a nice touch.
The bathroom while small was clean and somewhat functional.
Our shower was by and far the worst part of the bathroom. In addition to it being so small it was difficult to do much of anything. I wanted to shave, but knew that would be impossible and had to wait until the next hotel.
Our bathroom had a personal hot water heater. This made us happy as we felt that we would be able to have hot showers no matter what. This wasn’t the case though. There was only enough hot water for 1 shower, requiring time for the water to reheat in between the shower. Other hotels that we stayed at in Egypt had the same hot water heater setup, but for some reason, El Mesala didn’t keep the water in the tank as hot as the other hotels, likely being the reason that we couldn’t both have a hot shower.
El Mesala Hotel – Amenities
Probably the biggest selling point for the hotel is the large terrace overlooking the Nile. The view is amazing and the sunrises from there are beautiful.
Our free breakfast was always very filling. We appreciated having a large meal as we were able to sightsee quite a bit in the morning when it was cool, then have a late lunch when we finished up.
Breakfast included rolls, eggs, cheese, jam, yogurt, fruit and eggs along with coffee and tea. After having the same breakfast for a few days we found some ways to mix it up – adding the fig jam to our plain yogurt, creating sandwiches with the eggs and cheese and our favorite, putting both the cheese and fig jam on our rolls.
I really liked that the breakfast was on the rooftop terrace as we had a great view of the Nile while we ate.
There was a restaurant on the terrace, the same place where breakfast was served. We decided to eat there our first night as we weren’t quite ready to wander the city looking for a restaurant.
The food was pretty good but the prices were on the higher side, especially for the area. We liked that we were able to purchase ice-cold beers at the restaurant as well, as finding any alcohol in Muslim countries can be very difficult.
On subsequent nights, we ate at a little cafe, Blue Sky, a very short walk from the hotel. The owner was very nice, leaving us alone to enjoy our meal. The food was really good and inexpensive. As we talked with the owner, we got some insight on what prices for the area should be – angering us as Karim was obviously charging us more than is standard.
Even though it was hot when we were in Luxor, at night the temperature dropped. The on-site pool looked very inviting but the water was absolutely freezing. I imagine that in the summer it feels amazing, but was way too cold to consider going in.
Prior to arriving in Luxor, the hotel had gotten in touch with me to see if I would like to be picked up from the airport. Because we knew that the Luxor airport was extremely far from the city and our hotel was located on the other side of the river, we decided to take the hotel’s car from the airport for $20. It seemed a little expensive, but after a long day of travel, we decided that we didn’t want to deal with the taxi mafia to possibly save a few bucks.
I touched on the tours that the hotel offered earlier. In addition to the guided tours and drivers, Karim was big on selling us a hot air balloon ride. While I think taking a hot air balloon ride would be fun, this isn’t the type of thing that I want to do in a country with lax regulations, nor is it something that would fit within our budget for long term travel. Trying to get Karim off our back, I lied and told him that Andy was afraid of heights. You would think that would stop him, but it didn’t as he brought out a book with photos of the balloon ride. Like before, we had to excuse ourselves and walk away to get him to leave us alone.
Karim also told us that he could book our transportation to Aswan, our next city, for us. Naturally, he lead with telling us that a private car for $100 would be the way to go because we could see 2 temples along the way. We declined and purchased our own train tickets for 51 LE or $6.50 each.
The city of Luxor is on the east bank and our hotel is located on the west bank. While I was worried about this initially, it worked out well as the majority of the sights are on the west bank, making it easier to get around.
When we did want to go to the east bank, the public ferry was a 2 minute walk from the hotel and only cost 1 LE or 13 cents to ride it. The locals were upset when we took the ferry as they all pushed us taking their boat to the other side for 10 LE or $1.30.
All of the reviews on TripAdvisor for the hotel were great. I think our negative experience was a combination of not having Mohamed there and being extremely independent travelers. Many of the reviews talk about how the hotel coordinated all of their trips, something that we did not need. Andy’s theory is that the hotel offers low cost rooms with the hopes that the markup on the tours will more than make up their profits.
I have never felt more uncomfortable staying at a hotel in my life. I would never recommend anyone to stay at El Mesala unless they don’t want to lift a finger in planning anything and don’t mind paying a premium to do so. I know that there are many people who are like this, but I would argue for them to stay at a nicer hotel where the owner isn’t constantly bothering them when they are on the hotel grounds.
It is really sad that we had such a negative experience at our first hotel in Egypt as it matched all of the horrible stereotypes that we had heard about Egyptians. Fortunately, the rest of our lodging in Egypt was a 180 degree shift, something that we appreciated very much.