Egypt Travel Guide

Egypt Travel Guide

Introduction

Egypt Travel Guide – Egypt is one of the most mysterious destinations on the planet. Between the Nile, the Red Sea, Alexandria, Cairo, and pyramids that date back to 2500 BC, there’s so much history and culture to experience. Whether you’re concerned about the country’s safety or you just haven’t thought much about Egypt, this guide will put it on the map for you and show you just how mystical a trip to Egypt can truly be Egypt is the oldest tourist destination on earth. Ancient Greeks and Romans started the trend, coming to goggle at the cyclopean scale of the Pyramids and the Colossi of Thebes. During colonial times, Napoleon and the British looted Egypt’s treasures to fill their national museums, sparking off a trickle of Grand Tourists that eventually became a flood of travelers. Today, the most popular places to visit are not only the monuments of the Nile Valley and the souks, mosques and madrassas of Islamic Cairo, but also fantastic coral reefs and tropical fish, dunes, ancient fortresses, monasteries and prehistoric rock art.

Best Time to Visit Egypt

Egypt’s traditional tourist season runs from late November to late February, seen by most as the best time to visit, though in recent years Luxor and Aswan have only really been busy with tourists during the peak months of December and January. The Nile Valley is balmy throughout this winter season, although Cairo can be overcast and chilly. Winter is also the busiest period for the Sinai resorts, while Hurghada is active year round. Aside from the Easter vacation, when there is a spike in tourism, March or April are also good times to visit, with a pleasant climate.

How to Get to Egypt?

It is possible to get to Egypt by land, but most visitors fly in. Cairo has direct scheduled flights from London and New York, with indirect routes from pretty much everywhere, and there are low-cost flights from Britain to Luxor and the beach resorts.

Egypt Travel Guide
Egypt Travel Guide : Search & Compare and Book Best Flight to Cairo with our search engine
What to Buy from Egypt?

Visitors to Egypt are spoilt for choice when it comes to souvenirs: traditional crafts such as jewellery, textiles, glassware, leatherwork, brass and copperware all offer good value for money if you’re prepared to haggle and be choosy. One thing not to buy is any kind of supposed antiquity. The export of antiquities is strictly prohibited, and you could end up in prison if caught trying to smuggle them out. Another thing to avoid is ivory products: their sale is legal, but almost all Western countries prohibit their importation. Inlaid or carved bone makes an acceptable substitute.

Where to Go in Egypt?

The land itself is a freak of nature, its lifeblood the River Nile. From the Sudanese border to the shores of the Mediterranean, the Nile Valley and its Delta are flanked by arid wastes, the latter as empty as the former are teeming with people. This stark duality between fertility and desolation is fundamental to Egypt’s character and has shaped its development since prehistoric times, imparting continuity to diverse cultures and peoples over seven millennia. It is a sense of permanence and timelessness that is buttressed by religion, which pervades every aspect of life. Although the pagan cults of ancient Egypt are as moribund as its legacy of mummies and temples, their ancient fertility rites and processions of boats still hold their place in the celebrations of Islam and Christianity.

Egypt Travel Guide
Egypt Travel Guide

The result is a multi-layered culture, which seems to accord equal respect to ancient and modern. The peasants of the Nile and the Bedouin tribes of the desert live much as their ancestors did a thousand years ago. Other communities include the Nubians of the far south, and the Coptic Christians, who trace their ancestry back to pharaonic times. What unites them is a love of their homeland, extended family ties, dignity, warmth and hospitality towards strangers. Though most visitors are drawn to Egypt by its monuments, the enduring memory is likely to be of its people and their way of life.

Cairo
Egypt Travel Guide
Egypt Travel Guide : Cairo

Egypt’s capital, Cairo, is a seething megalopolis whose chief sightseeing appeal lies in its bazaars and medieval mosques, though there is scarcely less fascination in its juxtapositions of medieval and modern life, the city’s fortified gates, villas and skyscrapers interwoven by flyovers whose traffic may be halted by donkey carts. The immensity and diversity of this “Mother of Cities” is as staggering as anything you’ll encounter in Egypt. Just outside Cairo are the first of the pyramids that range across the desert to the edge of the Fayoum, among them the unsurpassable trio at Giza, the vast necropolis of Saqqara and the pyramids at Dahshur. Besides all this, there are superb museums devoted to Ancient, Coptic and Islamic Egypt, and enough entertainment to occupy weeks of your time.

Egypt Travel Guide : The head of the Giza Sphinx – Cairo
Nile Valley
Egypt Travel Guide
Egypt Travel Guide : Nile Valley

However, the principal tourist lure remains, as ever, the Nile Valley, with its ancient monuments and timeless river vistas – Nile cruises on a luxury vessel or a felucca sailboat being a great way to combine the two. The town of Luxor is synonymous with the magnificent temples of Karnak and the Theban Necropolis, which includes the Valley of the Kings where Tutankhamun and other pharaohs were buried. Aswan, Egypt’s southernmost city, has the loveliest setting on the Nile and a languorous ambience. From here, you can visit the island Philae temple of Isis and the rock-hewn colossi at Abu Simbel, or embark on a cruise to other temples around Lake Nasser. Other sites not to be missed are Edfu and Kom Ombo, between Luxor and Aswan, and Abydos and Dendara, north of Luxor.

Besides monuments, Egypt abounds in natural wonders. Edged by coral reefs teeming with tropical fish, the Sinai Peninsula offers superb diving and snorkeling, and palm-fringed beaches where women can swim unmolested. Resorts along the Gulf of Aqaba are varied enough to suit everyone, whether you’re into the upmarket hotels of Sharm el-Sheikh, nearby Na’ama Bay or Taba further north, or cheap, simple living at Dahab and Nuweiba. From there it’s easy to visit St Catherine’s Monastery and Mount Sinai (where Moses received the Ten Commandments) in the mountainous interior. With more time, cash and stamina, you can also embark on jeep safaris or camel treks to remote oases and spectacular wadis.

Red Sea

Egypt’s Red Sea Coast has more reefs further offshore, with snorkeling and diving traditionally centered around Hurghada, while barely touched island reefs from Port Safaga down to Marsa Alam beckon serious diving enthusiasts. Inland, the mountainous Eastern Desert harbors the Coptic monasteries of St Paul and St Anthony, Roman quarries, and a host of pharaonic and prehistoric rock art, seen by few apart from the nomadic Bedouin. While the Eastern Desert is still barely touched by tourism, the Western Desert Oases have been on the tourist trail for forty years and nowadays host safaris into the wilderness. Siwa, out towards the Libyan border, has a unique culture and history, limpid pools and bags of charm. Travelers can also follow the “Great Desert Circuit” (starting from Cairo, Luxor or Assyut) through the four “inner” oases – though Bahariya and Farafra hold the most appeal, with the lovely White Desert between them, the larger oases of Dakhla and Kharga also have their rewards once you escape their modernized “capitals”. And for those into serious desert expeditions, there’s the challenge of exploring the Great Sand Sea or the remote wadis of the Gilf Kebir, whose prehistoric rock art featured in the film The English Patient. In contrast to these deep-desert locations are the quasi-oases of the Fayoum and Wadi Natrun, featuring the fossil-strewn Valley of the Whales, diverse ancient ruins and Coptic monasteries.

Diving
Egypt Travel Guide
Egypt Travel Guide : Hurghada

Egypt is one of the best diving destinations in the world. The Red Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba are rich in sea life and home to a wonderful array of dive sites, with plenty of options for both novices and experts alike: remarkably preserved World War II wrecks, coral reefs filled with dolphins, rainbow-coloured anemone gardens, and shallow bays visited by turtles are just a few of the sites you can explore. The Sinai and Red Sea Coast chapters have detailed information on dive sites and recommended dive companies, as well as tips on safety and environmental issues.

Reefs

The Red Sea’s stable climate, shallow tides and exceptionally high salinity provide perfect conditions for unusually brilliant corals and sponges – a revelation if you have previously dived in such places as Hawaii or the Caribbean, whose reefs will forever after seem dull by comparison. Created by generations of miniscule polyps depositing their limestone exoskeletons on the remains of their ancestors, coral reefs can grow by 4–5cm a year. Beside hard corals such as brain and fire coral, which have a rigid outer skeleton, the Red Sea hosts an abundance of soft corals, including whip coral and sea fans. Because most types of coral need a moderate amount of warm sunlight to flourish, the most spectacular formations are found within 30m of the surface.

Egypt Travel Guide: Coral Reef in Northern Red Sea

Most Red Sea reefs are of the fringing type, with a shallow lagoon just offshore, whose warm water and rubble-strewn bottom attracts starfish and sea slugs. Clams and sea urchins hide in crevices, and schools of damselfish and butterflyfish flit about. Its seaward boundary is the reef flat, whose crest is usually a barren, rough-surfaced shelf, while deeper areas are rich in flora and fauna. Beyond is a coral-encrusted slope, leading to a drop-off like the edge of a cliff. Flatter areas may be dotted with coral pillars or knolls. Lower down, the coral is sparser, and you may find sandy terraces overgrown with seagrass, sustaining sea horses and pipefish. Beyond the drop-off lies open water.

 

Alexandria
Egypt Travel Guide: Alexandria Castle, Egypt

On the Mediterranean, Egypt’s second city, Alexandria, boasts a string of beaches to which Cairenes flock in summer, and excellent seafood restaurants. Despite being founded by Alexander the Great and lost to the Romans by Cleopatra, the city today betrays little of its ancient glory; however, its magnificent new library, featuring statues raised from the sunken remains of Cleopatra’s Palace, and the Lighthouse of Pharos (which divers can explore) are restoring an air of majesty. Famous, too, for its decadence during colonial times, Alexandria still allows romantics to indulge in a nostalgic exploration of the city immortalized in Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet, while further along the Mediterranean coast is the World War II battlefield of El-Alamein. For divers, the waters off Alexandria offer an array of sunken cities and wartime wrecks to explore.

Egypt Travel Guide: Alexandria

The Nile Delta, east of Alexandria, musters few archeological monuments given its major role in ancient Egyptian history, and is largely overlooked by tourists. However, for those interested in Egyptian culture, the Delta hosts colorful religious festivals at Tanta, Zagazig and other towns. Further east lies the Canal Zone, dominated by the Suez Canal and its three cities: Suez is grim, but a vital transport nexus between Cairo, Sinai and the Red Sea Coast; Port Said and Ismailiyah are pleasant, albeit sleepy places, where you can get a feel of “real Egypt” without tripping over other tourists.

Best Tourist Attractions in Egypt

Pyramids of Giza
Egypt Travel Guide
Egypt Travel Guide : Giza

The last surviving of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Pyramids of Giza are one of the world’s most recognizable landmarks. Built as tombs for the mighty Pharaohs and guarded by the enigmatic Sphinx, Giza’s pyramid complex has awed travelers down through the ages and had archaeologists (and a fair few conspiracy theorists) scratching their heads over how they were built for centuries.  Today, these megalithic memorials to dead kings are still as wondrous a sight as they ever were. An undeniable highlight of any Egypt trip, Giza’s pyramids should not be missed.

Luxor’s Karnak Temple and the Valley of the Kings
Egypt Travel Guide
Egypt Travel Guide

Famed for the Valley of the Kings, Karnak Temple, and the Memorial Temple of Hatshepsut, the Nile-side town of Luxor in Upper Egypt has a glut of tourist attractions. This is ancient Thebes, power base of the New Kingdom pharaohs, and home to more sights than most can see on one visit. While the East Bank brims with vibrant souk action, the quieter West Bank is home to a bundle of tombs and temples that has been called the biggest open-air museum in the world. Spend a few days here exploring the colorful wall art of the tombs and gazing in awe at the colossal columns in the temples, and you’ll see why Luxor continues to fascinate historians and archaeologists.

Islamic Cairo
Egypt Travel Guide
Egypt Travel Guide : Cairo

The atmospheric, narrow lanes of the capital’s Islamic Cairo district are crammed full of mosques, madrassas (Islamic schools of learning), and monuments dating from the Fatimid through to the Mameluke eras. This is where you’ll find the labyrinth shopping souk of Khan el-Khalili, where coppersmiths and artisans still have their tiny workshops, and stalls are laden with ceramics, textiles, spice, and perfume.  Surrounding the market is a muddle of roads, home to some of the most beautiful preserved architecture of the old Islamic empires. There is a wealth of history here to explore. Visit Al-Azhar Mosque and the dazzling Sultan Hassan Mosque, and make sure you climb to the roof of the ancient medieval gate of Bab Zuweila for the best minaret-speckled panoramas across the district.

Aswan
Egypt Travel Guide
Egypt Travel Guide : Aswan

Egypt’s most tranquil town is Aswan, set upon the winding curves of the Nile. Backed by orange-hued dunes, this is the perfect place to stop and unwind for a few days and soak up the chilled-out atmosphere. Take the river ferry across to Elephantine Island and stroll the colorful streets of the Nubian villages. Ride a camel to the desert monastery of St. Simeon on the East Bank. Or just drink endless cups of tea on one of the riverboat restaurants, while watching the lateen-sailed feluccas drift past.  There are plenty of historic sites here and numerous temples nearby, but one of Aswan’s most popular things to do is simply kicking back and watching the river life go by.

 Abu Simbel
Egypt Travel Guide: Abu Simbel

Even in a country festooned with temples, Abu Simbel is something special. This is Ramses II’s great temple, adorned with colossal statuary standing guard outside, and with an interior sumptuously decorated with wall paintings. Justly famous for its megalithic proportions, Abu Simbel is also known for the incredible feat, which saw the entire temple moved from its original setting — set to disappear under the water because of the Aswan dam — during the 1960s in a massive UNESCO operation that took four years.

Egyptian Museum
Egypt Travel Guide: Egyptian Museum

A treasure trove of the Pharaonic world, Cairo’s Egyptian Museum is one of the world’s great museum collections. The faded pink mansion is home to a dazzling amount of exhibits. It’s a higgledy-piggledy place with little labeling on offer and not much chronological order, but that’s half of its old-school charm. Upstairs is the golden glory of King Tutankhamen and the fascinating royal mummies exhibits, but really every corner you turn here is home to some wonderful piece of ancient art or statuary that would form a highlight of any other museum.

White Desert
Egypt Travel Guide: White Desert

Egypt’s kookiest natural wonder is the White Desert, where surreally shaped chalk mountains have created what looks like a snowy wonderland in the middle of the arid sand. The landscapes here look like something out of a science fiction movie, with blindingly white boulders and iceberg-like pinnacles. For desert fans and adventurers, this is the ultimate weird playground, while anybody who’s had their fill of temples and tombs will enjoy this spectacular natural scenery

Siwa Oasis
Egypt Travel Guide: Siwa Oasis – Typical Houses

Way out west, Siwa is the tranquil tonic to the hustle of Egypt’s cities. This gorgeous little oasis, surrounded by date palm plantations and numerous fresh water springs, is one of the Western Desert’s most picturesque spots. The town is centered around the ruins of a vast mud-brick citadel that dominates the view. This is a top spot to wind down and go slow for a few days, as well as being an excellent base from which to plan adventures into the surrounding desert.

Abydos Temple
Egypt Travel Guide
Egypt Travel Guide: Abydos Temple

Dusty Abydos town wouldn’t make much of a rating on the tourism radar if it wasn’t for the incredible temple on its doorstep. Abydos’ Temple of Osiris is one of ancient Egypt’s most fascinating artistic treasures. Its chunky columns and walls, covered in beautiful hieroglyphics and intricate paintings, are spellbinding sights, and even better, you can admire them without the crowds as despite its dazzling beauty, it receives few visitors compared to the temples in nearby Luxor.

Saqqara
Egypt Travel Guide
Egypt Travel Guide: Saqqara

Everyone’s heard of Giza’s Pyramids, but they’re not the only pyramids Egypt has up its sleeve. Day-tripping from Cairo, Saqqara is the vast necropolis of the Old Kingdom pharaohs and showcases how the Ancient Egyptians advanced their architectural knowledge to finally create a true pyramid with the Step PyramidBent Pyramid, and Red Pyramid being among the highlights here. The various tombs of court administrators, with interior walls covered with friezes describing daily scenes, scattered throughout the archaeological site are just as much a reason to visit as the pyramids themselves.

St. Catherine’s Monastery
Egypt Travel Guide
Egypt Travel Guide: St. Catherine’s Monastery in Sinai

One of the oldest monasteries in the world, St. Catherine’s stands at the foot of Mount Sinai, where Moses is said to have received the Ten Commandments. This desert monastery is home to an incredible collection of religious iconography, art, and manuscripts (some of which can be seen in the on-site museum), as well as the burning bush. For most visitors here, a trip to St. Catherine’s also involves a hike up Mount Sinai to see sunrise or sunset. Take the camel path for the easy route or climb the famous Steps of Repentance if you want better views.

Practical Information

Language

There are several languages spoken in Egypt, but the primary language is Egyptian Arabic, also known as Masri/Masry.

Currency

The official currency of Egypt is the Egyptian Pound (EGP). The current exchange rate is 1 USD is equivalent to 16.55 EGP. However it fluctuates daily. 

Credit Cards & ATMs

In Egypt, you will find that the trendier clubs, bars, restaurants, shops, and hotels will take major debit and credit cards. Some shops will have a sign near their entrance that tells you whether or not they accept foreign cards. To be safe, it’s always worth asking a cashier or waiter if cards are accepted before ordering or purchasing anything. If you’re looking to carry some cash during your visit, you can find many ATMs throughout big cities like Cairo and Alexandria. They are less common in smaller cities and almost impossible to find in rural areas.

 

Plugs

In Egypt, the power plugs are type C and F. The standard voltage is 220 V, and the standard frequency is 50 Hz. I recommend buying a universal adapter (make sure it has surge protection) and using a converter for hairdryers and hot tools.

Safety

After the revolution of 2011, tourism drastically dropped in Egypt. However, In recent years, the political situation in Egypt has stabilized, bringing higher tourism rates. Overall, it is a safe country, but there are a few things to keep in mind. Safety depends on where you’re visiting. The northern half of Sinai is unstable, so it is best to avoid it. If visiting the pyramids or other large tourist attractions, play it safe by taking a tour or hiring a private guide.

Tipping and baksheesh

As a presumed-rich khawaga (foreigner), you are expected to be liberal with baksheesh, which can be divided into three main varieties. The most common is tipping: a small reward for a small service – anything from waiter service to unlocking a tomb or museum room. Try to strike a balance between defending your own wallet and acquiescing gracefully when appropriate. There’s little point getting upset or offending people over what are trifling sums for a Western tourist but an important part of people’s livelihood in a country where many people live on less than £50/$75 a month.

Typical tips might be £E1–2 for looking after your shoes while you visit a mosque (though congregants don’t usually tip for this), or £E5–10 to a custodian for opening up a door to let you enter a building or climb a minaret. In restaurants, you do not usually leave a percentage of the bill: typical tips (regardless of whether the bill claims to include “service”) are as little as £E3 in an ultra-cheap place such as a kushari joint, £E3–5 in a typical cheap restaurant, or £E10–25 in a smarter establishment. Customers also usually give tips of £E1–2 in a café, and sometimes 50pt–£E1 in a juice bar.

A more expensive and common type of baksheesh is for rewarding the bending of rules – many of which seem to have been designed for just that purpose. Examples might include letting you into an archeological site after hours (or into a vaguely restricted area), finding you a sleeper on a train when the carriages are “full”, and so on. This should not be confused with bribery, which is a more serious business with its own etiquette and risks – best not entered into.

The last kind of baksheesh is simply alms-giving. For Egyptians, giving money and goods to the needy is a natural act – and a requirement of Islam. The disabled are traditional recipients of such gifts, and it seems right to join locals in giving out small change. Children, however, are a different case, pressing their demands only on tourists. If someone offers genuine help and asks for an alum (pen), it seems fair enough, but to yield to every request encourages a cycle of dependency that Egypt could do without.

Since most Egyptian money is paper, often in the form of well-used banknotes that can be fiddly to separate out, it can make life easier to keep small bills in a separate “baksheesh pocket” specifically for the purpose. If giving baksheesh in foreign currency, give notes rather than coins (which can’t be exchanged for Egyptian currency).

Hustlers

Hustling is a necessity for millions of Egyptians – cadging money for errands or knowing a “cousin” who can sort things out. The full-time khirtiyya who focus on tourists are versatile, touting for hotels, pushing excursions (often vastly marked up), steering tourists into shops or travel agencies (where their commission will be quietly added to your bill), and even being gigolos. They’ll latch on to you as soon as you arrive (at the airport in Cairo or Luxor), hail you on the street like an old friend (“Hey! Remember me?”), or say anything to grab your attention (“You’ve dropped your wallet”). If they don’t already know, they’ll try to discover where you’re staying, what your plans are, and pester you regularly.

It’s easy to get fed up with being hassled and react with fury to any approach from strangers – even a sincere “Welcome to Egypt”. Try to keep your cool and respond politely; intoning la shukran (no thanks) with your hand on your heart, while briskly moving on, will dissuade most street peddlers. Or you could try a humorous riposte to classic come-ons like “I know what you need” – Fil mish mish (“In your dreams!”) works well. If necessary, escalate to a gruff khalas (“Enough!”) and if that doesn’t suffice, bawling shorta (“Police!”) is sure to send any hustler packing.

 

Women travelers

Sexual harassment is rife in Egypt: 98 percent of foreign women visitors and 83 percent of Egyptian women have experienced it, according to one survey. The perception that women tourists are “easy” is reinforced by their doing things that no respectable Egyptian woman would: dressing “immodestly”, showing shoulders and cleavage, sharing rooms with men to whom they are not married, drinking alcohol in bars or restaurants, smoking in public, even travelling alone on public transport without a relative as an escort. While well-educated Egyptians familiar with Western culture can take these in their stride, less sophisticated ones are liable to assume the worst. Tales of affairs with tourists, especially of Hurghada’s Russian visitors, who are regarded as being quite scandalous, are common currency among Egyptian males. In Sinai, however, unaccompanied women experience few hassles, except from construction workers from “mainland” Egypt.

Without compromising your freedom too greatly, there are a few steps you can take to improve your image. Most important and obvious is dress: loose opaque clothes that cover all “immodest” areas (thighs, upper arms, chest) and hide your contours are a big help, and essential if travelling alone or in rural areas (where covering long hair is also advisable). On public transport (buses, trains, service taxis), try to sit with other women – who may invite you to do so. On the Cairo metro and trams in Alexandria there are carriages reserved for women. If travelling with a man, wearing a wedding ring confers respectability, and asserting that you’re married is better than admitting to being “just friends”.

Looking confident and knowing where you’re going always helps, and it’s worth avoiding eye contact with Egyptian men (some women wear sunglasses for the purpose), and best to err on the side of standoffishness, as even a friendly smile may be taken as a come-on. Problems – most commonly hissing or groping – tend to come in downtown Cairo and in the public beach resorts (except Sinai’s Aqaba coast, or Red Sea holiday villages – probably the only places you’ll feel happy sunbathing). In the oases, where attractions include open-air springs and hot pools, it’s okay to bathe – but do so in at least a T-shirt and leggings: oasis people are among the most conservative in the country.

Some women find that verbal hassle is best ignored, while others may prefer to use an Egyptian brush-off like khalas (enough!) or uskut (be quiet). If you get groped, the best response is to yell aram! (evil!) or sibnee le wadi (don’t touch me), which will shame any assailant in public, and may attract help, or scare them away by shouting shorta! (police!).

Spending time with Egyptian women can be a delight. The difficulty is that fewer women than men speak English, and that you won’t run into women in traditional cafés. Public transport can be a good meeting ground, as can shops. Asking directions in the street, it’s always better to ask a woman than a man.

Gigolos are part of the tourist scene in Luxor, Aswan, Hurghada, Sinai and Cairo. The exchange of sex for cash usually occurs under the guise of true love, with misled women spending money on their boyfriends or “husbands” until their savings run out and the relationship hits the rocks. Enough foreigners blithely rent toyboys and settle into the scene for locals to make the point that neither side is innocent, but be aware that HIV is a big danger on the gigolo scene – always use protection.

Many enter into so-called Orfi (or “Dahab”) marriages, usually arranged by a lawyer, to circumvent the law that prohibits unmarried couples from sleeping under the same roof. These allow couples to rent a flat without hassle from the Vice Squad and can be annulled without a divorce. However, an Orfi marriage does not confer the same legal rights as a full marriage in a special registry office (Sha’ar al-Aqari) in Cairo, which is the only kind that allows women to bring their spouse to their own country or gives them any rights in child-custody disputes. Women can bolster their position by insisting on a marriage contract (pre-nuptial agreement).

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