From the most ancient of pyramids and temples, to wandering oases in the desert, to chilling out and exploring the beautiful reefs of the Red Sea, Egypt has it all. From the 5* luxury seeker, to the most frugal of backpackers, Egypt can provide. Before heading there, here are some essential travel tips!
When you’re ready to plan your trip to Egypt, make sure to read my perfect one to two week itinerary for Egypt!
Visas are required for entry into Egypt for most nationalities. They can be purchased for $25 at the airport and at various land borders. The visa is good for one month but can be renewed easily in main cities like Cairo, Alexandria, and Luxor. As of May, 2015, Egypt will require tourists to obtain a visa before entering, so visitors will no longer be able to buy a visa at entry.
Cities in Egypt are not picturesque
Having just visited Tunisia before Egypt, I had seen some very nice European influenced cities like Tunis, and desert themed oasis like towns like Tozeur. The cities in Egypt left me very underwhelmed. Cairo is a sprawling shitshow where it looks like architects read a “how to build a modern city for dummies” book. I’m not sure what to classify Egyptian architecture as either. It’s certainly not European in nature like Tunis or Istanbul, and certainly not Islamic like Marrakech. Alexandria is a bit nicer as it’s close to the Mediterranean, but hardly what I’d call a beautiful city.
Sadly, not only is the architecture old and unattractive, but littering seems to be part of the culture and it’s not uncommon to see piles of trash everywhere.
Is Egypt safe?
If you’re not familiar with the Arab Spring, then perhaps now is as good a time as any to familiarize yourself before visiting Egypt. The Arab Spring was a big pro-democracy movement that swept the Middle East a few years back. It began in Tunisia and spread to Libya, Egypt, Syria, etc. Egypt was in the news in 2011 for overthrowing its president and mass demonstrations, sometimes violent. I asked my tour guide about this and he said during those first weeks, Egypt was a dangerous place, and the bad publicity from those days has stuck with Egypt years later.
Fast forward four years later, and foreigners are still wary of the Egyptian revolution. Many still think it’s happening and that Egypt is a dangerous place. The situation in Libya and ISIS in Syria/Iraq doesn’t help Egypt’s cause, even though those countries are far away from.
Prior to the Arab Spring in 2011, this area was BOOMING with tourism. People learned about the pyramids from a young age and it was on everyone’s bucket list. Taking a photo in front of a temple would be like photoshopping the temple onto a picture of a concert. Perhaps tourism will reach that point again someday, but for now, people are scared of visiting this area of the world. Their loss, your gain.
I spent three weeks in Egypt, and not once did I feel in any danger. Quite the opposite in fact. People were so friendly and helpful (except the damn taxi drivers). You could feel how much a drop in tourism has affected the economy, and perhaps some were going the extra mile to make me feel extra welcome. I made a lot of friends while in Egypt but sadly when looking to add them on Facebook, I learned that Mohammed is the name of like 70% of the male population.
If you’re on the fence about visiting Egypt because your friends/family are terrified for your safety, rest assured. The situation is fine. You’ll be fine. And when you get there, you’ll thank me for it when you’re able to get pictures like this:
Does this mean the situation can’t change in the snap of a finger? No. But as of now, there’s not much to worry about!
Solo female travelers in Egypt
Sadly, traveling through the Middle East solo is much easier done as a man than a woman. Egypt is notorious for its harassing of female tourists. I traveled with other female travelers and as soon as she wandered away from the guys, she could be harassed. Nevertheless, I met plenty of solo female travelers in Egypt that were totally fine, just have to put up with a bit of shit!
Tourism in Egypt
Tourism is very developed in Egypt. The Pyramids, temples, and Nile cruises have been used to accommodating millions of foreigners for many years. For good reason. I mean how many other places can you visit in the world where things this old have stood the test of time?
Even nowadays, with less tourists, you’ll still be heckled endlessly when entering a temple. The government’s actually designed the sites so when you enter (and exit), you must walk through a path surrounded by merchants trying to sell you random stuff. Good thing is, as tourism has died down, merchants are more desperate so if you actually want to buy something, you’ll be able to get a cheap, and reasonable price. Make sure to BARGAIN EVERYTHING.
Tour or solo travel in Egypt?
There are countless tour companies that will take you around Egypt. While I did a tour with TopDeck that I enjoyed, for how cheap it is to travel around Egypt, I don’t recommend it for the budget travelers. It is so easy to travel around Egypt, on even the stingiest of budgets. If you’re wiling to spend a little money, you can truly travel Egypt like a boss.
Getting around Egypt
Trains, buses, and cheap internal flights on EgyptAir are readily available. These options are all very reasonably priced.
Taxis – Taxis are cheap but about as sketchy as it gets. There is little to no regulation in place and while most taxis have meters running, they will almost always claim it’s not working and then proceed to offer up a price to you that will certainly be far more expensive than if the meter was actually “working”. Nowadays, make sure to download Uber or Careem before visiting as these two apps are a total game changer to traveling around the country.
Trains – A train from Aswan in the very south to Cairo can be bought for 120 LE ($15), a bus from Dahab to the Egypt/Israel border at Taba ran me 45 LE ($6.50).
Flights – From Cairo to Sharm El-Sheikh cost me $65 on EgyptAir. Most of Egypt’s largest cities are connected by air making it easy to travel by this method.
Buses – From Cairo, there are numerous buses each day that go to Luxor, Aswan, and Dahab. The cost is cheap at around 40-100 LE for even the longest trips.
The main Egyptian towns along the Nile, and likely where you’ll be visiting, are all very well connected, making travel, budget or luxury, a breeze.
Money and Costs
Egypt uses the Egyptian Pound, not to be confused with the much more valuable British Pound. I’ve heard of stories where tourists were scammed into taking camel rides and quoted a price in “pounds”, and at the end of the ride, they would claim they meant British pounds.
ATMs are readily available throughout the country as well as many forex bureaus. Like everywhere else I’ve been, I highly recommend using ATMs, and forego the forex bureaus.
To sum it up, Egypt is probably the cheapest country I’ve ever traveled to. It’s certainly the cheapest country in Africa. Part of that may be due to the decline in tourism, and the strength of the US dollar at the moment but I felt like I could live like a king for half the budget I had originally allocated to my trip. I’d say the average backpacker could get by on $30 a day, which includes everything!
Food costs in Egypt ($2-4/meal)
Egypt has some delicious food, ranging from street foods, rotisserie chicken, shawarma, seafood, pitas, and soups. As long as you stay away from the touristy upscale places, one can eat like a king here. A bowl of Koshari, an Egyptian dish consisting of rice, macaroni, and lentils, at a local restaurant runs 7 LE in Cairo, or about $1 and this will fill up even the hungriest of people. Rotisserie chicken, which all of the Middle East is obsessed with, ran me 40LE for the whole chicken ($5), and a classic Middle Eastern meal of falafel balls with hummus and Schwarma sandwich cost me about 30 LE ($4).
Budget Accommodation ($5-15)/night
Accommodations at hostels start at around $5. Surprisingly, most of the ultra budget hostels aren’t even that bad. It can get ridiculous hot at certain times of the year so some places so it may be a good choice to splurge and upgrade.
Temple Entrance Fees
Temples and pyramids are probably the biggest attraction here and all cost money. These range from 25 LE to 150 LE ($3-15) depending on the sight and will add up as there are so many places to see. Every place I went offered student discounts so make sure to get a fake student ID before visiting and you could save up to 50% on everything.
For a muslim country that is not supposed to drink, the Egyptians sure have some very cheap alcohol and their own beer brand, not unlike Turkey’s Efes beer. A bottle of beer at a normal bar is less than $2 and are readily available almost everywhere.
Shisha or Hookah is about as common as sand is in Egypt. Just walking down the street on any given day, at any point of the day, you’ll find old people with their shishas just hanging out, taking the occasional puff while conversing with friends. I certainly did not shy away from having these oh, just about every day. Doesn’t hurt that they cost 10-20 LE ($1.50 to $3). When in Rome right?
Where to Go?
Egypt is a small country, with most of it being covered in desert. The two areas you’ll likely visit are the Sinai peninsula where diving is spectacular, and the route along the Nile that stretches from Cairo to Aswan, a small town near the border of Sudan.
For in an depth look at how to spend a perfect day or two in Cairo, read my trip report.
In and Around Cairo
Around Cairo are some of the most famous Egyptian sites. Heard of the pyramids? How about the Sphinx? Those are all located in the city of Cairo and can be done easily in less than a day. In fact, if you had just one day in Egypt, you could fly in Cairo in the morning, take a cab to the pyramids, spend a few hours, and take a cab back to the airport before nightfall and you’d have plenty of time.
The National Museum is also an important visit, especially for the history buffs. It’s absolutely packed with ancient artifacts and more history than anyone can handle. While a tour guide won’t do you much good at the pyramids, having some sort of guide at this museum will be helpful. Regardless, there’s so much history, and so much to see in this museum, a tour guide’s information might be information overkill as you try and process what you’re seeing.
Alexandria was once the ancient capital of Egypt. It’s on the Mediterranean and filled with historical sights. Sadly, wars, tomb raiders and time were not nice to this city as most of its historical sights are a shadow of their former selves. I went on a day trip here as a part of a tour but if you’re time constrained, I’d skip Alex.
The Western Deserts
Those looking for rustic and endless Sahara desert, this is the spot to be in Egypt. People still live the old ways here as there are more goat carts than cars. The incredible dunes of the Great Red Sea are on full display here and those looking to get lost in the oases have come to the right place. It’s a quick trip from Cairo and a great getaway from the hectic nature of the city.
Temples, and more temples
Egypt has hundreds, maybe even thousands of ancient temples. Endless history awaits at each of these stops. so make sure to fit this in your itinerary. The temples in Luxor, Abu Simbel in Aswan, and Kom Ombo are well worth the visit.
Speaking of temples, an easy way to see them, and relax while enjoying a boat ride down the Nile is to do a cruise. You can either do a Felucca, a large and modern version of a dhow boat (unlike the traditional dhows of Mozambique), or a modern cruise ship. The main route is between Luxor in the middle of Egypt, to Aswan in the south, and vice versa.
The cruise makes stops at the major temples where you can disembark and visit the sights (on your own, or part of a group if you’re on a tour). Cruises have also seen their numbers dwindle in recent years and they can be very cheap to book. A 5* 3 night, food included cruise, can be purchased for as $60/night.
The Sinai is the less traveled part of Egypt in my opinion. There are no pyramids or temples here but there is the Red Sea filled with beautiful beaches, dramatic mountains, and excellent diving. Sharm El Sheikh is the main airport here, packed with large resorts and nightclubs.
Dahab is 1 hour north and this is the backpackers/hippie/diver’s paradise. The diving here is almost all shore diving and is the cheapest diving I’ve ever done (16 Euros for a dive with all gear provided). Mount Sinai, famous for Moses and the 10 commandments, can be visited for the sunset. Travel by land to Israel and Jordan can easily be done from Sharm/Dahab as well.
When to go?
Egypt enjoys a warm climate year round. From unbearably hot summers to warm winters, packing a proper coat does not need to be a part of the itinerary. Those venturing deep into the Sahara may need to reconsider but for the most part, Egypt needs to avoided during its warmest times, instead of its coldest.
Generally, it is advisable to avoid visiting Egypt in the July/August months due to extreme heat. Alexandria, experiences the mildest temperatures being on the coast, with Cairo being warmer, and Aswan in the very south being the warmest. The Sinai region by the Red Sea also gets very hot in the summer but mild (15-20 degrees) in the winter time.
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