I'm calling it. Egypt is going to be one of the most epic trips you'll ever do. I know you haven't even gone yet but you're probably here because you're in the middle of planning trip and looking for a travel guide that's going to dish out all the things to know before going to Egypt. You've come to the right place!
Let's dig into the practical things you are already asking yourself in your head or going to be really soon as you delve deeper.
Read more about Egypt
- How to plan a 10 day Egypt itinerary
- Nile cruise from Luxor to Aswan – cruise ship or dahabiya?
- Best place to stay near the pyramids
- What to pack for a trip to Egypt
Where to stay with views of the pyramids?
- Everyone asked us where we stayed in Cairo to get those epic rooftop views. The secret is to stay in Giza where there are new properties popping up thanks to the enterprising young generation. Places like the Comfort Pyramids Inn have epic views of the pyramids. A full breakdown of all your options can be found here.
Table of Contents
Jump to the topics that you're most interested in.
Here's what we're covering:
- Things to Know Before Going to Egypt
- The facts
- Egypt geography
- How do you decide where to go?
- Getting there
- Getting around
- Is Egypt safe?
- Why you need a good tour operator
- What you need to know about Cairo
- What you need to know about Egyptian Sites
- Most annoying thing about Egypt
- Food and drinks
- Need Help Planning Your Egypt Trip?
- How to prepare for a land tour day
- What to wear in Egypt
- Where to stay in Egypt
- What to pack
- Best time to go
- About alcohol
- How much does a trip to Egypt cost?
- 5 main take aways
Things to Know Before Going to Egypt
This is meant to be a comprehensive Egypt travel guide of practical things you need to know before you go. My aim is to arm you with the information you need to know so there are less surprises when you go.
I'll touch on many topics that you might be thinking about already and others that would have never crossed your mind.
Egypt is an incredible place to go to but it's one of those places where if you're not prepared can quickly turn into a nightmare. It's not because of the people or some sort of next-level sketchiness. On the contrary, I found Egyptians to be incredibly friendly and hospitable. It's not even a question of safety that I know is on everyone's mind. In many ways it's just how business is done there that may throw some off.
- Electricity – 220 volts, 50Hz
- Currency – Egyptian Pounds (EGP, E£)
- 1 EGP = $0.06 USD = $0.08 CAD
- ATMs are relatively easy in cities but since you'll be spending a lot of time outside of populated areas, you'll need to carefully plan and manage your money.
- SIM card – The three main companies in Egypt are Vodafone, Orange, and Etisalat. All companies have some sort of pre-paid package available but perhaps the easiest and recommended carrier is Vodafone because of the convenience of picking it up right at the airport in the luggage carousel area. More details on where and the pricing down below.
- Alternative data options – PokeFi – If you're looking for a hotspot device that you can share with your group, an extremely affordable option is PokeFi. It's perfect for those that are hopping to many countries and like to save the hassle of having to buy SIM cards everywhere (watch the unboxing).
- Measurement system – Metric
- Tipping – You'll quickly learn that the culture of tipping is quite aggressive. In general, 10% is the rule of thumb for restaurants and for the one off thing, 10-20 EGP is sufficient.
- Language – The official language is Arabic.
Egypt is located on the northeastern part of the continent of Africa. Geographically, it has quite a unique and strategic location both in ancient and modern times. While it is officially in Africa, it has times to the Middle East with it belonging to the Arab League. Bordering on the Mediterranean also means its connection with Europe. Through the Suez Canal, the world connects with Europe from the Indian Ocean.
The defining feature of the country is the river Nile which is often described as the life blood of the nation. The water the flows from the south from Sudan and drains into the Mediterranean Sea is what provides vital natural resources to the Egyptian people in the form of fertile soil, plant life, animals, water, transportation, and electricity. The Nile makes the country a hospitable place that is otherwise surrounded by desert.
How do you decide where to go?
With such vast spaces to cover, you'll no doubt feel overwhelmed about how to plan your trip. With the exception of the more adventurous itineraries that include the Siwa Oasis and the Sinai, it's safe to say that you'll be close to some form of water. To me, it really comes down to asking yourself these questions:
- Do you want a resort vacation? It doesn't have to be the only thing you do but if beaches, diving, and other water sports are your thing, you'll want to be looking at heading to the Red Sea and resort cities such as Hurghada, Sharm el Sheikh, and Marsa Alam. This is a great trip extension that you can add on.
- Is Alexandria on your radar? Egypt's second largest city and founded by Alexander the Great, you'll find ancient library the remains of the lighthouse, and Corniche with its beach, market, and walkway. The overall feedback though is that it isn't necessary a must-see. That said, if you're tight on time, you can find a way to fit it in as a day trip from Cairo.
- Do you want to do a Nile cruise? If the answer is yes, make sure you read my piece on choosing a Nile cruise.
- How much time do I have? Ultimately, time is going to be your big limiting factor to how much you see and do. 2 weeks gives you a lot of breathing room but if you have 10 days or less, you'll have to pick and choose.
- Are you interest in the “classic” route? As you seek out example itineraries, whether from tour companies or like the one that I ended up doing, you'll realize that there's a common route that everyone does.
How do you choose and which is the “best”? Now I knew that “best” was subjective but I wanted to start with a few baseline itineraries. That's when I went to check out the Egypt itineraries of G Adventures and Intrepid Travel to get a few ideas.
Luckily for you, my sample 10 day itinerary of Egypt is a great proof point that you can have a killer trip without a lot of days. While I would've loved to have incorporated somewhere like Hurghada, Siwa Oasis, and El Minya, it just wasn't possible.
So let's start off with transportation logistics. How do you get into Egypt?
This is probably the least complicated. The only way you want to think about getting into the country is by flying in.
Egypt's primary international airport is Cairo International Airport (CAI). As the capital of Egypt, this makes sense. It's your main way in and out of the country coming from an international destination.
As alternatives, there are limited international flights that fly into Luxor International Airport (LXR).
For the two of the largest vacation destinations in Egypt, there's Hurghada International Airport (HRG) and Sharm el Sheikh International Airport (SSH), there are many direct flights in via Europe or the Middle East.
ALL ABOUT VISAS
Do you need a visa to enter Egypt? – Yes, you either need an e-Visa or visa-on-arrival in order to enter the country unless you belong to one of the 9 countries that are exempt.
Visa-on-arrival eligibility – Passport holders from these countries can get a visa-on-arrival: USA, UK, EU Nationals, Australia, Canada, Georgia, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Macedonia, Malaysia, Republic of Korea, Russian Federation, Serbia, South Korea, and Ukraine
e-Visa eligibility – Passport holders from these countries can apply for an e-Visa online: All European Union citizens (including the UK), Albania, Australia, Canada, Iceland, Japan, South Korea, Macedonia, Moldova, Monaco, Montenegro, Norway, Russia, Serbia, Switzerland, Ukraine, The United States and Vatican City.
Which countries are exempt from visas? – Bahrain, Macao, Hong Kong, Oman, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon (only at 3 specified airports), United Arab Emirates, Malaysia
How to get a visa-on-arrival? – This is easy to do as long as you know where to go. The odd thing about Cairo Airport is that there aren't many clear signs that tell you where to get the visa. What you have to do is locate one of the National Bank of Egypt stores that's located right before the customs officers. There's one to the right where everyone flocks to and there's one to the left (if you're looking at the custom officers). All you have to do is pay $25 USD to the bank and they'll give you a sticker. You put the sticker on an empty page in your passport and you're all set.
How to get an e-Visa? – The official government website for VOAs is here which should not be confused with third party websites like iVisa. The process is relatively simple online. The cost is $25 USD for a single-entry visa good for 3 months. You have to create an e-Visa application at least 7 days before your departure.
Should I get an e-Visa or visa-on-arrival? – The truth is, while it may seem seem more convenient to get an e-Visa, on both trips of mine I just did the visa-on-arrival. It didn't take much time at time at all and
Do you need a Yellow Fever vaccination card? – No but if you are coming from a country that is known for yellow fever (i.e. what I learned going to Seychelles via Ethiopia or my first trip to see Ethiopia's Omo Valley) you'll need to have one as they will check based on my own experiences.
If you've seen any of my other trips like the one we did to the Greek Islands, Taiwan, or Newfoundland, you'll know that I love planning independent adventures where I more or less figure everything out on my own and rely on local transportation or rent a car.
From my two trips to Egypt, my opinion is that it is not the kind of place that most people will want to do independently. That's why I highly recommend that you find a reputable tour operator.
When it comes to getting around Egypt, there are actually many ways to get around.
The easiest and fastest way to get between the main cities of Egypt are by plane. For instance, there are flights that connect Cairo, Luxor, Aswan, Hurghada, Sharm el Sheikh.
For those that are tight on time, you can also find flights that will take you from Aswan to Abu Simbel. These run on very specific schedules but does allow for travellers to drop in for the morning and fly out in the early afternoon.
The good news here is that inter-country flights are very affordable even when booking last minute.
- There are usually 2 sets of x-ray scanners, one to enter the airport and another to go to the gate.
- Make sure you bring a printout of your flight itinerary as they may ask for it at the x-ray security checkpoint to enter the doors of the airport.
- It’s a full pat down at every security checkpoint at the airport. When it’s busy they also separate security checks into male and female for pat down purposes.
- There seems to be some arbitrary bias when it comes to photography and videography gadgets. For some reason they weren’t cool with my LED light panel and that's what prompted us to have to check it in. I also saw them question camera gear from other passengers.
- Even domestic flights have food boxes so you don't need to buy food at the airport cafe.
- Make sure to request not to be seated in front of exit rows because leg room even narrower and there is no recline.
A traditional way to get from Cairo to Luxor, Aswan, or even up to Alexandria is by train. The only thing is these trains aren't the smooth operators that you'll find in Europe or countries like Japan.
These are instead rickety trains that are a throwback to travel in the mid-20th century. You have the option of standard class or first class sleeper cars.
There's certainly an inescapable romance of travelling by train and the experience of doing an overnight train is quite unique but the honest truth is that it's way more efficient and sometimes cheaper to take a domestic flight with a low cost carrier like Nile Air.
One thing I found interesting is that while the Nile is incredibly important to the nation, it is not used for commercial purposes. This means they do not use the Nile to transport goods by barge nor do they run ferries to bring people from village to village.
As a result, you're really only find the Nile cruises on the river or in the case of big cities like Luxor and Aswan, there are boats that can bring you from the East to West bank or vice versa. These are typically in small motorboats.
Cruises in traditional boats are either in the dahabiya or felluca. I talk about the dahabiya extensively but for those curious about the felucca, it's a traditional sail boat significantly smaller than a dahabiya. Simply speaking, this is a wooden boat with a canvas sail but their designs come in many shapes with the main difference in that they do not have any cabins. This is why felluca's are used as leisure day excursions.
Group Tour Van/Bus
Since I recommend seeing Egypt with a local tour operator, you'll be spending a large chunk of your trip in a van or bus.
With a private tour, you'll have a 9 passenger van. Accompanied by a driver and a guide, you'll be comfortably driven from place to place. The vans are also typically stocked with bottled water so you'll never really need to buy any on-the-go.
For a larger group tour, you're looking at the big coach buses which are pretty standard.
Is Egypt safe?
Now let's talk about the elephant in the room. The most common question I received from our trip to Egypt was “is Egypt safe?”
Bluntly put, yes, Egypt is safe. During our entire 10 days in Egypt, I never felt that we were put in any situations where I had concerns over my safety.
To understand the question, it's worth talking about its origins. 9 years ago, Egypt went through a civil uprising and for 18 days, there were protests, demonstrations, marches, and civil resistance. A boiling point was reached there was a revolt over the president, injustice, and lack of freedoms. Things were incredibly unstable at this point and big cities like Cairo were a mess.
It was this Revolution of 2011 that kicked off the massive downturn in tourism in the country. Since then, things have recovered but it still isn't quite at the levels pre-Revolution. The main issue has always been around safety because of the scenes seen around the world of Tahrir Square and also stories of the Russian plane crash and road-side bomb that have kept this sense of instability and terror. Many countries still have a warning on travel to Egypt as well and that hasn't helped.
The truth of the matter is that when you're on the ground, the reality is far different than what is projected.
Here's why Egypt is safe:
- Egyptians are incredibly friendly.
- Tourism is a top contributor to the industry and they are doing all they can right now to change the negative perception.
- No civil unrest visible in Cairo.
- A majority of your time in Egypt will be outside of the metropolis. We were told by locals that the countryside was barely affected by the revolution. Outside of Cairo, there are no safety concerns at all.
- Djed Egypt Travel does an amazing job at giving you opportunities to walk the local streets and you see everyone just going about their daily lives.
- There's a steady police presence everywhere with security check points at many of the tourism sites and also on the highways.
Comparing with another recent trip, I honestly I felt like I had to be more cautious in Athens than I did throughout all of Egypt.
Now are there certain things that'll really nag and bug the heck out of you in Egypt? Yes but every country, especially in this region will have these kind of cultural differences. To enjoy your trip, you learn to accept some of the peculiarities and move on.
Is Egypt Safe?
My full breakdown based on two separate trips since the Revolution.
Why you need a good tour operator
The most important thing about Egypt is working with a good local operator on the ground. These are the people that are going to be responsible for putting together the itinerary you want, have a solid roster of drivers and Egyptologists, is organized, and put customer experience first.
There are a couple of ways of finding the right tours.
- The big guys – You look at the big players like G Adventures and Intrepid Travel that have global reputation and brand behind them. What is happening behind the scenes is that they will often subcontract the work to local operators. These are often the larger group tours vs private ones. That said, these companies are leaps and bounds better when it comes to organization and communication.
- Tour platforms – You can look at Viator and GetYourGuide for individual tours or packages. The challenge with these is that the platforms are designed to obfuscate who the actual operator is so you really are relying on the reviews to determine whether it'll be a good experience or not.
- Find a legitimate local operator online – In Egypt this is harder than it sounds because most businesses are behind when it comes to the digital age but for those that are, you'll appreciate that they can put together a package for you that is operated by their own people from start to end.
- Roll the dice once you land – If you don't have any plans, there will be no shortage of people gunning after your business and that includes the hotels you're staying at. This is great for people that like to make last-minute plans. The risk you take is not knowing what you're going to get because everyone is going to advertise their tours as “awesome”.
So having a good tour operator matters in every corner of the world you travel to but what is it about Egypt that makes it that much more important?
- While safe, there are a lot of complexities of travel in Egypt where you really need someone local to help navigate. This can include navigating tipping, known scams, what camera gear is allowed, and checkpoints. These are things that you don't want to have to deal with on your own.
- The industry is filled with freelancers and companies-for-hire so you want to avoid as best as possible being shuffled from one company to another while you're in Egypt. The ideal is a company that uses their own people and boats for the whole tour. Tours can use freelancers but the key is that they are vetted, are a small pool of talent, and have a good reputation.
- While it may seem a little excessive at first but that end-to-end service is a necessary part of travel in Egypt to make sure you don't have a negative experience. A specific example is the airport pick up prior to customs which felt over-the-top and unnecessary but learned later that it eliminated visa-on-arrival confusion and the aggressive tipping which I'll get to in a bit.
- There are many security check points along the road and entrances to sights. If you’re with a tour company we learned that they need to have all the itinerary paper work filed to the police. This paperwork is then required to have available because checkpoint officers might ask to inspect it. All tour operators should know this.
Travelling with Djed Egypt Travel
Egyptian run and locally owned, I've travelled in Egypt with them twice and I can safely say that they're one of the best in the businesses. They have dedicated teams of people at each major city (Cairo, Luxor, Aswan) and they own their own dahabiyas as well which means they have full control of the experience.
What you need to know about Cairo
When travelling in Cairo, there are several tips that I recall making a mental note of as things not commonly shared.
- While we loved our stay at the Comfort Pyramids Inn, these are technically unlicensed hotels in Giza. Locals have taken neighbourhood apartments and converted them to hotels on their own which is why they're cheap and also have great views of the pyramids. Djed Egypt Travel warned us about it ahead of time but still went ahead of it. Our stay was perfectly fine but did notice that it was still a bit of a work in progress.
- Pyramid Sound and Light Spectacular is from 7PM-8PM but then will also repeat again for 2 more languages so if you have a rooftop in Giza, you come back later in the evening if you missed the first show.
- The traffic is no joke in Cairo. The only exception is Friday and Saturday which is their weekend days.
- To get to the airport, especially if you’re in Giza, account for 1 hour of transit plus an additional 2.5 hours of early check-in to be safe because at anytime they can shut down the roads because of a prince visit or the President travelling somewhere.
What you need to know about Egyptian Sites
When in Egypt, you'll be spending a lot of time at ancient archeological sites. These are a collection of tips that I was either surprised about or wish we knew about before going.
- Where photography is sensitive is typically in tombs and indoor enclosed spaces where there's door entrance.
- The Ministry of Antiquities has learned that smartphones are impossible to police so these are allowed in every site. As a result, photos are allowed everywhere.
- As another source of revenue, photography passes are sold at the entrance if you're looking to take photos with anything that resembles as DSLR (anything with interchangeable lenses) but point-and-shoots are ok.
- What they're incredibly sensitive about is video. In some enclosed spaces (i.e. inside the temples of Abu Simbel) they'll stop you from recording video when stills are fine. The other sensitivity about video comes from it being used for professional/journalistic purposes.
- They are sensitive around tripods. Tripods are an automatic indication that you're “professional” and so is either not allowed or requires a special tripod pass to be purchased.
- They are even more sensitive about microphones. My recommendation is to not bring it into any archeological sites because this automatically means you're from a television production and without special permission is banned and will be held at security.
- Don’t show tickets to anyone unless right at entrance to tombs or museums. Our guide told us about a common scam in Giza where they'll try to steal your ticket.
- There's a whole piece I could do about the camel experience in Giza (don't do it unless you're really feeling the FOMO). If you have a good guide, they'll help you organize the ride to ensure you don't get scammed. This way they'll have a pre-negotiated rate instead of being pulled into the 5 dollar ride that will turn into a nightmare because they really mean it's 5 dollars to get on the ride and a ridiculous amount to get off.
- There are “security guards” stationed at tomb entrances and roaming around ancient sites. They can be in uniform or in traditional garb. Many will try to show you things, ask to take photos of you, or help you take photos of closed-off areas. In return of course, they'll ask for tips. Just learn to say no and ignore them.
Most annoying thing about Egypt
I love Egypt but man they are extremely aggressive when it comes to seeking out tips to the point that you'll become either numb to it or find it comedic.
Here's a common example of what you can expect immediately after walking into a tomb or temple.
- Guard: Where are you from?
- You: Canada
- Guard: Canada Dry!!!
- You: … yeah that's right heh
- Guard: Look! Ramses!
- You: *look at something else in another direction*
- Guard: Picture for you!
- You: No thanks!
- Guard: *stalks you for awhile*
- Guard: Hey! Come over here. Okay to take photo! *waves you over to a restricted area*
- You: Haha that's alright.
- You: *continue to walk around*
- Guard: Hello! Hello!
- You: *you turn to him and he's doing the tipping finger motion*
- You: *Option A: you feel bad and tip 10 EGP or Option B: you pretend to be completely oblivious and walk away*
In this, you've played it cool and didn't accept any of his attempts at providing you some sort of service. If on the other hand you followed him around or got him to take a photo for you, he'd be all over you and relentlessly begging for tips.
Similar but different is the excessive hassling that happens as you pass by the stores that line the entrances leading to temples. All the stores ironically will have signs that say “No hassle” but you're guaranteed to be followed and harassed if you give any minuscule hint of interest at something.
It's really unfortunate because you soon become immune to the strategies employed by people working at ancient Egyptian sites that you put your guard up anytime someone tries to help you or wants to talk to you. I personally got to the point where I didn't even want to do any souvenir shopping because I wanted to avoid the inevitable sales tactics.
At its core, it comes down to being fine tipping people for actual service rendered but if you're going to harass me, not do anything for me, and still have the guts to ask for money, that's what I have a problem with.
Food and drinks
There's a lot of amazing food you need to try when you're in Egypt. Egyptians cuisine is characterized as Eastern Mediterranean with heavy use of vegetables and fruit from the Nile Valley and Delta. Here's a list of a few dishes that you'll need to have before you leave.
- Koshary – Something that feels born out a college-dorm but surprisingly works well. It's a mix of rice, lentils, chickpeas, and pasta are cooked individually, then tossed together and topped with cumin-infused tomato sauce and crunchy fried onions.
- Mixed grill – A variety of charcoal grilled meat.
- Tajin – Cooked in a clay pot and a mix of a vegetable stew with your pick of protein.
- Molokhia – Egyptian spinach.
- Freshly made falafel – Watch them spoon the fresh mix into balls and dunked into popping oil. Having falafel fresh is something else.
- Baba Ghanouj – In other cultures, well-known as baba Ganoush, a puree of aubergines.
- Foul/Ful – A paste of fava beans, garlic, and lemon that works well with freshly-made pita.
- Camel meat – Not for everyone but if you're feeling adventurous, they'll certainly be opportunities to try this.
- Fresh fruits – mango and figs are out-of-this-world sweet in the right season. You'll be visiting many markets on your trip so make sure to ask your guide to help you pick some up from the local stand.
- Traditional breakfast – Not a specific dish but a culinary experience that you have to try at least once.
When it comes to drinks, our guides at Djed Egypt Travel also recommended a number of different ones for us to try. In the end, it wasn't that hard because these are the beverages that are offered at every restaurant.
- Fresh guava juice
- Fresh mango juice
- Lemon with fresh mint drink
- Hibiscus tea – hot or cold
- Tea with fresh mint
Another piece of advice that you'll want to know are the do's and don'ts of eating in Egypt.
- It is okay to brush your teeth with tap water but tap water is unsafe to drink.
- Make sure food has been thoroughly cooked.
- Avoid any uncooked food. The only exception is fruit and vegetables that you can peel or shell.
- Only drink bottled water and ensure the seal is intact.
- Avoid fruit juices where water has been added.
- Avoid ice in drinks which are general made from unsafe tap water.
- They like a lot of sugar in their coffee/tea so you need to explicitly ask for less if that's your preference.
- Most restaurants say they have diet drinks but when you actually order them, they won't have Diet Coke or Pepsi.
There are 4 ways you can stay connected on your trip to Egypt.
Local SIM card
Luckily this is a very easy process. Once you land in Cairo, head to the luggage carousel and there you'll find a Vodafone counter.
Their rates for tourists is pretty simple. It's 250 EGP for 10GB of data and and 500 EGP for 30GB of data. Both include voice minutes in case you need it.
Even for someone like myself that is social media heavy, I was totally fine with 10GB of data during my 10 days. One reason for that was because we spent 4 days on the Nile where cellular data was weak and I primarily used the wifi available on the dahabiya.
In general, I found that the speeds were serviceable in cities but would drop off in the countryside. Another thing you need to know is that while there is 4G/LTE, a majority of the country's coverage is 3G.
TIP: Set your smartphone to stick to 3G. Otherwise, your phone will constantly switch between 3G and hunting for 4G/LTE. You'll get more reliable service this way.
If you'd rather have everything ready ahead of time or will be hopping to many countries in a short span of time, it may make more sense for you to buy a pocket wifi hotspot such as the PokeFi.
Hotspots are ideal because you won't have to waste 20-30 minutes at the Vodafone counter to have your passport scanned, and SIM card issued and activated. All you have to do is turn on your device, it'll connect to the local network and you'll be ready to surf. It's also worth noting that you can share this data access with everyone else that you're travelling with.
It's independent of what country is in so it's one unified rate. For instance, PokeFi is 5GB of data for $15 USD. Yes, this means it's slightly more expensive than the local SIM option but the convenience tradeoff is often worth it.
Use the code GAP21231 to get $200 HKD or $25 USD off the starter package which comes with an extra battery.
TIP: A rookie mistake is to have your smartphone set to auto-update apps, run background tasks, and sync files when on wifi. Make sure to turn these features off when using a pocket wifi device or use “Low Data Mode” if you use an iPhone.
All hotels should have free wifi at this point but what's not guaranteed is whether you'll have wifi access from your room. For instance, Basma Hotel only has wifi in the lobby.
Nile cruise wifi
I talk about how the wifi worked aboard the dahabiya we were on in the Nile cruise guide so make sure you read those details.
There's actually nothing compulsory to look into when planning a trip to Egypt. The main thing you need to know is that there is no Yellow Fever or Malaria risk so you won't need those shots.
Everything else you should already have:
- DTP (Diphtheria-Tetanus-Polio)
- Hepatitis A
The one thing you might want to look into is Traveller's Diarrhea. This is where you can decide to take Dukoral before your trip to help shore up your defences against e-coli and cholera.
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How to prepare for a land tour day
This deserves special attention because we felt like we were trying to figure things out as we went along.
Your days in Cairo and Luxor especially will be heavy because of the number of places you will go, the amount of knowledge you'll take in, the walking, and the intense heat. To make things as easy as possible, here are a few things that will help:
- Make sure your day pack is as light as possible. I quickly ditched my Travel Backpack of camera gear in the van and used my Peak Design Sling.
- Pack a couple of 2L bottles of water for the van/bus but know that if you're with a good tour operator, they'll have a large supply of bottled water for you. From our experience, you'll easily down at least 3-4L of water per person per day. The miraculous thing is that you'll never feel the need to pee because you'll be sweating it all out.
- Pack a power bank especially if you take a lot of photos.
- I don't know if we were the exception but we ended up skipping lunch in favour of seeing more so snacks in the van are key.
- You will need a bag that'll help keep everything in the bus organized. This is where you'll keep your bigger water bottles, power bank, snacks, sunscreen, and things you buy along the way.
- Put on sunscreen in the hotel before you leave because it might be a short ride to your first destination.
Managing your cash will be very important in Egypt because of how cash-driven everything is. What makes it complicated is that it almost seems that USD is preferred over their own currency.
What you'll notice is that tour prices and tipping recommendations are in USD. This isn't a bad thing because it's much easier to exchange for USD in your home country compared to EGP.
That said, you'll still need a healthy amount of EGP for daily discretionary spending and ad-hoc tipping. The question inevitably will be, how much EGP should I exchange?
How much EGP to exchange? This'll be different person to person but to give you an idea, we exchanged 300 USD to EGP for two people for our 10 day trip.
Where to exchange EGP? It is not recommended to convert in your home country. Instead, do this once you arrive in Egypt for more favourable rates. The good news here is that exchange rates at money changers are regulated and so it'll be the same across the board which means you won't need to shop around.
Are credit cards accepted? Everything is cash with the exception of proper sit-down restaurants, hotels, and big stores like the alabaster and papyrus shops.
Can I use ATMs? Yes, you can use your debit card to withdraw money from the ATM. We were also surprised to find that some ATMs even had the capability to exchange currency although the machine was extremely finicky to use. We also learned that the exchange rate was slightly worse.
Stay organized – My recommendation is to try to stay as organized as you can with your money. There'll be plenty of fixed costs that you can anticipate since you'll most likely be on a tour. Have USD set aside in envelopes for the tour balance and tips.
Break big bills early – All the tipping you'll do is in 10-20 EGP denominations so ask break your big bills at stores and restaurants at the beginning of your trip. You can also ask your guide for smaller bills.
At the end of the day, you have to think of it like this. USD is ultimately more versatile so it's always more beneficial to carry more US bills and under-convert EGP knowing that you'll be able to get Egyptian currency along the way if you need it.
TIP: When shopping, get for the EGP price. Their USD prices are almost always inflated.
Tourism in Egypt is built upon tips and it's a primary source of income for some which is why I can appreciate why people are so aggressive about it. The other thing to understand is that tipping is culturally part of Egyptian daily life as an indispensable complement to the low income of the population.
When to comes to gratuities, it is of course discretionary but it helps to know what the expectations are. Luckily, Djed Egypt Tour provided us with a guide as part of our pre-departure package. We followed this to the letter so for those wondering, this'll help prepare you.
- Egyptologist – $7-$10 USD per traveller per day.
- Drivers – $3-$5 USD per traveller per day.
- City representatives – $2-$4 USD per traveller per day (these are the folks that aren't your main guides during the day but those that pick you up from the airport or will meet up with you for a walk around the city).
- Nile cruise crew – $10-$15 USD per traveller per cruise day (this is shared between all of the crew except your Egyptologist).
- 10% tip at restaurants and hotel room service.
- 20 EGP for porters, luggage carriers, washroom cleaners, and hotel cleaning staff.
The only other thing I can think of is the tipping that was shamelessly asked for by our camel guide in Giza with the classic line “You happy? Okay you make me happy!”
- Camel tipping – No, I don't mean a camel version of cow tipping! Our guide recommended that for our group of 4, a total tip of 150 EGP (~9 USD) is enough.
What to wear in Egypt
I do a full breakdown in the Egypt Packing List article so find out more there.
Where to stay in Egypt
If you're planning to do a classic trip to Egypt, you'll only need accommodations in the primary cities of Cairo, Luxor, Aswan, Hurghada, and Sharm el Sheikh.
In terms of things to know before going to Egypt, let me share what I learned from planning my own trip.
Here's what I learned:
- You can certainly book your own hotels but in some cases your tour operator may have access to special rates so it doesn't hurt to get quotes from them as well.
- I spoke about the hotels in Giza earlier – many at not officially licensed so there's some element of risk in terms of the government doing a wide sweep of closures in one day. That said, we didn't have any issues.
- For Cairo, hotels in Giza are actually preferred by tour operators because most of your activities will be concentrated on this sector, helping cut down on transit time.
- We quite liked staying on the West Bank of Luxor. We were initially worried that it was too far from everything but it turned out to be significantly quieter which we appreciated and the ferries were convenient to take.
- In some cases, Booking.com helped us save money thanks to level 2 Genius. Getting up to Genius level only requires 2 bookings and once you're at that level, there are a lot of properties that offer 10% (level 1 Genius) and 15% off (level 2 Genius).
- Most hotels in Egypt have breakfast included.
- Most hotels are also willing to create breakfast boxes if you have to leave early in the morning including Basma Hotel in Aswan.
- If you're looking for a more “local” accommodation experience like we had at the Villa Nile House in Luxor, don't be surprised if the bathroom configuration is a little different than what you're used to. Bring flip flops in case you get one of these “open concept” bathrooms.
For accommodation recommendations, make sure to read the 10 day Egypt itinerary.
What to pack
I have a full fledged article about everything I packed for Egypt. Make sure you head there to find out what you need to be mindful about bringing.
Best time to go
Normally, the standard answer applies but in terms of the best time to go to Egypt, it's quite different because Egypt only has two seasons.
Winter (Mid-October – April)
Egypt experiences a mild winter which means that it is the most pleasant during these months. As a result, it is also Egypt's high season of travel.
If you're looking for a quieter time, try to come at the beginning or end of the season (mid-October, early November, or April) to avoid the crowds. The busiest time of the year is always around Christmas when families have time off.
Another thing to keep in mind that another thing people time their travel to is the Sun Festival which occurs February 22 and October 22.
Temperature wise, the evenings can drop to 0C (32F) but during the day, it rises to 18C or low 20's (68F).
Summer (May – Mid-October)
Contrary to other destinations, summer is the worst time to go because the temperatures easily go up to 40C (104F) during the day.
The temperatures are a cooler along the coast but it is largely impossible to do a trip to Egypt so I wouldn't even consider these months.
Just a quick blurb about this because you might not know. As a Muslim country, alcohol is going to be sensitive area mainly in that it's not allowed. In fact, Egypt prohibits the sale and consumption of alcohol anywhere. The only exception are specific hotels and tourist facilities approved by the Ministry of Tourism.
Don't expect to find any convenient stores to display beer, wine, or spirits for sale. However, we did learn that some of these shops do hide beer in the back and so if you ask they might discretely disappear somewhere to bring out the local Egyptian Stella or maybe a Heineken.
Otherwise, if you're looking to drink, you'll have to do it on your cruise, at your hotel, or at tourist-specific restaurants.
How much does a trip to Egypt cost?
To give you an idea of how much a 10 day trip costs for two people converted to $USD, I've broken down the costs by category. Note that this does NOT include international flights (domestics are included) since this will vary drastically for people depending on where you're located. Another thing to be aware of is that most of the hotels were included in the tour package.
This breaks down to $2,035.05 per person or $203.51 per person per day.
Compared to the cost of the trip to Greece in the Greek Islands Travel Guide, this was actually more affordable which really surprised me. What might put over the top are the flights though so take that into consideration.
How did we do? I'd say that we had a good balance of a trip that was very thorough for 10 days with an excellent local company without having to blow the budget.
5 main take aways
In this things to know before you go to Egypt travel guide, I hope you've come away with a ton more information than you were looking for or thought you needed to know.
This was a once-in-a-lifetime trip that I somehow ended doing twice. The first time was a bit of a teaser since I skipped Cairo. The second time around, I managed to fit Cairo, Luxor, Aswan, Abu Simbel, and the Nile cruise in 10 days and I couldn't have been happier.
So if I was in an elevator and only had 30 seconds to tell you what you need to know to plan a trip without reading this Egypt travel guide, here's what I would say.
- Egypt is safe.
- The dahabiya Nile cruise is a must-do.
- The world of Ancient Egypt will blow you away – there is so much to see and learn.
- The sheer scale, applied science/technology, and how old it all is mind boggling.
- Having a good guide/Egyptologist is so important.
Have specific questions about your upcoming trip to the Egypt? Drop a comment below in this things to know before you go to Egypt travel guide!
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