Egypt Travel Guide – Everything You Need to Know

Egypt, a land steeped in ancient history and timeless wonders, beckons travelers with its enigmatic allure. Situated in the northeastern corner of Africa, Egypt is a captivating destination that has entranced explorers, scholars, and tourists for centuries. From the iconic pyramids of Giza to the timeless temples along the Nile River, Egypt’s rich cultural heritage, archaeological treasures, and stunning natural landscapes offer a journey through the annals of human civilization. Whether you seek to unravel the mysteries of the pharaohs, cruise down the life-giving Nile, or relax by the Red Sea’s azure waters, Egypt offers an unforgettable tapestry of experiences for the intrepid traveler. Welcome to the land of the Sphinx, where the past and present coexist in harmonious chaos, inviting you to explore its wonders.

What’s the Best Time to Visit? 📅

The best time to visit Egypt as a tourist largely depends on your preferences for weather, crowd levels, and the specific activities you plan to enjoy. Egypt has distinct seasons, and each offers a unique experience:

  1. Fall (September to November):
  • Fall is one of the most popular times to visit Egypt. The weather is pleasant with warm days and cooler nights.
  • This is an excellent time for sightseeing, exploring ancient ruins, and taking Nile cruises.
  • Crowd levels are moderate, making it easier to enjoy popular attractions.
  1. Winter (December to February):
  • Winter in Egypt is mild, especially in southern areas like Luxor and Aswan. Coastal cities like Hurghada and Sharm El Sheikh enjoy pleasant temperatures.
  • It’s a great time for outdoor activities, such as desert adventures, snorkeling, and diving in the Red Sea.
  • Cairo and northern regions may experience cooler evenings, so bring layers for comfort.
  • Winter is considered the peak tourist season, so popular sites can be crowded.
  1. Spring (March to May):
  • Spring offers comfortable temperatures, making it another favorable time to visit.
  • It’s ideal for exploring historical sites, as the weather is not too hot or cold.
  • Spring is also a good time for cultural festivals and events.
  • Crowd levels start to increase as the season progresses, particularly during Easter.
  1. Summer (June to August):
  • Summer in Egypt can be extremely hot, especially in southern regions and the desert.
  • Coastal areas like the Red Sea resorts remain popular during this time due to milder temperatures.
  • If you can tolerate the heat, you may find fewer crowds at major attractions.
  • Be prepared for high temperatures, especially in cities like Luxor and Aswan.
  1. Ramadan (varies based on the Islamic lunar calendar):
  • Ramadan is a holy month for Muslims, and it affects the availability of food and drink during daylight hours.
  • While it can be an interesting cultural experience, some services and attractions may have reduced hours.
  • Travelers should be respectful and considerate during this period.

In summary, the best time to visit Egypt for most tourists is during the fall and winter months (September to February) when the weather is pleasant, and outdoor activities are enjoyable. Spring is also a good option, but it can get busier as the season progresses. Summer, with its scorching heat, is less favorable for outdoor exploration, but coastal areas provide relief for beach and water activities.

What’s the Best Way to Get Around? 🚌

Getting around Egypt as a tourist can be an adventure in itself, and there are several modes of transportation to choose from, depending on your budget, comfort level, and the regions you plan to visit. Here are the best ways to get around Egypt as a tourist:

  1. Domestic Flights:
  • For long distances between major cities like Cairo, Luxor, Aswan, and Hurghada, taking domestic flights is a convenient and time-saving option.
  • EgyptAir and other airlines operate regular domestic routes, and flights are relatively affordable.
  1. Trains:
  • Egypt has an extensive rail network that connects major cities. Trains are a comfortable and affordable way to travel between Cairo, Alexandria, Luxor, and Aswan.
  • The sleeper train from Cairo to Luxor and Aswan is a unique experience, offering overnight travel with comfortable cabins.
  1. Buses:
  • Public buses are available for intercity travel and are budget-friendly. They are a common choice for getting between cities.
  • There are also private bus companies that offer more comfortable services with air conditioning.
  1. Metro:
  • Cairo has a modern metro system that is efficient and affordable for traveling within the city. It’s an excellent way to avoid Cairo’s traffic congestion.
  1. Taxis:
  • Taxis are readily available in Egyptian cities. In Cairo, look for white taxis with meters, and make sure the driver turns it on.
  • Negotiate the fare with drivers of private or unmetered taxis before starting the journey.
  • Ride-sharing apps like Uber and Lyft are also available in Cairo and some other cities.
  1. Feluccas and Nile Cruises:
  • To explore the Nile River and visit sites like Luxor and Aswan, consider a traditional felucca sailboat or a Nile cruise. These offer a unique and leisurely way to travel.
  1. Camels and Horse-Drawn Carriages:
  • In cities like Luxor and Aswan, you can take camel rides or use horse-drawn carriages for short trips to historic sites and attractions.
  1. Renting a Car:
  • While it’s possible to rent a car in Egypt, it’s generally not recommended for tourists due to chaotic traffic, unfamiliar road conditions, and different driving customs.
  1. Walking and Cycling:
  • In cities and towns, walking is a great way to explore neighborhoods, markets, and historical sites.
  • Some areas, like Luxor, have bike rental services for those who enjoy cycling.
  1. Guided Tours and Transfers:
    • Consider booking guided tours or airport transfers through reputable tour operators. They can provide hassle-free transportation and insightful guides.

Remember that transportation options may vary depending on the region and local conditions. In major tourist destinations like Luxor, Aswan, and Sharm El Sheikh, there are additional options like shuttle buses and organized tours to help you get around comfortably. Always research transportation options in advance and consider hiring a local guide for a smoother and more enriching travel experience in Egypt.

What’s the Official Language?

The official language of Egypt is Arabic. While many Egyptians in urban areas, especially those involved in the tourism industry, may speak some English, it’s helpful and respectful to learn a few basic Arabic phrases when visiting Egypt. Here are some essential Arabic words and phrases for tourists:

  1. Hello – مرحباً (Marhaba)
  2. Good morning – صباح الخير (Sabah al-khair)
  3. Good evening – مساء الخير (Masa’ al-khair)
  4. Please – من فضلك (Min fadlik)
  5. Thank you – شكرًا (Shukran)
  6. Yes – نعم (Na’am)
  7. No – لا (La)
  8. Excuse me / Sorry – عذرًا (A’deran)
  9. How much is this? – بكم هذا؟ (Bikam hadha?)
  10. I don’t understand – أنا لا أفهم (Ana la afham)
  11. Where is…? – أين…؟ (Ayna…?)
  12. Bathroom / Toilet – حمام (Hammam)
  13. Water – ماء (Ma’)
  14. Food – طعام (Ta’am)
  15. I need help – أحتاج مساعدة (Ahtaj musa’ada)
  16. I’m lost – ضاع طريقي (Daa tariqi)
  17. My name is… – اسمي… (Ismi…)
  18. Nice to meet you – تشرفت بلقائك (Tasharraftu biliqaiqik)
  19. What is your name? – ما اسمك؟ (Ma ismuk/ismik?)
  20. Help – مساعدة (Musa’ada)

While knowing these basic phrases can be helpful and appreciated by locals, especially in more remote areas, many Egyptians involved in tourism speak English or other languages to some extent. However, making an effort to communicate in Arabic is often seen as a sign of respect and can enhance your travel experience in Egypt.

Where to Stay? 🏨

Egypt offers a wide range of accommodation options for tourists, catering to various preferences and budgets. Here are some popular areas and types of accommodations to consider when staying in Egypt:

  1. Cairo:
  • The capital city of Cairo is a central hub for tourists, and it offers a wide range of accommodations, from luxury hotels to budget-friendly hostels.
  • Popular areas to stay in Cairo include downtown (Tahrir Square), Zamalek (an island neighborhood), and Giza (near the pyramids).
  • Luxury options: Marriott Mena House, Four Seasons Hotel Cairo, and The Nile Ritz-Carlton.
  • Mid-range options: Le Méridien Pyramids Hotel, Kempinski Nile Hotel Cairo, and Novotel Cairo El Borg.
  • Budget options: Hostels and guesthouses in downtown Cairo.
  1. Luxor:
  • Luxor is a prime destination for exploring ancient Egyptian temples and monuments along the Nile.
  • Many hotels and resorts are located on the East Bank of the Nile, while some more upscale options are on the quieter West Bank.
  • Luxury options: Sofitel Winter Palace Luxor, Hilton Luxor Resort & Spa, and Steigenberger Nile Palace Luxor.
  • Mid-range options: Sonesta St. George Hotel Luxor and Pyramisa Isis Hotel & Suites Luxor.
  • Budget options: Various guesthouses and budget hotels.
  1. Aswan:
  • Aswan is known for its beautiful Nile scenery and attractions like the High Dam and Philae Temple.
  • You can find a range of hotels and resorts along the Nile.
  • Popular options: Mövenpick Resort Aswan, Sofitel Legend Old Cataract Aswan, and Helnan Aswan Hotel.
  • Mid-range and budget options are also available.
  1. Red Sea Resorts (Sharm El Sheikh, Hurghada, Dahab):
  • Egypt’s Red Sea coast is famous for its diving and beach resorts.
  • Sharm El Sheikh and Hurghada offer a variety of luxury all-inclusive resorts and budget-friendly options.
  • Dahab is known for its laid-back atmosphere and is popular among backpackers.
  • Luxury options: Four Seasons Resort Sharm El Sheikh, Rixos Premium Seagate – Sharm El Sheikh, and Steigenberger Alcazar – Hurghada.
  • Mid-range and budget options: Numerous hotels, resorts, and hostels in these areas.
  1. Nile Cruises:
  • A Nile River cruise is a unique way to explore Egypt’s historical sites while enjoying comfortable accommodations.
  • Various cruise options are available, ranging from luxury to budget.
  • Popular cruise operators include Oberoi, Viking River Cruises, and Sonesta Nile Cruises.
  1. Desert Oases (e.g., Siwa Oasis):
  • For a unique experience, consider staying in desert oases like Siwa Oasis.
  • Accommodations here include eco-lodges and boutique hotels.
  1. Alexandria:
  • Egypt’s Mediterranean city, Alexandria, offers a mix of historical sites and seaside charm.
  • Accommodation options include beachfront hotels, boutique hotels, and budget-friendly lodgings.
  1. Cultural Villages (e.g., Nubian villages near Aswan):
  • For an authentic experience, consider staying in cultural villages like the Nubian villages near Aswan, where you can find guesthouses and homestays.

When choosing where to stay in Egypt, consider your itinerary, budget, and preferences. It’s advisable to book accommodations in advance, especially during peak tourist seasons, to secure your preferred options. Whether you’re looking for luxury, history, or a more local experience, Egypt has a diverse range of places to stay to suit every traveler.

What to Eat? 🍽️

Egyptian cuisine is a delightful fusion of flavors influenced by its ancient history and diverse cultural heritage. When visiting Egypt as a tourist, be sure to try these must-try dishes and beverages:

  1. Koshari: Often considered Egypt’s national dish, koshari is a hearty vegetarian meal made from a mix of rice, pasta, lentils, chickpeas, fried onions, and a flavorful tomato sauce. It’s a delicious and filling street food.
  2. Falafel: Deep-fried balls or patties made from ground chickpeas or fava beans, falafel is commonly served in pita bread with tahini sauce, vegetables, and pickles.
  3. Shawarma: Thin slices of seasoned meat (usually beef, chicken, or lamb) cooked on a vertical rotisserie. It’s served in a flatbread or pita with vegetables and tahini or garlic sauce.
  4. Molokhia: A popular green soup made from the leaves of the Egyptian mallow plant, molokhia is typically served with rice or bread. It has a unique flavor and is often cooked with chicken or rabbit.
  5. Ful Medames: A nutritious breakfast dish made from slow-cooked fava beans seasoned with garlic, lemon juice, and olive oil. It’s typically served with bread and toppings like onions, tomatoes, and herbs.
  6. Mahshi: Stuffed vegetables like grape leaves, eggplants, and bell peppers filled with a mixture of rice, herbs, and spices. They are often cooked in a tomato sauce and served hot or cold.
  7. Moussaka: Egyptian moussaka is not the same as the Greek version. It’s a layered dish of fried eggplant, tomato sauce, and a spiced ground meat mixture, often topped with bechamel sauce.
  8. Hawawshi: A popular street food, hawawshi is a sandwich made from minced meat (usually beef or lamb) mixed with spices and stuffed into a pocket of baladi bread, then baked.
  9. Roz Bel Laban: A creamy and sweet rice pudding flavored with vanilla, cinnamon, and sometimes rosewater. It’s a favorite dessert among locals.
  10. Basbousa: A sweet semolina cake soaked in sugar syrup and often garnished with almonds or coconut flakes. It’s a delightful dessert to satisfy your sweet tooth.
  11. Turkish Coffee: Known as “ahwa sada,” Egyptian coffee is strong and often served with a glass of water. It’s an integral part of Egyptian culture, and sharing a cup of coffee is a common social tradition.
  12. Karkadeh: A refreshing drink made from hibiscus flowers, karkadeh is typically served hot or cold and is especially popular in Egypt during the hot summer months.
  13. Aish Baladi: Egyptian flatbread, also known as “baladi bread,” is a staple in Egyptian cuisine. It’s often used as an accompaniment to meals and for scooping up dips and sauces.
  14. Baklava: A sweet pastry made of layers of filo dough filled with chopped nuts and sweetened with honey or syrup. It’s a delicious dessert commonly found in Egyptian bakeries.
  15. Sobya: A traditional Egyptian drink made from fermented grains like barley, often sweetened with sugar and flavored with spices like cinnamon and cardamom. It’s a popular beverage during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

Exploring Egyptian cuisine is an integral part of your travel experience in Egypt, and these dishes offer a taste of the country’s rich culinary heritage. Don’t hesitate to venture into local eateries and markets to savor these flavors and discover more regional specialties.

What to See? 🔍

Egypt is a treasure trove of ancient history, stunning landscapes, and vibrant culture. When visiting Egypt as a tourist, here are some must-see places and attractions that should be on your itinerary:

  1. Giza Pyramids and Sphinx (Cairo): Marvel at the Great Pyramid of Giza, the Pyramid of Khafre, and the Pyramid of Menkaure. Don’t forget to visit the enigmatic Sphinx nearby.
  2. Luxor: Known as the “world’s greatest open-air museum,” Luxor is home to the Karnak Temple, Luxor Temple, Valley of the Kings, Valley of the Queens, and the famous Hatshepsut’s Temple.
  3. Aswan: Explore the Nubian villages, visit the High Dam, and take a boat ride to Philae Temple. The Unfinished Obelisk and the serene Nubian Museum are also worth visiting.
  4. Abu Simbel: Admire the colossal rock temples of Abu Simbel, dedicated to Ramses II and Queen Nefertari. These temples were relocated to higher ground to save them from flooding when the Aswan High Dam was built.
  5. Cairo: Discover the Egyptian Museum, home to an extensive collection of ancient artifacts, including the treasures of Tutankhamun. Wander through the historic Khan el-Khalili bazaar for shopping and local cuisine.
  6. Alexandria: Explore the Catacombs of Kom El Shoqafa, Qaitbay Citadel, Montaza Palace, and the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, a modern tribute to the ancient Library of Alexandria.
  7. White Desert: Witness the surreal landscapes of the White Desert, known for its chalky rock formations, unique landforms, and desert camping opportunities.
  8. Siwa Oasis: Visit the remote Siwa Oasis, known for its ancient Shali Fortress, salt lakes, and the Temple of the Oracle, where Alexander the Great once sought guidance.
  9. Red Sea Resorts (Sharm El Sheikh, Hurghada): Enjoy world-class diving and snorkeling in the Red Sea. Ras Mohammed National Park in Sharm El Sheikh is a popular diving spot.
  10. Nile River Cruises: Take a leisurely cruise along the Nile River, where you can relax and visit various historical sites along the way, including Kom Ombo and Edfu temples.
  11. Dahab: Experience the laid-back atmosphere of Dahab, a coastal town known for its diving, water sports, and proximity to attractions like the Blue Hole.
  12. St. Catherine’s Monastery: Located at the base of Mount Sinai, this historic monastery is one of the world’s oldest Christian monasteries and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  13. Medinet Madi: Explore the archaeological site of Medinet Madi, a lesser-known but historically significant temple complex in Fayoum.
  14. Wadi Natron: Discover the serene beauty of Wadi Natron, a remote desert valley with ancient monastic ruins, salt flats, and migratory bird watching.
  15. Islamic Cairo: Explore the historic Islamic district of Cairo, which includes landmarks like the Al-Azhar Mosque, Ibn Tulun Mosque, and the historic Al-Muizz Street.
  16. Abydos: Visit the Temple of Seti I in Abydos, known for its well-preserved reliefs and the mysterious Abydos helicopter hieroglyph.
  17. Marsa Matrouh: Enjoy the beautiful beaches and clear waters of Marsa Matrouh, a Mediterranean coastal town.

These are just a few of the many incredible places to explore in Egypt. Each site offers a unique glimpse into Egypt’s rich history and natural beauty, making it a destination that continues to captivate travelers from around the world.

What to Do? 📸

Egypt offers a plethora of exciting activities and experiences for tourists. To make the most of your trip, here are some must-do things when visiting Egypt:

  1. Explore the Pyramids: Visit the iconic Giza Pyramids, including the Great Pyramid, and learn about the ancient wonders of Egypt’s pharaohs. Consider entering the pyramids for an even more immersive experience.
  2. Ride a Felucca: Take a traditional sailboat (felucca) ride on the Nile River, especially at sunset. It’s a peaceful way to see the landscape and enjoy the river’s calming effect.
  3. Go Scuba Diving and Snorkeling: Discover the incredible underwater world of the Red Sea. Sharm El Sheikh, Dahab, and Hurghada offer world-class diving and snorkeling sites with colorful coral reefs and marine life.
  4. Witness the Temples: Explore the temples of Luxor, Karnak, and Abu Simbel. Marvel at the grandeur of ancient Egyptian architecture and hieroglyphics.
  5. Cruise the Nile: Embark on a Nile River cruise to visit temples, archaeological sites, and local villages along the way. It’s a relaxing and educational experience.
  6. Shop in Bazaars: Stroll through vibrant bazaars like Khan el-Khalili in Cairo and haggle for souvenirs, spices, textiles, and handicrafts. Enjoy the bustling atmosphere and savor local street food.
  7. Visit the Valley of the Kings: Explore the royal tombs in the Valley of the Kings in Luxor, where you can enter the resting places of pharaohs.
  8. Take a Desert Safari: Experience the Egyptian desert on a safari. Options include jeep excursions, camel treks, and quad biking in the deserts near Cairo, Luxor, and Sharm El Sheikh.
  9. Relax by the Red Sea: Enjoy the beautiful Red Sea coast in destinations like Sharm El Sheikh and Hurghada. Swim, sunbathe, or try various water sports like kiteboarding and windsurfing.
  10. Discover Siwa Oasis: Venture into the remote Siwa Oasis to explore ancient ruins, salt lakes, and the Temple of the Oracle. Don’t forget to soak in the natural springs.
  11. Experience Ramadan: If visiting during Ramadan, immerse yourself in the cultural experience by attending iftar (breaking the fast) gatherings and enjoying traditional sweets.
  12. Sample Egyptian Cuisine: Taste authentic Egyptian dishes like koshari, falafel, and ful medames from street vendors and local eateries. Don’t miss trying sweet treats like baklava and basbousa.
  13. Attend a Sound and Light Show: Experience the magic of ancient history through sound and light shows at various historical sites, including the Giza Pyramids and Karnak Temple.
  14. Climb Mount Sinai: Hike up Mount Sinai to witness a breathtaking sunrise. It’s a challenging but rewarding trek with stunning panoramic views.
  15. Explore Islamic Cairo: Wander through the historic Islamic district, visit historic mosques, and immerse yourself in the architecture and culture of Old Cairo.
  16. Visit the Egyptian Museum: Delve into Egypt’s rich history by exploring the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, which houses an incredible collection of ancient artifacts.
  17. Discover the Oasis of Fayoum: Explore the lesser-known oasis of Fayoum, where you can visit Lake Qarun, Wadi El Hitan (Whale Valley), and the ancient city of Karanis.
  18. Attend a Nubian Music and Dance Show: Enjoy the vibrant rhythms and dances of Nubian culture in Aswan, often performed at local restaurants.
  19. Stay in a Traditional Nubian Village: Experience the unique Nubian culture by staying with a Nubian family in a village along the Nile.
  20. Learn About Papyrus: Visit a papyrus institute to see how this ancient writing material is made and purchase papyrus art as a souvenir.

These activities provide a well-rounded experience of Egypt’s history, culture, natural beauty, and adventure. Customize your itinerary to suit your interests and make your trip to Egypt unforgettable.

Culture and Safety 🦺

Traveling to Egypt offers a rich cultural experience, but it’s essential to be aware of the local culture and take necessary safety precautions. Here are some tips for understanding the culture and ensuring a safe trip to Egypt:

Culture:

  1. Respect Local Customs: Egypt is a predominantly Muslim country, and it’s important to respect Islamic customs. Dress modestly, especially when visiting religious sites. Cover your shoulders, arms, and knees, and consider wearing a headscarf when entering mosques.
  2. Greet Politely: Egyptians are known for their warmth and hospitality. Greet locals with a polite “As-salamu alaykum” (peace be upon you) and respond with “Wa alaykum as-salam” (and upon you be peace).
  3. Ramadan Etiquette: If traveling during Ramadan, be respectful of fasting hours. Avoid eating, drinking, or smoking in public during daylight hours. Many restaurants and cafes will be closed during the day but open after sunset.
  4. Photography: Always ask for permission before taking photos of people, especially in rural areas. Some locals may expect a small tip in exchange for photos.
  5. Friday Prayers: On Fridays, many businesses close during the midday prayer. Plan your activities accordingly, and be mindful of this when scheduling tours.
  6. Bargaining: Haggling is common in markets and bazaars. Bargain politely, and don’t feel pressured to buy if you’re not interested.

Safety:

  1. Travel Advisories: Check travel advisories issued by your government before your trip. Stay informed about the local situation and any security concerns.
  2. Local Laws: Familiarize yourself with Egyptian laws and regulations, including visa requirements, local customs, and prohibited activities.
  3. Health Precautions: Ensure your vaccinations are up to date, and consider getting vaccinations for diseases like Hepatitis A and typhoid. Drink bottled or purified water and be cautious about street food.
  4. Travel Insurance: Purchase comprehensive travel insurance that covers medical emergencies, trip cancellations, and theft.
  5. Currency and ATMs: Use ATMs in well-lit and secure areas, such as banks or hotels. Notify your bank of your travel plans to avoid any issues with your credit or debit cards.
  6. Transportation Safety: Use reputable transportation providers and avoid unlicensed taxis. Exercise caution when crossing busy streets, as traffic can be chaotic.
  7. Scams: Be aware of common scams, such as overcharging in shops or taxis, and be cautious when accepting offers of help from strangers.
  8. Political Demonstrations: Avoid political demonstrations and gatherings, as they can become unpredictable and potentially unsafe.
  9. Respect Local Customs: As mentioned earlier, respect local customs and traditions to avoid misunderstandings or potentially unsafe situations.
  10. Emergency Numbers: Know the local emergency numbers, such as 122 for police and 123 for ambulance services.
  11. Register with Your Embassy: Register with your embassy or consulate upon arrival in Egypt. This allows them to contact you in case of emergency or provide important updates.

Egypt is generally a safe destination for travelers, but like any other country, it’s important to exercise common sense and be aware of your surroundings. By respecting local customs and staying informed, you can have a culturally enriching and safe experience in this remarkable country.

Conclusion

In conclusion, a visit to Egypt is an extraordinary and unforgettable experience that transports you to the crossroads of history, culture, and natural beauty. From the awe-inspiring pyramids and ancient temples that whisper tales of pharaohs to the vibrant markets and warm hospitality of its people, Egypt offers a tapestry of experiences that leave an indelible mark on any traveler. Whether you’re gazing at the Sphinx, cruising the Nile, or snorkeling in the Red Sea, Egypt’s treasures are boundless, and its mysteries are waiting to be uncovered. So, pack your sense of adventure and embark on a journey to Egypt, where the past meets the present, and every moment is a step into the annals of time.