Egypt Travel

A well-dressed camel on the Giza plateau's Necropolis in northern Egypt near Cairo. The pyramids of Khufu (The Great Pyramid), Khafre, Menkaure

The Giza plateau’s Necropolis in northern Egypt near Cairo. From left the pyramids are Khufu (The Great Pyramid), Khafre, Menkaure and a piece of the Pyramids of Queens. In the background is Cairo city. Photo by Mstyslav Chernov.

Why Egypt Travel?

The sights are on every list of see before you die. . . Cairo’s pyramids, the fantastic temples, tombs and monuments of Luxor and Abu Simbel and the endless desert bisected by the lush length of the Egypt’s Nile River.

Cairo is chaotic and grubby but offers magnificent buildings, a thousand years of drama, the Egyptian Museum and the world’s best bazaar.

The people too are friendly and hospitable if you get a chance relax with them, the sky is almost always azure, the scuba and snorkelling in the Red Sea are world class and Egypt travel can be really cheap if you choose right. This is North Africa at its very best.

Nowhere are there so many marvellous things‘ Herodotus

Luxor souvenir and clothing salesmen, a lot less pushy than Cairo's camel/horse/guide rentals. Egypt

Luxor souvenir and clothing salesmen along the Corniche; fortunately they’re a lot less pushy than Cairo’s camel/horse/guide rental touts. Photo by Jim.

Downsides

• Hustlers/touts are a tiresome part of the Egypt tourist experience, along with hideous buildings, garbage growing like weeds and flies.
• Taxi meters don’t work so expect endless arguments if you don’t firmly negotiate beforehand.
• The big sights can get horrifically overcrowded in peak seasons at peak times.

Seasons in Egypt

Best time to go: October – May for main sights, and April-November for dive places.

Worst seasons: Christmas in Egypt and Easter school holidays are hugely overpriced and overcrowded while June-September is massively hot, especially around Luxor and Aswan; expect 35C-45C+/ 95F-113F+.

In wintertime, December-February, nights will be chilly in Cairo but with T-shirt days. The further north the colder, so Alexandria might be unpleasantly chilly, according to personal acclimatisation.

Length of stay?
Minimum worthwhile stay, not including flights: 4 days (Cairo only) Recommended: 2 weeks – 4 weeks for an all-Egypt encounter.

Ramadan

During Ramadan most, if not all Muslims will neither eat nor drink during the daytime and consequently many cafes, restaurants and even shops may open only after sunset. 

Ramadan in 2020 (may alter by one day depending on location) runs from 24 April to 23 MayPublic eating, drinking and smoking by tourists may upset the locals. In one Muslim country the only alcohol served to us during our visit was in a teapot, into tea cups in a first class hotel. Furthermore service personnel may be missing, careless or irritable during the daytime.


The last day of Ramadan, known as Idd al Fitr, can be a wild time with much celebrating, depending on location.
Dates depend on the full moon rising in your location so they may differ by one day depending on where you plan to be.

Pharaonic Gods

A small group of ancient Egypt gods in Karnak temple, Luxor, Egypt

A small group of ancient Egypt’s gods seen in Luxor’s Karnak temple by Jim.

From left: ibis headed Thoth; Hathor; Pharoah Amenophis III next to his obsession, lion-headed Sakhmet; finally two hawk-headed Horus figures. A popular Egypt travel souvenir is The eye of Horus. Some of the superb Egyptian collection at the British Museum in London, England.

Egypt main attractions

Cairo Region

***Cairo, the Sphinx and Pyramids.
These are sensational sights and shouldn’t be hurried. Take a couple of days if possible, climb inside a pyramid and have a camel ride, horse ride or walk into the desert on the far side of the pyramids.
There are no café facilities nearby so bring plenty of water.
The excellent Egyptian Museum is more than worthwhile to see the incredible pharaonic treasures such as King Tutankhamen’s gold chair, ceremonial hat, burial mask more.

Khan-el-Khalili
A large, lively and labyrinthine bazaar, arguably the best in North Africa, with a stupendous selection of excellent souvenirs, but it’s definitely a must haggle situation!

More Pyramids?
There are plenty more smaller, earlier pyramids 30kms (19 miles) south of Cairo at Saqqara, including the famous Step Pyramid. These are easily accessible by taxi. Cairo needs at least three days, and it’s a long way north of Luxor.

Fayum Oasis
An interesting 2 hour drive into deep Egypt south of Cairo (120kms), this is a rural bliss of strolling goats, donkeys, oxen, water wheels, mud pigeon houses and fellaheen doing the everyday thing that they’ve been at for 5, 000 years. The little village of Meidum sports an experimental and nowCollapsed Pyramid, built by Snofru 4, 600 years ago.

Luxor Region

Karnak Temple in Luxor, southern Egypt

Karnak Temple in Luxor, southern Egypt. Photo by Marc Ryckaert.

***Luxor is Egypt’s second do-not-miss.
Southern Egypt offers a variety of magnificent temples and tombs, including the Valley of the Kings, Colossi of Memnon, Hatshepsut, Karnak and Luxor Temples.

Stay on the calmer west bank if possible – there’s now a bridge – and/or trail around the temples before/ after the package tourist rush to try to absorb the majesty of the structures outside the tourist frenzy.

Taking a sailing boat (felucca) onto the Nile (with an Egyptian skipper) is a delightful way to escape the crowds, especially for sunset, but – as with taxis – carefully negotiate a price beforehand – and take your own drink if you want a sundowner.

Luxor needs at least three days and is a few hundred miles south of Cairo so will require a flight or overnight train journey (recommended).

Nile River and Aswan

A Nile cruise ship on a particularly wide stretch of the river, Egypt

A Nile cruise ship on a particularly wide stretch of the river. Photo by Jim.

**Aswan is a beautiful place for boating on the Nile and laid backism, though it hardly deserves time if you’re pressed.

There are no monuments here but it’s on the way to the Temple of Ramases II at **Abu Simbel, a 180 mile road trip or short flight.

Aswan suffers a similar problem to Luxor regarding Nile tourist boat overload, though a boat trip down the Nile from Luxor to Aswan, stopping off at a couple of wonderful, monumental temples on the way – Edfu and Kom Ombo – is a great way to experience the Nile.

Red Sea and Sinai resorts

Sharm el Sheikh's White Knight Bay resort, Egypt

Sharm el Sheikh’s White Knight Bay resort. Photo by Marc Ryckaert.

Sinai peninsula, east side:

Sharm el Sheikh is a classic beach resort without much ethnic style but comfortable and with a wide selection of water sports, superb snorkelling and diving near the beach and plenty of long-haul dive options.

Neo-hippy ***Dahab, 85km (53 miles) north into the Gulf of Aqaba is terrific for low-cost style, scuba, snorkelling and chilling out but doesn’t offer much in the way of beaches.

Further into the Gulf Nuweiba and Taba offer more formal beach resort life.

**Red Sea mainland, west side:

Hurghada town, on the other side of the Red Sea is brash, modern, fast food and package tour hell, distant from public beaches, with no connection to Egypt at all, though comfortable and sunny – naturally. i. e. not a place for independent travellers.
However up and down the coast there are many fine beach resorts if you don’t require an ethnic experience.

Alexandria region

Alexandria Waterfront, Egypt

Alexandria Waterfront photo by Francisco Anzola.

**Alexandria:
A couple of hours north of Cairo via either the Nile delta road or the desert road, Alex was once renowned for its 400 ft lighthouse – an ancient world wonder, its massive library and its psychotic and incestuous Ptolemy dynasty.
Now Alexandria is little more than one of Egypt’s Mediterranean ports and with no decent beaches or ancient sites is not superficially attractive.

However! Fort Qaitbey, possibly the bottom part of the lighthouse, lurks there at the harbour entrance, the Great Library of Alexandria has been rebuilt with some help from UNESCO. Also intrepd tourists will find a couple of new museums are loaded with weird and wonderful jewellery, statues, furniture and other recently released artefacts.
In addition there’s a real live underwater museum out in the harbour where Greek wrecks dissolve but Cleopatra’s Palace and its stone sphinxes and statues are permanent homes to a thousand fish – that you will be served for dinner later. . .

Furthermore, if you head west towards Libya from Alex sensational long white beaches soon appear, especially around Mersa Matruh, though facilities may be extremely limited, so bring everything you need. Remember, it’s still the Mediterranean so the water will not be warm November – May.
Air temperatures will be in the mid 40C’s (over 110F) for the three summer months.

Activities

Sailing around southern Egypt in a felucca.

Sailing around southern Egypt in a felucca. Trips range from an hour to several days and can be delightful if you get the right skipper, so make sure you get on with the guy before making a deal. You cannot sail the boat yourself. Photo by Jim.

Riding: camels and horses, especially near the Giza pyramids or around Sinai Red Sea resorts. Overnight trips are possible for the more adventurous.

Sailing: laze for an afternoon or voyage a few days down the Nile in a felucca (open old sail boat); a local captain is necessary.

Biking: not much generally, though tooling around Luxor – especially the rural west bank – on two wheels is a terrific way to see the sights.

Scuba and snorkeling: In the Red Sea/Gulf of Aqaba around Sharm el Sheikh or Dahab, the former an upmarket resort town, the latter a laid back and bohemian village. Both of them have first-class dive shops and equipment available and excellent coral right near the shore, with some superb dives a little further out.
Also dive from Hurghada and other new resorts on the mainland Red Sea coast.
Alternatively for something different dive into ‘Cleopatra’s Palace’, an underwater treasure in Alexandia’s harbour, courtesy of Alexandria Dive Co.

Walking: other than around towns, not much fun – except maybe a walk to St Catherine’s monastery in the Sinai.

Festivals:
22 Feb, Abu Simbel Festival one of the two days when the rising sun hits the three key statues inside the temple, courtesy of Ramases II. See the light and party!
22 Oct, Abu Simbel Festival, as above.

Various

Electricity:
220v, 2 round pin plugs.

Egypt travel health:
A few traditional African don’ts:
Don’t drink juices or iced drinks outside good hotels, though ice-cream from a smart shop should be OK.
Don’t swim or paddle in slow moving parts of the Nile River, it harbours a tiny, aggressive worm, that triggers a disease known as bilharzia.
Mosquitoes are not usually malarial in these tourist areas but they are a nuisance, so read Mosquitoes.

Also the sun is extremely hot in south Egypt so don’t overexpose yourself or you will endanger your holiday.

Egypt Money:
This is a low cost destination. ATMs are in short supply but credit cards can be used in many places and banks will supply necessary cash. Traveller’s Cheques are widely accepted too.
Haggling is a part of market and transport (taxis, camels, horses) life and should be enjoyed at a leisurely pace. With care you could get half or two-thirds off the first asking price.
Do NOT make an offer if you are not willing to back it up with cash!

Egypt travel safety:
Most Egyptians are cheerful, friendly, deeply religious Muslims who will welcome you to their country and prefer to give than take.
However a small number will be happy to relieve you of your wallet if you are dumb enough to leave it in your back pocket in a crowded place.
Tourist areas including Red Sea resorts these days are ringed by police and army to prevent fundamentalists disturbing (again) Egypt’s key revenue source, tourism.

Egypt travel touts and beggars:
These guys can be a total pain and you need to learn to handle them to really enjoy Egypt travel.
Don’t ignore them or swear at them!
Look briefly at them and firmly say ‘La! ‘ (No) or ‘La, shookrun’ (no, thank you).
If it’s boys try ‘Emshi ya walid! ‘ (go away, boy! ‘)
Then there’s ‘Mish owse hagga’ (I don’t want anything’) for the linguists.
If you’re getting on well with an Egyptian say ‘Al hamdou lillah’ (praise God) when you/he mention something positive, or ‘Inshallah’ (God willing) when you discuss the future e. g. See you tomorrow, Hamed. Inshallah. ‘ He will be delighted!

Egypt travel shopping:
The souvenir possibilities are massive. This is probably the best African destination, and perhaps ANY destination for colour, variety, utility and price (if you haggle), though there’s plenty of neo-Nefertiti rubbish around too for the undiscerning.
Some great buys are gold and silver jewelry, camel leather bags, rugs, brass flower pots, weird glassware and ceramics.

An evening view across the Nile River of eastern Cairo from Cairo Tower on Gezira Island

An evening view across the Nile River of eastern Cairo from Cairo Tower on Gezira Island. Photo by flyvancity.

A trip to Cairo, the second largest city in Africa (after Lagos, Nigeria), needs to be carefully planned to avoid being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Or the right place at the wrong time. Or even the wrong place at the right time.
But it has to be seen for the Pyramids and Sphinx, the Egyptian Museum, Khan-el-Khalili market area and the Islamic quarter’s ancient decor.

Urban transport:
The Metro (subway) system works well and even has carriages dedicated to female travelers.
Don’t even think buses in Egyptian towns, they’re dirty, packed, incomprehensible and may result in a pocket picking.
Taxis and horse carts are fine, but it is vital to negotiate the price before you depart or you may end with a truly horrific argument.

Food:
Local staples such as beans, rice, tomatoes, stringy chicken and bread won’t take a hungry traveller very far though falafel (mashed, fried, beans with garlic)with tomatoes in pitta bread kept me going for years. There’s plenty of international food choice available at reasonable prices.
Alcohol is not a problem.