As a first time traveler to Egypt, there are always a lot of questions you ask yourself from how to get there, things to do, what not to do in Egypt, to general Egypt travel tips. But you don’t have to be absolutely green about Egypt given the right information. So with my experience of traveling in the country, I’ll try to share with you all the things to know before going to Egypt so that you enjoy this incredible antique land to the max.
But honestly, if Egypt is not on your travel bucket list, then I don’t know what is. Famously known for the Giza pyramids, River Nile and the Pharaohs, this beautiful country that both lies in the Middle -East and Africa offers more than what we read in papers or see on TV.
Yes, I know the media has somehow made us think that it is not safe to travel to Egypt by sometimes focusing on only the negative side but this was like a decade ago. So with these tips for traveling to Egypt that I’ve put together, I hope you realize that there is more to Egypt than just the negative press.
Egypt had always been on my bucket list, so when the opportunity presented itself, I was over the moon excited. Amidst some of the misleading articles I had read online, I was blown away by what Egypt had to offer and all the misconceptions that I had disappeared as soon as I step foot in Cairo.
However, there are some things that I didn’t know that I learned on “trip”. So, I’ve put down these travel tips for Egypt to make your trip easier and fun, so that you don’t have to be as green as I was – and don’t forget to check out Why not Egypt blog to learn more about Egypt in details.
Egypt travel tips: Things to know before going to Egypt
1. How to get your Egyptian tourist visa
Travelers to Egypt are required to have a visa to be granted access to this history-filled country with the exception of a few nationalities. However, obtaining an Egyptian tourist visa is generally not hard.
For the US, Canada, NZ, UK, EU, and other European countries, it is possible to get a visa on arrival and passport holders of over 46 countries (including the ones mentioned above) are eligible to get an E-visa using the E-visa portal. The visa costs only $25 and you can as well check for eligibility of an e-visa from here.
But for a few passport holders like myself (Ugandan passport), you’ll need to process your visa from the nearest consulate before your trip.
2. When is the best time to visit Egypt
Since in most cases, the question of the best time to visit a certain place is based on weather, in summary, the best time to visit Egypt would be in the winter months.
With some parts of Egypt being a desert, the summer months (20th June- 20th September) can get extremely hot reaching up to 95 degrees F coupled with intense humidity which becomes unbearable for sightseeing – so you might want to stay away from them.
Winter in Egypt (20th December – 20th March ) is considered to be the best time to visit Egypt and it is also the high season of the country averaging around 72 degrees F.
But if you’re all about enjoying good weather with fewer crowds, opt for spring (20th March – 20th June) or Autumn (20th September – 20th December) which average about 80 degrees F would be much better. These are also considered to be the shoulder months which means that you’ll be able to get great deals on many things like flight tickets and accommodation.
3. How to get around in Cairo and Egypt in general.
Cairo being a big city with everything on the go every time, you’ve got to know how to get around or at least how to access your hotel or hostel.
Taxi: Egypt is generally an inexpensive country and so are the taxis. I mostly used Uber taxis since they were relatively cheap and were almost everywhere in the city. I didn’t get a chance of using the mini public taxis but they seemed pretty ok.
Train: Cairo is one of the few cities in Africa that has a metro system. I was so excited to use it and the experience was super cool – don’t blame me; we don’t have one back home in Uganda. The metro is very cheap, convenient and reliable. I recommend you download the Cairo metro app to help you with the metro lines and stations. (It might not provide all the information about time like in some other big cities like Paris but its better than nothing)
Walking: The best way to discover the hidden places in the city is by walking. I saw many places I wouldn’t have seen if I was in a car. So if you are a walker like me, go for it, you will be glad you did.
Plane: Domestic flights in Egypt are relatively cheap. I remember I was about to take a 9 hours drive by bus from Dahab to Cairo when I got a notification from Skyscanner that the flight fare had dropped up to 45€.
You can imagine my excitement! I had to cancel the bus ticket for the plane ticket which is just a 1-hour flight. But if you are a backpacker on a shoestring, the bus is pretty comfortable too.
4. What to eat in Egypt
If you are a foodie like me, you are likely to leave Egypt with a few extra pounds – at least I did. The servings are really huge in almost all hotels and restaurants.
Egyptians are big on food and they go all out to prepare really delicious food and almost all meals are served with pita bread which is locally known as eish Baladi.
On my very first day, I tried out the Egyptian traditional dish, Kushari which was so tasty. To give you a clear picture, Egyptian cuisine is similar to the Eastern Mediterranean with foods like rice, kofta, kebabs, sea fish and vegetables.
And to get the real taste of Egyptian food, try out some of the famous street foods which are incredibly delicious but also mild to the pocket.
Some of the dishes you should try before you leave Egypt include; Falafel, Mahshi, Koshari, and Fattah.
5. How to make transactions in Egypt.
The local currency is the Egyptian pound. It is easier and cheaper to make all transactions in the local currency other than the dollar or Euro. Credit cards are accepted in some few high-end places but cash always wins even when it comes to bargaining.
The bargaining mechanism hugely works in Egypt. As a tourist, you are likely to be charged highly, so use all your skills of negotiating and friendliness and you might just get the product at the “right” price.
6. Tipping in Egypt
One of the other things to know before going to Egypt is that a tip is expected in almost alllll…. occasions. While tipping is a sign of appreciation for the service received and is always on your own accord, a tip is something almost all Egyptians expect for even the slightest help ever.
So before you go to Egypt, prepare yourself to tip like never before. Whether is it at a restaurant, asking for directions, requesting someone to take a photo of you, everyone will be expecting a tip from you. The best way to not spend all your daily budget on tips is by making sure you have small bills/coins on you all the time.
However, the amount you tip depends on the service received, but I’d suggest a “bigger” tip for tour guides or at restaurants and a smaller tip for “photo takers”. Remember, tipping is always optional and just tip when you feel like you want to and not because you’ve been “forced” to.
7. To hire a tour guide or not
Personally speaking, I traveled through Egypt independently without a tour guide and this goes to show that you can do it on your own too. However, when visiting some places especially those rich with history, I’d advise you to hire a tour guide and if you can’t afford a private one, join a group tour.
When I visited the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, I thought I had seen it all and learned a great deal about the ancient times in Egypt. But it turns out I was literally just browsing through the museum when a friend who hired a tour guide was telling me so many things about the museum that I had missed. So don’t make the same mistake I made, book this Egyptian museum tour which is highly recommended on GetYourGuide to learn more about Egypt and its artifacts. It’s actually a combo with a tour to the Giza pyramids and the bazaar which saves you some bucks.
8. Is it safe to travel to Egypt
This is the million-dollar question that most travelers ask before going to Egypt. Even though Egypt suffered a number of insecurities in the past, it has managed to pull through even making it to the list of the Safest African countries.
When I traveled to Egypt in 2018, I never felt unsafe in any way regardless of the many publications implying it as an unsafe country. Even though it was safe for me, it doesn’t mean that bad things can’t happen. Bad things happen everywhere and Egypt is no exception.
So whilst, Egypt is a safe country to visit, general travel safety measures should be applied to make sure you don’t fall a victim of any petty crimes like street theft, pickpockets and general travel scams.
9. What to wear in Egypt
When I was packing for Egypt, I was so conflicted with what clothes to pack since I never owned any hijabs or maxi dresses – so I bought a few right before my trip (which I ended up not wearing btw).
But to my surprise, the dress code in Egypt, especially in big cities and touristy places, is not as modest as you would think. Yes, Egypt is an Islamic country but they’re a bit “relaxed” when it comes to what to wear.
But if you are planning to visit a mosque or any place of worship, carry a headscarf and dress modestly – shoulders and legs must be covered. However, don’t throw away your tank tops, shorts or bikinis yet, you will need them when you hit the beach, go to beach towns like Dahab or even the swimming pool.
Actually, for my entire time in Cairo, I wore jeans, and normal tops (any kind) and only covered my shoulders when visiting mosques. But while in Dahab, a beach town, I wore almost only shorts and tank tops – and that’s exactly how the locals wore too.
10. Places to visit in Egypt
Egypt is blessed with a number of incredible landmarks that you ought not to miss. From the bucket list sites of the Giza pyramids in Cairo, the history-filled Egyptian museum that houses over 12,000 artifacts to incredible temples in Luxor that should not be missed.
- Cairo citadel
- Caio tower
- Khan el Khalili market
- Cruising the Nile
- Saqqara pyramids
- Luxor Temple
- Abu Simbel
- Valley of the kings
- Mt. Sinai
- Karnak Temple and so many others.
11. Photography passes are a thing in Egypt
In most touristic sites, you’ll be required to purchase a separate photography pass on top of your entry ticket if you want to use your camera and all the pro photography equipment.
This rule applies in places like the mummies’ room in the Egyptian museums, inside the tombs, some temples and inside the Pyramids.
So when planning a trip to Egypt, make sure you plan for photography passes which go for around $20 if you plan on using your DSLR and other camera types.
12. To rent a car or not
The short answer is no. DON’T rent a car in Egypt – this is probably one of the best advice for traveling to Egypt. Aside from the insane traffic especially in Cairo, drivers are totally crazy. Whether it is over speeding or overlooking the other road safety signs, Cairo roads are the true definition of chaotic transportation in Africa.
Honestly, its not worth spending all your energy and cool trying to navigate through the chaos or dealing with the fear of being ran into every second by what might seem to you like “careless drivers”. To you as a tourist, all this is new but to the locals, its what they go through every single day so it’s not going to be a challenge for them because that’s what they’re accustomed to.
13. Haggle, haggle and haggle some more
Just like India, Egypt is a place where you need to haggle for literally everything you buy. Whether it is buying souvenirs from Khan el Khalili market, taking a taxi from the roadside, or buying roadside tours. Whatever you spend money on while in Egypt, make sure you bargain.
And since the locals know that you might bargain, they will start from a crazy amount – so start by diving the price by 2 or even 3 times and you never know, you might just get the “real” price.
14. Ask for help when you need it
Don’t make assumptions about everything, ask for help. Egyptians are very friendly people always willing to help, though sometimes it can seem too much making one question the real intentions.
One time I was asking for directions from a certain man, he was so kind to direct me but when he realized I wasn’t getting the location, he offered to drive me there in his car, which I definitely turned down – overly help, right?
Another time my taxi driver contacted me to know the exact location I was at, clearly, I couldn’t explain it very well since he didn’t know English well nor could I speak Arabic. So I asked another gentleman to help me direct the driver in Arabic, he too was kind enough to oblige. He started explaining and before I knew it, he had started moving away with my phone, imagine the anguish I felt at that moment. I hurriedly followed him and started devising ways of retrieving my phone in case he decided to take off with it.
His intention was not to take my phone but rather to help me (which he did) but I wasn’t sure until he gave back my phone. So when in need of help, ask for it but when it seems overly done, you can always turn down the offer.
15. What to pack for Egypt
Just like traveling to any other country, traveling to Egypt requires not leaving behind the travel essentials.
So below are a few essential travel items that you should not leave behind when traveling to Egypt.
- Sunscreen: Egypt can be extremely hot especially in the summer months. Although the sun is mild during Autumn and Spring, you’ll still burn if you don’t wear sunscreen. This sunscreen can really help with curbing sunburns.
- Hat: This still goes back to the sun and since part of the country is a desert, you may want to take some bit of shelter as you go about your sightseeing adventure. This hat is incredible for women and this one will be great for the guys.
- A Travel scarf: If you’re planning on doing some adventurous activities in Egypt like quad biking or camel riding, you’ll definitely need to carry a scarf for the dust. This scarf is soft on the skin but also big enough to act as a showel or a cover when you find yourself in places where you need to cover your hair. But if you need an anti-theft scarf, this one is a great choice and can keep a number of items with the phone inclusive.
- A collapsible water bottle: With the heat of Egypt, it’s important to stay hydrated at all times. So to make sure you have water on you all the time, pack this collapsible water bottle so that you can refill it every time it runs dry.
- A money belt or Travel pouch: Since there is a lot of street theft in Egypt, I’d advise you to either carry this money belt or this travel pouch to be able to keep your money safe especially when in crowded places like Cairo.
Related post: Import things to pack for an African safari
Other Egypt travel tips you should know
16. Do not take a drone into Egypt – It’s not allowed.
17. Like many other countries in Africa, avoid drinking tap water and stick to bottled water.
18. Travel scams are so many in Egypt, beware of them.
19. Cash is King in Egypt.
20. The Giza pyramids are probably way bigger than you anticipate.
There you have it, folks! Those were some of the Egypt tips you need to know before visiting the country.
However, if you’ve been there before, share with me in the comment section some of your favorite tips for traveling in Egypt.
Need extra help in planning your trip to Egypt? Check out these posts
- Must see places in Cairo
- Tips for visiting the Giza pyramids
- Incredible landmarks in Egypt
- Things to do in Dahab
- How to spend one day in Cairo
- Biggest mistakes to avoid in Egypt
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