40 Essential Egypt Travel Tips
There has never been a better time to plan a trip to Egypt. Having just recently returned with oodles of information, my Egypt Travel Tips will help your planning process. Travel these days has gotten a bit challenging; I hope my suggestions will make your preparation smoother and your international vacation a wonderful holiday.
With an Egyptian stamp clearly inked in my passport, I’m totally convinced the country is a destination everyone should have on their bucket list. I’m already trying to plan another visit with my husband, as I know the historical sites of temples and pyramids will be highlights of a lifetime of travel.
Organizing usually begins with the pyramids, structures dating back over 4000 years. On an eco-friendly note, new electric buses make travel around the Giza pyramids easier than ever. Add in the Nile, the Red Sea, Aswan, Cairo, and there is just so much ancient history and culture to experience. Oops, did I neglect Alexandria, a day trip to Abu Simbel, the western desert and Siwa oasis? I told you I was already planning a return!
Travelling to Egypt: What You Need to Know Before You Go
The GEM aka Grand Egyptian Museum
The GEM or Grand Egyptian Museum is set to open in early 2023 and will represent the largest archaeological museum in the world. Over one billion dollars have been spent on this spectacular attraction. Located near the Pyramids of Giza, the only remaining Ancient Wonder of the World, visitors will have an opportunity to see the first exhibition of King Tutankhamun’s full tomb collection.
Travel searches for Egypt have exploded and agents are having a hard time keeping up with demand. Egypt is one of the most mysterious destinations on the planet and it’s been on the top of my bucket list for many reasons, not least of which a desire to cruise on the Nile.
So, while I’ll hardly call myself an expert on Egypt, I am an expert traveler and always learn more from each travel experience. Bookmark these Egypt travel tips for when you start planning your vacation. The #1 question on everyone’s mind:
Is it Safe to Travel to Egypt?
While Egypt is a relatively safe place to visit, it still requires some caution as petty crimes, like pickpocketing, are common. Yes! It’s much safer than the media may lead you to believe. I long ago learned to use the State Department Guide only as a benchmark. I find first-hand experience from other travelers a much more dependable guide for my type of eco-luxe travel.
Insider Tip: I do make a habit of registering on the State Departments Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP).
There are a few things you can do to help yourself stay safe.
Travel Tips for Added Safety when Traveling in Egypt
- Keep valuables packed away out of sight. Costume jewelry goes along way when on the road.
- Be aware of your surroundings.
- Take care with your phone (think about a leash) as well as your camera. Handing it over to one of the many “guides” that will offer to take your picture is not such a great idea.
- Enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive Alerts and make it easier to locate you in an emergency.
- U.S. citizens who travel abroad should always have a contingency plan for emergency situations. Make sure to have emergency numbers stored in your phone.
- Give a copy of your itinerary to a trusted friend/relative in your homebase
Note: I would suggest using the above common sense when traveling anywhere, even in my own country.
Tourism is big business in Egypt and Egyptian authorities have many safeguards in place to protect tourists during their time in the country. These include having large numbers of “Tourism Police” in place, you will see them all over in Cairo and particularly at landmarks in smaller destinations and touristy spots. While seeing guards armed with machine guns might seem alarming, I found these guards to be friendly and welcoming, proud to see visitors returning to their country.
As soon as I landed in Cairo and turned on my phone, I received the following text message from the Tourism Department:
Welcome to Egypt. For any issues or concerns, please contact the hotline of Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities (19654). In case of emergency, please call the following numbers, 122 for police, 123 for ambulance and 180 for the fire department.
That was a first! I’ve never received such a message when traveling internationally. I’m not sure whether it made me feel safer or more at risk.
All of the above being said, I found the Egyptians to be warm and welcoming. Never during my 12 days in the country did I feel unsafe or threatened in any way!
Many citizens from other countries will need a visa for travel to Egypt. Check the government web site. For United States citizens you can get a visa on arrival. You’ll need to have $25 cash and pay for your visa at a special window before you go through immigration. There are plenty of online visa services that will charge you much more to get the visa. DON’T!
My travel companion got her visa from the official web site on line beforehand. I found the web site confusing and frustrating, eventually giving up. Must be a right brain/left brain thing! When we arrived at Cairo International Airport, it took us both the same amount of time to get through immigration. The visa is valid for up to a 30 day stay.
Money and Foreign Currency
You can use US currency to pay for many things in Egypt, including your hotel room. Note that Egyptians want clean, crisp bills and nothing printed before 2016. I was told banks will not accept large bills printed before 2016 from Egyptians, so they don’t want to be paid in older currency. The official currency is called the Egyptian pound.
Inform Your Bank That You’re Visiting Egypt Before You Travel
Inform your bank well ahead of time when and where you’ll be travelling so you can use your credit cards for international payments. Some credit cards send a text to confirm purchases (I’m looking at you Chase) and you don’t want international charges coming through on your phone if you haven’t signed up for an international plan.
Not Every ATM Works With Every Card in Egypt
The maximum withdrawal at most ATMs is $250. USD/day. Make sure to carry enough cash with you.
Not all ATMs will work with all cards. I’m sure there must be a rhyme or reason to it, but I’ll be dammed if I could figure it out. Just don’t be surprised if you get a flashing error message and your card returned without giving any cash.
Download a currency conversion app like XE.com to keep tabs on how much money you’re spending. Egypt was one of those places that I just could not make the mental conversion. Without the app, I would have been lost.
There is a limit for US currency you can bring – $10,000 USD.
Don’t forget to tip. The average tip percentage for waitstaff, tour guides, and taxi drivers is between five and 10%. I always bring some one-dollar bills or coins in my pocket for unexpected tips. (ie the ladies room). I hate fumbling through my wallet with a crowd around.
Please, please dear readers, purchase travel insurance for your trip. There are so many things that can go wrong in today’s travel landscape. I wouldn’t think of stepping outside of the US without my travel insurance.
Scams, Hassels and Tips
This was probably the most challenging thing for me when I was traveling in Egypt. Everyone on the street is trying to make a buck. Hawkers are everywhere and they are relentless. It’s very tough to not be friendly when someone asks you “where are you from” with a smile on their face. My best advice, come with a thick skin and wear it during your visit. Bring a good pair of dark sunglasses and just keep on walking. People don’t take no for an answer when you show the slightest sign of “weakness”.
Egypt relies heavily on tourism and I understand that tourists are seen as dollar signs. Just remember that nothing is free, this is the way many make their living. Learn to say No Thankyou (below) before you step off the plane.
I’ve never traveled to a country where I had my hand in the tip wallet more than when I was in Egypt. In fact, it was the least favorite part of the trip and the only true negative I would report. Salaries are low in Egypt, and although there is no set of rules and tipping is meant to be optional, it pretty much is mandatory – so you can safely assume you will have to tip for just about any service. Photo on the camel ride? TIP! Bathroom attendant? TIP! Waiter at a restaurant offers to take a photo of you and your family? TIP! Tour driver? Definitely tip! You get the idea.
If you come from a tipping culture, this will be easier for you. I also can’t help but feel grateful for the privilege of travel and am aware the tipping culture is a small price to pay for seeing this wonderful country. If you are prepared and have a few coins or pounds ready to go in your pocket, it becomes a lot less intrusive.
Weather in Egypt and Trip Planning
The Egyptian capital of Cairo has a hot desert climate. However, instead of experiencing dry heat, its proximity to the Nile Delta and the coast can make the city exceptionally humid. In June, July and August, heat wimps such as myself, would find the temperatures and humidity unbearable. You’ll have to be a hearty traveler to want to visit the inside of tombs in 100+ degree weather!
With the small exception of its strip of Mediterranean coastline, the whole of Egypt has an arid desert climate. Throughout Egypt, days are commonly warm or hot and nights are cool.
Egypt is very dry and receives fewer than eighty millimeters (3.14 inch) of rainfall annually in most areas. Highest precipitation is along the coast, but even Alexandria, the wettest area, receives only about 200 millimeters (7.87 inch) of precipitation per year.
The geography and landscape of Egypt can make the selection of a travel month a bit problematic. You should consider the temperatures before selecting a month to travel. Keep in mind the crowds as well. I always prefer to travel during off peak or shoulder seasons.
High Season and More
The best time to visit is between October and April to get pleasantly sunny weather without the extreme summer heat. Out of all three seasons that occur during these months, autumn, which happens between September and November, is the best time to visit.I visited this past November and although it was warm, it wasn’t unbearable by any means. Evenings actually brought a chill to the air and I fully took advantage of the blankets on offer for our Nile cruise.
In April and May take note that the Khamsin Wind blows through Egypt. This hot sandstorm can cause disruptions and unpleasant weather during a trip, especially if you plan to be out in desert areas.
A most important tip regarding the weather: Don’t forget to stay hydrated, apply sunblock often, and bring your sunglasses. One of the most vital travel tips in Egypt people forget is that it is a desert climate with lots of sun and heat.
Keep in mind that winter is the peak season for tourism in Egypt. Because the weather has cooled, tourists crowd the ancient sites, making the lines longer and the hotel prices skyrocket. During Christmas and New Years, hotels and cruises raise their rates significantly and they book up far in advance so you’ll want to plan your travel accordingly.
Egypt is a predominantly Muslim country that is still quite traditional. I make it a habit to follow local customs and dress conservatively to respect the religion and local culture. If you’re a female traveler, pack loose-fitting clothes covering your shoulders, chest, and knees to wear in the city. That being said, you will see a WIDE variety of styles of dress.
Men’s dress codes are more relaxed: if you cover your shoulders and wear trousers, you’re broadly OK. Leave the muscle shirts at home or bring only for the beach.
Pack a shawl–ALWAYS. If you’re visiting a mosque or holy building, you’ll need to wear clothes covering your elbows, legs and head. The temperature drops at night and a pashmina is an easy wrap.
Toilet paper can be an issue when you’re off the beaten path. A packet of your own toilet paper or wipes is a good idea.
Don’t Drink the Water
One thing I’m pretty crazed about in a foreign country is drinking water. It’s important to stay hydrated, and almost everyone will have stomach issues when switching from the water they normally drink. Geeze, I even have trouble when I travel in the states. A bad stomach bug can ruin a trip.
However, stomach adjustments and food/drink safety are two different issues. Travel tips for Egypt – don’t drink the water. This includes brushing your teeth, keeping your mouth shut in the shower and avoiding salads and cocktails with ice unless you’re sure the water is filtered.
Take along a reusable straw, water bottle and market bag. Plastic waste is an issue in Egypt (like almost everywhere else in the world) so consider a bottle with a filter like the LifeStraw Personal Water Filter. It helps to eliminate the need for bottled water. I used it all over India without any stomach issues and
While we’re talking plastic, try and limit packaging and the purchase of anything that isn’t recyclable. Say no to plasticand try to Think Zero Waste for a more responsible trip.
Using a local SIM card
If you want to get a local SIM card for unlocked phones, you can find them at the Cairo airport. Look for the orange kiosk near the Arrivals baggage claim. After showing your passport, the process is very efficient.
Photography Travel Tips while in Egypt
Do not pack a drone for your trip. Not only are they illegal to fly, they are basically not allowed in the country unless you obtain permission from Egypt’s Civil Aviation Authority before operating your drone.
It doesn’t matter if your drone never leaves your suitcase. You will have issues if you try to bring it in without the proper permission.
Egyptian Laws strictly forbid tourists to take pictures of or near military installations. You also shouldn’t take photographs of public buildings and infrastructures, such as train stations and bridges. I was questioned at one historical site and had to show the last several photos on my camera to the authorities.
Take pictures of the ancient artefacts and structures, but don’t take photos of any officials without their consent. It is also prohibited to take photographs of the infrastructures outside of tourist hotspots.
Photography of locals without their permission is disrespectful. Always ask beforehand. This is especially true when photographing children. Imagine how uncomfortable you would be if someone started taking photos of your child playing in the ocean at the beach.
There are many police/guards with rifles around entrances to all sorts of places. I found most to be quite friendly and would usually offer a “Welcome to Egypt.” However, they do not want their photo taken without asking first!
Responsible Travel Tips for a Trip to Egypt
Before arriving in Egypt, spend some time reading up on the history of Ancient Egypt. I found that many tour guides didn’t dig very deep. They covered a basic level of ancient Egyptian history and often I heard different stories about the same gods and/or pharaohs.
You’ll appreciate the sights so much more if you have a deeper understanding of the history of places you’re visiting.
- History of Egypt Podcast There are many episodes, the web site allows you to go through the list and find relevant themes. Very comprehensive and great reviews.
- I always like the Eyewitness Travel Series of Guide books and their Egypt volume is great.
- Nefertari-The Untold Story of Ancient Egypt’s Greatest Queen on YouTube
And of course, it’s fun to watch Charlton Heston in The Ten Commandments when a trip to Egypt is on your agenda. We stood in the spot (maybe yes, maybe no) where Moses was set adrift along the Nile. Makes for a good story anyway!
I never knew hieroglyphics was an actual language–an alphabet– I always thought it was for telling a rudimentary story, like a picture book. After seeing our wonderful guide Ahmed read history in the Elkab Necropolis, it opened a whole new world. I was inside a tomb from 1475 BC and the early 18th Dynasty. It was truly an overwhelming moment.
When I asked Ahmed how long it took to learn, he rolled his eyes indicating with a smile it wasn’t overnight! If you’d like to brush up or learn more, the library in Alexandria’s website also has some really cool resources like a step-by-step guide to reading Hieroglyphics. I also found this Ancient Egypt website quite helpful. You can search by monument, dynasty, king, and queen.
Language Learn Key Phrases
I’ll be the first to admit the language learning part of my brain does not work well. While most people in Egypt speak Egyptian Arabic, English is widely spoken and understood. You’ll especially encounter this if you stick to major cities like Cairo, Luxor and Alexandria near tourist hotspots, hotels, and resorts.
Learning a few Egyptian Arabic phrases is always a good idea. Thank you and Hello go along way wherever I happen to be in the world. In Egypt I also found No Thank You very useful.
- la’ shukran (no thank you)
- shukran (thank you),
- ayna al-Hammaam? – where is the restroom?
- aywa – yes
- la – no
Tip: Always carry your hotel’s business card with you. If you get lost or encounter a language barrier with taxi drivers, you’ll be happy you did! I have used this tip so many times.
Try Local Restaurants
Please please, venture out of your hotel to eat. There are food tours, great restaurants and plenty of markets to try some of the local flavors. Scroll Instagram with a few hashtags of your interests and you’ll be amazed at the results. I’m a lover of local vegetarian dishes and am always so disappointed when a guide takes me to a a spot geared to tourists.
Find your own restaurants ahead of time. I’m a HUGE foodie and want to discover the dishes and ingredients a country is known for. I love to research restaurants popular with locals on Instagram and other blogs when planning. Markets are usually my first stop when I get to a new destination. Get a birds-eye view of what’s in season.
The boom in culinary travel has given Baby Boomers the opportunity to spend your dollars where they’ll have an impact. Gastronomy represents one spoke in the sustainable tourism wheel where travelers can easily make a difference. As we explore and indulge in eating around the globe, this can begin with the way we nourish our bodies and support small businesses using local ingredients.
Learning simple, some might say old-fashioned ways of eating and choosing traditional dishes can make a statement with our pocketbooks. Who doesn’t love meals that are good for you, beautiful to look at and good for the earth?
Go Meatless for the Planet
Vegetarians will find many offerings of traditional Egyptian dishes. Make sure to try a few –falafel, koshari tahini and zuchinni are just a few of the many offerings you’ll find. A plant based diet is better for you and the planet. Plant based proteins (such as beans and lentils) require far less water and produce less methane than meat. Follow these travel tips from Dr.Wink, my infectious disease guru, in this post safety tips when eating street food.
Should You Hire an Egypt Travel Guide
While I know many women who have traveled solo to Egypt, I usually feel more comfortable working with a guide, at least for the more complicated pieces of the itinerary. When I was planning to travel in Egypt with my girlfriend, I wanted to find a guide that would be flexible, knowledgeable about culture and local crafts and well versed in the rich history. I wanted to feel safe and thought I would get a lot more out of traveling in a place with such a rich history with an expert.
Alternatively, there are many group tours that cover different parts of Egypt. I personally enjoy small group tours, but feel picking the right company is key to an enjoyable experience. Do you like adventure? Looking for a culinary experience? Or is a combination of culture and hiking more to your liking?
Two groups immediately come to mind, and I have worked with both. With responsible travel at the forefront of their mission, they take care of all the details and have a range of trips to fit your budget. These are GAdventures and Intrepid Travel. Personally, I like to combine a bit of an eco-luxe stay with digging deep into the culture.
Egypt is such a diverse and beautiful country. There are countless ways to plan an itinerary. Be sure to return to Green With Renvy for my 10 day Egypt itinerary COMING SOON. It covers Cairo, Luxor and Aswan and includes all the incredible sights, food and an extraordinary cruise on the Nile.
When planning your trip to Egypt, make sure to check the dates for Ramadan. This holy month of fasting can have an impact on your trip and because the Muslim and Western calendars are quite different, the dates can vary greatly from year to year.
Many businesses close for much of the day during Ramadan. While tourists are not expected to fast, you might have a hard time finding cafes and restaurants open during daylight hours. When Ramadan ends a month of fasting, the religious celebration festival, Eid al Fitr, lasts four days.
If you are traveling to Egypt independently, travel passes can save you a lot of money by combining the most popular sites into one fee. The Cairo Pass offers entrance to sites in Cairo, Giza, Dahshur, Mit Rahina, and Saqqara.
You need your passport, two photocopies of your main passport page, and two passport photos to get this pass. You can buy it at the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities office and a few other attractions.
The Luxor Pass offers entry to all archaeological sites on the east and west bank of Luxor. You can purchase this pass at the visitor centre of the Valley of Kings and Karnak Temple.
There are many festivals held across Egypt. Listed below are a few of the more popular ones.
Winter brings the first festival of the year with Coptic Christmas taking place on January 7th. At midnight, worshippers gather for mass and enjoy a feast together. Following the evening mass and prayers, people gather to celebrate with a traditional dish of rice, garlic, and meat soup.
Sham al Nessim
In April, Sham al Nessim, (also known as the Sniffing the Breeze Festival), celebrates the arrival of spring. This occurs every year on Easter and is celebrated by all, regardless of faith. Families gather and celebrate with picnics in parks and on riverbanks throughout Egypt.
Wafaa al Nil
With the Nile playing such an auspicious role in Egyptian life, there is no doubt a festival to celebrate her mighty power. During September, Wafaa Al Nil, an ancient festival devoted to the river takes place. The festival is filled with art competitions, poetry readings, concerts, and a focus on culture.
Abu Simbel Festival
The Abu Simbel Festival or Festival of the Sun is is held in February and October every year and it is a celebration of the glorious temple and most important Sun god. During the festival, the sun rays reach the inner sanctuary of the temple and the statues of Ra, Ramses and Amun are bathed in sunlight, receiving enlightment. For Ptah, goddess of darkness, her world remains obscured.
Moulid of Abu al-Haggag
This festival honors Luxor’s patron saint, Abu al-Haggag. His mosque sits on top of Luxor Temple. Giant floats travel through the crowded streets over the three day celebration. Sufi music, drumming, ritualistic stick fights add to the drama. Horse races and boat rides also mark the occasion. The moulid occurs the month before Ramadan and so the date changes each year.
Additional Random Travel Tips for Egypt
Cairo is a chaotic city with more than 15 million people. Traffic is crazy, crossing the street is an aerobic workout! Make sure to leave yourself plenty of time. I would not recommend renting a car or driving yourself. At times it feel like all of the 15 million residents are together on the road! Another thing to be aware of is that not all license plates and street signs will have numbers or letters that you’ll recognize, this can be a challenge if using UBER.
Think Twice About Interior Pyramid Tours
Visitors can access many of the pyramids interiors. Some are much more worth the time and effort than others. If you’re the slightest bit clausterphobic or limited on time, do your research and just choose a few. I selected the tomb of Ramses in the Valley of the Kings and happily paid a tip to the guard that offered to take our photo. They were excellent choices for me: colorful, filled with hieroglyphics and well lite. Decide for yourself what your priorities are when touring.
Skip the Tour Shops
Your average tour guide will drag you through papyrus, Egyptian cotton, perfume and Egyptianrug shops. If you want to take advantage of these indigenous products, by all means, do so! But again, do you research beforehand and know how much you should be paying.
Often they can be completely unrelated to your interests and often the guides get a kick-back for bringing you there (the motivating factor). There are plenty of talented makers in Egypt. Look for the smaller spots where local crafts are being highlighted, not taken advantage of.
Though it may not seem like it, if you like the heat, Egypt can be considered a year-round destination. Who knew that you could lounge by the sea, camp in the desert, float in a crystal blue saltwater pond and visit the only remaining Ancient Wonder of the World all in the same destination? You might need a month to cover all these highlights, but there truly is something for everyone in the Land of the Pharaohs.
In reality, a world of swoon worthy attractions awaits. There is a site everywhere on the planet that makes for a good photo. There is also an authentic experience waiting to be had. All it takes is a little research and the use of a few responsible travel tips to make a positive impact wherever the road might take you.