Travel to Egypt
Egypt is considered a transcontinental country, being part of North Africa and the Middle East. Bordering Israel and the Gaza Strip in the north-east, Sudan at the south and Libya on the west. The country is also surrounded by the Mediterranean and Red Seas. The landscape is dominated by the lush valley of the Nile River and the Eastern and Western deserts – two very contrasting landscapes!
Aside from the Nile River, Egypt is most famous for its ancient history and of course its pyramids. Everyone knows about the pyramids in Egypt, and it should definitely be on any first-timer to Egypt’s itinerary.
Though, there is so much more to Egypt than the pyramids. Travel in Egypt is an exploration of the past – from sand-covered tombs and ancient temples to adventures on the Nile and trekking through the desert. Not to forget visiting some of the best beaches in Egypt. The list of places to visit in Egypt is endless, with plenty of adventure and history to dive into.
In terms of the weather, the best time to visit Egypt is from October to April when the weather is most pleasant. Note however that December and January is peak tourist season, when all of the famous places in Egypt (like Pyramids of Giza, the Temples of Luxor, and Abu Simbel) get overly crowded.
We hope that our guide offers all of the advice for Egypt travel that you would need.
Visa Requirements for Egypt
Because of its high reliance on tourism, it’s fairly easy to get a hold of a visa for entry into Egypt. Citizens from many countries, including British and American passport holders, are able to obtain a tourist visa upon arrival at Cairo International Airport. The visa costs US$25 and needs to be paid in cash. The visa is valid for 30 days after arrival. Alternatively, most travelers are able to get an e-visa before arrival, visit this website to complete the application. For the e-visa, you need to apply 7 days prior to arrival.
Citizens from South Africa, China, and a number of other countries are not able to obtain an e-Visa or a visa upon arrival. They will need to obtain an Egyptian Tourist Visa before arriving. Travelers should visit their nearest Egyptian Embassy to apply, find application forms on this website.
Citizens of Bahrain, Guinea, South Korea, Libya, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, United Arab Emirates and Yemen receive a 3 month visa on arrival.
Important Cultural Information
The official language in Egypt is Arabic but many of the locals, particularly in tourist areas, are able to speak English. There are several cultural differences amongst the Egyptians compared to Westerners. For one, Egyptians are a lot more comfortable with less personal space. Be prepared for locals to get very close to you.
It’s best to avoid bringing up topics around politics and religion as both can be quite sensitive topics with very strong views and opinions. Egyptians are generally conservative in how they dress as many are religious. In modern nightclubs and popular tourist destinations, the dress code is a lot less conservative. Women tourists may want to cover their legs and shoulders when traveling alone to avoid getting added attention – though as a foreigner you are likely to get attention regardless.
Travelers should be careful when taking photographs on the street, particularly if there are police around. You will also not be allowed to take photographs at most religious buildings. Some Egypt tourist attractions require you to get a special photography permit – like at the Egyptian Museum, the Coptic Museum or the Valley of the Kings. Do not photograph the locals without permission – don’t be surprised if they ask for money.
The locals will also expect you to tip, sometimes for even the smallest tasks like pressing the button on an elevator. The typical tip for minor services is 50pt to 1 LE. Understand that it is part of their culture and they are not shy to ask for a tip or ask for more money if they don’t feel like you gave enough.
Egypt is not very friendly towards the LGBT community, as homosexuality is very taboo.
Banking & Money in Egypt
The local currency in Egypt is the Egyptian pound (EGP), which is divided into 100 piastres. Banknote denominations are EGP5, 10, 20, 50, 100 and 200.
Foreign exchange stations are available at all airports, though they may not have the best exchange rates. The best would be to look for a registered foreign exchange center. You will also be able to withdraw cash from the available ATM’s – this is often the easiest and most affordable way to get local currency. Note that your bank will likely charge you. You will be able to find ATM’s from the following banks: Barclay’s Bank, HSBC, CitiBank, NSGB, BNP Paribas, Piraeus Bank, CIB, and other local and Arab Banks.
American Express, Diners Club, MasterCard and Visa are accepted, though generally only at bigger hotel chains and restaurants in popular tourist areas. When shopping at markets or other small shops, it’s recommended to carry cash on you.
Medical Emergency Information
The emergency contact number in Egypt is 123, this will get you in touch with the ambulance.
Other important contact numbers include:
- Police: 122
- Emergency Police: 122
- Traffic Police: 128
- Tourist police: 126
- Fire Brigade: 180
Ambulance services in the country are said to not be as reliable as one would expect. The best way to reach hospitals is by personal transportation or taxi as practiced by most Egyptians.
To be safe, you should have travel insurance for Egypt. Make sure to get good travel insurance for Egypt beforehand. Compare options with both WorldNomads and SafetyWing.
Wi-Fi and Internet in Egypt
There are three main mobile operators in Egypt: Vodafone, Orange and Etisalat. All three providers offer customers 2G, 3G and 4G/LTE wireless services, though note that Egypt has below average network coverage with 72.40% 4G wireless availability.
Locals call their SIM cards “SIMs” or “Chips” and they can be purchased by showing your passport and visa stamp. You can get them from the mobile operators themselves or from several convenience stores.
Free Wi-Fi is easily available in most hotels, restaurants and cafes. Just make sure to use a VPN service if you’re using free Wi-Fi hotspots to protect your personal information (here’s why it’s important)!
Coworking in Egypt isn’t as popular as in European and North American countries, though you will find a few places in Cairo, Giza, Alexandria and Dahab.
Arrival in Egypt
When traveling to Egypt you will most likely arrive via plane. Cairo International Airport is the main international airport in Egypt. It is also the hub of the national carrier Egyptair. Other international airports in Egypt include Alexandria Nozha, Luxor International Airport, Aswan International Airport, Hurghada International Airport (receives a number of charter flights), Sharm El-Sheikh International Airport (also receives a number of charter flights), Burg Al-Arab International Airport and Marsa Alam International Airport.
Search for flights to Egypt on Expedia.
Another option is to arrive via boat. Regular ferries run from Aqaba to Nuweiba operated by ABMaritime. Another weekly ferry runs between Wadi Halfa in Sudan and Aswan. You can also travel to Egypt via bus. Several bus routes operate from Israel and Jordan. JETT, the Jordanian state bus company, operates a direct bus between Amman and Cairo.
You can of course also arrive via car from neighboring countries. The price of gas makes car travel in Egypt quite expensive. To rent a car in Egypt you will have to be at least 21 years old. Consider Europcar for car hire in Egypt.
Areas of Egypt
The main cities in Egypt include Cairo (the capital city), Alexandria, Port Said, Aswan, Luxor and Hurghada.
The main areas of Egypt include:
Lower Egypt consists of the northern Nile delta and the Mediterranean coast. It is also home to the cities of Cairo and Alexandria. Cairo, the capital of Egypt, is the main port of entry into the country. It is home to the Giza Pyramids, the Egyptian Museum and many other Egypt tourist attractions. Alexandria is a Mediterranean port city in Egypt.
This is the area along the Nile where the historical Upper and Lower kingdoms met.
Upper Egypt includes a list of great temple towns scattered along the southern end of the Nile river.
Luxor is a city in Upper (southern) Egypt and the capital of Luxor Governorate. Luxor is often called the “world’s greatest open-air museum”, as the ruins of the temple complexes at Karnak and Luxor stand within the modern city. The River Nile lies right opposite, along with monuments, temples and tombs of the west bank Necropolis, which includes the Valley of the Kings and Valley of the Queens.
Much of the fascination of Western Desert lies in the desert itself. This area is also the location of the Western Oases with five pockets of green. The oases of Bahariya, Farafra, Dakhla and Kharga lie on the “Great Desert Circuit” that travellers can explore starting from Cairo, Assyut or Luxor.
Red Sea Coast
The Red Sea Coast is where the luxury beach resorts, diving and marine life happen. It’s where you can find the best all inclusive Egypt deals. Hurghada is one of the most popular towns on the Red Sea – popular with resorts and diving.
Sinai includes rugged and fascinating relics of the past, high mountains and great scuba diving.
Transportation in Egypt
Train travel is relatively easy, making it a common form of transport in Egypt. The rail network is run by Egyptian National Railways, which offers a range of fast and slow train services. Popular routes operate from Salloum (on the Libyan border) to Cairo and Alexandria as well as down south along the Nile from Cairo to Aswan and Luxor. The Cairo-Alexandria route is heavily travelled by train, with several services daily.
There are also a few luxury air-conditioned day and night trains serving the Nile Valley tourist destinations, running from Cairo to Luxor and Aswan. You can book the overnight train through a travel agent or though Ernst.
An alternative for long-distance transport in Egypt is via bus. Most of the bus routes are run by government-owned companies, including Golden Arrow, Super Jet, Pullman, West Delta, East Delta, El Gouna, Upper Egypt Bus Co and Bedouin Bus. Not that traveling via road is more dangerous in Egypt, due to poor roads, dangerous driving and non-enforcement of traffic laws.
Domestic flights is possibly the safest way to travel in Egypt when covering long distances. The domestic air network is fairly extensive and covers most major towns in Egypt. Search for domestic flights in Egypt here.
For urban travel, cities like Cairo, Alexandria and Luxor have both bus and tram routes. There is also a metro in Cairo with three lines – download the Cairo metro map to your phone before going. Cities along the Nile also have ferries criss-crossing along the river.
Taxi’s are also a convenient way of getting around in the cities. Note that there are unofficial taxis driving around, make sure that they have the official branding and that they are using a meter. The best is to ask your hotel to order a taxi for you. Alternatively, Uber is also available in Egypt (only in Cairo and Alexandria) – make use of this option if you have a local SIM card. Due to the poor road conditions and crazy local drivers, it is not very common for tourists to hire a car in Egypt.
Accommodations in Egypt
Accommodation is generally affordable in Egypt, ranging from very budget-friendly to more higher-end luxury hotels. There are some great luxury hotels, resorts, guesthouses, historic hotels, eco-lodges and desert camps to stay in.
Most major hotel chains are represented in Cairo, Sharm el-Sheikh and Luxor at least. Popular luxury hotels in Egypt include The Nile Ritz-Carlton, Concorde El Salam Hotel Cairo, The Oberoi Sahl Hasheesh, Conrad Hotel Cairo, Kempinski Nile Hotel Garden City Cairo, Four Seasons Sharm El Sheikh and the Mena House Hotel.
When looking for accommodation in Cairo, try to find something that is within walking distance to a metro station or at least central. Consider somewhere like Azar Hotel which is located in downtown Cairo. When in Luxor look for somewhere that has a view of the Nile to best take advantage of it!
All inclusive Egypt resorts are mostly found in Hurghada, Luxor and Sharm el-Sheikh. Some include Porto Sokhna Beach Resort, Steigenberger Nile Palace Luxor Hotel & Convention Center and SeaGull Beach Resort. These hotels will include international restaurants, spas and vast activities. Most hotels situated along the Red Sea will offer snorkeling and scuba-diving activities.
We recommend booking your accommodation in advance. Search for accommodation and book online at Booking.com or Agoda.
What to Eat and Drink in Egypt
If you are familiar with Middle Eastern cuisine then you will know what to expect in Egypt.
The food is generally full of flavour, with not too much spice. Vegetables, meats and aromatic herbs and spices will make up most of the dishes. Soups made from pulses, beans, onions, tomatoes and leafy green vegetables are quite popular. While meats are often slow-roasted and fish is stewed – served with either rice or couscous. Desserts often include figs, nuts and dates covered in honey.
Traditional Egyptian food include:
- Aish Merahrah (pita flatbreads with seeds and maize flour)
- Falafel (deep-fried ground fava bean balls)
- Ful Medames (Fava beans topped with boiled eggs and sliced vegetables)
- Ful (Fava beans with lemon and herbs)
- Koshary (mixture of macaroni, lentils, rice, chickpeas and tomato sauce)
- Shawarma (pieces of meat skewered, barbequed and severed in flatbread)
- Mahallabiyaa (rice pudding served with flavoured rose water and sprinkled with nutmeg)
Vegetarians will not have a problem with finding good Egyptian food as there are many local vegetarian dishes to try. Falafel and Koshary are great options to try out.
Traditional drinks to try in Egypt include:
- Kahwa (thick, strong Turkish-style coffee)
- Karkaday (red drink made from hibiscus flowers)
- Aswanli (dark beer made in Aswan)
- Zibib (alcoholic aniseed-flavoured drink)
Things to Do and See in Egypt
Without a doubt the most popular places to visit in Egypt include Pyramids of Giza, Valley of the Kings in Luxor or the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. While these Egypt tourist attractions are amazing and should not be missed, there are many other places to explore in Egypt.
All first-time visitors to Egypt should spend a few days in Cairo. Other places to visit in Cairo include Al-Azhar Mosque, Old Cairo (Coptic Cairo) and Khan el-Khalili (Souq Quarter).
Luxor, also known as the world’s largest open-air museum, is another popular place in Egypt. Here, besides the Valley of the Kings, are many other temples (including Luxor, Karnak or Habu). Further south, Aswan features Naubian villages, High Dam on Nile and Philae Temple. Join a day tour to fully experience the city.
Hurghada, Sharm el Shejkh, Dahab and Marsa Alam feature the best beaches in Egypt. Here you can take part in water sports, scuba diving and snorkeling activities.
Many Egypt tours also include a boat trip along the Nile along with desert quad biking adventures.
Things to do & see in Egypt
Shopping in Egypt
Egypt can be a shoppers paradise, particularly for those who enjoy markets and are interested in Egyptian-themed souvenirs. While you can find many cheap souvenir-type goods, Egypt is also known for high quality products like antiques, carpets and rugs, cotton clothing, inlaid goods, jewellery, leather goods, papyrus, perfume, hookas (sheeshas / water pipes) and a variety of spices.
When shopping in markets or from street vendors, you will have to haggle. They often set the price very high at the beginning, but you can get it lower. Just don’t go too low, make sure that you are paying a fair price.
Besides from local markets and street vibes there are also malls in Egypt. The most common being, Citystars Mall in Cairo. The malls are filled with western brands like Tommy Hilfiger, Armani Exchange, Hugo Boss and Levi’s.
Egypt remains a bustling country as the sun sets. Popular places for congregating include any waterfront along the Nile in Cairo or Luxor or at the seafront in Alexandria and Sharm el Sheikh. Friends will gather to chat, while street vendors arrive to sell food and the latest imports. The nightlife in Luxor and Aswan usually include barbecues along the Nile or dinner cruises.
There are also quite a few nightclubs and bars that you can party the night away, particularly in the bigger cities and popular resort areas. If staying in an all inclusive Egypt resort, then the resort will likely also host its own night-time activities. Alternatively, you can partake in a dinner and show evening, like this one in Sharm el Sheikh. These shows are quite a draw for both domestic and foreign travelers.
Safety Tips for Egypt
Safety is often the main concern when seeking advice for Egypt travel. Unfortunately, Egypt is not an entirely safe country to visit. It is also not an easy destination to visit. Our main safety tip for Egypt is to make sure that you do enough research and planning before you arrive – so that you are well aware of how things work, how you are going to get around, what you are going to do and where you are going to stay. The last thing that you want is to be caught unaware and end up getting scammed.
You will be haggled in the main tourist areas from locals trying to sell you something or get you to join their tour/activity/taxi. Keep your wits about you and rather always stick to your original plan then go off with someone that you don’t know. Always be sceptical of scammers and keep your personal belongings safe from pickpockets looking to take a chance.
You will have to go through security procedures each time that you enter a metro station. Train station, monument or popular tourist attraction. You will just have to get used to it.
Terrorism is a safety concern in Egypt, though if you follow the statistics it is highly unlikely that you will be affected. As mentioned, there is high security procedures at main entry ports and tourist attractions, like at the Pyramids.
Egypt is one of the oldest tourist destinations in the world – starting from when the ancient Greeks and Romans first started to explore. Today, tourists are still going to Egypt to explore the ancient sights and sounds. With the most popular places in Egypt being Pyramids of Giza, Valley of the Kings in Luxor or the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.
Besides from the obvious Egypt sightseeing hotspots, other places in Egypt include the Nile River, the desert and the coastal resorts. A trip to Egypt should include a bit of city life paired with some desert exploring and some relaxing (or adventurous) beach time at the coastal resorts. The best time to visit Egypt is from October to April – avoid December and January if you don’t like crowds.
Our number one piece of advice for Egypt travel is to plan as much as you can so that you know what you’re getting into. Egypt is not one of the easiest travel destinations, but it’s definitely worth it!