Editor’s note: This post was updated on November 23, 2015.
Years of political turmoil in Egypt have taken an enormous toll on the country in a myriad of ways, but following the election of a new president in May 2014, tourism has slowly been returning to Egypt.
Should You Travel to Egypt Now?
Travel to Egypt now and you will be one of the few people who do. Egypt is one of the most inexpensive countries in the world even in the best of times and now, with the Egyptian pound weakened as a result of the country’s political crises, you can save even more. Hotels, tours and food are not only less expensive than ever, it is more possible to negotiate a good price for yourself on accommodations and tours.
The U.S. State Department has lifted its travel warning against Egypt, but you should still take care and be aware that the situation could change rapidly. Protests still occur and should be avoided since even peaceful demonstrations can rapidly escalate, and it’s necessary to be mindful of terrorist threats in the country. Potential visitors should stay aware of the situation, carefully weigh the benefits against the risks and take necessary precautions, such as remaining alert to new information and registering with their embassy.
What Should You Visit in Egypt?
The Egyptian government maintains a heavy security presence at major tourist attractions, including the archaeological sites and temples around Cairo, Luxor, Aswan and Abu Simbel, although caution should still be exercised wherever you travel in the country.
Visiting the pyramids of Giza in Egypt is the dream of a lifetime for many people and so possible to make come true. Your first glimpse of the towering triangles reaching out of the sand toward the sun is a moment you’ll carry with you forever. Wandering around the Giza pyramids is an all-day experience, whether you walk or explore via camel or horse-drawn carriage. While these are the most famous sights in Egypt, there are other pyramids which need to be seen as well. The Necropolis of Dashur, with its Bent and Red pyramids, and the Step Pyramid of Saqqara are just short drives away from the Giza pyramids.
Just minutes northeast of Giza is Cairo, where you may want to stay both in order to visit the pyramids and just to get to know the city itself. Cairo is an electrifying city, its streets a boggling tangle of careening cars and occasional donkey carts, weaving around local people winding their ways expertly through the traffic. Amongst its buildings colored classic Middle Eastern brown, you’ll find eateries and shops, fruit and vegetable stands and outdoor cafes where you can sit and drink tea and try a very important staple of Egyptian life — shisha, tobacco flavored with ingredients like grapes or apples, smoked in a colorful water pipe.
In Cairo, see the thousands of relics, including King Tutankhamun’s mask, during an Egyptian Museum private tour; the museum is located in the now-famous Tahrir Square. Visit the Al-Hussein Mosque for a glimpse into religious Islamic life, and head to the churches of the quiet Coptic area for a close-up view of Christianity in Egypt. Downtown Cairo, home to Tahrir Square, has changed quite a bit since the Revolution, and it is advisable to stay away from this area at night and any time there are protests going on, since even peaceful demonstrations may quickly escalate.
The Mediterranean port city of Alexandria is dynamic yet friendly, quite an easy city to get to know. A good introduction is a stroll along its Corniche, a paved waterfront walkway, with a backdrop of small, colorfully painted boats and local families relaxing on the banks of the water. Located nearby on the Mediterranean Sea is the Citadel of Qaitbay, a huge15th-century fort recognized as one of the Mediterranean’s strongest military defenses of its day. For another look into the past, visit the eerie Roman-period catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa. A more modern view of the city can be seen via in the sprawling King Farouk Palace, former summer home to the 20th-century king.
Luxor is perhaps the most historically important town in Egypt and filled with more tombs and temples than any other area in the country. On the East Bank of the Nile River stand the Luxor and Karnak temples, their looming columns leading the way to dark interiors with surprising large patches of red, blue and gold scattered about, carefully preserved from the temples’ original days. Running between the two temples is the Avenue of the Sphinxes, a recently unburied row of the enigmatic creatures dating back to Egypt’s 18th Dynasty. On the West Bank of the Nile River lie the mountainside tombs of the Valley of the Kings, holding many of Egypt’s former rulers including King Tutankhamun, and the Valley of the Queens, a burial ground for wives of the pharaohs, including Queen Nefertari.
The laid-back Nile River town of Aswan is the spot to position yourself when visiting temples in the area. A brief boat trip will take you to Philae Island, home to several ancient monuments, including the Temple of Isis, possibly Egypt’s oldest deity. While on the river, you’ll spot a little mass of land called Elephantine Island. Sparsely populated and not often visited by tourists, this is where you’ll want to head if you have a desire to get off the beaten path. Also lightly touched by tourists are the Nubian villages in the area, where you can experience the simple way of life led by these natives of southern Egypt and Sudan. For more temple sightings, you’ll visit Abu Simbel, 13th-century BCE temples located a few hours south of Aswan. Here, you can watch the desert awaken at night with a sound and light show that brings the temple to life.
On Tour Groups and Other Thoughts
Group tours to Egypt are possible with international tour companies as well as a large number of tour operators within Egypt. A group tour offers the comfort and convenience of having someone else arrange transport and worry about logistics. Having a local guide in Egypt, who will also serve as translator when needed, ensures that you have someone with you who knows of any potential dangers and can help you avoid them. For those who don’t want to join a group tour, a private tour is another option. You get the same benefits of a tour guide — a local who knows the area and the language — without the other tourists. A private Egypt guide can also take you to places you might not venture otherwise, particularly if you don’t want to try driving in Egypt.
Egyptians are emotional, passionate people. A first stroll on the streets of any area brings you in contact with them. Shopkeepers call out, hoping to draw you in; taxi drivers are eager to give you a lift; and small children come up to look closely at you, curious about the people who look so different from them.
As one Cairo hotel executive once told me, there is a saying in her industry about Americans; when unrest occurs in any country, she said, “Americans are the first to leave and the last to come back.” But despite its recent troubles, Egypt is still Egypt. The pyramids, temples and tombs hold fast to their ancient mysteries, the beaches and desert sky still shine with millions of stars at night.
— Contributed by Sabina Lohr