Travel Tips for Egypt

April 3, 2012 by

Middle East & Africa, Suggested Itineraries

I traveled to Egypt for the first time and enjoyed it a lot. I did not know what to expect and arrived in Cairo with some trepidation about a culture, religion and way of life I didn’t understand. I admit arriving with a touch of ignorance and a small tinge of fear. Before leaving I found it hard to find good information about what to expect so I thought I’d share a couple of the things that I would have liked to know before I got there.

Egypt tours to the Giza pyramids

Photo fun during an Egypt tour to the Giza pyramids

Egypt Travel Tip: Money

Small notes (1, 5, 10) are like gold in Egypt! You pretty much tip everyone who looks at you, so you will need a good supply of small notes handy. I believe there are coins as well, but I never saw them! Wages are criminally low so Egyptians rely on tips from foreigners and locals alike, so stock up on the small notes.

Also, it’s very, very difficult to get change so try and get as much as you can before arriving (even banks are reluctant to share). One of the happiest moments of my trip was finding an ATM in Aswan that gave out 10 pound notes! (opposite the Basma Hotel, next to the Nubia Museum).

Egypt Travel Tip: Water

No surprise here; avoid tap water and only drink bottled water. Clean your teeth with bottled or boiled water, and avoid unpeeled fruits and vegetables. The real tip though for water is to remember to take it with you everywhere. Each and every time you leave your hotel room or cruise ship, grab a bottle. Sure it’s available to buy at the temples and bazaars, but you will be charged exorbitant prices and have to run the bargaining gauntlet to get your hands on some.

Egypt Travel Tip: Private tours

Egypt is a cheap place to travel so use your pennies to get yourself a private Egypt guide. Instead of trudging around the famous sites with 50 other people while adhering to their timetable, with a private guide you determine how long you spend at each place. It also gives you the chance to spend time with an Egyptian and they are always happy to share details of their life with you. Ask every question you can come up with about the country and lifestyle, you might just learn something. Also make sure your tour has hotel pick up if you haven’t been to Egypt before, it can be difficult to get directions.

Egypt Travel Tip: Dress

Yes, Egypt is a predominantly Muslim country, however they are pretty relaxed and accepting of other cultures and religions. Relying heavily on tourism, Egypt values its visitors and does not expect everyone to do everything their way. As a female (and a blonde one at that, the worst kind for traveling in a Muslim country according to the guide books…), I was wary of how to dress; however it became clear very quickly I could just dress like I would at home.

Private guide on a tour to the pyramids

Hello, my friend!

I would not recommend hitting the town in hot pants and a boob tube; some discretion please, but do not worry too much about exposed legs, arms and shoulders. Skirts, shorts, sleeveless tops and dresses are all acceptable within reason, just avoid anything too short or too low cut. And for your sightseeing and day trips from Cairo – wear flat, comfortable, closed toe shoes – there’s a lot of sand to walk on in Egypt!

Egypt Travel Tip: Beer

If you are a beer drinker – beware! Due to the heat, the beer in Egypt has loads of preservatives which can unfortunately have a laxative effect. There is one brand called Sakkara which is preservative free, so I suggest you stick to this one…

Egypt Travel Tip: Hassle

Forget the Curse of Tutankhamun and how the Pyramids were built; the biggest myth for travelers to Egypt is that there will be hassle, hassle, hassle. I hate to bargain when shopping and I hate being pressured so I was definitely dreading the alleged hassle that most guide books warn you about. In contrast, I experienced minimal hassle from local shop owners. Yes they call out to you “my friend”, “free for you”, “you English?”, but a firm and polite “la shu-kran” — no thank you, was enough for their eyes to wander to the next potential customer.

Also wearing a hat and dark glasses helps avoid the eye contact which the vendors are desperately trying to get from you. Luxor is a little more aggressive than the other big cities, but this is understandable when you consider tourism is 80% of the city’s income. Overall I was pleasantly surprised and ended up with more souvenirs of the trip than I had expected.

cairo_souvenirs.jpg

Plenty of tourist schwag on hand

Egypt Travel Tip: Shopping

There are plenty of plastic Tutankhamuns and stuffed camels to buy in Egypt, everywhere in the world has their fair share of tacky souvenirs, but there is also some good quality items. The biggies to look out for are Papyrus, Alabaster/granite, gold and Egyptian cotton. Regardless of what Egypt excursions you do, you will always be offered the chance to visit stores specializing in these products, often at set prices.

They may not be the cheapest but if you are like me and not into the whole haggling thing, its a great way to shop. Just remember, if you don’t want to go you can just say no thanks. Obviously guides get a commission from sales to supplement their income, but big deal, can you blame them for wanting to supplement their income? I went to an Alabaster Factory in Luxor, the one place where you feel a little more pressure, and I browsed and left without buying anything.

It was important to me to prove you are not obliged (and in fairness to my guides, they never made me feel obligated to buy anything) and I did. So take the chance to see how Papyrus paper is made and how Alabaster is carved, have a look at what’s on offer and buy if you want – your choice.

Egypt Travel Tip: Camera

No matter where you are, or who they are, do not ever give your camera to someone else to take a photo for you – it will cost you dearly to get it back. If you want your photo taken somewhere, ask your guide or a fellow traveler, not the tourist police, not the temple staff, not the friendly camel owner and definitely not the guy with the Pharaoh head-dress who appears out of nowhere ‘my friend’. This is the scam you need to be aware of, so exercise some common sense and don’t hand over any valuables to complete strangers.

Egypt Travel Tip: Egyptian Museum

The Egyptian Museum should be one of the last places you visit (and I recommend the Egyptian Museum private tour, as well). Treasures from around Egypt have ended up here and it makes for a more interesting visit once you have seen their original homes, heard their stories and understand their significance. When you gaze upon the treasures of King Tutankhamun you can imagine how amazed Howard Carter would have been to open the untouched tomb once you have seen the arid location it was discovered in. The Museum is so big that unless you have several weeks to explore it in depth, you need to know what you are looking for and want to see.

Egypt Travel Tip: Chill out!

Relax! You do not need to take any more precautions in Egypt than you would traveling to most Western countries. People are very kind and respectful and I felt safer there than I often do in Sydney. It’s a different culture, no question there, but that doesn’t make it wrong, just different. Open your eyes and open your mind and Egypt will find a place in your heart.

If you are traveling there in the future, I hope these little travel tips for Egypt help you feel more comfortable about the experience you’ll to have. For the record, I may have said no at the Alabaster Factory but there were so many nice things I had to ask my guide to take me to another one the next day — the things I do in the line of duty!

-Kerrie O’Mahony

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40 Responses to “Travel Tips for Egypt”

  1. Pierre van Eck Says:

    Hi there – Just stumbled across your blog whilst browsing for interesting travel sites and wanted to congratulate you on some great articles and photographs. Super! I’ve especially enjoyed the Egypt pics at Flickr as I am from Cape Town and have often wanted to do the Cape to Cairo stint. Who knows … maybe soon. Thanks for the added inspiration.

  2. Nina Says:

    thanks kerrie, some good advice here. off for 2 weeks in egypt soon. yipeee

  3. Diana Browne Says:

    Hi there, I want to thank you for having such a clear defined travel list of tips needed by 1st time travellers to Egypt. I found it very informative and answered the questions my family needed to know ,plus extra . eg about the beer preservatives and the shopping not being such a huge hassle as the guide books led us to believe. We travel the world on a regular basis,and have found within reason most places are very safe it just depends of how much research & planing you do and sensibly choose how to get around and in what areas. Thanks for all the advice you have helped out so much. Best Wishes Diana Browne

  4. Katy McCormick Says:

    Kerrie Thanks for your well written blog. We are off to Egypt for two weeks at Easter and your tips sound really useful. I bet I would have fallen for that camera scam! But tip no. 10 is the best one. Katy

  5. Jenn Says:

    Hi Kerrie, thanks for these fantastic tips on travelling Egypt. It’s great to hear first-hand experience and your advice includes things that I haven’t read in the guidebooks. I’m off to Egypt for 10 days over Easter and I found your info really handy! :)

  6. Jan Says:

    Really good tips, thank you. Going to visit Egypt within two weeks :)

  7. Vinod Says:

    Really nice tips.

  8. Egypt tours and travel Says:

    some of them are commercial but useful any way. thanks,

  9. samantha Says:

    I was flirted with and touched suggestively while in Egypt by men. I have blonde hair and blue eyes and am voluptious. The men are sexy in a scary way and I liked it. I imagined being taken away on a white Arabian horse to a harem in the desert.

  10. Scott Mc Says:

    Um, Samantha. Maybe you should get out more often. I have the number of a good therapist if you need it.

  11. Johnny Says:

    Ya Samantha, get taken away and you could end up being in Mali or Chad, Niger or ? Good article by the way, …… Egypt can be difficult for the first time traveller from the West but if you like the place and learn how to become humble then its a breeze travelling or living there.

  12. Casey Says:

    Going to Egypt soon, and picked up some travel cash ahead of time. Unfortunately smallest bills available are 100s. Is there a place at the Cairo Airport to break one?

  13. Scott Mc Says:

    Hi Casey, let me ask around and see what I can find out for you.

  14. Scott Mc Says:

    Hi Casey, here’s a reply from Kerrie herself: “Yep, there is a bank at the airport, but they limit how many large bills they will break for you. The hotels are pretty good for this though, just ask at reception.”

  15. Sara Says:

    Thank you SO much for all he helpful info. I am planning two weeks in Sharm el Sheikh and am very excited. I will leave in a few weeks to visit friends who live and work there. Do you have any experience and/or tips regarding travel on the Sinai Pennisula? Again, your information was very helpful. Thank you in advance, Sara

  16. Sweety Says:

    Fabulous travel tips on Egypt. I was searching for a blog on tips for safety travel and on the way found out your blog. When started reading, it was really amazing and informative. Is there any website that assists in Business safety travel?

  17. YK Says:

    hi there! came upon this blog when i was searching for travel blogs for egypt. will be going there in a week’s time. thanks for sharing! :D

  18. elephantlala Says:

    yes great tips! i am going back to Egypt in Feb. but we’re not doing a tour this time. interesting about the preservative ridden beer — i will stay away this time! cheers!

  19. Carol Says:

    Excellent tips on travelling in Egypt, Just what I looked on the blog for, I wish you well on future journeys.

  20. Claire Says:

    Kerrie Thank you for your blog. Written and very informative. I to would have fallen for that camera trick and i have just brought a new one to take with me, so THANK YOU :) I am going in 2 days so will try and help with any more information when i get back (for all the new travellers. Thank you

  21. Frank Says:

    I don’t know what country you went to, but you certainly not describing the Egypt I am in right now. This is the most unfriendly and unsafe place I have ever been. I am so disappointed. If I were treated the way I have been treated in Egypt any other place I would react very differently. But here I am just biting my tonge out of fear for getting stranded in a slum. I am stunned at how a place that relies so heavily on tourism for its economy can treat people so badly.

  22. Anna Says:

    Thank you for the great tips! I am going to Egypt next week, and your article gave me a more clear view about my trip.

  23. Toni Says:

    I am going to Egypt soon, I am female and 19 and going with contiki, but I wanted to see some market. Ive heard as a muslim culture, men accompany woman. Will this be unsafe for me to visit markets alone. Thanks :)

  24. Kerrie O Says:

    Toni, if you are in the big cities and towns you don’t need to be with a man, but it does help avoid unwanted attention. If you are out and about on your own, just ensure you take care to dress appropriately and know where you are at all times. It is as safe as other popular tourist destinations, just ensure you exercise the same caution you would walking the streets of New York or London.

  25. Kerrie O Says:

    Frank, sorry to hear you didn’t have the best of times in Egypt, but as with anywhere in the world, you can come across people who don’t live up to your expectations.

  26. egypt tourism Says:

    i love egypt

  27. megan Says:

    Thank you for the tips. I have taken notes and believe that they will be usefulas we are visiting Egypt in september. Regards Megan.

  28. Te' Says:

    Thanks for the good review…. been really trying to bring appropriate culture based clothing, but it looks like I can dress like normal and have a few less conservative pieces on hand for when needed! Also the thanks for the small change tips Heading out in 10 days for two weeks – can’t wait to go…..Cheers~Te’

  29. Stephen F Says:

    I am heading to Alexandria in a couple of weeks, a question about the train from Alexandria to Cairo, are they reliable to get you to your destination on time. 7.00am Turbo Train arriving at 9.10am in to Cairo. i would like to book a domestic flight for 11.30am. Am i pushimg my luck ???????

  30. Janet Says:

    Just returned from 2 week tour of Egypt, loved it and endorse all the adivice given, especially small change, you will need 1 pound coins for toilets so try and get some as they do not like giving change. We hit a heat wave for Sept Oct and had max of 45 celcius most days, but still loved it. The culture is fascinating – the only thing I did not like is the haggling and having to run the gauntlet through the markets. As our excellent guide said Egypt is full of Options!! How true.

  31. Pawel Says:

    Hey! Some great information here. I am visiting Egypt really often and I think that you have mentioned all useful tips. Good job! Keep it up!

  32. Sue Says:

    Great advice and i have been 4 times….however i would recommend carrying anti-bacterial hand gel, the money is very dirty and smelly….and use it at every opportunity!!! I love Egypt, the History, the culture and the wonderful hospitality of the Egyptians………..once you visit you will want to return over and over again!!!

  33. Jan Says:

    My tip is, Do Not Bring Back Any Shells that you may find on the beach. It is illegal and you will be locked up. My friend learnt this the hard way!!

  34. Carlos Says:

    Thanks for the info, Very informative I was dreading what to expect but you have put my mind at rest Many thanks Also thanks to kerrie

  35. Carlos Says:

    Also i will post and give advise when i return in August, 1 small tip If you are thinking of doing the quad biking, Then buy the head wraps/scaffs in your own country as you can pick these up for a few pounds, You will be charged by the people who take you quad biking and this can be quite expensive. A friend of mine after barganing paid 3 times the amount it cost to go quad biking. Many thanks

  36. G Says:

    Fantastic blog, im going in a week, very informative thank you for being real

  37. Joseph Says:

    Hi, I’m on a connecting flight to Kuwait and will be at the Egypt International Airport for 7 hours. Is there any way i could best use these hours..? I’m looking to visit the Pyramids. Maybe i could arrange for a tourist visa and break my journey by a few more hours (will have to check with the airlines), but will that suffice..? I’m a photographer and have been longing for my moment. Could anyone advice me on this..?

  38. Chris Says:

    Thanks for the tips, my wife and I travel to Egypt tommorrow afternoon, Ive heard some horror stories about what to expect when we get there, the thing that worried me the most was that my blonde wife getting hassled over there!!! But reading this has eased my concerns a little :-)

  39. NYC Hotel Says:

    Thanks for your well crafted weblog. We are off to The red sea for two several weeks at Easter time and your guidelines audio really useful. I bet I would have decreased for that photographic camera scam! But tip no. 10 is the best one.

  40. Sam Seada Says:

    Hello from Egypt, yes it is a wonderful country, although I am living in the Netherlands but I always find Egypt is more interesting, mainly if you are living between well educated Egyptians, as they speak different languages and they have great social and Sports Clubs, you can make lots of friends in Egypt just in one week. thank you about your nice words over Egypt

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