The Arab Republic of Egypt (Arabic: مصر, màSr) is in north-eastern Africa. Egypt is perhaps best known as the home of the ancient Egyptian civilization, with its art, temples, hieroglyphs, mummies, and above all, its pyramids. Less well-known is Egypt's Coptic Christian and Muslim heritage, with ancient churches, monasteries and mosques dotted across the landscape. Egypt stimulates the imagination of tourists like few other countries.
|Lower Egypt |
The northern Nile delta, and the Mediterranean coast; Cairo, Alexandria
|Middle Egypt |
The area along the Nile where the historical Upper and Lower kingdoms met
|Upper Egypt |
A string of amazing temple towns located on the southern stretch of the Nile
|Western Desert |
Location of the Western Oases: five pockets of green, each with their own unique attractions
|Red Sea Coast |
Luxury beach resorts, diving and marine life
Rugged and isolated peninsula, with fascinating relics of the past, high mountains and great scuba diving
- 1 Greater Cairo — the capital of Egypt, home to the Giza Pyramids, the Egyptian Museum and fabulous Islamic architecture
- 2 Alexandria — Egypt's window on the Mediterranean, with still-palpable glimpses of the past
- 3 Aswan — a more relaxed option than Luxor, full of amazing sights
- 4 Hurghada — a town on the Red Sea, filled with all-inclusive resorts and numerous diving options
- 5 Luxor — gateway to the Valley of the Kings, amongst other fabulous attractions, and hassle capital of Egypt
- 6 Port Said — the centre of the third largest metropolitan area, has a cosmopolitan heritage, home to the Lighthouse of Port Said
- 7 Sharm el Sheikh — a hugely popular resort town on the Sinai peninsula, with some of the best scuba diving in the world
- 8 Quseir — a historical town with a old Fort and Down Town at the Red Sea coast, with some of the best diving spots and holiday destination in Egypt
- 1 Abu Simbel (Arabic: أبو سمبل) – a very remote town in the far south, with some impressive ancient temples and distinct history
- 2 Dahab (Arabic: دهب) – at Sinai, east of Sharm el Sheikh, a backpacker central, with excellent scuba diving
- 3 Karnak – scattered temples built with an emphasis on size, an impressive avenue of ram-headed sphinxes runs through the middle
- 4 Memphis (Arabic: مَنْف, Manf) and 5 Saqqara (Arabic: سقارة) – both filled with relics and ruins of ancient Egypt, they're often combined as a day trip from Cairo
- 6 Siwa (Arabic: واحة سيوة, Wāḥat Sīwah) – a stunning remote oasis near the Libyan border
- 7 St. Katherine (Arabic: سانت كاترين) – home to the oldest continually inhabited monastery, Mount Sinai and Mount Katherine (highest mountain in Egypt) and truly Bedouin culture
- 8 Taba Heights (Arabic: طابا, Ṭāba) – purpose built resort with views of Israel, Jordan and Saudi Arabia
- 9 Valley of the Kings (Arabic: وادي الملوك, Wādī al Mulūk)
|Currency||Egyptian pound (EGP)|
|Population||94.7 million (2017)|
|Electricity||220 volt / 50 hertz (Europlug, Schuko)|
|Emergencies||122 (police), 123 (emergency medical services), 180 (fire department)|
|edit on Wikidata|
Egypt also extends into Asia by virtue of holding the Sinai Peninsula. Egypt is bordered by Israel and the Gaza Strip to the north-east, by Sudan to the south and by Libya to the west. The country is bounded by the Mediterranean and Red Seas (to the north and east respectively) and geographically dominated both by the Nile River and its fertile well-watered valley, and by the Eastern and Western deserts.
While Egypt is primarily known as a tourist destination and for the pyramids, it is also notable as having the largest population in the Arabic-speaking world, and the second largest economy in Africa after South Africa.
The regularity and richness of the annual Nile River flood, coupled with semi-isolation provided by deserts to the east and west, allowed for the development of one of the world's great civilizations. A unified kingdom arose around 3200 BC and a series of dynasties ruled in Egypt for the next three millennia. The last native dynasty fell to the Persians in 341 BC, who in turn were replaced by the Greeks, Romans, and Byzantines. It was the Arabs who introduced Islam and the Arabic language in the 7th century and who ruled for the next six centuries. A local military caste, the Mamluks, took control about 1250 and continued to govern after the conquest of Egypt by the Ottoman Turks in 1517. Following the completion of the Suez Canal in 1869, Egypt became an important world transportation hub, but also fell heavily into debt. Ostensibly to protect its investments, Britain seized control of Egypt's government in 1882, but nominal allegiance to the Ottoman Empire continued until 1914. Egypt gained partial independence from the UK in 1922. The completion of the Aswan High Dam in 1971 and the resultant Lake Nasser have altered the time-honoured place of the Nile River in agriculture and the ecology of Egypt. A rapidly growing population (the largest in the Arab world), limited arable land, and dependence on the Nile all continue to overtax resources and stress society. The government has struggled to prepare the economy for the 21st century through economic reform and massive investment in communications and physical infrastructure.
Egypt's climate is generally classified as desert. It is an extension of the great Sahara that bands North Africa, and except for the thin strip of watered land along the Nile River, very little could survive there. As the ancient Greek historian Herodotus stated: "Egypt is the gift of the Nile".
Beware that from March till May, sand storms may occur, particularly during daytime. These storms not only make the air sandy and very dry, but also temporarily raise the temperature. Sand storms at other times of the year can still erupt but rarely and in winter, usually they won't raise the temperature.
Generally, the summers are hot, rainless and extremely sunny, but the air can be humid at the coasts and very dry at the south, away of the coasts and away of the Nile Delta. The winters are moderate. November through March are definitely the most comfortable months for travel in Egypt. Only the north coast (stretching from the sea to 50 km southwards) receives a little rain in winter; the rest of Egypt receives negligible or no rain.
Thunderstorms along with heavy rain showers that often last several hours are not uncommon in Alexandria, Marsa Matruh and all other northern coastal areas, and even the Delta. In some years the rainstorms can last for a whole day or so, though the rain tends to be lighter. Hail is also not uncommon, especially out in the desert where the weather is usually colder and allows for soft hail to fall and even frost to form on non-rainy days.
In the Sinai Mountains and also the Red Sea mountains, which stretch along the east side of the country along the shore of the Red Sea, there is generally more rain than the surrounding desert, as rain clouds tend to develop when warm air evaporates and rises as it moves across higher terrain. Floods in these areas are a common weather phenomenon as so much rain can fall in a very short amount of time (often a day or two), with thunder and lightning as well. Because of the desert and lack of abundant vegetation, the water from the rain quickly falls down across the hills and mountains and floods local areas. Every year there are stories in the local newspapers about flash floods in areas of the Sinai and also in Upper Egypt (southern Egypt) such as in Assiut, Luxor, Aswan, and Sohag. These floods, however, only generally happen two or three times a year, and do not happen at all in some years. When they happen, though, it is often in early times of the season such as in September or October, or in late winter such as February. Because of this risk, one should be careful when venturing out into the desert or camping in certain areas, as water can suddenly rush down from the nearby mountains and hills. It can sometimes carry a quite strong current that has been known to break down homes of rural people who build their homes from mud, bricks, and other weak materials. Poor people might drown in the floods, which is strange for a desert country that doesn't receive much precipitation.
Also, in higher elevations such as on top of the Sinai mountains, temperatures can drop much more than the surrounding areas, allowing for snowfall in winter months, since temperatures can drop down to below freezing, as well as formation of frost even in the low lying desert areas where the temperatures are generally several degrees colder than in the cities.
December, January and February are the coldest months of the year. However, winter days of southern places at the Nile Valley are warmer, but their nights are as cool as northern places.
Visitors should be aware that most houses and apartments in Egypt do not have central heating like countries with colder climates, because the main weather concern in Egypt is the heat. Therefore, even though the weather might not be so cold for a westerner, inside the apartment it might be colder at day but the temperature indoors is more stable than outdoors. In Cairo, in indoor buildings without air-conditioning, temperatures are about 15°C (59°F) in the coldest winter days and about 34°C (93°F) in the hottest summer days.
Banks, shops and businesses close for the following Egyptian national holidays (civil and religious), and public transport may run only limited services:
- 7 January (Eastern Orthodox Christmas)
- 25 January (Egyptian Revolution Day)
- 25 April (Sinai Liberation Day)
- 1 May (Labour Day)
- 23 July (July Revolution Day)
- 6 October (Armed Forces Day)
- 1st Shawwal, the 10th Hijri month (Eid al Fitr, "Breakfast Feast")
- 10th Dhu al Hijjah, the 12th Hijri month (Eid al Adha, "Sacrifice Feast")
- Working for shorter day hours for 29 or 30 days of Ramadan
Since Islamic holidays are based on the lunar calendar, their exact dates vary between years
Ramadan is the 9th and holiest month in the Islamic calendar and lasts 29–30 days. Muslims fast every day for its duration and most restaurants will be closed until the fast breaks at dusk. Nothing (including water and cigarettes) is supposed to pass through the lips from dawn to sunset. Non-Muslims are exempt from this, but should still refrain from eating or drinking in public as this is considered very impolite. Working hours are decreased as well in the corporate world. Exact dates of Ramadan depend on local astronomical observations and may vary somewhat from country to country. Ramadan concludes with the festival of Eid al-Fitr, which may last several days, usually three in most countries.
If you're planning to travel to Egypt during Ramadan, consider reading Travelling during Ramadan.
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and the most important month in the Islamic Calendar for Muslims, the majority religion in Egypt. Commemorating the time when God revealed the Qur'an to Mohammed, during this holy month, Muslims abstain from eating, drinking or smoking until after sundown on each day. Although strict adherence to Ramadan is for Muslims only, some Muslims appreciate that non-Muslims do not take meals or smoke in public places. During Ramadan, many restaurants and cafes won't open until after sundown. Public transport is less frequent, shops close earlier before sunset and the pace of life (especially business) is generally slow.
As expected, exactly at sunset minute, the entire country quiets down and busy itself with the main meal of the day (iftar, "breaking-fast") that are almost always done as social events in large groups of friends. Many richer people offer (Tables of the Gracious God موائد الرحمن) in Cairo's streets that cater full-meals for free for the passers-by, the poorer ones or workers who couldn't leave their shifts at the time. Prayers become popular 'social' events that some like to enrich with special food treats before and after. An hour or two later, an astonishing springing to life of the cities takes place. Streets sometimes richly decorated for the whole month have continuous rush hours till very early in the morning. Some shops and cafes make the biggest chunk of their annual profit at this time of year. Costs of advertising on television and radio soars for this period and entertainment performances are at their peak.
Egypt consists of vast desert plateau interrupted by the Nile valley and delta, along with the Sinai peninsula. Portions of the Nile River valley are bounded by steep rocky cliffs, while the banks are relatively flat in other areas, allowing for agricultural production.
There is no standard way of transcribing Arabic words into western script. The main effect on these pages is on place names, and that little word el for "the" - a common prefix - is a good example. Arabic doesn't spell out short vowels so el could also be "al" or "il" (sometimes even "ul"). It doesn't distinguish upper and lower case, and words are run together rather than hyphenated, so el could also be "El", "El-" or "el-". Permute the short vowels and you've got twelve ways to spell a place. And then there are the "sun letters" such as "Sh" which assimilate the "el" when spoken, though the Arabic spelling doesn't alter. Thus "Sharm el-Sheikh" is pronounced "Sharm esh-Sheikh"; western script preserves the "el" in that example but for other towns may follow the pronunciation. The Arabic glottal stop may be transcribed as an apostrophe or omitted. "Q" may be transcribed "Qu" or "K" or "Kh" or not at all, since the Egyptian "koph" is often silent. But after that it gets complicated . . .
Individual pages here tend to settle on a particular spelling for consistency, but there's inevitable variation on other pages and other sources such as maps.
Egypt is one of only three Middle Eastern countries that tolerate Israeli citizens in their country. As such, entry into Egypt will not be a problem for Israeli passport holders. However, if this issue is of concern to you, read Visa trouble.
As a major tourist destination whose economy is dependent upon tourist money, Egypt is relatively easy to enter and/or obtain visas for if necessary. There are three types of Egyptian visa:
- Tourist Visa - usually valid for 3 months or less and granted on either a single or multiple entry basis
- Entry Visa - required for any foreigner arriving in Egypt for purposes other than tourism, e.g. work, study. The possession of a valid Entry Visa is needed to complete the residence procedure in Egypt.
- Transit Visa - rarely needed and only for certain nationalities
Entry visas may be obtained from Egyptian diplomatic and consular missions abroad or from the Entry Visa Department at the Travel Documents, Immigration and Nationality Administration (TDINA). Non-Egyptians are required to have a valid passport.
Visa on arrival is available for many western countries; see below. Citizens, however, of the following countries are required to have a visa before arriving, which must be applied for through an Egyptian consulate or embassy outside of Egypt:
- Afghanistan, Algeria, Angola, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belarus, Belize, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, China, Comoros, R Congo, DR Congo, Côte d'Ivoire, Djibouti, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Eswatini, Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guatemala, Guinea-Bissau, Honduras, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Kenya, DPR Korea, R Kosovo, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Lesotho, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Malaysia, Mali, Mauritania, Mauritius, Moldova, Mongolia, Montenegro, Morocco, Mozambique, Myanmar, Namibia, Nicaragua, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, Palestine, Philippines, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Sudan, Syria, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Thailand, Togo, Tunisia, Turkey (except those aged below 20 and above 45), Turkmenistan, Uganda, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Visitors entering Egypt at the overland border crossing at Taba or at Sharm el Sheikh airport can be exempted from a visa and granted a free fourteen day entry visa to visit the Aqaba coast of the Sinai peninsula, including Sharm el Sheikh, Dahab and St. Catherine's Monastery. Visitors wishing to leave the Sinai peninsula and to visit Cairo and other Egyptian cities are required to hold full Egyptian visas, although strictly speaking there is a small possibility no one will check for this unless you attempt to exit the country. These are not issued at the Taba border crossing and must be acquired in advance either in the country of residence, at the Egyptian consulate in Eilat or airport upon arrival. Visitors on organized tours often may be able to have their visas issued at the border, but should verify in advance with their travel agent or tour operator if this option is available. Those in possession of a residence permit are not required to obtain an entry visa if they leave the country and return to it within the validity of their residence permit or within six months, whichever period is less.
Tourists visiting Sharm el Sheikh who are planning to undertake scuba diving outside local areas (i.e. Ras Mohammed) must obtain the tourist visa in order to leave the Sharm el Sheikh area. Officials on boats may check dive boats whilst on the waters so you are advised to obtain the visa beforehand: there may be fines involved for you and the boat captain if you are caught without the appropriate visa. Most reputable dive centres will ask to see your visa before allowing you on trips.
Egypt has peaceful relations with Israel, but the degree of friendliness varies, and with it, the direct connections between the two countries. A direct air service between Cairo and Tel Aviv is operated by EgyptAir under the guise of "Air Sinai". Bus service seems to continue, as described below. In any case, verify the situation as you plan, and again at the last minute.
Visa on arrival
Citizens of Bahrain, Guinea, South Korea, Libya, Oman, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Yemen receive a 3-month visa on arrival. Citizens of Kuwait can obtain 6-month Residence Permit upon arrival. China and Malaysian citizens receive a 15-day visa on arrival. Citizens of China (only Hong Kong and Macau SAR) may have a 30-day visit without visa.
Citizens of UK, EU, Australia, Canada, Croatia, Georgia, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Macedonia, Republic of Korea, Russian Federation, Serbia, Ukraine and USA may also obtain a visa on arrival at major points of entry.
The visa on arrival is US$25 for everyone. You will not necessarily need US dollars, most major currencies, down to small notes ($1, €5, £5), are accepted and exchanged by the visa fee collecting officer at a more than fair rate. The officer will also put the visa fee sticker into you passport, with which you will have to pass through passport control. The sticker is quite loose: if you feel like it is at the wrong location or taking too much space, you can move it to a more convenient location, or hide a stamp with it that you might want to conceal for certain reasons.
Egypt has several international airports:
- 1 Cairo International Airport (CAI IATA). This airport is the primary entry point and the hub of the national carrier, Egyptair.
- 2 Borg el Arab International Airport (HBE IATA). All flights into Alexandria now use this airport.
- 3 Hurghada International Airport (HRG IATA). Nowadays, a major airport for budget tourists coming into Egypt and staying along the Red Sea most of the time. Many airlines to Hurghada can be booked without paying for a holiday package.
- 4 Sharm el Sheikh International Airport (SSH IATA). Like Hurghada, well frequented and one of the cheapest options to get into Egypt.
- 5 Luxor International Airport (LXR IATA). This airport is now receiving an increasing number of international scheduled flights, mostly from Europe, in addition to charter flights.
- 6 Aswan International Airport (ASW IATA).
- 7 Marsa Alam International Airport (RMF IATA).
- See also: Ferries in The Red Sea
Ferries run regularly from Aqaba across to Nuweiba on the Sinai peninsula, bypassing Israel and the sometimes complicated border arrangements. Generally there is no visa fee for entering Jordan through Aqaba since it is a part of the free trade zone. The line to Nuweiba is operated by AB Maritime. It is also possible to travel from Saudi Arabia to several Red Sea coast ports.
There are no scheduled passenger ferries between Europe and Egypt. For those intent to recreate the classical way of reaching Egypt, freighter travel remains an option.
Travelling to Egypt by bus is a cheaper option than short-haul flights from neighbouring countries. A trip between Jordan and Cairo can cost as little as US$45 (€35). The downside, of course, is that it's time consuming and, even if buses nowadays have plush seats and air-con, quite uncomfortable as you're confined to a seat for up to 40 hr. Also, foreigners entering Egypt by bus must pay a LE63 tax (Egyptian pounds).
Israel is the most popular country to travel by bus from and travellers can easily access Egypt by bus from Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. There are however no cross-border services. The most common route is to take a bus to Eilat where you can cross over the border into Taba and take a bus to Cairo or into the Sinai. Generally, only two or three buses leave from Taba to the various destinations each day; one morning and one afternoon service, with an early evening departure from time to time. Plan the arrival in Eilat accordingly, and be prepared to spend the night in either Eilat or Taba if arriving late. As usual, crossing into Israel by bus means getting your passport stamped and many Arab countries denying you entry (read Visa trouble).
Other routes to Cairo includes; direct services from Amman twice a week by the Jordanian state bus company, JETT. There's daily services by SAPTCO from Dammam, Jeddah and Riyadh in Saudi Arabia. There are also buses from Benghazi, although they can be suspended due to the fluid security situation there. Journey times for all these destinations are between 25 and 40 hours.
Overland journeys between cities in Egypt are often long, hot, bumpy, dusty, and not altogether safe. There is a good domestic air network, and advance fares are not expensive, so flying internally is often a good option. Obvious exceptions are Cairo - Alexandria and Luxor - Aswan, both only 220 km apart so ground transport will be quicker, and you'd only fly between them to connect onto another domestic or international flight.
Cairo has direct flights to every other major city, including Luxor, Aswan, Abu Simbel, Hurghada, Sharm el-Sheikh, Alexandria, Marsa Matruh, Marsa Alam and Kharga oasis. These run at least daily, and the main cities have several flights a day. There are also daily flights directly between Alexandria, Aswan, Luxor, Hurghada and Sharm el-Sheikh.
Most flights are operated by the national carrier, EgyptAir. This is the first place to go looking. Some internet booking sites (e.g. Expedia) don't offer their flights - it'll appear as if you need to fly via Istanbul or similar nonsense. If you don't have internet access, Egyptair doesn't do phone sales, but they have lots of downtown booking offices - your hotel can point these out.
There are rival airlines such as Nile Air and Al Masria. Nile Air has flights from Cairo and Alexandria. Al Masria flies to Cairo from Hurghada, and Sharm El Sheikh. Foreign package airlines (e.g. TUI) sometimes fly an internal route, but that's to move their clients around on multi-centre holidays, and they're not available to book as point-to-point domestic flights.
Egypt's mainline railway follows the Nile: from Aswan north through Luxor to Cairo and Alexandria. Branch lines fan out across the Nile delta, as far east as Suez and Port Said, and west along the coast through El Alamein as far as Mersa Matruh. Train is an excellent way to travel between Cairo and Alexandria, and between Luxor and Aswan, with frequent daytime services taking 2–3 hrs. Trains also run between Cairo and Luxor and Aswan, both daytime and overnight. There are no trains to the Red Sea resorts or to Siwa oasis.
Almost all trains are run by the state-owned company Egyptian National Railways (ENR) (the exception is the Cairo-Luxor-Aswan sleeper run by Watania, described below). Express trains have air-conditioned classes called AC1 and AC2 (1st and 2nd class). They are clean and comfortable. For ordinary trains the classes AC1 and AC2 are likewise available, with A/C sometimes in AC1, but never in AC2. Fares are very cheap by Western standards, even the priciest Cairo-Alexandria single ticket is only about LE51 (Oct 2018). It is half that for slower trains, and half again for AC2, respectively. Punctuality could be described as "not bad for Egypt": trains generally start out from their first station on time but pick up delays along the way. Delays of up to an hour are not uncommon, especially between Cairo and Luxor. So, if your train is coming from somewhere else, do not expect it to be on time.
In addition, local 3rd class trains are a great way to explore attractions in the surrounding area. They can also be used for longer distances if you want to connect with the locals and are on a tight budget. 3rd class sounds worse than it actually is—the chairs are wooden but the interior is sometimes painted well. They are dirt cheap, LE1.50-4 for 50 km, but make sure you have small notes or coins available—even a LE5 note can be a problem. The local train schedule is not available online, so you need to make enquiries at the station. Be insistent, they might just tell you the regular train schedule that you already know from the ENR website, expecting that you would not want to use anything beyond AC2 or even beyond AC1. Also, information can sometimes be very hard to confirm; which time, which platform, which stops. It is best to ask several people/officers and find out what they say. Or have a look at the station departure board a day or so before your intended travel, chances are trains run same time every day. Some local trains can get quite full, but mostly only the ones that travel far.
Travel by foreigners can be subject to security restrictions, but (in early 2018) there were no genuine restrictions. If you get told that a train is not running, it might simple be due to the expectation, e.g. by station personal, or that it cannot be booked online, e.g. by a travel clerk.
The best way to buy tickets for express trains is online, in advance, from ENR. This incurs no add-on charges, guarantees your seat and will save much hassle at stations or booking offices. The site content is in English and Arabic. First register with the site, then purchase is clunky but straightforward. Tickets go on sale 2 weeks ahead of departure - they are usually still available on the day of departure, but trains can book out at busy times. The site will only book expresses, i.e. 1st and 2nd class, and only for the main cities. You will need to file passport details for all the travellers in your group. The ENR site accepts payment from most major credit and debit cards. If you cannot print your ticket immediately, be sure to record the confirmation number so you can retrieve it later - ENR does not send you email confirmation. (Landscape printing is best, as portrait may crop the confirmation number.) Try to take a screenshot of your ticket as soon as possible -- the website is known to try to refresh itself constantly, and will lose your ticket if it does so. The main details of the confirmation are in English, amid a welter of Arabic small print. Other websites, and travel agents offices, will simply sell you what is available on ENR or Watania and will charge extra for doing so.
Otherwise, you can queue at the station—make sure you are aiming for the correct window, and sort your money first to avoid exposing wallet and passport. Or you can board without a ticket and pay the conductor on the train. There is a surcharge of LE6 for this, and platform security do not seem to mind if you do not have a ticket, even for expresses that are supposedly reservation-only.
The self-service ticket machines at the main stations offer service in Arabic and English. If the machine tells you that the "Journey [is] unavailable", try at the ticket window - you may still get tickets there (Oct 2018).
Buy tickets in advance, since at peak travel times, trains may be fully booked, especially the inexpensive ones. Except during busy holiday periods, it's not normally difficult to purchase tickets on the day of travel or the day before. To avoid complications, book as far ahead as possible.
The sleeper service Cairo-Luxor-Aswan is run by Watania, a private company. Buy tickets online from them, as ENR do not show those services on their timetable and do not sell tickets.
Egypt has an extensive long-distance bus network, operated mostly by government-owned companies. Among the largest companies are Bedouin Bus, Pullman, West Delta, Golden Arrow, Super Jet, East Delta, El Gouna, Go Bus and Upper Egypt Bus Co. Popular routes are operated by more than one company. Some bus companies allow you to book seats in advance; some sell spots based upon availability of seats. Online ticketing are available via some companies too.
Beware buying tickets from bus touts on the street or outside your hotel. The smaller companies are sometimes unlicensed and can cut corners with safety. There have been eight serious bus crashes involving foreign nationals since January 2006, in which over 100 people have been killed. If you are a passenger in a vehicle that is travelling at an unsafe speed you should firmly instruct the driver to slow down.
Road accidents are very common in Egypt, mainly due to poor roads, dangerous driving and non-enforcement of traffic laws. Police estimate that road accidents kill over 6,000 people in Egypt each year. This is twice the UK figure. Other estimates put the figure far higher.
In bigger cities, especially in Cairo, main streets often become congested at peak times and that may double the time needed to reach where you want to go.
In the cities, taxis are a cheap and convenient way of getting around. Although generally safe, taxis drive as erratically as all the other drivers, especially in Cairo, and there are sometimes fake taxis travel around. Make sure they have official markings on the dashboard or elsewhere; the taxis are always painted in special colours to identify them, as the taxi mark on top of the car. In Cairo the taxis are all white (rarely with advertisement on sides), those ones are preferable as they have a digital counter to tell you how much to pay and you shouldn't pay more than what the meter tells you, you can tell the driver in advance that you would only pay what the meter displays. Other older taxis are black and white, there are also the rarer Cairo cabs, all in yellow, also with the meter. In Luxor they are blue and white, and in Alexandria yellow and black. In Cairo and Luxor it is often much more interesting to use the taxis and a good guidebook instead of travelling around in a tour bus.
Seemingly, Cairo is alone in Egypt with having a sizeable population of modern metered cabs. Since Jan 2009, in Sharm El Sheikh all airport taxis have meters fitted and they must be used. Generally the best way is to ask at your hotel or someone you know from Egypt for the prices from point-to-point. You could also ask a pedestrian or policemen for the correct price. The best way to hire a taxi is to stand on the side of the road and put out a hand. You will have no trouble attracting a taxi, especially if you are obviously a Westerner. It is generally advisable to take white taxis that use the meter because the black and white taxis usually involve haggling at the end of the ride, some white taxi drivers don't start the meter unless you ask them to, if they say the meter is broken it's better to ask the driver to drop you off before you get far. It's important to have some change with you (a couple of fives and a ten) because some drivers say that they don't have change to drive off with the rest of your money.
If riding a black and white taxi negotiate a price and destination before getting into the car. At the end of the journey, step out of the car and make sure you have everything with you before giving the driver the payment. If the driver shouts, it's probably OK, but if he steps out of the car you almost certainly paid too little. Prices can be highly variable but examples are LE20 from central Cairo to Giza, LE10 for a trip inside central Cairo and LE5 for a short hop inside the city. Locals pay less than these prices for taxis which don't have the meters; the local price in a taxi from Giza or Central Cairo to the airport is LE25-30. Do not be tempted to give them more because of the economic situation; otherwise, ripping off foreigners will become more common and doing so generally tends to add to inflation. The prices listed here are already slightly inflated to the level expected from tourists, not what Egyptians would normally pay. You can also hire taxis for whole days, for LE100-200 if going on longer excursions such as to Saqqara and Dashur from Cairo. Inside the city they are also more than happy to wait for you (often for a small extra charge, but ask the driver), even if you will be wandering around for a few hours.
Taxi drivers often speak enough English to negotiate price and destination, but only rarely more. Some speak more or less fluently and they will double as guides, announcing important places when you drive by them, but they can be hard to find. The drivers often expect to be paid a little extra for that; however, do not feel the need to pay for services that you have not asked for. If you find a good English-speaking driver, you may want to ask him for a card or a phone number, because they can often be available at any time and you will have a more reliable travel experience.
A new line of taxis owned by private companies has been introduced in Cairo. They are all clean and air-conditioned. The drivers are formally dressed and can converse in at least one foreign language, usually English. These taxis stand out because of their bright yellow colour. They can be hailed on the street if they are free or hired from one of their stops (including one in Tahrir square in the city centre). These new taxis use current meters which count by the kilometre, which starts from LE2.50. In general, they are marginally more expensive than the normal taxis; you can call 16516, two hours in advance, in Cairo to hire a taxi.
If you do not want to be bothered by police convoys, tell the police at check points that you work in Egypt. They will demand your passport but actually most cannot read Roman letters and identify anything. Police convoys are more a psychological sooth for tourists instead of real protection—it draws more attention than when you use a local taxi.
Ride-hailing services — Careem and Uber — are available in Cairo, Alexandria and Hurghada, and expanding elsewhere. These provide travellers an easy alternative to taxis as the app translates destinations from English to Arabic, and fares are fixed. They are widely used by Egyptians.
Fuel is inexpensive in Egypt, prices are heavily subsidized: LE6.75 per litre in December 2019. If you decide to rent a car, you will not add significantly to the cost through fuel. Car rental sites require you to be at least 21 years old. Driving in Egypt is not for the faint of heart and can be downright dangerous; unless you really need this option it is just as easy and probably cheaper to travel by taxis and around the country by air, train or bus. As you will see shortly after arrival, obedience of traffic laws is low and there are very few signs indicating road rules. Expect to see other vehicles driving against the flow on motorways, no lane discipline and many death defying manoeuvres. It is as if most drivers are very drunk (they are not). You might also become a target for Egyptian police seeking a bribe, who will pick some trivial offence you have committed and which in reality you could not have avoided. Egypt and Cairo in particular have a reputation for the worst driving in the world (it is not the worst, but is still very bad). Most Egyptian roads have unmarked speed humps. These humps are not small and on some major roads can be too large for low clearance vehicles to get over without damage.
Also read the note at the end of the last taxi chapter on pretending to be working in Egypt to avoid travelling in convoys.
The ferry across the Red Sea between Hurghada and Sharm el-Sheikh was suspended in 2010, and no re-start is in sight.
Student or teacher?
Egypt is unusual in that most sites offer a hefty 50% discount for holders of the International Student Identification Card (ISIC), or the teacher equivalent. This can be significant, especially say somewhere like the Pyramids of Giza - around US$70 equivalent to enter everything, or US$35 with the card. If you are a student or teacher, it may be worthwhile to apply for one before leaving your home nation. There are some places even selling ISIC in Egypt (like Luxor), but their reliability and authenticity is unknown. Some sites only accept student cards for holders aged up to 30.
Highlights of any visit to Egypt include famous archaeological sites from both Lower (North) and Upper (South) Egypt. The most famous are:
- Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx
- Egyptian Museum
- Red, Bent and Black Pyramids of Dahshur, neglected but a great alternative to Giza with the oldest known pyramid
- Citadel of Salah El Din and Mosque of Mohamed Ali
- Khan al Khalili bazaar and al Hussein Mosque
- Pyramids and temples of Saqqara, just north of Dahshur
- Memphis, with some relics of ancient Egypt - including a huge statue of Ramesses II, evoking the image which inspired Percy Bysshe Shelley's poem Ozymandias
Alexandria is the country's main summer attraction for Egyptians escaping the summer heat and looking for a place to spend vacation. The city has several Roman and Greek sights:
- the stunning new Bibliotheca Alexandrina
- Qa'edbay's Castle
- Colonial and Roman buildings
- Qasr El Montaza (El Montaza Palace),
Aswan is a great alternative over the hassling and overrated Luxor. Here, you can equally see impressive temples and ancient monuments, but at the same time relax and enjoy the authentic and large souq, and:
- Tombs of Nobles, with a great view of Aswan and some fine paintings inside the tombs.
- Abu Simbel, near the border with Sudan at Lake Nasser, one of the most impressive sights in Egypt besides the pyramids.
- Geziret El Nabatat (The Island of Plants), an island in the Nile River of Aswan which was planted by rare species of plants, trees and flowers.
- Perhaps the most popular activity in Luxor and Aswan is to do the Nile Cruise on a ship between both. It enables you to stop at each location along the Nile where you can see all the famous ancient monuments, including the neglected Kom Ombo, as well as experience being in the Nile River inside a five-star hotel boat.
- Karnak and Luxor Temples
- West Bank with the Valley of the Kings, Medinat Habu and the Temple of Hatshepsut
Also not to miss:
- The Red Sea resorts at Sinai peninsula, including Dahab, Hurghada, and Sharm el Sheikh, with some of the best dive locations in the world.
- The sights of the Sinai peninsula, including Saint Catherine's Monastery and Mount Sinai.
- The western desert and the oases there, including Siwa,
- Football (soccer) is the most popular sport in Egypt, with the Egyptian Premier League being the main domestic tournament. The Cairo Derby between the clubs of Al Ahly and Zamalek is the main highlight of the season, and widely regarded to be the biggest rivalry in all of Africa. The Egyptian national team is also one of the strongest in Africa, having won the African Cup of Nations a record 7 times, with some of the top Egyptian players having gone on to successful careers in Europe's elite clubs.
There is a lot to do for the foreign traveller in Egypt. Apart from visiting and seeing the ancient temples and artefacts of ancient Egypt, there is also much to see within each city. In fact, each city in Egypt has its own charm of things to see with its own history, culture, activities, and people who often differ in nature from people of other parts of Egypt.
Cairo, for instance has so much to do and see. Besides the ancient Egyptian history, there is the history of Romans, Greeks, Byzantine Empire, Islamic empire, Ottomans, and finally modern Egyptian history.
Jewish and Christian history To see more about Egypt's Christian and Jewish history, go to a local tourist office and ask them to give you names of local churches and synagogues. There is at least two synagogues dating back many years ago, when Egypt had a population of a few hundred thousand Jews in the country, who eventually left during the formation of Israel.
There is a lot of old and interesting churches to see in different areas of Cairo, including downtown Cairo, Heliopolis, Korba, Shubra, Abbasiya, Zamalek, and Maadi. Some of these churches have been around for several hundred years and their architecture resemble that of Churches in Western countries, often built by Europeans who built much of the city's architecture in the 19th century as a resemblance to modern buildings of Europe at the time.
Modern Cairo If you want to see modern Cairo, try walking in the streets of Zamalek, Maadi, Mohandiseen, or Heliopolis where you will see some of the more modern buildings and get to experience the way of life in Egypt.
Local cafés, coffeeshops and restaurants For social times, try sitting in one of the local cafes restaurants where you can meet and interact with fellow Egyptians. There are numerous coffeeshops/cafes and restaurants all over Cairo all catering for different tastes and backgrounds and range from the very budget to the very expensive.
Local chains include Coffee Roastery, Cilantro, Grand Cafe, and Costa Coffee. Generally each area of Cairo has its cafés and restaurants.
Sporting and recreational clubs: If the heat is too much, you can go to one of the famous sporting clubs such as the Gezira Club located in Zamalek, or the Seid Club (otherwise known in English as the Shooting Club) located in Mohandiseen, where you can have a dip at the swimming pool or otherwise enjoy sitting in the shade and comfort of lush trees and gardens. Entrance for foreigners can be gained by buying a one-day ticket for LE20-30 which enables the person to enjoy all the facilities of club including playing any sports. There are of course changing facilities and restaurants inside the club where one can enjoy a meal or a drink after engaging in any activity.
Nightlife: If you enjoy nightlife, there is quite a few nightclubs and discos where you can drink and dance to some of the most modern tunes in the west as well as listen to some Arabic music. The music varies from Dance and Trance to Hip Hop, Rap, Techno, as well as Rock and Pop. These clubs are usually located inside five-star hotels or at areas such as Mohandiseen and Zamalek.
Examples include: the Cairo Jazz Club (mohandiseen), Purple (on a boat in Zamalek), Hard Rock Café (inside the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Garden City), and L'Obergine (pub and bar in Zamalek).
Desert adventures: For other adventures, try going to the Haram District of Cairo, and look for any horse-riding stables. There, you can rent a horse for a few hours and ride, or even ride a camel out in the desert by the pyramids and the Sphinx. The best time to do this is at night when you can see all the stars shining together in the sky and capture the magical feeling of the place. You will be with a local guide riding with you on another horse or camel, or you might even be joined a group of other individuals or groups of friends who enjoy riding horses in the desert by the pyramids like yourself.
Nile boat: Try renting a Feluca boat (small boat that can carry up to 20 individuals) in the Nile of Cairo. There you can experience the beauty of the Nile and the surround scenery, where you can see the city and its buildings and streets from within the water around. Depending on the weather, you can do this either day or night, but you will need to go to the Giza District and walk along the corniche area of the Nile and ask any of the locals for renting this boat.
Islamic Cairo/Fatimid Cairo: For those interested in the Islamic architecture and history, try going to Islamic Cairo (el Gamalaya district) or Khan El Khalili. There you will see numerous buildings and some mosques and see how buildings and houses were built in the Islamic Era of Egypt. There is also a Souk or (Bazar) where you can buy lots of different souvenirs and items.
Alexandria: Since Alexandria was founded in 332/31 BC by Alexander the Great “the pearl of the Mediterranean” has been one of the major sites of Egyptian history. After the death of the Macedonian king the city developed under the Ptolemies into the intellectual and cultural center of the entire Hellenistic world. Great scholars lived and worked in the Museion
- See also: Egyptian Arabic phrasebook
The national spoken language is Egyptian Arabic - go for this if you want to be understood and to acknowledge that you are the foreigner and respectful visitor. However there are multiple versions of Arabic, often referred to as "dialects" but effectively different languages, mostly mutually unintelligible.
The official language of Egypt is Modern Standard Arabic or MSA. It's taught in schools and so is understood by everyone. MSA is used in most written and official forms such as TV, newspapers, government speeches, teaching and education, but you won't hear it in everyday speech. So you'd need to learn it to be a serious scholar of the language but not for short visits.
Southern cities such as Luxor and Aswan have a dialect of Sa'idi Arabic, akin to the language of Sudan and the Saudi Hejaz. The Siwi language of the Western Desert and the Bedouin dialect of Sinai isn't even understood by most Egyptians. Only an archaeologist understands the hieroglyphics of the pharaohs, while their modern descendant Coptic is only heard in liturgy.
Arabic is a difficult language for most westerners as the grammar and word-patterns are so different. However if you learn nothing else, grasp a few basic words and courtesies. There is a ping-pong ritual whereby each greeting or salutation has a stock reply, so learn these together. After a couple of exchanges people will switch to English rather than endure your Arabic any longer, even before you concede defeat with betetkallem engelīzi? - "Do you speak English?" (Of course that's betetkallemi engelīzi? when addressing a female). For instance if you say shukran meaning "thanks" their stock reply comes in English: "Aah but you speak such good Arabic!" You might shrug and say ana talib, bas - "I'm just learning" and deprecate your attempts.
Written Arabic is even harder work, but you should learn the numbers, shown below. What we call "Arabic numbers" are actually western Arabic numerals, and the Arabic-speaking world uses the different eastern numerals. They're easy and instructive to learn, because when you see prices displayed for locals you'll realise with a shock how much extra they're demanding of you.
People in the service sector learn any language that might earn their next payment, and hotel and restaurant staff either have good English or quickly call their colleague who does. Otherwise, fish around for any language that might serve. During the 2010s the Russians and Ukrainians kept visiting Egypt in an era when many westerners stayed away, so those are often understood in the main resorts. People's German, French, Italian and Spanish might be rusty but they'll soon get it back. Along the Sinai coastal strip, they often know some Hebrew as there are many Israeli visitors. However, while the Greek Marine Club in Alexandria still serves good fish, their Greek is as deplorable as your Arabic.
Exchange rates for Egyptian pounds
As of January 2020:
Exchange rates fluctuate. Current rates for these and other currencies are available from XE.com
Hoard your small notes!
Egypt has a perpetual shortage of small notes and coins: even banks are reluctant to break too many notes. Vendors will also perpetually say they do not have change. Hoard your small bills as much as you can, be prepared to frequently visits banks for change, and break your notes in the easiest situations such as large supermarkets.
What does it cost?
Sometimes (fruit and vegetable) market stands have price signs, quoting in Piastre per kg. Thus, it is of great advantage to understand the Eastern Arabic numbers. They will tell you the price is for half kg, because they see that you are a tourist, but that is a lie. Best to just demand the weight of what you desire and give the (almost) right amount—leaving the impression that you know the situation. In the following some common prices.
The local currency is the Egyptian pound (ISO code: EGP), which is divided into 100 piastres. The currency is often written as LE (short for French livre égyptienne, or by using the pound sign £ with or without additional letters: E£ and £E. In Arabic, the pound is called genē [màSri] / geni [màSri] (جنيه [مصرى]), in turn derived from English "guinea", and piastres (pt) are known as ersh (قرش). Wikivoyage uses the "LE" notation for consistency, but expect to see a variety of notations in shops and other businesses.
- Coins: Denominations are 25pt, 50pt and 1 pound. You won't really need to know the name piastre, as the smallest value in circulation as of 2014 is 25 piastres, and this is almost always called a "quarter pound" (rob` genē ربع جنيه), and the 50 piastres, "half pound" (noSS genē نص جنيه).
- Paper money: The banknote denominations are 25 and 50 piastres; 1, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100 and 200 pounds.
In Egypt, the pound sterling is called, genē esterlīni (جنيه استرلينى).
The Egyptian pound has been devaluing gradually over the last several decades. In the 1950s and 1960s, the Egyptian pound was valued almost the same as the British pound sterling. Since 2011, the exchange rate has become relatively unstable and inflation sped up. On November 3, 2016, the central bank decided to devaluate the Egyptian pound to an exchange rate similar to that of the black market.
Banks and exchange offices or anyone who would exchange currencies, would slightly extra charge you for the official exchange rate. Foreign currencies can be exchanged at exchange offices or banks, so there is no need to resort to the dodgy street moneychangers. Many higher-end hotels price in American dollars or euros and will gladly accept them as payment, however often at a bad rate over the Egyptian pounds. Bank hours are Sunday to Thursday, 8:30AM-2PM.
Counterfeit or obsolete notes are not a major problem, but exchanging pounds outside the country can be difficult. Before leaving Egypt, even if travelling to neighbouring countries in the Middle East, convert your currency to euros, British pounds or US dollars. Money changers in other countries will give you 30% to 50% per Egyptian Pound than the rate you will get in Egypt, if they accept Egypt's currency at all. Converting to and from US dollars, euros or British pounds has a relatively small spread, so you will only lose a few per cent.
You can withdraw local money with a Mastercard or Visa card from many ATMs all over Egypt. ATMs are ubiquitous in the cities and probably the best option. Letting you home bank do the currency conversion when using ATM, offers the best rate. Many foreign banks have branches in Egypt. These include Barclay's Bank, HSBC, CitiBank, NSGB, BNP Paribas, Piraeus Bank, CIB, and other local and Arab banks.
Visa and Mastercard are accepted at many frequented places, but only bigger hotels or restaurants in Cairo and restaurants in tourist areas will readily accept American Express and Diners Club as payment. Traveller's cheques can no longer be used.
Egypt is a shopper's paradise, especially if you're interested in Egyptian-themed souvenirs and kitsch. However, there are also a number of high quality goods for sale, often at bargain prices. Some of the most popular purchases include:
- Alabaster Alabaster bowls, figures, etc are common throughout Egypt.
- Antiques (NB: not antiquities, the trade of which is illegal in Egypt)
- Carpets and rugs
- Cotton goods and clothing Can be bought at Khan El Khalili for around LE30-40. Better quality Egyptian cotton clothing can be bought at various chain stores including Mobaco Cottons and Concrete which have many branches throughout the country. The clothes are expensive for Egypt (about LE180-200 for a shirt) but cheap by Western standards given the quality.
- Inlaid goods, such as backgammon boards
- Jewellery Cartouches make a great souvenir. These are metal plates shaped like an elongated oval and have engravings of your name in hieroglyphics
- Kohl powder Real Egyptian kohl eye make-up (eye-liner) can be purchased at many stores for a small price. It is a black powder, about a teaspoon worth, that is generally sold in a small packet or a wood-carved container and it is generally applied liberally with something akin to a fat toothpick/thin chopstick to the inner eyelids and outlining the eye. Very dramatic, and a little goes a very long way Cleopatra would have had her eye make-up applied by laying on the floor and having someone drop a miniature spoonful of the powder into each eye. As the eye teared up, the make-up would distribute nicely around the eyes and trail off at the sides, creating the classic look. However, beware that most of them contain lead sulphide, which is a health concern. Ask for a lead-free kohl.
- Lanterns (fanūs; pl. fawanīs) Intricately cut and stamped metal lanterns, often with colourful glass windows, will hold a votive candle in style.
- Leather goods
- Papyrus (bardi) However, most papyrus you'll see is made of a different type of reed, not "papyrus", which is extremely rare. Know what you are buying, if you care about the difference, and haggle prices accordingly. If in doubt, assume it is inauthentic papyrus you are being offered for sale.
- Perfume - Perfumes can be bought at almost every souvenir shop. Make sure that you ask the salesman to prove to you that there is no alcohol mixed with the perfume. The standard rates should be in the range of LE1-2 for each gram.
- Water-pipes (shīsha)
- Spices (tawābel) - can be bought at colourful stalls in most Egyptian markets. Dried herbs and spices are generally of a higher quality than that available in Western supermarkets and are a fifth to a quarter of the price, though the final price will depend on bargaining and local conditions.
When shopping in markets or dealing with street vendors, remember to bargain. This is a part of the salesmanship game that both parties are expected to engage in.
You will also find many western brands all around. There are many malls in Egypt, the most common being Citystars Mall, which is the largest entertainment centre in the Middle East and Africa. You will find all the fast food restaurants you want such as McDonald's, KFC, Hardees, and Pizza Hut, and clothing brands such as Morgan, Calvin Klein, Levi's, Facconable, Givenchy, and Esprit.
In Egypt, prices are often increased for foreigners, so if you see a price on a price tag, it may be wise to learn the local Eastern Arabic numerals:
They are written from left to right. For example, the number (15) would be written as (١٥).
Shopping in Egypt ranges goods and commodities that represent souvenirs of Egypt's ancient as well as modern things. These include items such as small pyramids, obelisks and souvenir statues which can be bought at more tourist areas such as Khan El Khalili and Islamic Cairo.
The modern shopping malls, City Stars, City Centre and Nile City, sell designer brands such as Guess, Calvin Klein, Armani and Hugo Boss.
Egyptians do not tip at restaurants, nor do restaurant owners expect them, though at fancier restaurants a service charge may be added to your bill. Many restaurants in touristy areas will inflate prices for foreigners anyway, and you probably won't even know it unless you notice a printed price or another customer being charged a different price for the same thing.
Tips are mostly a tourist thing. 90% of people who work in the service/hospitality industry try to make their main source of income from living off of tips. You don't have to pay huge tips as often smallest notes are appreciated. However, you do not have to tip if you feel that you haven't received any service or help at all or if you feel that the service was bad. Nobody will ever take offence or be disrespectful if you did not tip them.
Most public toilets are staffed, and visitors are expected to tip the attendant. Some toilet attendants, especially at tourist sites, will dole out toilet paper based on the tip they receive. Foreigners may be especially susceptible to this, and although some locals ask or demand tips, they are often not warranted.
If you ask a stranger for directions, tips are not necessary and may even be considered offensive. Officials in uniform, such as police officers, should not be tipped. Remember that bribery is illegal, but it is likely that nothing will happen to you. Be aware that as a foreign tourist, you are seen by many as easy money and you should not let yourself be pressured into tipping for unnecessary or unrequested "services" like self-appointed tour guides latching on to you.
Some general guidelines:
- Restaurants: No tip is needed, though in fancier restaurants a service charge (10-12%) may be added to bills
- Taxi drivers: Not necessary, always agreed on the fare in advance
- Tour drivers: LE10/day
- Bathroom attendants: LE1-3
- Cruises: LE30/day, depending on the initial price (divided by all staff on board)
- Hotel bellman: LE10 for all bags
- Hotel doorman: LE10 for services rendered (such as flagging down taxis)
- Site custodians: LE5 if they do something useful, none otherwise
Egypt can be a fantastic place to sample a unique range of food: not too spicy and well-flavoured with herbs. For a convenient selection of Egyptian cuisine and staple foods try the Felfela chain of restaurants in Cairo. Some visitors complain, however, that these have become almost too tourist-friendly and have abandoned some elements of authenticity. A more affordable and wider-spread alternative is the Arabiata restaurant chain, Arabiata is considered by locals to be the number one destination for Egyptian delicacies as falafel and fūl too.
Beware of any restaurant listed in popular guidebooks and websites. Even if the restaurant was once great, after publication, they will likely create a "special" English menu that includes very high prices.
As in many seaside countries, Egypt is full of fish restaurants and markets so fish and seafood are must-try. Frequently, fish markets have some food stalls nearby where you can point at specific fish species to be cooked. Stalls typically have shared tables, and locals are as frequent there as tourists.
Be aware that hygiene may not be of the highest standards, depending on the place. The number of tourists that suffer from some kind of parasite or bacterial infection is very high. Despite assurances to the contrary, exercise common sense and bring appropriate medications to deal with problems. "Antinal" (Nifuroxazide), an intestinal antibiotic, is cheap, effective and available in every pharmacy. "Imodium" or similar products are prescription drugs only.
Although Antinal is very effective, sometimes when nothing else is, the elderly should check the brand name with their doctor before relying on it as it contains a high concentration of active ingredient that is not approved by the US Food and Drug Administration or the British regulatory pharmaceutical body.
People expecting to remain in Egypt for more than 2–3 weeks should be cautious about using Antinal, as it may hinder their ability to acquire immunity to local bacteria and make traveller's diarrhoea a more frequent problem.
Many local foods are vegetarian or vegan compliant, a function of the high cost of meat in Egypt and the influence of Coptic Christianity (whose frequent fast days demand vegan food).
Classic Egyptian dishes: The dish fūl medammes is one of the most common Egyptian dishes; consists of fava beans (fūl) slow-cooked in a copper pot (other types of metal pots don't produce the right type of flavor) that have been partially or entirely mashed. fūl medammes is served with cumin, vegetable oil, optionally with chopped parsley, onion, garlic, lemon juice and hot pepper, and typically eaten with Egyptian (baladi) bread or occasionally Levantine (shāmi) pita.
One should try the classic falāfel which is deep-fried ground fava bean balls (but better known worldwide for the ground chickpea version typically found in other cuisines of the Middle Eastern region) that was believed to be invented by Egyptian Bedouins. Usually served as fast food, or a snack.
koshari is a famous dish, which is usually a mixture of macaroni, lentils, rice and chickpeas, topped with tomato sauce and fried onions. Very popular amongst the locals and a must try for tourists. The gratinated variation is called Tâgen.
Additionally, hummus, a chickpea based food, also widespread in the Middle East.
kofta (meat balls) and kebab are also popular.
Egyptian cuisine is quite similar to the cuisine of the Middle Eastern countries. Dishes like stuffed vegetables and vine leaves and shawarma sandwiches are common in Egypt and the region.
Egypt is one of the most affordable countries for a European to try variety of fresh-grown exotic fruits. Guava, mango, watermelon and banana are all widely available from fruit stalls, especially in locals-oriented non-tourist marketplaces.
See also Stay healthy:Fluids section for hygiene and related info.
Bottled water is widely available. The local brands (most common being Baraka, Hayat, Siwa ) are of the same price as foreign brand options which are also available: Nestle Pure Life, Dasani (bottled by Coca-Cola), and Aquafina (bottled by Pepsi). Evian is less available and is expensive. While safe to drink some may find the local brand, Baraka, has a very slight baking soda aftertaste, due to the high mineral content of its deep well water source.
No matter where you buy bottled water from (even hotels are not entirely reliable), before accepting it, check that there is a clear plastic seal on it and the neck ring is still attached to the cap by the breakable threads of plastic. It is common to collect empty but new bottles and refill them with tap water which drinking a bottle of might make you ill. Not all brands have the clear plastic cover but all the good ones do.
Safety of bottled water
It is important not to buy strange brands, as they may not be safe for drinking. In 2012 the Ministry of Health ordered the following bottled water brands to be taken off shelves: Alpha, Hadir, Seway, Aqua Delta, Tiba, Aqua Mina and Aqua Soteir.
As of 2013, some of the previous ones were licensed, but the Ministry of Health warned against other unlicensed brands:
- unlicensed, unsafe brands: (Safa, el Waha, Ganna, Sahari, Life, el Wadi, Zamzam ).
- (صفا – الواحة – جنا – صحارى – لايف – الوادى – زمزم),
In 2013, the Ministry of Health stated there are only 17 licensed brands that are safe to drink. These are:
- 17 licensed safe brands: (Hayah, Safi, Aqua Siwa ,Siwa, Aman Siwa, Organica, Nahl, Aqua Sky, Mineral, Vira, Nestlé, Baraka, Alpha, Aquafina, Tiba, Aqua Delta, Dasani, Aqua Paris ).
- (حياه، صافى، أكوا سيوة، سيوة، أمان سيوة، أورجانيكا، نهل، أكوا سكاى، منيرال، فيرا، نستله، بركة، ألفا، أكوافينا، طيبة، أكوا دلتا، داسانى، أكوا باريس)
Of the licensed brands, locals commonly advise tourists to avoid Baraka if possible, as it contains a high concentration of mineral salts and has something of an off flavour.
Juices can be widely found in Egypt - àSàb (sugar cane; قصب); liquorice (`erk sūs عرق سوس); sobya (white juice; سوبيا); tàmr (sweet dates; تمر) and some fresh fruit juices (almost found at same shop which offer all these kind of juices except liquorice may be which you can find another places).
Hibiscus, known locally as karkadē (كركديه) or `ennāb (عناب), is also famous juice specially at Luxor which is drunk hot or cold but in Egypt it is preferred to drink it cold.
Hibiscus and liquorice should not be consumed excessively as they may not be safe for those suffering low blood pressure or high blood pressure. Hibiscus may lower blood pressure, while liquorice may raise blood pressure.
Egypt is a predominantly Muslim nation and alcoholic drinks are religiously forbidden (haram), though not legally, for observant Muslims. Egyptians tend to adopt a relaxed and pragmatic view towards alcohol for non-Muslims and foreigners. It is tolerated by the vast majority of Egyptians and consumed by a sizable number of them. Places which sell alcoholic beverages require special licence and pay extra taxes to operate. Alcoholic beverages and bottled drinks are readily available throughout the country (especially in larger towns and cities, as well as tourist centres). Public drunkenness (especially the loud and obnoxious variety) is definitely not appreciated, and you may end up sobering up in a police cell. Try to be a good ambassador: if you must get "tipsy", confine it to the hotel or very nearby. It's quite rare to see drunken tourists even in tourist areas. It is illegal to drink alcohol in public and it's advisable not to attempt to drink in streets; however, on the New Year's Eve, many Egyptians in Cairo may be drunk and holding alcoholic beverages in the streets.
The cheapest alcoholic beverage is beer. Common brands are: Stella (not Artois) and Sakkara which are common lager beers in Egypt (approx. 4%), both brewed by Heineken's Egyptian subsidiary, Ahram Beverages Company. Other local brands are available, most with a higher alcohol variant that have claimed levels of 8% or even 10%. Foreign brands made under license in Egypt include Heineken and Meister but are slightly more expensive.
More expensive alcoholic beverages than beer are the carbonated vodka cocktails, with 10% alcohol, specifically ID Double Edge which is popular with people who drink alcohol. There is also an assortment of liquors (generally only found in liquor stores, and generally only found at reasonable prices in liquor stores that primarily cater to Egyptians). Wine is available; however, prices for imported wine tend to be high, if not astronomical, and domestic wines (e.g. Omar Khayyam) are overpriced for their rather low quality.
Do not buy anything you don't know or suspect, as there might be a risk that it may be counterfeit and can be adulterated with methanol (methyl alcohol). Methanol is a poisonous but cheap alcohol usually used as e.g. a cleaning solvent or fuel, but which causes blindness and death if ingested.
Restrictions on alcohol
Egyptian laws towards alcohol are officially quite liberal compared to most Islamic countries, except for the month of Ramadan when alcohol is strictly forbidden. During Ramadan only holders of foreign passports are allowed to buy alcohol, by Egyptian law. However, the enforcement of this law is by no means consistent. In tourist areas like Luxor, alcohol is sold even during Ramadan, and those who look like foreigners will not be asked to show passports or other documentation.
During Ramadan alcohol is often sold only in Western-style hotels and pubs/restaurants catering especially to foreigners. A few days of the year, as the day of the full moon the month before Ramadan, alcohol is completely banned. Also some hotels and bars catering to foreigners will stop serving alcohol during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan: phone ahead to make sure alcohol is still being served in order to avoid disappointment.
Egypt has a full range of accommodation options, from basic backpacker hostels to five-star resorts. Most major hotel chains are represented in Greater Cairo, Sharm el Sheikh and Luxor, at least. You can reserve most of your accommodation online or contact a local agent who can organise both accommodation and trips.
Walk-in rates give you great discounts over online reservations, e.g. half-price in Aswan. Generally, online reservations are more expensive due to it being used by so many tourists. However, in Egypt most hotels do not have their own website and do not have to commit to the agreement with online reservations sites to offer the same price online as offline. Nevertheless, have a screenshot of the actual online price ready, just in case you encounter a hotel that is willing to overcharge you. In high season, it is best to reserve the first night and haggle for the following night(s). Otherwise, if there is no general shortage of rooms and less than 60 % are booked (usually displayed at the top of online reservation sites), then check out an area with many hotels and go there asking around. Hotels will also happily accept you cancelling your existing online reservation in person for a discount. When reserving online, often you have the flat price, with tax and fees added. Generally, you will get at least these taxes and fees as discount (10-15%) when cancelling the reservation in person and/or when bargaining.
Some online hotel sites state that payment is required in Egyptian pounds by law. However, most hotels will accept Egyptian pounds at a mostly fair conversion from the online stated rate.
Egypt can provide good options for learning the Arabic language, as well as history.
The American University in Cairo (AUC),  is the best school in the country and offers degree, non-degree and summer school study options. Popular courses include Arabic Language and Literature, Islamic Art and Architecture, Arab History and Culture, and, of course, Egyptology.
Others from Yellow pages
Overall, Egypt is a safe and friendly country to travel in. Unless you are visiting Sinai, have something against the local government or are overly disrespectful against Islam, you can freely move around in Egypt and its cities without many concerns. Travelling in Egypt is very much similar to Morocco, Jordan, Palestine or Turkey.
Egyptians on the whole are very friendly—if you are in need of assistance, they will generally try to help you as much as they are able. However, be aware of potential scams especially in overly touristy areas.
Egyptian men will make compliments to women; do not take offence if they do this to you. Men should not be worried, either; if they do this to your partner/daughter, it will be nothing more than a compliment, and hopefully won't go any further than that.
If you are a woman travelling alone or with another woman, be warned that some men will touch you or grab you anywhere on the body, whether you are negotiating with them or simply walking down the street. Dressing modestly will not deter them. Getting upset at them for touching you will be met with amusement by them and any onlookers, both male and female. The best way to avoid this is wear a wedding band and don't be too friendly.
Terrorism is a safety concern, and the country's terrorist groups have an unpleasant record of specifically targeting Western tourists and the places they frequent. However, lately the focus seems more on the minority of Coptic Christians than on tourists. The Egyptian security forces remain on a very high level of alert.
Realistically, the odds of being affected by terrorism are statistically low and most attacks have only succeeded in killing Egyptians, further increasing the revulsion the vast majority of Egyptians feel for the extremists. The government takes the issue very seriously only when it harms them financially and tourist sites are heavily guarded, though with the level and proficiency of Egyptian police leaving a lot to be desired. For example, if you take a taxi from Cairo to Alexandria, you will be stopped at a checkpoint before leaving Cairo. They will on occasion ask where you are going, and on occasion communicate with the checkpoint at Alexandria to make sure you reach your destination within a certain time period. The same goes for most trips into the desert, particularly in Upper Egypt, which is probably best avoided due to rising religious tensions that seep below the surface and whilst appearing safe has the capacity to erupt without a moment's notice. During different branches of your drive, you may be escorted by local police, who will expect some sort of financial payment if you are travelling in a taxi or private car. Generally, they will travel to your destination with you, wait around until you are finished, and usually stay behind at one of the next checkpoints often as they have nothing else to do and because tourists are seen as $ signs. The best example of this is when you travel from Aswan to Abu Simbel to visit the Temple of Ramses II. An armed tourism police officer will board your tourist bus and escort you until you arrive at Abu Simbel, and after your tour, he will ride on the same bus with you back to Aswan, again because it's part of his job and without the tourists there would be no jobs and there would be no reason to ensure security for their own people as they don't represent a financial figure to them.
There are also many tourism police officers armed with AK47s riding on camels patrolling the Giza plateau. They are there to ensure the safety of the tourists since the Pyramids are the crown jewels of all the Egyptian antiquities. They are very poorly maintained with no forthcoming investments from within Egypt, only outside investment given by countries and historical groups that cannot bear to see the ruin the local government is letting these sites of wonder become. Some tourists may find it exciting or even amusing to take pictures with these police officers on camel back; however, since they are all on patrol duty, it is not uncommon for them to verbally warn you not to pose next to them in order to take a picture with them, although anything is possible for financial payment.
Egypt treats drug offences extremely severely. The death penalty is possible for those who are convicted for drug trafficking.
Unauthorised consumption can result in up to 10 years in prison, a heavy fine or both. You can be charged for unauthorised consumption as long as traces of illicit drugs are found in your system, even if you can prove that they were consumed outside the country. You can also be charged for trafficking if drugs are found in bags that are in your possession or in your room, even if they aren't yours and regardless of whether you're aware of them - therefore be vigilant of your possessions.
Cannabis and other narcotics are banned and carry heavy penalties. However, hashish in particular is common, even among Egyptians; it is seen to some extent as a part of Egyptian culture and is generally considered much less objectionable than alcohol. Many Egyptian clerics regard it makruh (permitted but disapproved of) rather than haraam (forbidden). Many Egyptians who recoil at the idea of drinking alcohol think nothing of using hashish; it is commonly used on festive occasions in rural areas in some parts of the country and in many Sufi rituals nationwide. The police may use possession of hashish as a pretext for arresting and beating up people, but their targets are typically locals, not tourists. So long as you do not antagonise the security forces or otherwise attract their attention, foreigners are unlikely to be punished for private consumption of cannabis within Egypt. But bringing the stuff in or out of the country, or flying domestically with it, is likely to end badly.
Egypt, like the Gulf States, has clamped down on legal painkillers, even when they're accompanied by a prescription and are for the traveller's own use. Check their embassy website for the current list of what's not allowed. It's unclear how rigorously this will be enforced. But probably, as in other matters, unobtrusive personal use will be OK; get slurry on vodka and Tramadol and you could be in trouble.
Traffic in Egypt is reckless and dangerous. Pay particular attention when crossing the road.
Scams and hassle
Scams and hassle are the main concern in Egypt, especially in Luxor. Visitors often complain about being hassled and attempts at scamming. While irritating, most of this is pretty harmless stuff, like attempting to lure you into a local papyrus or perfume shop.
Be aware that many Egyptians who start a conversation with you want your money. Typically, you will be approached by a person speaking fluent English, German or Russian who will strike up a conversation under social pretences. He (and it will always be a he) will then attempt to get you to come along for a cup of tea or similar at his favourite (most-paying) souvenir shop. This could also happen outside museums, etc., where the scammer will try to make you believe the "museum is closed" or similar. If something seems too good to be true, it probably is. Demand prices for everything, because if you say "I thought it was free" after the fact you are in for a vicious argument.
Hassling, while never dangerous, could also be annoying, especially in the main tourist areas. There is no way to avoid this, but a polite la shukran (no thanks) helps a lot. Apart from that, try to take hassling with a smile. If you let yourself be bugged by everyone trying to sell you something, your holiday won't be a very happy one.
Potentially more annoying are taxi drivers or others getting a commission fee to lead you to their hotel of choice, of course paying commission fees for each guest they receive. Firmly stand your ground on this. If they insist, just ask to be dropped off at a street or landmark close to the place you are heading to. This scam is especially common among taxi drivers from the airport.
Gay and lesbian visitors should be self-aware and refrain from overt and public displays. While a few gay bars had been able to operate semi-openly in major cities in pre-revolutionary times, the situation has deteriorated and members of gay baths or gay wedding parties were being targeted for prosecution for "debauchery" in 2014.
Egypt is an Islamic and conservative country. Any display of homosexuality is considered strange, weird, disrespectful and may lead on most occasions to hostile reactions. Depending on the situation and the place and time, it could be anything from weird looks to physical abuse. Therefore, gays and lesbians should be discreet while in Egypt.
The gay scene in Egypt is not open and free like in the West. Gays have been arrested by the police and detained and even tortured in Cairo in the past for engaging in homosexual activity. Human rights groups have condemned such actions and the Egyptian government has been under pressure from different sources to stop this treatment of homosexuals. The most famous arrests were in 2001 on a boat called the Queen Boat located on the Nile River in Zamalek district. Further arrests have occurred since then, but the exact situation of homosexuals in the last few years is uncertain.
There are no official gay places for cruising or meeting other people.
Pick pocketing was a problem in the past in Egypt's bigger cities, particularly Greater Cairo. Many locals therefore opted not to carry wallets at all, instead keeping their money in a clip in their pocket, and tourists would be wise to adopt this as well. On the upside, violent crime is rare, especially for tourists, and you are highly unlikely to be mugged or robbed. If, however, you do find yourself the victim of crime, you may get the support of local pedestrians by shouting "Harami" (Thief) but do not pursue because it's the easiest way to get lost and most criminals carry pocket knives; if the crime happens in a tourist area you'll find a specially designated Tourism Police kiosk.
Protests against the Egyptian government have been ongoing since 2011. Caution should be exercised near protest zones. Demonstration or/and the response of the security forces to it could turn violent. Thugs take advantage of the lack of existence of police security at and around protest areas. Many incidents of rape, forced robberies and killing of foreigners have been reported.
Ensure that you drink plenty of water: Egypt has an extremely dry climate most of the year, which is aggravated by high temperatures in the summer end of the year, and countless travellers each year experience the discomforts and dangers of dehydration. A sense of thirst is not enough to indicate danger: carry a water bottle and keep drinking. Not needing to urinate for a long period or passing very small amounts of dark coloured urine are signs of incipient dehydration.
Egyptian tap water is generally considered safe by most locals, but will often make travellers ill. It is not recommended for regular drinking, especially to very local differences in quality. Bottled mineral waters are widely available: see Drink:Water section. Beware of the old scam where vendors re-sell bottled water bottles, having refilled with another, perhaps dubious, source. Always check the seal is unbroken before paying or drinking from it, and inform the tourist police if you catch anyone doing this.
Be a little wary with fruit juice, as some sellers may mix it with water. Milk should also be treated carefully as it may not be pasteurized. Try only to buy milk from reputable shops. Hot beverages like tea and coffee should generally be OK, the water having been boiled in preparation, though it pays to be wary of ice as well.
In the winter, the sun is generally the mildest, especially in December and is the weakest in northern Egypt. Egypt has a desert climate, which makes clouds almost non-existent in the warmer months, so expect extremely bright sunny days especially from June to August, try to avoid direct sun exposure from 9AM (10AM in the summer) to 3PM (4PM in the summer). Bring good sunglasses and wear good sunscreen, however sunscreen becomes ineffective when the exposed skin sweats. Additionally, wearing a hat can help.
In order to avoid contracting the rightly dreaded schistosomiasis parasite (also known as bilharzia), a flatworm that burrows through the skin, do not swim in the Nile or venture into any other Egyptian waterways, even if the locals are doing so. It is also a good idea not to walk in bare feet on freshly-watered lawns for the same reason.
Although the disease takes weeks to months to show its head, it's wise to seek medical attention locally if you think you've been exposed, as they are used to diagnosing and treating it, and it will cost you pennies rather than dollars. Symptoms include fever, diarrhea, abdominal pain and fatigue, making the disease easy to mistake for (say) the flu or food poisoning, but the flatworm eggs can be identified with a stool test and the disease can usually be cured with a single dose of Praziquantel.
Outbreaks of Avian Influenza (Bird Flu) in Egypt have led to 23 human fatalities since 2006. The last fatality was in December 2008.
Vaccinations and malaria
The following vaccinations are generally recommended for Egypt:
- All routine vaccinations including: measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine, varicella (chickenpox) vaccine, polio vaccine and yearly flu vaccine.
- Hepatitis A and typhoid fever.
- Hepatitis B if a sexual contact, tattooing/piercing or medical procedures are planned.
- Rabies if a long stay is planned especially if with outdoor activities.
A low risk of P. vivax malaria exist only in the Aswan area of Egypt. While traveling to Aswan travelers are advised to avoid mosquito bites.
While Egypt is interesting and beautiful, it is full of stress from noise, dust and people hassling you. Especially when not staying at the high end hotels or completely relying on package tours, this will grind your gears. Thus, from time to time take a break from the constant attraction-seeking, bargain-hunting and trip-organising; choose a slower pace, just spend a day in the ho(s)tel or hang around in a park with your headphones on. Also, do not forget earplugs for the night, because often there will be noise even deep in the night or quite early in the morning if you are near a school. Egypt does not seem to rest, but this does not mean you do not have to.
Smoking is allowed virtually everywhere in Egypt, and you will regularly encounter people smoking on the train, in lobbies and at restaurants. While they might sometimes be considerate and sit somewhere away from others, mostly the smoke gets blown in regardless. Unfortunately, there is not much you can do about it.
Most Egyptian workers expect tips after performing a service. This can be expected for something as little as pressing the button in the elevator. Many workers will even ask you to tip them before you get a chance. The typical tip for minor services is LE1. Due to the general shortage of small change, you may be forced to give LE5 to do simple things like use the lavatory. Just understand that this is part of the culture; the value of that tip is very small to most westerners but makes up a good portion of monthly income for many Egyptians.
- See also Egyptian Arabic phrasebook
When you approach any individual or a group of people for the first time, the best thing to say is the local variation of the Islamic form of greeting "es-salāmu-`alēku" which literally means "peace be upon you". This is the most common form of saying "hello" to anybody. It creates a friendliness between you and people you don't know, builds rapport, and helps build respect! It is also considered polite to say this if you approach someone, instead of just asking them for something or speaking to them directly.
Other forms of greeting include "SàbâH el khēr" ("good morning"), "masā' el khēr" ("good evening"), or the more casual "ezzayyak" addressing a male, or "ezzayyek" addressing a female, which means "hello" or "how are you?".
When leaving, you can say the same "es-salāmu-`alēku", or simply "ma`a s-salāma", literally: "with safety" or "with wellness" which is used to mean to say "goodbye". More educated Egyptians will say "bye-bye" derived from the English "goodbye" or "buh-bye" when leaving others.
Smiling: Most people appreciate a smile, and most Egyptians smile when they speak to someone for the first time. People who don't smile while they speak are considered arrogant, rude, aggressive, unfriendly, etc.
However, be careful not to be too friendly or too smiley, especially if you're a female speaking to an Egyptian male, as they might mistake you for trying to befriend them or asking for them to flirt or hit on you. Even in a male-to-male conversation, being too friendly might give the other person the chance to try to take advantage of you some way or another. Always use common sense.
Egyptians are generally a conservative people and most are religious and dress very conservatively. Although they accommodate foreigners being dressed a lot more skimpily, it is prudent not to dress provocatively, if only to avoid having people stare at you. It is best to wear pants, jeans, long shorts instead of short-shorts as only tourists wear these. In modern nightclubs, restaurants, hotels and bars in Cairo, Alexandria and other tourist destinations you'll find the dress code to be much less restrictive. Official or social functions and smart restaurants usually require more formal wear.
At the Giza Pyramids and other such places during the hot summer months, short sleeve tops and even sleeveless tops are acceptable for women (especially when traveling with a tour group). Though you should carry a scarf or something to cover up more while traveling to/from the tourist destination. Also, it's perfectly acceptable for women to wear sandals during the summer, and you will even see some women with the hijab who have sandals on.
Women should cover their arms and legs if travelling alone, you do not need to cover your hair; many christian women walk around in Egypt comfortably with their hair uncovered . Though as a foreigner, you may get plenty of attention no matter what you wear, mainly including people staring at you along with some verbal harassment which you can try to ignore. Egyptian women, even those who wear the full hijab, are often subjected to sexual harassment, including cat calls. You may find that completely covering up does not make a huge difference, with regards to harassment, versus wearing a top with shorter sleeves. In regards to harassment, it's also important how you act. Going out with a group of people is also helpful, and the best thing to do is ignore men who give you unwanted attention. They want to get some reaction out of you. Also, one sign of respect is to use the Arabic greeting, "Asalamualaikum" (means "hello, peace be upon you"), and the other person should reply "Walaikumasalam" ("peace be upon you"). That lets the person know you want respect, and nothing else.
Do not enter a mosque wearing any type of shoes, sandals, slippers, boots as this is very disrespectful. Always take them off before entering as they carry the dirt from the street, and the mosque (a place of prayer) should be clean. However, you can keep socks on.
Etiquette in the presence of people praying
Also, avoid walking in front of persons in prayer. The reason is because when people kneel, they kneel to God. If you stand in front of someone while they are praying or kneeling, it is as if they are kneeling to you or worshipping you, a complete taboo and against the basic foundations of Islam. Otherwise, it is quite acceptable for visitors or Christian Egyptians to carry on as normal in the streets or shops that operate during prayer times.
Public displays of affection
Like most other countries in the Muslim world, the Middle East, and even some non-Muslim conservative countries, affection should not be displayed in public. Egyptians are conservative and doing things like making out with your girlfriend/boyfriend in public is considered offensive, rude or disrespectful. A public hug is less offensive, especially if greeting a spouse or family member you haven't seen in a while.
You will notice male-to-male kissing on the cheeks when Egyptian men meet their friends, family, or someone they know well: this is not to be confused with homosexuality. Less commonly, some Egyptian men like to walk next to their male friend with their arms attached together like a loop inside another loop. Again, this is not homosexual behaviour.
Do not photograph people without their permission, and in areas frequented by tourists do not be surprised if a tip is requested. Smoking is very common and cigarettes are very cheap in Egypt.
Most Egyptians tend to have a loud voice when they speak, which is common to some other countries in the region. They are not shouting, but you will know the difference.
Gamal Abdul Nasser, the second President of the Arab Republic of Egypt, and many others are considered national heroes in Egypt; you should say absolutely nothing that could be perceived as offensive or derogatory regarding him. Tread carefully around such topics and let others guide the openness of the discussion. Many Egyptians have a different interpretation concerning ambiguous expressions such as freedom of speech and democracy. It is advisable not to discuss Israel even if tempted; do not speak loudly about it as it may attract unwanted attention, even if you are only talking about it as a travel destination.
Take great care if you choose to drink alcohol (see above), especially if you're from countries where heavy drinking is accepted. Even if you are used to it, you can't estimate the effects of the climate, even at night. The impact drunk people have on Egyptians is quite large and very negative. The best plan is just to abstain or limit yourself to one drink per meal while in Egypt; it will be cheaper too.
Egypt has a reasonably modern telephone service including three GSM mobile service providers. The three mobile phone providers are Orange, Vodafone and Etisalat. Principal centers are located at Alexandria, Cairo, Al Mansurah, Ismailia, Suez, and Tanta. Roaming services are provided, although you should check with your service provider. Also, it is possible to purchase tourist mobile phone lines for the duration of your stay, which usually costs around LE30.
Mobile Internet SIM cards can be bought for around LE90 per 2.5GB at the airport or for around LE130 per 8GB in the city.
Internet access is easy to find and cheap, and often free. Nowadays, most coffee shops, restaurants, hotel lobbies and other locations now provide free WiFi. Connections can be unsafe and under surveillance, try to use a proxy or VPN for your privacy.
Tourism and locals
The mentality of many Egyptians you will encounter as a tourist, is that after driving recklessly, not doing any extra tour stops and stressing you at the sights about the time, the tour driver will still demands a tip from its passengers. In many touristy areas, like Luxor, they show no scruples in getting money out of you. Hence, always be aware when accepting small "favours", as these often come at a hefty price. Of course, this behaviour is largely driven by the state of the economy and the fact the tourism is a big income generator for many Egyptians. Nevertheless, it can greatly spoil your experience of Egypt.
So, it is best to be prepared. Some rules:
- Only rely on one person for one service at a time. Do not let your taxi driver, hotel boy, tour guide, etc. organise anything beyond the original agreed service. Otherwise, they will always try to cash in from you.
- When accepting a service, clarify what is included and what not, and whether there will be any extra costs beyond the agreed price.
- Do not let yourself get intimidated. Many hotels, tours, and such can be rated online; this is your joker, use it and clearly stand your ground.
- If you are on a tour and something does not go according to the agreement, speak out to the tour guide in front of the other tour passengers, they might feel the same way and be on your side, which is very likely considering the constant hassling in Egypt.
- When organising your own tour with a driver or guide, only pay at the end. This will give you greater control over what you pay for and how much money you part company with.
However, once you get out of the touristy environment, people are very friendly and helpful—they might even pay for you train ticket if you do not have small change ready. Nevertheless, getting out of the cycle of hassle is difficult because most things you will want to see and experience are unfortunately touristy.
If you are a reasonably individual traveller, try to avoid package tours or organised trips, even one-day tours. They are overpriced, poor value for money, do not appreciate your needs, have a tight and mostly unbendable schedule, and are very often a door-opener to additional hassle and money-making. Many tours demand additional payments for camels, local guides, boat trips, etc., which are offered along the way—seemingly for a fair price, but mostly your tour guide will cash in, and they are twice the price you would pay without the guide's involvement. Other tours are half travel and half enforced shopping spree, where you are pushed into seeing papyrus or oil shops. If you complain, be prepared for a very angry tour guide. In addition, you are rushed through the sights and history without any time for digestion. While such tours might suit some travellers, other will find them deeply disappointing, annoying and stressful. If you want to experience the real Egypt besides all-inclusive tourism and bus tours, it is better to rent a taxi (with several people or even alone), go by train or just wander around for not so distant attraction. As explained under #Cope, overall Egypt is a safe place to do so.
Eastern Arabic numbers
Although, it will be impossible to learn Arabic for just one or few trips to Egypt, it is wise to know at least the Eastern Arabic numbers. This will spare you a great deal of rip-offs, and you will even be capable to board the right carriage of your train.
There are a number of options for washing clothes whilst travelling in Egypt:
By far the easiest, most practical, and not at all expensive, is to arrange for your hotel to have your washing done for you. By prior arrangement, clothes left on the bed or handed in at reception will be returned to you by evening freshly laundered and pressed.
Determined self-helpers can persist with hand-washing or finding one of the many "hole-in-the-wall" laundries where the staff will wash and press your clothes manually; a fascinating process in itself. Just be aware that your clothes will probably smell of cigarette smoke when returned.
Cairo possesses a few basic Western-style laundromats in areas where foreigners and tourists reside, but virtually nonexistent elsewhere in the country. Some hotels in tourist towns like Luxor and Dahab offer a washing machine service in a back room, the machines are usually primitive affairs and you'll be left with the task of wringing and ironing your clothes yourself.
Unfortunately Egypt is blighted by large amounts of litter. Expect to see piles of plastic rubbish along the sides of roads, in rivers and canals and in any other space where people feel they can discard what they cannot be bothered to dispose of properly. Egypt is a candidate for the dirtiest country in the world. The large amount of litter also means that there can be many flies to bother you.