Egypt has been on my bucket list for a long time and I recently got the opportunity to spend 9 days exploring the country. This has been one of my favorite trips so far and these are some tips to help you enjoy your time in Egypt.
1. Don't forget a visa.
You will need a tourist visa for entering Egypt. You can either get one when you arrive or do it before you arrive. If you have time, I would recommend doing it before you get there so you don’t have navigate trying to buy one there. You can purchase them beforehand here. If you decide to purchase when you get there, make sure to have $25 in cash and pay at the window before the customs line. For those going on a tour, your guide will likely arrange this for you beforehand but make sure to check with them before you arrive.
2. Prepare to tip for everything.
Egypt currently uses the Egyptian Pound (EGP). 1USD is equivalent to 16 EGP. That being said, they widely accept American money there and it is very handy to have lots of small bills to use for small purchases and tips.
Tipping is very big in the Egyptian culture and you will be asked to tip for just about everything. If you take a photo of a local, you can expect to tip. That being said, the locals are typically very willing to show you the best places to take photos and I even had some take me beyond the barriers for photos.
3. Dress conservatively and for the heat!
No matter what time of year you go, Egypt is hot. Many of the sights offer very little shade so be prepared to spend a lot of time in the sun.
As Egypt is predominantly an Islamic culture, it is expected to dress more conservatively. Try to avoid packing short shorts or skirts. While some tourist destinations will allow entrance if you are wearing shorts, others will not allow you to enter unless your elbows and knees are covered up. I got some lightweight pants and capris from Eddie Bauer that worked amazing. I wore a dry fit t-shirt and then carried around a long sleeve shirt that I could put on if needed.
4. Traffic is crazy.
The driving in Egypt is crazy, especially in Cairo. Be prepared for lots of traffic and for it to take awhile for you to get between places. That being said, it is quite an experience to be caught up in the middle of all of it. I would not recommend trying to drive yourself in Egypt, let one of the locals handle the chaos. There are taxis widely available, but many of them are not metered and will likely overcharge you. Luckily Uber is available and you will have a set rate before you begin your journey which is typically cheaper than the taxi. I would recommend using an Uber for getting around Cairo but if you do have to use a taxi, negotiate the price before they start driving.
5. Don't Drink the Water in Egypt!
There are many minerals in their tap water that our stomachs are not used to and you do not want to get “mummy tummy”. Bottled water is cheap and is the safe option. As a warning, be careful buying water from street venders as some will refill bottles with tap water. Try to buy it from stores.
6. Shopping in Egypt
If you go shopping, make sure to haggle. Bargaining is expected and often the first price is 2-3x higher than what you will have to pay in the end. Make sure to know the price you are willing to pay. If they are not willing to to meet you at that price, you will likely find the same or similar thing at many other stores.
In most places in Egypt, if you just look at the merchandise, you will have the sellers following you for awhile and harassing you. I found if you wore dark glasses you could look to the side at things, but didn’t get their attention as much. If you are not in the mood for shopping, best to just ignore all of the shopping areas.
7. Is Egypt Safe?
I’ve heard this asked a few times and given the recent civil unrest 2011 it’s understandable. That being said, I went in 2019 and they had taken many steps to improve security and I didn’t feel unsafe. Many tourist companies will hire guards or have police escorts to accompany large groups to sites. In order to go into any of the tourist sites you have to go through at least one security checkpoint. I think if you stick to the main areas and you are conscious of your surroundings it is fine, but would not recommend wandering around alone late at night.
8. Don't forget a photography permit
Egypt is so far the only place I have been where you need to pay to bring a camera in. And often it is just as much, if not more, than the price of entry into the place. For example, to bring a camera into the Valley of the Kings it cost 300 EGP. And you can only use it in 3 tombs. You will need to make the decision before you get to the location because they will not allow the camera in without the photography permit, but often don’t have a place to store it either. For me it was worth the extra money to be able to bring my camera in (after all you did pay to go all the way to Egypt), but if you are fine with just iPhone photos, you can save yourself some money. If you do bring your camera in, make sure to have your photography permit ready and with you at all times as it will be checked frequently.
Also check with places before you try to bring a tripod in, most places do not allow tripod or charge additional fees for it. And leave your drone at home, they are not allowed in Egypt.
9. Be Prepared for Long Days
Due to the hot weather, it is difficult to do anything during the middle of the day. It’s best if you go to sights early in the morning or late afternoon. That being said, if you are fine with being in the sun with no shade during the middle of the day, you will often find the tourist sites are empty. If you are on a tour, expect for an early morning tour, afternoon at leisure, and then another tour at night. If you are going on a Nile cruise (which I highly recommend) they use the middle of the day to transfer between different cities.
10. Egypt is a popular travel destination.
Be prepared for crowds. Tourism in Egypt has picked up and many tour groups follow the same itinerary. You will often get to a site to see several large tour groups just entering as well. If you try to get to sites early this will help, but there is no way to avoid the crowds. I do recommend trying to go to areas where the tour groups are not and then going back once the groups have left. There were several times I was trying to get photos with no one in it, but would go back 10-15 min later and there was no one in that section.
11. Be Prepared to be Amazed!
Egypt was one of the places that I have always wanted to go. And now, I cannot wait to go back. Every site and temple exceeded my expectations. No matter where you looked, you were surrounded by ancient history. Even if you spend a few hours at a sight, you likely will not have seen everything.