Egypt is a fascinating destination and probably on everyone’s bucket list. After a few tumultuous years, the country is now stable and popular again, and tourism is in full swing. There are, however, lots of essential things to know before traveling to Egypt. On this basis, here are eight travel tips for Egypt that will improve your stay.
What to Know Before Traveling to Egypt
Welcome to Egypt, the land of ancient temples, mysterious legends, and picture-perfect desert landscapes. Egypt is the most visited destination in North Africa and home to the last remaining Wonder of the Ancient World, the Great Pyramid of Giza.
Egypt is, however, also known for its chaotic cities, tourist scams, and inadequate infrastructure.
Egypt is a tourist haven but not a mecca for solo travelers or backpackers. As such, most visitors remain in tour groups or beachside resorts for most of their stay. And there are reasons for that.
Egypt isn’t suited for individual tourism, and many people are scared to tackle the country’s disorganized cities and confusing transport. It is, however, perfectly possible to travel across Egypt on your own if you take into account a few dos and don’ts.
No matter if you’re on an organized tour or by yourself, the following Egypt travel tips will improve your experience.
On this basis, here are my most crucial travel tips for Egypt.
8 Travel Tips For Egypt to Improve Your Stay
Once you understand the do’s and don’ts in Egypt, it’s easier to combine relaxing holiday vibes with adventurous experiences. In this context, here are some of the most essential things to know before going to Egypt.
Guides Are Often a Necessity, Not a Luxury
The first thing to know before traveling to Egypt is that most tourist sites don’t have explanations. As such, if you’re visiting them on your own, you’ll admire a set of statues, stones, and hieroglyphics without knowing the history behind them.
Consequently, unless you’re an Egyptologist, you’ll have to google the information on the spot, which isn’t ideal.
That’s why most people visit the temples, historic sites, and museums with a guide. The lack of signposts and information boards is a conscious decision by the tourism authority.
Everywhere you go, you’ll see locals offering their services as guides. These guides are, however, often unofficial, and their knowledge on the subject might be doubtful. In that same vein, they might try to over-charge you.
In short, the best course of action is to organize a guide from a trusted company. I used Airbnb and Viator in Egypt, and their tours were satisfactory. If your budget is higher, you’ll find the best ones by booking five-star tours with international hotel chains like Mövenpick or Kempinski. As with most things in Egypt, you get what you pay for.
Be Aware That Egypt Tends to Segregate Tourist and Local Activities
Many cities around the world have so-called hotel zones or tourism areas. In Egypt, however, the whole country seems to follow this organization.
Whether it’s Cairo (where all international hotel chains are close to the Nile on the island of Zamalek or in Garden City), Luxor, Hurghada, or Giza, most cities in Egypt have tourist zones.
These areas are usually far away from where the locals live, and the hotels, resorts, and tourist sites are closed compounds. Airbnb does exist, but the offer isn’t overwhelming. In short, Egypt still embraces the packaged resort model and doesn’t yet fully support more modern forms of individual tourism.
There are many reasons for that. Safety is naturally a concern, but the primary logic behind these tourist zones is that they fit the organized tour model. You stay in your well-equipped hotel until the bus picks up the group to visit a temple.
While there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s something to keep in mind when visiting Egypt. If you, for example, plan to visit an authentic local market, you’ll spend 30 minutes in an Uber to get there as it will be located far away from the tourist zones. The same applies to local restaurants and coffee shops.
Aside from Ancient Temples, Don’t Ignore Egypt’s Modern Culture
The best travel tips for Egypt undoubtedly include mixing up your itinerary.
In simple terms, don’t limit your trip to the pyramids in Giza and temples in Luxor. Egypt has a lot more to offer, especially when it comes to modern history.
In this context, the Nubian culture in Aswan, Islamic Cairo, and the Coptic Christian sites are all well worth a visit, but many tourists ignore them in favor of ticking off the famous temples.
Two Modes of Transportation are Best to Get Around Egypt
If you want to travel across Egypt, there are various options. Trains run between some cities, but they take a long time and often aren’t in the best condition. Buses can be a recommendable choice on some routes (like Luxor – Hurghada), but they are generally not the best option.
That leaves two primary ways to get around Egypt: planes and boats.
The easiest way to travel between Egyptian cities is by plane. Egyptair has domestic flights to all of the country’s destinations, and they usually don’t cost a fortune.
The most rewarding way to travel across Egypt, however, is by boat. Taking a Nile cruise from Aswan to Luxor, for example, will enable you to admire the magnificent landscapes of the fertile Nile riverbanks, and there are numerous temples on the route. Traveling by boat is the most expensive option, but it’s also the most exciting.
There are boats and cruises for every budget, and they usually go between Cairo, Luxor, and Aswan in the south.
Consequently, my top travel tips for Egypt include not missing out on a Nile cruise, as it will be among the most memorable experiences you’ll have on your trip.
Don’t Cram Too Many Temples Into Your Itinerary
One of the most common Egypt travel mistakes is trying to visit too many temples.
As an example, many tour groups cram the four major temples in Luxor (Hatshepsut, Karnak, Luxor Temple, and the Valley of the Kings) into one day. By following such a tight schedule, you’ll spend 30 minutes in each temple without having time to enjoy the mysterious chambers, fascinating hieroglyphs, and magnificent columns.
Consequently, do a bit of research in advance and select the temples that you genuinely want to see.
Don’t make the mistake of rushing through every single temple just to tick it off. You won’t even remember which ones you visited if you only spend half an hour inside them.
Learn How to Haggle
Haggling is part of Egyptian culture, and there are few countries with as many vendors and tourist touts who will approach you at every corner.
Here are a few top tips when it comes to haggling with vendors in Egypt:
- don’t even start talking to the vendor if you don’t want to buy anything. It’s impolite, and vendors will become angry if you haggle for the fun of it. Just say “no thank you,” and don’t start a conversation;
- have a price in mind before starting;
- start low (about half of what you want to pay), but don’t expect to end there. Make offers in turns after the seller reduces theirs; and
- have fun. Bargaining can be stressful, and Egyptian vendors can be highly insisting. Make jokes, and don’t let them intimidate you.
Don’t Be Afraid to Venture Out of the Hotel Zones
My trip to Egypt in April 2021 had several highlights, and one of them was exploring Islamic Cairo by myself. The area is crowded and a bit rough around the edges, but also highly authentic and picturesque.
The message here is the following: if I had stayed in the hotel zone, I wouldn’t have gotten a feel for the “real Egypt,” the chaotic neighborhoods full of markets, mosques, and coffee shops.
That’s why my top travel tips for Egypt include leaving the hotel zones. Ask locals which areas to visit (some neighborhoods might have dangers, but most will be fine) and head out there.
Be aware that outside of the tourist hubs, you’ll see a more conservative side of Egypt. In this context, respecting Islamic norms and dress codes is highly recommendable.
Getting a glimpse of local Egypt isn’t what most tourists do, but it’s a must if you’re an adventure traveler who wants to see more than a resort or postcard site.
Don’t Expect Western Efficiency, Enjoy the Ride
Finally, one of the most crucial things to know before going to Egypt is that you are in North Africa, not Europe or the US. As such, don’t expect the infrastructure, service culture, or cleanliness to be comparable.
You’ll naturally find high-rate service and infrastructure inside five-star hotels, but once you venture out of these resort compounds, it’s a different world.
Egypt is fun, exciting, and alluring, but also tiring. To conclude, enjoy the ride and go with the flow – it’s the only way to have a great experience in the chaos that is Egypt.