Egypt is one of the favorite countries for tourists as everyone wanted to see the mysterious pyramids. Below are the few tips before you depart for your Egypt tour.
1. Where is Egypt?
It is located in the continent of Africa and sharing borders with 4 countries, Libya, Sudan, Israel, Palestine. In case you don’t know, about 96-97% of the land of Egypt is deserts and the two main deserts are the Libyan Desert and the Sahara Desert. Less than 4% of the land is suitable for agriculture near the Nile River. If you look down from the plane, hardly any green. (Picture above)
So expect harsh weather and a big difference in temperature during the day and night. Also, the city are very sandy and full of dust.
2. Do I need a Visa?
Most countries need a visa to enter Egypt and the good thing is you can get your “visa upon arrival” in the Cairo Airport. For Singapore, Australia and the US, UK and 40 other countries, you can obtain a single-entry 30 days tourist visa on arrival at the Egyptian airport for 25 USD fees.
For Malaysia citizens, a visa is not needed up to 14 days’ stay.
Alternatively, you can also apply for a visa online, that is before your departure and it takes about 7 days to process. The fees are the same but there are lots of details to enter on the official website for your visa application. This will ensure you have gotten a visa before your departure. The online application is for people who wanted to travel multiple times in a year and also travel longer than 30 days. The online application is not open to all countries, please check the official website.
3. Where to buy your visa in Cairo Airport?
There is a little bank kiosk before the immigration counters, just go to the counter and tell how many visas you need and pay in cash (USD) only. The staff did not even check and flip our passports and passed us 3 visa stickers. Peel the stickers and stick to an empty page of your passport before you proceed to the immigration.
4. Where to change the Egyptian Currency?
The currency used in Egypt is the Egyptian Pound (EGP) which is about 1 USD – EGP16 or 1 SGD – 12 EGP. You can change the currency in the airport after you come out of the immigration custom. It has a better rate in Egypt than in your home country. Also, there is no need to change too much money into Egyptian Pound because most places accept US currency and prefer you to pay in US dollar. A lot of times, paying USD is cheaper than paying in Egyptian Pound especially when you buy small souvenirs from the vendors.
5. Learn some History before you arrive in Egypt
In order to appreciate the ancient sites in Egypt, it is best if you could learn some history of this country before you arrive. Read about :
- The Egyptian God – The King of God “Ra” or the Sun God of Ancient Egypt and his children’s stories.
- King Ramesses – Several Rameses and Ramesses II and III are the popular ones that built many monuments.
- Hatshepsut – the powerful female pharaoh who wore like a man with a fake beard and built giant temple.
- Queen Nefertiti & Nefertari – famous queens with similar names. Nefertiti means “a beautiful woman has come,” & Nefertari means ‘beautiful companion’, also the wife of Ramesses the Great (II)
6. How to get around in Egypt?
If you are on a tour then I assume everything will be arranged. Then you will experience:
- Coach bus picking you from the airport. Cairo to Hurghada, Hurghada to Luxor & Luxor to Abu Simbel
- Nile Cruise ride (4 days 3 Nights) Luxor to Aswan
- Water taxi in Luxor taking you to the hot-air balloon take-off area.
- Minivan – bring you to the hot-air balloon take-off area
- Felucca boat – Egypt traditional sailing boat to the Nubian Village
- Camel ride in Giza Pyramid
- Horse carriage ride to bring you to the temple of Edfu in Edfu
Other transport :
- Hotel Premium Car Hire – When you are in your own free time and like to explore the place yourself, you can call a hotel taxi usually cost a few times more than the outside taxi. If you are worried then you can use the hotel VIP taxi, reliable and I have done that.
- Normal Taxi – If you are in the Hurghada Red Sea resort area, it is convenient to just call a taxi outside the resort.
- Uber – If you are in Cairo and Alexandria, you can use Uber which has a fixed price and better than a taxi.
- Microbuses or Minibuses – You will also notice many mini-buses also known as microbuses (picture below) especially in the street of Cairo as it is public transportation commonly used by locals. The microbuses look pretty old and dirty. Only locals use them and they seem to stop anywhere anytime.
- Tuk-tuk – You will see tuk-tuk also in Egypt.
7. How is the traffic?
Traffic in Cairo is crazy with cars honking almost every second, nonstop. They honk for no reason.
8. Do I enjoy Egyptian Food?
Some of the iconic food you have to try here are :
- Falafel – Deep fried patty made from ground chickpeas and herbs and spice.
- Ful – stew broad bean cooked with herb and spice, the staple food in Egypt, almost every meal.
- Koshari – rice, macaroni, and lentils mixed together, topped with a spiced tomato sauce and garlic vinegar and garnished with chickpeas and crispy fried onions.
- Aish Baladi – the flatbread with a pocket, looks similar to pita but made with whole wheat flour and more brown in color. You can put “ful” inside the pocket and eat together. (Picture below is Baladi Bread)
- Mesa’a’ah – Egyptian Spicy Eggplant
- Baklava, Kunafah, Basboosa – all are the Egyptian dessert, super sweet.
Do I enjoy the food in Egypt?
- Not very much as I do not enjoy the herbs and spices added in most of the dishes.
Can I eat them?
- Yes and was full for every meal. The meat in the buffet usually consists of chicken, fish, beef, and lamb. No pork.
9. Should I try the Camel Rides
Please be extra careful with the camel rides. The camel over here in Egypt and Sahara deserts are one-humped camel (Arabian camel) or called dromedary. This is different from my recent camel ride in the Xinjiang Silk Road (Gobi Desert) where the camel there are two humps, call Bactrian which is tamer and not as tall. It is harder to sit on the one hump camel and more dangerous and easier to fall down if you can’t balance yourself. The two hump camel allows you to sit in between its hump and feel quite safe. The below camel is one hump camel, he was quite grumpy when I was up.
If you are not agile and flexible, you may want to think twice doing the camel ride as the camel is one-hump and quite tall and also not tame like the two hump camel. A young guy from our tour group fell down from the camel’s back when the camel was down for him to alight.
10. Sanitizer, wet tissue, toilet paper, and mask
Streets in Egypt are not well-maintained, most places are dirty. You see rubbish almost everywhere, on the road, river and tourist site. People throwing rubbish anywhere they like. Best to bring along sanitizer, wet tissue, toilet paper, and face mask. It can be quite dusty as the cities are surrounded by the desert.
11. How is the Toilet?
Most toilets are charged at 5 Egyptian Pound, about USD 0.30 or SDG 0.50, you have to bring your own toilet paper and some don’t even have running water. Do not flush down the toilet paper but throw it to the bin next to the toilet bowl. Always have smaller notes for using the toilet.
12. How safe is the water?
Use bottled water provided in the hotel and get them from the shops.
13. Scam or daylight robbery does happen to my nephew!
You can’t avoid scams when you travel especially when you travel to a less developed country. After the 2011 Arab Spring Revolution, more people in Egypt are jobless and hang around on the street, looking for opportunities from tourists. Especially in Giza Pyramid, scams and daylight robbery incidents can happen. My nephew who is 15 years old got robbed in front of us in the Giza Pyramid. A guy came up to him and grabbed his arm and said: “let’s take a picture”. My nephew refused to take the picture together with him but the guy did not let go of his arms and it looks like they took the picture together.
Later, my nephew told me that the bad guy did not even turn on his phone to take a photo and just demanded for money. LOL
My nephew refused to pay and told him that he has no money. The bad guy called over a few of his friends to come over and threatened him. My nephew got intimidated and paid the bad guys USD 10.00 as that is the smallest notes he has in his wallet.
Rule of thumb – always has no eye-contacts and do no believe what the stranger said, have your own judgment. Stay in a group.
14. Kind Egyptians do exist!
However, there are still many nice people around. I once dropped my wallet on the street in Khan el-Khalili Bazaar in Cairo and a kind Egyptian man picked up and returned to me.
15. What is the best season to visit Egypt
The best time to visit Egypt is during the winter month (Oct-Apr). Summer will be scorching hot, up to 50’C. I went to Egypt during year-end which is also the peak season. The downside of booking in year-end, Christmas and New year timing was the price is a lot higher compare to other timing.
The weather was quite comfortable during the day but once sunset, it is very cold so it is very easy to catch a cold. Beware and always have a jacket with you.
16. Where is Hurghada Red Sea?
Hurghada Red Sea is the resort area for sea activities. Your Egypt itinerary will most likely include Hurghada Red Sea.
It is a popular destination for the European to get away from the cold winter, over here is warm even in winter. You can wear bikini in the Rea Sea resorts. Most resorts have private beaches which are only for their guests. We spent one and a half-day in the Hurghada Red Sea.
17. Should I do Hot Air Balloon?
There are optional tours such as hot air balloons. Just like the hot-air balloon in Turkey, you can’t miss this one in Luxor. Flying high up to the sky allows you to see the “Valley of the King” and “Valley of the Queen” from the top.
We were charged USD 150 per person but I looked up online and found out that hot-air balloon starts from USD 70 price and above. I guess our tour guide has taken some big commission from us. Oh well, when you are in a tour group, there is a limitation on the thing that you can choose and bargain. Anyway, I still highly recommend the hot air balloon in Luxor. Do it! (But there are risk of falling)
To do this, we have to depart from Hurghada at around 1-2 am in the morning by bus and reach Luxor at around 5 am. It takes 4 hours to reach Luxor from Hurghada. Sunrise is the best timing for the hot-air balloon.
18. How is Nile River Cruises?
Most Egypt tour consists of Nile River Cruise for several days. Ours was 4 days 3 nights spent on the cruise. You have your three meals in the 4 storey cruise. Every day the cruise will stop for some sites to visit. The good thing about cruise is you can rest and sleep on the comfy bed in the afternoon when the cruise sail. The bad thing is you may get seasick, so prepare the seasick medication. You can go to the top deck to enjoy the sunshine or fresh air and scenery. The lower floor is the restaurant for you to have your breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
19. How much walking in Egypt tour?
If you have done Spain tour, then you can do the Eygpt tour too. I keep track of how many steps in a day that we walked and it was more or less10,000 steps a day. There are lots of uneven ground in Cairo Pyramid and other attraction sites throughout Egypt. Handicapped amenities and ramps or smooth walkways aren’t many. Always be careful with the uneven ground and lots of holes and animal poo (horse, donkey, camel and rubbish).
20. What to wear in Egypt
For ladies, always bring a scarf to use for sun or wind or can be useful if entering a mosque. Stay away from short skirts or shorts and tank tops. If you fancy dresses like me, just stick with long dresses or skirts to cover your knees.
For men, it is best if you can prepare a pair of long pants as some places do not allow shorts.
Use hats, sunglasses, umbrella, and scarf to block away from the sun. It is super hot even in winter, especially during the day. A scarf is the best, the umbrella can be quite hard to handle when the winds are strong.
You should have very comfy shoes, best is the hiking shoes as most of the ground is uneven rocks and sands. Don’t forget to bring along a pair of slippers for the Hurghada Red Sea, (you need that to walk in the resort and on the beach) and most hotels in Egypt do not provide indoor slippers.
In the summer, you need bug spray. Lots of them in the summer, even in winter there are some bugs and insects.
21. Domestic Flight in Egypt – Be early!
Most likely you will travel with a domestic flight during your Egypt tour. Mine was from Aswan to Cairo. For domestic flights, always be there early as everyone seems to cut queue and there is no order. We almost withness a fight in the airport as everyone was rushing as time was running out. The airport is in-efficient with messy lines and disorganized.
22. Watch the stars in the Sahara Desert
At night when your buses cross over the Sahara desert, look up the sky and watch the twinkling stars, very bright and beautiful.
23. Don’t go for the Pyramid Sound and Light show!
The Pyramid sound and light show is out of date, probably using the technologies from the 1970’s. The sounds are bad and not even enough lights. Our tour offer USD 60 per pax which includes pickup and return to the hotel. Many of our tour members came back with negative comments and said it was not worth to do it.
If you are still thinking of going, bring along a thick jacket as it gets very cold at night because the pyramids sit in the desert.
24. Shisha water pipe cafe
You will see people smoke from the shisha water pipe in the metal stem, glass base. The water-pipes allow you to smoke flavored tobacco as it is bubbled through water. Some people call it “hookah” in India. They called it Shisha in Sudan and Egypt.
25. How much is Egypt Population?
The total population in Egypt is about 97 million and in Cairo itself, it has about 9.5 million so expect to see a lot of people in Cairo. Crowded everywhere and traffic is horrible- car honking and dangerous drivers everywhere. But I like the fact that you still see donkeys or horses used as transport even in big cities like Cairo. The animals run together with cars and buses. I did not see many motorbikes.
26. Why things are cheap in Egypt?
GDP is about USD 3k per capita. Just some comparison here, Malaysia and China GDP are about USD 10k, Singapore USD60k. Base on these numbers, you can roughly judge the living standards in Egypt. Things are not expensive. But you need to bargain. Sometimes things from 10 dollars can go down to 2 dollars. Lol.
If the offer price is just one or two dollars USD from the vendor I usually don’t bargain and just help the local community. They have no jobs and out on the street selling souvenirs, highly depend on the tourists to bring food to the table to feed their family. Help them if it is only a few dollars.
27. Who should visit Egypt?
Anyone who loves the ancient history of Egypt. Egypt is interesting in many ways, go early and don’t wait until you are too old. You see many interesting scenes which are are not seen in your home country. Expect to see ruins after ruins, temples after temples. When you are back at your hotel, look at your shoes as they are full of dust. You would imagine you have just experienced the work of an archaeologist, digging sands and pits in the ruins in the desert.
28. How safe is Egypt?
Egypt is safe and the only thing I find disturbing is the hustle where it starts the moment you step out from your bus or taxi. That is part of the culture in Egypt, just embrace it and live with it during your visit.
29. Expect lots of road checks
We experienced several roadblocks from the police during our tour in Egypt, most are just waving and go in 2 minutes.
However, the most memorable one was during our midnight journey by coach bus which starts at 2 am from Hurghada to Luxor. We were being held up for about 30 minutes! There are restrictions to drive across the desert for tourists, some needed a permit.
According to the article from “Dangerous roads”, the road that links the ancient city of Luxor and Hurghada Red Sea are dangerous with many many head-on collisions and fatal accidents due to drivers not turning on their headlights. The reason for drivers keeping their lights off is because bandits and terrorists patrol the roads and shoot at drivers. Terrorists hide in the desert, patrol the road in the darkness in search of easy prey.
I remembered the way to Abu Simbel from Aswan (3.5 hours), we had a police car in front leading our bus when driving at midnight between across the Nubian Desert & the Eastern extension of the Great Sahara Desert. Lots of police checkpoints after checkpoints in this route.
Anyway, those roadblocks are pre-caution and good for tourists. Don’t be alarmed to see tanks or policemen holding big guns in the desert stopping your bus.
30. Metal Detectors in Hotel and Shopping Mall
Similar to the situation in Xinjiang, Eygpt has metal detectors & security checks and bag scans at the entry of hotels and shopping malls. Xinjiang is more serious about its security, they have metal detectors in every restaurant and even toilets.
I have been to many places around the world but still, Egypt has given me a lot of surprises. I hope the above tips are helpful for your future trip to Egypt. Do help to comment on the below what you like and dislike if you have visited Egypt before. Or what is the number 1 tips that shock you the most or which are the tips above that you find most useful?