Explore ancient Egypt in modern times!
My personal list of handy Egypt travel tips. All first hand knowledge - written during my travels in Egypt.
All the tips have been categorised into sections. Just click on each tab to fully open and start reading.
BANKING AND CURRENCY
- Small currency notes are a scarcity in Egypt, so collect as much as you can. The locals always want a tip, such as your tour guides & private taxi drivers. Even random people, for example, locals approaching you to give unwanted information and then they hold out their hand.
- It's so much more convenient and safer to have your airport taxi pre-arranged by your Cairo hotel. I could not see any city shuttle bus signs that go into town - only to other terminals. Thankfully all taxi drivers have to wait outside the terminal building. But its still a crazy atmosphere outside as each driver is yelling for your business. As I arrived late at night, the information desks were all closed. So I was really thankful that I had a driver waiting for me.
- The metro system in Cairo is clean and efficient. Easy to read signage. Plus the front carriages are usually reserved for women only. It made me feel safer.
- You cannot leave Cairo without seeing all the ancient and King Tut's artifacts in the Egyptian Museum. Tip: it's worth paying the extra fee to gain access into two display rooms full of uncovered, real mummies. So eerie to view but well worth it.
- At every hostel/hotel you stay at, the reception staff will try to sell you tours. They have a ‘brother’ or ‘cousin’ that offer great deals, for either one day or multi-day trips. Do shop around as most times they are not registered tour guides and they do tend to overcharge. The driver/guide also likes to stop at shops (such as perfumes, carpets, papyrus house) even if you don’t want to. It's because they can make some extra commission on your purchases.
- Also, if you like independent travel, don’t believe them that it is difficult to travel around the country on your own. I did it on my own. However, the bus travel was a little daunting at times, especially when you're a solo female traveller. Only local men travelled on buses. As no females were to be seen, they kept staring at me.
- To actually walk inside the great pyramid of Giza , tickets are limited to 150 people in the morning and 150 people after lunch. Purchase tickets at Mena House ticket booth. Unfortunately, it cant be pre-booked. As its first in/first serve basis, line up early before the 8am opening! Be aware though, it will be empty inside the pyramid as all the treasures are in the Cairo museum.
- Instead of walking to the pyramids through the eastern gates, go to the nearby stables and arrange a camel tour with a guide. Ask that you want to trek over the dunes and see the pyramids from afar first. That way, you can take photos from great angles. For instance, jumping shots over the pyramid, make it look like you’re holding the pyramid in your hands or pretend you’re stepping on the pyramid. Make sure your guide can handle a camera well to take those amazing shots for you. My guide couldn’t tell me much on the history or facts (luckily I had my Lonely Planet guide with me). But he did take the most fantastic photos of me and the pyramids. If you start at 7am, you will have photos of the pyramids without the bus loads of tourists!
- Did you know that there are other, older pyramids to see just outside of Cairo? Saqqara has the first step pyramid. And Dashur was like the training ground for building pyramids. There is Bent Pyramid (the one that went wrong!) and Red Pyramid (improved on their first attempt). You can actually go inside this pyramid. No fees and no queues. Saqqara and Dashur are a lot less touristy than Giza.
Egypt travel tips - other cities
- A 4-6 hour bus ride from Cairo. A great base point to explore Black Desert, Akabat Mountain and the strange rock formations at White Desert. Most travellers seem to arrive here on organised tours, complete with hotel and jeep tour reservations. However, if you're travelling independently, you’ll be approached by people in the streets or your hotel owner as there are no travel agencies. Ask a lot of questions before you hand over your money, such as inclusions, times, aircon in jeep etc. And negotiate well as I found the locals like to lie a lot and rubbish the other tour operators. You end up not knowing who to trust! I did end up finding a good tour guide – www.westerndesertson.net, but do shop around.
- The area consists of several towns nestled in an oasis. The town of Mut is the largest and most popular to use as a base to explore the surrounding areas. I can recommend the El Forsan Hotel, for clean low cost accommodation. However, the town of Al Qasr is gaining popularity too.
- Be sure to visit the best natural hot water spring in the area, called Magic Springs! The water is continually bubbling making it easy to float. Which is handy because if you try to stand on the sandy floor, your feet sink into a bottomless pit. The area is surrounded by a rock wall and bamboo huts. So we were able to enjoy the warm water without totally covering our bodies with baggy t-shirts and pants.
- Aswan's main tour is to Abu Simbel. It’s quite a day as you are usually picked up from your hotel at 3am. Then you sit in a long convoy of buses for 3 hours. Basically there are two options to get there. Either book on a big tour bus/coach or save about 70% by asking your hotel to book you on a microbus transfer.
- For those independent travellers who like adventure and want to book a felucca ride to head towards Luxor, note that the captains usually only sail from Aswan to Kom Ombo or as close as possible depending upon the winds at the time. If you don’t make it to Kom Ombo, the captain will organise a bus to meet at your random drop off point and take you the rest of the way. Then you can enjoy visiting the Kom Ombo temple. After that, it’s a one hour drive to Edfu to visit Horus temple before travelling another 1.5 hours to your Luxor hotel. Ensure all this is pre-arranged and paid for before starting your felucca ride. I travelled in October and the wind wasn’t that great. Therefore, we didnt quite make it, about 20min drive short of Kom Ombo. You can reserve the felucca ride either by finding a captain on the Aswan waterfront and negotiate a deal. Or ask your hotel to organise for you (they will contact their captains that they know and can add you with other independent travellers).
- A low key, funky, colourful seaside village lined with restaurants on the sea side and accommodation across the cobblestone walkway. I much preferred staying here than in built up luxury hotels of Sharm el Sheikh.
- My favourite Egypt tour was here, an adventure tour called the Canyon Tour. It's a 4 wheel drive tour into the desert over rough tracks and over sand dunes. The highlights were walking through Red Canyon and White Canyon. Lunch at an oasis was special too.
- Dhahab is an adventurer’s delight. The Red Sea is great for diving. A few diving tour companies also offer diving courses too, if you’re keen to learn! There’s also snorkelling, kite surfing, quad biking, horse riding, camel rides, desert safari’s, hiking up Mt Sinai at midnight. So much to take your pick.