18 Things To Know Before Travelling To Egypt For The First Time
Travelling to Egypts for the first time can be an exciting as well as daunting experience. The land of the ancients where mysteries are abundant and sights will take your breathe away. It is not an easy place to travel in though so you will need all the help you can get as a first timer! There are definitely a few things I wish I had known before travelling to Egypt for the first time. Hopefully with this guide you will be totally prepared.
Here are 17 things you need to know before travelling to Egypt for the first time
The visa situation in Egypt
A lot of countries actually either don’t need a visa for a stay less than 30 days or can get a visa on arrival in Egypt. However you need to double check the visa requirements for your country as they could be more difficult. For instance I live in South Africa in Cape Town. There are no embassies for Egypt in my city so I had to send my passport with a visa agency to get my visa. Although my actual visa was free I had to pay R700 to the agency. It also takes up to 22 days so you need to get everything sorted out well in advance!
Transport in Egypt
From the airport
Getting to Egypt airport without any booked transport is not advised. As soon as you go outside you will be hounded and more than likely scammed so having something already arranged is the way to go. If you are doing a tour then your tour guide will meet you as you walk out. We just wanted to get to our hotel so we used a great and affordable service called Cairo transfers. You can book and pay for your ride online and it is totally comfortable and safe!
In my mind getting from let’s say Cairo to Aswan or Aswan to Luxor would be extremely easy. There must be busses, trains and more right? Well that’s not entirely right. Most public transport is for Egyptians only. This means there are very limited ways to get around. There are plenty of daily flight between places but it can get expensive. You can also opt for a nile cruise to get you to your destination or by driving in a van or bus with a tour group.
Uber is available in Cairo only and is pretty standard. We only tried Uber select ( Uber black in South Africa ) and it was extremely affordable! The cars are definitely not the fancy ones we get at home but they were fine and clean. For some reason we only had female Uber select drivers and I am not sure if it is the norm in Egypt.
I wouldn’t trust a taxi in Cairo if my life depended on it. As we stood waiting for our Uber outside our hotel an American gentleman asked the bellboy to get him a taxi to the exact same spot we were headed. Our Uber was $1,65 for a one way trip. He got told a taxi was $15 dollars for a one way trip. Yeah the taxis wont see me anytime soon!
Be prepared for the traffic in Cairo
Wherever you go in Cairo be prepared for it to take a considerable amount of time unless it is very early in the morning. The traffic is next level insane and also a reason never to rent a car in Egypt. Three lanes turn into 5 and it seems like there are no rules on the road. This is strange as well because about 80% of the people I saw driving were speaking on their cellphones while navigating the mess.
Get to places early as it gets very crowded
Tourism in Egypt has taken off again and you can see it with the amount of tour busses heading to popular sites daily. I am not a fan of crowds, they make me anxious and also doesn’t make for good photos. We always head of to sights as they open and that really helped in Egypt as well. Even though it only gave us about 30 minutes maximum before the crowds descended upon us it is enough time to really appreciate the wonders alone.
There is a lot of military presence
Don’t freak out when you see guys with guns around every corner. There is a lot of military presence in Egypt and even though it’s unsettling you get used to it pretty quickly. We didn’t feel like it hampered our trip in any way and knowing they are there to keep you safe is a good thing.
Hassling, bribery and scamming is everywhere
One of the things we struggled with most is the incessant hassling.. Having travelled in Africa we thought we could deal but this was next level and really but a damper on our trip. We even went to bed hungry one night as we just could not face the gauntlet of harassment outside of our hotel and the 200 meters to a restaurant.
We avoided getting scammed thankfully but other people we spoke to weren’t as lucky. One french lady from our hotel even got scammed at the pharmacy! She was charged 450 EGP for a suntan lotion and the hotelmanager had to walk back with her to get a refund as it only cost 80 EGP!
If you are fully aware of scams then you will probably be ok but it takes a lot of your energy to do so.
If you look foreign you will be asked for selfies with people
I didn’t mind this part actually ( although there is also a scam where they ask for payment after the selfie! ) as it was mostly younger kids asking. At first I thought it was my blonde hair that attracted the selfie takers but they were just as keen to get photos with Mike!
It was mostly local teens and they were really sweet. It does get a bit much when you have 20+ chattering girls grabbing you from all sides. They apparently like showing off to their family and friends that they met a westerner. This is totally harmless so just smile and play along!
Winters are cold
We are very into checking weather so I can’t believe we never thought that Egypt would be cold in February. Well let me tell you it was, it was very cold! One morning at the pyramids it was so cold I started shaking and it wasn’t a nice experience. Check the weather and pack accordingly or you might have to wear the same sweater all the time like I did!
Things are confusing
I like to think of myself as quite a savvy traveller. I have been to plenty of places and I can find my way around easily. Egypt was confusing though. From people telling you different to signs not making sense we were pretty confused most of the time. The language barrier also makes it difficult to ask for help. If you can learn a bit of Arabic then you should do that as I think it will most certainly help.
There are loads of extra charges
You might think a temple costs one amount to get into and budget for that but you will probably find out when you get there its not. A lot of places charge extras. For example a tripod will be an extra 20 EGP and sometimes 50 EGP per camera as well. Sometimes you need another photo permit to take photos with your camera inside temples ( at Abu Simbel it cost 300 EGP ) and at Karnak they wanted to charge us 3000 EGP because they thought our camera equipment looked too professional!
You will also have to pay extra to go into special areas like inside they pyramids or inside rooms with mummies etc.
It is not as cheap as you might think
We thought that Egypt would be a budget destination but we ended up paying quite a bit for our week long trip. You can definitely find inexpensive food but hotels are expensive especially in Cairo and guides and getting around is also expensive.
You can’t drone in Egypt
Don’t even try and take your drone to Egypt as it will get confiscated in the airport. We got ask to open our camera bag numerous times so you probably wont get away with trying to take one in. We have a drone battery that we use as a phone charger and we even got questioned about that so be careful.
Everything is far away
If you want to see a lot of Egypt then you need to be willing to travel quite a bit. A lot of the best places are quite far apart so you will spend a fair amount of time travelling. This is fine but remember to budget for extra travel days and chill days! For example we had to get up at 3:30am to go from Aswan to Abu Simbel. It was a 6 our journey there and back and we only got to spend two ours at the temple. The rest of the day we were really tired and didn’t do much!
Getting a tour guide is a good idea
We did not have a tour guide but getting one isn’t a bad idea. I think we might have had a slightly better trip if we had someone with us to explain things and talk to the locals. You also get to learn a lot more about the history and you have that safety net incase something goes wrong. It is also a fun way to explore if you are travelling alone.
You can’t drink the tap water
You cannot drink the tap water in Egypt! Some people are advised to even brush their teeth with bottled or filtered water. We did not do that and used tap water to brush our teeth and we were fine but if you want to stay on the safe side rather dont.
Females don’t get treated very well
Something that was a big disappointment was how badly females get treated. Although I think that the Egyptian men might see it as a compliment I do not think so at all and it is plain rude. Sexual harassment is rampant and quite a few people messaged me recalling their horrible stories.
Almost everywhere we went men would say things to me that made me uncomfortable and even say to Mike ( on many occasions ) lucky man. It really repulsed me that they found nothing wrong with it and I really hope it is something that will change in Egypt.
A Nile cruise is a great way to see Egypt
I have been told by so many people that a Nile cruise is one of the best ways to experience the country if you are travelling to Egypt for the first time . We went on a sunset Nile cruise in Aswan and it was really breathtaking.
Alcohol is available but expensive
We do love a beer or a glass of wine after a heavy day of sightseeing but as Egypt is a Muslim country it is not something you will find everywhere. Hotels have alcohol but at a price and that price is really high! The cheapest thing you can get is a local beer which costs 90 EGP. I didn’t mind too much though and some mint tea did the trick for me at dinner especially as the evenings were quite chilly!
WHERE WE STAYED IN ASWAN:
Kato Dool Nubian House – This gorgeous colourful bed and breakfast in Aswan was a dream to stay at and budget friendly!
WHERE WE STAYED IN LUXOR:
Winter Pavilion – This hotel is the less expensive than the Winter palace but as it is on the same grounds you have access to everything the Winter palace has access to.
Sofitel Winter Palace – An iconic hotel in Luxor, if you can book there then do so!