I always planned to go on another trip to Egypt ever since I failed to explore the country apart from Sharm-El-Sheikh’s resort hopping in August 2013. I was there for an international congress, but we weren’t allowed to leave the town for safety reasons. Finally, 7 years later, I got a chance to discover real Egypt.
The ancient civilization which everyone learned about at school, the hidden secrets of the Pyramids, chaotic yet charming Cairo and pristine waters of Red Sea – what else would you ask for to 2020 travel adventures? Here comes funny and no sugar-coated travel guide to Egypt. I designed it to help you set the right expectations and share a few useful travel tips.
1. Is Egypt safe to travel?
The most important question is to be answered first: Is Egypt safe to travel? How secure is it for backpackers and solo female travellers? Well, it’s quite a complicated question, and I am not in a place to say that any country is 100% safe, or no tourists ever get scammed, harassed, or whatsoever. But I would like to share observations from my 2-week trip. Check out these following pieces of advice about safety in Egypt:
- Major tourist locations and big cities are safe to visit. Keep in mind that if you don’t go off the beaten path and avoid a north-western region, it’s unlikely to encounter significant troubles. There are security checkpoints and roadblocks everywhere across the country, and they might stop your vehicle for additional screening. Beyond that, you will find metal detectors and armed security guards at every entrance to popular tourist attractions, as well as in Cairo’s metro. It can be quite intimidating first, especially if you are not used to the heavy military presence. Regardless, you quickly learn that Egypt, in fact, is not as dangerous as it is portrayed.
- If you are used to travelling solo, I’d advise finding travel buddies for Egyptian adventures. Especially if you are a female traveller. Being a foreigner and walking on the streets draws massive attention from locals, and it goes many ways. The families might ask you for a quick photo, people will be staring at you, and guys will be catcalling. I’m Asian, so random strangers on the street yelled “Chinese? Japanese? Korean?” every damn time. It was annoying, but hey, I try to keep an open mind about my travel experience.
- There are always pleasant and bad people everywhere, right? I met both very friendly Egyptians and straight-up rude ones, who were trying to scam us every now and then. When they failed to do so, some would lose temper, shout, and threaten. The taxi drivers in Sharm-el-Sheikh were the worst. I recall at least 2 incidents in just 3 days when my family and I wanted to leg outta there as soon as possible. On the other hand, we felt so welcomed in Cairo and Alexandria, where locals would help us to cross the road (believe me, you need assistance with that) or help with directions when we looked lost and confused.
2. What about a visa to Egypt?
Alright, we figured out the safety issues, so let’s talk about visa to Egypt. First of all, you may be eligible for a visa-free stamp or visa on arrival. In another scenario, you may need to apply for one before travel. As usual, it all depends on your citizenship and travel purposes.
Don’t worry! Getting a visa to Egypt is not a complicated process and shouldn’t put you off from discovering this country. Here is the overview of visa rules to remember for your next trip to Egypt:
- Several nationalities can visit South Sinai region for 15 days or less (limited to Sharm El Sheikh, Dahab, Nuweiba and Taba resorts) visa-free. But if you plan to travel outside South Sinai, you must obtain a visa.
- Citizens of the UK, EU, US, Australia, Canada, Croatia, Georgia, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Macedonia, Republic of Korea, Russian Federation, Serbia, and Ukraine can get visa on arrival at any Egyptian ports of entry. A single-entry tourist visa costs 25 USD and is valid for 30 days. You can also pay 60 USD for multiple entries. No credit cards or other currency are allowed – only American dollars, baby!
- There is an E-visa portal if you want to have peace of mind and arrange your visa in advance. You must apply 7 days before your departure and pay the visa fee online with a credit card. This is the official Egypt E-visa portal to check if you are eligible for one.
To sum it up: the visa process is pretty much straightforward, and there are no major safety warnings. Have you always wanted to pinch the top of the Pyramids for that IG photo or stuff your face with delicious Egyptian and Middle Eastern food? It’s time to start planning your Egyptian adventures to check out Tutankhamen’s mummy!
3. When is the best time to visit Egypt?
Whenever one thinks of Egypt, they associate it with hot weather only, which is partially true. Choosing the best time to visit Egypt is essential. Avoid Egypt in summer altogether as it gets intolerably hot! You will most likely end up with a heat stroke and melt like an ice cube in the sun as temperatures approach 40°C (above 100°F). The first time I visited Egypt was in August, and I will never forget the free outdoor sauna: you basically just need to step outside your room to be hit with extreme heat and humidity as early as at 9 am.
So when is the best time for a trip to Egypt? From October to April, when it is comfortable 25°C (77 °F) to 30°C (86°F) in the day time and around 15°C (59°F) at night throughout the country.
Cairo and Alexandria are slightly colder, so a warmer jacket is a must if you are visiting from December to February. Also, during these months, the Red Sea coast can be windy from time to time and kite- and windsurfers flood beaches to flex on their skills. You get warm sunny days and chilly nights with a jacket and hookah to warm you up.
4. Itinerary and places to visit in Egypt
There are some exceptional and exciting places to visit in Egypt, and I would suggest spending 10 to 14 days for the comfortable exploration of the country’s highlights. Do not underestimate the distance between cities (especially when you are travelling by land and contributing to eco-friendly and conscious travelling). Remember Egypt’s map? Country IS big!
Everything is spread out across Egypt, and it takes careful planning to try and squeeze it all in a single trip. Spoiler alert: I didn’t see ALL of the places, and it’s completely fine, no travel FOMO here.
2-week itinerary for your trip to Egypt
Spending 3 days in Cairo/Giza. WHAT A MAD CITY IT IS! Cairo has different vibes depending on the time of the day: bustling and chaotic at nights vs. surprisingly quiet in early mornings (don’t get your hopes high, it’s quiet only before 8 am). The city is packed with historical places and museums; old markets, where you can stock up on souvenirs and what not; wide variety of food, starting with Koshari for 1 USD or full buffet at a 5-star hotel for 50 USD/p. I have an in-depth post about epic places to visit in Cairo, check it out!
Cairo has so many different neighbourhoods and narrow streets, where you can find yourself lost and immediately surrounded by kids smiling and asking you for photos. This city can be quite dirty, noisy, and exhausting, but it has a charm that lures you in.
Cairo Highlights: Pyramids of Giza, Egyptian Museum, Coptic Cairo, Khan Al Khalili, Arabic Cairo, Citadel of Saladin, Al-Azhar Park (to escape city madness), Nile Promenade, Opera House, trendy Zamalek and many more.
2 hour drive up north to Alexandria (2 days). Imagine Egyptian Paris on the Mediterranean coast. Oh, my days! City architecture, historical ruins, library, seafood, everything there was just b-a-n-g-i-n-g! We went for a day trip, but within the first couple of hours, we already wanted to stay there for a few more days. It’s hard not to fall for this city! It was a breath of fresh air after dusty Cairo, quite literally as well. You can easily spend all day walking around and stumbling upon yet another cool ruins.
Alexandria Highlights: Biblioteca Alexandrina, Alexandria National Museum, Fort Qaitbey, Pompey’s Pillar & the Temple of Serapeum, Catacombs of Kom Ash Shuqqafa, Mosque of Abu Abbas Al Mursi.
Head all way south to Aswan (2 days). Be ready for quiet days, filled with slow-paced exploration of Nubian civilization, relaxing and witnessing how divine sunsets are when you cruise Nile River on a felucca boat.
Aswan Highlights: Elephantine island, Nubian village, the Monastery of St Simeon, Lake Nasser.
Visit Luxor (2 days). The second most popular tourist destination in Egypt after the Pyramids of Giza. You can get there by plane, train or overnight bus from Cairo. There are also hot air balloon rides in Luxor. Don’t forget to explore local life and get lost in a bustle of Egyptian street life.
Luxor Highlights: the Valley of the Kings is the tomb of Tutankhamun, Karnak Temple complex.
Be a potato couch in one of the Hurghada or Sharm-El-Sheikh resorts (3 days). You can sunbathe in one of the hundreds luxurious (and not really) hotels, dive to see the marine life of Red Sea, visit the Mosque, go for a desert tour and ride buggy.
Travel back to Cairo (1 day): Fly back to Cairo or take an overnight bus and enjoy one more day in Cairo, stoking up on Arabic coffee to bring back home and testing your noise levels toleration by wandering around local streets and neighbourhoods.
5. Travel costs and transportation in Egypt
Egypt is not an expensive destination per se, you can still find ways to splurge out on random stuff there if you want. A budget traveller can easily survive on 30 USD per day, given you do not go to every museum (quite tempting not to!), eat local food, and take public transport.
For more comfortable yet still budget-friendly travel, I’d suggest 80 to 100 USD per person. Hotels and AirBnBs are both really affordable! Entrance to museums easily can cost you 15 USD/p, and you may visit up to 2 museums per day. For instance, expect to pay 37 USD for “Full Complex Ticket” to the Pyramids of Giza, where the tomb is… merely anticlimactic. Get “Area ticket” for 12.5 USD, it’s enough.
Food can vary from 1 USD to 50 USD: street food stalls, local eateries with no menus and fancy Lebanese and Moroccan restaurants – anything you want.
ATMs are available everywhere, and they do not charge a commission for withdrawals from the foreign card. The maximum you can withdraw in one go is ~250 USD. It is still a predominantly cash country.
Planes, buses, minivans, trains, and boat rides – a range of modes of transport available in Egypt. There is Egypt Air, but we didn’t book any tickets in advance. When we arrived, the prices hiked up to 200 USD per person for the New Year holidays. So we opted for local transport, which was really affordable. For example, the first-class train from Alexandria to Cairo is around 7 USD. However, be aware that you may need to book train tickets in advance by visiting the train station as the booking website lags a lot.
There are two bus companies GoBus and BlueBus. I personally recommend the latter one, it was generally better service and quality ride. A VIP bus from Cairo to Sharm-El-Sheikh was 22 USD. They have business/VIP class, which is a really comfortable ride with snacks, water, wifi, toilet, AND safe driving.
To navigate in cities like Cairo and Alexandria, use Uber. It will save you time, money, nerves, and hassle. The rides are cheap and good to split the costs if you are travelling with a few people. But be ready that some streets are really narrow, there is a traffic jam every now and then, but it’s honestly the same both on and underground.
You are now ready for a trip to Egypt
In all its fairness, Egypt is not an easy destination, and travelling there can be quite exhausting and draining. While you generally feel safe walking on the streets and excited to visit museums and the Pyramids, you’ll always need to be patient, keep an eye on your belongings, and trust your common sense. Egypt is worth exploring if you like spontaneity, adventures, and immersing yourself in ancient times. Oh, and sometimes it might feel like you were back in the 19th century.
Why is that? Maybe because Egyptians collectively forgot about every traffic rule out there. Traffic lights and pedestrian crossing? What is that? It pretty much doesn’t exist there. Traffic in Cairo is so congested and busy, yet you will see everyone appearing out of nowhere and jump in front of the moving vehicle to cross the street. Need to get off in the middle of the highway? Sure, go for it! *sarcasm alert* I was legit scared for my life when I had to cross the street in Egypt, it felt even crazier than Vietnam and India! And there is a thing called Egyptian time when 10 mins is actually 1 hour. Just be patient, that’s all I can say.
You are now ready to have a fun and adventurous trip to Egypt! Good luck on your adventures!