As you step off the plane onto the sun-soaked tarmac of Cairo International Airport, you’re embarking on a journey back in time. Egypt, with its timeless treasures and captivating history, beckons you with open arms. The land of pharaohs, pyramids, and the mighty Nile River has fascinated and mystified travelers for centuries. If it’s your first time setting foot in this enchanting country, get ready for a travel experience like no other.
In this comprehensive guide, I’ll help you navigate this captivating destination with ease and confidence. From the bustling bazaars of Cairo to the tranquil oases of the Sahara Desert, and from the iconic pyramids of Giza to the magnificent temples of Luxor, Egypt is a treasure trove of history, culture, and natural beauty. We’ll cover everything you need to know, from practical travel tips to essential cultural insights, ensuring that your first-time journey to Egypt is nothing short of extraordinary.
You will learn everything from how to pack for your adventure, things to avoid, how to stay safe and healthy, as well as tips to bargain like a pro. This travel guide to Egypt is a must read before your first trip and it will help you make the most of your adventure.
Cairo (population 9.4 million)
Egyptian pound (EGP or LE)
Further Reading – Where to Exchange Currency Without Paying Huge Fees
Further Reading – How Much of a Language Should I Know?
Further Reading – 5 Best Ways to Use Your Phone When Traveling Abroad
Type C (European 2-pin)
Further Reading – Power, Plugs, and Sockets for Egypt
Should You Hire a Tour Guide?
I’ve been to Egypt twice now. The first time I booked a group tour and the second time I hosted two group trips for the OGW community. I highly recommend either hiring a tour guide or joining a group trip for this destination. Having a local guide is beyond helpful. Not only are certified local guides Egyptologists, meaning they spent years getting an education specifically for this industry, but they can help you navigate the complexities of Egyptian culture. When you have a local guide you are much more likely to enjoy your time in Egypt. Instead of having to figure out every little detail like scams to watch out for, or how to get around, or even what restaurants are less likely to leave you with an upset stomach, the guide will help you with all those things. You’ll also have all the historical sites explained to you – the majority of which don’t have any signage so you would be on your own trying to understand statues and hieroglyphics. When you have a local guide with you, you get to focus on enjoying and let them take care of the rest. Can Egypt be done without a guide? Sure. But you are signing up for a more stressful and confusing experience and that’s not a fun vacation.
Foreign nationals from most countries must obtain a visa before traveling to Egypt. For most travelers, organizing a visa for Egypt can be done on arrival at Cairo International Airport or online via the Egyptian government’s official e-visa portal. This includes citizens of Australia, New Zealand, the EU, the USA, and Canada. If you’re not eligible to apply for a visa online, you’ll need to do so through your nearest Egyptian embassy or consulate.
A single entry visa is valid for three months from the date of issue and entitles the holder to one month of travel in Egypt. If you’re from a country that doesn’t require a visa before travel, such as Bahrain, Hong Kong, the United Arab Emirates and Lebanon, you can stay in Egypt for up to 3 months.
How to obtain a visa on arrival in Egypt
If you wish to obtain your visa on arrival at Cairo Airport:
- Purchase the visa at an approved kiosk within the arrivals hall before proceeding to the immigration counter.
- You will be given a stamp to put on your passport.
- Proceed to the immigration counter and a passport control official. You must present your stamped passport with at least six months validity after arrival, a travel itinerary and documentation outlining accommodation and tour bookings.
- Visas on arrival can be purchased in US dollars, British pounds or euros, and only in cash. Currently, the cost for a single entry tourist visa is $25 USD.
How to apply for an e-visa to Egypt
Go to visa2egypt.gov.eg. This is Egypt’s only official government e-visa portal; however, other websites falsely claim to provide this service, sometimes at double the price.
Follow the prompts to sign up, sign in, apply, and pay online. Please note that Egypt e-visas can only be paid for in US dollars or euros. Egyptian pounds are not accepted as a form of payment for e-visas.
After your visa application has been processed, you will receive an email updating you on the status of your application.
If successful, you will be emailed a link to download your e-visa to present on arrival in Egypt. Passport control officers at Egyptian ports of entry will verify your e-visa on their system.
If you are eligible for an Egypt e-visa, you must create an application at least seven days before arrival. Currently, the cost for a single-entry tourist e-visa is $25 USD. On arrival in Egypt, you must present a printout of your e-visa, along with a passport of at least six months validity after your arrival date, a travel itinerary, and documentation outlining accommodation and tour bookings.
The website can be temperamental. I have had to use multiple browsers and tried different formats before my information could be submitted. Also, if you care about cool stamps in your passport, the visa on arrival is a much more interesting stamp than the one you get when you apply for an online visa.
What to Pack
While there are no specific laws or rules about dressing conservatively on your trip to Egypt, you’re bound to feel more comfortable covered up, especially women. It’s also a great way to show your respect for the Egyptian people and their way of life.
I have worn shorts and sleeveless tops or dresses when in Egypt but this was typically at the tourist sites, not in the cities and certainly not at religious sites. No one is going to yell at you or get upset but you may get more attention or stares for wearing clothing that shows more. It’s up to your comfort level.
Wearing items made of natural materials or athletic clothing that breathes is best. Lightweight, breathable fabrics are best. Anything that blocks UV is also great.
Some clothing ideas:
- Maxi/midi dresses
- Palazzo pants
- Harem pants
- Culottes or cropped pants
- Duster or kaftan
- Maxi skirt
- Button up shirt
If you are planning on doing a camel ride I recommend wearing pants as it’s a bit hard to ride in a dress. I also recommend close toed shoes for this activity as you will be walking through sand and camel dung to get to your ride.
When visiting religious sites in Egypt, such as mosques or Coptic churches, dressing modestly is not only respectful but often required. Women should have a scarf handy to cover their heads and men should wear long pants. Both genders should wear tops that cover their shoulders and are not low-cut.
For example, a ‘galabeya’ (traditional Egyptian robe) or a tunic paired with loose trousers would be appropriate, so would a maxi dress. Some mosques provide ‘abayas’ (loose-fitting cloaks) and ‘kufis’ (caps) for visitors to wear. Always remove your shoes before entering a mosque. Make sure to have socks or shoe covers as the floor temperature can vary.
When deciding on their attire in Egypt, men should take into account similar guidelines as women do. The key is finding the right balance between comfort and showing consideration for local traditions. Men, like women, are expected to adopt a modest dress code, especially when visiting religious or cultural landmarks. It is advisable to opt for lightweight, breathable clothing that covers both the shoulders and legs. In tourist areas and resorts, wearing shorts is generally acceptable, but when in more conservative regions or visiting mosques, it’s preferable to choose longer trousers. Additionally, for exploring Egypt’s historical sites, it’s essential to have a sturdy and comfortable pair of walking shoes.
Useful Things to Pack
- Bug repellent
- A hat
- Pashmina or lightweight scarf
- Comfortable shoes and sandals
- Reusable water bottle – not to refill with tap water but to keep bottled or filtered water cold
- Cooling towel
- Personal fan
- Day pack for sightseeing
- Swim cover-up
- Chafing cream or shorts for thigh rub
- Tampons – pads are easier to find
- Sweatshirt/Cardigan/Light jacket/Warmer top in case it gets cooler at night or for hotel AC
- Wet wipes
- Hand sanitizer
- Soap sheets
Definitely bring a good pair or walking shoes, sandals are great too. Keep in mind that the city streets and desert conditions can be rough on your shoes. No need for high heels! You may be walking through dusty, sandy conditions at some of the historical sites. While you can wear sandals, just note that your toes will be getting dirty. You may also encounter animal poop as camels, horses, and stray dogs are common.
Culture and Customs
Please note that no one expects you to know everything. You are a guest in this country and it is understood that this is not your culture but one you are visiting from and learning about.
Islam is the faith followed by approximately 90% of Egyptians, exerting a significant influence across all aspects of society. It serves as a guiding force for various cultural norms, including concepts of honor, family values, and marriage. Traditional Muslim practices include the obligation to observe five daily prayers, with many individuals congregating at their local mosques. These prayer times are announced through a call to prayer, echoing throughout Egyptian cities and towns. It’s important to be aware that shops and businesses may temporarily close during prayer times, so planning accordingly is advisable.
Fridays hold special significance for Muslims in Egypt. It is a day when they gather for congregational prayers, preceded by a lecture aimed at imparting valuable knowledge about God and the Islamic faith. It is also a day off for many.
In most cases, direct eye contact is considered acceptable and signifies respect, sincerity, and honesty. Egyptians may engage in intense gazes, which might be more prolonged than what one would encounter in Western countries. However, Islamic customs dictate that males and females should avert their gaze and avoid prolonged eye contact with each other as a sign of respect.
When traveling in Egypt with a partner, it’s essential to note that public displays of affection are not common in Egyptian culture.
- Pointing the toe, heel, or any part of the foot towards another person is considered impolite, as is displaying the sole of one’s shoe.
- Modesty in dress and presentation holds high importance in Egyptian culture.
- Greetings typically precede any social interaction; when joining a group, it’s expected to greet all present.
- Respect is often shown by younger individuals to their elders, with deference, avoidance of challenging seniors, and the use of special verbal terms of address for aunts, uncles, grandparents, and older non-relatives.
- In the presence of a Muslim counterpart, it is forbidden to walk in front of someone who is praying or engage in conversation with a person in the midst of prayer.
- Expressing gratitude when offered a compliment is customary, often by reciprocating with a respectful compliment on the same subject or, if the person is Muslim, by extending well wishes invoking Allah (God’s) blessings.
- Egyptians generally have a relaxed approach to time, and strict punctuality is not commonly practiced.
- When entering a mosque or someone’s home, it is customary to remove one’s shoes.
- Demonstrate an understanding of Egypt’s history and cultural heritage as a way to make a positive impression.
- Exercise caution when discussing Egyptian politics, as criticism from a foreigner may be viewed as an insult or suspicion. Political topics can be welcomed for discussion, but it’s advisable to approach them as an open dialogue and
- avoid expressing opinions and criticisms casually, especially regarding religion.
- Be diplomatic when discussing sensitive subjects that may evoke strong emotions, such as Israeli-Palestinian relations and general opinions on Islam, should they arise in conversation.
- Avoid assuming that your Egyptian counterpart identifies as Arab, as ‘Egyptian’ and ‘Arab’ denote distinct cultures and ethnicities.
- Refrain from stereotyping contemporary Egyptian culture based on ancient Egypt. Egyptians take pride in their cultural heritage, but Egyptian culture is dynamic and has evolved significantly throughout history.
- Egyptian greetings can be lengthy, often involving inquiries about your health, the well-being of your family, and more.
Further Reading: Egypt – Language, Culture, Customs and Etiquette
Men greeting men: Typically, during initial meetings, a light handshake with the right hand is the norm. Friends and relatives often exchange kisses on both cheeks, sometimes accompanied by a hug and a friendly back slap while shaking hands with the right hand.
Women greeting women: When meeting for the first time, a simple nod of acknowledgement or a light handshake is expected. Among friends and relatives, cheek-kissing is customary, often paired with handshakes. In certain regions of Egypt, it’s a tradition to exchange three kisses.
Greetings between men and women: Public displays of affection between individuals of the opposite gender are generally minimal or absent in conversations or public settings. Handshakes may be acceptable if initiated by the woman; otherwise, a man may bow his head as a sign of acknowledgment. Cheek-kissing is considered appropriate for very close relationships, and married couples may walk arm in arm.
Close friends and family: Close friends and family members often engage in physical contact, such as touching, while acquaintances tend to avoid it. Among same-gender close friends, holding hands or exchanging kisses during public greetings is not uncommon.
Food and Drink
Legumes, vegetables, and fruits cultivated in Egypt’s fertile Nile Valley and Delta play a prominent role in Egyptian cuisine. While fish and seafood are prevalent along Egypt’s coastal regions, a substantial portion of traditional Egyptian dishes leans toward vegetarian options. This preference can be attributed to historical factors, including the relatively high cost of meat in Egypt and the dietary preferences of the Coptic Christian community.
Meats commonly featured in Egyptian culinary creations encompass squab, chicken, duck, and lamb. Lamb and beef are frequently chosen for grilling, while offal-based dishes serve as popular fast food options in many Egyptian urban centers.
For those with an affinity for cumin, you’ll find it to be a staple spice in Egyptian cooking. Additionally, Egyptian recipes often incorporate a diverse range of spices and herbs, including cinnamon, cardamom, coriander, cloves, chili peppers, parsley, bay leaves, and dill.
Vegetarian and Vegan Options in Egypt
While meat plays a central role in many of Egypt’s culturally significant meals, vegetables are equally essential and form a crucial component of numerous dishes, especially those catering to budget-conscious diners. Pulses and grains are ubiquitous in Egyptian cuisine, offering vegetarian travelers a wide array of options, including dishes featuring lentils, fava beans, and bread – with the iconic “national dish,” koshary, being a prime example. Vegan choices are also abundant, but it’s advisable to inquire about whether breads are butter-brushed before grilling or if stuffed vine leaves contain minced meat, to ensure they align with your dietary preferences.
Food to try in Egypt
A North African delicacy, hamam is roasted pigeon stuffed with cracked wheat and rice, commonly featured on the menus of traditional Egyptian restaurants. It’s worth noting that these pigeon dishes may contain less meat, so you might need to order a few to satisfy your appetite. Be mindful of the small bones while indulging.
These deep-fried, spiced fava bean balls are a Middle Eastern vegetarian classic, with a crunchy exterior and a moist interior. Typically served in a pita alongside salad, pickles, and sesame-based tahina, you can easily find them at street stalls for a quick and budget-friendly meal.
Shops specializing in this renowned “poor man’s dish” are scattered throughout Cairo. Koshary is a hearty blend of rice, macaroni, lentils, chickpeas, and fried onions, topped with a tomato-vinegar sauce.
A must-try classic, ful medames has its roots in ancient Egyptian cuisine. It consists of slow-cooked fava beans, garnished with olive oil, parsley, garlic, and lemon juice. To add some spice, you can season it with chili paste and enjoy it with bread.
Delectable sweet pastries can be found in Egyptian restaurants, markets, and cafes. There’s no better time to live by the motto “Life is short, eat dessert first.”
Often described to foreigners as “Egyptian pizza,” fiteer is a stone-fired bread crafted from layers of filo dough and butter. It’s not a light snack by any means and can be stuffed with a variety of ingredients. Fiteer comes in both savory and sweet forms.
Bite-sized pieces of pita bread are either baked or deep-fried to a crispy perfection. They are placed in a bowl, topped with cooked rice, and generously layered with sautéed beef. A garlic-tomato sauce crowns the dish, resulting in a simple, hearty, and delicious meal.
Once a dish reserved for royalty in ancient Egypt, molokhia is now a staple in every Egyptian kitchen. In English, this leafy green vegetable is known as mallow leaves and is served as a thick stew, typically accompanied by rice or bread, depending on your preference.
Further Reading: Food in Egypt
Wait for the host or hostess to tell you where to sit.
Eat with the right hand only.
It is considered a sincere compliment to take second helpings.
Always show appreciation for the meal.
Salting your food is considered ‘unnecessary’.
Leave a small amount of food on your plate when you have finished eating.
It is considered to be a compliment to take second helpings. Leave a small amount of food on your plate once you have finished eating. This symbolizes abundance and serves as a compliment to the host for providing so well.
Egypt, predominantly a Islamic nation, maintains a relatively subdued presence of alcohol consumption. Fortunately, there are numerous delightful alternatives available. Along the bustling main streets, you’ll encounter juice stands offering freshly squeezed options like banana, guava, or mango juice. For a refreshing choice, consider trying Karkadai, a chilled crimson drink crafted from hibiscus leaves (served hot in the winter). Additionally, tea, known as “shai,” holds the title of Egypt’s favored beverage, and it’s savored throughout the day and alongside meals.
The sale and consumption of alcohol in Egypt can be intricate. Given the country’s predominantly Muslim population, many locals opt to abstain from alcohol entirely. However, liquor stores and bars can be found in select upscale neighborhoods, and numerous hotels and resorts do serve alcohol. Home brewing is also relatively common, but for safety reasons, it’s advisable to steer clear of any alcohol not prepared in a professional setting. Many travelers discover that complete abstinence from alcohol is the simplest course during their time in the country.
Determining the appropriate tipping etiquette in Egypt can be a bit of a puzzle. There’s a wealth of information available on tipping rates, and while I’ve compiled some guidelines here, you might have come across different advice elsewhere. Ultimately, tipping is a personal choice. To provide a stable reference, I’ve used USD amounts given the fluctuating nature of the Egyptian Pound’s exchange rate.
Tipping, often referred to as ‘backsheesh’ in certain parts of Asia and the Middle East, is a customary practice in Egypt. If you’re satisfied with the service rendered by waitstaff, drivers, and other service providers, leaving a small tip is a meaningful way to express your appreciation. For minor purchases, rounding up the bill or declining change is an acceptable means of tipping. In restaurant or hotel settings, it’s wise to check if a 10% service charge is already included and consider tipping a little extra to benefit the waitstaff, who may not receive a share of the service charge.
Keep in mind that even a modest tip, such as $1, can have a significant impact on someone’s income, motivate exceptional service, and convey appreciation and respect. Whenever possible, hand the tip directly to the individual you intend to reward.
When tipping, be sincere in your gesture and express your gratitude for the service received.
You are under no obligation to tip in situations that are unprofessional or make you uncomfortable.
Most often, tips are given:
- Waiter service in the restaurant and cafes
- Hotel employees, baggage handlers, and the cleaning team
- Nile River Cruise crew
- Coach and bus drivers during round trips
- Egyptian local guides
- Service of Egyptian monuments, Coptic churches, mosques, museums, if they show you some important details in these attractions, they tell you interesting facts, they help you in some way.
- A tip may be expected e.g. for opening the door, showing the way or taking a photo at a tourist attraction
- Bathroom attendants
- Spa employees/service providers
- Supermarket employee who packs your purchases at the checkout
- Hot air balloon captain and crew
- Train conductor
- Shuttle drivers at places like Valley of the Kings or Hatshepsut Temple
When staying in a hotel in Egypt, it’s common to leave a tip for the staff who provide various services. Going around $1-$3 USD per day of your stay is recommended for the housekeeping staff. For luggage handlers and bellhops, it’s customary to tip about $1 USD per bag. Leaving around 10-15% of the total bill as a tip is recommended for room service.
Restaurants and Cafes
Tipping 10–15% of your bill total is customary at cafes and restaurants, and loose change is acceptable for food purchases from street vendors and markets. Take note on either your bill or the menu as often a service fee is included and that will serve as your tip. You can always tip more on top of this service fee, but don’t feel obligated to even if pressured by staff.
Drivers and Local Guides
You should also tip drivers and tour guides, as well as other service staff who look after you on a day-to-day basis. The exact amount will differ depending on the level and length of service, but as a general rule of thumb, consider tipping a driver $5-10 USD and a tour guide $10-15 USD for a full day on top of the base costs. You could tip as you go, or leave a lump sum when you say goodbye to your guide.
It is common to round up the fare to the nearest whole number. However, if traffic is bad or the taxi driver offers you knowledge of the culture or is extra friendly, you could always leave a little extra money.
Uber is available in Cairo and an app called Careem (owned by Uber) is available in Luxor. I highly recommend using this service as it makes the fare for your ride set and straight forward. You also don’t have to deal with cash. Just make sure to double check the license plate and make sure your driver starts your trip.
Further reading: Uber and Taxis in Egypt
While tipping may not be part of your customary practice, it holds significant importance for the individuals who provide you with service during your travels. It not only acknowledges their efforts but also fosters the delivery of exceptional service in the future. Tipping has become an ingrained aspect of the tourism industry in many destinations. The decision to tip should be a matter of your own discretion and aligned with your budget.
Ultimately, the choice to tip or not rests entirely with you. You should not hesitate to decline if you find that offering money in a specific situation is inappropriate or if someone is insistent about receiving payment – this is a rather common occurrence. Regrettably, in Egypt, there can be assertive requests for tips for services that you did not ask for, such as assistance with luggage at the airport check-in desk. In such cases, it is entirely appropriate to assertively decline and say “no.”
I’ve had a guard “show” me a view only to extend his hand asking for a tip. Which I did give him, because he had a large gun.
If you are ever in a situation and you don’t know what to do, ask your local guide for help and listen to them when they tell you when to tip or not tip.
Miscellaneous tipping in Egypt
It is not customary to tip shopkeepers or store owners unless they perform a specific favor for you or demonstrate the crafting of a particular handicraft.
At various ancient Egyptian sites, including tombs, temples, and locations like the Pyramids, you may encounter guards. Tipping these guards is optional, even if they seem insistent on receiving gratuities. As a general guideline, when a guard is stationed at a remote site with limited tourist activity, leaving around $1 USD equivalent as a token of appreciation for their assistance in opening the tomb and guiding you is appropriate. Guards within temples, especially those who accompany you, do not generally expect tips.
In cases where photography is prohibited but a guard allows you to take pictures, it is customary to offer a tip, typically ranging from $1 to $5 USD equivalent. Although it’s not encouraged, some tombs have stunning interiors that may tempt you to capture their beauty. For example, I visited Tutankhamun’s tomb, which also serves as his final resting place and has a no-photography sign. Nevertheless, guards may encourage you to take a photo in exchange for a tip, though this practice resembles a bribe. It’s advisable to respect the no-photography rules. It’s worth noting that on my last trip to Egypt, some previously restricted areas now allow photography, so be mindful of any signs.
When dealing with a shisha worker who replaces coals, a small tip (less than $1 USD in local currency) can guarantee consistent and attentive service.
Similar to the United States, it is customary to leave a tip of 15-20% for spa workers when receiving services like massages, facials, manicures, and the like.
Even More Notes About Tipping
Carrying small notes in the local currency will make tipping easier in Egypt. While USD is widely accepted in Egypt, it’s essential to exercise caution when tipping, as even a $1 USD tip might be considered excessive in certain situations. When tipping in Egypt, it’s generally preferable to use the local currency, Egyptian pounds (LE), as it will save you money. However, if you choose to tip in USD, it’s best to have banknotes in lower denominations like $1, $2, $5, $10, or a maximum of $20.
Particularly for smaller amounts (such as $1 USD), converting them can be cumbersome, so when possible, opt for tipping in Egyptian pounds. Since obtaining small bills can be challenging, it’s better to use foreign currency than not leave a tip at all. It’s important to note that tipping with foreign coins is not advisable. If you encounter an Egyptian person approaching you with $1 USD bills or coins, they may be trying to exchange them for local currency (Egyptian Pounds) because they might have difficulty exchanging them at a currency exchange office.
Always confirm with the individual or establishment you’re tipping whether they accept U.S. currency. Sometimes, only Egyptian pounds are accepted, and it’s essential to avoid a situation where you’re left without change. If you choose to tip in U.S. dollars, ensure that the bills are in excellent condition, as some vendors may not accept them if they have even minor tears, creases, or ink marks.
Also, it’s not unheard of to receive change in a different currency than you paid. Just be mindful of the exchange rate to ensure you are not being shorted.
Remember, a tip is not compulsory and should only be given when you receive excellent service.
Gathering the necessary small bills for tipping can be a bit challenging. Here are some strategies to obtain change:
- Purchase a small item from a shop, such as a water bottle, and use a larger bill to pay for it.
- Inquire with your tour guide, driver, or fellow travelers if they can provide you with change.
- Occasionally, banks may accommodate your request for change, but be prepared for potentially long lines, and there’s a chance they may decline.
- Approach the hotel’s front desk and ask if they can break a bill into smaller denominations for you.
Additionally, it’s important to be aware that if someone offers to take your picture, they typically expect compensation for their service. They often do a good job of capturing photos. When you encounter a camel artfully positioned in front of the pyramids and decide to take a picture of it, you may be approached to pay the camel’s owner as well.
Nothing can put a damper on your trip like falling ill. In Egypt, the most common health concerns are related to digestive issues.
It’s strongly advised to stick to well-cooked, piping hot food and steer clear of items served at room temperature. It’s generally not recommended to dine from food carts or street vendors. When it comes to eggs, opt for hard-cooked rather than raw or runny ones. As for fruits and vegetables, only consume them if you’ve personally peeled and washed them or if they’ve been prepared by a trusted source. If you’re uncertain about where to dine, consider asking a local guide for recommendations. They can direct you to establishments where you can enjoy a satisfying meal while keeping your stomach happy.
Food from well-known chains like Starbucks or McDonald’s is generally safe, as are restaurants catering to tourists, particularly those situated within hotels.
Please, avoid consuming tap water unless it’s for purposes like washing your face or showering. Drink only from sealed water bottles. Ensure that any coffee or hot beverages you indulge in are made using bottled water. If you opt for milk, confirm that it’s pasteurized.
Even with stringent adherence to these precautions, it’s still possible to experience some digestive issues when visiting Egypt. I have on previous trips gotten an upset tummy!
While Egypt has pharmacies where you can purchase medications, it’s a good idea to pack essential medications in your day pack. This way, you’ll have them on hand in case you encounter health issues while you’re out and about and not near a pharmacy.
Also, as tempting as they may be, please refrain from petting street dogs and cats, unless you are up to date on your vaccines and unafraid of potential bites or scratches. Safety should always be a priority. I know they are cute but please avoid them.
OTC Medications to Bring
- Pain reliever like advil or tylenol
- Anti-diarrheal like Imodium or Pepto
- Motion sickness medication like dramamine
- Allergy medication like Benadryl
Further Reading: CDC Healthy Packing List
To further protect yourself while you are traveling, I highly recommend purchasing a Duration Travel Health Kit. This kit kept me from being hospitalized when I got food poisoning in Thailand and now I never travel without it.
Egypt’s regulations regarding prescription medication differ from those in the United States. There are specific guidelines to consider when bringing medicines into Egypt. While many medicines can be brought for personal use, others require a permit, and certain medications are not allowed.
To facilitate the identification of each medication at the border, it’s essential to keep the medicine in its original packaging with the dispensing label intact. You’ll need an official letter from your general practitioner (GP), specifying that the medication you intend to bring to Egypt is solely for your personal use. The letter should also include details about the quantity you’ll be carrying and information about your medical condition. It’s crucial to be aware that medications containing Methadone are strictly prohibited from entering Egypt.
In general, personal medications carried by travelers are subject to inspection by the Ministry of Health Inspectors upon arrival at the Egyptian port of entry.
The list of the illegal drugs includes: Nicocodeine, Didrex Tablets, PROXEN, Mogadon, NITRAZEN, vaccine injections, KETAMINE INJ, Ergotamine, Dextromethorphan, Pulmolar, Co-Diovan, Kodinalin, Somanil, Phenobarbital, Nova Tablets that have an extended effect.
Valinil, Calmepam Tablets, neuril, Valium, Tranxene, LEXOTANI tablets, EN tablets, Xanax, CODASTIN, Codaphen N, somadril, Tussivan N, Korfas tablets, Migranil Tablets, Librax tab and Rivotril Tablets are also on the list.
Further Reading: Egypt’s Medication Guidelines for Travelers
No vaccines are required but here are recommended ones: https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/traveler/none/egypt
In Egypt, it is strongly discouraged to consume tap water – under no circumstances should you drink it, use it for brushing your teeth, or open your mouth while showering. For your safety, it is recommended to either purchase bottled water or opt for treated and purified water sources.
Bottled water is widely accessible in Egypt and is typically quite affordable. However, for the sake of environmental sustainability, you might want to explore alternative solutions to reduce plastic waste. Consider carrying a reusable bottle or canteen, preferably with a capacity of at least 1.5 liters, that can be refilled as needed. Alternatively, you can invest in water purifying tablets or a sterilizing kit to treat water while on the go. Some hotels you stay at may offer drinking water in large containers. Your local guide can provide information on the most reliable and eco-friendly sources of filtered water and where to find them.
Using a reusable water bottle also helps maintain your water’s temperature longer than the original plastic bottles.
There is lots of exciting shopping to be had in Egypt. Many unique and beautiful items are crafted here.
Souvenirs to Consider
- Stone or metal recreations of statues
- Egyptian Pottery
- Kilim carpets
- Kohl powder
- Backgammon and Chess sets
- Egyptian Perfume
- Shisha Pipes (hookah)
- Egyptian Cotton
- Egyptian Galabeya
- Belly Dancer Costume
- Camel Leather Products
Examples of What Things Cost
A couple of pastries = 49 EGP
Cup of tea = 30 EGP
Falafel sandwich from a street stall = 92 EGP
Sit-down dinner at a local restaurant = 123-276 EGP
How to Pay for Things
ATMs are readily available in major cities like Cairo, Luxor, Aswan, and Alexandria, typically situated near shopping centers, tourist hotspots, and upscale hotels. However, in smaller towns and rural areas, ATMs are notably scarcer. Therefore, it’s advisable to ensure you have an ample supply of cash before departing urban areas.
While credit cards are commonly accepted by modern hotels, large retailers, and tourist attractions, they may not be as widely embraced by smaller vendors in remote regions. It’s a good practice to carry sufficient cash for smaller purchases to ensure you’re prepared when credit card payments are not feasible.
Additionally, exercise caution when using your credit card in tourist markets such as those near historical sites or Khan el-Khalili. It’s possible for shopkeepers to surreptitiously add an extra zero to your bill, and this might go unnoticed if you’re not vigilant.
When shopping in Egypt, it’s essential to hone your bargaining skills, as virtually everything is open to negotiation, and haggling is a customary practice.
Haggling is a social and interactive activity, and your approach can vary depending on the shopkeeper’s demeanor. While there’s no fixed formula for haggling, I can provide a general outline of what a typical interaction might involve, giving you an idea of what to expect during the bargaining process.
- Upon entering a shop and spotting an item of interest, inquire about its price.
- The shopkeeper will likely shower you with compliments. This serves to establish a friendly atmosphere and avoid fixing a set price. It’s essentially a game to determine who will propose a price first.
- Keep asking for the price until the shopkeeper suggests a figure, or if you have a clear idea of the item’s value, you can offer the amount you’re willing to pay. The shopkeeper may initially hesitate at your offer, but this is all part of the negotiation.
- If the shopkeeper remains firm on the price, politely say, “It’s beyond my budget; thank you for your time,” and begin to leave. If there’s room for further negotiation, the shopkeeper will often follow you or express a willingness to continue the bargaining.
- Persist in the negotiation process until you arrive at a price that satisfies both parties – one that secures you a favorable deal while supporting local businesses.
If you require assistance in gauging a fair price or desire more insights on haggling, don’t hesitate to seek guidance from your local guide.
Try not to get too flustered and treat it like a fun cultural experience. At the end of the day you are probably only negotiating over a few dollars. If you feel like you paid a fair price for your treasure then you’ve “won.”
I also recommend splitting up your cash so that you aren’t flashing a huge amount while you are shopping, it also strengthens your bargaining position of only having a certain budget for your shopping experience.
Further Reading: How to Haggle Like an Egyptian
Visiting Historical Sites
During your stay in Egypt, you’ll have the opportunity to explore numerous historical sites. Here’s what you can expect when you arrive at these sites. Your guide will have the tickets for your entry, but there may be additional tickets you can choose to purchase at certain locations.
Some sites may require you to buy an extra “Photo Pass” to take pictures. The rules and pricing for this can vary, and sometimes it only applies to larger cameras, not phone cameras. You’ll need to decide upon entry whether you want to purchase the photo pass, and be sure to keep it with you as guards may request to see it. However, with the widespread use of cell phones, this requirement is becoming less common.
If you’re carrying a larger camera and prefer not to purchase a permit, you might be asked to leave your camera with security staff or site guards. If this makes you uncomfortable, it’s best to securely store your camera at your accommodation. In some cases, guards at the entrances of pyramids, tombs, or temples may offer to safeguard your camera or allow photos in exchange for a tip. Be aware that taking photos without a required permit could lead to confiscation of your camera and memory card. Seek advice from your local guide on how to handle this situation.
Photographing Local People
If you wish to capture images of local people, it’s courteous to ask for permission and provide a tip.
Valley of the Kings
Your admission ticket will typically cover specific tombs, and your guide will ensure you visit the most remarkable ones. However, Tutankhamen’s tomb is a separate ticketed attraction within the Valley of the Kings, and you might want to include it on your list. Keep in mind that currently, historical sites are only accepting credit cards for ticket payments.
You can explore additional tombs for an extra fee. The tombs in the Valley of the Kings are rotated for public access to minimize wear and tear, ensuring they can be restored as needed.
Upon entering a historical site, you will need to pass through a metal detector and have your bag screened through an x-ray machine. It’s possible you may be asked to open your bags for a visual inspection. These security measures are in place to ensure the safety of tourists.
Exit Through the Gift Shop
Anticipate some level of interaction with persistent vendors at the major tourist sites. You may frequently need to decline their offers and continue on your way, even though they might follow you for a while, persistently trying to sell you items like scarves, hats, or scarab carvings. Vendors often attempt to initiate conversations or offer compliments as a way to engage with you.
While this constant attention might feel impolite and make you uncomfortable, the most effective approach is often to remain silent and keep walking. Sometimes, even a firm “no” can be seen as an invitation for further discussion by the vendor. It’s advisable to only engage with them if you genuinely intend to visit their shop and make a purchase. If you ever find yourself feeling uneasy or overwhelmed, don’t hesitate to seek out or call your local guide for assistance.
The Bathroom Situation
In Egypt, squat toilets are the most commonly encountered type, though Western-style flushable toilets can be found in larger hotels and certain tourist areas. In public restrooms located in places like airports, restaurants, malls, and tourist sites, you’ll typically find an attendant responsible for maintaining cleanliness. It’s customary to give a few pounds as a tip to these attendants.
For the individual who provides you with a couple of sheets of toilet paper as you enter the restroom, a tip in the range of 10-20 Egyptian pounds (EGP) is considered appropriate.
Please note that flushing toilet paper is not the standard practice. Instead, it is advisable to dispose of used toilet paper in the provided wastebasket. Most toilets are equipped with a bidet or “bum gun” for personal cleansing, reducing the need for excessive use of toilet paper, which is primarily used for patting oneself dry.
Egypt is generally a safe destination for travelers, provided you remain vigilant and respect local customs. The country boasts low crime rates, but it’s essential to be cautious of scam artists and pickpockets who can occasionally be encountered.
When exploring markets, particularly at night, exercise caution regarding pickpocketing and minor crimes, which can be prevalent in public spaces in Egypt. Safeguard your valuables by leaving them at your accommodation or securing them in your hotel safe. Only carry the necessary amount of cash for the day. In crowded areas or tourist markets, keep your valuables close, your purse securely zipped, and your backpack facing forward.
Egypt has its share of scams targeting tourists, especially in proximity to tourist attractions like the Pyramids of Giza. One frequent ploy is the “present” scam, where vendors offer a “free” gift, sometimes personalized, but then demand a donation or payment. Another common tactic involves locals offering assistance in crossing a busy street or showing you a shortcut to a point of interest. While this may appear as a gesture of goodwill, it’s not always so; many locals may ask for a “baksheesh” (tip), even if they simply helped you cross the road, or they might guide you to a specific store or gallery to continue the scam.
Taxis are another area where tourists should exercise caution. If your taxi has a meter, ensure it’s activated before departure. In cases where there’s no meter, negotiate a price upfront and agree on a small tip. Watch out for additional charges the driver might try to add, such as extra passengers or baggage. Setting a price in advance is the best approach.
Exercise care when handing your camera to locals at tourist hotspots. What you might consider asking for assistance with a photo can be viewed by many locals as a moneymaking opportunity. Additionally, be mindful of what you photograph, as it is forbidden to capture images of military installations, public buildings, certain bridges and canals (including the Suez Canal), and violating this rule could lead to serious repercussions with local authorities. Keep in mind that using drones is also prohibited.
In some regions of Egypt, female travelers may feel uneasy while on their journeys. While violent attacks and crime are relatively uncommon in Egypt, verbal harassment on the streets is frequent, and women are often specifically targeted when walking alone. Female travelers, especially when alone, may attract unwanted attention from men on the streets, sometimes leading to following, harassment, and even assault. If possible, travel in groups of three or more, stick to well-lit streets when in transit, and avoid entering back rooms of shops where you cannot see the street.
Further Reading: TrovaTrip’s LGBTQ+ Egypt Travel Guide
Dealing with Unwanted Attention
Touts in Egypt can be persistently annoying and assertive in their efforts to extract money from tourists, potentially tainting what should otherwise be an enjoyable exploration of some of the world’s most significant historical sites and treasures.
While it can be exasperating enough to dissuade some from visiting, it’s crucial to bear in mind two important points:
First, the touts soliciting money from you are distinct from the customary and culturally practiced act of giving “baksheesh.” Many individuals conflate the two practices.
Second, these individuals are simply seeking to earn a livelihood in one of Egypt’s major industries: tourism. Their methods may not always align with your preferences, but they are, like anyone else, striving to make a living.
With this perspective in mind, and coupled with a healthy dose of caution and common sense in avoiding scams, the persistent pestering becomes more tolerable. You will discover numerous strategies to circumvent or entirely evade the majority of touts.
Although no one can entirely evade touts, ignoring them entirely when they hassle you is a straightforward yet highly effective method. If you make even brief eye contact or offer them a chance to start their sales pitch, they will seize it. By pretending they don’t exist, you can easily discourage them. Over time, their frustration will lead them to move on.
Polite but firm use of the phrase “no thank you” in Arabic, which is ‘la shukran,’ will deter many touts and make you appear less like a tourist, reducing the likelihood of being targeted.
If avoidance tactics fail, and you become ensnared in conversation, simply inform them that you have no money and emphasize that everything they show or do for you will be free. Touts are primarily motivated by money, so if they recognize that they’re wasting their time on you, they will depart. If not and they persistently describe the historical significance of a nearby attraction, then repeatedly state “no money,” smile, and walk away.
If you are stopped by someone claiming to be in authority, don’t hesitate to question their legitimacy. While remaining polite and respectful, ask for credentials and feel free to signal a uniformed guard, officer, or the local guide for backup. Remember that Egypt has a dedicated police force responsible for ensuring tourists’ safety.
Above all, consider this part of the experience and maintain a positive attitude. While touts can be irritating, especially when relentless, they are merely trying to earn a living, and they are not as troublesome as some might anticipate.
It’s essential to bear in mind that touts do not pose an immediate physical threat to you.
One aspect of this that can be a bit shocking is that some touts are children. Sometimes they are encouraged by their parents to do this. On my recent trip to Egypt my guide encouraged us to try to ignore them while he talked to them in Arabic about going to school instead.
Some Additional Things to Keep in Mind
You should keep a valid photo ID with you at all times.
Drinking alcohol in the street and anywhere other than a licensed restaurant or bar is not allowed and can lead to arrest.
Possession, use or trafficking in illegal drugs is a serious offense and can, even for small amounts, lead to lengthy prison sentences (25 years), life imprisonment or the death penalty. Those sentenced to life imprisonment on drugs charges will normally spend the rest of their life in prison with no possibility of parole or pardon.
Publicizing strongly negative opinions about Egypt or making political comments, including about the President or security forces, can cause trouble with the authorities. In some cases, derogatory comments on social media have led to detainment.
Professional photography or film equipment of any kind will require a permit. This includes photography umbrellas; artificial outdoor lighting gear, and any equipment that occupies or blocks public roads. It is forbidden to take or share photographs that can be perceived as damaging to the country’s image. Egyptian citizens can only be photographed after obtaining written permission from them. Do not photograph officials without their consent. Taking pictures of children is also prohibited.
Photography of, or near, military official installations is strictly prohibited. This includes the Suez Canal. There are sensitivities about taking photographs of Embassies, government buildings, churches and religious buildings, as well as infrastructure. British nationals have been arrested for photographing churches, electricity stations, train stations and bridges. If you are in any doubt, seek permission before taking photographs.
The import, production or use of unmanned aircraft systems (drones) is banned in Egypt unless you have prior authorisation from the Egyptian Ministry of Defence. Citizens who use, manufacture or import drones without the appropriate authorisation will be punished by prison terms ranging from one to 7 years and/or fines ranging from EGP 5,000 to EGP 50,000.
Egypt is a captivating tapestry of past and present, where the mysteries of ancient civilizations unfold alongside vibrant modern life. From the awe-inspiring historical sites to the warm hospitality of its people, Egypt is a destination that will leave an indelible mark on your heart. As you wrap up your first-time traveler’s journey through this remarkable land, remember to cherish the moments you’ve experienced, the flavors you’ve savored, and the stories you’ve gathered along the way. Egypt’s allure is boundless, and it’s a place that will beckon you back time and time again, inviting you to explore its endless treasures. So, until we meet again in this enchanting land, let the memories of your Egyptian adventure inspire your future travels and continue to kindle your curiosity about the world’s wonders. Safe travels, and may the spirit of Egypt stay with you forever.