Egypt Travel Tips
Travelling to Egypt is an enlightening and fulfilling experience. As with every society in the world, there are methods of conduct that you may be unaware of prior to visiting this historic wonder. We have compiled a list of things for you to be aware of from a cultural standpoint. The pointers and suggestions outlined here are comprehensive and represent questions that we have been asked by previous visitors and from our own knowledge of the country and the people who inhabit it. These guidelines will help you enjoy your Egyptian vacation to the fullest.
Currency in Egypt
The Currency in Egypt is the Egyptian pound (LE) and it is divided into 100 piasters. In a standard marketplace, you will find 25 and 50 piaster notes and various sized coins. For reference, $1 US dollar is currently equivalent to 17.5 Egyptian pounds.
Most of the banks are open from Sunday to Thursday from 08:30 to 15:00. The banks at hotels airports and the major entry ports are open 24/7.
Most of the major credit/debit cards, such as American Express, MasterCard, Visa, all Euro cards and JCB, are widely accepted in various hotels and shops. If you want to use an ATM machine, most of them accept Visa, MasterCard and Cirrus cards. If you can't find an ATM machine in your vicinity, you can still obtain cash if you go to one of the banks. Please be aware that banks will not accept a $100 bill that was issued prior to 1992.
Any bank can assist you in converting your $US, £UK or Euros. It is suggested that you perform the conversion in Egypt rather than in your home country because the rate is considerably cheaper. Scottish pounds, Irish punts, New Zealand dollars, and other forms of currency are not accepted in Egypt.
Money can be wired to you from abroad. There are numerous Western Union branches available in Egypt that can assist you with this transaction.
First and foremost, prepare yourself for a culture shock! Many seasoned travelers are amazed when they first visit Egypt and find that it is unlike any other country that they have previously visited. These tips are a culmination of personal experiences, customer questions, and reviews. They are put in place to assist you during your stay and make you aware of what to expect. While we recognize the contribution that guidebooks and websites such as Lonely Planet contribute to tourism and historical reference, there are some concepts that are inadvertently left out or poorly expressed. It is for that reason that this comprehensive list exists – we want to make sure that there are no misconceptions about how to navigate the country and communicate with the people of Egypt.
• Egypt is a Muslim country. Respecting their culture and faith is paramount to your successful interaction with the people who live there. A more conservative approach to interpersonal behavior is required.
• Get your entry visa at your destination airport against $25; it often works out cheaper than getting it in your home country.
• Your duty free goods must be purchased within 48 hours after arrival.
• Be careful when crossing roads – Egyptians drive on the right side. Take special care in Cairo, where the traffic is a lot busier than in other Egyptian cities – especially outside the Egyptian museum.
• While taxis can be hailed while walking along the street, the better practice is to use one that is reserved for you via the concierge at the hotel you are staying in. The hotels in the area form relationships with specific companies and can provide you with a better deal than what you might be able to get on your own.
• Seasoned travelers who are used to exploring countries on their own may find themselves out of sorts in Egypt. It is for that reason that group tours and/or hotel recommendations are greatly suggested. Concierges are skilled at staying abreast of the best places for tourist to dine and enjoy the nightlife. Following their suggestions will make your dining and evening experience pleasant.
• If you want to tour a site on your own, be aware of where you are going, the cost to get in (ticket cost), and what is included in the price of admission.
• If you are traveling alone or as a couple and plan to travel and visit site in Egypt alone, yourself, please let the hotel know your plans before embarking on your journey. If you should get lost, the hotel will be able to act appropriately.
• Make sure that you have the hotel’s name, number, and address among the things you bring with you as you venture out every day.
• While it pains us to say this, travelers must be prepared to pay more for less when organizing excursions on their own. In every corner of the world there are people interested in making money off of the naiveté of others. The best way to avoid this is to use a travel agent to coordinate your tours. These seasoned professionals are better equipped to get the best deal for your money and time.
• Internal flights by Egypt Air must be booked in advance.
• Many people use the express train service, Cairo - Luxor/Aswan - Cairo. This is a long journey, though it is comfortable (and the scenery is breathtaking!). Before boarding the train, make sure you take some food with you, as the supplies onboard run out very quickly and are not replenished. Make sure you get the 1st Class, air-conditioned express train (normally, tourists have no option – the lower class carriages are for locals only!). They are non-smoking, but you can smoke in the entrance/exit area.
• If you are going to be using the Abela Sleeper Train service, please try and make your reservation in advance. For help with this, Contact us.
• Public transport is a viable option if you know where you are going. You will, however, have people paying undue attention to you since you are choosing a method of transportation rarely chosen by tourists. Cabs are a cheap alternative and generally a faster one as well.
• We do encourage you to be a part of a group for excursions. These groups have leaders (a tour guide and/or Egyptologist) who will help with problems, explain about the site you are visiting, arrange transport etc.
• When you pay for a group excursion the price includes everything. Some longer excursions may even include a stop for lunch. Many will take you to places where Ancient crafts are still practised, giving you the chance to buy good quality merchandise at low prices. Be sure you understand what is included in your excursion and what is not so that you can plan accordingly.
• The temperatures in Egypt can be very hot. Be sure to keep hydrated.
• Egypt is a 3rd world country – to that end, you will encounter many traders working to feed their families and make a living. In the event that you do not want a good or service that is being offered simply say, “La Shukran”, which means no thank you. Should you forget the phrase in Arabic, state it in English and it will also be understood. Saying “Emshi” as some guidebooks suggest is akin to saying “go away” and can be construed as an insult.
• You may be asked for “baksheesh” or a tip for something that does not require it. Use the term you have learned (la Shukran) and continue on your way. If you are inclined to provided some form of baksheesh as a gesture, take a box of ballpoint pens.
• If you feel that a trader is harassing you or being too pushy, let a member of the Tourist Police know. You will see them everywhere in Egypt and their job is to protect you.
• When shopping for bargains, keep your own currency and credit cards out of sight, and separate from your LE. It is easier to haggle over a price if you can show that you have only a few Egyptian pounds in your possession. Plus, some traders may try and insist that they meant $ or £, instead of LE, if they see that you are carrying them.
• Admission to all sites is payable in Egyptian currency (LE), so make sure that you carry enough with you. Plan each day in advance, work out how much you will need for admissions, and keep this money separate from your spending money.
• Utilize the services of your hotel concierge when planning a felucca trip to ensure that you are matched with a reputable captain and taken on a valid tour.
• You will find that many tours (especially to the desert sites) are done either early morning or late afternoon. The reason for this is because of the heat in the middle of the day. If you do want to visit sites independently, please try and follow the example of the experienced tour organizers and avoid the midday sun for your health.
• Be prepared for delays when entering some sites. Because of the threat of terrorism, you will have your personal belongings (camera bags, carrier bags, etc.) searched before gaining admittance. Some sites do not allow video to be taken. These devices will be held until you finish your tour and then returned. Research your tours and venues ahead of time and plan accordingly.
• Take a small flashlight with you when visiting the sites. Many tombs & sand temples use the natural light for illumination (including a local with a large mirror, reflecting the light!) and a small flashlight can be very handy. Please Note: Do not take one of the really bright halogen torches, you could cause damage to the monuments.
• Never drink the tap water! It is recommended that you use bottled water to drink and brush your teeth with. Showering with tap water is fine.
• Bring wet naps or hand sanitizers to clean your hands as you touch items throughout that day. They will come in handy.
• Carry a small essentials kit comprised of first aid items like antiseptic cream, Band-Aids, headache tablets, and sun cream (high factor advised).
• Wear sensible footwear when visiting the various sites. High heels and open toe shoes are not advisable. The floors of most sites are either sand or rough-cut, uneven stone. Inside many tombs, wooden floorboards have been installed, but thin heels could get caught in the gaps between the floorboards.
• Many monuments have signs that say “No Flash Photography", please obey these signs (you can be ejected from the site if you ignore them) Bright flashes can cause damage to the ancient reliefs.
• Some reliefs have depictions that show male genitalia – this is not pornography. If you are part of a group (of any size) the leader/guide will explain the reason for the depiction.
• Abu Simbel is one of the most beautiful sites to visit while in Egypt. It takes 3 ½ to 4 hours to reach so be prepared with food and water for the trip. Sometimes hotels will provide you with a breakfast box to take with you.
• If you are on a "multi-center" holiday and you will be returning to your first hotel before your departure, arrange to leave some of your luggage, and items you have bought, with the hotel. Most hotels offer this service free of charge and it saves you having to carry everything to your next destinations.
• When you have paid your entry into the Egyptian Museum and received your ticket (s), a "guide", offering his services, will approach you. These "guides" are not employed by the museum, they are freelance. Most of the museums exhibits are not labeled, so the chances are, you will not know one from another. A guidebook is available from the museum, but it is up to you if you want to employ one of these "guides”. The concierge at your hotel can advise you on best practices.
• At most sites, especially if you are alone, or in a couple, a "guide", offering to show you around, may approach you. Be advised that the Egyptian Government does not employ any guides at any of the sites and monuments so the person is approaching you in an unofficial capacity.
• Do not buy anything from the traders inside the Giza Plateau! The items they are trying to sell you can be bought a lot cheaper at places like the Khan El-Khalili. Also beware the many people offering you a camel ride, as they are not all genuine! Head for the main stables if you want a camel ride, or better still, arrange one at your hotel.
• If you go to the Citadel, try to ignore the traders selling "papyrus" pictures Because they are not authentic. To get mementos there are some stalls between the bus park and the old bank, where the traders are easier to deal with.
• Long pants are advisable when entering pyramids. You will travel through narrow passages and long pants reduce the risk of damaging your legs.
• While riding on a felucca is a unique experience we suggest that you cruise the Nile between Aswan and Luxor on one of the larger vessels. The accommodations and meals are stellar and the vessel will not be impacted by heavy winds.
What to bring with you?
Here is a suggested list of what you might need to bring with you on your trip to Egypt:
• A wide-brimmed hat
• Long pants
• Comfortable, breathable footwear
• Lots of bottled water
• USB plug
• Extra phone storage card(s)
• Bathing suit
• Your wonder and excitement
• Make sure to visit the FAQ Page to get more hints and tips from other travellers. If you have any questions before your trip, we are ready to answer no matter how trivial you may feel the question is.