Visiting Egypt with children can be a delight. For them, seeing ancient monuments – or even a camel – up close can be a fantasy made real. For you, the incredibly warm welcome towards young ones can smooth over many small practical hassles.
Attitudes What Egypt lacks in kiddie infrastructures like playgrounds and nappy-changing tables, it more than makes up for in its loving attitude to little ones. In all but the finest restaurants, waiters are delighted to see kids – don’t be surprised if your baby even gets passed around the place for everyone to hug and kiss, or your toddler is welcomed onto laps and fed sweets.
(Yes, probably right before bedtime. Egyptian kids don’t know the concept of ‘bedtime’.) Teenagers are less subject to this kind of attention, though their Egyptian counterparts will likely seem a bit younger and more sheltered. By adolescence, separation of the sexes is more typical, so teens should abide by grown-up etiquette when meeting Egyptians of their age.
Practicalities Safety standards may make visitors nervous: don’t expect car seats (or even seat belts, for that matter) in taxis or private cars or child size life preservers on boats.
Hygiene in food preparation can be inconsistent, so be prepared for diarrhoea or other stomach problems for when you’re struck down and the kids are still raring to go).
Rehydration salts, available very cheaply at all pharmacies (ask for Rehydran), can be a life-saver, as children can lose fluid rapidly in Egypt’s hot, dry climate. Keep kids away from stray animals, which can spread disease – street cats, in particular, are everywhere and liable to scratch if approached.
Formula is readily available, as are disposable nappies. High-chairs are often available in restaurants. Babysitting facilities are usually available in top-end hotels.
Nutritious snacks like peanuts, sesame seed bars, dried fruit and dates are common; stock up for outings, though, as it’s possible to wind up somewhere with no other services than someone selling Coke and potato chips.
If you need more enticements during your trip, stop by the bookshop in any five-star hotel – they’re usually stocked with good Egypt-theme books and toys.
There’s plenty more to do in Egypt than look at pyramids and ride camels – though these are pretty fun too. Here are some tips for child-friendly fun in the desert, on the water and at some ancient sites.
Bundle into a jeep for a Western Desert excursion, especially the otherworldly terrain of the White Desert.
Siwa’s mellow atmosphere is perfect for kids, though the bus ride is very long. Once there, they can dive-bomb into springs and graze on fresh dates.
Getting to the Birqash camel market is an adventure in itself. Once there, older kids will be awed, especially budding photographers. (But little ones are a liability, given the camels’ propensity to bolt in unexpected directions.)
Wilderness Adventures Egypt in Sinai runs a camel riding school (much better than just posing on one for a snapshot) and a stargazing class, to make sense of the glimmering sky in the Sinai.
How did a whale wind up in the desert? Find out in Wadi al-Hittan, where fossils are set in the sand. Trips here often include sandboarding on nearby dunes.
Older children will be astounded to enter the Great Pyramid of Cheops at Giza – though test for a tendency for claustrophobia beforehand.
Devise a virtual treasure hunt for children at the Egyptian Museum. Can they find King Tut’s wig box? How many miniature oarsmen row a miniature boat? Where are the baboon mummies?
At the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, bookworms can inspect antique manuscripts, while science fans can explore the science museum. And everyone loves the planetarium.
Whether you go for an evening in Cairo or a multiday trip in Upper Egypt, a felucca ride is an excellent place to play pirate.
Egypt’s trains are seldom crowded in first class, making a trip into the Delta region – perhaps to Tanta, famous for its sweets – a low-stress half day out.
On a Friday, join Egyptian families on the boat to Qanater, the Nile Barrages just outside of Cairo.
The trek up Mt Sinai, if taken slowly, isn’t terribly strenuous, and teens especially will delight at being out in the middle of the night.
Hop on a bike on Luxor’s west bank – it’s a great way to catch a breeze. » Ride the tram in Alexandria from end to end for a cheap, low-stress view of the city.
Ride a horse at sunset by the Pyramids of Giza. Stables here have helmets in all sizes.
Snorkelling in the Red Sea is a dazzling introduction to the underwater world. Seek out sites where kids can drift along the side of a reef, rather than directly over it.
The Alexandria shipyards are where boats of all sizes get worked on. Ask aspiring captains which they’d like to helm. Round it out with a visit to the fish market, then dinner at one of the family-friendly restaurants.
For shipping on an even larger scale, stop in Port Said and watch the massive freighters go through the Suez Canal.