15 Exceptional Travel Tips for amazing Egypt

I have watched many documentaries about Egypt. Most of them talked as if it was an adventure to get out of Egypt alive! DO NOT BELIEVE IN EVERYTHING THE NEWS CHANNEL PORTRAY EGYPT TO BE. What you experience in Egypt can not be done anywhere else on earth. 90% of Egypt is covered in sand, but you get to taste one of the freshest vegetables here because of the world’s longest river Nile.

Here are essential 15 Egypt Travel tips to explore the land of Pharaoh and its impeccable natural wonders.

  1. Egypt Currency
  2. Using Debit and Credit Card
  3. Cost of living for Tourists
  4. Cellular Network and Wifi
  5. Type of Power sockets
  6. Public Hygiene and Toilets
  7. Roads and Transport
  8. APPS to be downloaded
  9. Food and Beverages
  10. Alcohol and Smoking
  11. People and Language
  12. Safety & Scams
  13. What to see in Egypt and when
  14. Tipping Culture.
  15. Bonus tip – The Confusing Upper and Lower Egypt terms

What is Egypt’s main Currency?

Egypt coin with tut-ankh amun headdress

Pharaohs on Egyptian Pounds- EGP.

1EGP was 5 INR (1USD = 14EP) in 2019 January. Though the currency’s official name is Egyptian Pounds, locals call it “Lira” & “Gineh”. Euros, USD & BP, are good for exchange, but Egyptians prefer USD. Check the Central Bank of Egypt to know about the current exchange rates. We always prefer currency exchange at the airports instead of in the cities to avoid getting cheated. We exchanged currency with the National Bank of Egypt inside Cairo airport. There are multiple ATMs right outside the luggage collecting point at Caro airport if you wish to draw local currency with your international card. 

What is the best way to pay in Egypt?

Indian man standing on deck in the upper level of boat seeing Nubian buildings built with valuts and domes on the river bank in Egypt

The Nubian village is famous among tourists & is pretty developed. Still, we didn’t find even one ATM there.

Master, Visa and Amex cards are supposed to work in Egypt. I am not sure what was the problem, but using our Master Card to get money at ATM was a task. National Bank of Egypt ATM worked fine at the airport, but not in Giza. Ultimately, HSBC ATMs are the ones that worked well with our cards! The moral of the story is – CARRY ENOUGH CASH WITH YOU. The best thing is to draw enough money for that day before starting your day. Most Archeological sites DO NOT ACCEPT CARDS

Is Egypt cheap for tourists?

By using public ferries to travel between islands, you can save a lot of money. The pic above – Private expensive boat at Nubian Village

It came up to 200 USD/day, including lunch, dinner and a bit of shopping. You can save money if you opt to stay in a cheaper hotel. A 3* hotel quality is not the same as what you might expect in western countries or India. Read our post ” A guide to booking hotels in Egypt” to know more. 

If you go backpacking/flashpacking, you can save a lot. But I feel you must do more research than you usually do. Our personal opinion is flashpacking in Egypt may get stressful. Plus, you need to take special permits while going to Libyan and Israeli border areas. It is better to book specific tours with a government-recognised local tour organiser.

What mobile network works in Egypt?

Travelling in Egypt on a Grey asphalt straight road with beige colour mountains and desert on either straight

We bought a ” WE Telecom Egypt” SIM card with 3G Network. The network coverage was average. DO NOT BUY SIM CARDS AT LOCAL SHOPS like us. Buy only at the company’s outlets. We bought two SIM cards from a random kiosk at Giza. Both the SIMs worked perfectly at the shop. But from the next day, one of the SIMs never worked. While our guide called “We Telecom Egypt” customer care to check the issue, they told us that the SIM card validity had expired! The smart shopkeeper had sold us a SIM card, which was about to expire the next day.

The wifi in our 3 * hotels was just manageable. Though Social Media is not banned in Egypt, Whatsapp could not work for international calls! You do not need a VPN to use Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other Social media apps. But keep track of this, as these rules keep changing now and then.

Egypt Power Plugs & Sockets

They use Type C. So Indians need to carry Travel adapters.

How clean is Egypt?

View of garbage filled streets in Giza from flyover

I am guilty and ashamed to state this – Egypt is as dirty as many cities in India. Especially Giza is filled with thrash and garbage on the streets. The road construction debris is left uncleaned in most parts. Compared to Giza- Luxor, Aswan, and Cairo were better. So we did not dare to use public toilets anywhere. Exploring street food might turn into a disaster unless your local friend or a guide has suggested a place! Egypt’s government and even our guides suggested we drink only bottled water.

We love strolling in the streets. Like how we did in Bruges / Tehran /Istanbul. But it was almost impossible in Egypt other than in Old Cairo. The riverfront in Luxor was clean but not pedestrian-friendly.

Indian travellers walking on corbelled foot paths by the side of a mosque in Old Cairo

The cleanest and most beautiful street in Egypt is Old Cairo. That is I & Ibrahim posing a candid!

How do tourists get around in Egypt?

Straight road in the desert during twilight

Can I award “Most beautiful road” to this?

Travelling by road in Egypt

Most of the roads connecting two major cities are four-lane. Hardly there are windy and uphill roads. Though they are supposed to follow right-lane driving, expect vehicles to zoom through both directions. Most western country documentaries state that driving on Egypt street is an invitation to death. The traffic, people not following rules, constant honking, two-wheelers passing through the tiny gaps, Tuk-Tuks noise and smoke, skipping traffic signal lights, and changing lanes randomly are nightmares for most people. As Indians, this seemed to be usual. So self-driving may get stressful on Egypt’s roads.

We didn’t use trains in Egypt. But many backpackers say it is efficient and worth the money for those who are in Egypt for a longer time.

How to travel by train in Egypt 

Egyptian National Railways connect significant cities. Both Passenger and goods trains have been running successfully for many years. Many tourists in Egypt for a longer duration opt for trains between Luxor to Aswan. 

Egypt airports & airlines

The major international airport is in Cairo. Luxor, Aswan, and Hurghada. Sharm el-Sheikh and Alexandria also got international airports. Still, they mostly connect to foreign flights in Cairo, mostly by Egypt Air. It was surprising to see Egyptian passengers arriving just an hour before even international departure. A coffee shop owner at Cairo airport was surprised to see us sitting there for two hours for our Luxor flight. So schedule yourself not to be too early at the airport. First of all, waiting at airports is boring. Egypt airports serve the purpose – they aren’t as entertaining as either Doha or Abudhabi. 

Does Cairo have public transportation?

Wolksvagen mini vans filling the streets of Giza in Egypt

The most common mode locals used throughout Egypt was the big Wolksvagen vans called Microbuses. Most of the time, they were overcrowded. In fact, these bus drivers wait till it gets overcrowded to start. Tuk-tuk was a recent addition to their transport system in 2019. Our Guide Ibrahim was explaining how much he hates the Tuk-Tuks! Being a Bangalorean, Tuk-tuk AKA. Auto Rickshaws are part of our daily life. But many foreigners find it fascinating to go on a tuk-tuk ride on Egypt’s roads.

There is indeed a Metro running in Cairo. Cairo Metros are famous among locals and the quickest way to go around the city. However, be prepared to get pushed and shoved if you plan to use Metro (That is what Ibrahim told us). Water Taxis are not efficient, but they are one of the modes to get around Cairo, Luxor and Aswan. The traffic is comparable to India, but the road conditions are better than in India.

What do you need before travelling to Egypt?

Uber was not very famous among locals in Egypt in 2019. Our guide Mahmoud said he used Otlob for food delivery. No VPN is required to access social media apps. There is nothing specific other than the usual apps like Google Maps and other social media apps.

What is special about Egyptian food?

Egypt is my second favourite country next to Turkey when it comes to food. Sahana says, out of all the middle eastern and European countries we have visited (as of 2020), Egypt’s food is the second best – with its taste and variety. Not too spicy, not too bland- A hint of Cumin, lots of pulses and seeds, and finely roasted meat leave a mark on your taste buds forever. Tammeya, Dolma, vegetable curry, and roasted duck are our favourites.

Is Streetfood in Egypt safe?

Egyptian butcher wearing Jalebiya chopping and meat hung open by the sdusty street side

What should I avoid in Egypt?

Yet again, I am comparing Egyptian street food to India. Don’t go random street food tasting. Take your friend/guide knows about the place you are eating. I have read too many stories of bad food poisoning in Egypt – So better to avoid street food.

Read our post – “Egyptian Delicacies”, to know more about what we loved most and where to have it in Egypt.

Magentha coloured hibiscus tea in a glass cup placed on terrace parapet  with a view of Giza pyramids in front.

Most popular Egyptian beverage

They love their Hibiscus tea more than anything else. The coffee isn’t as common as Hibiscus tea. Make sure you ask for less sugar – Egyptians love their tea as sweet as candies.

Is it OK to smoke in public places in Egypt?

Black and white photo of an Egyptian young man smoking cigarette sitting  on a chair next to an old Egyptian man in Jalebiya smoking hookah in Old Cairo

Men doing Shisha and smoking in public are common. We hardly saw any women smoking in public.

Is it illegal to be drunk in Egypt?

Alcohol is not banned, but there are no roadside beer cafes. You find it in only star hotels and high-end restaurants.

Are the Egyptians friendly?

I am not sure of what to tell. Our local guides were extremely nice and friendly. They were so honest that they refused to take our tips. On the other hand, taxi drivers and shopkeepers near tourist hot spots got on our nerves. The moment they recognised our ethnicity, they called names ” Hey Kareena Kapoor. Shah-Rukh Khan, Amitab Bachhan “. Many shopkeepers followed us, forcing us to buy things from them. The moment they saw the local Egyptian guide with us, they used to back off. In Giza, Ibrahim literally did shoo off a man who was bugging us to buy the miniature pyramids.

How can I prepare for Egypt?

Old Egyptian man in traditional clothing walking in front of STEP OYRAMIDS AT SAQQARA

Caretakers wearing Jalebiys at archaeological sites often came to the frame by themselves the moment they saw us clicking to ask for money later for clicking their photographs. Tourists also encourage this by using local men as props for their photos and local men are making money from it.

It wasn’t rare to see women out on the streets in Cairo. Most women had Hijab, and a few wore Black Burqa in Cairo. But in the remote village of Bawiti, we saw no women out on the streets. Even at our host Ragab’s house, his wife never came out.

Egyptians are funny and their music is awesome.

The best part of hanging out with Egyptian guides is – their sense of humour. All the three guides were hilarious. They had the power to convert any serious or plain situation into a comical one. For example, the scary sandstorm drive in Cairo wasn’t scary because Ibrahim kept making fun of the bad weather. We laughed so hard while Mamdouh explained Egypt’s problem in the funniest way possible. Finding an ATM that actually works wasn’t stressful because we had Mahmoud walking us with hysterically funny conversations.

Most Egyptians are very Religious

Mosque with a minaret built on ancient Egyptian temple at Luxor

90% of Egyptians are Muslims. The next dominant religion is Christianity.

The only two times we were asked about our religion outside India were in Sri Lanka and Egypt. Our friendly driver, who took us to Saqqara, bought us some fresh oranges and bananas and asked us directly which religion we followed. Later, he said, ” I don’t mind which religion you follow. But everyone must believe in some god, at least. So how can someone not believe in God?” Don’t be surprised if people ask a similar question to you in Egypt.

Can you kiss in public in Egypt?

Nope! PDA is almost frowned upon in Egypt.

Do common Egyptians read hieroglyphs & speak that language?

Egyptian Hieroglyphs
Hieroglyphs are limited to the era of Pharaoh 4000years ago. Apart from trained archaeologists, nobody speaks/read hieroglyphs

The official language of Egyptians is Arabic. Their Arabic pronunciation is a bit different from what we heard in Jordan. English is not common among locals, but most guides are taught English to converse with tourists. In hotels, when we wanted to ask for things like an extra blanket or hot water, we had to use a translator. Most street signboards in the city and tourist areas are English and Arabic. The notice boards in a few parts near Luxor were in French and Polish too!

Is it safe to travel to Egypt as a tourist?

Horse riding in front of two Giza pyramids in Egypt

Since the 2011 Egyptian revolution, things have been better for Egypt. Regardless of the end of the dictatorship, Egypt still suffers from poverty. A month before we left for Egypt, there was a minor bomb blast near Giza Pyramids. Sooner, the issue got resolved. Most of the architectural wonders are away from international borders. Natural wonders like the White desert of Bahariya Siwa Oasis are closer to the Libyan border. The Sinai Peninsula is closer to Israel. It is safe if you avoid restricted areas and military-occupied areas. Avoid walking in the streets of Giza at night. 

Desert road of sanddunes opening to a vallley full of white egg shaped lime stone mountains

The most isolated & one of the most beautiful places in the world we have ever visited is this

Common Tourist scams in Egypt

Colourful bazar's arched entrance at Old Cairo

Delightfully vivid Khan-El-Khalili sells more “Made in China” things than authentic ones

The major scam is a fake Papyrus scroll. Do not buy it on the streets. Instead, seek your hotel’s help and go to a government-authorized Papyrus workshop to buy. The colourful markets of Old Cairo are a delight to see. You hardly find locals shopping there because most goods are made in China. Inside a few temples where photography is banned, the guards ask you for money to let you take pictures. Sometimes, though you have a valid ticket, they ask for extra money like 10 EGP. So keep a lot of smaller currency and never show off the fat purse. Giza Pyramid complex is filled with sellers selling expired SIM cards; horse rides, Camel rides, fake coins, and fake stones are the ones we avoided.

Asphalt road dividing desert and fertile green land seen from above at Luxor

After the hot air balloon landed in Luxor, a kid on the donkey started shouting, ” Hello. Hi. I am a poor Egypt boy on a donkey. Click my picture for 50 EGP. I take dollars also.” The kids are so used to foreigners taking their photos that they also run a scam now.

How can we avoid scams in Egypt?

If you take camel rides, be sure of how much you pay and where all the ride goes. They usually say around the three pyramids but might stop somewhere halfway through. Keep on saying La Shukran POLITELY to the vendors to avoid them.

What to see in Egypt and when

Until I began to read beyond the architectural marvels of Egypt, I wasn’t sure of what I wanted to experience in Egypt. But, once we went there and saw places and heard stories from our guides, we were clear ” We had underestimated Egypt” I can not stress enough – Egypt is not only about Pyramids. From the desert Oasis to the temples, Catacombs to Scuba diving, Nile banks to the Mediterranean sea- Egypt got everything other than snow mountains. Read our post ” Egypt itinerary beyond Pyramids & temples” to know more.

What is the cheapest time to go to Egypt?

For sure, summer is the worst time. i.e. May to August. The temperature may reach up to 50C. We visited Egypt in January – which was winter and not a tourist season. So it was cheaper and colder. The weather in Cairo was a maximum of 18C during the afternoon, but evenings and early mornings were chilling cold. The Bahariya desert temperature reached around 3*C the night, but we were covered for that too. We did need extra thermal wear beneath our jackets. The sun, cold breeze, fewer tourists and lower prices for hotels were good for us with some interruption of sandstorm and cold. October to December is the best weather. It is the peak of the tourist season, so expect hotel prices to be higher.

Mortyary temple view with king's valley mountains in the background

Is tipping customary in Egypt?

Very Much Mandatory! The drivers, waiters at the hotels, porters, everyone expects it. But none of the guides who accompanied us was ready to take it. At the hotels, waiters might stand and wait until you tip them.

Bonus Egypt Travel tips: The Confusing Upper and Lower Egypt.

The terms ” Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt” used by Egyptians confuse you. The places like Alexandria, and Cairo, which are up in the North, are Lower Egypt. Towns like Aswan, and Luxor which are at the bottom of Egypt’s map ( keeping the North direction upwards), are in Upper Egypt. When you check on Google Maps, Lower Egypt is what you see up in the North closer to the Mediterranean sea. What is at the bottom near Sudan is Upper Egypt. This is because of How the river Niles from Uganda to Egypt -South to North.

No country is perfect. Some are ahead in the race of being perfect, while some have just begun the race. As a developing nation like India, Egypt is yet to figure out many things. Its flaws are minute when you compare its food, unique landscape, history and culture. After a decade, I hope flashpacking in Egypt becomes as easy as you do in other countries.

Camels dressed with ornaments sitting on the sand in front of a cyan building with Nubian vaults

Found these Egypt Travel tips useful? Let us know in the comment section below.

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