If you’re looking for tips for traveling to Egypt you’ve come to the right place! We’ve just returned from a fantastic few weeks in Egypt and there is so much to share about this overwhelming, ancient, and mesmerizing country.
Egypt is a place that will frustrate you beyond belief, but at the same time, it will be reeling you into its history and sites, which feel unworldly at times. It’s a country that is definitely worth a visit, but it’s worth noting some basic Egypt travel tips first.
Our Top Egypt Travel Tips
1. Visa Issues
First things first on this Egypt travel tips list – let’s talk about your entrance into Egypt. Most likely unless you’re doing a big overland journey across Africa, you’ll come into Egypt by plane. Most people’s port of entry will be in Cairo, but there are also direct flights from the region into Aswan, Alexandria, and Luxor.
We flew into Cairo at midnight from (sort of) nearby Oman. They clearly had stacked all the flights as the airport was packed.
Most visitors to Egypt will need a visa. Visas can be purchased upon arrival. Make sure you do this first, before waiting in line at the border check as you’ll be turned back if you don’t, making the whole process a lot longer. There are signs saying you need your visa, but we met multiple people who waited in line at the border check only to turn around and get there visa.
To purchase a visa you need $25 and can do so right before the border check. You can pay for your visa in dollars, euro, or pounds but not Egyptian pounds for some reason. If you don’t have those currencies (we didn’t) you can wait in a separate line where there is a card machine.
Although it wasn’t clear to us that we couldn’t pay in Egyptian pounds and that only one of the lines at a credit card machine so we ended up waiting in line twice, and the sneaky machine charged our card an extra $10. I can only assume the Egyptian official rang our card through as a “cash advance.”
If you don’t have USD, Euro, or British Pound Sterling there is one ATM where you can pull out Egyptian Pound (£E) and then exchange it for a bad rate at the currency exchange.
All of this may sound simple, but at the airport there are no signs or direction making the whole process confusing. It took us more than an hour with the lines and multiple steps to finally enter Egypt. My best advice is to have USD on you before you land.
2. Cairo Kinda Sucks
My next Egypt travel tip is to not base your experience in Cairo as your experience in Egypt as a whole. Cairo is not Egypt, but you can’t go to Egypt and NOT visit Cairo. It’s where the Great Pyramids are, the oldest city of Memphis, the first pyramid of Saqqara, and of course the Egyptian Museum which houses fabulous artifacts.
I have to admit that Cairo itself isn’t the most pleasant of cities. I haven’t met one person that disagrees with me. It’s filthy, loud, aggressive, has horrible traffic, and buildings I have only ever seen on a horror movie set. But what can you expect from Egypt’s capital of over 20 million people? It’s the 15th-largest capital city in the world and one of the largest in Africa – so expect craziness.
However, you have to at least see all of this and take it all in. Chances are you’ll be passing through Cairo anyway either in or out of Egypt. We contemplated spending just one, two, or three days in Cairo and decided on two days. Two days was enough to enjoy the sites, but not pull my hair out and go grey. I would recommend two to three days of time in Cairo to others as well.
3. Uber is Everything
One of the main ways to get around Cairo is with Uber. It works very well in the city and is very cheap. After taking Uber 10+ times I can confirm that it is reliable in the city. We found it also to work well in other parts of the country as well!
We love taking Ubers around the world as it means I’m not going to get ripped off. There’s no haggling with the price and I don’t have to deal with cash. This is exactly what we wanted out of a trip to a crazy city like Cairo!
It only took us one time of walking between destinations for five minutes in Cairo to realize it was not a walking city. I even wanted to call an Uber if it was less than a 10 minute walk! The streets are busy and without crosswalks. Crossing the street is like playing a game of Frogger and gambling with your life. Have you been to Hanoi? It’s worse than there!
4. Is Egypt Safe to Visit?
Since the 1970s tourism has been one of the leading drivers of Egypt’s economy. Tourism is crucial to employment, income levels, and the economy as a whole. In 2010, Egypt was a very popular place to visit drawing in people from all over the world. At its height, the country saw almost 15 million visitors a year.
During and after the Egyptian Revolution in 2011 tourism plummeted to less than 9 million visitors. More than a 30% drop in the countries top sector hurt Egypt hard. What followed was a series of terrorist attacks that only crippled the country more. But now tourism is bouncing back.
So is Egypt a safe place to visit? Well, of course, I can’t say that because nothing happened to us that it is absolutely safe. BUT after our recent trip in late 2019, I felt secure and well looked out for during my entire trip.
Tourism companies and the government have gone to great lengths to make their country more secure. We never entered a single site without having to pass through multiple security checkpoints, we got police escorts to certain temples in the middle of nowhere, and when we flew from Cairo to Hurghada we had to pass through three security checkpoints at the airport.
If you are wanting to go to Egypt, but nervous about your safety it’s best to book through an organized travel agent.
5. Prepare to be Hassled
We’ve traveled to over 80 countries and can confirm that the constant hassling at tourist sites in Egypt is particularly bad. Only rivaled with that of other nearby Arabic nations (looking at you Morocco). It will be impossible to avoid the touts at any ancient site, but if you let it bother you all the time it will ruin your holiday.
The touts aren’t aggressive, but they are persistent in selling you their trinkets. Most Egyptians are very poor and they are just trying to get by, and therefore will try anything to get you to buy, there is no shame. If you want to buy something from them remember to haggle your way down from their original price – this is expected.
If you don’t want anything and don’t want to be bothered I found it’s best to keep your head down, don’t act interested, don’t engage in conversation, and keep walking. Don’t worry – you’ll learn quick.
6. Beware of Scams
As with many developing nations, you should also be on the lookout for scams in Egypt – particularly at the famous sites. This includes sitting down for tea, coffee, or hooka near an ancient site. The quoted price will almost always have an additional “fee.” Usually it is not more than £E 20-30, which isn’t much but it doesn’t make it okay. If you are quoted something ridiculous it is also acceptable to pay them what you think is fair and no more.
We found that at many sites, particularly at the Valley of the Kings, the men working in the tombs will offer to show you around, take your photo, help you get into a “secret” spot, allow you to stand somewhere you shouldn’t, or provide unwanted advice. If you engage or allow this to happen you will be asked for a tip afterwards.
You obviously don’t have to pay and shouldn’t if no “service” was provided, but if you want to or feel bad £E5-10 is enough. Again it’s all harmless and if you let it bother you your trip to Egypt will not be an enjoyable one. Yes, it is annoying, but I do understand why it is happening and that $1-2 to you means much less than $1-2 to them. The average Egyptian makes less than $400 a month.
It’s worth noting that having a guide with you usually limits interactions like these.
7. Get Ready to Tip!
Tipping in Egypt is common practice and can also be very confusing. It seemed almost everyone in Egypt expected a tip, and they let you know it too. Of course there are the standard tipping practices like at restaurants, or for a guide, and bag porters.
But also outside every public restroom is someone to hand you toilet paper – he expects a tip of around £E5, or at Ancient sites, you may even be asked for money. It’s best to have Egyptian Pounds on you for these instances like this as if you only have USD, Euro, or British Pounds you’ll likely be overtipping at every stop. No one ever has change.
8. Horde Your Small Bills
There’s a serious lack of small bills in Egypt so when you get 5, 10, and even 20 Egyptian pound notes hang on to them for instances when you need to tip. Otherwise you’ll probably find yourself overpaying as many will state they have no change for your 50 and 100 notes.
9. Those Tourist Sites Will Start to Add Up
There’s no “Egyptian Temple Pass” that is a buy one time get all access to temples type of deal in Egypt. Instead you’ll have to pay individually for each site you visit, and they will start to add up. Expect to pay anywhere from £E100-300 for most sites, with some costing even more (Valley of the Queens is more than 1000 EGP).
If you came to Egypt to see Ancient Egypt just be prepared to spend some money on each individual temple. If you go with an organized tour all of these are typically included in the main price which can make things much more simpler day to day. However it’s best to make sure your tour includes the price of entry fees as some do not.
10. Photography Permits
The spending doesn’t stop there. Depending on the site you will also be asked to pay a photography permit if you want to bring anything more than a phone in to take photos. We found photography permits to range from £E50 (at the Egyptian museum), to £E300 (at Saqqara and Valley of the Kings, and a few others).
If you want to bring a tripod in this is also usually a £E20 fee, but it all depends on the site. You’ll have to pay special attention to the rules and regulations regarding cameras at each site (if you have a guide they will be able to inform you). As some do not allow flash photography, some prohibit video taking, we also got in trouble for having a microphone on our vlogging camera as it was seen as “commercial,” and some sites don’t allow photos (even with a phone) at all. Oh and don’t even think about bringing a drone even into Egypt.
Sometimes the photography permits can cost more than the actual entrance fee so if you’re happy with just phone photos I would suggest just bringing this to the sites for your photos.
11. Keep Those Tickets
You’ll want to hang on to those entry and photography tickets until you are done with the site you are visiting. You may be asked for them multiple times, especially if you have a big bulky camera or tripod out.
12. Get a Guide
We aren’t really “guide” people. We often travel independently and take our time at a place BUT in Egypt I cannot recommend a guide enough. They are essential to telling you about Ancient Egypt and the site you are visiting.
Essentially there is little to no information at any of the sites. Nope – none. No placards or pamphlets to let you know what you’re looking at. You will definitely want a GOOD guide that knows his/her stuff. Abdul, our fabulous guide in Southern Egypt was knowledgable and friendly – I can’t recommend him enough (here’s his email [email protected]).
Not only are guides good for conveying information, but as mentioned before, they can be great at shooing off unwanted attention and touts.
13. Dress for the Desert
One of my top travel Egypt tips is to dress appropriately. It gets HOT in Egypt, especially the further south you go. Peak tourist season in Egypt runs from mid-October to May, during winter and spring. If you visit in the summer (June – September) you’ll be constantly seeking heat relief.
We visited in mid-October and while Cairo and the Red Sea were fairly comfortable, once we got to Luxor it was stifling hot until we departed Egypt.
It’s important to dress for hot temperatures, while still respecting the fact that you’re in a conservative country. This means white and tan loose clothing. Dresses past the knee, light pants, and shirts that aren’t too revealing are ideal. I prefer linen in hot temperatures like this. Also don’t forget to bring a hat, sunglasses, and sun protection! You can check out our packing recommendations at the bottom of this post.
14. Bring the Right Shoes
You’ll be walking around a lot in Egypt so it’s important to bring a good pair of walking shoes. Most people in our tour groups wore trainers, Cameron wore his Allbirds Tree Runners which were comfortable and let his feet breath. I, on the other hand, wore my Sanuk Yoga Slings as I find flip flops and sandals very comfortable and stylish in hot places.
15. Get Up Early
The coolest temperatures are before 8 am and after 4:30 pm. It’s best to start your day at sunrise to take advantage of the comfortable weather. We started many of our sightseeing days at 6 am.
This not only meant fewer crowds but it also meant we weren’t stuck in ancient hot tombs full of people at noon!
16. Purchase a SIM card
If you want to stay connected while on your trip it’s best to pick up a sim card at the airport once you land. While most of the places we stayed had WiFi in Egypt it never worked particularly well. We were happy to have 4G almost everywhere we went, including on our Nile River Cruise.
Data is cheap in Egypt! You can expect to pay about 100 EGY for 10 GB of data with cell phone providers like Orange and Vodafone. It’s best to make sure you understand the plan your purchasing though, we felt we got scammed a few times by the salesman not telling us the full rules on data.
17. Bring Hand Sanitizer
It’s worth noting again that we rarely found free public restrooms while venturing around Egypt. Despite paying, soap to wash your hands was also a rare find. I’m happy we had hand sanitizer!
18. Avoid Tap Water
The tap water in Egypt is not drinkable and should be avoided. In Cairo, we didn’t even brush our teeth with it. I normally don’t advocate for buying bottled water as we travel with a filter, but in Egypt we bought mostly bottled water to stay hydrated. You’ll need to drink AT LEAST two liters a day in this hot country.
It’s important to check the bottled water you buy from street vendors as well. A common trick here is to fill bottles up with tap water and seal them shut again but charge for the price of a new bottle. If it tastes funky I would steer clear even if you just bought it. Remember the saying for bottled water – “If it clicks, it’s safe.”
19. Stay Hydrated
It’s really important to stay hydrated in Egypt! You’re in the desert and will likely be walking around the ancient sites all day in the heat. You may not even realize you’re sweating our all your fluids so drink plenty to be safe. I would recommend bringing electrolyte tablets just in case.
20. Euros, British Pound Sterling, and USD are Widely Accepted
If you find yourself short on Egyptian Pounds rest assured that any major currency will be gladly accepted. Just don’t expect a fair exchange rate.
21. Service Charges and VAT
At any resort and many mid-range to high-end restaurants expect for VAT (13%) and a service charge (12%) to be added to your bill. If you’re somewhere very nice that extra 25% can really add up, so it’s best to be aware beforehand.
It’s worth noting that the service charge added to your bill is actually not going back to your waiter, so you will have to tip him separately as well.
22. Egypt Has Some Seriously Friendly People
Despite the annoying touts and occasional scams, I found almost any Egyptian I interacted with to be incredibly friendly. Most we found were happy that tourists are coming back after the stark downturn after the Egyptian Spring. Many times people went out of their way to accommodate us (this is especially true if interacting in the tourism sector).
You can expect many smiles and lots of questions about where you are from. The most common phrase we heard was “Welcome to Egypt” happily. I was approached many times by women who wanted photographs with me and to chat about life in general.
Sure, you may get asked for tips and the touts may bother you a little more than you are comfortable with, but I found it all to be pretty harmless.
If you can only learn one word in Arabic before visiting Egypt it should be “Shukran.” This means “Thank You” and you’ll be using it a lot. Learn also to say “La Shukran” meaning “No Thank You” as that will come in handy when you’ve had enough of the touts trying to sell you little plastic Sphinx figurines.
Plan and Pack for Egypt
I love wearing a relaxed pant when we travel. The Women’s Mantra pants are made out of hemp and recycled polyester while offering 50+ UPF protection. They are perfect for Egypt as they’re comfortable and conservative.
These pants are lightweight and weigh nothing in a carry-on bag. I could literally live in these pants if it were acceptable to wear them for breakfast, lunch, and dinner out. Cameron has now found his favorite pair of pants in the men’s version which is the Vaha Pant.
It’s best to bring a pair of breathable shoes to walk around Egypt The hear in Northern Africa and Egypt is intense. This means if you don’t want your feet to always feel sweaty and stinky wear cool and comfortable shoes.
I love the Allbird Tree Runners for their breathability in situations like this. I’ve been going strong in them for two years! Check out my other recommendations on women’s shoes, and the best men’s travel shoes.
Just throwing this into your bag is going to make packing for Egypt a breeze. A Shemagh is the perfect travel accessory for both the men and the women travelers out there. This can be worn for just about anything. It will keep you warm, cover your face, protect valuables in your backpack, and even double as an eye mask the shemagh has tons of different uses.
It’s perfect for anyone heading into the Sahara wanting to keep the sand out of their face. I would personally recommend buying this before you land because once you travel to the desert there will plenty of touts willing to sell you a cheap one at an exorbitant price.
Skin cancer is for real! Don’t forget your SPF when traveling around Egypt. We recommend ordering some online before leaving the house as you will need it underneath the sun in the summer.
We highly recommend getting an eco friendly sun cream that does not contain harmful chemicals.
Make sure to protect your eyes from the sun. There are a lot of options for sunglasses and everyone should own at least a pair. It’s best to make sure they do have UV protection for the health of your eyes.
We made our first investment in quality polarized sunglasses with a pair of SMITH Optics Lowdown 2. Truthfully, not everyone needs to invest $150 in a pair of sunglasses, but they do make a huge difference from the crappy $10 ones.
Most hotels will provide you with a towel, but for those times when they may not I like to have a backup travel towel. I like to travel with a microfiber towel because they are light and fold up small, and they also don’t cling on to sand our dirt. Here are a few of our favorite travel towels.
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