For some reason I haven’t heard of many people visiting Egypt on their own, without going for beach holidays. I knew one person who did Egypt travel independently and enjoyed it but that wasn’t enough for me to be confident enough. But then I read the article about Cairo and I knew I want to travel to Egypt really badly. Shortly after I gave myself a birthday present and booked flights to Cairo.
I spent 10 days in Egypt and I survived. And, to my great surprise, everything was fine and rather smooth, even if annoying at times. Egypt was worth all the effort and I really enjoyed my time there, even though on most of the days I was really exhausted. I put together a list of Egypt travel tips that hopefully will be useful for you when you plan your own Egypt trip.
Of course all that’s written below is based on my experience only but I had no issues when travelling in Egypt and most likely you will be fine too! I visited Egypt in December 2018 / January 2019.
Best time to visit Egypt
I visited Egypt at the end of December/beginning of January and I think it’s a really good time if you want to focus on sightseeing. It wasn’t too hot, usually around 20C and sunny although the day was a bit short for my taste, it was getting dark around 5pm.
I also found main touristic sights a bit too crowded and prices were slightly higher because of the New Year’s season so try to avoid the Christmas-New Year time but go around it for the chances of good weather. In the seaside resorts you will be more lucky with warm (25C and above) weather, it should be good from late autumn to early spring. Summer time is insanely hot everywhere and I’d generally avoid travelling in Egypt at that time.
How to get to Egypt
There are few popular international airports in Egypt so if you’re going to fly you will most likely have to decide between Cairo, Sharm el Sheikh and Hurghada. I didn’t want to go to the last two as these are the seaside resorts located a bit away from places I wanted to visit in Egypt and I didn’t have enough time to relax at the sea (although that could have been nice too) so I had to find flights to Cairo. I used my favorite website SkyScanner to help me with these as there are no direct flights from Warsaw and I had to find the connection through one of the European airports.
There are numerous European, African and Middle East airline flying to Cairo. For me the cheapest option was with Ukrainian International Airlines, with a quick connection in Kiev (as it later turned out it was too short on the way back when my flight from Cairo was over 2 hours delayed and the flight to Warsaw departed without me, fortunately the airline secured the hotel, meals and the seat in the next flight with no issues).
I paid around €250 for my return ticket, bought 4 months in advance and for the high season (Christmas and New Year period). Usually you can get it even better deals with UIA. I use this airline fairly often and they are ok, almost always on time and with good service. Also the airport in Kiev is fine for transfer, everything is rather smooth, prices are affordable and the free wifi keeps you entertained when waiting for your flight.
Egypt visa on arrival at Cairo airport
Most likely you need a visa to Egypt. You can do it online at this website or you can get a visa on arrival at the airport, the price is the same – $25.
I was planning to get the e-visa but I was too late. You need to apply 7 days prior the arrival – it was exactly 7 days when I wanted to do it so I didn’t want to risk. Fortunately getting the Egypt visa on arrival on Cairo airport was super easy and I didn’t waste all that much time for the procedure so to be honest I wouldn’t bother all that much with getting e-visa.
When you get to the arrival hall, with passport control at the end, you will find a bank on the right side directly after you leave the escalator. It’s easy to miss this very random both with printed pages glued to the window saying that Visa on arrival costs $25. You only pay the amount (it has to be in the US dollars but they will give you a change if you don’t have exactly $25 in cash), get a sticker with visa and that’s it, no paperwork is required. You have to put the visa to the passport yourself.
Before proceeding to the passport control you need to fill in the arrival migration card (the red one is for foreigners), you will find them on the shelf just before the passport queue. It’s a standard form, you need to fill in your name, date and place of birth, nationality, passport number and the reason you’re visiting Egypt.
With visa stuck in your passport and a migration card filled you can proceed to the passport control. It was easy and straightforward, nothing extraordinary really. I wasn’t asked even one question and after a minute or two I was handed my passport back, with the entry stamp to Egypt.
How to get a SIM card at Cairo airport
Another thing you should do after arriving to Egypt is getting a local SIM card. When you leave the arrival hall, still in the building, on the left you will find the booths of three mobile phone providers: Vodafone, Etisalat and Orange. I got my card at Orange, only because at that moment it had the shortest lane.
I was interested in internet data only so got 3,5GB of internet for 100 EGP. The whole procedure was straightforward, took maybe few minutes. I only needed the passport to get the card, installing it and making everything work was taken care of.
I can’t complain about the coverage as the phone was working more or less everywhere I visited. Only sometimes in the train it was losing the signal but that happens in Poland too. I was happy with the internet speed and I can recommend getting the card from Orange.
How to get from Cairo airport to the center
The reason why I wanted to get the SIM card as soon as possible was getting out of the airport smoothly. Apparently there are some buses connecting Cairo airport with downtown but the moment I saw Uber is operating in Cairo at very reasonable prices I knew I’m going to use it.
It took some messages back and forth with the driver but we finally found each other and some 30 minutes later I was already in front of my hotel in the downtown Cairo. I paid 100 EGP for the ride which I think is a really fair price for a hassle-free journey from the airport after arriving.
How to get around Cairo
Cairo is huge and the main sights are located a bit far from each other. The best way to get to some of the places (Egyptian Museum and the Downtown, Cairo Tower, Coptic Cairo or Khan el-Khalili) is by metro. It’s fast, cheap and easy to use (there are signs in both Arabic and English).
Before you go download to your phone Cairo metro map – you will definitely need it! Once at the station you first need to get the ticket – the price depends on the distance but most likely you will pay 3 EGP as that’s the cheapest fare that covers up to 9 stations of the journey.
With the ticket go to the platform and off you go to your destination. If you are a woman and don’t feel comfortable riding in mixed carriages there are woman-only carriages located in the middle of the train – signs at the platform will show you where you should wait for them. Remember to keep the ticket with you – you will need it to leave the platform once you get to your destination.
If you need to go somewhere metro doesn’t reach (like the Citadel or Giza Pyramids) you should take Uber. There are numerous mini buses going around but figuring them out is a lot of hassle so Uber is your best option, especially with affordable prices.
But I did had some issues using Uber in Cairo. While it was no problem to get the ride for longer distances like the airport or Pyramids I couldn’t get it for shorter routes. I’ve tried few times and after a while drivers cancelled on me, claiming they did arrive but I was not there (I was charged 10GBP for no-show but got refunded when I said I indeed was at the place but the driver didn’t show up).
Cairo is a walkable city and I had no problems with walking around although crossing the street was sometimes nerve wrecking. If you don’t mind being surrounded by people and moving vehicles (in all directions and constantly beeping) you will be fine walking around in Cairo.
Visiting Pyramids deserves the whole separate post but just let me tell you it is possible to do it independently and it’s not difficult at all. Just take the Uber to Pyramids (you should be drop off directly in front of the entrance), buy the ticket, go through the security and you’re free to explore the area.
But prepare yourself for the constant harassment of touts who will try to make you go for a camel / carriage ride, be your guide, sell you souvenirs or show you the view. It will be a big test of your assertiveness but it’s worth it, the Pyramids are incredible!
Language in Egypt
The official language in Egypt is Arabic but many of the people and everyone in the touristic places speak at least decent English, enough to communicate. And if there is a language barrier just smile and you will be fine too!
The only thing I would recommend is learning, or at least downloading to your phone, Arab numbers. Knowing them will come handy when you will be looking for your Uber ride (license plates in Egypt are only in Arab) or when figuring out which platform you train is departing from. Fortunately money has both Arab and European numbers on them.
How to travel around Egypt
I used trains only and they were reliable and comfortable, even if a bit filthy. I bought the tickets online, they were very affordable for the distances and the standards of the journey. I took the following routes, all in AC1 class (the best available really):
- Cairo – Luxor, 10 hours, I paid 204 EGP ($11,40 / €10)
- Luxor – Aswan, 4 hours, I paid 53 EGP ($3 / €2,60)
- Aswan – Cairo, 14 hours (but eventually I disembarked in Giza so the journey was shorter), I paid 245 EGP ($13,70 / €12)
To prepare for the journey be sure to take with you enough of snack and drinks (although you can buy them in the train during your journey too), something warm to put on as the air-condition is really efficient and a good book to read. You will spend half of the time starting outside the window anyway as views are really amazing and you can see more of the real Egypt.
Apparently international tourists can’t get ticket for the Cairo-Luxor-Aswan route at the station in Cairo due to some restrictions. But you can easily buy the ticket online, they go on sale two weeks before the departure date.
You need to register at the website of Egyptian Railways and once you get the confirmation email you are free to book your trains. It’s actually fairly easy, a standard procedure, and everything worked fine with my Polish passport and credit card. The tickets are then send via email, you can also check and download them from the website whenever you want to, using the reservation number.
Funny thing, when I paid for my Luxor-Aswan ticket the website didn’t want to refresh, but I still got my ticket and the reservation was valid when I checked it. Yet on the next day I got the money back to my bank account. When I took that very train everything was fine and no one questioned my ticket.
To save the time you can also take the night train (but it’s a bit too expensive in my opinion, one way Cairo-Luxor is apparently around $80-$100) or fly. That was my initial plan, to fly at least one way between Luxor or Aswan and Cairo, but I was too late to book the flights and then prices were way too expensive in comparison to the train (normally you can find the one way flight from Aswan to Luxor for $50).
When you plan your trip to Egypt don’t make my mistake and look for flights not 2 weeks before the departure but earlier. There are few local airlines, I was looking for flights at SkyScanner, as always.
Safety in Egypt
That’s another topic that deserves the whole separate post. But to give you a little overview: no, Egypt is not a completely safe destination but then what country is? Few hours after my arrival to Egypt a bus with tourists from Vietnam was attacked in Giza resulting in 4 casualties.
For the whole time I spent in Egypt I felt safe and even if in few situations I was a bit anxious it was all my mind playing tricks as everything was completely fine really. But of course you have to be careful and use your common sense, Egypt is not an easy destination to visit.
Every time you enter a metro station / train station / any monument and tourist attraction you have to go through the security, similar to the one at the airport. It is annoying but after a day or two you will get used to it.
Solo female travel in Egypt
And another topic that needs more attention. Even if I was afraid of solo female travel in Egypt (and I’m not ashamed to admit it) everything was surprisingly good. After few minor incidents in Iran I was worried I will have to deal with some harassment or even unwanted touching but nothing like that happened.
There was some catcalling, of course, but nothing more than that. Even if I was really tempted to show my middle finger I just ignored those and kept walking, forgetting about the whole situation quickly.
In general Egypt was a bit annoying but that had nothing to do with me being a solo traveler. I assume I would be equally annoyed at touts if I was travelling with someone else.
Food in Egypt
I’m a vegetarian so Egypt was a food paradise for me! There were so many delicious options to choose from that I could finally try a variety of food but my favorite was of course falafel. I bought it mostly from the street shops that would never pass the sanitary and health control but I never felt sick. They were all so delicious and the cheapest I’ve ever tried.
If you are familiar and like Middle East food you know what to expect in Egypt. I also ate a lot of fruits and drank so many fresh juices as they were so delicious! We don’t have such a good taste of fruits and vegetables in Poland!
Prices in Egypt
In general I found Egypt to be a rather cheap destination. Transport, food and accommodation were very affordable. On the other hand a way too big part of my expenses were entrance fees.
Like in many other countries (Iran, Uzbekistan or Jordan, just to give you few examples) foreigners have to pay 5-10 times more for the entrance (if you learn the Arab numbers you will see this huge difference that just hurts the eyes). Let’s say I can understand the whole idea behind it but I’d be fine if the extra money go for the restoration and taking care of the monuments. Sadly that’s not really the case with Egypt.
Anyway, during my 10 days in Egypt that’s what I’ve spent:
- Accommodation (9 nights, single rooms with breakfast) – 5950 EGP ($332 / €291)
- Transportation (trains, Uber, metro, ferries, taxis) – 2033 EGP ($114 / €100)
- Entrance fees – 2670 EGP ($149 / €131)
- Food and drinks – 1158 EGP ($65 / €57)
- Other (SIM card, tips, toilet) – 220 EGP ($12 / €11)
Total amount I spent on my 10 days in Egypt is 12 031 EGP ($672 / €590).
As I said I found sightseeing in Egypt to be a bit expensive. Single tickets are not all that much but once you add the amounts you’ve spent it really is a lot. With a heavy heart I paid for every entrance fee, after all I don’t know if I will visit Egypt again and I travelled all the way there to see all the great ancient remnants and other interesting sights.
Most places were definitely worth it but some not really. On top of that in few sights you had to pay extra for the photography permits and sometimes (in the Valley of the Kings) it was more expensive than the entrance fee itself!
Here are the prices of entrance fee, prices from January 2019:
- Egyptian Museum – 350 EGP for everything (general entrance fee, Royal Mummies Hall, the photography permit)
- Cairo Tower – 200 EGP
- Coptic Museum – 100 EGP for the entrance and 50 EGP for the photography permit
- Random mosque in the Islamic Cairo – 5 EGP
- Tickets for 6 monuments in the Islamic Cairo – 100 EGP
- Pyramids in Giza – 160 EGP for the area, 340 EGP for the Cheops Pyramid
- Citadel in Cairo – 140 EGP
- Mosque-Madrassa of Sultan Hassan in Cairo – 80 EGP but they didn’t have a change so I paid 100 EGP
- Valley of the Kings in Luxor – 200 EGP entrance fee, 300 EGP photography permit
- Hatshepsut Temple in Luxor – 100 EGP
- Medinet Habu Temple in Luxor – 80 EGP
- Karnak Temple in Luxor – 150 EGP
- Philae Temple in Aswan – 140 EGP + 150 EGP for the boat
- High Dam in Aswan – 75 EGP
- The Obelisk in Aswan – 80 EGP
Getting money in Egypt
You need the local currency, Egyptian Pound, and the best way to get it is at the ATM. You can either withdraw it (that’s what I was doing) or you can exchange the US dollars at the ATM (I didn’t try that but a friend of mine confirmed it works fine).
I was always using ATMs of Banque Misr and they were always working well. The only issue was that it didn’t allow me to withdraw more than 2.000 EGP, claiming I reached my daily limit (I didn’t). But it wasn’t such a big problem really.
There are plenty of ATMs everywhere so you shouldn’t worry about running out of money (as long as you have them on your account, that’s it).
Where to stay in Egypt
I was searching for the accommodation at Booking.com (as always) and stayed in some decent places in Egypt. I found all the places to be a fair value for the price, the rooms were clean and the included breakfast was huge however two out of the three hotels had a bit of the old-ish design. But I didn’t mind it all that much really.
In Cairo I stayed at Azar Hotel (Boutique hotel). It was perfectly located in the downtown, close to metro station Attaba and within a walking distance of Tahrir Square and Egyptian Museum. The staff was very friendly and the view from the rooftop was just the best. I can definitely recommend this place. Click here to read more about this hotel.
In Luxor I stayed at Aracan Eatabe Luxor Hotel. It was a big hotel, with everything you needed on spot (the restaurant was a life saver really) but what I enjoyed the most was the view over the Nile. I paid extra for it and it was the best decision as wherever I looked outside the balcony I could admire a gorgeous landscape. The hotel also had a very good location, close to the Luxor Temple and the center of the city. Click here to read more about this hotel.
In Aswan I first booked the accommodation on the Elephantine Island but when I figured I will take the train back to Cairo that departs at 5.30am I changed my reservation for another hotel just 5 minutes walking from the train station. I booked Marhaba Palace Hotel. and even if it has so-so reviews I found it fairly good. Again, the view from the rooftop stole my heart! Click here to read more about this place.
Speaking of accommodation I had a very strange situation on my last night in Cairo and Egypt. I booked a different hotel than at the beginning of my trip and once I got there, after 14 hours train journey from Aswan, I was told that they have no room for me. They gave it to some other people who arrived earlier and paid in cash, I was told to look for another place to stay, after all there are plenty of hotels in downtown Cairo.
No one messaged me before to confirm I’m coming or secured the payment from the card I put on Booking. It was 8pm, dark outside and I was left alone with no accommodation, fortunately the hotel I stayed at during my first visit in Cairo was available and actually half the price of the one I was supposed to stay at. I was lucky I already knew the city a bit and felt confident enough to walk around on my own in the evening but I can’t imagine I’ve just arrived to Cairo and I’m in this situation.
When I got to Azar Hotel everyone was nice, welcoming and happy to see me again, I don’t know why I didn’t book the room there again in the first place. When I wrote about this situation on my Facebook page it turned out something similar happened to one of my readers, only she was supposed to stay in some other hotel. It seems like this might be a common issue in Cairo so before booking the place make sure to read the reviews of the hotel (the one I was supposed to stay at, Valencia Hotel, had 8.4/10 score on Booking).
Giving tips in Egypt
That’s what annoyed me the most in Egypt, to be honest. I’m from Poland, we don’t really have a culture of giving tips. I don’t mind giving a tip for a decent service but I get annoyed when I’m barefacedly asked for money every few minutes, even when the person did literally nothing for me. I was confident enough to give the tip only when I felt it was right but every single tip-related encounter was really annoying.
One of the guys at the Pyramids, who I didn’t ask for help at all, was rude enough to demand more money than I originally gave him, claiming that “this is nothing” (I answered that no, you can get at least two falafel sandwiches for this sum) and I can pay him in dollars, showing me a wallet full of USD bills (I answered that I can see he has enough money by now and it’s 10am only). Eventually I added one more small bill of 10EGP to get rid of the guy.
That said all the tip related encounters were only in the touristic areas, whenever I was in the “regular” places everything was just fine. When travelling in Egypt make sure you always have some spare bills with you as you will most likely need them for tips!
And yes, I’m aware that a fair bit of people’s income come from tips but giving them money for nothing is not the right way to do things in my opinion.
What to see in Egypt
The most popular Egypt attractions are Pyramids of Giza, Valley of the Kings in Luxor or the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. And all of these are spectacular and really impressive places but there is so much more to see in the country.
Be sure to give few days to Cairo, to feel the vibe of the city and see what it has to offer (and there is a lot to see really!). In Luxor, besides the Valley of the Kings, you can’t miss few other temples (Luxor, Karnak or Habu – the last one was my favorite). A bit further south you should visit Aswan with its Naubian villages, High Dam on Nile and Philae Temple. Aswan can be also a good base to visit Abu Simble Temples.
If you like beach holidays then Hurghada, Sharm el Shejkh, Dahab or Marsa Alam are your places to go. Sinai Peninsula, especially the St. Catherine’s Monastery, are supposed to be beautiful but unfortunately are not the safest places these days.
In the north the city of Alexandria, located on the southern shore of Mediterranean Sea, is worth a visit.
If you have some time to spare be sure to go for a Nile river cruise, especially between Aswan and Luxor. I wanted to do it really badly but since it was the New Year’s time the prices were horrendous.
Be careful when taking pictures on the street, especially when there is police around. Numerous religious buildings that are not mosques are heavily guarded and you are not allowed to photograph them (I learnt the hard way when first I took the picture of the beautiful synagogue and then of the Armenian church).
In the touristic places be careful when taking pictures of people as you might be asked for a tip. Other than everything should be fine.
In some attractions, such as the Egyptian Museum, the Coptic Museum or the Valley of the Kings you need to purchase a special photography permit – I was checked few times in each place if I have it when I was taking pictures. In the Valley of the Kings it’s actually even more expensive than the ticket itself but if you want to have a photo souvenir from visiting this spectacular place it’s definitely worth it.
People in Egypt
Besides the tourist attractions I found people in Egypt to be warm, friendly and really hospitable. I exchanged so many smiles and greetings, drank tea with locals on few occasions and after I returned from Islamic Cairo some random souvenirs (bookmark, fruits, bread) because people insisted to share those with me.
Even in the touristic places people were nice but at the same time too pushy for my taste. When you visit Egypt don’t be afraid of people, talk to them and you will see a completely new face of this ancient country!
When you are about to leave Egypt be sure to be at the airport ahead of time. For my flight back to Kiev I, and everyone else, had to go to the check in counter even if I checked in online. That’s where you will get a migration card to fill and a printed boarding pass. The counter opens some 3 hours before the flight but since mine was delayed it was a big mess.
Once you have the boarding pass and migration card with all your details written you can proceed to the passport control and afterwards enjoy a duty free zone.
If there is anything I missed or if you have some questions about Egypt travel feel free to ask in the comments below, I will be happy to help!
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