Egypt: The Tip List
Egypt is unlike any other country I’ve ever been to. I was thrown off guard at first and came away with very mixed emotions. I felt like the history in Egypt was unparalleled and I’m not sure I’d ever had so many once in a lifetime experiences in such a short period of time. On the other hand, however, I felt uncomfortable in the cities and didn’t feel like I got an authentic feel for the culture as most of my interactions with the locals were tinted by their desperation to make money from my tourism. Basically, I was completely unprepared for Egypt. I was lazy in my research and it showed. In an attempt to save someone else from the same somewhat off putting experience that I had, I put together a list of everything I wish I’d known prior to arrival in Egypt.
Do a tour.
I’ve never been one for organized tours. I like the freedom of choosing where to go, what to do, and when I do it. I like picking restaurants that aren’t overpriced and having time to just explore at my leisure. However, when planning our Africa trip, we had no idea where to start and felt completely overwhelmed trying to plan a trip while virtually camping in Australia, so we went with Travel Talk tours. They made our trip immensely easier as we had everything from knowledgable guides to police escorts. We stayed in incredibly nice hotels and never had to worry about transportation, as our air-conditioned bus was always at the ready. The tour also included a lot of fun group excursions that would be difficult to organize on your own. All in all, I found the tour to be a lifesaver for this country and couldn’t recommend it enough.
It’s hot like the sun in Egypt, as our guide would say. There will be a day (probably at the pyramids) when you’ll think you’re dying. Just prepare yourself: always bring water with you (it’s very overpriced at the attractions, although it is available most places if you’re desperate), wear breathable clothes, wear clothes that hide sweat marks (let’s be honest, Egypt is super photogenic and no one wants to edit out pit stains in their grey t-shirt), bring sunglasses and don’t forget your sunscreen!
Brush up on your history.
By far the coolest thing about Egypt is its history. If you’re going there, you must be at least remotely interested in ancient history, but unless you’re a history buff, you’ll remember a lot less from your 4th grade history lessons than you think. I really wish I’d taken the time to watch a couple documentaries before visiting some of the sights. Also, upon review, the cartoon "The Prince of Egypt" is shockingly accurate, so if cartoons are more your thing, check that out ahead of time.
It’s a big country.
We covered most of the country in 9 days and there were more than a few 10 hour drives along the way. This is one of the main reasons I recommend taking a tour. You’ll have reliable, comfortable transportation to all of your destinations, plus a police escort to keep you safe.
Uber is a thing.
I was hesitant to take Ubers at first. I wasn’t entirely sure how I felt about getting into a stranger’s car in a country where I didn’t always feel 100% safe. One look at the price difference, however, and I climbed on in. Like everywhere, taxis in Egypt are relatively expensive and ride shares are usually cheaper. Unlike everywhere else, Ubers in Egypt are literally a fraction of the price of a taxi. I’m talking $5 Uber or a $25 taxi. And they’re perfectly safe.
Take more money than you think you’ll need.
Egypt was surprisingly expensive. We budgeted $35 AUD per person per day (on top of our tour prices which included most meals, all accommodation, and all transportation), and found it to be a comfortable budget. Some activities were expensive and others more affordable, but literally every excursion cost something. Most sights allow you to take photos, but they usually charge a photography fee per camera. Food and alcohol were quite pricey (in the upscale and tourist areas, which normally I stay away from, but were the only places I felt comfortable in Egypt), and everyone expects a tip.
It exists. That’s the first thing you should know. I had never heard of Dahab prior to landing in Egypt, but it ended up being the highlight of my time there. A small beach town located on the Red Sea, it boasts some of the world’s best dive spots as well as insanely good snorkeling. With it’s casual beach vibes, restaurants lining the waterfront, crafty shops, and luxurious yet affordable resorts, Dahab is an absolute must for anyone’s travel list.
Egyptians can be lovely.
I found Egyptians to be incredibly kind, very friendly people. After the tour ended, our guide invited us into his family home (where his mom served us the best mangos I’ve ever tasted) and took us out to dinner. The Nubians were particularly friendly, always smiling, laughing, dancing, and bringing out the best in all of us. There was an incident at the airport (I won’t get into it, but there were tears), and every single airport employee we interacted with went out of their way to try to make me feel better. Overall, I felt like the locals were warm and caring people, as long as they weren’t trying to sell you something…
Some Egyptians can be pushy.
For the most part, the locals are lovely, however when they try to sell you something, the tables can turn quite quickly. Vendors can be very pushy, especially towards women. Men on the streets will yell to you for what feels like an eternity. They might even follow you for a while, to the point where you might not feel comfortable leaving your hotel. People will stare. They’re not used to Westerners and have no shame in staring at you as you walk down the street, waiting for you to leave a restaurant, or asking for a selfie. We had a few kids ask us politely, who just wanted to meet us, but we had others who were presumptuous and in our face.
Hike Mount Sinai.
You’ve heard of the burning bush and you know Moses struck a rock for water on top of a mountain. Well, in Egypt you can visit these places during an incredible hike on Mount Sinai. To avoid the heat of the day, most hikers opt to walk through the night. We started at 1 a.m., and by 4:30 we’d already had a power nap at the peak and were settling into the ruins to watch the sunrise. Our guide for the day was incredible. He got us up early and lead us to the best spot to watch sunrise. Make sure you ask the same of your guide! It was one of my favorite memories from Egypt and highly recommend it for anyone with a sense of adventure and a love for the outdoors. That being said, getting there isn’t easy so I also recommend making arrangements for a driver and guide ahead of time (Dahab is a good place to base yourself for this expedition). You’ll need your passport! Our guide neglected to tell us this tid bit of information and for a minute there we thought we’d have to turn around. And finally, even though it’s hotter than imaginable during the day, it’s freezing and windy at the top of the mountain at night, so bring warm clothes and some extra cash for a coffee and blanket rental from one of the makeshift cafes built into the rocks. If you’re interested in hearing about the experience in more detail, make sure to check out my post here!
Buy a SIM card.
Being the cheap budget backpackers that we are, we neglected to buy the $15 SIM card. We figured we could easily survive on hotel WiFi, only needing to check in with family every couple of days and continue planning the rest of our trip. This was a mistake. The WiFi throughout Egypt is pretty terrible. I’ll admit, we were warned, but clearly not well enough. I feel like it’s important to mention just how bad the WiFi is and to recommend biting the bullet and buying the SIM card.
You don’t need as much time in Cairo as you might think. I feel as though 2 days is the perfect duration to see everything the city has to offer, including the Pyramids and Egyptian Museum, without burning out. Check out my 48 hour guide for the perfect Cairo itinerary!
You’ve heard of Montezuma’s Revenge. You’ve probably had Bali Belly. Well, you’ll soon be acquainted with Mummy Tummy. We traveled with a group of about 40 people and I’d say that 90% were afflicted at one point or another. The toilet on the bus was frequented regularly, even though it was reserved for “emergencies” and more than a few people had to miss out on more than a few activities due to an inability to leave the bathroom. There’s no surefire way to avoid it. Chances are it will happen to you or your travel partner, but you should be prepared. Avoid fresh water like the plague, including foods that need to be washed (like fresh salads or fruit without peels) and brushing your teeth with water from the sink. Grab some medicine (it’s super cheap if you get it in Egypt, but I’m not sure how effective it was) and be brave.
I’m not sure any other body of water has the same reputation as the Nile. It’s one of the longest rivers in the world and one of the only ones that flows north. There’s thousands of years of history running along its river beds and it’s probably on everyone’s bucket list. Well, in Egypt you can sail a felucca overnight on the Nile and I couldn’t recommend this experience enough. Our tour was booked through Travel Talk, so we enjoyed the company of about 40 other young people and the amazing crew. The friendliest people were the ones we met while on the Nile. Local men shared their hookah with us and a family delighted in befriending and getting photos with a bunch of westerners. We ate, drank, slept, and hung out on a giant mattress that consumed the entirety of the boat’s deck space. It was sandy and wet from our multiple swims in the Nile (um, pinch me! What a cool experience!), it was crowded with strangers who turned into friends and bed mates, and it was awesome.
Egypt is unlike anywhere else on Earth. Its history is unique, vast, and sometimes dumbfounding. Its people are beautiful and its sun is hot. I hope my list of tips was helpful as you prepare for your trip to Egypt, however I highly recommend doing a lot more research so you don’t end up surprised like me.