Pharaohs, pyramids, papyrus and the Ptolemies — Egypt has seen them all and more—making it one of the most exciting destinations in Africa. The legacy of a 6000-year old history is worn like a proud badge by this country, which boasts some of the most spectacular archaeological treasures existing in the world today — from the Sphinx at Giza to the marvels of Tutankhamen’s tomb. It is truly a land where the monument building instincts of man seem to have been on permanent overdrive!
Nature too has been more than generous here, from the life-giving Nile to the brilliant Red Sea coral reefs. For this combination of man-made and natural beauty, Egypt has stirred the imagination of travellers from all over the world—from Alexander the Great and the vandalising Romans to the plundering tomb-raiders who arrived at the turn of this century from Europe. Through all these invasions, Egyptian culture has not only survived but flourished - a testament of its inner vitality and resilience.
Today, Egypt is a country of contrasts, from its chaotic and over-populated cities to the vast deserts holding ancient secrets in their wombs.
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EGYPT QUICK FACTS
- Capital: Cairo
- Currency: Egyptian Pound (EGP / L.E. / £.E.)
- Area: 1,001,450 km²
- Population: 98,42 million (2018)
- Language: Egyptian Arabic (official), English and French widely understood by educated people
- Religion: 85% Muslim (mostly Sunni) , 15% Coptic Christian (mostly orthodox) and other religons
- Electricity: 220V, 50Hz (Europlug and Schuko plug)
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EGYPT PUBLIC HOLIDAYS
- 7 January, Christmas (Coptic Orthodox Christian)*
- 25 January, Revolution Day (2011)
- 22 February, Union Day
- 25 April, Sinai Liberation Day
- 1 May, Labour Day
- 18 June, Evacuation Day
- 1 July, Bank Holiday**
- 23 July, Revolution Day
- 11 September, New Year (Coptic Orthodox Christian)***
- 6 October, Armed Forces Day
- 24 October, Suez Victory Day
- 23 December, Victory Day
Also, Sham el Nessim (Spring Festival)
BEST TIME TO VISIT EGYPT
During the winter season (December-February), Egypt’s temperatures are mild with some rain, primarily over the coastal areas. Egypt’s traditional tourist season is also during this period, seen by most as the best time to visit, though in recent years Luxor and Aswan have only really been busy with tourists during the peak months of December and January. The Nile Valley is balmy throughout this winter season, although Cairo can be overcast and positively chilly at times. Winter is the busiest period for the Sinai resorts, while Hurghada is active year round.
- November to February - Egypt’s ‘winter’ is largely sunny and warm; ideal for desert adventures and temple exploring.
- March to April - Dust off your explorer hat and head into the Western Desert while temperatures stay mild.
- July & August - Summer’s furnace sizzles but underwater conditions are perfect for Red Sea diving as well as some wind for kitesurf.
- October - Autumn’s light makes a Nile journey a photographer’s dream.
Aside from the Easter vacation, when there is a spike in tourism, March or April are also good times to visit, with a pleasant climate.
During the summer season (June to September), the climate is hot and dry all across the country. Egypt experiences the effect of the Khamsin Wind, which brings sand and dust storms during spring, increased temperatures, and a drop in humidity. From June to September the south and desert are ferociously hot and the pollution in Cairo is at its worst, with only the coast offering a respite from the heat. During this time, sightseeing is best limited to early morning or evening.
October into early November is perhaps the best time of all to visit, with easily manageable climate and crowds.
SPORT & ACTIVITIES
SNOW SPORT IN EGYPT
There are no actual ski resorts in Egypt, but you can visit the indoor ski areas of Ski Egypt and Snow City Egypt if you're desperate!
HIKING & CYCLING IN EGYPT
You can enjoy outdoor activities in Egypt throughout the year, but the best time for hiking is from September to April when the temperatures are more moderate.
BEACH OPTIONS IN EGYPT
Egypt has some beautiful beaches which are best enjoyed during the warmer months of March to November, although June to August can get extremely hot.
SURFING IN EGYPT
Egypt's peak surfing season is from November to May, although even during this time, there are only 2 or 3 days per week that are good for surfing and the waves are only about waist high. Surf spots include: Agiba Cove, Agiba Beach and Cleopatra Beach.
KITESURF IN EGYPT
Egypt offers a variety of spots perfect for every kitesurfer, whether complete beginner, freestyle pro or wave chaser. You can find great winds throughout the whole year with the most consistent winds from April to October. The main kite spots can be found in the Hurghada area as well as many amazing spots along the Sinai Peninsula and along the North coast.
For more details on kite surfing in Egypt expand this section!
EGYPT TRAVEL COSTS
Traveling through Egypt is similar in price to traveling through Southeast Asia. If you are a budget traveler, you can see and do a lot in Egypt without spending a lot of money.
Accommodation costs vary based on location and time of year. Here is a general idea of what to expect:.
- Budget: $10 – $50
- Mid-Range: $50 – $150
- Luxury: $150 and up
A budget hotel is a 2-star hotel or a hostel. A mid-range hotel is a 3-star hotel. Luxury hotels are 4 and 5-star hotels, including the Marriott Mena House in Giza, the Ritz-Carlton in Cairo, and the Hilton Resort in Luxor. Prices will be higher during Christmas season and from December through February, which is peak season in Egypt.
Vegetarian meals, local food, and street food can average as little as $1 to $2 per meal. Falafel sandwiches are ubiquitous and can be found for $1 per sandwich. Sit down meals range from $5 to $12 per plate in many restaurants. Expect to add a 10% tip for a sit-down meal.
EGYPT TRAVEL TIPS
The Cairo Metro is blissfully efficient, inexpensive and, outside rush hours (7am to 9am and 3pm to 6pm), not too crowded. Metro stations have signs with a big red ‘M’ in a blue star. Trains run every five minutes or so from around 6am until 11.30pm.
Two carriages in the centre of each train are reserved for women.
- If you need a SIM card for your phone, in order to have data while traveling through Egypt, you can get one at the Orange kiosk near baggage claim in the Cairo International Airport.
- Tap water in Egypt is not considered safe to drink, with the exception of Cairo where it’s drinkable but might not taste great.
- Alcohol is typically available only at tourist spots and higher-end restaurants. Drinking on the street is taboo, as is public drunkenness.
- When in doubt, tip. Always keep small change as baksheesh is expected everywhere. Anything from LE5 to LE10 is usually fine with 10% of the bill in restaurants.
- Only use metered taxis where possible, else check with locals for taxi rates, as fares change as petrol prices rise. For short fares, setting a price beforehand may backfire, as it reveals you don’t know the system. But for long distances agree on a price before getting in.
- For the best prices when booking domestic flights using EgyptAir’s website, change your home location to Egypt. Prices show up in Egyptian pounds, and are often half what the same flight costs when using a home location outside of Egypt.
SIGHTS & HIGHLIGHTS OF EGYPT
- Pyramids of Giza - Come face to face with one of the world’s great wonders.
- Cairo - Overload on mosques, mauso-leums, museums and ancient churches.
- Abu Simbel - Sense the vanity of Ramses II amid his most spectacular temple complex.
- Luxor - Putt on your explorer hat within this mind-boggling cache of tombs and temples.
- Siwa - Hit the end of the road to revel in the far-from-anywhere vibe and delve into Siwan culture.
- Ras Mohammed National Park - Dive into an underwater fantasia of coral mountains and flitting fish.
- Aswan - Take a time-out to appreciate the panoramas before sailing on the waters of history on your own Nile journey.
- Alexandria - Soak up crumbling 19th-century grandeur along the Corniche.
- Dahab - Relax at laidback beach breaks with superb diving.
Cairo is chaos at its most magnificent, infuriating and beautiful. This mega-city’s constant buzz is a product of its 22-or-so million inhabitants simultaneously crushing Cairo’s infrastructure under their collective weight and lifting its spirits up with their exceptional humour. Cairo is not ancient, though the presence of the Pyramids leads many to believe otherwise. Its foundations were laid in AD 969 by the early Islamic Fatimid dynasty. Under the rule of subsequent dynasties, Cairo swelled and burst its walls, but at heart it remained a medieval city for 900 years.
- Al-Azhar Mosque - One of Cairo’s earlier mosques - the building is a harmonious blend of architectural styles, the result of numerous enlargements over more than 1000 years.
- Cairo Tower - This 187m-high tower is the city’s most famous landmark after the Pyramids.
- Coptic Museum - Houses Coptic art from the earliest days of Christianity in Egypt right through to early Islam. It is a beautiful place, as much for the elaborate woodcarving in all the galleries as for the treasures they contain.
- Egyptian Museum - One of the world’s most important collections of ancient artefacts. To walk around the museum is to embark on an adventure through time.
- Khan Al Khalili - Basically a medieval-style mall, you will find everything from soap powder to semiprecious stones, not to mention toy camels and alabaster pyramids.
- Manial Palace - Its interiors and architecture are a fascinating merging of Ottoman, Moorish, Persian and European rococo styles.
- Mosque-Madrassa of Sultan Hassan - Massive yet elegant, this grand structure is regarded as the finest piece of early Mamluk architecture in Cairo.
- Pyramids of Giza - The last remaining wonder of the ancient world.
One of the most pleasant things to do on a warm day is to go out on a felucca, Egypt’s ancient broad-sail boat, with a supply of beer and a small picnic, just as sunset approaches. The Dok Dok Landing Stage is the best spot for hiring one because it’s near a wider spot in the river.
SAQQARA, MEMPHIS & DAHSHUR
Although most tourists associate Egypt with the Pyramids of Giza, there are known to be at least 118 ancient pyramids scattered around the country, with more being discovered every few years or so. The majority of these monuments are spread out along the desert between the Giza Plateau and the semi-oasis of Al Fayoum. They include the must-see Step Pyramid of Zoser at Saqqara and the Red Pyramid and Bent Pyramid of Dahshur. These three pyramids represent the formative steps of architecture that reached fruition in the Great Pyramid of Khufu (Cheops).
Founded in 331 BC by 25-year-old Alexander the Great, Alexandria is legend personified. Its towering Pharos lighthouse, marking the ancient harbour’s entrance, was one of the Seven Wonders of the World, and its Great Library was considered the archive of ancient knowledge. Alas, fate dealt the city a spate of cruel blows and there are few visible remains of the glorious past. However, the new Bibliotheca Alexandrina has managed to rekindle the brilliance of the original centre of learning and culture. The complex has become one of Egypt’s major cultural venues and a stage for numerous international performers, and is home to a collection of brilliant museums.
LUXOR is often called the world’s greatest open-air museum, but that comes nowhere near describing this extraordinary place. Nothing in the world compares to the scale and grandeur of the monuments that have survived from ancient Thebes. The setting is breathtakingly beautiful, the Nile flowing between the modern city and west-bank necropolis, backed by the enigmatic Theban escarpment. Scattered across the landscape is an embarrassment of riches, from the temples of Karnak and Luxor in the east to the many tombs and temples on the west bank.
- The wonderful Luxor Museum showcases a well-chosen and brilliantly displayed and explained collection of antiquities dating from the end of the Old Kingdom right through to the Mamluk period, mostly gathered from the Theban temples and necropolis. The ticket price puts off many, but don’t let that stop you: this is one of the most rewarding sights in Luxor and one of the best museums in Egypt.
- The Luxor Temple was largely built by the New Kingdom pharaohs Amenhotep III (1390–1352 BC) and Ramses II (1279–1213 BC) - a strikingly graceful monument in the heart of the modern town. Also known as the Southern Sanctuary, its main function was during the annual Opet celebrations, when the statues of Amun, Mut and Khonsu were brought from Karnak, along the Avenue of Sphinxes, and reunited here during the inundation.
- Karnak is an extraordinary complex of sanctuaries, kiosks, pylons and obelisks dedicated to the Theban triad but also to the greater glory of pharaohs. The site covers more than 2 sq km with at its heart the Temple of Amun, the earthly ‘home’ of the local god.
- On the West Bank of Luxor you will find enough to keep you busy for a full day of sightseeing. Once called the Great Necropolis of Millions of Years of Pharaoh, or the Place of Truth, the Valley of the Kings has 63 magnificent royal tombs. Start early and head for Colossi of Memnon and a look at the ongoing excavations of the Temple Of Amenhotep III. Drive around the hillside to the Temple of Hatshepsut after which make your way past Gurna Village and the Workers Tombs at Deir Al Medina. When the light softens head to Medinat Habu, the temple of Ramses III.
- As elsewhere in Egypt, the nicest place to be late afternoon is on the Nile. A popular felucca trip is upriver to Banana Island, a tiny isle dotted with palms about 5km from Luxor. The trip takes two to three hours. Plan it in such a way that you’re on your way back in time to watch a brilliant Nile sunset from the boat.
Other highlights of the Nile Valley include: Esna, Edfu, Kom Ombo, Aswan, Philae and Abu Simbel (see map for more detail).
Older than the Pyramids, as sublime as any temple, Egypt’s Western Desert is a vast sweep of elemental beauty. The White Desert’s shimmering vista of surreal rock formations and the ripple and swell of the Great Sand Sea’s mammoth dunes are simply bewitching. Within this intense landscape five oases, shaded by palm plantations and blessed by a plethora of natural hot and cold springs, provide a glimpse of rural Egyptian life.
Due to varied travel advisories, there might be some confusion whether travel to the oases region is possible or even possible for foreign travellers. You should avail yourself of the advice of your government before deciding to travel to this region of Egypt.
- As the capital of the New Valley Governorate and the closest of the oases to the Nile Valley, Al Kharga is also the most modern and therefore the least exotic. Al Kharga has long stood at the crossroads of vital desert trade routes. This influential location brought it great prosperity, and with the arrival of the Romans, wells were dug, crops cultivated and fortresses built to protect caravan routes. The new road to Luxor makes it a convenient gateway to the oases, and a smattering of ancient sites here means it’s a decent stopover in its own right.
- At the centre of Dakhla Oasis lies the town of Mut, now a modern Egyptian town. It has decent facilities and makes the most convenient base for travellers. You will, however, have a richer experience of Dakhla by staying out of town. The slumping mud-brick villages and palmaries, speckled with hot springs, that surround Mut capture the essence of slow-paced oasis life. In particular, Al Qasr is one of the most enchanting places anywhere in the Western Desert.
- Bahariya is one of the more fetching of the desert circuit oases, and at just 365km from Cairo it’s also the most accessible. The oasis’ main centre is Bawiti. Away from its dusty, unappealing main road, much of the oasis floor here is covered by sprawling shady date palms and speckled with dozens of natural springs, which beg to be plunged into.
- Siwa is the stuff of desert daydreams. Just 50km from the Libyan border, this fertile basin brimming with olive trees and palms, on the edge of the Great Sand Sea, epitomises slow-paced oasis life.
RED SEA COAST
- El Gouna is a self-contained holiday town and probably the best-run resort in Egypt. Boasting 16 hotels, an 18-hole golf course, plenty of villas, and boutique shopping, restaurants and bars galore, it’s about as far removed from Egypt’s usual chaotic hustle as you can get.
- The once obscure fishing village of Hurghada has long since morphed into today’s dense band of concrete that marches along the coastline for more than 20km. Still, it’s a convenient destination for combining a diving holiday with the Nile Valley sites.
- In-the-know divers have been heading to Marsa Alam for years, attracted to the seas that offer up some of Egypt’s best diving just off the rugged coastline.
- Far removed from the resort clamour of the rest of the Red Sea coast, the historic city of Al Quseir is a muddle of colourful and creaky coral-block architecture dating from the Ottoman era that sadly is bypassed by most tourists.
A barren coastline of extraordinary beauty, the Sinai Coast has seen some of history’s most significant events of the past several millennia played out against its isolated shores. These days, however, the region is more renowned for its superb coral reefs, unique Bedouin culture and sandy beaches. South Sinai is both nirvana for members of the international diving fraternity and a famous package-tourism escape for Europeans after sun, sand and sea.
- Purpose-built Sharm El Sheikh occupies a prime position on the southern coast of the Gulf of Aqaba with some of the world’s most amazing underwater scenery on its doorstep. The town devotes itself solely to sun-and-sea holidays offering a family-friendly vibe and resort comforts, with world-class diving thrown in.
- West of Sharm El Sheikh lies the headland of Ras Mohammed National Park, named by local fishers for a cliff that resembles a man’s profile. The waters surrounding the peninsula are considered the jewel in the crown of the Red Sea and is home to some of the world’s most spectacular coral-reef ecosystems, including a profusion of coral species and teeming marine life.
- Low-key, laid-back and low-rise, Dahab is the Middle East’s prime beach resort for independent travellers. The startling transformation from dusty Bedouin outpost to spruced-up tourist village is not without its detractors, who reminisce of the days when beach bums dossed in basic huts by the shore.
- St Katherine Protectorate incorporates a 4350-sq-km area of high-altitude desert and protects a wealth of historic sites sacred to the world’s three main monotheistic religions. Rising up out of the desert and jutting above the other peaks is the towering 2285m Mt Sinai (Gebel Musa)
WHAT TO EAT IN EGYPT
Egyptian food is an earthy variant of Middle Eastern cuisine – a mix of dishes from Turkish, Levantine, Greek and ancient Egyptian traditions. High points include seafood on the Mediterranean coast, pickled vegetables with loads of garlic, succulent mangoes in summer and fresh dates in autumn, and a dish called kushari (a mix of noodles, rice, black lentils, fried onions and tomato sauce).
- Fatta - Rice and bread soaked in a garlicky-vinegary sauce with lamb or chicken.
- Fiteer - Flaky pastry stuffed with sweet or savoury ingredients. Often called Egyptian pizza.
- Mahshi kurumb - Rice- and meat-stuffed cabbage leaves doused with samna (clarified butter).
- Molokhiyya - A viscid jute-leaf soup flavoured with garlic and coriander.
- Hamam mahshi - Roast pigeon stuffed with fireek (green wheat) and rice.
- Ta’amiyya - Egyptian felafel; made from fava beans instead of chick peas.
LGBTQ IN EGYPT
Egypt is a conservative society that increasingly condemns homosexuality. In late 2017, the Egyptian government launched a large crack-down on the LGBT community, arresting 57 people in a series of raids.
For LGBT travellers the situation is not as bleak. As long as common sense discretion is used and public displays of affection are avoided – the same goes for heterosexual couples – foreign gay or lesbian couples should have no issues. Solo male gay travellers should not use gay dating apps while here, as the police are known to target app users.
WHERE TO STAY IN EGYPT
In Cairo, Alexandria, Luxor and Aswan, there are options for all budgets. The Red Sea coast resorts and Sharm El Sheikh are largely dedicated to package tourism. In the Western Desert oases, budget options range from bare-bones operations to very backpacker-friendly.
Rates at all hotels are negotiable in off-peak seasons, generally March to September (November to January on the Mediterranean coast) and especially during the middle of the week.
Many hotels will take US dollars or euros in payment, and some higher-end places even insist on it, though officially taking payment in currencies other than Egyptian pound is illegal. Lower-end hotels are usually cash only, though it’s not a given that all upmarket hotels accept credit cards.