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If you’re looking for tips for traveling to Egypt, you’re in the right place! This post will provide you with everything you need to know about visiting Egypt for the first time including: travel misconceptions, what to expect in Egypt, how to deal with culture shock, health and safety and what to pack.
Even the most seasoned traveler is not immune to misconceptions and stereotypes. We all have a certain idea about what a country will be like before hitting the “book now” button. Some of our ideas come from photos or other travelers, but the majority are born from the media…and they aren’t always pretty.
Egypt is one such country. Its tourism is suffering, thanks to frequent negative headlines about safety. I’m not one listen to sensationalist headlines, so I decided to go see Egypt for myself and document my experience.
Although I quickly realized that the reality of traveling in Egypt is far different than what the media claims, I was curious to see what other travelers thought about Egypt, both before and after visiting.
I surveyed fellow travelers who have visited the land of mummies and camels in the last six years and asked them two questions: What were some of your misconceptions of Egypt? How have those changed now that you’ve visited? And more importantly, what Egypt tips for first timers would you like to share?
Before traveling to Egypt, it’s important to know that it can be exhilarating, frustrating, and enriching – especially for a first timer. You will experience culture shock. I know I did, and my family is part Egyptian! Keep reading to learn the best Egypt travel tips for the first time visitor, directly from travelers who have visited recently!
Table of Contents
Why visit Egypt
Temples, pharaohs, hieroglyphics, and pyramids. Unlike many countries, Egypt doesn’t need an introduction. The stories of raided tombs and well-preserved mummies make this country the top of pretty much everyone’s bucket list and with good reason. From the bustling streets of Cairo to the glimmering beaches of the Red Sea, Egypt is guaranteed to simultaneously delight, shock, and enchant. Egypt’s capital alone has plenty of spectacular things to do and see.
How the media has affected tourism: Egypt expectation vs reality
- “I didn’t think it would affect tourism so much (hotels are empty, almost no people at the historical sights of Karnak Temple or the Valley of the Kings).” –Sharon, Travel Eat Enjoy Repeat
- “It was sad to hear stories from the locals about the damage their tourism industry has suffered, but it definitely gave me the motivation to make sure I was spreading my word of positivity as a tourist in Egypt.” –Travis, Traveler
- “I was surprised to see how poorly their travel industry is doing. I thought everyone wanted to go see the Pyramids.” –Olga, Traveler
- “I expected Egypt to be quite an expensive travel option, but it’s actually quite affordable.” –Louise, Traveler
Unfortunately, the media has painted a dark picture of travel in Egypt, and its tourism is suffering accordingly. Tourist sites are virtually empty compared to their pre-revolution crowds. Thanks to the current exchange rate and low tourism numbers, traveling to Egypt has become much more affordable, and getting photos without people in them is a given.
I am aware that there have been several incidents in Egypt over the last few years, and of course, safety is never guaranteed, anywhere. However, the incidents in Egypt have been few and far between and only a couple of them have actually targeted tourists. Crimes happen anywhere and everywhere, and as it says on the UK Government foreign travel website “most visits to Egypt are trouble-free.”
I myself have visited Egypt annually since 2017 and have never had any issues. The biggest thing you have to worry about is typical tourism scams!
Is it safe to travel to Egypt as a tourist?
- “I was worried I’d be concerned for my safety, but I never felt unsafe on my group tour.” –Louise, Traveler
- “The security throughout the country and at all the ‘touristy’ locations was phenomenal. I always felt safe, even walking around the streets alone at night.” –Travis, Traveler
- “When I thought about traveling, the first thing I worried about was whether I was going to be able to do so safely. Although I did get a bit of attention for being a female Caucasian traveler, I wasn’t harassed due to my gender or skin color. I never felt unsafe in Egypt. In fact, the Egyptians took my safety very seriously.” –Josie, Traveler
- “I felt uncomfortable walking down the street alone as a woman. Part of it is that I stood out quite clearly with blonde hair and blue eyes, but another part is just the culture and not being totally aware before arriving.” –Alex, The Wayfaring Voyager
- “Traveling to Luxor and being in Luxor, there is much more security than 10 years ago. We never felt unsafe; on the contrary, people were extremely friendly.” –Sharon, Travel Eat Enjoy Repeat
Yes, Egypt is safe for safe for tourists. Having visited Egypt several times in my life (both before and after the Arab Spring), I must admit that I never felt unsafe in Egypt. As mentioned in the previous section, most visits are trouble-free and visitors should be avoiding parts of The Sinai Peninsula, The Western Desert, and Egyptian border areas / military zones. Most travelers don’t visit these areas anyway, so I wouldn’t be worried.
Solo female travel in Egypt
Unfortunately, traveling as a solo female in Egypt does garner a lot of verbal attention from men, especially toward women who appear foreign. While this unwanted attention is annoying, it’s typically harmless. I was surprised to find that traveling with a group helped to eliminate catcalling almost entirely, even when our guide wasn’t around. My tip for first-time travelers to Egypt (especially women): dress conservatively and brace yourself for cat-calling. (Note: I don’t condone this behavior whatsoever but I do think it’s important to be transparent about what it’s like for visiting women). In my experience, booking a guided tour greatly reduced the catcalling issue. Psst: Check out my Egypt packing list for tips on what to wear in Egypt!
Should I book a tour to Egypt?
First of all, let me just say that yes, Egypt is safe and can be traveled to independently. I have visited multiple times and have traveled in Egypt independently, with family and on tours. However. Egypt is chaotic and can be difficult to navigate, especially if you don’t speak the language. I’m a big fan of independent travel and only book tours in countries where it’s absolutely necessary. Egypt is one of those countries.
If it’s your first time visiting and you’d prefer not to worry about all these tips and the hassle of transporting yourself from place to place, I highly recommend booking a tour. Most are pretty affordable and having your peace of mind and actually enjoying your trip is seriously priceless. I did Intrepid Travel’s Egypt Adventure tour with my favorite travel company ever. Click here to read a thorough review of the experience.
P.S. If you’re really against group tours, I strongly recommend booking a tour guide. Not only will he/she provide you with all the fascinating historical information about the sites you’re visiting, but he/she will also help you navigate the nuances of the culture and protect you from touts. Trust me, having a guide makes the experience much more pleasant.
How to get to Egypt
Egypt has several international airports but the most popular one to fly to is Cairo International Airport, especially if you’re coming from North America (like me). If you’re coming from Europe, it’s worth checking out prices to Alexandria, Sharm-el-Sheikh, or Hurghada Airports.
That being said, if you plan on visiting the Pyramids and other historical sites, I recommend flying into Cairo. It’s almost always the cheapest option from North America and the other airports (with the exception of Alexandria) are a lot further from the main sites. Compare flight prices on SkyScanner.
Visas in Egypt
Americans need to get a visa for Egypt, which can be done either on or before arrival. If you prefer a visa on arrival, it costs USD $25 in cash for a 30 day visa. Bring exact change in USD or Egyptian pounds because no other currency is accepted. You’ll need a passport that’s valid for at least 6 months beyond your planned entry date.
How to get to Downtown Cairo from the airport
Here’s one thing to know before traveling to Egypt: if you won’t have data on your phone to call an Uber, I recommend booking an airport transfer ahead of time if you aren’t staying in a hotel that provides a shuttle. Taxis are a bit of a free for all (especially at the airport) and the last thing you want to do is to start your trip feeling like you got ripped off.
Transportation in Egypt: how to get around
Within Cairo: Uber or Metro
There’s plenty of public transportation in Egypt, but it can be confusing for visitors. I have yet to understand the bus and microbus system after several visits. If you’re feeling adventurous or are on a budget, the metro is safe, easy to understand, and inexpensive. There’s even a separate car for women and children, which is kind of nice. Tourists rarely take the metro, though, so be prepared for some surprised looks. Note that the metro isn’t super extensive, so it doesn’t go everywhere. However, I’ve used it a few times and the experiences have been fine.
To be honest, most travelers and locals rely heavily on Uber or Careem (the Arab version of Uber). It’s inexpensive, always available, safe, and hassle-free. I suggest taking a screenshot of the Arabic – English numbers because the license plates are in Arabic. I don’t recommend taxis unless you’re confident enough to haggle about the price. Although I’ve been to Egypt around 10 times, I rarely take taxis myself.
Traveling outside of Cairo
If you’re traveling outside of Cairo to other major cities, you can fly or take a train or bus.
- By Flight: There are quite a few airports in Egypt, so if you’d prefer to get somewhere quickly, you can always book a (usually inexpensive) domestic flight to some of your destinations. Alexandria, Luxor, Sharm el Sheikh, and Hurghada all have airports and most tourist destinations are easily accessible from there.
- By Train: Ramses station in Downtown Cairo is the main train station (there’s a large station in Giza as well) and has routes to many popular destinations including Alexandria, Luxor, and Aswan. The first-class section of the train is pretty comfortable, but you should definitely book ahead of time. I’ve never purchased tickets online myself (only at the actual station), but you can do so if you register on the Egyptian Railways website. Once you get a confirmation email, you can book your train. P.S. Bring a warm sweater – the train is always so cold.
- By bus: If you’re headed to the Red Sea or Sinai, check out Go Bus for routes. These long-distances buses are incredibly comfortable and amenities depend on which class of ticket you purchase but can include Wi-Fi, meals, a seat TV screen, and more. The good news is that you can buy the tickets online, which is way more convenient than the train.
Traffic and crossing the road
Traffic in Egypt is bananas, particularly in Cairo. This surprised me the first time I visited – I couldn’t understand how all these cars could be on the road at once and why nobody was using designated lanes. Anyway, this chaos makes crossing the street a bit of a terrifying experience at first. But let me clue you in on a little secret: cross the street confidently. Look like you belong. Obviously, check both ways before you cross, but march across like you own the road. Alternatively, follow a local as they cross. You’ll get the hang of it quickly.
The best time to visit Egypt
There’s really no bad time time to visit Egypt, as the weather is generally pleasant year-round, with the exception of deathly hot summers.
November – March: This is the best time to visit for cooler weather and generally empty sites (with the exception of December – early January because of school holidays). Winter is mild in Egypt but Alexandria (and sometimes Cairo) does see quite a bit of rain during this period.
April – May / September – October: These are the best months to visit Egypt, especially if you’re interested in traveling both in the North and the South. The weather is warmer but not scorching, so it’s pleasant enough to both hike and hit the beaches.
June – August: If you don’t mind the heat, summer in Egypt is perfect for all-day beach and pool lounging. This is peak tourism season at the Red Sea. Cairo, Luxor, and Aswan have fewer tourists due to temperatures that reach over 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
Language in Egypt
The official language of Egypt is Arabic, spoken with an Egyptian dialect. In general, most people (especially at tourist sites) can speak enough English for you to get by. However, this Arabic phrasebook is nice to have, especially if you decide to travel independently, especially if you’re not at tourist sites. Google Translate works in a pinch, but it translates to Modern Standard Arabic, not Egyptian Arabic, which sounds really different.
Currency in Egypt
Egypt uses the Egyptian Pound, and at the time of updating this post (November 2019), the rate was about USD $1 to 16 EGP which makes Egypt incredibly budget-friendly. Credit cards are accepted at hotels and nicer restaurants, but it’s generally better to carry cash. There are plenty of ATM machines and currency exchanges all over the city.
Exchanging money in Egypt
I find that the best way to exchange money in Egypt is to bring USD and change it at one of many money exchanges in Cairo (most are in Downtown). Although some of the more expensive restaurants accept credit cards, cash is still king in Egypt. You can also withdraw money from ATMs (USD $250 max per day) if you don’t want to carry a bunch of cash with you.
The tipping culture in Egypt
This is one of the most important things to know before traveling to Egypt for the first time because it comes a surprise to many visitors. Tipping, known as “baksheesh” is a big part of the culture in Egypt. You tip for pretty much anything and everything – anyone from the porter that helps you with your bags to someone who takes your photo to the bathroom attendant. Unfortunately, more often than not, nothing in Egypt is free, particularly at tourist sites.
Note: If you take a photo of someone or something at a site, be prepared to pay a small amount. Depending on the service, people usually tip between 1 – 10 pounds, depending on the situation. Yes, it’s annoying but it’s best to know ahead of time. Just be sure to save those smaller bills whenever you can – they’re hard to come by!
Photography and camera fees
Most tourist spots have a “camera fee” in addition to an entry fee for those that want to take photos at certain tourist sites. In terms of street photography and stuff, Egypt is pretty weird about photography and filming in general. You aren’t allowed to photograph some buildings inexplicably so sometimes you’ll get chastised by a police officer for doing so (even though there aren’t signs). It’s usually not the end of the world if you don’t know but just be prepared for a bit of push-back when it comes to filming and photography overall. If you take photos of people, be sure to ask permission first and pay a tip as well.
Dealing with vendors and touts in Egypt
- “In Egypt, everything is up for barter and nothing is free. Knowing some words in Arabic is handy (no and thank you in particular), especially when navigating the bazaars.“ –Louise, Traveler
- “If you are more introverted, you will have a difficult time with the many pushy street vendors that congregate in the tourist locations.” –Sean, Traveler
- “I didn’t know exactly what to expect when traveling to Egypt, but I was definitely surprised by the attempts to fool me into buying things. Egypt stole my heart in a number of ways as a history-lover, but it was much more challenging than I had expected to get around.” –Alex, The Wayfaring Voyager
- “What we found was anything but what we had been preconditioned to believe! Arriving in the hustle and bustle of Cairo, the atmosphere was undeniably electric.” –Sarah, Exploring Kiwis
Like many countries, Egypt has its fair share of street vendors pushing you to purchase souvenirs, especially in the big cities and at tourist sites. Negotiating and tipping are a big part of the culture, which often comes as a bit of a shock to first time visitors to Egypt. The rules of thumb are 1) always ask for prices, 2) haggle, haggle, haggle, 3) don’t be afraid to say no. If you love haggling at markets, Egypt is the place to be. If not, usually a firm but polite “lah shokran” (no thank you) wards off even the pushiest of vendors. And if you do want to shop while there, check out this list of things to buy in Egypt.
Visiting the Pyramids of Giza
“When visiting the Great Pyramids of Giza, I did not expect to see a Pizza Hut and KFC. Many locals have told me the Pizza Hut has one of the best views for the nightly sound and light show. For some reason, I expect the pyramids to be far outside of the city but instead they are literally in Cairo.” –Hannah, Getting Stamped
This is something I often hear from first-time visitors to Egypt and I remember thinking the same when I visited! Surprise: The Giza Pyramids are not in a vast, empty desert in the middle of nowhere. Rather, they’re a quick drive from the city. All the photos you see are taken from the back of the Pyramids. P.S. visiting the Pyramids is quite the unique experience and needs a lot of tips on its own. I’ve written a post on everything you need to know about visiting the Pyramids here. (It includes a lot of great Cairo travel tips too).
What to pack and what to wear for a trip to Egypt
Many people ask me what they need to pack for Egypt so I wrote an entire Egypt packing list. I highly recommend reading it as I included do’s and don’ts for clothing and some essential items you probably won’t even think about (like toilet paper!). I’m going to include a few noteworthy items in this post, but you’ll definitely want to check out the complete list as well.
- Comfortable shoes: It’s really tempting to wear open-toed shoes in Egypt (I do sometimes, but be prepared for dirty feet!) but the best option to deal with the sand, dirt, and questionable roads is comfortable tennis shoes. My favorite travel sneakers ever are Allbirds, these awesome wool sneakers that don’t make your feet sweat (even if you wear them without socks). They’re cute, they’re functional, and they’re comfy AF.
- Hand Sanitizer: Hand sanitizer is useful for general…er, sanitizing. Especially if a bathroom isn’t handy or it doesn’t have soap (learned from personal experience, sigh).
- Toilet paper: Toilet paper isn’t always a thing in Egypt, because people use bidets to keep their booties clean. I never understood why there isn’t toilet paper to dry off, but now I know to bring my own and I’m passing that wisdom on to you. You can always buy toilet paper while there or take some from your hotel, but I like to keep some of these small toilet paper rolls in my purse and not worry about it.
- Filtered water bottle: I already wrote why you need a filtered water bottle in the food safety section, so I won’t re-hash the reasons. This Grayl bottle is the easiest and best water bottle to keep the germs away and to avoid contributing to single-use plastic waste.
- Travel insurance: Yes, you need travel insurance for if things (hopefully don’t but often do) go wrong. I’ve been sick, needed stitches, crashed a rental car, had cash stolen and have dealt with luggage delays. Let’s just say I’ve learned my lesson about travel insurance the hard way. My go-to insurance is World Nomads cause they’re awesome. Be sure to check out the different plan options to pick one that’s right for you!
- Scarf: Having a large scarf on hand is super helpful for impromptu mosque visits or to protect your skin when the sun is feeling just a little too strong. Plus, it’s a cute accessory for an outfit as well!
Egyptian cuisine: what to eat and how to avoid getting sick
“I expected breakfast to resemble something like home (Australia), but it doesn’t. Think lots of carbs, jam, feta style cheese, and beans. Eating gluten-free was a challenge.” –Louise, Traveler
Food in Egypt
Egyptian food is delicious and varied, although it’s definitely on the heavier side and includes a fair amount of carbs. There are a few touristy restaurants that aren’t great, but luckily for you, I wrote out an entire Egyptian Food Guide. It’ll help you get an idea of what Egyptian food is like and to discover what you need to eat (plus where to eat it) while visiting Egypt for the first time! If you’d like a guide to help you navigate the Egyptian food scene, consider taking this awesome food tour!
It’s worth noting that depending on your dietary restrictions, you may have a hard time eating in Egypt. In particular, one of my group tour members was allergic to gluten and he had a difficult time partaking in Egypt’s carb-heavy cuisine. If that’s the case for you, a guide will be extra-helpful to help translate these restrictions.
Additionally, you may experience a bit of an upset stomach and/or traveler’s diarrhea while you’re in Egypt. That’s totally normal but just take some extra precautions like: not eating raw/unwashed fruits and vegetables, only drinking filtered/bottled water, being cautious with street food. Many people travel with Imodium, every traveler’s favorite treatment for travel diarrhea. My doctor tells me that you shouldn’t stop whatever is making you sick from leaving your system. However, I totally get that there are times where “better out than in” just doesn’t work. So bring Imodium if you’d like, but use it only when you need to.
Staying hydrated and drinking water in Egypt
Be sure to stay extra hydrated while you’re in Egypt as well because it’s hot most of the time. I always bring a water bottle with me when I travel because single-use plastic sucks for the planet and buying lots of bottled water is expensive and inconvenient. You can’t drink tap water in Egypt but you can drink filtered, purified water. I bring along a Steripen, a UV water purifier that gets rid of 99.9% of bacteria, viruses, and protozoa and use it in combination with my CamelBak Insulated Water Bottle. This bottle is particularly awesome because it holds 20 oz and keeps water cold, which you’ll want in a hot country like Egypt. If you’d rather purchase an all-in-one solution, Grayl’s water filtering bottle is a great alternative so you can fill directly from the tap and drink almost immediately. I oftentimes bring rehydration salts along just in case I’m having stomach issues and can’t stay hydrated. This is one of my top travel tips for Egypt – hydration solves a lot of potential health problems!
Egypt’s natural landscapes: how to visit
“Egypt is well known for its ancient wonders, but I would argue that the natural side of Egypt is more worth a traveler’s time. Being in the White and Black Deserts as well as along the Nile were a good taste of what Egypt has to offer in terms of natural beauty, and should not be missed in the itinerary of any worldly traveler.” –Sean, Traveler
I agree wholeheartedly with Sean’s statement. Egypt is more than its ancient temples. Its varying landscapes make it an outdoor lover’s dream! Learn more: check out my guide to camping in the White and Black Deserts: an activity not to be missed when visiting Egypt! Also consider Fayoum, Wadi-el-Hitan, or Siwa. Check out more information here.
What’s “Egyptian Time?”
“Trains run on Egyptian time, which basically means they’ll leave and arrive whenever they feel like. Definitely take that into account when planning your trip.” –Olga, Traveler
Travel tip: If you’re one of those people that plan an hourly schedule when you travel, throw your plan away and start again. Most things run on Egyptian time, and there’s no point in getting worked up by long lines or transportation delays.
Bonus Egypt travel tip: Egyptian hospitality
- “I thought Egyptians may not be hospitable to westerners, but they are actually really welcoming.” –Louise, Traveler
- “Almost everyone was friendly and welcoming, which I didn’t expect.” –Olga, Traveler
- “As a solo traveler, I was nervous but was completely overwhelmed by the generosity and kindness of the Egyptian people.” –Travis, Traveler
- “The people were very kind. All in all, Egypt was amazing.” –Josie, Traveler
I’m not surprised by the number of people who think Egypt is hostile to foreigners before visiting for the first time, thanks to the mainstream media. Egyptian hospitality may not be making headlines, but it certainly should be. When I went on my group tour, we were welcomed by vendors and locals alike, everywhere we went. Everyone wanted to know where we were from and excitedly took selfies with our group. They made sure to remind us that we (and our friends) are welcome in Egypt.
Overall: Egypt will impress you
- “Egypt was a pleasant surprise and a place that I would encourage everyone to visit – to be that close to ancient human history is absolutely humbling. Don’t let other people put you off – the world is a good place!” –Sarah, Exploring Kiwis
- “I loved discovering North Africa and I am inspired to travel to more Arab countries. Morocco, Jordan and Lebanon are in the cards.” –Louise, Traveler
- “All in all, Egypt was amazing! It was safe, fun and I learned so much historically and culturally.“ –Josie, Traveler
- “My experience gave me the motivation to make sure I was spreading my word of positivity as a tourist in Egypt. It’s a country of great depths and diversity that I will most definitely visit again soon.” –Travis, Traveler
There you have it: things to know when traveling to Egypt. You are now armed with the best Egypt travel tips for visiting Egypt for the first time. I highly recommend booking a group tour to Egypt as it is not an easy country to navigate independently. I personally did this combined Egypt/Jordan tour, but you can also book the Egypt only portion here. So what are you waiting for? Travel to Egypt and see what this historically-rich country has to offer!
More Egypt ResourcesPlanning a trip to Egypt soon? Check out ALL my posts on Egypt below:
- 30+ Awesome Things to Do in Cairo, Egypt: The Ultimate Cairo Travel Guide
- Egypt Travel Guide
- What to Pack for Egypt: The Ultimate Egypt Packing List
- Pharaohs and Feluccas: Exploring Egypt with Intrepid Travel
- Camping in the White Desert, Egypt: A First Timer’s Guide
- Traditional Egyptian Food Guide: 20 Must Eat Foods in Cairo, Egypt
- Egypt Travel Tips for the First Time Visitor: Expectations vs Reality
- Bellies En-Route Downtown Cairo Food Tour: The Best Thing to Do in Cairo for Foodies
- Visiting the Pyramids of Giza, Egypt: Everything to Know Before You Go
- Where to Stay in Cairo, Egypt: The Best Hotels in Cairo for Every Budget
Tell me: have you ever visited Egypt? What was the most surprising part of the country and what did you wish you knew before you went?
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