Essential Egypt Travel Tips Guide – Especially for First-Timers
Either you just booked your trip to Egypt or are in the process of putting together an Egyptian vacation, and I am beyond excited for you! I did a lot of research before visiting Egypt, and a lot of it was mixed reviews. It actually made me a little nervous about my trip, but after visiting, I know I will be back in Egypt! With that, I compiled a list of all the Egypt travel tips to know before visiting that will help you have an incredible time!
Learning these Egypt travel tips will not only help you prepare for your vacation but also help you set some expectations for visiting.
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TABLE OF CONTENTS
- Essential Egypt Travel Tips Guide – Especially for First-Timers
- Is Egypt Safe?
- Getting a Visa
- Getting Internet in Egypt
- Having Cash in Egypt
- The Driving in Egypt
- Crossing the Street in Egypt
- Knowing the Dress Code
- The Tipping Culture in Egypt
- Make Sure Your Prices are Set Before You Do Anything
- The Bathroom Will Cost You
- Learning Some Arabic
- Understanding the Egyptian Hustle with Street Vendors
- Taking Photos in Egypt
- Leave the Drone and Mics at Home
- Experiencing Egypt with a Guide
- You Can Go Inside the Great Pyramid, But…
- Eygpt is More than Just the Pyramids
- Water Safety in Egypt
- Animal Tourism in Egypt
- The Cats and Dogs of Egypt
- The Egyptian Smoking Culture
- You Need Whatsapp
- Suvioneers Egypt is Known For
- Egyptian Foods and Drinks to Try
- Egyptian Hospitality
- Popular Places to Visit Egypt
- The Best Time to Visit Egypt
- How to Get Around Egypt
- Don’t Wear Expensive Items
- Don’t Wait For the Airport to Buy Keepsakes
- Egypt Travel Tips Wrap-up
Is Egypt Safe?
Let’s start with the number 1 question that gets asked about Egypt; is Egypt safe? From my experience, I would definitely say Egypt is safe to visit, and they are very big on security to make tourists feel safe.
Although Egypt still remains a level 3 travel advisory for the USA to reconsider travel and a level 4 (Do not travel) for The Sinai Peninsula, excluding Sharm El-Sheikh. We never felt unsafe during our time in Egypt, and I spoke to a lot of other travel friends who have visited recently, all expressing the same feelings.
In fact, Egypt is starting to become a new popular travel destination, and I believe we will see a huge increase in Egypt travel in 2023.
While driving, we went through multiple security stops with armed guards. Also, all the tourist attractions have you go through metal detectors and bags through an X-ray machine.
Sometimes you will have to go through multiple security stations as well. Additionally, there are armed guards everywhere, which is very common to see in Egypt, so don’t feel alarmed by it.
With all that being said, I would still practice normal precautions. Don’t go out alone at night, stay within tourist areas, and follow the rules of the country. Additionally, stay alert of your personal items and surrounding in major cities and large crowds.
Getting a Visa
When arriving at the airport, most likely in Cairo, you will need to get an Egypt visa. You can get this visa upon arrival, and it is easy to do. Just make sure you have exactly $25 USD for the tourist entry visa. Or you can get an e-visa online beforehand, however, my contact recommended I get it once I landed.
After we landed at the Cairo airport, our driver walked us over to the visa counter, we paid our $25 USD, and then he walked us right to customs which was empty, and then right out of the airport.
Getting Internet in Egypt
In this day and age, having internet abroad is a must, so unless you have T-Mobile, this Egypt travel tip is for you. Usually, getting a local sim would be my go-to for obtaining internet when I am in a new country, however, my new favorite way to get internet while abroad is with an e-sim. I used the Holafly esim while in Egypt and had internet everywhere.
The e-sim usually just uses the best available service in the area, which seemed to be Vodaphone in Egypt. The reason I like going with esims is that I don’t have to worry about finding a local sim card, or getting nervous about losing my actual sim card when I swap them out.
Having Cash in Egypt
Another one of the most important travel tips to know in Egypt is that having cash on hand is very important, especially small bills. While credit cards are accepted in some places, most places want cash, even at larger tourist sites. I found that when they do accept a credit card, it is either Visa or Mastercard.
You can first exchange cash at the airport for the local currency, Egyptian Pounds (LE). After, you will find ATMs at large tourist sites and at your hotel. Make sure to let your bank know you will be abroad, so you don’t have any issues withdrawing cash.
The Driving in Egypt
Where do I even start? The driving in Egypt felt like it was out of a movie. The traffic is INSANE, there are no real lines to stay in, and very few traffic lights. It kind of feels like a free for all with a lot of beeping, especially in Cario.
If you have ever been to India or some middle eastern countries, you probably have an idea of what I am talking about.
Because of this, I would highly recommend against driving in Egypt. Also, there are a lot of checkpoints with armed guards, and our driver was required to show paperwork unless you spoke Arabic, doing this will probably add stress to your trip.
Crossing the Street in Egypt
So, because the driving is so crazy in Egypt, just imagine what crossing the street is like! I thought crossing the street in Italy was difficult until I went to Egypt. You really feel like you are playing frogger while crossing.
My best advice is to stand near locals and cross when they cross. You kind of just have to go for it, and the traffic seems to stop around you. We were lucky to have our guide bring us across the street with him!
Knowing the Dress Code
Any time we visit a different country, doing our due diligence to be respectful is always at the top of our list. Egypt is primarily a Muslim country, with about 90% of the people being Muslim.
For any females traveling to Egypt, dressing modestly is one of the travel tips you should take into consideration when packing. You can see my full guide on What to Wear in Egypt Here!
This means doing your best to cover your chest, shoulders, belly, and knees, especially in religious sites. If I am being honest, I saw a lot of women wearing pretty revealing clothing during our time in Egypt. This isn’t uncommon among tourists, however, it can cause a lot of unwanted attention.
Even though I dressed pretty modestly and was accompanied by both my husband and our tour guide, my husband said he saw many men looking my way. If you are a solo female traveler, I could imagine it being a little uncomfortable.
The Tipping Culture in Egypt
I mentioned some travel tips about having cash in Egypt, especially small bills, and you’re about to learn why. Tipping is a huge part of Egyptian culture, and it is expected. In fact, if you don’t offer, there is a chance you will get asked.
When tipping, Egyptians prefer tips in the Egyptian Pound, so they don’t have to go to the exchange to change the money, however, they will accept USD cash. However, the bills have to be perfect, or else they will have an issue exchanging them.
The current rate is $1 USD = 25 LE. Normal things you can expect to tip for with approximate tip amount include:
- Drivers: For short drives, 35-50 LE. Hired full-time drivers should be paid more.
- Hotel Staff: Bellhop 20-30 LE; Cleaning 20-30 LE a day; Room Service 20-30 LE.
- Restaurant Staff: Around 10% of the bill. For small meals around 25-50 LE.
- Felucca Ride: 20-30 LE.
- Bathrooms: 5 LE.
- Tour Guides: Egyptologist guides should be tipped well – especially if you are spending multiple days with them and you feel they did a really good job. Consider around $15-$20 USD per person per day. If you are with a guide/driver for multiple days, you can tip at the end.
- Self-care services like spa, hair, etc.: Around 10%.
Other Things You May Tip for in Egypt
The tips do not end here, though. You will also find that if someone “helps” you even though you didn’t ask for help, they may ask for a tip. This can be “help” you never asked for or didn’t even want.
For example, at the airport, a guy who looked like he was an airport worker lifted our bag into the X-ray machine. It turns out he didn’t work at the airport and, after picking my bag up, asked for a tip.
Other places people may try to “help” you are at major attractions. They will start showing you around and giving you information. You may think they are just trying to be nice, but after, they are going to ask you for a tip. The guards inside the temples and tombs do this the most.
Another popular way someone might “help” you is by asking if you want a picture or to take a picture of something they have, like a camel…and they want a TIP. They want to put some clothes on you, or decorations and ask for a tip.
Even as an American who is used to tipping for a lot of things, it can really feel tiresome. These guards really seek you out to try to get a tip from you. The best way to get out of these unwanted tips is to say no thank you to the extra info, them asking to take a photo for you, etc.
None of these people are dangerous, but they are persistent. Saying no thank you (a few times) or saying I don’t have money for a tip usually will signal them to move on. Nothing is “free” in Egypt.
Make Sure Your Prices are Set Before You Do Anything
This is another one of those Egypt travel tips you should do your best to remember when doing activities on the spot. Before you do any activity, confirm the price beforehand.
For example, you may have asked to go to the Giza Pyramids, but they also suggest you visit an additional tomb. Visiting this additional tomb may cost you, so ask.
Or you wanted to take photos with a camel, but because you walked away with the camel, it cost more. Sometimes these “hidden costs” can feel sneaky and unwelcomed.
It can even make you feel sour about the experience, but it is common for Egyptians to say, we will figure out the price at the end.
These kinds of things usually happen with people you meet on the spot and not a tour operator, but again, always outline exactly what you want before doing any activity with the price.
If they suggest additional options throughout the trip, ask if it costs extra. This will help eliminate an uncomfortable situation.
The Bathroom Will Cost You
Another reason you will want to keep small change with you while in Egypt is that you will usually have to pay to use the bathroom. You can expect to pay around 5 LE, and they will hand you toilet paper or tissues.
If there is no charge to go to the bathroom, then the attendant will hand you toilet paper, a paper towel to dry your hands and then ask for a tip. Sometimes they will even flush the toilet for you because it doesn’t flush like a normal toilet. It is common to tip these attendants as they keep the bathroom clean.
I would recommend carrying some extra toilet paper in your bag or having wet wipes. Also, having extra purell since there was not always soap. Additionally, you should know that it is not recommended to flush the toilet paper, as their pipes can’t handle it.
Learning Some Arabic
While most people in Egypt speak English, knowing a little bit of Arabic can help while you are visiting. We used the word Shukran (Shoe-kron), which means thank you. You can use it interchangeably with saying thank you for something, or no thank you, if vendors are trying to sell you things you are not interested in.
Other Arabic words you may use or hear include:
- Kam – How much
- Yalla – Let’s go
- You likely also hear locals saying Habibi, which means love/ darling / my friend.
- As-salamu Alaykum – Peace be on you – a common greeting
- Aiwa – Yes
- Laa – No
Understanding the Egyptian Hustle with Street Vendors
The last couple of Egypt travel tips have been a lead-up to being prepared for the street vendor hustle. This is one of the things tourists have said to be some of the most off-putting experiences in Egypt.
At the exit of every large tourist attraction, and even at the beginning of some attractions, you will walk through a heap of vendors. They will all be trying to sell you stuff, one after another. Vendors typically will walk up to you, ask you where you are from, and then start the sales pitch. Honestly, it can be overwhelming to some.
Generally speaking, the items at these shops are not made in Egypt and often come from China. If you are looking for cheap, quick gifts, then this could be a good place to do it.
And if you are looking to buy something, haggling is a part of the experience. They will always start high. The idea is to show no real interest and be ready to walk away.
If they are no longer haggling back with your price as you start to walk away, that is generally the lowest they can go, and you know you are at a fair price.
However, if you are not looking to buy anything, try not to make eye contact, don’t stop, don’t look, and just keep saying Shukrah. Furthermore, if you have a guide, you tend to be bothered less.
Taking Photos in Egypt
I heard a lot of mixed things when it came to taking photos in Egypt, especially when you have a professional-grade DSLR camera. A lot of guides I read about Egypt said you had to pay an extra photography fee to bring in your camera, however, this was not the case at all during our visit in November 2022.
When I asked our guide, he said there is no issue bringing in the cameras anymore. However, I could still see the photography column on the ticket board of some attractions even though they are no longer charging for it.
Another important thing to note about photography is that you can not photograph or video any guards. If they suspect you are, they will ask to see your photos or for you to delete your photos.
Additionally, if you are a content creator and really posing for photos or dressed as if it is a professional photo shoot, you may be stopped. We didn’t experience this during our time in Egypt, but I did hear about it from others.
Also, a normal tourist (not an Instagrammer) I met said they experienced some difficulty with using their telephoto lens (zoom lens) at the Pyramids of Giza.
I really think this comes down to the draw of the guard and if you have a guide. Usually, photographers tend to have fewer issues when they are with a guide than without.
Again, we experienced zero issues with our professional photography camera and lenses, but we didn’t full out photoshoots of me standing at the sites, as we were more interested in learning about the ancient Egyptians than taking photos for the gram.
Leave the Drone and Mics at Home
This one also goes out to photographers and videographers. It is illegal to bring a drone into Egypt, so leave it at home. You don’t want that getting confiscated at the airport. Additionally, the security is not a fan of mics.
I know content creators have brought them in, but if you don’t want to worry about being hassled, it is best to leave the mic at home or use a very conspicuous mic that doesn’t have a dead cap.
Experiencing Egypt with a Guide
I have mentioned being with a guide several times throughout these Egypt travel tips, but I wanted to dedicate a section to it. While we almost never use a guide when traveling, Egypt is one of those places having a guide is really worth it, and there are several reasons why.
For one, there are over 3,000 years of history in Egypt, and for most people, learning more about Ancient Egypt and visiting the ancient sites is the whole reason Egypt is one of the top bucket list places that people want to visit in their lifetime.
Without a guide (Egyptologist), it would be very hard to learn this information by just visiting the sites. This is because there’s not much information available at the sites.
Secondly, when you have a guide, you will not get hassled as much by street vendors, and you have a more trusted person who speaks Arabic to help you out.
Thirdly, it makes getting around Egypt so easy and stress-free. No haggling with a taxi driver, wondering if you caught the right bus, etc.
Our Egyptian Guide
Can you do Egypt without a guide, yes, however, there is no way you will have the same experience, IMO, because there is just too much history. We used George Marsa Alam & Luxor Transportation as our tour operator, which was recommended by another travel friend.
He set up all transportation to and from the airport, our hotels, and attractions, along with our own private guide. I booked our hotels using Bookingdotcom (my go-to booking site) and flights directly. Hands down, I could not recommend his company enough!
George checked in on us often and made sure everything was going ok. We really felt like we were in good hands. Our guide in Cairo was Ahmed. He was very knowledgeable and kind.
Knowing I am a travel writer, he made sure to give me a lot of detailed information, brought us to local Egyptian restaurants, and gave us options to make sure we had a unique experience.
In Aswan and Luxor, our guide was Waheed, and our driver was Iman. They were also incredible! We really felt taken care of.
Aside from being extremely knowledgeable, they were very generous with our time, kept buying us and feeding us all types of local food, and when we wanted to buy something from street vendors, let us know what the fair price should be so we wouldn’t get ripped off.
If you decide to go with George, tell him Sam and Alex sent you.
You Can Go Inside the Great Pyramid, But…
Until recently, I actually didn’t know you could go inside the Great Pyramid or any other Pyramid in the Giza Complex. However, if you are tight on budget, or time, most people will tell you it is not worth paying to go inside.
Why do you ask? Because there is nothing inside the Pyramid. You will go through a crammed shaft that you need to duck down in, with tons of other people’s butts in your face, oh, and it’s usually really hot.
So not only is there nothing in these tombs, but it’s literally a pain in the back to get in and out of them. So, consider just skipping it.
Related: Vising the Pyramids of Giza in Egypt
Eygpt is More than Just the Pyramids
When most people think of Egypt, they usually just think about the Giza Pyramids, but Egypt has a lot more to offer. Egypt’s prime location puts the Mediterranean Sea to the North and the Red Sea to the east. The Red Sea is known for its beautiful blue waters and coral reefs, making it a prime place for divers.
Experience the Mediterranean Sea near Alexandria and the Red Sea from Sharm El Sheikh, Marsa Alam, Dahab, and Hurghada.
Aside from beaches, you can also visit the white-sand desert, which is very unique. Or you can go off the beaten path to Siwa. If you enjoy historical sites, consider a climb up Mt. Sinai, where according to many religions, Moses received the ten commandments. There are also dozens of historic mosques and churches across Egypt as well.
Water Safety in Egypt
If the research had been left up to my husband, he would have drunk the water and never thought about it until he likely got sick later. And while Egyptian tap water is safe for the locals, foreigners will not be used to it, and most likely cause some stomach issues.
If you have a very sensitive stomach, I would suggest brushing your teeth with bottled water and being careful with street foods that may be washed in the local water, like salad and fruits.
Bottled water is sold everywhere and is around $20-25 Egyptian pounds, which is a little over 1 in US dollars. Since the weather is generally hot and dry, it’s a good idea to always have some water with you.
Animal Tourism in Egypt
I know you likely dreamed of crossing the desert on a camel with the pyramids in the background. But, before you do it, I just want you to consider the treatment of these horses and camels.
It is not unlikely to see horses that look like they are skin and bone, and many of the camels aren’t treated much better.
I would recommend against camel rides, but the ball is in your court. During our visit, we did not ride them.
The Cats and Dogs of Egypt
While in Egypt, be prepared to see a lot of stray dogs and cats. When we stayed in Giza (with a fantastic view of the Great pyramids and Sphynx), we heard stray dogs barking all night. This is just the way of the culture since they are usually not fixed.
I would be careful not to pet the dogs just in case you were to get bit. You will not want a trip to get a rabies shot.
The Egyptian Smoking Culture
Smoking cigarettes is a huge part of the culture in Egypt. So much so that there were multiple smoking rooms in the airport and smoking inside restaurants.
Most locals smoke cigarettes, so if you are a nonsmoker, you will definitely be getting a little secondhand smoke on your trip.
You Need Whatsapp
This is one of the only Egypt travel tips you can check off this very instance, and that is to make sure you have Whatsapp. This is the way of communication throughout most of the world, except for America.
If you don’t already have Whatsapp, it is best to download it in your home country because you will need to be able to receive a text message to verify your account. This is how you will get in touch with people while in Egypt and even abroad in other places.
Suvioneers Egypt is Known For
I have never been a huge shopper while on vacation, but I always like to bring home a little something, especially if the destination is known for specific goods.
So if you are looking for something special in Egypt, some Suvioneers Egypt is known for include good prices on Silver, Papyrus, Alabaster, perfumes, and Egyptian Cotton.
When buying any of these, it is important to know that there are a lot of people selling fake options of all of these. For example, a lot of figurines at the bazaars will say they are made out of alabaster, however, they are not.
If you are with a guide, they can lead you to the right places and let you know if the product is genuine.
For Papyrus paper, there will often be fakes that use banana leaves. When you hold up papyrus, you should be able to see the overlapping layers, the material should feel sturdy, and you should be able to roll it up. If you go to an official store, they will have it stamped as authentic.
- Cairo is known for getting Papyrus.
- Aswan is known for getting genuine perfumes, fragrances, and decorative masks.
- Luxor is known for Alabaster.
- We saw better prices for silver in Luxor.
Egyptian Foods and Drinks to Try
The first thing my family asked me about Egypt was, “how’s the food?” So, I thought I’d add some food info to these Egypt travel tips. I tried almost all the below foods, which are mainly traditional foods you really should try in Egypt. The food we didn’t get a chance to try was vetted by my Egypt guides. This includes:
- Falafel: It is made with brown beans instead of chickpeas, and it’s really good.
- Dates: Egypt is known for having excellent dates.
- Oranges: Egypt is known to have very good oranges, among other local fruit.
- Rice-stuffed vegetables and grape leaves are very flavorful.
- Fried Duck
- Stuffed Pigeon
- Koshary – Egypt’s National dish and vegetarian friendly. It consists of rice, lentils, pasta, onions, garlic, tomato sauce, and chickpeas. It is a popular street food. One of the most famous places to visit is at Abou Tarek. The original location is in Cario, where the owner is still outside where he started in the food truck, which is next to the entire building he now owns.
- Molokhiya: A jute soup/dipping sauce. It is green sauce.
- Egyptian Tea
- Egyptian Coffee (similar to Turkish Coffee).
- Hibiscus tea
Other foods you can expect to always see on the table include rice, bread, salad (cucumbers and tomatoes), Baba ghanoush, and hummus.
Another thing to know about visiting Egypt is that the Egyptpain people are known for their hospitality. This can mean feeding you nonstop and never letting you pick up the tab, along with always offering a coffee, tea, or a smoke.
Egyptians are very proud of their heritage and usually excited to hear how you liked your visit. We experienced a lot of Egyptian hospitality throughout our time in Egypt, excluding the street vendor hustling.
Popular Places to Visit Egypt
So, you booked your flight to Egypt, and now you may be wondering about some of the best places to visit aside from the Great Pyramids.
The 3 most popular cities to visit during your first time in Egypt are Cairo, Luxor, and Aswan. Depending on your length of stay, you may also add in Alexandria, Sharm El-Sheikh, or Hurghada.
In Cairo, you will also want to see the Egyptian Museum, Khan el-Khalili bazaar, The Citadel of Cairo, the Pyramid of Djoser, the Dahshur, and the Red Pyramid.
In Aswan, you should consider a felucca ride down the Nile, a day trip to Abu Simbel, visiting the Nubian Village, seeing the Aswan High Dam, and visiting Philae Temple. If you plan on doing a Nile River cruise, it usually runs between Aswan and Luxor.
In Luxor, you can’t miss the Valley of the Kings, the Luxor Temple, the Karnak Temple, and the Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut.
The Best Time to Visit Egypt
In terms of weather, the best time to visit Egypt is from October through April. This is when the temperatures are milder, making it more comfortable to do all the outdoor activities. You can still expect the weather to be around 70 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and slightly cooler in the evenings.
If you visit during these months, I would recommend a sweater and pants for the mornings and nights. These months are also the busiest time in Egypt because of the weather. You will also notice the price of accommodations is higher as well.
In the Summer months in Egypt, you will find far fewer crowds and lower prices, but extreme heat. If dry heat doesn’t bother you, this may be a better time to visit. You can expect temperatures to be around the 80’s and 90’s.
Another thing you should check is what days Ramadan falls on. Because they follow the lunar calendar, it changes every year. During Ramadan, they fast from dawn til dusk. This may mean more things are closed due to fasting.
How to Get Around Egypt
The last, yet also important, travel tip I want to leave you with is how to get around Egypt. You will likely be flying in and out of Cairo International airport. From Cairo airport, you can get direct flights to Aswan, Luxor, Sharm El-Sheikh, and Hurghada.
The best way to get between cities is to fly because this will save you time. Most routes are by Egypt Air or Nile Air. However, flying will be more expensive.
Other ways to get around Egypt are by using the train and bus. These options will be more affordable but take longer. The most popular train route people take is between Cairo, Luxor, and Aswan.
When traveling between Luxor and Aswan, you can do a Nile Cruise or by going with a hired driver, which is what we did.
For short trips, you can find a local taxi driver, although I would recommend Uber when available. This way, you won’t have to worry about haggling over the price.
Don’t Wear Expensive Items
To be honest, I follow this rule almost everywhere I go. I never take my engagement ring or wear anything flashy that may draw attention. I didn’t bring anything of high value (except my camera gear) in Egypt when traveling, and I would recommend this to others.
The flashier you look, the more attention you could possibly draw with dollar signs floating on top of your head.
Don’t Wait For the Airport to Buy Keepsakes
If you think you will just go shopping for keepsakes when you leave the airport, think again. We were in the Cairo, Luxor, and Aswan airports, and not only were the food options very minimal, but so were additional shopping opportunities.
So, if you want to buy things to bring home from Egypt, don’t do it at the airport.
Oh, and they do a double security check at the airport. One to get into the terminal, and then another to board the flight.
On our flight back the New York, I bought water at the terminal for the flight, and at the second security check, they made me throw it out even though it was unopened. I was pretty annoyed about it, so just a heads up.
Egypt Travel Tips Wrap-up
This concludes my Egypt travel tips to know before you go! I hope these Egypt travel tips will help you be prepared for an amazing trip! From walking among the footsteps of the ancient pharaohs to soaking in the local Egyptian culture, I just know you are going to love it!
Egypt Travel Guides: (more coming)
If you have any questions about these Egypt travel tips or think I should add something, please let me know in the comments below!