Tips for visiting Egypt:
- Getting to and around Egypt:
- Multiple airlines fly in and out of Egypt. I flew in and out with Etihad airlines and had a very bad experience with them and wouldn’t recommend them. My friend used Turkish airlines and she was very pleased with their service. The journey from Los Angeles to Egypt took about 20-25 hours. Bring a lot of books or load your tablet with movies, podcasts. Bring an eye mask too and possibly earplugs! Within Egypt I traveled with Egyptair and the service was great, on time and they gave snacks & juices on every flight (even the 45-minute ones!). The planes I traveled on seemed older. One thing that I noticed was the security was very tight in all the airports: multiple security points with very thorough pat downs for everyone.
- Uber works in Egypt. It was a struggle to get drivers, a lot of them canceled for no reason, after over 5 minutes of waiting for them to show up. The cellular coverage isn’t very reliable which also caused a lot of issues as well as estimated pick up and arrival times. It was still the safest way to get around when we didn’t have the driver, as I could send my trip to my friends. I also didn’t have to try to negotiate prices or explain where I was trying to go!
- Boat cruise down the Nile: an absolute MUST! Check out post here about my incredible adventure sailing down the Nile river like Agatha Christie did.
- Food: If you like middle eastern/Mediterranean food, you will be in heaven! The food was great everywhere we went. From the street food (falafel and shwarma were to die for), to the hotel restaurants as well as on the boat, we ate extremely well even though it was Ramadan and we’d been warned it could be hard to find food during the day. Here are some local dishes I really loved and suggest you try: koshary, falafel, foul, fatoush, marjoram soup, local pita bread, beef tajine, local bass (fish) and the local angel hair dessert called konefa. I promise you the food will be exquisite. The cucumbers tasted divine, unlike the tasteless ones we have in North America. We enjoyed fresh guava, watermelon, oranges, strawberries as well as dried dates on a daily basis! The only dish I wasn’t a fan of was the pigeon.
- WARNING: do not drink tap water or eat anything that was in contact with local water.
- Turkish coffee- a must-try! I saw locals do it while we were in the souks in Cairo and here’s what I remember: they mix water, some sugar and a special type of coffee blended with cardamom in a Turkish coffee pot. Using a small spoon, they stir briefly until the mixture is combined, then slowly bring it to a boil over medium heat. As the coffee warms, you will see a dark foam building up and they pour some of the foam into the cups. They’ll keep boilling the coffee again and then pour it to the brim of the turkish coffee mug. Do not drink the bottom part of the coffee as it’s coffee grains and will not taste good and stain your teeth. You can get different levels of sugar in the coffee. I asked for the minimum and it was perfect.
- Hibiscus tea: The best one you will ever taste! They serve it hot or cold, and is delicious either way!
- Ramadan: Is observed by Muslims worldwide as a month of fasting, prayer, reflections and helping the community. While fasting from dawn until sunset, believers refrain from food, drink, smoking, sexual relations, and sinful behavior that may negate the reward of fasting (definition from wiki). It was Ramadan when I was in Egypt (quick reminder: the dates for the month of Ramadan change each year, so check before you travel). People had warned me that it would be hard to find restaurants open during the day and that the country wasn’t the same during this time. I was very impressed by how our guide was able to operate in the crazy heat, with no water or food! You can tell everyone is kind of zombeing around all day, napping as much as they can. When sundown happens, everything comes to a halt, and they feast and are allowed to eat until the sun rises again. The cities come back to life and so do the people once the sun disappears. You cannot find alcohol anywhere except in tourist hotels (not even at the airport if you travel domestically).
- What to pack: Here’s a quick list of items you should bring with you: insect repellant, hydrating/electrolytes powders to add to your water if you’re going during the hot season, snacks if you’re traveling during Ramadan, insulated water bottle so you can keep your water cold, battery pack for your phone & camera, a ton of kleenex and purrell for all the public restrooms, allergy medicine, Pepto Bismol, antibiotics for tourista, eye drops for the dryness, handheld fan, Sunglasses, sunscreen, a hat, a lot of change for tips, charger/converter,
- Pharmacies aren’t really that easy to find or stocked like ours in the USA. But they offer great phone service and deliver to your hotel in some areas such as Hurghada. (I’m talking from experience on this)
- Cairo: see post here (coming soon).
- Luxor: Sadly we did not see much in Luxor because we only spent the night and morning here but I absolutely want to come back here! We stayed at a stunning property called Moudira Hotel. I wish we could have stayed longer and enjoyed the peaceful accommodations including the huge pool, gorgeous rooms, and the delicious breakfast. Our guide picked us up after 7 am and we headed out to see the most important statues in Egypt, after the Giza Sphinx: the two Colossi of Memnon in Western Luxor. The two gigantic statues, about 3500 years old, are also known as the musical statues. They were very impressive! (more info here) We then headed to the Valley of the Kings. So far 64 tombs have been discovered but according to our guide, there’s still 70% of tombs left to find and discover! It was quite the unique experience to walk down into the tombs and see all the pretty, well preserved, colorful hieroglyphs. I also visited Toutankamon’s tomb which is the smallest one because he died so young and they didn’t have time to make it bigger!
- Edfu: On our 2h30 min drive to Edfu from Luxor, we saw some great backcountry. We got a glimpse into the local lifestyle. We saw colorful water stations every few miles. We saw kids playing around, adults taking care of their land, etc. We finally made it to the Temple of Edfu and it was mindblowing because of how grand it is, the hieroglyphs that are still so clearly visible and the colors that were still on the walls and ceilings! This temple was a victim of the hammering done by the Catholics and it was so impressive to see how the faces of the gods and pharaohs, religious symbols and genitals were all hammered and barely recognizable. From the temple we headed over to our Dahabeya, the bat that would take us to Aswan. Read more here about the boat.
- Aswan: We didn’t explore much of the city because we were only there for one day. We stayed at the Old Cataract hotel (by Sofitel), which was amazing! The room was big, luxurious and spacious and the decor was very suiting for the area and history. I would have liked to do the tour of the hotel and see Agatha Christie’s suite. She apparently arrived in 1937 and stayed for almost a year. This is where she wrote Death on the Nile, and they kept the desk she apparently wrote it on. In 1978, they filmed the movie at the Sofitel and rumors have it that there will be a new one coming out sometime this year (2019). The pool overlooks the ruins and feluccas (small sail boats) on the water. We had a meal at their 1902 french restaurant and enjoyed it a lot. The room was beautiful and the service was great. The breakfast buffet was so abundant and varied and everything was delicious. We did check out the Philae Temple by day and night. I wouldn’t recommend the light and sound show- it wasn’t worth the money in my (and my friend’s) opinion. The temple is very pretty during the day and has a very unique story. It was moved when they built the dam so it wouldn’t get buried under water. They moved it piece by piece and reconstructed it the same way! It’s located on an island and you need to take a little boat from Aswan to get to the island. We also stopped to buy some vases and bowls in alabaster. The owner of the shop showed us some pharaonic statues and beetles that were said to be over 85 years old! Last note about Aswan: the airport is very small and you don’t need much time to get there or once you’re there!
- On our way down the Nile river, we made 3 stops. The first one was on the river bank, on a small island in the middle of the Nile. We walked around with our guide and it was cool to see the land, the local houses, wave at some kids and watch fishermen. We saw mango trees, banana trees and much more! We also made a stop outside the city of Daraw. We took a presidential car (which was a joke because it was a local tuc tuc-see pictures below). We toured the Temple of Kom Ombo which was quite spectacular and unusual as it is a double temple and the southern part of it is dedicated to Sobek, the crocodile god. We also visited the crocodile museum. It was quite impressive to see all the mummified creatures. Our guide then brought us to the small city. That was quite the experience: we walked the streets and checked out the fruit stands, the butcher shop (selling camel meat), spices, table cloths, air conditioners, hens, and much more! It was slightly chaotic and I almost got hit by a little tuc tuc ! The last stop was to admire the Speos of Hormheb and Rock Shrines which was along the Nile. It was a temple built in the rocks to honor a few gods including Sobek and Hormheb. The most impressive part of that stop for me was walking through the most important quarry in Egypt (it’s no longer active). All materials for temples built in Upper Egypt, apart from the Philae Temple, came from this quarry! You can still see the holes that were used to dock the boats and the ramps where they slid the pieces of rock.
- Hurghada: a must-stop if you like snorkeling and scuba diving! Read more here.
- Cities I want to discover on my next trip to Egypt: Marsala Alam, Sharm el Sheikh, Alexandria.
Impressions of Egypt:
My trip to Egypt has topped my list of favorite trips around the world. I didn’t have much time to plan for it, and just jumped in on my friends planning and it was the best! I had 0 expectations, other than needing to dress more than usual and the heat, and boy was my mind blown away!
Even though it was Ramadan, I ate incredibly well and the food was so colorful, fresh and abundant.
Our drivers, guides, boat crew and all the helpers we had throughout the trip were incredibly nice and smiley. We stayed in different types of hotels, ranging from a more traditional one in Luxor to a luxurious historical hotel in Aswan to a fantastic refurbished boat sailing down the Nile river, to a Marriott resort in Hurghada. All of them were very clean, safe and had great service.
I thought it could be fun to do a little recap in the following way: what I will miss, what I will not miss, if I did it all over again and reflections after spending 2 weeks in Egypt. You may want to check out my other posts about Egypt to get a full picture of the trip before reading these notes. You can find the links to them, under the photo gallery. Here are my thoughts below:
- What I will miss: the food, the hibiscus tea, the history, the discovery, the fantastic people we met, the boat time, the incredible scuba diving.
- What I will not miss: Tipping everywhere we went and the aggressive tone used by some, the bugs & bites, all the smoking that goes on inside and outside of buildings, worrying about what to wear and if I’m covered enough, the stares and way I was looked at, the extreme heat, worrying about water and food (trying not to get sick), uber not working very well, the unreliable WiFi/cellular network, drinking so much Nescafé instant coffee.
- If I did it all over again :
- I’d spend more time around the pyramids (to soak it all in) and maybe do a longer camel tour in the area (ours was maybe 20 minutes). I would plan to sleep at the Mena House while you are in this area and maybe enjoy an afternoon on their property, soak in the fantastic view and enjoy the nice pool.
- I would spend at least three to four nights in Luxor -if not more. We missed a lot of the attractions in this city such as The Temple of Luxor, the Valley of the Queens, the Karnak temple, Valley of the Nobles, the Luxor museum and many more!
- We missed out on most of the attractions in Aswan too. I think spending two or three nights here would have been better.
- I would ABSOLUTELY recommend spending at least five to seven nights on the Dahabeya with the company I recommended. It is such a unique, relaxing and peaceful adventure. Time slows down and there’s nothing much to do except read, write, play board games, admire nature’s beauty and daydream… and eat A LOT of delicious food.
- If you plan on scuba diving for at least three days in the red sea, I’d recommended planning at least seven days in Hurghada so you can also explore the town, enjoy some beach time, venture out to an island, do a jeep excursion in the desert and possibly enjoy an organized bedouin dinner tour.
- In a nutshell: The local people and service industry are very nice, open and smiley. The food was incredibly fresh and tasty. The weather was way too hot for me (in May) but dry so it was slightly tolerable. I would have easily stayed a total of three to four weeks. I really loved my time here and never did I feel unsafe (because of our guides and people I was with). I felt looked at and not always at ease but that’s a cultural thing. The scuba diving was amazing.
*I’m using we as I was on this trip with my friends for the first week out of the two I stayed in Egypt.