8 tips I wish I’d been given before traveling solo to Egypt
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Egypt is a magical place that attracts travellers from all over the globe. Most tourists go there to see the pyramids in Giza, but you’d be remiss if you didn’t branch out beyond Cairo’s famous sites.
Travelling throughout Egypt can be a bit tricky. Fortunately, with a bit of research and careful planning, you can minimise the likelihood of encountering any unexpected surprises during your visit.
Here are some tips to keep in mind before you visit based on my solo travels around the country.
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Know what to expect when it comes to money
Overall, Egypt is an affordable destination, with most meals costing less than £4 ($5). However, be wary of scams and being overcharged. If you plan to shop, which you should at the iconic Khan el-Khalili bazaar in Cairo, be prepared to haggle. Never pay the first price offered by a local vendor, and use your bargaining skills to get whatever you’re purchasing for that little bit cheaper.
Also be sure to pack cash. Although this is standard advice for just about everywhere, it’s especially crucial in Egypt, as you’ll be expected to leave a hefty tip in Egyptian pounds (the country’s currency) for every service you partake in and receive. A typical tip might be 10% of a bill, although exceptional service can be met with anywhere up to 15-20%.
While you may be tempted to whip out your short shorts due to the scalding heat, Egypt is not the place to do so, as it’s a conservative country. Wear clothes that go at least past your knees, do not show any cleavage and make sure to cover your shoulders, especially at holy sites. Female tourists are not expected to wear a hijab, though they can choose to do so out of respect. It is recommended for women to wear baggy clothes.
Bring a light jacket if your visit is during winter. Despite popular belief, Egypt does indeed get chilly. Wear comfortable walking shoes, and don’t repeat my mistake of wearing cute sandals while temple hopping in Luxor. Some tombs are underground with a steep slope downward, so good footwear is essential.
Take advantage of student discounts
Most of Egypt’s archaeological sites like the pyramids, temples and more charge an entry fee. These fees can add up over time, especially if you’re trying to see several throughout your trip, as you should. I visited Egypt when I was a law student, and my guide in Luxor informed me that there was a student discount. However, some sites wouldn’t accept my New York City student ID card.
To avoid your own student ID not being accepted, you can look into getting an international student ID card (or an ISIC), which will likely be accepted at all sites in Egypt. The only caveat is you have to be younger than 26 to qualify for the Egyptian student discount.
BE ADVENTUROUS COME MEAL TIME
Sampling local cuisine is always a big treat when traveling. In Egypt, the delicious fare is seemingly endless. You’ll find a variety of vegetarian and vegan dishes in the country, including falafel and ful, a stew of cooked fava beans made with olive oil, parsley, cumin and garlic that’s typically eaten for breakfast. You should also try koshari, Egypt’s national dish. It’s a wonderfully tasty concoction of pasta, rice, chickpeas, lentils and fried onions served in a spicy tomato sauce.
Tap water is not recommended for drinking here, so opt for a bottled beverage to wash down your meal. Despite being a predominantly Muslim nation where many locals abstain from drinking alcohol, Egypt produces its own wine and beer, so you’ll have a few alcoholic options to choose from. If you want to indulge after a long day of sightseeing, most hotels serve alcohol or you can order it online through the popular Egyptian site Cheers. Know, though, that being intoxicated in public is a big no-no.
Come prepared with layers
There’s a common misconception that Egypt is extremely hot year-round. While the country is undoubtedly hot for much of the year, it does indeed have a cooler season from December to late March, so bring a light jacket if you’re planning a winter visit.
Know, too, that Egypt is a large country, so the weather may vary depending on which region you find yourself in.
Hire a guide
Egypt is an attractive tourist destination thanks to its rich history, which can be traced back to some of the earliest signs of communication. Self-research is always an option, but if you want to make the most of your Egyptian odyssey, consider hiring a guide to talk you through the many sites you’ll visit. It can be overwhelming to view pyramids, hieroglyphics, mummies and more on your own – a certified Egyptologist will ensure you know what you’re looking at and can deepen your connection to the country’s history.
Additionally, a local guide who speaks the language can help you navigate unwanted attention, especially for women travelling on their own. Catcalling is unfortunately common in Egypt, but touring with a guide might eliminate some of the harassment experienced. If you’re a woman travelling alone and you’re uncomfortable hiring a male guide, don’t fret: I was pleasantly surprised to find many female guides available for hire when I visited.
Plan your itinerary and in-country transportation ahead of time
There’s more to Egypt than just Cairo. In fact, many travellers only spend a day or two in Cairo to see the pyramids before venturing out to other destinations. There are several ways to travel throughout the country, but you’ll need to narrow down where you’d like to go before deciding how you’ll get there.
Luxor, like Cairo, is an obvious choice for most since it offers some of the best and most popular sites around. If you’re into scuba diving or snorkeling, any of the towns along the Red Sea should be on your radar. The most popular spots for water activities are Sharm el-Sheikh, Hurghada and Dahab. And if you’re feeling adventurous, head east toward the Libyan border to discover the magical Siwa Oasis, where you can float in one of the area’s famous salt pools.
Other popular destinations in Egypt include Abu Simbel, Aswan and Alexandria.
Once you narrow down where you’d like to go, you’ll then have to decide how you’ll get there. Travelling throughout Egypt via EgyptAir is incredibly easy, as there are flights connecting throughout most major cities at affordable rates.
Egyptair is also a member of Star Alliance, which boasts some of the most generous cross-airline mileage upgrades around.
An overnight sleeper train is another popular way to travel due to its relatively low cost, or you can get a unique perspective of the country by enjoying a relaxing Nile River cruise.
Renting a car is an option, too. However, it’s not recommended due to heavy traffic, lack of speed limit enforcement and the presence of police checkpoints throughout the country. Should you need to get around in a car, consider hailing a taxi or ordering an Uber.
Use the right photography tools and equipment
Getting photos with no one else in them can be a challenge due to the large volume of visitors that flock to the main tourist sites, so you may want to work on your photoshop skills. Most sites are grandiose in size, so a wide-angle lens will serve you well.
Remember that drones are prohibited. If you attempt to bring one to the airport, it will be confiscated.
Egypt is a thrill.
While you may want to brush up on your Arabic — it’s the national language there — and check to see if you need any vaccinations (yellow fever jabs may be required). Always check the latest COVID-19 requirements, if applicable, too. These preparations are more than worth the effort to visit this culturally and historically rich destination.
As long as you practice general safety precautions, you should be all set to have the time of your life.
Featured photo by Kaitlyn Rosati/The Points Guy.
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