Normally my travel diaries consist of a recap of my travels with a photo diary. But to recap my experience in Egypt would be an overload. So this time I am creating an Egypt Travel Guide. Today I will share with you a general “who, what, wear, and why” of traveling to Egypt. Then throughout this week I will share Cairo and Luxor guides from my trip! As well as a little behind-the-scenes of the mishaps that can happen when you travel and how I dealt with it all!
first things first…Why Egypt?
There’s a million places to go and see in the world; so why choose Egypt. Let me start by stating the obvious: The Pyramids. As if these wonders of the world aren’t enough to put Egypt on your top 10 list, the country offers a portal into an ancient time. Anyone interested in history or ancient civilizations will not be disappointed by the wonders awaiting you in Egypt.
It’s always been a dream of mine to see the pyramids, but for me they were not the BEST Egypt had to offer…and that is saying A LOT! But for those who don’t enjoy fantasy or imagining themselves in ancient times, this is NOT the trip for you. My fascination came from my inexplicable obsession with ancient civilization and their ability to create kingdoms and monuments on a massive scale before the ease of modern technologies!
For anyone obsessed with mummies, ancient ruins, a dead religion, or even sci-fi theories…this is the PERFECT place to visit!
The next question: Where to Go?
There’s plenty of places to visit in Egypt and each city has its draw…here are my Top 3 places to visit: (the tourist trifecta)
This is the first city we visited in Egypt…and how could you not? It is the capital of the country. It is right next door to Giza (often referred to as a separate destination) and both can be visited in one trip. In Cairo you can check out many museums to learn some background about the sites you will be visiting. Just next door, the Giza Necropolis is just a few miles away, and you can’t go to Egypt and skip the pyramids.
While second on my list, Luxor would be my first pick to visit! It was a beautiful city along the Nile that houses remains of the newer kingdoms of the ancient Egyptian civilizations! You can wander ruins and imagine this once magnificent world. Luxor also houses some museums to shed light on the places your viewing, but I wouldn’t do any before you see the sights!
Check Out My Luxor Travel Guide
Home to, yes, more ruins and ancient temples! While this all can start to seem redundant, they are each unique and awe-inspiring. Not only are they fascinating for the colossal scale and the circumstances of their creation (i.e. no machinery) but every inch of the buildings and monuments is carved with hieroglyphic inscriptions and depictions of the pharaohs and deities! Wandering these places and wondering about the stories their walls tell is an amazing experience, and I only wish we could’ve done this whole trifecta tour!
(A Little Extra) Alexandria
I wish I would’ve had time to squeeze in a tour of this city. While not home to great Egyptian ruins, this city houses some great museums and monuments, chronicling the brilliant alliance of the Greek and Egyptians during the Ptolemaic dynasty that followed the reign of Alexander the Great. Who wouldn’t want to visit the home of Cleopatra?!
And yes all of my destinations are based on their cultural contributions. There are great beach towns and resort areas to visit, but why waste a trip to Egypt on snorkeling. This country was home to one of the most magnificent ancient civilizations and remnants of their existence is all around! There’s not many places in the world that can give you a first hand glimpse into life so long ago…take advantage of that!
For our trips we always use Airbnb, great accommodations at low prices! This allows for longer stays (a hotel is usually a budget-eater). For Egypt Airbnb turned out great (besides one mishap that I will discuss later this week). Booking a private home was easier for Luxor than Cairo. Many of the accommodations on the website seemed to be listed incorrectly. They were classified under “whole homes” but seemed to be compounds with individual rooms and shared bathrooms, literally a home divided into a hotel. Which would be fine, except I’m always worried about sharing a bathroom while on a time crunch or schedule (you never know when it will be in use).
In Luxor this problem didn’t seem to exist as much, my guess is because it’s such a tourist destination. The city is prepared for tourist accommodations and tourists’ expectations of a hotel/resort stay. Nevertheless, I found an apartment in Cairo that was amazing with a view over the Nile, (for only $30 a night), which beats any decent hotel in the area (we also technically stayed in Giza, right on the border to Cairo).
To make sure you’re getting a private home (if you desire) when using Airbnb, check the description to discern if the room/bathroom is stand alone or a shared part of a larger home (they should be a 1 to 1 ratio: not 3 bed 1 bath). AND always read the reviews! Know the service of your host, status of the apartment, and anything else! The worst is to go on vacation and be surprised…and don’t pick a place with 0 reviews, there’s always a place that’s been used before!
The age old question: What to wear?
Don’t be the tourist that stands out…in a bad way. Try to blend into the crowd and meld into the culture. It’s called being respectful. You have to remember that while it is not law, and we do live in modern times…there are cultural expectations for the places you visit. In most of Egypt, women do not wear any revealing clothing. No shorts, mini skirts, tanks, tube tops…you should cover your shoulders, chest, back, and anything above the knee. And definitely nothing sheer (unless you layer something underneath: which would be HOT). That being said…I visited in March, and it was 80 degrees on average…and you are wandering out in the sun all day (if you’re doing it right). BUT there is a way to be comfortable and still respectful.
I chose to wear long sleeve dresses with a hem below the knee, or mid length flowing skirts or culottes with t-shirts. Anything loose and flowing will allow air to cool you, while not showing skin. Choose breathable fabrics to help ventilate and the less layers the better (sorry, fashionistas; keep it simple). For most of these sights, at some point or another, you are going to walk through sand; so while sandals seem to be the obvious choice, I would opt for sneakers that you don’t mind getting dusty.
While the dress code did vary between the two cities, it is never bad to play it safe. Conservative is key to being respectful! A good rule of thumb: if your mom would’nt have let you wear it to high school, it’s probably not ok!
How Long Do I Need?
I would say at least 2 days in each destination you choose. I will break the time frame down in my individual posts about my trip, but my days were packed (our vacations are not spent relaxing but expeditiously exploring, squeezing in time to do anything and everything)! I would’ve loved to spend even more time in each place, but with an early morning, all the way into closing time (5 pm) we were able to see just about everything (we wanted) with no regrets! And two days is all we needed to accomplish this at each destination. Although, we were burnt out at the end of every day. By the end of the whole trip we felt we needed a vacation from our vacation, which is true of most our travels. For a more relaxed trip you could do 3 days apiece or even 4 to spread things out. Of course, take as many days as you can escape with! The longer the vacation the better.
Obviously you have to fly to Egypt! DUH! But we flew a red eye and combined with booking in advance (6 months) we were able to get a pretty decent price. My advice for flights: google flights is a great way to compare everyone’s offers. Also google new/different airlines. There might be a discount airline you were unaware of before.
Once there: getting around Egypt is pretty easy. They have many, many, many taxis. They will honk at any bystander and shrug to see if you need a ride. Just wave any down to get a ride. ALWAYS ask to use the meter, it will no doubt be the cheapest (I read all white taxis have one installed). If they refuse, start to get out of the taxi, and they will either agree or you can just catch the next one 2 seconds away. You could also try your hand at negotiating the price…just google the average/government price per km so you won’t be ripped off.
Egypt also has Uber, but almost no one uses the GPS associated with it. We were often left waiting for a long time while our driver missed turn after turn to reach our location. So if you’re not being picked up at a tourist landmark, it can be quite tricky just getting picked up. We would call when we realized our driver was headed in the wrong direction or stopped at an incorrect point and ask them to use the GPS. This was usually sorted out within a few minutes. Uber often was half the taxi price for trips and even with the slight hassle well worth it!
To get from city to city, we rode a sleeper train. It was AWESOME! Straight out of a Bond movie…and easy to sleep on (for me at least). It was not that cheap, however, and a short flight for not much more would’ve probably been better now that all is said and done. But you do exchange the sleeper train for a night of stay…so the price probably evens out in the end. The train is almost NEVER on time though; so be prepared to start later than your arrival time.
Both cities varied for transportation within them…and this will be discussed more in individual posts through out the week!
What/Where to Eat?
I am going to keep this information general. There was no one restaurant that you MUST go eat at. The general idea: eat local! Whenever we travel we immerse ourselves into the culture as much as possible, which includes food. And short of any food allergies I always recommend that you do the same. Doing this is how I have first experienced some of my favorite foods, not to mention created life long memories of the places we visited. It can also cause a lifelong longing for a certain cuisine, never to be fulfilled until return…so beware.
While Yelp is a great way to find western approved food and restaurants, it is often not the best the city has to offer. In all my travels I have to say Street Food always wins! While it’s not always the safest (stomach issues) it is always the BEST! Rules for avoiding tummy issues: steer clear from anything washed (with tap water), plates, utensils, cups, fruit….etc. Ingesting water from other countries will almost always have a negative impact. Also make sure things are fully cooked and not sitting out. Try to only eat street food that is cooked specifically for you, not something that has been sitting around all day (i.e. growing a bacteria colony for 5 hours). Most travelers steer clear of street food, but they are missing out. Just taking simple precautions will help (not a guarantee) and allow you to experience the true cuisine!
Next time you pass that street vendor in another city: stop and have a bite! (I did encounter some amazing dishes in Egypt and will share on my individual city diaries).
The Price to Pay
Egypt may be considered a third world country, but travels here will not come cheap. Without including transport or room & board…this trip was our most expensive travel! You can find a cheap flight by flying red eye (what we did) and cheap accommodations with Airbnb, and food will always be inexpensive (especially if you eat from street vendors). But everything you do will cost you!
Not only is there entrance fees to every museum and (most) attractions, but there is also a camera fee at places that allow photos. They also know the TOP things to see and have raised prices on main attractions (we learned this didn’t mean they that were the best, though). On top of all this, there are “guides” at each attraction who will point things out to you and then afterwords ask for a little something extra – baksheesh.
Here’s the thing: while most of these people will point to a carving of a beetle and tell you scarab (DUH) others will grant you access to restricted areas or allow you to take photos when you’re not technically allowed to take them. So depending on what you’re wanting to get out of your tour, paying a little extra can be great (how much you pay depends on you, what you think they deserve). But if you do not wish to be bothered, you can just let them know as they approach that you don’t have any money & don’t want a guide, and keep then just keep repeating “no thank you.” They will leave you alone…sometimes. For those times they don’t, if you know another language just continue on with that. They won’t understand, or know how to communicate and will thus leave you alone. (Caleb speaks Kannada that I can for the most part understand; so sometimes we used this to get through a temple unbothered)
As if all this wasn’t enough, EVERYONE wants baksheesh! You can’t turn a corner without someone offering you something in return for ” a little something for me.” Researching for years in India, Caleb is used to all this, and I have grown to find it funny…but I see how it can be annoying. I always say, “gotta admire the hustle.. Try not to let any of this ruin your trip or vacation. Just say “no” or pay a little (what’s one EGP to us) and laugh it off.
That being said, this trip would be HARD on a budget…and while I will break down everything I did and the price (coming this week), there will always be extra (Alternatively, you could do a tour group with things included; so you know the cost upfront). This is a trip for the financially stable.
JUST DO IT!
I HIGHLY recommend going to Egypt once in your life! It was a once in a lifetime experience and so AMAZING!! It’s worth every penny.
Stay tuned this week for My Travel Guides to Cairo & Luxor…as well as a story about the not so bright side to traveling!
Which destinations are on your Top 5 Travel Wishlist? Let me know in the comments!