Egypt has long been one of my dream destinations. I grew up reading tales from Egyptian Mythology of how the goddess Nut would swallow the sun at the end of the day and birth it the following morning, how Horus defeated his uncle Seth to reclaim his father Osiris’ throne, and often found myself marveling at the Egyptian collections at museums around the world. So naturally, I spent hours upon hours diligently reading up on the dos and don’ts of traveling to Egypt to prepare for the long-awaited trip.
But no amount of research could have prepared me for Cairo, the chaotic, crazy, feverish capital of Egypt. The city’s metropolitan area is sprawling and one of the largest in Africa, and home to dozens of archaeological treasures including the pyramids and Great Sphinx of Giza, Memphis (the ancient capital of Egypt) and the Citadel of Saladin just to name a few. Read on for everything you need to know to plan your trip to Egypt, what to see in 2 days in Cairo and my recommendation for a fantastic tour company in Egypt.
Quick tips for your first trip to Egypt
- When to visit Egypt: Egypt’s peak tourism season runs from around September to April when the weather is milder. During this time, there are a large number of tourists at the major sightseeing landmarks. If you visit during May like we did, the heat can be fairly unbearable with temperatures soaring above 35 degrees Celsius, but the crowds also thin out. The weather gets even hotter as you move south to Luxor and Aswan.
- Currency in Egypt: The local currency is the Egyptian Pound (LE). The exchange rate is approximately 17 LE to US$1 or 18.5 LE to 1 Euro – most places only accept cash, so make sure you get some money out or exchange a small amount when you arrive. You will want as many small denomination bills as possible as tipping is expected in Egypt. Plan on tipping bellhops, waiters, cruise ship staff, toilet attendants, drivers and so on.
- Dress code in Egypt: If you are a female traveler, leave your shorts, tube tops and anything exposing your arms and legs at home. Egypt is a majority Muslim country and you should dress modestly: both men and women should cover their shoulders and legs. It’s best to dress on the conservative side, though you may see tourists walking around at major attractions in shorts and tank tops.
- Water in Egypt: It is not safe to drink tap water in Egypt. You should boil water before drinking or use a water purifier bottle.
- Staying connected in Egypt: You can purchase a local SIM card at the airport or from small grocery stores.
- Visa requirements for Egypt: Nationals from these countries are eligible for an e-visa. The official Egypt e-visa application website is located here, but to be honest I wouldn’t bother with the e-visa system because it is extremely buggy and is fairly impossible to use. Instead, buy your Egypt visa-on-arrival for US$25 from the National Bank of Egypt counter at the airport (right before immigration) – the visa is valid for 30 days. Malaysian nationals can enter Egypt without a visa. If you’re unsure and your country is not listed on the website above, double check with the Egyptian consulate where you live.
- How to get to Egypt: Egypt is well-connected by international airlines with major airports in Cairo, Luxor, Sharm El Sheikh and Hurghada. We spent 1 week in Jordan before flying direct from Amman to Cairo on Royal Jordanian Airlines. The flight took just under an hour and a half.
- What to bring to Egypt: Sunscreen, a hat, refillable water bottle, wet wipes/hand sanitizer, walking shoes or sandals. Leave the drone at home as Egypt has strict drone laws.
How to plan a trip to Egypt
Egypt is not an “easy” tourist destination to visit by any means. While the historical and archaeological treasures were mind-blowing and beyond what I could have ever hoped for, there were certain elements about traveling to Egypt that the research simply didn’t (and couldn’t) prepare me for.
Traveling to Egypt left me feeling conflicted: on the one hand, it offers thousands upon thousands of years of unparalleled history and culture. On the other, every day was just a little bit challenging and draining. For this reason, I strongly recommend that you find a tour company to plan your trip to Egypt. Our trip to Egypt would not have gone as smoothly as it did without the experience and impeccable professionalism of the Your Egypt Tours team who took care of us every single step of the way.
The company came highly recommended to us by two friends who had visited Egypt a few years ago and used Your Egypt Tours in Cairo. Though we typically prefer to travel on our own instead of through tour companies/agencies – our private tour in Egypt was made complete by the knowledge of the Your Egypt Tours’ Egyptologists and experienced drivers. They know the history and mythology like the back of their hands, and regaled us with rich stories and tales from Egyptian history. Without them we would have just been looking at ancient temples and tombs without any context, insider tips and information, and would have struggled to get from point-to-point.
From Mona who patiently answered all of our questions about the tour and Mohamed who greeted us right after we stepped off the plane and helped us through immigration/customs, to the incredibly knowledgeable guides Mamdouh and Ash, each member of staff went above and beyond to make our trip as enjoyable, safe and fuss-free as possible. The team also briefed us on all of the customs in Egypt, what to avoid and what to be aware of so that we weren’t caught off-guard at any point. They also coordinate closely with security at each of the landmarks (tour companies are required to register tourist arrivals) so that they could change driving routes and so on if needed.
It can be really overwhelming when you’re researching Egypt tour packages (especially luxury Egypt tours) as there are just so many out there. But trust me when I tell you that you won’t regret planning your dream trip to Egypt with Your Egypt Tours. You can read more reviews from other travelers here or e-mail them at [email protected]
* If you’re a longtime reader then you’ll know that I only recommend services, hotels and experiences that I have had positive personal experiences with. Just so you know, we were paying customers with Your Egypt Tours and I was not compensated for this article.
I traveled to Egypt with my boyfriend, and we ended up selecting a private 8 days, 7 nights tour in Egypt. We started in Cairo, flew to Aswan, went on a nile cruise from Aswan to Luxor and then flew back to Cairo. We paid approximately US$1200 per person not including hotels, which we opted to book ourselves. Your Egypt Tours can book your accommodation on your behalf if you prefer. This rate included meet-and-assist services upon arrival and departure, transportation in a private luxury van, 4 days/3 nights on board a nile cruise on a full board basis, all sightseeing tours in Cairo, Luxor, and Aswan including English-speaking Egyptologist guides, all entrance fees, internal flights (Cairo-Aswan and Luxor-Cairo) and all service charge and taxes. You will need to budget an additional 40% or so to cover meals in Cairo, drinks, gratuities and tipping (US$10-$20 per day not including tips for your Egyptologist guides), your entry visa and optional entry into the burial chambers of the pyramids, the “Royal Mummies Room” at the Egyptian Museum, photography charges and/or the tomb of King Tutankhamun.
Just to give you a sense of how much to budget for a semi-luxury trip to Egypt, we ended up spending about US$2000 per person over 7 days including the private tour cost, tips, 4 nights’ accommodation in Cairo, the Nile cruise, guide, driver, extra exhibits/tombs/camera fees, drinks and SIM cards. If you don’t want a completely hands-off approach in Egypt and only want guided tours for a portion of your trip, you can also book individual day tours with Your Egypt Tours such as this Giza Pyramids, Sphinx, Sakkara and Memphis day tour from Cairo or this Cairo city tour.
Is an Egypt tour right for me?
Of course, it is also possible to organize the trip entirely by yourself, but I don’t recommend it. In fact, our friends who recommended Your Egypt Tours had tried to DIY the trip and landed in Egypt, before quickly running into issues with immigration. They ended up enlisting YET once they had landed in Cairo to organize the rest of the trip and provide tour guides and drivers. A private Egypt tour may be right for you if:
- You’re short on time and don’t want to faff around
- It’s your first time to Egypt
- You can’t be bothered trying to work out the logistics between cities
- You want a guide to explain the history and cultural significance of the monuments, but don’t necessarily want to be babysat. The guides tend to do the detailed briefings upon arrival at a landmark and then allow you to wander around and take photos on your own
- You don’t mind spending more to make sure the trip goes off without a hitch
It’s definitely not for you if you are a slow travel kind of person, as you are driven from tourist landmark to tourist landmark. In that sense, you might feel that you are being “herded” from place to place, but given the safety and security in Egypt, scams and harassment and logistics nightmares you’ll be thankful for a tour company’s organization and expertise. Which brings me to my next point…
Is it safe to visit Egypt?
If you’re wondering, “is Cairo safe?” Here’s what you need to know. Friends and family asked us if we were sure that we wanted to visit Egypt in mid-2019. After all, there has been a number of terrorist attacks by extremists not just in Cairo, but also elsewhere across Egypt. They have targeted Egyptian security forces, religious sites, large public gatherings and places visited by tourists; in fact, a roadside bomb went off near the pyramids in late 2018, killing three Vietnamese tourists and an Egyptian tour guide, as well as wounding a dozen other people.
I don’t believe that any place in the world is 100% safe as no country is impervious to bad actors and extremists. However, in my opinion and from personal experience, safety and security is an issue that has to be considered seriously before traveling to Egypt. On our second day in Cairo, we were driving back to our hotel (located next to the pyramids) and passed the wreckage of a tour bus full of South African tourists that hit a roadside bomb. It is believed that tour buses were being targeted and heavily armed forces were on-site. People were still being treated and placed in ambulances, leading us to believe that the bombing only took place an hour or so prior.
The event left us feeling shaken and nervous. Our hotel was near the bombing and we didn’t know if the tourists and staff on the bus were safe. It was all very overwhelming. Though there are security checks and road barricades at most major tourist sites as well as armed military on the roads, I encourage you to stay abreast of news concerning Egypt ahead of your trip, and check Egypt travel advisories for the latest developments.
In terms of common scams in Egypt, you should pretty much assume that nothing is free – don’t take photos of the camels, don’t take photos of the guards, don’t accept any “free” souvenirs. You should also keep a close eye on your belongings and don’t hand your camera over to anyone but your tour guide. Local security guards are stationed at all of the tourist attractions across Egypt, and they are quite possibly the worst representatives for tourism in Egypt.
Many landmarks (like the tombs in the Valley of the Kings) do not allow tour guides to enter with their guests to restrict the number of people (to reduce congestion and external contaminants that visitors bring into the sites); this is when the security guards prey on visitors, offering “secret” tours to areas that are closed-off, photo-bombing your shots and then asking for money, or plain old hassling tourists for tips. Even the Egyptian Police guarding the Great Pyramid of Cheops got in on the action, blowing his whistle loudly and yelling at people to stop climbing the pyramids, before turning around and offering to let other tourists climb the same rocks in exchange for a tip. I am not joking when I say that we experienced this relentless hassling at every single landmark, and after a few days it becomes exhausting.
It would be obtuse of me to claim that Egypt and Cairo are safe based on a 2 day visit with no major incidents. However, if you asked one of the tourists on the bus that hit the roadside bomb they would have a very different answer. The fact is, 2 attacks mainly targeting tourists have taken place in Cairo in the past 6 months; however, I should also mention that the authorities in Egypt know what’s at stake and have carried out multiple raids in an effort to wipe out terrorist elements.
So, should you still visit Egypt? My answer is: only if you’re comfortable doing so. No country is immune to attacks and scams, and the vast majority of trips to Egypt are trouble-free. You can make things easier for yourself by enlisting an experienced tour company in Egypt to help you plan and organize your trip.
In terms of safety, most governments also agree that you should take certain precautions during your trip including maintaining a high level of security awareness in crowded places and at large gatherings, and avoiding travel to the Sinai Peninsula, the Western Desert and border areas.
Where to stay in Cairo
If you visit Egypt, I highly recommend splurging and booking yourself into the Marriott Mena House, one of the absolute best hotels in Cairo. The hotel used to be the site of the old palace and is located right next to the entrance to the great pyramids of Giza. We stayed for 3 nights and paid a small fee to upgrade our room to a “Pyramid View” room – worth every penny!
The staff were extremely friendly and even helped to call a doctor for me as I was extremely ill from a stomach virus that I picked up in Jordan – they then went to the pharmacy and picked up the prescription and delivered it to our room. The location really can’t be beat – right next to the pyramids, and you can see them from the main restaurant area as well. Though the decor and furnishing is a little dated, the rooms are spacious, comfortable and sparkling clean. If you want incredible pyramid views and impeccable service, check out current rates and availability at Marriott Mena House; alternatively, click here to check out other highly-rated accommodation in Cairo!
If you have a layover in Cairo or need a place to stay for the night before your flight out of Egypt, I highly recommend the Le Meridien at Cairo Airport so you don’t have to drive into the city. The hotel is pretty much within the airport as it is connected to terminal 3 via an overpass. If you need a transit hotel or a place near the airport to spend the night, Le Meridien is perfect. The rooms are spacious and brand new – we booked last minute and the value for money was incredible. Click here for current rates and availability at Le Meridien Cairo Airport!
Related article: Highlights of Egypt in 1 Week
The 10 best things to do in Cairo in 2 days
1 week Egypt itinerary: We visited Cairo, Aswan and Luxor in that order, and once we arrived in Egypt we pretty much left everything up to Your Egypt Tours and took a completely hands-off approach. It was nice not having to worry about any logistics, tickets, transportation or having to find and hire a local Cairo tour guide, especially as I was extremely ill! If it’s your first time to Egypt, here are the top 10 places to visit in Cairo if you only have 48 hours or so in the city.
1. The Great Pyramids of Giza
Visiting the pyramids is a must-do in Cairo. The pyramids of Cheops (or Khufu), Khafre and Menakaure are the only survivors of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and there are an additional 6 smaller pyramids for the queens of Egypt. Did you know that there are actually more than 70 pyramids still standing in Egypt?
Egypt’s pharaohs expected to become gods in the afterlife. To prepare for the next world they erected temples to the gods and massive pyramid tombs for themselves—filled with all the things each ruler would need to guide and sustain himself in the next world. Source.
The pyramids are burial complexes that were built from roughly 2550 to 2490 B.C. which makes them about 4600 years old. The pyramids are located on the Giza Plateau on the western side of the Nile, where it was believed that the sun god Ra goes down every night. They were built on an elevation to keep them away from the floods, but close to the river Nile. The foundation is immensely strong as each block weighs approximately 2.5 tons.
You can enter the burial chambers of the pyramids at an additional cost (360 LE or US$21 for the Great Pyramid or 100 LE or US$6 for each of the 2nd or 3rd pyramids), but your guide is not allowed to enter with you to avoid overcrowding. We were advised by our guide that the burial chambers here are actually quite bare so the entrance fee isn’t necessarily worth the money, and that it was best to wait until we visited Sakkara (or Saqqara).
After visiting the pyramids, we hopped back in the car and continued across the plateau for a photo opportunity of the three pyramids with the Cairo skyline in the background.
2. The Great Sphinx of Giza
Another must see in Cairo, the Great Sphinx of Giza is adjacent to the pyramids and measures 190 feet in length and 65 feet tall. The Sphinx is a mythological creature with the body of a lion and the head of a man, and The Great Sphinx is one of the largest and oldest statues in the world. It is missing its nose, but until about the 1930s the statue’s lower half was buried in sand and unearthed by archaeologists.
Sakkara (AKA Saqqara) was built in 2650 B.C. and is home to Egypt’s oldest pyramid. Believe it or not, it’s actually 200 years older than the Great Pyramid of Giza! Visiting Sakkara will allow you to see the earlier iterations of the pyramid including a “bent” pyramid which was a result of structural issues and miscalculations of angles, as well as the famous Step Pyramid designed by Imhotep (no, not the evil mummy), chancellor to the pharoah Djoser.
Many later pyramids in Sakkara are in ruins, but you can enter the burial chamber of King Teti. The interior is in immaculate condition and you can still see the carved stars on the ceilings and hieroglyphics on the walls. The security guard will lead you along the narrow passageway into the depths of the tomb – you are not allowed to touch the walls or take photos, though he asked for a tip in exchange for letting us take photos. We opted not to – we are sticklers for following the rules and didn’t want to encourage bribery at archaeological sites.
Memphis is the ancient and first capital of Egypt and one of the most important Cairo attractions not to skip. It is home to the fallen statue of Ramses II and the second biggest Sphinx statue in Egypt. This UNESCO World Heritage Site was founded by King Meni who united Upper and Lower Egypt, and was once a cosmopolitan city with temples and palaces, most of which were built under the rule of King Ramses II, one of the most revered and powerful pharoahs in Egyptian history.
If you’re in need of a bathroom break there are clean(ish) toilets here, just make sure you have some change to tip the toilet attendant.
5. Citadel of Salah el Din
The towering Citadel of Salah El-Din (or Cairo Citadel) resembles an early medieval fortress with large imposing gateways and walls. The Citadel is one of Cairo’s main attractions and also houses the gleaming Mohamed Ali Alabaster Mosque. You can tour the grounds and main hall of the mosque, though you will be asked to cover your shoes or take them off to keep the alabaster stone clean.
Keep an eye out for the broken brass clock tower which was gifted by King Louis Philippe of France in 1845; in return, Egypt gifted France one obelisk from the Luxor Temple which now stands in Place de la Concorde in Paris. The Egyptians like to joke that it wasn’t exactly a fair trade!
The Citadel also offers breathtaking views across Cairo – on a clear day, you can even see the pyramids in Giza.
6. Khan el Khalili Bazaar
Much like the souks in Marrakesh, the bazaar in Cairo was once full of treasures and authentic souvenirs. The maze of streets, shops and cafes are said to have inspired Christopher Columbus to discover the Americas. These days, the souvenirs are no longer locally made nor authentic, so I would recommend that you do not buy anything from the bazaar.
Instead, just wander around and take in the atmosphere. We visited during Ramadan so the markets were quieter than usual, and we were probably one of less than a dozen foreign tourists here – plan to spend no longer than half an hour or so at Khan el Khalili Bazaar.
7. Abu Serga
Abu Serga, or the Saints Sergius and Bacchus Church, is one of the oldest Coptic churches in Egypt, dating back to the 4th century. Though much of the building is no longer original, it houses a chamber where the holy family sought refuge with baby Jesus.
Look out for the ancient copies of the Bible as well as the red column representing Judas.
8. The Hanging Church
The Hanging Church, or the Saint Virgin Mary’s Coptic Orthodox Church or suspended church, was built in the 7th century and sits in the heart of Old Cairo.
Mass still takes place so be mindful of the congregation – it is one of the most important bastions of the Coptic Christian Church and features more than one hundred religious icons on its walls.
9. Ben Ezra
Ben Ezra, though small, is one of the oldest synagogues in Cairo. It was destroyed several times over the centuries and later rebuilt; today, the synagogue is not a functioning one and serves mostly as a historical landmark and museum.
10. The Egyptian Museum
Last but not least, visiting the Egyptian Museum is a must do in Cairo for history and archaeology lovers. The museum houses over 120,000 Egyptian artifacts including the treasures of the tomb of King Tutankhamun. His five gilded coffins dominate the main hall, while his death mask is the star attraction – no photos are allowed of the mask.
The museum is also home to the “Royal Mummy Room” where a number of mummies of Egyptian pharaohs are on display – take a close look at how well the corpses are preserved, some even still have their hair, teeth and nails. Also pay attention to the intricate linen wrapping around the mummies. Entry into the Mummy Room costs an extra 180 LE and photos are not allowed inside.
Other exhibits worth seeing in the Egyptian Museum include the Yuya and Thuya mummies and their tombs (they were King Tut’s great grandparents), a replica of the Rosetta Stone and the animal mummies. If you want to take photos in the general exhibit areas, you will need to pay an extra 50 LE for a camera ticket – hang onto this ticket as it will be checked.
The Egyptian collection will be moved to a new, state-of-the-art building in 2020.
This list of what to do in Cairo is just a starting point to help you prioritize what to see and do in Egypt’s capital city. We spent 2 full days here but toured the attractions mostly between 8 AM and 2 PM to beat the heat. For the rest of the afternoons, we lounged around at the hotel and dodged the midday sun. If I wasn’t so sick, I would have indulged more in Mariott Mena House’s various facilities and restaurants! In my opinion, 48 hours in Cairo is sufficient and you can cover all of the main sights.
You might also like: 6 Incredible Things to Do in Luxor, the City of Palaces in Egypt or my 1 Week Egypt Itinerary for First Time Visitors
So…why should you book with Your Egypt Tours?
Your Egypt Tours is one of the best international tour operators in Egypt. Their day tours are rated #1 in Cairo, and the entire staff (booking agent, guides and drivers) were incredibly professional and accommodating. They are flexible and make every effort to make the trip go as smoothly as possible.
You will feel taken care of from beginning to end, and you never feel pressured to visit anything that you don’t want to. The Egyptologist guides are some of the best in Egypt and extremely qualified and knowledgeable, the vehicles and drivers that we had were top notch, and we were taken care of from the minute we stepped off the plane to the minute we flew out of Cairo. I never recommend or endorse experiences that I haven’t tried myself, and I can wholeheartedly say that I recommend Your Egypt Tours to anyone planning a trip to Egypt.
Luxury private 8 day 7 night Egypt tour package price: As I stated at the beginning of this article, we paid US$1200 per person for the private tour of Egypt (Cairo, Aswan and Luxor) with Your Egypt Tours (not including accommodation which we chose to book ourselves last-minute).
Here is a quick breakdown of what is included in the private Egypt tour rate:
- Meet-and-assist services upon arrival and departure
- Transportation in private air-conditioned vehicles including airport pick up and drop off
- 4 days, 3 nights on board a 5-star Nile cruise on full board basis in upper deck cabin
- All sightseeing tours in Cairo, Luxor, and Aswan including English-speaking Egyptologist guides and all entrance fees (with the exception of optional shows and visit areas)
- Domestic flights in economy class with EgyptAir (Cairo to Aswan and Luxor to Cairo)
- All service charge and taxes
- [Accommodation is usually included and Your Egypt Tours can quote prices for various hotels – rooms at 4, 5-star hotels go for anywhere between US$160-240 a night and up]
What’s not included?
- International airfare
- Personal expenses such as tips, laundry, telephone bills, beverages. In Egypt, tipping is expected as the base salary is very low. Tips are expected from people that serve you: driver, waiter, bellhop, cruise ship staff, etc. The average tip is $10-$20 US dollars per day. This amount covers everyone except for the Egyptologist guides who we tipped US$20 per day per person at the end of our time with them (this is on the higher end of the spectrum and reflects the expertise of the guides); we also tipped our driver approximately US$10 for each day that he was with us in Cairo
- Meals (except the ones on board the Nile cruise)
- Entry visa to Egypt (US$25 per person)
- Additional optional entrance fees and camera charges: the burial chambers of the pyramids; the “Royal Mummy Room” at the Egyptian Museum; the tombs of King Tutankhamen, King Ramses VI and Seti in the Valley of the Kings; the Crocodile Museum in Aswan
- Optional night activities
50% of the tour cost is due ahead of your tour start date and can be paid by credit card online, and the balance is due upon arrival in cash or by credit card.
Whether or not you decide to book your private tour with this company or any other tour operator in Egypt (or even attempt to travel around Cairo and Egypt independently), the sights of Egypt are bound to amaze you. If you book with another tour operator, make sure that you do your due diligence and read up on reviews ahead of time and that they are responsive over e-mail.
I hope this guide helps you to better plan your trip to Egypt! Stay tuned for even more guides and recommendations for Egypt.
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Just so you know, this is not a sponsored post. We were paying customers on the tour with Your Egypt Tours, I am not an affiliate and don’t receive any commission from any tours booked. As per usual, all opinions are my own, and you can always expect candid and honest feedback from me (regardless of whether a trip was sponsored or not). This post does, however, contain hotel affiliate links. If you choose to book your stay using these links, I will earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. Thank you for supporting my website by using these links, I only recommend products or services that I have had positive personal experiences with and think you would love too.