Visiting Egypt for the first time? Read on for essential Egypt travel tips and advice to help you plan a perfect trip!
I grew up dreaming of visiting Egypt and wandering through dim corridors and colourful walls adorned with hieroglyphics. Tales from Egyptian mythology have long captivated me – I often found myself reading stories of Anubis weighing the dead’s heart against a feather, how pharaohs were mummified and prepared for the afterlife and how the goddess Nut would swallow the sun at the end of each day and birth it the following morning.
While the historical and archaeological treasures were mind-blowing and beyond what I could have ever hoped for, our trip to Egypt was one of the most trying and exhausting weeks for a myriad of reasons. Even though I had done boatloads of research and asked around for Egypt travel tips, there were certain elements about traveling to Egypt that the research simply didn’t (and couldn’t) prepare me for.
So, why visit Egypt? Despite the frustration, there’s nothing in the world that quite compares to the wealth of history and artifacts in Egypt. If you are planning a trip to Egypt, here are some important things you should know ahead of your trip – read on for some key takeaways and tips for visiting Egypt so that you know what to expect.
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Important Things to Know Before Going to Egypt
Are you wondering to yourself, “What should I know before going to Egypt?” Aside from the cultural dos and don’ts in Egypt it is also helpful to familiarize yourself with a select number of important Egypt tips for first-time visitors – after all, don’t you want a smooth and fuss-free experience in this fascinating trove of ancient history and culture?
1. Security is an issue to consider seriously
“Is Egypt safe?” and “should I visit Egypt?” are two very different questions. I feel that it is irresponsible for me to outright claim that “Egypt is safe” just because we encountered no issues, when there has been a string of high-profile and devastating attacks targeting both tourists and Egyptian citizens across the country – some as recent as in these past few months.
Look, no country is completely impervious to bad actors and extremists or 100% safe: safety can not be guaranteed anywhere in the world. However, I personally believe that safety and security is an issue that has to be considered seriously before traveling to Egypt. There are also precautions you can and should take (such as booking a hotel that has ample security or booking your Egypt tour with an experienced tour company) when visiting Egypt. However, violent crime against tourists is considered fairly low and uncommon – you just need to be aware of petty crime (watch your belongings when you’re out in public) and minor scams.
The vast majority of visits to Egypt are trouble-free. That being said, while we made the decision to travel to Egypt despite the concerns, it doesn’t mean that it is my place to tell anyone that it is perfectly safe to visit Egypt. If you’ve read some of my other Egypt destination guides, you’ll know that a terrorist attack was carried out on our second day in Cairo and we drove past the wreckage. Thankfully, there were no casualties and we were out of harm’s way, however it could have been a very different story.
So, should you still visit Egypt? Only if you understand the complexities of traveling to Egypt and are sufficiently prepared. In my opinion, Egypt is not a place where you can just wing it and show up without a plan. Though there are security checks and road barricades at most major tourist sites around Egypt, I encourage you to stay abreast of news concerning Egypt ahead of your trip, and check travel advisories for the latest updates and developments.
2. Hassling, scams and bribery run rampant
Traveling to Egypt left me feeling extremely conflicted: on the one hand, it offers thousands upon thousands of years of history and culture. On the other, every day felt draining. And don’t get me wrong – I don’t have a glass jaw. I’ve been told to eff off in Rome, scammed in Morocco, gotten into a super gnarly situation with some thugs outside of Naples, been physically and verbally harassed around Asia and had racial slurs yelled at me in Australia. But the level of harassment in Egypt is intense and felt unrelenting.
Nobody seems to take “no” for an answer, and the hassling is incessant from carriage drivers, camel jockeys, souvenir sellers and even the official security and temple guards at archaeological sites. Though it’s one of the most important things to know before going to Egypt, you should also understand that Egyptians in the tourism industry (and the broader Egyptian economy) rely heavily on tourism, and the value of the Egyptian Pound has also fallen fairly drastically over the years. Coupled with the fact that base salaries are low, many see tips and bribes as a way (or the only way) to supplement their income.
Here is a good rule to follow: assume that nothing is free. Don’t take photos of the camels or go on a “free” camel ride, don’t take photos of the guards and don’t accept any “free” souvenirs. There’s a lot of ways to be scammed in Egypt – your best bet is to say no firmly (or ignore if the hassling doesn’t stop), and always ask your tour guide if you are unsure. In my opinion, it doesn’t help the situation if you pay off a temple guard to let you enter an area that is off-limits, or bribe them to let you take photos where you’re not supposed to. Had I known what to expect in Egypt in terms of constantly being approached I might have been able to be better prepared mentally.
3. Tipping is very much expected
Because of the aforementioned low base salaries, tipping (or “baksheesh”) is pretty much mandatory in Egypt. Get TONS of small change where you can because it feels like you have to tip everywhere, constantly, and no one is shy about asking you outright for a tip. You might get baggage handlers offering to carry your luggage for 3 metres to the door and you’ll have to tip. Tip 5-10 LE to toilet attendants, 10-20 LE to baggage handlers and other hotel staff, 80-150 LE per day to your tour driver, US$15-20 per day per person to your tour guide – these are just ballpark figures, we tend to tip on the higher end of the spectrum.
Not sure how much to tip in Egypt and don’t want to personally handle the tipping? You can give your guide a fixed amount each day and he or she will distribute it as the day goes by.
4. You don’t need to avoid visiting during Ramadan
Egypt is a majority Muslim country, which means that many citizens observe Ramadan and fast during the holy month. That being said, we visited during Ramadan and it felt like everything was pretty much business as usual, especially for the tourism industry. One of the most important things to know about Egypt during Ramadan is that opening hours may change for many places (so double check the schedule), and you should avoid eating and drinking in public; essentially, tourist attractions are still open during Ramadan and your trip is unlikely to be affected by the festivities. Additionally, most places will not serve alcohol during Ramadan.
5. The summer months are sweltering hot
There is a reason why people say to avoid visiting Egypt during summer from May to August. It’s because the temperature is fairly unbearable, and most sightseeing landmarks offer minimal shade. I’ve never felt such dry, intense and oppressive heat, and we visited in mid-May which meant that it hadn’t even reached the peak temperature yet. I recommend visiting Egypt when the weather is moderately milder from September to April, though tourist attractions will also tend to be more crowded during this peak travel season.
6. Be prepared for the extra charges
This is one of my top travel tips for Egypt, because we were caught slightly unaware at the volume of extra charges we’d have to fork out. There are many additional charges that you need to be aware of such as the separate ticket for the Royal Mummy exhibit at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, photography permit at the Valley of the Kings, passenger train at the Temple of Hatshepsut and entry into the burial chambers of the pyramids.
To budget for Egypt, I recommend tacking on an additional 30-40% or so to cover extra photography and entry charges, meals, drinks, gratuities and tipping and your Egypt entry visa. It all adds up quickly!
7. Dress on the conservative side
…but it’s probably not as bad as you think. While it is true that Egypt is a majority Muslim country and you should plan to dress modestly (both men and women should cover their shoulders and legs), there aren’t actually any specific dress codes at major tourist landmarks and you will see people walking around with tank tops and shorts. That being said, is it appropriate to visit the pyramids in a sleeveless low-cut maxi dress? Probably not.
I wore t-shirts and jumpsuits on most days, and my boyfriend wore shorts and t-shirts in Egypt. I also recommend that you bring plenty of sunscreen and a hat to avoid a serious sun burn.
8. Leave your drone at home
Planning on flying your drone over the pyramids of Giza? Think again. Egypt prohibits the use or possession of unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) without a license from the Ministry of Defense. There are many stories of people risking the penalties and getting their drones confiscated at the airport, and violators can face serious penalties or even jail time. It’s not worth the hassle so don’t even bother bringing your drone if you are just a recreational user.
9. Your Nile cruise might not actually involve that much sailing
When we booked a 1 week tour in Egypt that included 3 nights aboard a Nile cruise, we expected to be sailing down the river for the majority of the time. So imagine our surprise when we only sailed for a few hours from Aswan to Luxor on the second day of the cruise, and spent the rest of the time docked at ports. Though the Nile cruise was still a highlight of our time in Egypt, it’s important to know that not much cruising is actually involved.
That being said, if you want to spend most of your time sailing along the river Nile then you might want to consider boarding a traditional Egyptian felucca, though the experience and comfort will differ greatly from one of the luxury river cruises.
10. Be prepared to see a heavy military presence
This is one of my top tips for traveling to Egypt – don’t be alarmed at the somewhat intimidating military presence. Egyptian military and security personnel are everywhere and it’s not uncommon to see heavy duty weapons at tourist landmarks (especially those in Cairo). When entering any major landmark, you will also need to have your bags scanned and walk through a metal detector.
11. It’s easy to get a visa on arrival
Nationals from many countries are eligible for an e-visa, however, you can very easily purchase a visa-on-arrival for US$25 (approx 22 Euros) from the National Bank of Egypt counters located before immigration. I wouldn’t bother with the e-visa system, I can’t tell you the number of times I tried to get that darn website to work – it is extremely glitchy!
The visa is valid for 30 days and you must have a passport with at least 6 months’ validity beyond your scheduled return date. If you are traveling to Egypt on a group or private tour, the tour organizers will also take care of this for you.
12. Don’t drink the tap water
This is one of the first things your tour guide will tell you about traveling around Egypt. The tap water in Egypt is not safe to drink, and you’re also advised to brush your teeth with filtered or mineral water. Hotels and tour companies provide bottled water to their guests, or you can boil water ahead of time to brush your teeth or refill your water bottles.
13. Book a tour with a reputable company
Here is one of my top Egypt tips for first timers who want a smooth trip and to hear illustrious and colourful Egyptian folklore and legends: enlist help from the experts. We typically prefer to travel on our own as independent travelers instead of through tour companies/agencies (and sure, you could try to plan a Egypt trip on your own), but our private tour in Egypt was made complete with our knowledgeable Egyptology guides and experienced drivers who navigated the chaotic traffic like pros. Booking a private tour in Egypt was by far one of the best travel decisions we could have made, because Egypt is not an “easy” destination to visit by any means.
Believe me, you’ll want a guide to explain the history and cultural significance of the monuments so you’re not just mindlessly looking at a bunch of hieroglyphics, and they can brief you on all of the customs in Egypt, what to avoid and what to be aware of so that you aren’t caught off-guard at any point. There are tons of options when it comes to private Egypt tours and reputable tour companies and it can be overwhelming trying to decide which one to go with – I highly recommend getting in touch with Your Egypt Tours for their incredible Egyptologists. You can read more reviews from other travelers here or e-mail them at [email protected].
You might also like: A 7 Day Egypt Itinerary for First Time Visitors
14. You probably don’t want to rent a car in Egypt
The driving in Egypt is bonkers, mad, hectic, insane. Designated lanes and signalling lane changes don’t exist, and don’t get me started on the traffic and road conditions. We love renting cars and embarking on road trips when we travel, but Egypt is one place where you probably need an experienced local driver to help you get around safely.
15. Egypt’s history and landmarks are mind-blowing
The history and beautiful artifacts in Egypt are, simply put, astounding. From the fallen statue of Ramses II in Memphis to the sprawling Karnak Temple complex in Luxor, you’ll be left wide-eyed with wonder. Make sure you check out these incredible sights in Cairo (beyond the pyramids of Giza) and these stunning landmarks in Luxor.
To prepare for your trip I recommend reading up on Egyptian mythology (I like this Penguin book on Myths and Legends of Ancient Egypt) and familiarizing yourself with this chronology of Egyptian history.
16. It’s not worth the extra fees to enter the Great Pyramid of Giza or King Tut’s Tomb
The pyramids of Cheops (or Khufu), Khafre and Menakaure are the only survivors of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World and you can enter them for an extra fee: approximately 400 LE/US$25 for the Great Pyramid or 100 LE/US$6 for each of the 2nd or 3rd pyramids. However, we were advised by our guide that the burial chambers are actually extremely bare so the entrance fee isn’t necessarily worth the money – you can see some photos from the inside of the Great Pyramid of Giza here. Instead, wait until you visit Sakkara to 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 same goes for the tomb of King Tutankhamen in the Valley of the Kings in Luxor, as all of the treasures including his death masks and sarcophagi have since been moved to the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities in Cairo. You can see some photos from inside the tomb here. Instead, I recommend checking out the tomb of Ramses V and VI (KV 9) – it was the least busy tomb that we visited, well-lit and the walls and paintings were in pristine condition. In my opinion, knowing which “extra” attraction to skip and where to go instead was one of the most important things to know before visiting Egypt.
I hope these Egypt travel tips were helpful and that you have a better idea of what to expect before your trip!
Ready to plan your dream trip to Egypt? Read more about visiting Egypt here:
- Highlights of Egypt: A 7 Day Egypt Itinerary for First Time Visitors
- Experience Egypt: How to Spend 2 Days in Cairo (And What to See Besides the Pyramids)
- Discover the City of Palaces in Egypt: 6 Incredible Things to Do in Luxor
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