When a friend learned that I was traveling in Egypt, his first reaction was, “Why?” Understanding that this question stems from a lot of unfamiliarity or a general concern, I suppressed my initial response. Most of my friends though would often talk about it being their dream/ must-see destination and I’m here to give that little nudge to translate that dream into reality with this mini guide.
First, allow me to back up a bit. My friend Carol and I decided on this trip sometime November last year when an irresistible package deal came up in Expat Explore – a 9 day immersive tour of Egypt. A quick check confirms that up until now the prices are still unreasonably low – a way to attract more tourists from a decline in the industry after the 2011 uprising. But after lifting of travel advisories, Egypt is once more warmly welcoming tourists with its all-time wonders and friendly people and it’s a good time for budget travelers to take advantage of. So here’s a list of few must-knows based on my experience last March.
Is it safe to travel in Egypt?
Admittedly when I booked this trip, I wasn’t aware of the tourist bus incident just a few months back. And what better timing for my friend Carol to bring it up than in our overnight bus journey from Cairo to Aswan. I could hardly take it off my mind and prayed fervently for safety. I know I could’ve felt more at ease if we took that supposed local flight but that bus journey gave me some of the best transitioning landscapes of Egypt whizzing by. I’ll describe it in detail in my Aswan post soon.
As always when travelling, you should always keep your wits about you. When friends who’ve been before would slide suggestions in DM about going to Mt Sinai (something that’s not part of our itinerary but of course would be welcome to see), our Egyptologist pointed it to the map and mentioned that it is part of the red zone so you might avoid straying into that area. Expat Explore follows government travel advisory from this website.
Travelling with a tour group definitely adds an additional ring of security. Our tour guide/ Egyptologist Ramez is like a gangster (big guy, knows everybody around). And this is aside from the armed security personnel that was always with us on the bus and the tourist site.
Is it safe for solo women travellers?
The delay of my friend’s visa approval pushed me to do some research about safety prior to the trip and I never saw anything that says it’s not. But considering the logistics and the different location of the treasures, I’d really prefer a whole company overseeing my trip than arranging it myself.
When is the best time to visit?
Honestly, I can’t imagine visiting Egypt in the summertime while maintaining a modicum of modesty dressing up wise (see what to wear below). I have this condition wherein I sweat nay glisten too much (potentially hyperhidrosis) but admittedly, I was a little underdressed in this trip. Underdressed in the sense that, I found myself a few times chilling in the desert in my turtleneck heater and long dress. But I don’t know, I just can’t conjure up an image of myself wearing a jacket in the desert so I didn’t bring one. The temperatures last month were from 11-18 °C I believe. Most websites would say that the best time to visit would be from October to April. Be mindful though about some archaeological sites especially those in the valleys coz the heat will convince you that Egypt is really indeed in Africa. 🔥 Hehe.
What to wear/ pack? How to be stylish?
As a style blogger I should probably cover this part. I initially meant to write a separate dressing guide for female travellers in Egypt but I’ll probably just do it here. In line with my suggestion to visit in cooler temperature above is my desire to respect the dressing code of the country. If you follow me in social media, you’ve probably seen most of my ‘fits (aka packed all of my maxi dresses) and I’d like to think that 10/11 days in Egypt, I was successful in my choices except when I was in Khan-El-Kalili market. Obviously, I was still wearing a long dress but the shapely fit I guess didn’t bode well for a busy place like that. I saw a man taking videos of me saying something in Arabic (probably for story purposes) and it really got me scared and made me just wanna hide that I wasn’t able to shop much. Lol. So, err in the side of caution and choose loose clothing too aside from just fully covering.
In the desert and valleys, please do better than me and don’t wear sandals lest you want sand getting on your feet (well my packed wet wipes helped a lot but not on discoloration hehe). Sunnies, sunhats and sunscreen would do especially if you’re following some of the suggested itinerary below in What to do section. You could observe that I tried to wear less sunnies here because again, it’s an accessory that I feel doesn’t match the antiquity of the places hehe but I tried wearing my scarf as a turban as a stylish nod to customs here.
What are the people like?
OK. I should probably note this too here but perhaps if you’re aiming to be stylish in Egypt, you uhmm get the attention of the men. It all started in Philae Temple when we gave in to request of a picture with one guy. Apparently, some people noticed it and they started doing the same thing. And it’s not only common for men; women and children do it too. Lakas maka-artista sa Egypt, guys.
In the tourist spots, some vendors might appear aggressive (it’s a tough economic environment after all ) but if you politely refuse them with a helpful phrase such as La Shukraan (that’s No, thank you in Arabic) then they will stop. But seriously, I’m grateful for that woman vendor in Sphinx of Giza who kept an eye on me after getting out to see the Sphinx. Just like a coronation, she put that layered bead necklace on me (after I haggled for the price) and it instantly earned me the title Cleopatra/ Nefertiti everywhere I go Not that I want the attention but I can’t believe how my outfits need that royal touch.
Egyptians mostly do not speak English and even if there is the convenience of Uber, the plate numbers are in Arabic and it really was a struggle last time so a phrase book/ internet connection may come handy.
What is the daily budget?
A dollar goes a long way in Egypt. My happiest purchase in Carrefour is a pack of big plump strawberries that costs only 10 EGP (that’s about 30 PHP I wanna cry lol). Naturally, I had to hoard before I flew out. There was one time when our Egyptologist suggested ordering a Koshari for lunch (a yummy national Egyptian dish with spiced lentils, rice and chickpea) and I couldn’t believe that comforting bowl was just about 20 EGP. But more on food below. In the markets/ souqs, you can always always haggle with vendors to the price you want and some won’t just leave you alone until you buy it (case in point: my Cleopatra necklace in picture above)
It is important to note that many Egyptian workers are very lowly paid and depend on tips for income. Tipping is part of their culture and we had to give extra payment for that during our trip. So please consider it in your budget planning. I’d say about 20 USD/ day for food would suffice but it really depends on everyone’s spending habits.
How’s the food?
The first thing that they warned us here is to always drink from bottled water. As mentioned, our tour package was really good because apart from the intercontinental breakfasts from the hotel in 9 days (one breakfast was in a boat though), we had additional 2 lunches and 3 dinners. I’d have to say that the best Egyptian dishes I tried were those in Aswan (the Nubian dinner and our meals during the felucca cruise). Egyptian cuisine is very tasty and full of spices and you’ll enjoy it if you’re a fan like me. Also quite surprising that there are some dishes that taste like home (something close to menudo).
What to do?
Perhaps my first day shock was learning how close the Great Pyramid of Giza was to the city. I was expecting it to be located somewhere remote hehe but either way, this remaining ancient wonder is mind-blowing and should not be skipped along with the Sphinx. It was rather fun raiding tombs at the Valley of the Kings in Luxor and the best preserved temples will give you the feels of being in an ancient Egyptian temple. They’re just so beautiful! Never miss the iconic Nile river in Aswan – my most favorite city in Egypt. Or dive in the Red Sea. Really, our Nile Adventure itinerary is a good reference.
But my best tip would be to always get a guide in your temple visits. You know they didn’t come up with the word Egyptologist for nothing. I mean, have you ever heard of the word Cambodiologist? Simply put, there’s just too much history in that place and they are there to provide authentic perspective and point details that you wouldn’t discover on your own. Seriously, Karnak Temple that could fit 3 cathedrals? Your guide could make the understanding easier for you what with so many names of pharaohs/kings, architects, gods and goddesses… Aaargh…Egypt is really mind-blowing!
Last tip: There would be some sites that require additional payment for camera and by all means, just pay for it. They’re worth it.
Is it worth it?
If you’re like me who’s never happier being surrounded by anything historically significant then of course Egypt is totally worth it! Everytime our bus passes by a desert and I see a hint of a stone or something, I couldn’t help but wonder if there are still undiscovered temples or treasures underneath it. And fresh from the news today, a 4,400-yr old tomb was just discovered in Giza that still looks mighty good for its age. And it just makes me want to fly back.
History junkie? Egypt is a shining beacon to those who itch to know the world. As one award-winning guide said about Egypt, “When circumstances are not great, people may delay it – but they never take it off their list. It’s because of the history. It’s like nowhere else in the world.”
So to answer that friend above, I wanna say “Why not make Egypt in your travel destination for 2019?” 😉