Egypt is a country of contrasts, old and new blending together, this can be seen everywhere on a daily basis. Truly a country rich in History and Culture, the prices are reasonable, although they do tend to fluctuate with the seasons and supply and demand. The people are friendly and hospitable, and crime is rare.
To help you better understand what to expect and to ensure you get the most out of your trip we are providing some travelers information that we hope will assist you in your journey. Go with an open mind to the lifestyle and culture and the experience will be memorable and rewarding.
It should be noted that it is more cost effective to book with a Tour Operator or Travel Agency with Egyptian contacts than it is to try to book independently.
Negotiating prices on items and services can be a daunting experience as many merchants will negotiate a rate, then look for a higher price when you come to pay. This is particularly common with Taxis. If you do make any independent bookings on your own with Hotels etc. please ensure you have full written confirmations.
If travelling independently using Guide Services will save you a great deal of time and money. The guide will negotiate rates on your behalf, and you won't be constantly hassled by the local service providers and street vendors. Guides aren't necessary for Resort Stays in Hurghahda or Sharm el Sheik.
If travelling with an escorted Tour be sure to ask your guide for advice on buying. Check for quality and of course the final price you pay is your decision.
What to wear:
In order to respect the culture it is recommended that you not wear anything sleeveless, (either for male or female), no short shorts, and no see-through clothing. Conservative clothing is the preferred wearing apparel. No head coverings are required for the Churches or Mosques but you will be given a cloak or wrap to wear if you are showing your legs.
Although the water is treated, it does contain chemicals that your body will not be used to, and these chemicals won't disappear with boiling. So please be cautious with all drinks and food that may contain water, i.e. Coffee, Tea, Ice, etc. Bottled water is available everywhere, the Baraka brand does have a mild laxative effective. You can also purchase a filter water bottle to take with you from most Department Stores.
Please note drinks are not included with any meals in Egypt, this includes Water and Soft Drinks. Coffee or Tea are served with Breakfast but all other drinks must be paid for. It is important to check the prices of drinks before you order, especially any alcoholic drinks which can work out expensive.
Rice, Pasta, Beans, Salads, Chicken, Fish, Lamb, Pickled Veggies, Pita Bread and the local dips are just some of the regular foods served. The Cruise Ships and large Hotels serve a wide variety of European and North American style foods as well, and there are numerous choices of restaurants particularly in Cairo.
Take the usual precautions with meat and fish ensuring it is well cooked and heated, and remove peel from any vegetables or fruits.
If you should run into problems the pharmacies carry products that we have found work extremely well and are superior to anything I was able to purchase in North America. It is advisable to take and carry imodium around with you.
No immunisations or special Health precautions are normally required for Egypt but it does not hurt to get the latest information from your local travel clinic.
Lunches tend to be full meals like dinners and the prices range from $8 US to $30 US depending on the restaurants chosen, and the 5 star hotels of course are a little higher priced. The average is $10-$15 US.
We advise that you take out cancellation insurance to cover the tour non-refundable costs should you have to cancel for medical or other qualifying reasons. Of course it is always advisable to carry medical insurance in another country, evacuation, as general medical expenses can run extremely high.
There are several options but we are able to offer you 2 reasonably priced international policies. The coverage is available to all nationalities. You may wish to implement your own options but it would be inadvisable to travel without at least the basic medical coverage.
One to 3 Month Visas can be purchased on arrival at the Airport from most countries. Approx. $15-$20 US for a one month Visa. You will need to have your money ready to go to the Bank on arrival. They will sell you two stamps to place in your passport on a blank page before going through customs.
We can arrange for a meet and greet service to assist with your Visa processing before going through customs for $25 per passport including the cost of the Visa. This speeds up the arrival process considerably.
Imodium, Sunglasses, Sunscreen, Repellent, aHat, and Antihistaminic if you are susceptible to any allergies. If carrying any prescription medication, please make sure to carry it in your hand-luggage.
Month Celsius Fahrenheit
January 18 65
February 21 69
March 24 75
April 34 93
May 33 91
June 35 95
July 37 98
August 35 95
September 32 90
October 30 86
November 26 78
December 20 68
Although rental cars are available we would not advise renting a car, traffic is congested, and the rules of the road are very different, with drivers waving hand signals, honking horns to communicate. Parking is very difficult and sometimes impossible particularly in the cities. Far better to rent a vehicle with a driver, then come and go as you please.
Most are basic and few utilize the meter system. Make sure they know were you want to go, and negotiate a price before departure. The prices will be reasonable, but if you have agreed a price, pay the driver and walk away on arrival as he is likely to ask for more.
Utilized extensively by the locals 50 piastas per trip, a different experience.
Street buses are a basic, but a cheap means of getting around for locals. Buses between cities are of a higher standard, and have washrooms and a waitress service onboard for longer trips.
On day trains it is well worth paying the extra for First Class, still very reasonably priced. The seats are comfortable, reclining, almost like flying first class on a plane but not quite as clean. There is a trolley wait service for snacks, sandwiches and drinks. The washrooms are either end of the cabins but have a lot to be desired for cleanliness.
The night sleeper trains are managed by Carlson Wagonlit (now Abella Egypt)and are quite comfortable. Beds are one up and one down bunk beds. Adjoining carriages are available for families. An adequate dinner and breakfast are served directly to the cabin as part of the price. Drinks with the meals are not included other than coffee with breakfast. There is a wash sink in each cabin, toilets at the end of each carriage. Luggage is stored overhead in your cabin.
Expect to tip the cabin attendant, and anyone carrying your luggage as the guide will not be with you to take care of these. Always a good idea to have 1LE bills on hand for small tips.
Private Cars and Vans with Drivers:
Probably the best way to travel around, you usually pay a daily rate, but the driver will wait or return for you while you visit museums etc. Make sure you deal with a reputable company, and consider using a guide otherwise at each site you visit the site guides (local unlicensed guides or vendors) will walk along with you. Even if you have told them you don't want their services they are very persistent and continue to point things out and then expect you to pay them at the end.
In Cairo: Efficient, well organized, and runs to a strict timetable, well worth using if the train goes to areas where you want to travel.
Nile Water Buses:
Fast and cheap for crossing the Nile or going to the areas closer to the river either west or east bank, like Cairo University, Zoo, Ramses Hilton Hotel, Down town, Egyptian Museum.
Geography and Maps:
Egypt has a unique location in the middle of the world, centered between the East and West occupying the North East corner of Africa. Here the Suez Canal connects Asia with Europe and onto America.
In Egypt air (Egyptair) is the best way to transfer between cities (Cairo to Luxor/Sharm El Sheik/Hurghada/Aswan - one way flight average $150 US) average flight time approx. one hour.
The other alternative between Cairo and Luxor/Aswan is by First Class WagonLit sleeper train, with a sleeper cabin or flight style seating or by First Class Day Train - the price is considerably less by train than by flying.
Other options to Hurghada and Sharm El Sheik where there is no train service is a drive of 56 hours by Deluxe A/C Van/Car/Coach.
Cairo - Aswan:14 hours by train - one hour flight.
Cairo - Luxor:11 hours train - 45 Minutes flight.
Cairo - Hurghada 6 hours drive (no train available) - 45 minutes flight.
Cairo - Sharm:7 hours drive (no train available) - 50 minutes flight.
Cairo - Alexandria - 3 hours drive
Cairo - Suez Canal - 2 hours drive.
Cairo - St.Catherine - 6 hours drive.
Cairo - Fayoum - 90 minutes drive.
Luxor - Aswan - 4 hours drive or train.
Aswan - Abusimbel - 30 minutes flight or 4 hours drive.
Luxor - Abydos - 2 hours drive.
Luxor - Hurghada - 4 hours drive.
Comfort items to take with you:
Since the 11th September, rules on carrying electrical items have changed so it is important to check with the airline before departure if they should be in your main or carry-on luggage.
A Travel Hairdryer - some Hotels have them but they are attached to the walls and usually only have one speed. There are small travel dryers that you can purchase that take up hardly any space in your luggage.
A Travel Iron - If you have clothes that need ironing it's best to take a travel iron with you as most Hotels offer an ironing service but not the iron itself. This of course takes time and laundry services can run expensive.
A Travel Kettle - Great if you like to have a coffee or tea before retiring. We found this item to be a blessing on numerous occasions.
A Water Bottle Carrier - You'll find this a useful item as there is a tendency to carry a water bottle with you everywhere you go.
A Travel Water Filter - I found this to be indispensable, there are various types but obviously the smaller the better.
A Small Fold Up Holdall or Back Pack - For those one night occasions like on the night train or an overnight stop in St. Catherines when you don't want to be using your large suitcase.
C U L T U R E:
Egyptians in general do not drink, there are severe restrictions on the purchase of alcohol. Most Restaurants and tourist spots do serve alcoholic drinks, and if you have purchased duty free, you may drink it in your room. However, alcohol is not readily available to purchase by the bottle, and Alcoholic drinks can be expensive. You should check the price first before ordering, so there are no surprises.
You would be wise to carry tissue with you at all times, as Egyptian public washrooms do not provide tissue. Most times there will be an attendant who will supply a napkin for drying your hands, but this is limited and tipping will be expected. The washrooms utilize a water tap for cleaning, usually at the back of the toilet. Take care when using it the first time. Try to carry 1 LE or 50 Piasta notes for washrooms, both male and female will be required to pay.
Egypt is a cash community. ATM Machines, cashing money on a credit card, or changing Travelers Checks are accessible at major Hotels. The US Dollar is well received almost anywhere. Credit cards are limited to major Hotels, upscale Stores and Restaurants, and Travelers Checks are difficult to change outside of a major Hotel and a number of banks.
It is advisable not to change money at the Airport as the exchange rate and service charges may not be competitive with the banks. And in the meantime carry some small US bills as they are accepted everywhere.
The star rating program in Egypt cannot be compared to North America. They have a different system. North American Hotels are inspected regularly but this is not the case in Egypt, they tend to get issued a star rating on opening and 20 years later they probably have the same rating although no upgrades may have been done to the Hotel.
Therefore a new 4 star could rate higher than an old 5 star. Some 5 star Hotels are totally unacceptable by our standards. Our Tour Operators try to identify the best Hotels in each category 3/4 star (Tourist) or 4/5 star (First Class/Deluxe) by quality and service and not necessarily based on the actual star the property carries.
The Hotels utilized are clean and of a good standard, both in quality and service. If you should run into any problems with your room or the Hotel or its service it is essential that you bring it to the immediate attention of the Tour Operator or if travelling independently the Hotel itself (the best way is to go directly to the assistant manager usually located in the main lobby of a 5 stars hotel). They will deal with any issues and change your room or Hotel if necessary.
We are often asked what Hotels we use and what is the difference between 3*/4*/5* star - so we have tried to explain this here.
3*Star - Tourist - clean hotel with no frills, private bathroom, mainly Egyptian family owned.
4* Star - Superior Tourist - more amenities than the 3* like restaurants and pools. Some Egyptian owned some Western management Chain Hotels like the Novotel in Luxor.
5* Star - First Class - Major Chain hotels in Cairo i.e. Hilton, Meridien, Sheraton either on the Nile or by the Pyramid. In Hurghada these are major resorts overlooking the water with private beaches and lots of facilities and large swimming pools.
Cruise ships: - We use only 4*/5* Star Cruise ships ie. The Sherryboat, Beau Soleil, Mirage, President etc. All cabins are outside cabins with private facilities.
Note: It is not possible to deal with Hotel issues on your return as they are prepaid and once you have left they are not about to issue any refunds, especially if your concerns where not brought to their attention while you where staying with them.
Baksheesh (Tips or Gratuities):
In Egypt tipping (or Baksheesh) is a general practice everywhere (even among the Egyptians themselves), and ensures extra services at monuments, museums etc. It can be a hassle and become irritating, but it is part of the lifestyle in Egypt. It's best if you don't require the services to refuse politely but firmly.
If you have a guide with you, check with them beforehand where tipping is expected. They normally take care of any baksheesh at the sites, and for included meals etc. However, you should carry 1LE notes for occasional tipping for luggage, housekeeping, washrooms and other incidental services required when the guide is not with you.
It is customary to tip Guide and Drivers at the end of the time with them approx. $2-$4 US per day for the driver and $3-$5 US per day for the guide - these are per person, the same for cabin service and waiters on the Cruise Ships. The best way is to use an envelope, and put in the tip with a little note if appropriate and hand it to them in person at the end of their service.
Note: The above are guidelines on tipping, and it should be noted that although tipping is customary and expected it is at your discretion and it is entirely up to you how much you tip and whether to tip or not.
If you want to take something to hand out to the kids when appropriate Pens or Candy are very popular. If someone asks you for the loan of a pen don't expect to get it back. So don't lend any good pens. Remember if you give out pens or candy to one child there will be 10 others come out of nowhere within seconds looking to get one from you.
Drugs are strictly prohibited and the consequences for use can be very severe. Don’t even consider it.
Crime is low, rape rare, Aids is almost non existent, arguments may flare up over a traffic violation, but are usually over quite quickly. Family feuds are more common then any form of crime. It is safe to walk the streets at any time of day, like all cities you should be cautious and attentive to your whereabouts.
Smoking is quite prevalent, although it is banned in all food restaurants. If you are a smoker yourself you might want to try smoking the water pipe (Shesha) in one of the many street cafes.
Customs & Culture:
The population is made up of mainly Moslems and Coptic Christians. The main day of worship is Fridays, which is their weekend holiday. Government offices, Institutions, and Banks close Fridays and Saturdays.
The food is varied, chicken and lamb are popular, as is rice, pasta, beans and Pita bread. Tea (Shai) is the main drink of the Egyptians, and is served frequently with mint.
Egyptians keep themselves and their homes very clean. Litter is a problem, particularly in the poorer areas where solid waste disposal is lacking. The noise level in parts of the Cities is quite high, and Cairo in particular is a 24 hour city when most stores and activities go on around the clock non-stop.
It is common form of greeting to see men or women holding hands, linking arms, and embracing on the cheek with others of the same sex. This is their culture and there are no sexual overtures to it. Men and women do not show affection to each other in public. It is acceptable to hold, or link arms with your partner in public, but that is it. To be on the safe side, and so as not to offend, it is best to follow what you see, Kissing and hugging your partner or boy/girl friend is not appropriate in public.
Don't expect to see Supermarkets and Department stores. They have a couple of Malls with boutique style stores, but no Department stores that could be compared to Europe or North America. They do have Metro and Sainsbury's grocery stores but in general these are the equivalent of our corner stores, not the large Supermarkets we are used to. Street Markets, food carts and small stores are everywhere, and the normal way of shopping in Egypt.
Unique Shopping items:
Gold Cartouche's with your name in Hieroglyphics.
Papyrus Pictures - again you can have your name put on.
T-Shirts in Egyptian Cotton with Egyptian Logos or names in Hieroglyphics.
Handmade Carpets and wall-hangings.
Egyptian Cotton items.
Unique Perfume Essences - These are wonderful but before leaving the store check your perfume is what you purchased. Some unscrupulous retailers have been known to substitute clear oil for the perfume, then wrap it for you to take home - you may not find this out until you arrive home and unwrap the package, so please insist on checking them as they wrap - if you pay by credit card you have a come back on them.
Note: Check over any purchases carefully, ask your guide for advice but the final price and quality of any articles you purchase are your own responsibility.
Telephone, Cellphones and Internet Cafes:
The Telephone system in Egypt is overloaded and antiquated. 4/5 Star Hotels will have direct line dialing and international service. Some hotels have data ports and even their own Internet Cafes, or you can hook up your laptop directly to the phone if you have an ISP service you can use.
Calling cards through an International Operator (AT & T etc) or credit cards can be used for calling. They do have calling cards available for sale everywhere to be used in the local call boxes, which are usually two different types. Directions may not always be in English.
There are Internet Cafes in all the major cities - Cairo/Luxor/Aswan/Alexandria/Hurghada,
They usually range from $3 to $6 US an hour, with a minimum 15 minute charge. However, the ISP's are not as reliable and it is sometimes difficult to get on particularly in the evening, and it's not unusual to get booted off.
Cellphones are everywhere in Egypt, it has one of the highest usages for cellphones in the world, which makes sense as their Telephone system can't keep up with the regular phone requirements. They have international cellphone service, and it covers just about everywhere, even the most remote areas. Outgoing calls are quite expensive, but in most cases there is no charge for incoming calls. If renting independently, check all the charges ahead of time.
Cellphone Rental Service:
In order for our clients to stay in touch with home we offer a cellphone rental service for $4 US per day for incoming calls only. This allows you to give anyone at home your cellphone number in advance to call you directly at any time day or night, at no additional charge over the $4 US per day to you. They will of course pay for an international call, but it will be at your home rates. This service is NOT set up for outbound calls. It is ideal for those at home to call you in case of emergencies, or just to keep you up to date with things at home.
Tips for all Travelers
1. Do not expect to find things precisely as they are at home, as you have left home to find things different.
2. Do not take anything too seriously for a carefree mind is the cornerstone of a good vacation.
3. Do not let other tourists get on your nerves for you are paying good money to enjoy yourself.
4. Do not worry or you will have little joy. Contact your Tour representatives and let them worry for you.
5. Do not judge all of a country by one bad person or one bad experience.
6. Blessed are those who are patient for they enjoy themselves.
7. When in Rome (or anywhere else) do only somewhat as the natives do. Remember you come from a different climate and routine.
8. Treat your hosts with respect and you will be received as honored guests.
9. Ensure you carry a valid passport when entering and exiting a Country. Keep in a safe place at all times, it is said that a person without ID is a person in distress.
10. Pack half as many clothes as you need and take twice as much money as you plan on spending.
LAST BUT NOT LEAST - HAVE A GREAT TRIP