Useful Things to Know Before Visiting Egypt

Ten years ago when I was in Egypt for the first time I stayed in an all-inclusive resort on the beach in Sharm El-Sheikh. It was nice for a short vacation, but I didn’t learn much from the culture. The culture in Egypt is fascinating because it is so different from mine. About 90% of the population of Egypt are Islam. Because we wanted to explore as much as possible in three weeks, our time in Egypt was pretty intense. Every city we visited was so different from each other. The people in Egypt are incredible hospitable, helpful and warm-hearted. We felt very safe in Egypt and also met a few solo female travellers. The only part of Egypt that is not recommended to visit is the north-east. Please don’t kiss in public since you can get a fine and wear long trousers if possible. Covering the hairs as a woman is not a must but appropriate in some places (more in the south). Best is to adapt to the people around you.

Egypt is poor economically but very rich in culture. Some of the constructions, like the pyramids, are over 4’500 years old. What amazes me the most is the fact how well some of them are still intact. Since tourism is one of the most important sources of income in the country, the lack of tourists because of Covid-19 has been devastating. I am sure this is also the case in other 3rd world countries. The hardest part was to see kids jumping into containers searching for food. The average salary is around 200 USD per month. Some people only earn 40 USD per month or less. Therefore it is common that the children help to get an income. Most people that we met started working at a very early age to support the family. I am very grateful that we had the opportunity to travel with Couchsurfing. It gave us the chance to ask questions and listen to stories that took us a while to digest.

Dust, garbage and dirt are part of everyday life. I think Chris put it mildly when he said Cairo is disgusting. On the other hand Cairo has a lot to offer culturally and some parts are actually pretty nice architecturally. Another common feature has been the abundance of unfinished houses in Egypt. The reason for it is either a lack of money or they started to build illegally and then got stopped.

Female genital mutilation (FGM) is still widespread in Egypt. The 2008 Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) in Egypt found that 91% of women of reproductive age have undergone FGM. The clitoris is perceived a source of sexual desire rather than sexual pleasure. FGM is intended to reduce women’s sexual appetite and increase women’s chastity. Procedures can cause severe bleeding and problems urinating, and later cysts, infections, infertility as well as complications in childbirth and increased risk of newborn deaths. In 2008, the Egyptian Parliament agreed to criminalize FGM in the Penal Code. I recommend watching the movie “Desert Flower” if you would like to learn more about FGM. The circumcision for men is mandatory.

Basic English – Arabic

  • thank you = shukran
  • enjoy your meal =  Alfa hana
  • how much? = Be kam?
  • What’s your name? My name is… = esmak eh? Esmi…

Hurghada

Hurghada is a nice place to live. You can find lots of expats, but also lots of locals. I liked that everything is walkable and the food in local restaurants is one of the best we tried. Beach access is between 35 and 70 EGP. We booked a tour to Orange Bay where we stopped at a few places for snorkelling. It was sad to see how many of the corals are already bleached. Restaurants we liked (not sponsored): Isra Restaurant, Aboadm Restaurant, El Dar Darak.

Luxor

To get from the west to the east side of the Nile, you can take the national ferry boat right behind the Luxor museum (5 EGP for tourists). We did enjoy the different temples in Luxor, but not so much being there as a tourist. The locals don’t mind approaching and following you to sell you anything. I recommend visiting the Karnak temple, the valley of the king and a trip on the Nile with a boat.

Aswan

The Nile in Aswan is pretty clean compared to the rest of the country. The people are more conservative. It was fun to visit the different islands. I recommend visiting the Temple of Isis and the Nubia Museum. Restaurants we liked (not sponsored): Abeer Resturant, Makka Restaurant, Alwinsh Foul And Falafel (Take-Away).

Alexandria

Arriving in Alexandria made us feel like in a different country. The architecture is partly Greek and the locals are more open-minded. The ancient city of Alexandria is under water.

Cairo

Cairo is the largest metropolis in Africa with around 20 Mio inhabitants. From the pyramids I could see all the smog hanging above the city. It is probably the most polluted city I ever visited. The pyramids and the sphinx were indeed very impressive. I also enjoyed the Egyptian museum.

Dahab

We didn’t plan to go to Dahab but pretty much everybody we met recommended us to either visit Dahab or the Oasis Siva. Even though it was not so easy to get to Dahab from Cairo, we are very glad we did. Our driver thought it would be fun and exciting not to use the lights of the car while driving in the dark. Every now and then he would turn them on. According to our host who is a scuba diver, the best spot for snorkelling is called the island a bit south of Dahab. Dahab is a little hippy town and has thanks to that quite a lot of vegetarian / vegan restaurants. It is very peaceful and on one side you have the mountains and the other side the sea. The Dahab Lagoon is worth checking out too. Access to the sea is free. Restaurants we liked (not sponsored): Yum Yum Egyptian Food (breakfast), El Mahalawy For Fresh Juices, Namaste Indian Food, Eldorado Lodge & Restaurant (Italian pizza).

Sharm El-Sheikh

Sharm El-Sheikh is like living in its own bubble. Especially after experiencing the rest of Egypt, we felt like in Las Vegas. You won’t see many homeless people, it is very safe and the shopping malls (e.g. SOHO Square) and building complexes are very clean. The Sahaba Mosque in the old market is very beautiful. Naama Bay and Gold Beach are nice beaches.

Food

Eating vegan in Egypt was surprisingly easy. Dates, fresh juices, fruits, and nuts are easy to get anywhere. Breakfast in Egypt is always vegetarian, if not vegan. You can choose from the following dishes: Ta’ameya (falafel with fava beans and green herbs), tahini, Baba Ganoush, fried eggplants, Ful Medames (mashed fava beans and spices), tomato-cucumber salad, mashed potatoes, fried cauliflower in a dough, Aish Baladi (local bread). They also have eggs and cheese to choose from.

Vegan dishes for dinner:

  • Mahshi: Grape leaves stuffed with rice and spices. Mahshi can also be made from cabbage leaves, bell pepper or zucchini.
  • Lentil or tomato soup
  • Molokhya: An oily soup made with green leaves. Not always vegan since they often use chicken stock.
  • Koshary: A mix of rice, different pasta and lentils. It is topped with tomato sauce, chickpeas, garlic vinegar sauce and fried onions.
  • Bamya: Okra in tomato sauce.

A meal in a local restaurant for 2-4 people: 40-60 EGP.
A meal in a restaurant is 80-150 EGP.

  • Big water bottle: 5 EGP. The tap water is not safe to drink.
  • Turkish coffee: 10 EGP.
  • Fruit smoothie from the local sugar cane shop: 25 EGP.

Transport

Public transport is very well for Africa. Bigger cities like Cairo, Alexandria and Hurghada even have Uber, which is safe, affordable and comfortable. From the airport Hurghada to the city center it is 65-75 EGP (15 minutes). Mini vans inside the city cost between 2-3 EGP per ride.

Public buses operated by private companies are the main way of long-distance travel besides the train. Buses and trains we took:

  • Go Bus from Hurghada to Luxor: 135 EGP (4.5 hours)
  • Train from Luxor to Aswan: 141 EGP (3 hours)
  • Night train from Aswan to Alexandria: 240 EGP (17.5 hours). There is also a tourist sleeping train with bunk beds and separate cabin for 80 USD.
  • Super Jet Bus from Alexandria to Cairo (every hour): 80 EGP (2.5 hours).
  • Go bus Minivan from Cairo to Dahab: 230 EGP (9 hours). Over 15 checkpoints. Less if going out of Sinai.
  • Bus from Dahab to Sharm El-Sheikh: 50 EGP (1.5 hours)

Accommodation

  • Couchsurfing is popular in bigger cities.
  • Hostels start at 180 EGP per night.
  • Hotels start at 350 EGP per night.

Money

  • Official currency: Egyptian Pound (EGP).
  • ATM fee: usually none.

I recommend taking money with you if you have the possibility and exchange it at exchange places (not at the airport). The rate is very well and the same everywhere. 

Cost of living

  • Rent an apartment: 3’000 – 4’000 EGP / month (local price).
  • Sim card (Orange): 10 GB for 110 EGP or 19 GB for 160 EGP.
  • Hairdresser: 50-200 EGP.
  • Doctor visit: 200 EGP.
  • Dental cleaning: 150 EGP.

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