Egypt Travel Guide – All You Need To Plan Your Egypt Trip

Painted mural of Pharaoh making an offering to Horus in Deir el Bahri.

COMPLETE EGYPT TRAVEL GUIDE

UPDATED: DECEMBER 2022

In 1922, the 5th Earl of Carnarvon was present when Howard Carter first peeped into Tutankhamen’s tomb. When Lord Carnarvon asked him what he could see, Carter famously replied: ‘Wonderful things.”

That is quite the understatement. You’ll find this comprehensive Egypt Tavel Guide, the Ten Day Egypt Itinerary and my many posts on the treasures of ancient Egypt, liberally peppered with superlatives. I am yet to visit another destination that can boast such a vast array of extraordinary heritage sites. And certainly none as steeped in antiquity.

Is Egypt safe for tourists? This guide addresses that principal concern and many other questions related to Egypt travel – including all you need to know about Luxor Pass and Cairo Pass – that have been raised by readers and friends ever since our visit.

I’ve tried to include as many details as I could think of. Collated from my notes and experiences from the journey and fully updated with inputs from our local guides. If you have anything in particular that you still need answers for do feel free to drop me a line here.

Updated December 2022

NOTE: Click on index menu below to jump to specific sections. (Return to menu by clicking the arrow icons below each section.).

Sepia coloured side view of the crowned head of the eagle headed Egyptian God Horus.

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A colonnade with floral capitals at the Philae Temple, Aswan

EGYPT FAST FACTS

  • Capital: Cairo
  • Currency: Egyptian Pound – EGP or LE (XE Rate)
  • Time Zone: GMT+2
  • Language: Arabic
  • Electricity Voltage: 220V
  • Electricity Sockets: Type C and F
  • Work Week: Sunday through Thursday

IS EGYPT SAFE FOR TOURISTS?


Let’s get that burning question out of the way first.

Yes, Egypt is safe for tourists. Incidences of major crime are relatively less across areas frequented by foreigners. Tourists, especially solo women travellers, do face a certain amount of hassle, mostly around popular tourist sites like the pyramids. But it isn’t dangerous and best ignored. If you hire a guide he/she will act as a buffer.

With tourism being a major contributor to the economy, it is in Egypt’s interest to ensure the safety of visitors. Tourist police presence is prominent in the cities and frequent check points along highways are comforting even if they add hours to your journey. The massive downturn post the 2011 revolution – and now due to the current pandemic – will only make tourist safety even more of a priority.

That said, you’ll need to keep your wits about you against scammers and pick pockets when visiting busy sites. Also, wandering off into sensitive areas like northern Sinai and the region bordering Libya is likely to get you into trouble.

Heed your government advisories based on current political developments. Violent attacks claimed by terrorist groups aren’t uncommon, but then where is it these days? There was a shoot out in Brussels Central Station hours before my friend and I arrived in 2017. And there have been numerous incidents in London, Paris, even normally tranquil Sri Lanka.


EGYPT HIGHLIGHTS


The top attractions in Egypt are the Pyramids of Giza, Abu Simbel Temples (from Aswan) and the tombs and temples of Luxor. These highlights, along with a dreamy felucca ride on the Nile, can be covered in a bare bones itinerary of about a week.

It would be a pity, however, to miss out on the fascinating layered history of Cairo, the exquisite tombs of the Old Kingdom necropolis of Saqqara, experiencing, however briefly, the slow rural landscape of the villages along the Nile and the exceptional out of the way temples like those in Abydos and Dendera.

Featured below are individual travel guides for some of these highlights grouped by region/category.

GIZA, SAQQARA & CAIRO

ASWAN AND ABU SIMBEL

ABYDOS AND DENDERA

EPIC TEN DAY EGYPT ITINERARY

You need 10 – 12 nights to experience much of the cultural landmarks of the Nile Valley without feeling too rushed.

Here’s a detailed itinerary for an epic ten days through the best places to visit in Egypt: Crawl into the Great Pyramid, admire the Sphinx in Giza, explore Cairo, Aswan, Abu Simbel, Luxor, Abydos and Dendera like a pro.


MORE THINGS TO DO IN EGYPT


If exploring history and culture in an endless loop of ruins and temples is not your thing, here are a few suggestions to swap with some of the ancient sites.

ALEXANDRIA, founded by Alexander and once renowned for the lighthouse that was one of the seven ancient wonders, is an easy day-trip from Cairo.

RED SEA BEACH RESORTS – There’s a whole load of resort towns to choose from. Here’s an article that will help you pick the right one.

MOUNT SINAI is a pilgrimage site in Egypt popular with Christians, Jews and Muslims alike. According to the Old Testament, this is the place where Moses received the Ten Commandments.

You could combine a visit to Saint Catherine’s Monastery and a sunrise hike to Mount Sinai with the Red Sea resorts. This post shows you how.

WHITE DESERT – Camp under the stars in this surreal desert. Something I look forward to doing if I return.

CAIRO PASS & LUXOR PASS

In November 2016, the Egyptian ministry of antiquities introduced visitor’s passes to facilitate access to landmarks and museums in and around Cairo and Luxor. But there is little official documentation on the process of buying them.

This post addresses all concerns regarding the Cairo Pass & Luxor Pass: the cost, how and where to buy them and if either Cairo Pass or Luxor Pass is worth it for you.

NILE RIVER CRUISE

Drifting along Egypt’s legendary river has been romanticised to such an extent that it feels sacrilegious to not hop onto a Nile cruise. This post brings you all the information you’ll need to plan one and help you decide whether a nile river cruise is worth it for you.

It includes cruise routes, best Nile River cruise boats, even a section on dahabiyas, long Nile cruises departing from Cairo and Lake Nassar boats.


THINGS TO KNOW BEFORE YOU GO


BEST TIME TO TRAVEL TO EGYPT

Summers between May – September are blazing hot especially in the south. We went in end September to take advantage of low season rates and it was very hot even by our (South Indian) standards. December and January are the busiest months.

October, November, February and March are ideal months to visit. The temperatures are significantly lower and you avoid the holiday season influx to some extent.

GETTING TO EGYPT

Egypt Air is the official carrier. Most international carriers operate flights to at least one of Egypt’s international airports in Cairo, Luxor, Sharm el Sheik, Hurghada, St.Catherine and Alexandria.

VISA REQUIREMENTS FOR EGYPT

Valid visas are mandatory for a visit to Egypt. Countries eligible for Evisas can apply online beforehand to save time. Check if you are eligible for EVisa at the Official Egypt E-Visa Portal and follow the instructions for application if you are.

Check eligibility for visa on arrival and applicable visa requirements by filling out your details here.

Visa On Arrival Fees: US$25
E-Visa Fees: Single entry: US$25; Multiple entry: US$60.

Validity: Visa on arrival is single entry only and valid for 30 days from the date of first entry. Single entry E-visas are also valid for 30 days. Multiple entry E-Visas allow any number of entries over a 6 month period from the date of issuance but each entry allows for a maximum stay of 30 consecutive days.

Buy VOA at the official visa kiosks as the touts shouting ‘visa’ charge a premium. You’ll need to stick it on your passport and proceed to passport control.

Update Sept. 2022:

Individual Indian citizens are now eligible for e-visas as well as (conditional) visa on arrival.

Find e-visa application details on the official Egypt E-Visa Portal. While most Indian travellers have faced no issues with e-visas, I’ve read reports of immigration officers and even some airlines insisting on guarantee letters from local travel agents. Do confirm with relevant embassy/consulate if you plan to travel independently.

Visa on arrival for Indian nationals is currently subject to one of the following conditions:

  1. Present a letter of guarantee from an Egyptian travel agency.
  2. Hold valid and used visa issued by Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, USA, United Kingdom or a Schengen Member State.

The lack of clarity IS an issue. Those overwhelmed by the process could opt for hotels/ travel agents that offer meet and greet services – airside – to look after all formalities at the airport.

Movenpick resort & Spa, Aswan

WHERE TO STAY IN EGYPT


PLEASE NOTE – This post contains affiliate links. If you buy something following a link on this page I’ll receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Your support is much appreciated.

We do not usually stay in large chain hotels when we travel but we consider them the best options for Egypt.

We opted not to stay in Giza on our last trip so recommendations are based on feedback from like minded friends who have stayed there. It is an accepted fact that the Marriott Mena House isn’t what it used to be when it was an Oberoi property, but it is still the best option in Giza. There are a couple more basic options in the vicinity with equivalent or much better views from their rooftops.

The Sofitel Legend Old Cataract in Aswan and the Sofitel Winter Palace in Luxor are historic properties and ideal places to stay if they fit into your budget. The Old Cataract is where Agatha Christie camped out for a whole year while she wrote Death On The Nile. On hindsight, we feel we should have splurged on these hotels in place of the Nile Cruise. We stayed in the Movenpick Resort & Spa in Aswan and recommend it.

We seriously considered the Hilton Luxor Resort & Spa and finally opted for the Sonesta St. George for its location and much cheaper price at the time. Our experience wasn’t the best. We tried shifting to the Hilton but too high last minute prices did not merit the change.

The New Memnon Hotel is a highly rated, family owned hotel in Luxor just 100 metres from the Colossi of Memnon. It’s a great option for those focusing on the West Bank sites, especially armed with the Luxor pass.

Accommodation choices in Abu Simbel are limited and basic. Seti Abu Simbel Lake Resort is the largest and most popular with lake view rooms. Eskaleh Nubian House is another well reviewed property.

In Cairo, Four Seasons On The Nile is fabulous, also one of the the priciest. Sofitel Cairo Nile El Gezirah is relatively better value for the same location as is the Kempinski Nile Hotel. We stayed in the Fairmont Nile City and loved it even though location isn’t as central as the others. With price being equal I’d pick the Sofitel.

Hotel: Le Meridien Cairo Airport is the best option if staying your first or final night near the airport.

CHECK FOR MORE OPTIONS TO FIT YOUR BUDGET HERE

WHERE TO EAT IN EGYPT

Note: Free standing restaurants outside of hotels in Aswan & Luxor rarely serve alcohol.

GIZA
Lunch: Felfela | Koshary Hakkaya | 139 Restaurant (Mena House) | Pizza Hut (Only for its famed views)
Dinner: Andrea (Egyptian. 30 min away by road) | Restaurants in the Marriott Mena House/Le Meridien Pyramids Hotels

ASWAN 
Al Dokka (River views.) | Soleih Nubian (On Bigeh Island with Philae temple views. Best combined with temple visit.) | The Terrace at the Sofitel Legend Old Cataract (River views. Reservation recommended) |Panorama Restaurant & Bar and Mezze at the Movenpick Resort (Elephantine Island) | Nubian Dreams (Elephantine Island)

LUXOR
EAST BANK: Al Sahaby Lane (Egyptian with views of Luxor Temple.) | Aboudi Coffee Break (Egyptian with views of Luxor Temple) | Sofra (Egyptian) | Gerda’s Garden (International)
WEST BANK: Maratonga cafe right opposite Medinet Habu | Marsam (near the ticket office are both good spots with shady terraces)

CAIRO
Lunch – Koshary Abou Tarek | Egyptian Pancake House (for fiteer – sweet & savoury pancakes) | Khan El Khalili Restaurant & Naguib Mahfouz Coffee Shop | Fishawy Cafe | Fasahet Somaya (Homestyle Egyptian) | Felfela & Zooba (Shawarma/Felafel chains)
Dinner – Le Tarbouche (Egyptian) and other restaurants in the Le Pacha 1901 venue | Studio Misr in Al Azhar Park (For great citadel views.) | Loads of dining options in 5 Star Hotels including Le Deck By Laurent Peugeot in the Sofitel El Gezirah ((French) & Bab el Nil in the Fairmont Nile City (Middle Eastern)


EGYPT TRAVEL TIPS


GETTING AROUND EGYPT

Flights are the quickest and most convenient way to travel between cities. The 23kg domestic baggage allowance is generous and snacks/meals are included in the price. Book directly on the Egyptair website.

Buses are the cheapest mode of inter-city travel (11 hrs to Luxor; 15 hrs to Aswan). GoBus is reputed to be reliable with an App for booking on the go.

First Class air conditioned VIP Tourist Trains to Luxor (10 hrs) and Aswan (13 hrs) are reputed to be excellent. Others not so much. Tickets can be booked directly at the station, through a travel agent or via the Ernst Website. Overnight sleeper trains need to be booked in advance.

Cruising the Nile is a decades old option that I have dedicated a separate section to above.

Cairo has a decent metro system with fixed rates per zone. Uber, introduced four years ago, is the most convenient way to get around. If you have to take regular taxis find out the approximate fare range from your hotel and agree upon a price beforehand.

Also get hotel staff to write down the name of your destination in Arabic or have images of nearby landmarks on your phone that you can show the driver. Having smaller bills in cash is preferable, you do not want to waste time haggling over change.

In Luxor, I recommend hiring taxis/ private car & driver for the day. Caleche (horsecarts) are commonly used. Just make sure the horses appear well looked after.

Self driving is NOT recommended in Egypt. Traffic in Cairo is horrendous and navigating through the checkpoints along highways could prove stressful. Many also need prior security clearance. And many regional roads are closed from sunset to sunrise.

We generally hire a taxi (within cities) or private vehicle and driver (for longer excursions) for the day.

SIM CARDS

Vodafone, Orange, Etisalat and WE are all reputed companies offering reasonable packages and good coverage across Egypt. All four have offices in the arrivals hall between baggage claim and terminal exits. They are open 24/7 in the Cairo airport.

Payment is in EGP but they accept credit cards. You’ll need to have an unlocked phone for local sim cards to work and you’ll need to show your passport. Best to get the vendors to activate the card for the instructions are mostly in Arabic.

Check for the best and latest packages on their individual websites.

PHOTOGRAPHY PASSES

UPDATE AUGUST 2022: As per ministry of Antiquity announcement dated August 2022: “Personal (non commercial) photography using mobile phones, cameras (traditional and digital) and video cameras is allowed inside museums and archaeological sites (without using flash indoors).”

More details here. Relaxation of rules might take time to percolate down to the ground so do ask before you pull out your DSLRs. As far as I know tripods will still incur a charge.

  • Expect to pay a fee for the use of cameras inside many attractions. They range from EGP 50 at museums and less popular sites to EGP 300 at the more iconic.
  • Camera passes in the Valley of the Kings cost EGP 300 for a group of three standard tombs only. You’ll need to buy additional passes if you want to visit/photograph more tombs. You can buy batches in advance at the main Antiquities Inspectorate Ticket Office and at the respective ticket counters.
  • Tripods are always charged extra, usually EGP 20.
  • Drones are illegal to fly in Egypt. You will not be allowed to bring it in.
  • Photography of military buildings is prohibited.

WHAT TO WEAR IN EGYPT

Knowing Cairo is a conservative Islamic country, expect to dress modestly.

Men have few restrictions barring bare bodies and too-short shorts. Ladies should avoid anything too revealing or too short, especially for sightseeing in historic parts of Cairo where you will be mingling with locals.

Skirts, dresses and loose pants/khakis in natural materials will be most comfortable. Sleeveless tops are fine for excursions but always carry a shirt, overlay or stole to cover up if/when required. Covering your hair isn’t expected except when entering mosques, so keep a large scarf or stole handy.

Restrictions do not apply on board cruise boats and in beach resorts.

If you are travelling in winter carry a light jacket for the evenings. Also handy for dawn activities like balloon rides.

PACKING ESSENTIALS FOR A TRIP TO EGYPT

Read my essential packing list for a general travel checklist.

  • Comfortable shoes/ sandals
  • Light cotton/linen outfits
  • Light jacket (see above)
  • Sunscreen & wide-brimmed hat.
  • Couple of pairs of sunglasses. More if you are prone to losing them.
  • Scarves are handy to cover up in mosques and when out in the sun.
  • Plenty of tissues. Toilet paper is either missing or doled out rather stingily. I prefer carrying my own.
  • Portable water filters and water bottles.
  • Hand sanitiser.

TIPPING IN EGYPT

Tipping is expected. Everywhere. By waiter, porter, driver, guide. It can get annoying but you have to understand that the average citizen is paid below subsistence salaries and relies on gratuities – even from locals – to make ends meet. Things will likely get far, far worse in a post-pandemic scenario.

So budget for it. And make sure you carry small bills. In local currency. A cardinal rule for any third world country you visit. It isn’t easy for people lower in the service chain to exchange foreign currency. And coins, not at all.

How much to tip? Here’s a great article on Egyptian tipping culture, guidelines and etiquette.

GENERAL PRECAUTIONS WHILE TRAVELLING IN EGYPT

  • Avoid visiting popular sites like the Pyramids on Fridays and Saturdays (Egyptian weekend).
  • Tap water is not safe to drink in Egypt. While bottled water is plentiful and reasonably priced in most places, carrying refillable water bottles and portable water filters would be eco friendlier options.
  • Have a reasonable cash back-up. It is best to change money in Cairo. While ATMs are present in Aswan & Luxor, you might not find them handy close to the attractions. Credit cards are accepted in hotels & larger establishments but you’ll need cash for all entrance tickets and local markets.
  • LGBT travellers are advised discretion. While homosexuality isn’t technically illegal, public declaration or support have resulted in arrest.
  • Warning on alcohol consumptions & pricing in Egypt
    • Drinking alcohol in public, outside of bars & restaurants with permits, is illegal.
    • Most free standing restaurants in Egypt, especially in the smaller towns of Aswan & Luxor do not serve alcohol. While hotels and high end restaurants do, be aware that there is a huge tax levied on imported liquor (quite like in India) that might not always be evident in the menu but will show up in the final bill.
    • Local beers – Stella & Saqqara – and wines are reasonably priced.
    • Some restaurants allow you to bring your own bottles and charge a small corkage. Cross check with each restaurant whether that’s a possibility.
    • Alcohol will not be served anywhere during the month of Ramadan.

SHOULD YOU HIRE A TOUR COMPANY/GUIDE?


Egypt is perfectly doable on your own. We booked all our hotels ourselves as well as all the domestic flights directly on Egypt Air. And visiting Abu Simbel independently was a breeze.

But we did hire private guides and drivers for day excursions to Dahshur & Saqqara, Karnak & Luxor temples and for the Abydos & Dendera day-trip. Our felucca ride was organised by a local agency as well. Our other Luxor sightseeing was covered by our cruise or we would have likely hired guides for those too.

In short, I wholly recommend hiring reputed transport providers/guides at least for the longer day-trips for more efficient use of limited time.

The complimentary copy of the Ten Day Egypt Itinerary includes names of travel companies that I routinely recommend to friends I’ve helped plan trips for. Download your copy now.

DISCLAIMER- The information provided in this post has been meticulously checked for accuracy at the time of writing. While efforts will be made to keep it updated periodically things can change without notice. Please do corroborate all details with relevant companies/websites before finalising your travel plans.

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