I recently took my first trip to amazing and colorful Egypt, the land of Civilizations. This fascinating country has plenty to offer, including jaw dropping 5,000 year old temples and ruins, fantastic museums, beautiful natural scenery, ancient and modern cities, delicious food and friendly warm people.
Our trip consisted of two key components, including spending time in the capital and largest city, Cairo, and spending four days on a river boat along the Nile River between Luxor and Aswan. An overview of each is provided in the following separate posts.
Cairo – A City of Sensory Overload
A Scenic River Cruise Along the Nile
How to Tour Egypt
I would recommend that any traveler to Egypt use a good tour group at this time, rather than traveling on their own. Tour groups in Egypt are required to use security personnel. In addition, a tour group takes care of all transportation, hotels, meals, entry fees at attractions (thereby allowing you to bypass long lines) and use tour guides who are experts at providing information about all of the historic sites as well as managing daily logistics. We used Gate1, a tour company that I have used on several other trips. Gate1 offers a wide variety of air and land tours throughout the world at a reasonable price. Their tours include international and domestic transportation, varied and interesting itineraries, optional excursions and good to excellent lodging and dining. In Cairo, we stayed at the Marriott hotel, one of the best hotels in the city, located on Zamalek Island.
Our tour manager and guide, Rania, was excellent. She took care of all 30 of us from the beginning to the end of the trip, especially when some of us became ill from food poisoning. With her degree in archaeology, Rania was an expert Egyptologist, providing an in-depth history of each of the sites we visited, including a description of the hieroglyphics. She also provided information on modern Egypt, including the recent and current politics, social issues, and overall logistics.
Entry and Exit Requirements – American visitors to Egypt are required to have a valid passport with one or more blank pages, and a Visa. Visas can be purchased upon arrival at Cairo International Airport for $25 or can be purchased online ahead of time. All tourist visas are valid for 30 days.
The population of Egypt is approximately 100 million people, and most of the population is concentrated in Cairo, Alexandria and along the fertile Nile Valley. Egypt has a long history of being invaded by various cultures over thousands of years, including the Romans, Greeks, Persians, Arabs, British, French and other groups, resulting in a multi-cultural modern Egyptian society. The vast majority of the population are Sunni Muslim, while about ten to twenty percent are Coptic Christians who adhere to the Coptic Orthodox Church. Copts speak the Coptic language, a direct descendant of the ancient Egyptian language. They are said to be the closest blood line to the ancient Egyptians because they did not marry outside the religion after the Muslim conquest of Egypt in the 7th century. Nubians are an ethnic group mostly concentrated in southern Egypt near Sudan, who speak Nubian languages. Nubian villages are characterized by their brightly painted stucco walls, decorated with colorful symbols and patterns.
People in Egypt are generally friendly, hospitable, and helpful. Most people speak varying dialects of Arabic, however English is widely spoken since Egypt was formerly a British colony.
Food and Drink
Egypt has delicious food, including excellent breads, kofta (spiced minced beef), kebabs, falafel, dips including hummus, labneh and ful nabed, and middle eastern style pastries. One of my favorite dishes is Kushari, a filling platter of rice, macaroni, and lentils and topped with tomato sauce, chickpeas and fried onions. It’s pure Egyptian comfort food. Most hotels also offer western style dishes, including the breakfast buffet. Egyptian coffee is prepared with a mixture of sugar, finely ground coffee and hot water. The grounds are not filtered, but rather allowed to settle prior to serving. Hibiscus tea, also known as Karkadéh, was the preferred drink of the pharaohs, and the beverage is still popular today. We were greeted at many restaurants and shops with this delicious drink. The tea is made by boiling the hibiscus flower, and the drink has a bright pink color.
It is paramount that you don’t drink tap water during your stay in Egypt. Hotels and tour bus operators will provide bottled water daily, which should be used for drinking and when brushing teeth. Food that is cooked is generally fine, but avoid street food, and raw food items such as lettuce, and fruits and vegetables that have been washed or not peeled. Even when taking precautions, out of our tour group of thirty, about six of us still became mildly ill for a few days.
Money and Tipping
In Egypt, both dollars and Egyptian pounds are accepted. However, because of the current heavy fluctuation of the Egyptian pound, many people prefer dollars. As of January 2023, one Egyptian dollar equaled .033 US dollars. Before arriving in Egypt, make sure to bring enough single US dollars for tipping. Tips are generally provided to bus tour drivers ($2 per day), tour guides ($8-$10 per day), baggage attendants and public restroom attendants ($1 for two to three people). At restaurants, tipping is generally about 10 to 15 percent of the bill. If you take photographs of people, such as camel owners, expect them to ask for a tip.
Some of the best locally made items to buy include perfumes, oils and scents, cotton scarves, galabeya (loose gowns worn by both men and women), papyrus, spices, dates, alabaster, silver and gold jewelry and carpets. Adjacent most of the temples and ruins are tourist markets where aggressive vendors will try to sell souvenirs. Souvenirs can also be purchased in the main markets, and at stores. In the markets, if you are not interested in purchasing, it is best to avoid eye contact with or respond to vendors. Once you speak to them, they will harass you, walking with you along the way. If you are interested, make sure to haggle with them – it is expected. Many souvenirs are not actually made in Egypt, but are rather cheap knock offs, so make sure to examine them carefully.
Post written by Steve Sindiong