Getting there & away
If you’re heading to Egypt from Europe, the easiest way to get there is to fly direct. If you’re coming from any other continent, it can sometimes be cheaper to fly first to Europe and then make your way to Egypt. And, of course, there are also the overland combinations of bus, taxi and ferry from other European, African and Middle Eastern countries to consider.
From Port Said, boats to Limassol in Cyprus depart twice weekly from May to November (one-way US$120). For information and tickets, visit one of the many shipping agents in town. These include Canal Tours (066-332 1874, 012 798 6338; email@example.com; 12 Sharia Palestine, Port Said; 8am-3pm & 7pm-midnight), a few blocks up from the tourist office. Note that some nationalities (mainly those from the subcontinent) must be in possession of a valid visa for Cyprus to be allowed on board the boats.
Mena Tours (066-322 5742, 323 3376; Sharia al-Gomhuriyya, Port Said) acts as the agency for the limited passenger-ship services that operate between Port Said and various Mediterranean destinations, including Beirut (Lebanon). At the time of research no passenger boats were operating between Egyptian ports and any ports in Europe.
There’s an excellent fast-ferry service between Nuweiba in Egypt and Aqaba in Jordan leaving Nuweiba at 3pm and taking one to two hours depending on sea conditions. Heading back to Egypt, fast ferries depart from Aqaba and head back to Nuweiba at 11am. One-way tickets cost US$59 for adults, US$39 for children aged three to 12 years. You must be at the port two hours before departure in order to get through the shambolic departure formalities in the main ferry terminal building.
Note that there’s also a slow ferry (adult/child US$49/29, 2½ hours) leaving at noon daily, though we can’t stress how much more comfortable it is to shell out the extra US$10 and take the fast ferry.
Tickets must be paid for in US dollars (note that these are not always available at the banks in Nuweiba) and can be purchased on the day of departure only at the ticket office (9am-noon), in a small building near the port. Note that the only exception to this rule is during the hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca) when boats fill up weeks prior to departure. During this period, it’s necessary to buy your ticket as far in advance as possible.
Free Jordanian visas can be obtained on the ferry if you have an EU, US, Canadian, Australian or New Zealand passport. Fill out a green form on board, give it to the immigration officers along with your passport and – hey presto – your passport and visa are collected when you pass through Jordanian immigration at Aqaba. (Visas are free only for travellers entering via Aqaba. For travellers entering via other borders, fees are payable.) Other nationalities will need to organise a visa in advance.
Telestar Tours runs an irregular service on its El-Salaam ferry between Suez and Jeddah (about 36 hours). Tickets (one way) cost E£300 for deck class, E£400 for 3rd class, E£500 for 2nd class and E£600 for 1st class (or the US dollar equivalent). Once in Jeddah, you can arrange an onward ticket to Port Sudan. Note that getting a berth during the hajj is virtually impossible. Mena Tours (062-322 8821, 322 0269, 010 516 9841; Sharia Al-Marwa; 9am-3pm Sat-Thu) in Suez can organise tickets.
There is a daily fast ferry that runs between Hurghada and Duba (three hours), though prices and schedules vary depending on the time of year. For more information, it is recommended that you contact International Fast Ferries Co (065-344 7571; www.internationalfastferries.com) or inquire at the Hurghada port. Note that you will not be allowed to board this ferry unless you have a valid Saudi visa in your passport.
The Nile River Valley Transport Corporation (Aswan097-303 348; in the shopping arcade behind the tourist police office; 8am-2pm Sat-Thu; Cairo (02-575 9058; next to the 3rd-class ticket window at Ramses station) runs one passenger ferry per week from Aswan to Wadi Halfa. One-way tickets cost E£385 for 1st class with bed in a cabin, E£240 for an airline seat and E£165 for deck class. At the time of research, the ferry was departing on Monday at around noon, though departure times regularly change. Tickets are also issued on Monday at the company’s office (097-480 567) in Aswan Port. No tickets will be issued, nor will you be able to board the ferry, unless you have a valid Sudanese visa in your passport.
The trip takes between 16 and 24 hours (usually closer to 24), though tea, soft drinks and snacks are available on board. Passengers should arrive at about 8.30am to allow time to clear customs and fight for a decent seat. Some of the Sudanese immigration formalities are carried out on the boat, and you will occasionally be asked for a yellow-fever certificate. The return trip departs from Wadi Halfa on Wednesday.
The Nile Navigation Company attaches a pontoon to the ferry whenever it is needed. Prices are E£400 for a motorcycle and E£2500 for a car or 4WD. Drivers and passengers travel inside the ferry, for which they must also buy tickets. If you are taking a vehicle, you must have the usual carnet de passage en douane and allow plenty of time for customs procedures.
It’s sometimes possible to find passage on private yachts from Suez to destinations such as India, South Africa and even Australia. Mohamed Moseilhy at Canal Tours (066-332 1874, 012 798 6338; firstname.lastname@example.org; 12 Sharia Palestine, Suez; 8am-3pm & 7pm-midnight) is a good contact if you are keen to investigate this.
The two official borders with Israel & the Palestinian Territories are Rafah and Taba.
At the time of research the Rafah border crossing, which services a direct route from Cairo to Tel Aviv through the Gaza Strip, was closed to individual travellers. Responsibility for policing the border was relinquished by the Israelis after their withdrawal from Gaza in September 2005, and the border is now jointly policed by the Palestinian Authority and the Egyptian government. At the time of writing there were problems with border security – large groups of Palestinians illegally crossed into Egypt to shop and visit extended family as soon as the security handover took place, greatly upsetting the Egyptians. As a result, the situation is unsettled and foreigners are unlikely to be able to use the border crossing in the near future.
The border crossing at Taba is used for the majority of travel between Egypt and Israel & the Palestinian Territories. Travellers make their way to Taba from destinations across Egypt, and then walk across the border, which is open 24 hours, into Israel & the Palestinian Territories. An Israeli visa is not required for most nationalities. Once the border is crossed, taxis or buses (city bus E£15) can be taken the 4km to Eilat, from where there are frequent buses onward to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Keep in mind that there are no buses operating in Israel & the Palestinian Territories on Friday evenings or before sundown Saturday, the Jewish holy day of Shabbat.
Heading back to Egypt, you must have a visa in advance unless your visit is limited to eastern Sinai or you have prearranged your entry with an Egyptian tour operator. If you don’t have a visa, there is an Egyptian embassy (03-546 4151; Rehov Basel 54; applications 9-11am Sun-Thu) in Tel Aviv and a consulate (972-637 6882; fax 637 1026; 68 Afrouni St; 9-11am Sun-Thu) in Eilat. An Egyptian visa sourced through either of these offices will cost 65NIS for US and German citizens and 100NIS for everyone else. Deliver your passport, application and one passport-sized photo during opening hours in the morning and you’ll be able to pick up the visa around 2pm on the same day.
At the border crossing (08-637 2104, 636 0999) you’ll need to pay a 68NIS fee to leave Israel & the Palestinian Territories. Once you’ve crossed the border, you’ll need to pay an Egyptian entry tax of E£30 at a booth about 1km south of the border on the main road. Alternatively, you can pick up a free Sinai-only entry permit.
Vehicles can be brought into Egypt from Eilat (you will pay around 32NIS on the Israel & the Palestinian Territories side and E£180 on the Egyptian side), but no private vehicles are permitted to cross at Taba from Egypt to Israel & the Palestinian Territories.
At the time of research Misr Travel (02-335 5470; Cairo Sheraton, Midan al-Galaa, Doqqi) and Mazada Tours (972 3 544 4454; www.mazada.co.il; 141 Ibn Guirol St, Tel Aviv) were both running an express service (US$55, 12 to 14 hours) leaving the Cairo Sheraton hotel on Sunday, Monday and Thursday at 9am, travelling via Taba to Tel Aviv and then heading on to Jerusalem. Contact the companies for details.
The East Delta Travel Company (02-2574 2814) runs several daily buses to Taba (E£70 to E£80, nine hours) from Cairo’s Turgoman Garage. If you’re at one of the south Sinai resorts, such as Dahab, Nuweiba or Sharm el-Sheikh, there are plenty of buses heading north up the coast or you can jump in a service taxi if no other means are available.
From Cairo, there’s a twice-weekly Superjet (02-2290 9017) service to Amman (US$85) leaving from Al-Mazah Garage on Sunday and Thursday at 5am. There is also a daily East Delta Bus Co service from Cairo to Aqaba (US$45) at 8pm.
The border-crossing point of Amsaad, just north of Halfaya Pass, is 12km west of Sallum. Service taxis run up the mountain between the town and the Egyptian side of the crossing for E£5. Once you’ve walked through passport control and customs, you can get a Libyan service taxi on to Al-Burdi for about LD1. From there, buses run to Tobruk and Benghazi.
Be advised that at the time of writing it was still not possible to get a Libyan visa at the border. However, you should check with the Libyan embassy in Cairo as the regulations do seem to be becoming more user- friendly. It is also not possible to get an Egyptian visa at the border, but this may change in the near future. Departure tax from Egypt is E£20; there is no Libyan departure tax.
Superjet has buses to Benghazi leaving on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday at 11am (E£135, 17 hours), as well as buses to Tripoli leaving on Tuesday, Friday and Sunday at 10am (E£250, 24 hours). East Delta Bus Co also has buses to Benghazi, which leave at noon on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday (E£120, 17 hours). East Delta has 11am buses to Tripoli on Tuesday and Friday (E£230, 24 hours).
Despite sharing an enormous land border, the only way to travel between Egypt and Sudan is to fly or take the Wadi Halfa ferry.
If you enter the country via Cairo International Airport, there are a few formalities. After walking past the dusty-looking duty-free shops, you’ll come to a row of exchange booths. If you haven’t organised a visa in advance, you’ll need to pay US$25 to receive a visa stamp. You then fill in one of the pink immigration forms available on the benches in front of the immigration officials before queuing to be processed. The whole procedure usually takes about 20 minutes, but this being Egypt, it’s probably best to expect delays.
Entering overland or by ferry is more arduous as baggage checks are routine, and there are departure and entry taxes to be paid. Although formalities vary depending on which border you’re crossing, generally speaking it’s fairly straightforward to enter Egypt by land or sea.
Regardless of the means by which you enter Egypt, be sure that you have a passport that is valid for at least six months from the date of entry into the country.
If you’re leaving Egypt by air, your departure tax will usually have been prepaid with your airfare. If you’re departing by land, you’ll need to pay E£2 (travellers who entered Egypt on a Sinai-only visa are exempt). Also note that Egyptian international ferries charge E£50 port tax per person on top of the ticket price.
There are countless possibilities for arranging organised tours in Egypt, with a plethora of agencies dealing with everything from guided trips and overland safaris to Nile cruises and dive trips. The programmes on such trips are usually fairly tight, leaving little room for roaming on your own. However, the advantages are that many of the time-consuming hassles, such as waiting for public transport and finding accommodation, are taken care of, maximising time for exploring and sightseeing. There’s also the security that comes with being in a group, which allows you to do things such as camping in the desert or participating off-the-beaten-track activities that might be unsafe for individuals or couples.
It pays to shop around. When considering a tour, ask what the price includes (ie flights, admission fees, food etc) – some companies include these in their prices, while others don’t – you need to be aware of what you’re paying for when you compare prices.
For updated listings of recommended tour operators, be sure to check out www.lonelyplanet.com/travel_services.
In this kind of tour, you travel in a specially adapted ‘overland truck’ with anywhere from 16 to 24 other passengers and your group leader-cum-driver/navigator/nurse/mechanic/guide/fixer/entertainer. Accommodation is usually a mix of camping and budget hotels. Food is bought along the way and the group cooks and eats together, though you are expected to chip in with the chores.
Recommended tour companies:
African Trails (020-7706 7384; www.africantrails.co.uk) Offers a three-week Istanbul-to-Cairo trip, a five-week ‘Middle East Trail’ trip and a two-week Egypt tour. Offices in the UK, Australia, New Zealand and Europe.
Following is a list of specialist operators that organise Egypt packages tailored for independently minded travellers looking for more than just two weeks in the sun.
Intrepid Travel (03-8602 0500; www.intrepidtravel.com) Highly regarded small-group tours with an emphasis on responsible tourism. Also has a London office.
Peregrine Adventures (03-9663 8611; www.peregrineadventures.com) An agent for the UK’s Dragoman, Exodus and the Imaginative Traveller.
Abercrombie & Kent (in the US 800-554-7094, 630-954-2944, www.abercombiekent.com) Offers first-class packages using top-end hotels, domestic flights and its own custom-built Nile cruisers.
Experience Egypt (02-302 8364; www.experience-egypt.com; 42 Sharia Abu el-Mahassen el-Shazly, Mohandiseen, Cairo) Part of Lady Egypt Tours. Organises small-group tours of Sinai, Alexandria and the Nile Valley that are marketed in the UK and Canada.
Bales Tours (0870 752 0780; www.balesworldwide.com) Runs upmarket tours using five-star accommodation.
Egypt On The Go (020-7371 1113; www.egyptonthego.com) Tours of Egypt and PADI diving-course holidays. Also has an Australian office.
Explore Worldwide (0800 227 8747; www.exploreworldwide.com) A variety of short and long itineraries.
Hayes & Jarvis (0870 366 1636; www.hayes-jarvis.com) A respected Egypt specialist.
Imaginative Traveller (0800 316 2717; www.imaginative-traveller.com) Small-group tours.
Bestway Tours & Safaris (604-264 7378; www.bestway.com) Canadian company offering small-group tours, including a tour from Siwa to Ghadames in Libya and one visiting Egypt, Israel & the Palestinian Territories and Jordan.
Egypt has quite a few airports, but only seven of these are official international ports of entry: Cairo, Alexandria, Luxor, Aswan, Hurghada, Sharm el-Sheikh and Marsa Alam. With that said, most air travellers enter Egypt through Cairo, Alexandria or Sharm el-Sheikh, while the other airports tend to be used by charter and package-deal flights only.
Most tickets are sold for flights in and out of Cairo, but sometimes it’s possible to get cheaper deals to the airports serving resorts, such as Sharm el-Sheikh. While you could use Sharm as a starting point for travelling around the country, it is a good six-hour bus ride from Cairo, and the loss of time may outweigh any potential savings in money. However, Sharm serves as an excellent base for exploring Sinai or as a jumping-off point for Jordan and Israel & the Palestinian Territories.
Egypt’s international and national carrier is EgyptAir (MS;national call centre 0900 70000; www.egyptair.com.eg;8am-8pm), which has its hub at Cairo International Airport. Humorously (or perhaps terrifyingly) dubbed ‘Egypt Scare’ or ‘Insh’allah Air’ by jaded travellers the world over, EgyptAir’s service isn’t particularly good, and its fleet is in serious need of an upgrade, unless of course, you’re a fan of rapidly ageing Russian planes. If you’re looking for an international flight to Egypt, you’d do better flying with a different airline – anyone will do.
If you’re planning on booking your accommodation online, be sure to check out www.lonelyplanet.com/travel_services.
Airlines that fly to/from Egypt include the following:
BMI (BMI; in the UK 0870 6070 555; www.flybmi.com) Hub: Heathrow Airport, London.
STA Travel (www.statravel.com/worldwide.htm; Bangkok 02-236 0262; www.statravel.co.th); Hong Kong 2736 1618; www.statravel.com.hk; Japan 03 5391 2922; www.statravel.co.jp; Singapore 6737 7188; www.statravel.com.sg) proliferates in Asia. Check its website for a complete list of locations. Another resource in Japan is No 1 Travel (03-3205 6073; www.no1-travel.com); in Hong Kong try Four Seas Tours (2200 7760; www.fourseastravel.com/english).
For the location of STA Travel (www.statravel.com.au) branches call 1300 733 035 or visit its website. Flight Centre (133 133; www.flightcentre.com.au) has offices located throughout Australia. For online bookings, visit Travel (www.travel.com.au).
Recommended travel agencies:
Anyway (08 92 89 38 92; www.anyway.fr)
Lastminute (08 92 70 50 00; www.lastminute.fr)
Nouvelles Frontières (08 25 00 07 47; www.nouvelles-frontieres.fr)
OTU Voyages (www.otu.fr) Specialises in student and youth travellers.
Voyageurs du Monde (01 40 15 11 15; www.vdm.com)
Recommended travel agencies:
Just Travel (089 747 3330; www.justtravel.de)
Lastminute (01805 284 366; www.lastminute.de)
STA Travel (01805 456 422; www.statravel.de) For travellers under 26 years.
A recommended travel agent is CTS Viaggi (06 462 0431; www.cts.it), for student/youth deals.
A recommended travel agency is Airfair (020 620 5121; www.airfair.nl).
STIC Travels (www.stictravel.com Delhi 11-233 57 468; Mumbai 22-221 81 431) has offices in dozens of Indian cities. Check its website for a complete list of locations. Another agency is Transway International (www.transwayinternational.com).
Recommended travel agencies:
Israel Student Travel Association (ISTA; 02-625 7257) In Jerusalem.
Both Flight Centre (0800 243 544; www.flightcentre.co.nz) and STA Travel (0508 782 872; www.statravel.co.nz) have branches throughout the country. Try Travel (www.travel.co.nz), which is recommended for online bookings.
Recommended travel agencies:
Discount air travel is a huge business in the UK and Ireland. Advertisements for many travel agencies appear in the travel pages of the weekend broadsheet newspapers, in Time Out, the Evening Standard and in the free online magazine TNT (www.tntmagazine.com).
Recommended travel agencies:
Bridge the World (0870 444 7474; www.b-t-w.co.uk)
Flightbookers (0870 814 4001; www.ebookers.com)
Flight Centre (0870 890 8099; flightcentre.co.uk)
North-South Travel (01245 608 291; www.northsouthtravel.co.uk) Donates part of its profit to projects in the developing world.
Quest Travel (0870 442 3542; www.questtravel.com)
Soliman Travel (020 7370 5130; www.solimantravel.co.uk) A long-established Egypt specialist.
STA Travel (0870 160 0599; www.statravel.co.uk) For travellers under 26 years.
Travel Bag (0870 890 1456; www.travelbag.co.uk)
Discount travel agents in the USA are known as consolidators (although you won’t see a sign on the door saying ‘Consolidator’). San Francisco is the ticket consolidator capital of the USA, although some good deals can be found in Los Angeles, New York and other big cities.
The following travel agencies are recommended for online bookings:
Cheap Tickets (www.cheaptickets.com)
Lowest Fare (www.lowestfare.com)
STA Travel (www.sta.com) For travellers under 26 years.