Bargaining is part of life when shopping in souqs and markets. It may seem an annoyance, but it pays to see it as a game. Just follow the basic rules:
- Shop around to get an idea of prices.
- Decide how much you want to pay, and then offer a lower price than that.
- Don't show any excitement.
- Walk away if you can't agree, and the vendor will follow you if your price was right.
The Art of Bargaining
Haggling is part of everyday life. It’s essentially a kind of scaled pricing: it can be a discount for people who have more time than money, but if your time is too valuable to discuss a transaction over tea, then you’re expected to pay more. Your relative affluence of course factors into the calculations as well.
Shopping this way can seem like a hassle, but it can be fun (as long as it's considered a game, not a fight). The basic procedure:
- Shop around and check fixed-price stores to get an idea of the upper limit.
- Decide how much you would be happy to pay.
- Express a casual interest and ask the vendor the price.
From here, it’s up to your own style. The steeliest hagglers start with well below half the starting price, pointing out flaws or quoting a competitor’s price. A properly theatrical salesman will respond with indignant shouting or a wounded cry, but it’s all bluster. We know one shopper who closed deals in less than five minutes by citing her intense gastrointestinal distress – although unfortunately this was not bluster on her part.
A gentler tactic is to start out just a bit lower than the price you had in mind, or suggest other items in the shop that might be thrown in to sweeten the deal. Resist the vendor’s attempts to provoke guilt – he will never sell below cost. If you reach an impasse, relax and drink the tea that’s perpetually on offer – or simply walk out, which might close the deal in your favour.
You’re never under any obligation to buy – but you should never initiate bargaining on an item you don’t actually want, and you shouldn’t back out of an agreed-upon price. The ‘best’ price isn’t necessarily the cheapest – it’s the one that both you and the seller are happy with. Remember that LE5 or LE10 makes virtually no difference in your budget, and years from now, you won’t remember what you paid – but you will have your souvenir of Egypt, and a good story of how you got it.
Dangers & Annoyances
The incidence of crime, violent or otherwise, in Egypt is negligible compared with many other countries, and you’re generally safe walking around day or night. There has been a spike in petty crime since 2011, though it is statistically still quite rare for tourists to be targeted.
The Hard Sell
Many Egyptians will greet you in the street and offer you tea and other hospitality, all out of genuine kindness. But in tourist hot spots, ‘Hello, my friend’ can be double-speak for ‘This way, sucker’. Next thing you know, you’re drinking tea with your new friend…in a perfume shop.
The smoothest operators don’t reveal their motives immediately. A kindly professor wants to show you a good restaurant; a mosque ‘muezzin’ starts by showing off his skills; or a bystander warns you not to get caught up in a (fictitious) demonstration ahead. They adapt tactics rapidly. They’ve taken up the ‘Don’t you remember me?’ or 'I work in your hotel' line used in many other African countries, for instance.
It’s all pretty harmless, and many are genuinely friendly and interesting to talk to. But it can be wearing to be treated like a walking wallet. Everyone works out a strategy to short-circuit a pitch for when a smile and a quick stride fails. Claiming not to speak English, on the other hand, usually backfires, as polyglot touts can perform in nearly any language.
Aside from the hustling, there are touts who lie and misinform to divert travellers to hotels for which they get a commission.
If you do get stung, or feel you might crack at the next ‘Excuse me, where are you from?’, take a deep breath and put it in perspective: Cairene traders so completely fleeced the king of Mali, who arrived in the 14th century with a vast amount of gold, on pilgrimage to Mecca, that he had to borrow money to get home. Today’s touts aren’t picking on you because you look like a soft target – they’re doing it because it’s their job. Your angry tirade won’t halt centuries of sales tradition. But it could offend an honest Egyptian who just wants to help.
There has been a significant rise in terror attacks in Egypt since the downfall of President Morsi in 2013. Almost all have been aimed at security and government targets, with the majority occurring in the North Sinai where Wilayet-Sinai (formerly Ansar Bayt Al Maqdis) and other jihadi groups are fighting against Egyptian military forces. North Sinai (above Taba) remains a no-travel region, while cautionary travel advisories remain in place for most of the South Sinai and parts of the Western Desert.
There have been no conclusive reports or definitive statements on either the downing of a Russian airliner over the Sinai in 2015 or the EgyptAir crash over the Mediterranean in 2016. The Sinai crash, though, was claimed by Wilayet-Sinai and is widely believed to have been caused by a bomb.
Elsewhere, there has been sporadic militant activity, the most recent being explosions in Coptic churches in Tanta and Alexandria in April 2017 (Palm Sunday) that killed at least 44 people and a gun attack on Christian pilgrims near Minya in May 2017 where 30 people died. Daesh have claimed responsibility for both.
In response, President Sisi announced a three-month state of emergency. At the same time, Egypt has upgraded its airport security systems, bringing in a British aviation security consultancy. Unsurprisingly, there is a heavy security presence throughout the country, including at tourist sites.
Theft & Crime
In spite of all the media attention, crime in Egypt is still significantly less prevalent than in many other countries. You can usually leave your camera with the guard at the entrance to a tomb, or your bag with the concierge of a hotel, without worrying whether it will be there, and intact, when you get back. Locals have too much to lose by stealing in a country where thieving from guests is particularly frowned upon. Punishments are harsh and, with unemployment so high, the chance of losing one's job is something most Egyptians will not risk. But that doesn't mean that you should not take normal street-smart precautions.
More common theft, such as items stolen from locked hotel rooms and even from safes, continues, so secure your belongings in a locked suitcase.
Generally, though, unwary visitors are usually parted from their money through scams, and these are something that you really do have to watch out for.
Bag & Wallet Snatchings
Since 2011 bag and wallet snatchings have been on the rise, usually as drive-bys on mopeds, though very occasionally at knife- or gunpoint. Don’t let this deter you: you’re still more likely to lose your wallet in Barcelona – and more likely to have your lost wallet returned to you in Cairo. To be safe, carry your bag across your body or at least on the side away from the street, and keep it looped around a chair leg in restaurants. Don’t walk on empty streets past midnight. Be aware of your surroundings when you take your wallet out, and don’t go to an ATM alone at night.
Taken For A Ride
Most Cairo taxis now have up-to-date meters, but in some places the old meters, with their fares in piastres, are still in use. Be sure that the meter is working, or that you know how much you will pay at the end. Otherwise, leave and look for another taxi.
Shop-owners and hawkers will sometimes claim that an item is locally crafted. Some are. But many things you will be offered in souqs and in shops around antiquity sites are mass-produced, some imported from China.
Money for Old Rope
Most visitors to Egypt's sites are offered something that looks old. Antika is the word, with its suggestion of antiquity. Most things openly for sale are no older than the time it took for them to be covered in dust, or faded by the sun (months, perhaps, occasionally years). If you were to buy an actual antiquity and try to take it home, however innocently, you would be smuggling, a crime which can carry a prison sentence with hard labour, and a huge fine.
In taxis and elsewhere, you might be told a hard-luck story, which may involve a relative in hospital needing funds for drugs or an operation, or to buy materials to study or food to eat. You must decide for yourself whether it is better to give something, in case it is true (which it sometimes is), or turn away.
There are still unexploded landmines left over from WWII, around El Alamein and elsewhere along the Mediterranean and Red Sea coasts. There are usually danger signs and the areas ought to be closed off. If in doubt, consult a local.
The Greatest Threat
The greatest threat to you on your journey in Egypt will be to your intestines. Many people visiting the country suffer from some sort of intestinal trouble and for a variety of reasons, from unfamiliar diet and lack of hygiene to contaminated food and water. The amount of food offered, usually considerably more than one eats at home, can also threaten your intestinal happiness. Eat moderately, at least at the start of your trip. Always use bottled water, for drinking and for brushing your teeth. Wash your hands before eating. And make sure you drink enough water during the day.
Keeping Safe & Avoiding Trouble
- Be vigilant in cities, keeping clear of large public gatherings.
- Cooperate politely with security checks in hotel foyers and at road checkpoints.
- Keep up-to-date with news in English-language newspapers – they are online if you cannot find a hard copy.
- Check the latest travel warnings online through your country's state department or foreign ministry.
- Consult your embassy/consulate on arrival if there have been recent public order issues. Some countries operate a register to ensure you receive notifications if trouble is expected.
- Be aware of the specific risks to women travellers.
- Keep your passport and wallet in a safe place.
- Recognise that some taxi drivers, cafe owners and even hoteliers might try to charge you more than locals. Hotels, like museums, often have different rates for locals (this applies to international chains as much as budget hostels). Often this is something you have to accept.
- Don't lose a sense of proportion – the chances of running into trouble are very slim.
- Don't get involved: if you see political protests or civil unrest, move away as fast as possible.
- Don't strike up conversations of a stridently political nature with people you don't know.
- Avoid driving outside towns and cities at night: the majority of road incidents in Egypt happen after dark.
- Don't photograph military installations. Some other buildings are also prohibited, including the old Aswan Dam. You can be arrested for doing so, however innocent your intentions might be.
Government Travel Advice
Many government websites offer travel advisories that have up-to-date information on potential dangers for travelers.
- Australian Department of Foreign Affairs (www.smarttraveller.gov.au)
- British Foreign Office (www.fco.gov.uk)
- Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs (www.dfait-maeci.gc.ca)
- US State Department (www.travel.state.gov)
- International Student Identity Card (ISIC) Gives discounts on museum and site entry fees. Some travellers have also been able to get the discount with HI cards and Eurail cards.
- Egyptian Student Travel Services Head here to get an ISIC in Cairo. You’ll need a university ID card, a photocopy of your passport and one passport photo. Cards can also be bought online. Beware counterfeit operations in Downtown Cairo.
- Electricity Increasingly unreliable since 2011; everywhere in Egypt, including the centre of Cairo, suffers regular, usually daily, outages.
Embassies & Consulates
Embassies are in Cairo.
Emergency & Important Numbers
To dial an Egyptian number from outside the country, dial your international access code, Egypt's country code and then the number, dropping the first 0 from the area code.
|International access code||00|
Entry & Exit Formalities
If you are entering or leaving Egypt as a tourist through the international airports, procedures are typically speedy, no questions asked. By land or sea, the process is similar, though it is usually slower and more chaotic.
If you are crossing a land border with your own vehicle or arriving on your own boat, prepare for a lengthy spell with immigration and customs officials.
There is talk of changing the standard visa process at some stage in the future, so that travellers must purchase an e-visa before arrival.
- Duty-free allowances on arrival: 1L alcohol, 1L perfume, and either 200 cigarettes, 25 cigars or 200g tobacco.
- Up to 48 hours after arrival, you can purchase another 3L alcohol plus up to US$200 in other duty-free articles at dedicated Egypt Free shops at the airport, in Cairo and at official tax-free shops in Hurghada, Sharm El Sheikh and elsewhere. (Touts in tourist areas may ask you to use your allotment to buy alcohol for them.)
- Customs Declaration Form D is occasionally required for electronics, jewellery and cash.
- Prohibited and restricted articles include tools for espionage as well as books, pamphlets, films and photos that are ‘subversive or constituting a national risk or incompatible with the public interest’. This needs to be taken seriously.
- Your passport must be valid for at least six months from your date of entry.
- Israeli stamps in your passport (and Israeli passports, for that matter) present no problem, unlike in some other Middle Eastern countries.
Required for most nationalities. Single-entry, 30-day tourist visas cost US$25 and are available online (https://visa2egypt.gov.eg) for 41 nationalities. Otherwise, visas can be purchased at the airport on arrival. Visa extensions are possible once in-country.
Visas are required for all foreigners visiting Egypt, excepting nationals of certain Arab countries. About 40 nationalities, including citizens of Australia, Canada, the EU, Japan and the US, can purchase a visa online (https://visa2egypt.gov.eg) in advance; otherwise, visas are available on arrival.
- Tourist visas cost US$25 and are valid for 30 days.
- The visa can be purchased in US dollars, euros or British pounds.
- If you want more time or a multiple-entry visa, apply in advance or get an extension with multiple-entry once in Egypt.
- Visa extensions used to be routine, but are now subject to scrutiny, especially after repeat extensions. Be polite and say you need more time to appreciate the wonders of Egypt.
- There is a 14-day grace period for extension applications, with a LE100 late fee. If you leave during this time, you must pay an LE135 fine at the airport.
- On arrival at Cairo and Egypt's other international airports, visas stickers are sold at a row of bank booths in every arrivals terminal. Purchase the visa sticker at the booth and then present it along with your arrival form and passport at the immigration desks.
- If you are entering Egypt through the Sinai (at Sharm El Sheikh Airport or at Taba), and are not leaving the South Sinai area (between Sharm El Sheikh and Taba, including St Catherine’s Monastery but not Ras Mohammed National Park), you do not require a visa and can be issued with a free Sinai-only entry stamp, good for a 15-day stay.
- If you are arriving by ferry from Jordan into Nuweiba, visas are available at Nuweiba port. You can also apply in advance online or at the Egyptian Consulate in Aqaba.
- Entering from Eilat in Israel, through the Taba land border, the free Sinai-only entry stamp is normally issued. Full Egyptian visas are available but you will have to pay an extra US$10 fee for a local Taba travel agency to guarantee the visa. The process can be long-winded. Alternatively, apply in advance at the Egyptian Embassy in Tel Aviv or the consulate in Eilat.
- If you have entered at Taba or Sharm El Sheikh and have been issued the free Sinai-only entry stamp but decide that you'd like to travel onward into the rest of Egypt, you can purchase Egyptian tourist visas at Sharm El Sheikh Airport. You can also pay a fee for a travel agent in Sharm El Sheikh to go to the airport and purchase it for you.
Visa Extensions: Where to Go
Wherever you apply for a visa extension, you’ll need one photo and two copies each of your passport’s data page and the visa page. The fee depends on where you apply, but it’s no more than LE15. Re-entry visa stamps (allowing you multiple re-entries) can be purchased at the same time and cost around LE61.
Alexandria Go to counter eight on the 2nd floor.
Cairo, Agouza For Giza addresses only: go to window 4, 2nd floor.
Cairo, Downtown Get a form from window 12, 1st floor, then stamps from window 43 and file all back at window 12; next-day pickup is at window 38.
Egypt is a mostly conservative country, so the following will avoid any awkward moments:
- Sacred ground Remove your shoes before entering a mosque.
- Touching Don't touch someone from the opposite sex in public.
- Feet Don't show the soles of your feet; it's considered disrespectful.
- Hands Eat with your right hand; the left hand is used for ablutions.
- Ramadan Don't eat or drink in public during the fasting month of Ramadan.
Egypt is a conservative society that increasingly condemns homosexuality. Although homosexuality is technically not a crime in Egypt, homosexual acts in public are, and gay men have been prosecuted using debauchery and public morals laws with prison terms of up to 17 years. In late 2017 the Egyptian government launched a large crack-down on the LGBTIQ+ community, arresting 57 people in a series of raids.
The situation for the local LGBTIQ+ community remains very tense, and although there is a small and very underground social scene in Cairo and Alexandria, accessing it as a foreigner can be tricky and is risky. Use of LGBTIQ+ dating apps while here is not recommended as the police are known to target app users.
Discretion is vital and public displays of affection should be avoided by both LGBTIQ+ and heterosexual couples. Most midrange and top-end accommodation will have no problem with a same-sex couple requesting a double bed (though you may notice a raised eyebrow from some staff), but it's advisable to steer clear of the budget end of the accommodation market, particularly in non-touristy towns.
Men should exercise caution if propositioned by an Egyptian man as, although rare, there have been reports of set-ups targeting foreign gay men for theft. LGBTIQ+ travellers should also be aware that signals in Egypt can be ambiguous; Egyptian men routinely hold hands, link arms and kiss each other on the cheek in greeting.
Lesbian travelers tend not to face the same instances of set-ups or targeted harassment. The conservative and patriarchal culture perpetuates the idea that lesbianism is unfathomable and most would declare that there is no such thing as an Egyptian lesbian.
Travel insurance to cover theft, loss and medical problems is a good idea. Some policies exclude ‘dangerous activities’, which can include scuba diving, motorcycling and trekking.
Insure yourself to the gills if you’re driving. Road conditions are hazardous. For the same reason, check that the policy covers ambulances and an emergency flight home.
Worldwide travel insurance is available at www.lonelyplanet.com/bookings. You can buy, extend and claim online any time, even if you’re already on the road.
Free wi-fi is widely available in hotels throughout Egypt, though it's not always fast and often doesn't reach all the guest rooms. Many cafes in Cairo, and tourist centres such as Luxor and Dahab, also have free wi-fi.
Internet cafes are common, if not rampant; rates are usually between LE5 and LE10 per hour.
Mobile USB Wi-Fi
Both of Egypt's two main internet and mobile phone service providers, Vodafone Egypt (www.vodafone.com.eg) and Etisalat (www.etisalat.eg), offer mobile dongles (USB adapters) for your laptop, allowing internet access anywhere with mobile phone coverage. Vodafone charges LE200 for the USB stick and has a range of data price plans starting at LE80 for 1.25GB for one month. Bring your passport when purchasing.
Foreign travellers are subject to Egyptian laws and get no special consideration. If you are arrested, you have the right to telephone your embassy immediately.
Bribes Egypt is notoriously corrupt, but don’t assume this means you can pay your way through. You may encounter an official who’d like to exploit the awkward situation you’re in, and of course, your bribe only perpetuates the system.
Drugs Drug use can be penalised by hanging, and you’ll get no exemption just because you’re a tourist. That said, you will no doubt be offered at least hashish during your travels, especially in backpacker-friendly zones. We highly recommend you don't accept the offer.
Political activity Post-revolution, police are particularly suspicious of ‘foreign agitators’ or anyone who could be perceived as such, including journalists and people working for NGOs. Both writers and foreign students have been detained on charges of abetting violence. Some have been tortured and at least one killed. It’s best to avoid political affiliation of any kind, and avoid taking photos of government buildings and other sensitive areas.
Nelles Verlag has one of the most complete general maps of Egypt (scale 1:2,500,000), including a map of the Nile Valley (scale 1:750,000) and a good enlargement of central Cairo. You can find it and a number of other good maps at the AUC bookshop in Cairo; elsewhere in Egypt, selection dwindles.
Freytag & Berndt’s Egypt road map (scale 1:800,000) has good coverage of the road network, with motorway and duel carriageways labelled with both route numbers and distance markers in kilometres. It also has city maps in an attached booklet: Alexandria and Aswan at 1:15,000, and Cairo and Sharm El Sheikh at 1:10,000.
- Newspapers The best English-language newspaper is the Daily News Egypt (www.dailynewsegypt.com). The leading government paper Al Ahram (http://english.ahram.org.eg) is also available online in English.
- Magazines The monthly Egypt Today (www.egypttoday.com) covers social and economic issues.
- Radio BBC World Service is on the Middle East shortwave schedule, broadcasting from Cyprus. See www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice for details. In Cairo, European program 95.4FM/557AM runs news in English at 7.30am, 2.30pm and 8pm. Nile Radio 104.2FM (104.2kHz) has English-language pop music.
- TV If your hotel room has satellite TV, you'll have access to a range of English-language TV news. The most commonly available are CNN, BBC World and Al Jazeera English.
ATMs are widely available. Credit cards are increasingly widely accepted. There is a major shortage of small change; large bills can be difficult to break.
Cash machines are common, although in some places (in Middle Egypt and the oases, for instance) you might have to look harder to find one. Then you’ll be stuck if there’s a technical problem, so load up before going somewhere remote. Some ATMs won't let you withdraw more than LE2000. All Banque du Caire ATMs allow larger withdrawals.
Banque Misr, Banque du Caire, CIB, Egyptian American Bank and HSBC have the most reliable ATMs.
There is a severe shortage of small change, which is invaluable for tips, taxi fares and more. Withdraw odd amounts from ATMs to avoid a stack of unwieldy LE200 notes, hoard small bills and always try to break big bills at fancier establishments.
The currency is the Egyptian pound (LE), guinay in Arabic, divided into 100 piastres (pt). Coins of 5pt, 10pt and 25pt are basically extinct; 50pt notes and coins are also on their way out. LE1 coins are the most commonly used small change, while LE5, LE10, LE20, LE50, LE100 and LE200 notes are commonly used.
The government freed the exchange rate in 2016, which led to the Egyptian pound losing half its value against hard currencies, but since then it has been fairly stable. There is no real black-market exchange.
Some tour operators and hotels insist on US dollars or euros, even though this is technically illegal. It’s a good idea to travel with a small stash of hard currency, though increasingly you can pay by credit card.
Produce markets and some other venues sometimes write prices in piastres: LE3.50 as 350pt, for example.
All major cards are accepted in midrange and high-end establishments. In remote areas they remain useless. You may be charged a percentage of the sale in fees (anywhere between 3% and 10%).
Retain receipts to check later against your statements as there have been cases of shop owners adding extra zeros.
Visa and Mastercard can be used for cash advances at Banque Misr and the National Bank of Egypt, as well as at Travel Choice Egypt offices.
In late 2016, Egypt floated its currency, devaluing the Egyptian pound by nearly half. Exchange rates and prices were correct at the time of research, but exchange rates may shift dramatically again.
|Israel & the Palestinian Territories||1NIS||LE5.70|
For current exchange rates see www.xe.com.
Money can be officially changed at Amex and Travel Choice Egypt (formerly Thomas Cook) offices, as well as at commercial banks, foreign exchange (forex) bureaux and some hotels. Rates no longer vary, though some places may charge commission.
US dollars, euros and British pounds are the easiest to change (and change back at the end of your stay). Inspect the bills you’re given, and don’t accept any badly defaced, shabby or torn notes because you’ll have difficulty offloading them later.
Always keep small change as baksheesh is expected everywhere. When in doubt, tip.
- Cafes Leave LE5 to LE10.
- Guards at tourist sites LE5 to LE20.
- Metered taxis Round off the fare or offer around 5% extra, depending on the ride.
- Mosque attendant Leave LE5 to LE10 for shoe covers, more if you climb a minaret or have some guiding.
- Restaurants For good service leave 10%; in smart places leave 15%.
The weekend is Friday and Saturday; some businesses close Sunday. During Ramadan, offices, museums and tourist sites keep shorter hours.
Banks 8.30am to 2.30pm Sunday to Thursday
Bars and clubs Early evening until 3am, often later (particularly in Cairo)
Cafes 7am to 1am
Government offices 8am to 2pm Sunday to Thursday; tourist offices are generally open longer
Post offices 8.30am to 2pm Saturday to Thursday
Private offices 10am to 2pm and 4pm to 9pm Saturday to Thursday
Restaurants Noon to midnight
Shops 9am– to 1pm and 5pm and 10pm June to September, 10am and 6pm October to May; in Cairo shops generally open 10am and 11pm
Egyptians on the whole, and Egyptian women in particular, are relatively camera-shy, so you should always ask before taking pictures.
- Photos are theoretically prohibited inside ancient tombs, though guards often encourage camera use in exchange for tips.
- You can buy a permit to photograph at some sites. This should be paid for at the ticket office. Costs vary.
- To combat the glare of sun, a UV filter is recommended.
- A standard daylight filter helps keep dust off your lens. Also pack compressed air and cleaning cloths.
- Avoid taking photos of anything that could be considered of military or other strategic importance. Taking photos out of bus windows especially provokes suspicion.
- Lonely Planet’s Travel Photography, by Richard I’Anson, provides excellent advice on gear and taking photos on the road.
In recent years Egypt Post has improved and is reasonably reliable as long as you post from a main post office in a major centre. The express service (EMS) is downright speedy. Egypt's post offices have yellow and green signs.
- Usually only the main post office in a city will handle parcels; bring them unsealed so the contents can be inspected for customs. Clerks usually have cartons and tape on hand.
- Many shops provide shipping of goods for a relatively small fee.
- Parcel surface mail to the US, Australia or Europe costs roughly LE150 for the first kilogram, and LE40 for each thereafter.
The poste restante service functions well and is generally free. If the clerk can’t find your mail, ask them to check under Mr, Ms or Mrs in addition to your first and last names.
Businesses and government offices also close on major Islamic holidays.
New Year’s Day (1 January) Official national holiday, but many businesses stay open.
Coptic Christmas (7 January) Most government offices and all Coptic businesses close.
January 25 Revolution Day (25 January)
Sham An Nessim (March/April) On the first Monday after Coptic Easter, this tradition with Pharaonic roots is celebrated by all Egyptians, with family picnics. Few businesses close, however.
Sinai Liberation Day (25 April) Celebrating Israel’s return of the peninsula in 1982.
May Day (1 May) Labour Day
Revolution Day (23 July) Date of the 1952 coup, when the Free Officers seized power from the monarchy.
Armed Forces Day (6 October) Celebrates Egyptian successes during the 1973 war with Israel, with some military pomp.
Major Islamic Holidays
The Islamic calendar is based on the lunar year, approximately 11 days shorter than the Gregorian calendar, so holidays shift through the seasons. Principal religious holidays in Egypt can cause changes to bus schedules and business openings.
Moulid An Nabi The birthday of the Prophet Mohammed, and children receive gifts.
Eid Al Fitr (Feast of Fast-Breaking) The end of Ramadan, essentially a three-day feast.
Eid Al Adha (Feast of the Sacrifice) Commemorates Ibrahim’s (Abraham’s) sacrifice, and families that can afford it buy a sheep to slaughter. The holiday lasts four days, though many businesses reopen by the third day. Many families go out of town, so if you want to travel at this time, book your tickets well in advance.
Ras As Sana (New Year’s Day) A national day off, but only a low-key celebration.
Dates for Ramadan and Eid Al Fitr are approximate, as they rely on the sighting of the new moon.
|Ramadan begins||16 May||6 May||24 Apr||12 Apr|
|Eid Al Fitr||15 Jun||5 June||24 May||12 May|
|Eid Al Adha||22 Aug||12 Aug||31 Jul||19 Jul|
|New Year begins||12 Sep||31 Aug||20 Aug||9 Aug|
|Moulid An Nabi||20 Nov||10 Nov||29 Oct||18 Oct|
Ramadan: What to Expect
Travelling in Egypt during the month of Ramadan, when observant Muslims abstain from all food and drink (including water) during daylight hours, presents some challenges. It also affords visitors a unique insight into local culture – provided you can stay up late enough to enjoy it.
Most restaurants that serve Egyptians are closed during the day, and the only reliable place to eat is in hotels – the same goes for finding alcohol of any kind. Don’t plan on taking desert tours, as guides will not want to venture far. Shop-owners get cranky as the day wears on, and tend to shut by 2.30pm or so, so do your bargaining early. Avoid taking taxis close to sundown, as everyone wants to get home to their families.
Once night falls and everyone has nibbled on the customary dates, Egyptians regain their energy. Restaurants reopen and lay out a lavish fast-breaking feast called iftar (reserve ahead at high-end places). The streets are decked with glowing lanterns and thronged with families. The goal is to stay up – or at least catnap and get up again – for the sohour, another big meal just before dawn. In Cairo and Alexandria, there’s a whole circuit of sohour scenes, from the funkiest fuul vendors trotting out their best spreads to chic waterside pavilions with DJs – think after-party, but with food.
The best way to cope is to keep sightseeing expectations low, don’t eat in front of Muslims and take a long nap in the afternoon. Then put on your stretchy pants and accept any invitation to join the feast.
- Smoking Common in Egypt, including in restaurants and bars. Nonsmoking facilities are rare. Shisha (hookah or water pipe) is a common social pastime. It delivers substantially more nicotine than you might be used to.
|Egypt Country Code||20|
|International Access Code From Egypt||00|
|Directory Assistance||140 or 141|
When calling an Egyptian number from outside Egypt, leave off the area code's initial zero.
Egypt’s GSM network (on the 900MHz/1800MHz band) has thorough coverage, at least in urban areas. SIM cards from any of the three carriers (Vodafone, the largest; Mobinil; Etisalat) cost LE15. You can buy them as well as top-up cards from most kiosks, where you may be asked to show your passport. For pay-as-you-go data service (about LE5 per day or LE50 per month), register at a company phone shop.
Mobile Phone Numbers in Egypt
All mobile phone numbers have had 11 digits, beginning with 01, since October 2011, although you may still see old-format numbers in print. Use this table to determine the extra digit:
|Old Prefix||New Prefix|
Egypt is two hours ahead of GMT/UTC.
Egypt does observe Daylight Saving Time, but the clocks are turned back an hour during Ramadan, if it falls in the summer, to cut the day short for observers.
- Few official public toilets exist, but it’s acceptable to use one in a restaurant or hotel even if you’re not a customer.
- Toilet paper is seldom in stalls – an attendant may provide it as you enter, for a tip.
- Do not flush paper – deposit it in the bin next to the toilet.
- Many toilets have an integrated bidet tube, which unfortunately can get quite mucky. The knob for the bidet is usually to the right of the toilet tank – open it very slowly to gauge the pressure.
- Some toilets are of the ‘squat’ variety – use the hose (and bucket, if provided) to ‘flush’ and to wash your hands.
- In cities it’s a good idea to make a mental note of all Western-style fast-food joints and five-star hotels, as these are where you’ll find the most sanitary facilities.
- When you’re trekking in the desert or camping on a beach, either pack out your toilet paper or burn it. Do not bury it – it will eventually be revealed by the wind.
The Egyptian Tourist Authority (www.egypt.travel) has offices throughout the country and its website has magazine-type features, news and a huge range of resources and links. Individual office staff members may be helpful, but often they’re just doling out rather dated maps and brochures. The smaller towns and oases tend to have better offices than the big cities. In short, don’t rely on these tourist offices, but don’t rule them out either.
The State Information Service (www.sis.gov.eg) website provides information on everything from geography to the economy.
Travel with Children
Visiting Egypt with children can be a delight. For them, seeing ancient monuments – or a camel for that matter – up close can be a fantasy made real. For you, the incredibly warm welcome towards young ones can smooth over many small practical hassles.
Best Regions for Kids
Intensely crowded Cairo isn’t obviously kid-scale, but children may delight in finding exotic trinkets in the souq. In mosques, they’re welcome to roam barefoot on carpets (but not to yell). Kids love to ride horses, or a camel, around the pyramids, or enter the deep narrow corridor that leads to the heart of a pyramid.
- Southern Nile Valley
All of Upper Egypt, from Luxor southwards, is straight out of picture books: temples, camels and old-time boats. Many of the family-friendly hotels have pools to recover from the sightseeing and the heat.
- Western Desert
The slow pace of the oases is well suited to children. Aside from in Bawiti, there’s virtually no hassle, and out in the desert, kids can roll down sand dunes, find fossils and sleep in a tent.
- Red Sea Coast
Plenty of beaches here, and plenty of entertainment for kids. Teens can learn to dive, and little ones can snorkel.
Egypt for Kids
What Egypt lacks in kiddie infrastructure, such as playgrounds and nappy-changing tables, it more than makes up for in its loving attitude towards little ones. In all but the finest restaurants, waiters are delighted to see kids – don’t be surprised if your baby even gets passed around the place for everyone to hug and kiss, or your toddler is welcomed onto laps and fed sweets. (Yes, probably right before bedtime. Egyptians often have a different concept of ‘bedtime’.)
Teenagers are less subject to this kind of attention, though their Egyptian counterparts will likely seem a bit younger and more sheltered. By adolescence, separation of the sexes is more typical, so teens should abide by grown-up etiquette when meeting Egyptians of their age.
Safety standards may make visitors nervous: don’t expect car seats (or even seat belts, for that matter) in taxis or private cars, or child-size life preservers on boats.
Hygiene in food preparation can be inconsistent, so be prepared for diarrhoea or other stomach problems (and have a plan for when you’re struck down and the kids are still raring to go). Rehydration salts, available very cheaply at all pharmacies (ask for Rehydran), can be a life-saver, as children can lose fluid rapidly in Egypt’s hot, dry climate.
Keep kids away from stray animals, which can spread disease – street cats in particular are everywhere and liable to scratch if approached.
In resort towns formula is readily available, as are disposable nappies, but these can be hard to find in out-of-the-way places. High chairs are often available in better restaurants. Babysitting facilities are usually available in top-end hotels. Snacks such as peanuts, sesame-seed bars, dried fruit and dates are common; stock up for outings, though, as it’s possible to wind up somewhere with no other services than someone selling sugary drinks and potato chips.
If you need more enticements during your trip, stop by the bookshop in any five-star hotel – they’re usually stocked with good Egypt-themed books and toys.
For more practical advice, pick up a copy of Lonely Planet’s Travel with Children, written by a team of parent-writers.
There’s plenty more to do in Egypt than look at pyramids and ride camels – though these are pretty fun too. Here are some tips for child-friendly fun in the desert, on the water and at some ancient sites.
- Siwa Oasis Siwa’s mellow atmosphere is perfect for kids, though the bus ride is very long. Once there, they can dive-bomb into springs and graze on fresh dates.
- Wadi Al Hittan How did a whale wind up in the desert? Find out in Wadi Al Hittan, where fossils are set in the sand. Trips here often include sandboarding on nearby dunes.
- Fayoum Pottery School Hands-on pottery in the Fayoum oasis.
- Nobi’s Arabian Horse Stables Ride a camel into the desert from the west bank in Luxor, with one of Nobi's expertly trained attendants to watch over you.
Ancient & Awesome
- Great Pyramid of Khufu Older children will be astounded to enter the Great Pyramid of Khufu at Giza – though test for a tendency for claustrophobia beforehand.
- Egyptian Museum Devise a virtual treasure hunt for children at the Egyptian Museum. Can they find King Tut’s wig box? How many miniature oarsmen does it take to row a miniature boat? Where are the baboon mummies?
- Mummification Museum Children are fascinated by mummies, so learn all about the processes in Luxor or visit the Royal Mummies Halls at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.
- Tombs of the Nobles Let them feel like Tintin uncovering the mysteries of the pharaohs at the temples in Aswan or at the Valley of the Kings.
- Bibliotheca Alexandrina Bookworms can inspect antique manuscripts, while science fans can explore the science museum. And everyone loves the planetarium.
- Sailing a felucca (Cairo, Luxor or Aswan) You can sail in Luxor and Aswan in the afternoon, but don't forget you can escape the traffic madness of Cairo by sailing and letting the kids play pirate.
- Train to Tanta Egypt’s trains are seldom crowded in 1st class, making a trip into the Delta region – perhaps to Tanta, famous for its sweets – a low-stress half-day out.
- Boating to Qanater On a Friday, join Egyptian families on the boat to Qanater, the Nile Barrages just outside of Cairo.
- Riding the West Bank (Luxor) Hop on a bike on Luxor’s west bank – it’s a great way to catch whatever breeze there is.
- Tramming in Alexandria Ride the tram in Alexandria from end to end for a cheap, low-stress view of the city.
On the Water
- Snorkelling (Red Sea Coast) Snorkelling in the Red Sea is a dazzling introduction to the underwater world. Seek out sites – in Sharm and Al Quseir, for instance – where kids can drift along the side of a reef, rather than directly over it.
- Shipyards (Alexandria) Boats of all sizes get worked on in these shipyards. Ask aspiring captains which they’d like to helm. Round it out with a visit to the fish market, then dinner at one of many family-friendly restaurants.
- Suez Canal (Port Said) For shipping on an even larger scale, stop in Port Said and watch the massive freighters go through the Suez Canal.
Before You Go
If they’re not already, get kids reading about ancient Egypt. As a starter, Zilpha Keatley Snyder’s classic fantasy The Egypt Game may get tweens hooked. For budding Egyptologists, the British Museum (www.ancientegypt.co.uk) website is loaded with games and other material; www.greatscott.com introduces hieroglyphics.
For modern Egypt, look for The Day of Ahmed’s Secret, by Florence Parry Heide and Judith Heide Gilliland, a wonderful picture book set in one of Cairo’s poor neighbourhoods. Teens may like Aunt Safiyya and the Monastery, by Bahaa’ Taher; Life Is More Beautiful than Paradise, by Khaled Al Berry; or I Want to Get Married! by Ghada Abdel Aal.
Also make sure children are up-to-date with routine vaccinations, and discuss possible travel vaccinations with your doctor well before departure.
What to Pack
Stock up your first-aid kit, pack good sun hats and don’t skimp on the sunscreen or rehydration salts. For infants, you’ll want a sling or back carrier – strollers will get you nowhere. Bring your own car seat if travelling by car.
Although there are an estimated 10 million Egyptians with special needs, the country is not well equipped for travellers with mobility constraints. Ramps are few, public facilities don’t necessarily have lifts, curbs are high (except in Alexandria, which has wheelchair-friendly sidewalks) and traffic is lethal. Gaining entrance to some of the ancient sites – such as the Pyramids of Giza or the tombs on the West Bank near Luxor – is all but impossible because of narrow entrances and steep stairs.
Despite all this, there is no reason why intrepid travellers with disabilities shouldn’t visit Egypt. In general you’ll find locals willing to assist with any difficulties. Anyone with a wheelchair can take advantage of the large hatchback Peugeot 504s that are often used as taxis (though they’re rarer in Cairo now). One of these, together with a driver, can be hired for the day. Chances are the driver will be happy to help you in and out of the vehicle. For getting around the country, most places can be reached via comfortable internal flights. In June 2017 the transport minister announced a new initiative making wheelchairs available at some railway and metro stations.
Opportunities for travel will improve as the new initiative by Helm (www.helmegypt.org) expands: called Entaleq (https://entaleq.helmegypt.org/en) at the time of writing, it provides an online database and phone app of 500 hotels, restaurants and other facilities and activities that are accessible.
The following businesses in Egypt make a special effort:
El Nakhil Hotel Nestled in a palm grove, the Nakhil or ‘Palm Tree’ is on the edge of Al Gezira on Luxor's west bank. This resort-style hotel has three rooms that can cater for disabled guests.
Flats in Luxor Has been working with Helm to make two of their flats accessible to people with disabilities.
Camel Hotel Specific poolside accommodation and other facilities for divers with disabilities.
Egypt for All Agency specialised in making travel arrangements for mobility-impaired visitors, from day trips to complete Egypt tours.
An online search will reveal many opportunities to volunteer both formally and informally in Egypt. In the current political climate, it is important to ensure that the organisation you volunteer for is licensed and that you have entered the country on the correct visa. If you enjoy animals, ACE is usually looking for help.
Weights & Measures
- Weights & Measures Egypt uses the metric system.
Lots of women travel solo in Egypt, and most have a great time in the country. Traveling alone as a female, though, is unfathomable to many Egyptians, so expect a lot of attention. Some of this is welcome; as a lone female you're more likely than a single male or travelling couple to be befriended by families and local women and garner invites to people's houses. Unfortunately though, you're more likely to encounter some unwelcome attention as well.
Egypt has a bad reputation for sexual harassment. In a 2013 UN survey, a staggering 99.3% of Egyptian women stated that they had been subjected to some form of harassment. For the most part, this presents as wearying amounts of cat-calling, declarations of love, leering or being followed down the street, as well as groping in crowds or closed-in spaces such as buses or taxis. Though street harassment is something women have to deal with globally, the prevalence of it in Egypt can put something of a dampener on your travels.
Attitudes are slowly changing. Sexual harassment was made a criminal offence in Egypt in June 2014; in September 2014 Cairo University took the initiative to officially adopt an anti-sexual-harassment policy on campus. Both these unprecedented steps are a huge leap forward in recognising a problem that has been brushed under the carpet for years. In saying that, Egypt has a long road to travel in tackling its harassment issues head on.
- Expect copious questions about your marital status and number of children. Egyptians are highly family-orientated and talking about family is a normal conversation starter, particularly with strangers. If you're single and childless, expect countless queries about why this is. Sometimes, to preserve your sanity, it's easier to make up a cover-story about your 'husband' and 'children' back home.
- Use the women-only carriages on the Cairo metro. Not only are they less crowded than the other carriages, but they're also a great opportunity to meet local women.
- Stock up on tampons and other female sanitary products before travelling. Even in the main centres they can be difficult to source.
- Trust your instincts. If you enter a hotel or restaurant and feel the atmosphere is leery, you're probably right. Don't grin and bear it. Just walk straight out.
- Carry a scarf to cover your head inside mosques.
- Sunglasses help deflect attention.
- Enjoy getting older: after your mid-30s, the hassle diminishes.
Egypt is a highly conservative country, so this is not the place to be breaking out your hot pants and strappy tank tops. You will stick out less like a sore thumb if you dress modestly, covering shoulders, cleavage and knees. T-shirts (with a sleeve that covers upper arms), long pants and long skirts not only aid to deflect unwanted attention but also help in encouraging interactions with local women, some of whom wouldn't approach travellers wearing skimpier attire.
Bikinis and swimsuits are best left to the private beaches of hotels. On public beaches and in the desert hot springs wear a t-shirt and shorts over your swimsuit at the least.
Adopting The Right Attitude
It's easier said than done, but ignoring most verbal harassment is usually the best policy. If you respond to every one, you’ll wear yourself out, and public shaming seldom gets satisfying results. Very few harassers will persist following or cat-calling for more than a few metres if you act as if you haven't noticed them.
Walk and act confidently; persistent harassers tend to latch onto those who look like they don't know what they're doing.
Most importantly, don't presume that every man who wants to strike up a conversation is out to get you. Egyptians tend to be gregarious, naturally hospitable and extremely open to talking to strangers. As the majority of Egyptians who work in tourism are male, you'll miss out on some great local interactions if you're too scared to talk to them.
For many female travelers being cat-called in Egypt can be particularly unnerving if you can't understand what is being said. Once you know what they are actually muttering as you walk past, you may find it more cringeworthy than scary. Egypt's most common cat-calls are:
- Muza Hugely popular slang term for a curvaceous, pretty female. You're being compared to a muz (banana) for your curves.
- Asal (honey) Exactly the same as in English.
- Sarokh (rocket) In young male street-slang this means 'this girl is rocket', a compliment to your exceptional beauty.
- Ishta (cream) Going out of fashion but still occasionally heard; describing a good-looking female.
- Mahallabiye In a country of sweet-tooths, it's not surprising that the popular dessert of mahallabiye (milk custard with pine nuts and almonds) has become a slang word for a pretty woman.
- Gazelle Although you may be feel slightly put out at being compared to a small desert-dwelling mammal of the antelope family, Egyptians consider gazelles their most beautiful native animal and being called one is supposed to be complimentary.
Public Spaces To Be Wary Of
- Never sit in the front passenger seat of taxis, servees or microbuses. On all public transport, try to sit next to another woman.
- Don't go to baladi (local bars) unaccompanied.
- Some coffeehouses are strictly men-only affairs. Check out the scene before sitting down.
- Avoid city buses at peak times; the crowds make them prime groping zones.
- The evenings of Eid Al Fitr (the holiday at the end of Ramadan) seem to be an excuse for groups of young men to roam the streets harassing women. If you're in Luxor, Cairo or Alexandria at this time, it can be best to stay off the street after nightfall.
- Avoid crowds where testosterone is high: street protests, post-football match celebrations and the like.
Responding to Persistent Harassment
For serious encounters and any incidences of physical contact, don't be afraid to create a scene. Saying 'haraam aleik!' or 'ayb aleik!' (both mean 'shame on you!') or the simpler 'imshi!' ('go away!') is usually enough to stop most harassers. Don't hesitate to ask for help. Most Egyptians are hugely ashamed of the harassment problem their country has. While, because of embarrassment, many won't intercept as they see harassment occurring, bystanders will usually jump to your aid if prompted.
Also, report any harassment to HarassMap (www.harassmap.org). This NGO does excellent work in breaking the stereotypes that surround sexual harassment in Egypt by documenting the extent of incidents throughout the country.
What To Do In An Emergency
For help, counselling and legal advice if you have been attacked, you can contact the Egyptian women's rights organisations El Nadeem Center for Victims of Violence and Torture (010-0666-2404; firstname.lastname@example.org) or Nazra for Feminist Studies (010-1191-0917; email@example.com).
HarassMap (www.harassmap.org) is also an excellent resource for advice.
The Dark Side Of Egypt's Demonstrations
An international spotlight was thrown on Egypt's high levels of violence against women after the 2011 Revolution when a huge number of sexual assaults and rapes occurred at protests and rallies, including a couple of high-profile attacks on foreign female journalists. Over the four-day protest period in July 2013 alone, which resulted in the ousting of President Morsi, Egyptian anti-sexual harassment groups reported 91 cases of serious sexual assault or rape of female demonstrators in Tahrir Square. In June 2014 a video of a female protester being attacked by a mob went viral, prompting a long-overdue nationwide debate on sexual assault in Egypt. Since then, local NGOs have launched several high-profile campaigns endeavouring to help change Egyptian society's high levels of tolerance towards all forms of sexual harassment.
Films & Books For Women Travellers
- Read Rosemary Mahoney’s Down the Nile: Alone in a Fisherman’s Skiff and G Willow Wilson’s The Butterfly Mosque, two very different tales of female solo travel in Egypt.
- Watch Cairo 6,7,8, a great 2011 fiction film about three Egyptian women dealing with sexual harassment.
Many foreign firms operate in Egypt and hire foreigners, but you must typically be hired before arriving in the country, to have your work visa arranged properly. Consult Cairo: The Practical Guide (AUC Press), edited by Claire E Francy and Lesley Lababidi, for possible avenues.
Bars & Hotels
In Sharm El Sheikh and other Red Sea resorts, travellers can often find short-term work as bartenders or hotel workers. Masseurs and others with spa skills are also in demand. Most of this work is under the table and is often short-term, due to employers’ tax concerns.
If you are a dive master or diving instructor you can find work in Egypt’s resorts fairly easily. Owners also look for language and social skills.
The best-paying schools require at least a Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults (CELTA), but there are other, more informal outlets as well. Cairo’s ILI is one of the better schools, and offers CELTA training as well.