EgyptAir is the main domestic carrier. Nile Air also flies between Cairo and the main centres, though it has fewer services. Fares for both airlines can be surprisingly cheap. Domestic one-way fares on EgyptAir start from LE650.
Practical Tip: Searching for Domestic Flights
For the best prices when booking domestic flights using EgyptAir's website, always change your home location (at the top of the webpage) to Egypt. Prices will then show up in Egyptian pounds, and they are often half what the same flight costs when using the website with a home location outside of Egypt.
Cycle tourism is rare because of long distances plus intense heat. Winter can be manageable, but even in spring and autumn it’s necessary to make an early-morning start and finish by early afternoon. And yet...President Sisi is keen to encourage two-wheel transport and has been seen pedalling his way around the capital (once, at least).
Carry a full kit, as spares are hard to come by, although in a pinch Egyptians are excellent ‘bush mechanics’.
The Cairo-based club Cycle Egypt (www.cycle-egypt.com), and its very active Facebook group, is a good starting point for making local contacts and getting advice on shops and gear.
No trip to Egypt is complete without a trip down the Nile River. There are plenty of cruise ships plying between Aswan and Luxor, ranging from midrange to five-star luxury experiences. The main centre for organising and beginning multiday felucca (Egyptian sailing boat) trips is Aswan.
La Pespes (www.lapespes.com) runs a high-speed catamaran ferry service three times per week between Sharm El Sheikh and Hurghada.
You can get to most cities, towns and villages in Egypt on a bus, at a very reasonable price. For many long-distance routes beyond the Nile Valley, it’s the best option, and sometimes the only one. Buses aren’t necessarily fast though, and if you’re going to or from Cairo, you’ll lose at least an hour just in city traffic. Delays are common, especially later in the day as schedules get backed up.
Air-con ‘deluxe’ buses connect main destinations throughout the country. Most have a strict no-smoking rule; some buses on long routes have toilets, though they're seldom very clean. On longer routes a 15- to 20-minute stop every three hours or so is the norm.
Videos are usually shown, often at top volume – earplugs are a good idea if you want to sleep, as is an extra layer, as overnight buses can often be very cold from the air-con.
The cheapest buses on long routes, and most on shorter routes, can be markedly more uncomfortable, overcrowded and noisy than long-distance deluxe buses, and stop frequently. For trips under two hours or so, minibuses or servees are usually preferable.
Go Bus (www.gobus-eg.com) Egypt's newest bus company operates an expanding network of routes in northern Egypt, down the Red Sea coast, to Sharm El Sheikh and Dahab, and also between Luxor and Hurghada. Ticket prices vary hugely depending on bus class but all have air-con. Tickets can be booked and specific seats reserved online.
Super Jet Serves major routes around the country and internationally; tends to be efficient and reliable with comfortable seats and freezing air-con.
The three major regional companies are all under the same management, but cover different areas and offer different degrees of service:
East Delta Travel Co Operates between Cairo, the Suez Canal region and the Sinai Peninsula. Buses are old but tend to be in decent shape with good working air-con; Super Jet is still preferable.
West & Mid Delta Bus Co Covers Alexandria, the Delta, the Mediterranean Coast and Siwa. Buses, especially to Marsa Matruh and beyond, were showing substantially worse service, with chronic breakdowns, at the time of research.
Upper Egypt Bus Co Fairly serviceable buses cover most of the Western Desert oases and the Nile Valley, though for the latter destinations, the train is preferable.
It is advisable to book bus tickets in advance, especially for Cairo–Sinai routes and Western Desert services where buses run infrequently. Hang on to your ticket until you get off as inspectors almost always board to check fares. You should always carry your passport as buses are often stopped at military checkpoints for random identity checks. This is particularly common on the bus between Aswan and Abu Simbel, and on all Sinai buses.
Several of the biggest Egyptian cities have bus systems. Practically speaking, you might use them only in Cairo and Alexandria. They’re not particularly visitor-friendly, as numbers are displayed only in Arabic numerals, the routes are unpublished and the buses themselves are often overcrowded to the point of record-breaking.
There’s no orderly queue to board – in fact, quite the opposite – and the bus rarely rolls to a complete stop, whether you’re getting on or off. If you do make it on, at some point a conductor will manage to squeeze his way through to sell you your ticket.
Car & Motorcycle
Proceed with caution. Driving in Cairo is a crazy affair, and although it's slightly less nerve-racking in other parts of the country, it is more dangerous. Night driving should be completely avoided. That being said, some intrepid readers have reported that self-driving is a wonderful way to leave the tour buses in the dust.
A motorcycle would be a good way to travel around Egypt, but you must bring your own, the red tape is extensive and the risks perhaps greater than in a car. Ask your country’s automobile association and Egyptian embassy about regulations.
Petrol and diesel are usually readily available (there are occasional critical shortages) and very cheap. But stations can be scarce outside of Cairo. As a rule, when you see one, fill up.
Bringing Your Own Vehicle
Stock up on crucial spare parts and tyres. Cars in Egypt are also required to carry a fire extinguisher. Registration papers, liability insurance and an International Driving Permit, in addition to your domestic driving licence, are required.
Get multiple copies of a carnet de passage en douane. The carnet should also list any expensive spare parts you’re carrying with you.
At the Egyptian border you’ll be issued with a licence of the same duration as your visa. You can renew the licence, but you’ll have to pay a varying fee each time. The customs charge is approximately US$200, plus another US$50 for number-plate insurance.
An International Driving Permit is required to drive in Egypt, and you risk a heavy fine if you’re caught without one. Likewise, ensure that you always have all car registration papers with you while driving.
Finding a cheap deal with local agencies is virtually impossible – it’s advisable to make arrangements via the web before you arrive. Using international agencies is usually recommended. Read insurance terms carefully to see whether lower-quality roads are ruled out.
Driving is on the right-hand side. The speed limit outside towns is usually 70km/h to 90km/h, and 100km/h on major highways.
For traffic violations, the police will confiscate your driving licence and you must go to the traffic headquarters in the area to get it back.
Tolls are charged on the Cairo–Alexandria Desert Hwy, the Cairo–Fayoum road and the tunnel under the Suez Canal. Checkpoints are frequent. Be ready with identity papers and licence.
In cities, whoever is in front has the right of way, even if it’s only a matter of inches. In the countryside, keep an eye out for people and livestock wandering into the road.
Be aware of the risk of carjacking, particularly along the valley roads and at night.
If you have an accident, get to the nearest police station as quickly as possible and report what happened.
Note that because of security issues, foreign travellers are not allowed to use the Suez–Taba road, which runs across the middle of the Sinai Peninsula. You have to instead use the southern Sinai coastal route via Al Tor and Sharm El Sheikh.
Hitching is never entirely safe in any country in the world, and it is certainly not recommended in Egypt. Travellers who decide to hitch should understand that they are taking a small but potentially serious risk. Those who do choose to hitch will be safer if they travel in pairs and let someone know where they are planning to go. Women should never hitch on their own in Egypt, as it's generally assumed that only prostitutes would do such a thing.
Toyota and Chevrolet pick-up trucks cover some routes between smaller towns and villages off the main roads, especially where passengers might have cargo. A dozen or so people squeeze into the rear of the truck (covered or uncovered), often with goods squeezed in on the floor.
Covered pick-up trucks are also sometimes used within towns, similar to microbuses. This is especially so in some of the oases, on Luxor’s west bank and in smaller places along the Nile. There are a couple of ways you can indicate to the driver that you want to get out: if you are lucky enough to have a seat, pound on the floor with your foot. Alternatively, ask one of the front passengers to hammer on the window behind the driver; or, last, use the buzzer that you’ll occasionally find rigged up.
These clever scooters-with-seats, ubiquitous in Thailand and India, have arrived in Egypt. Locals call them tok-tok (turns out the onomatopoeia of their tiny engines works in Arabic too), and they’re especially popular in small towns. They’re typically the same price or cheaper than taxis (LE15, say, for a 15-minute ride), with a pounding shaabi (music of the working class) soundtrack for free. (Tuk-tuks are popular with young – sometimes too young! – drivers who like to customise their wheels with mega-speakers and other bling.) It’s a good idea to negotiate a price before getting in.
The microbus (pronounced ‘meekrobas’), often also called a micro or a minibus, is a (usually Toyota) van with seats for 14 passengers. Privately owned and usually unmarked, they run along most of the same routes as buses and are a bit cheaper. They also stop anywhere along the route on request, and will pick up riders along the way if there’s a free seat. There are certain parts of the country (the lower Nile valley, for instance) where foreigners are currently not allowed to use microbuses between towns.
How to Ride
Microbuses run on no set schedule – they just wait until they’re full, then take off. If you’re in a hurry or just want more room to yourself, you can buy an extra seat. The two prime seats are next to the driver; savvy solo travellers recommend buying both.
Microbuses can be quite cramped, so you typically don’t want to ride one for more than three hours or so. But their flexibility is a huge asset, as you can usually find one headed where you want to go, no matter the time of day.
Where to Find
Microbuses usually congregate outside bus and train stations, or at major highway intersections on the edges of cities. Increasingly, though, they operate from an established depot – ask for the maw’if meekrobas (as opposed to the mahattat bas, or bus station).
Microbus parking areas are usually a mob scene of drivers all shouting their destinations and trying to cajole you into their vehicles. Just shout your destination back, and eventually you’ll wind up in the right zone.
You pay the microbus driver once you’re underway. This usually involves passing your money up hand-to-hand through the rows; your change will be scrupulously returned the same way.
Cairo is the only city in Egypt with a metro system.
The servees (service taxi) is the predecessor to the microbus (minivan) and runs on the same principle: buy a seat, wait for the car to fill and you’re off. These big Peugeot 504 station wagons, with seats for seven passengers, are now less common than the vans and are being phased out. As with microbuses, you might find them near bus and train stations, and you’re welcome to buy extra seats for more space or just to speed along the departure.
Even the smallest cities in Egypt have taxis. They’re inexpensive and efficient, even if in some cities the cars themselves have seen better days.
Fares In Cairo metered taxis are taking over, but everywhere else, locals know the accepted price and pay it without (much) negotiation. Check with locals for taxi rates, as fares change as petrol prices rise.
Hailing Just step to the roadside, raise your hand and one will likely come screeching to a halt. Tell the driver where you’re headed before getting in – he may decline the fare if there’s bad traffic or it’s too far.
Negotiating For short fares, setting a price beforehand backfires, as it reveals you don’t know the system. But for long distances – from the airport to the city centre, for instance – you should agree on a price before getting in. And confirm it, as some drivers tend to try to change the deal on arrival.
Paying In unmetered taxis, avoid getting trapped in an argument by getting out first, then handing money through the window. If a driver suspects you don’t know the correct fare, you’ll get an aghast ‘How could you possibly pay me so little?’ look, if not a full-on argument. Don’t be drawn in if you’re sure of your position, but do remember that LE5 makes a far greater difference to your driver than it does to you.
Sharing You may be welcomed into a cab with a passenger, or your cab may stop to pick up others. If you're a man and don’t mind sharing, sit in the front seat and leave the back free for others it’s considered a bit forward for women to sit in the front seat).
Taxi Drivers & Paying the Fare
Egyptian taxis are a blessing and a curse. They’re remarkably convenient and affordable, but outside of Cairo, where reliable meters have yet to be introduced, they can be a frequent source of unpleasantness when it comes to paying the fare. Passengers frequently feel that they’ve been taken advantage of (which they often have), while drivers may be genuinely (as opposed to just theatrically) aggrieved by what they see as underpayment.
Bear in mind, driving a cab is far from lucrative. Average earnings after fuel has been paid for are rarely more than LE20 per hour. Many drivers don’t own their car and have to hand over part of their earnings as ‘rent’.
Which isn’t to say that the next time you flag a taxi for a 10-block hop and the driver declares ‘10 pounds’, you should smile and say ‘OK’. But it might make it easier to see that it was probably worth his while trying. And if you talk to him and listen to his stories, you will likely get entertainment or enlightenment, as well as a ride, for the money.
Egypt’s British-founded rail system comprises more than 5000km of track connecting almost every major city and town (but not Sinai). The system is antiquated, cars are often grubby and battered, and there have been some major accidents recently, including a crash near Alexandria in August 2017 that left at least 41 dead and 179 injured. Aside from on two main routes (Cairo–Alexandria, and Cairo–Aswan, both of which have modern rolling stock), you have to be fond of trains to prefer them to a deluxe bus. But for destinations near Cairo, trains win because they don’t get stuck in traffic.
For specific schedules, consult the Egyptian Railways (https://enr.gov.eg) website, where you can also purchase tickets.
1st (darga ula) Preferable if you’re going any distance. Air-con (takyeef), padded seats, relatively clean toilet, tea and snack service from a trolley.
2nd (darga tanya) Seats are battered vinyl. Skip air-con if it’s an option – it often doesn’t work well. Toilets aren’t well kept.
3rd (darga talta) Grimy bench seats, glacial pace and crowds, but lots of activity and vendors. Be prepared for attention – you’ll probably be the most exciting thing on the train.
Route The private company Watania Sleeping Trains, also now known as Ernst, runs daily sleeper services from Cairo to Luxor and Aswan.
Tickets Reasonably priced, usually including two meals. Reservations must be made before 6pm the day of departure, but should really be done at least a few days ahead.
Compartments Spanish- or German-built two-bed sleepers: seats convert to a bed, and an upper bunk folds down. Clean linen, pillows and blankets, plus a small basin with running water. Beds are a bit short. Middle compartments, away from doors, are quieter. Shared toilets are generally clean and have toilet paper. Air-con can get chilly at night.
Meals Serviceable airline-style dinners and breakfasts are served in the compartments. A steward serves drinks (sometimes including alcohol), and there’s a club car.
Other Upper Egypt Services
Day trains Security rules come and go, but at the time of writing tourists could ride all-day trains south of Cairo. The best is number 980, the express departing Cairo at 8am; it's an enjoyable 10½ hours to Luxor and 14 to Aswan, with views of lush plantations and villages along the way.
Night trains (nonsleepers) There are four-to-five night services to Luxor and Aswan daily. Seats recline, are comfortable enough to get a decent sleep in, and are far cheaper than the Watania Sleeper Train. The day trains, though, are much more scenic.
The best trains on the Cairo–Alexandria route are speedy ‘Spanish’ (esbani) trains. Almost all of them go direct, or with just one stop, in 2½ hours. ‘French’ (faransawi) trains are less comfortable and make more stops. Both count as 1st class with air-con, though, so specify Spanish when booking. Ordinary trains on this route are very basic and slow.
The rail system is most extensive in the agricultural region north of Cairo, as it was built to bring cotton to market. If you’re headed anywhere in this area, train is ideal for speed and scenery, though the 1st-class services run only four or five times a day.
For the summer holiday season, Watania runs a night sleeping-car train from Cairo to this Mediterranean resort town, three days a week from mid-June to mid-September.
Cairo and Alexandria are the only two cities in the country with tram systems. While Alexandria still has a fairly extensive network, Cairo now only has a handful of lines.
Learn Your Numbers!
Your trip through Egypt will go a lot more smoothly if you learn the Arabic numerals, which are used on all buses, trains, timetables and other crucial transport details. It helps to write down the critical numbers so it’s easier to compare with signs.