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.