Egypt is usually categorised under exotic travels. It might not be on the top of your holiday wish list but it can surely find a place in the something-different list. In my opinion, it is a country worth visiting at least once in your lifetime. Pyramids and camels are the first things whenever Egypt is mentioned. However I assured you that they have more things that just these two. It is a country with more than 5000 years of history, considered one of the richest in the world, and definitely one of the best preserved.
The country is kind of “divided” over two continents; Sinai sitting on Asia and the rest of Egypt sitting on Africa, with the Gulf of Suez sitting in between. Studies have shown that Egypt used to be a single piece of land. Platonic movement caused the spilt and appearance of the Gulf of Suez. This theory was reaffirmed as they found corals dated millions of years back in the Gulf of Aqaba, but only thousands of years back in Gulf of Suez. Anyway the main places of intersts are in Cairo (the capital), Alexandria (which I didn’t get to see), Aswan, Luxor, and Sinai. I am sure that there are other places of interests that my tour did not covered, such as the Sahara Dessert. Some of the places could be off-tourist attractions and you are likely only to experience on a free-an-easy backpacking trip. Thus I am in no position to comment on those areas.
I will touch on the experience from these places and what you could expect from Egypt. However I would not be covering areas such as visa requirements, transportations, pricing of tour packages etc.
Before the tour
First of all, you need to decide if you are travelling on a tour package or a free-an-easy trip. You will definitely benefit from having a tour guide. The most interesting part of Egypt lies in their ancient Egyptian history, which date back to the Kings and Pyramids eras. Most of the preserved temples have cravings on the walls and pillars. Unless you have spent more than 5 years studying those symbols, you will not be able to make any sense out from those cravings. This is where the guide comes in with their comprehensive history lessons. A good guide will also protect you from being cheated by vendors.
Places of interests
Your itinerary should be pretty fixed should you travel with a tour. If you are going free-an-easy and without a tour guide, I would recommend you spending time on the highlights. There are too many temples in Egypt to cover, and they look almost the same after you have seen a few. Unless you are somebody who has deep passion in studying their ancient history, I would suggest that you visit only a few interesting ones. Philae Temple (Aswan) is a small temple sitting on an island. Edfu Temple (Edfu) is the most well preserved temple. Karnak Temple (Luxor) is the biggest temple. The Valley of the Kings (Luxor) is worth a go only if you are visiting the Cairo Museum. Reason being that everything in the tombs has been shifted and placed in the Museum, thus it won’t be complete to just visit the tombs.
A visit to any Red Sea resort is a must. This should also be one of the places you spend your time while you are over in Sinai area. Many beautiful resorts can be found in Sharm El Sheikh. Since you are in Sinai, you would most likely not want to miss the climb up Mt Sinai. Refer to my Mt Sinai Guide for climbing this mountain.
Egypt is a land of sand so you should expect the humidity to be extremely low. It is a great thing for people who hate to perspire, but rather a concern for those who have dry lips. A lip balm is one of the necessary items for this country. The best time to visit is during its cooling season from December to February. Temperature in cities like Cairo and Alexandria can range from 10 ~ 20⁰C for the day. Aswan and Luxor being nearer to the Equator will thus experience warmer temperature from 20 ~ 38⁰C. If you are travelling outside the cooling season, be prepared that the day can hit more than 45⁰C.
I can’t give a universal comment since we all have different taste buds. As much as Asians or Singaporeans are concern, I would say that get used to their food and bring along some snacks. People who love Indian and Mediterranean cuisine should have lesser problems than those with Chinese or Europeans taste buds. I can’t comment on the safety issue of food since all my meals were arranged by the tour, which have factor in the quality control. You need plenty of water to go around, and the best choice would be bottles of mineral waters. Bear in mind that their tap water is in no drinking condition.
Shopping and Money matters
Both USD and EGP are accepted in Egypt. Their money changers do not accept SGD, and likewise our money changers do not have EGP. So for Singaporeans, you have to bring USD as the middle currency.
It is a golden rule to bargain when buying most things, but you have to accept the fact that a tourist will never get the same pricing as the locals. Obviously places with fixed prices such as hotels and restaurants do not require bargaining. I am referring to buying anything from the streets, especially those vendors selling souvenirs. You can use the 50/70 formula. Whatever price you are quoted, slash 70%. They would most likely declined and ask for something higher. You could then try a 60% slash and hopefully you get the stuff. Should they still decline, you can choose to walk away and they will most likely call you back for the offer. In the event that you really like the item, try to get at least a 50% discount. Paying anything more than that range will grant you entry into the “chai tao” list.
There are some basic items that you will definitely need, such as water. I experienced vendor quoting me EGP15 (USD3 or SGD3.75) for a bottle of 1.5l mineral water. The cheapest price I could go down was EGP2 (USD0.40 or SGD0.50). Locals will be able to purchase water at an even cheaper price. So you could imagine how much they jacked up the pricing. Soft drinks such as Coke will start from EGP15 and all the way to EGP30 (SGD7.50). The cheapest packet of cigarette I gotten was for EGP6 (SGD1.50) and the most expensive same packet at EGP30. The amazing part was I bought a lighter for EGP8 (SGD2), which is damn freaking expensive and could only be used less than 10 times.
Entry for places of interests normally cost between EGP30 to EGP60.
People and Languages
People in Aswan are generally friendlier and more sincere. People in Luxor are scheming and greedy. Overall Egyptians are pretty nice people. The above does not apply to their vendors that target tourists. Those vendors have given me quite a bad experience and caused me to be jaded over their presence. You will understand if you read my entire Egypt travel log. Safety is a concern when travelling the streets during night time, especially for women.
Most Egyptians understand English. The vendors are good with English and Japanese. Tour guides can be speaking of all languages. I strongly recommend travelling Egypt with a guide. You can consider my guide, Mr Khaled Afifi, whom can be contact at (+2) 010 68 65 201 or firstname.lastname@example.org
If possible, you would want to travel with a SLR. A compact camera is light and easy, but you will be having limitations with bokeh for portraits, and wide angles for landscape. Every tourist is holding a camera, either a compact or SLR. Thus it is not a concern if you are flashing your expensive body and lenses.
I bought with me a Canon 5D II, 17-40L, and 24-70L. For the first few days I was mounting mostly the 17-40 as I wanted wide angles. In fact 17mm is not really wide for some perspective. I would recommend going for 14mm. I found the 24-70 on my body for most of the days, even though 24mm is not wide for most cases. Changing of lenses has to be done with extreme care. The air is filled with such tiny sand dust that is invisible to naked eyes. Never ever leave your sensor on while changing lenses. Doing that calls for suicide. I changed lenses only in the rooms and inside air-conditioned vehicles. Yet I realised that the dust amount on my sensor has increased at least 2 times. After the trip, my camera body was desperately in need for a service by Canon. Do bring along a tripod for low lighting scene.
One more thing to take note. Never ever take a photograph of Egyptian military or security posts. That is highly prohibited and you can get into some serious trouble for doing that. Also don’t try camera-phone in places like The Valley of the Kings. One of my group mate had to bribe his way out when he was caught.
Places I enjoyed
Most likely I would not visit Egypt again. Not that I hated it but rather I have seen most of it. If I do go again, it would be for the Red Sea. The days I spent in the Reef Resort were the best experience I gotten from Egypt. My friends would know that I am a nature lover, and I hate holiday trips to cities such as Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur. Therefore the snorkelling in Red Sea, trekking thru Colour Canyon, and Dinner in the Dessert are really stuffs that make me happy. However my most memorial experience would be Mt Sinai. Read my travel log for Day 9 and you will know why.
- Common medicine and first aid plasters
- Sunblock & Lip Balm
- Sunglasses and Hat
- Light clothings and some cold weather wear
- Swimwear and Underwater equipments
With that I wish that you have benefits from the brief introduction of Egypt. I hope that you would put this in your wish list if you have yet to visit Egypt.