Egypt: Top 10 Things to Know Before you Go

Egypt: Top 10 Things to Know Before you Go

Tourism in Egypt has dropped staggeringly since the Revolution in 2011. Cairo specifically was considered a war zone, and has suffered a steep decline in visitors since then, due to heavy travel warnings against unnecessary travel to Egypt in the capital and surrounding areas.

Despite the political unrest and turbulent past, Egypt has a mysterious allure that is hard to resist. The fact that Egypt is home to the ONLY remaining standing structure of the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World is enough to catapult this country to the top of most bucket lists.

Before traveling to Egypt, please understand the fact that it IS a third world country. Don’t expect the usual modern luxuries you are accustomed to in the Western world. But that’s part of the adventure! Egypt is a place so different than most Westerners are used to, and perhaps that mystery might make it more desirable to most.

If you’re thinking about traveling to Egypt, I HIGHLY recommend going with an organised tour group. I had my reservations about going to Egypt to be honest, but I definitely felt more safe doing it with a tour instead of alone. My friend Carey and I chose to go with TopDeck Travel and it was such a great decision. Not only did we feel more safe going in a group, but we were given a local tour guide who knew the ins and out of his country. This really helped put us at ease and relieved some of the stress we had beforehand, travelling alone as 2 females.

After my unforgettable trip to Egypt, I put together a list of things to expect when traveling to Egypt for the first time, including helpful tips to make you feel more prepared. Here are the top 10 things I wish I knew before travelling to Egypt for the first time:

1. You Cannot Drink the Tap Water

tap water photo

This may seem obvious, but it is very important that travellers are aware that the water standards are extremely below standards here and most often, water is not properly filtered, resulting in insufficient removal of harmful organisms from the treated water. Drinking the water WILL cause diahhrea, so be careful!

It is also not advisable to brush your teeth with tap water in certain areas of Egypt, including Dahab. Buy bottled water and use that to brush your teeth. We were told by our local guide that it was okay to brush our teeth with tap water in Cairo, but not so in Dahab. Depending on the region you’re in, be sure to ask if it’s ok to use tap water for brushing your teeth. You do not want to make that mistake and pay the consequences.

2. The Driving is CRAZY

The one word that comes to mind when trying to explain the traffic situation in Egypt is “clusterfuck”. There is no speed limit and there are no traffic lights in most places. This equates to some potentially dangerous driving conditions. No traffic lights also means lots of HORNS being blown all at once. Before we went, we were told by a fellow traveller who had just been to Cairo to stick our cell phones out of the window and record the noise. It seemed like a weird request, but we soon realized why. The traffic noise is unlike anything we had ever heard. This also made it difficult to get some sleep in our hotel since it was next to a busy road.

Another thing to be aware of is that there are no crosswalks. With the help of our tour guide, we all linked our hands and just made our way across the busy street. It was very frightening, I’m not going to lie. But they will stop for you, they are used to it. So when it comes to crossing the street, you just have to go! Trust me.

3. Carry Toilet Paper and Hand Sanitizer with You at ALL times

Wait, what? I must reiterate the fact that it is a third world country, so sanitary standards are markedly lower. Most public bathrooms do NOT provide toilet paper (or soap). Be prepared and pack it in your bag, you won’t regret it.

As mentioned above, most public bathrooms do not have soap readily available. In my experience there, there were only a handful of times where there was soap in the bathroom. If available, it was bar soap which everyone else was touching. If you’re a germaphobe like me, I passed on the bar soap and opted for my hand sanitizer.

3. Buy Bug Spray and WEAR it at All Times

A warm environment festers bugs, it’s inevitable. No one warned me about the bugs and I learned the hard way, with “battle scars” to prove it. Hey, I like to call it my Egyptian souvenir.

mosquitos photo

4. Bring a Hat, Wear Sunscreen, and Drink Plenty of Water 

Heat stroke is a major concern in Egypt during the summer months. Protecting yourself from the sun and hydrating yourself is essential in order to stay healthy while travelling here. The last thing you want is a trip to the emergency room due to heat stroke. It happened to me while travelling in Spain years ago, believe me it’s not fun!

5. Respect the Culture/Religion

Egypt is a predominately Muslim country with a conservative culture. Be sure to respect the local culture by dressing appropriately. For the ladies, this means covering your arms and legs in public places. It’s not mandatory for tourists, but you’re in their country, please do your best to respect their traditions. It’s your choice, but if you do decide to dress more provocatively, expect to get some unwanted attention. Certain areas are more relaxed as in the Red Sea resort towns, including Dahab, where beachwear is the norm. Our tour guide advised us that it was okay to visit the Great Pyramids in more casual attire. However, on a dinner cruise we were advised to cover up. It all depends where you are, so make sure to stay informed in order to remain respectful.

6. Don’t Expect High Accommodations Standards

Leave all your luxurious standard expectations at the door. A 4-star hotel in Egypt is not the same as a 4-star hotel in the Western world. Going in with high expectations will only leave you disappointed. In Cairo, we had to move hotel rooms a total of 4-5 times. Either the electricity didn’t work at all or the AC was broken. There were ants in some rooms, and in one room there was no shower head at all. This became the norm there, but it was definitely an experience. The good news is that prices are a lot lower than we are used to, so accommodations won’t break the bank.

7. Check for Egypt Visa Requirements

passport photo

Visas are required for ALL visitors to Egypt. The Egyptian Embassy recommends that all visitors to Egypt obtain a visa in advance of arrival. However, as an American, you are allowed to purchase a 30-day tourist visa at the airport, costing $25 USD. The process was pretty straightforward and quick. Make sure to check your country-specific requirements well in advance to avoid any complications or denial into the country.

8. Alcohol and Ramadan 

wine photo

Ramadan is a holy month in the Muslim religion in which a strict fast is observed for a whole month from dawn until sunset. This fast includes no food and NO WATER for 30 days. The month is intended to install self-discipline through refraining from bad behavior, bad thoughts, smoking, and is marked by lots of daily prayers. Observing Ramadan once yearly is one of the “Five Pillars of Islam” an is compulsory in the Muslim religion.

Being in Egypt during Ramadan was such an eye-opening experience to witness first hand. The self-restraint and dedication that the people have to their religion was just so inspiring and honorable. To see these people going about their every day work lives in the intense heat without even thinking to take a drink was just incredible. We even witnessed small 10 and 12 year old boys firmly participating and we were just so impressed at their willpower.

That being said, don’t expect to go to Egypt during Ramadan and get wasted. As mentioned above, it’s a Muslim country, meaning they do not readily serve alcohol in most places during Ramadan, with the exception of some touristy places. Most places, we were told, did not have a license to serve alcohol during the holy month. In Dahab, however, we were informed by our local tour guide that there were 1 or 2 liquor stores where we could purchase wine/beer/liquor and bring it to the restaurant to consume at no extra charge. Make SURE to check with them first, as you do not want to get anyone in trouble and you definitely do not want to disrespect the local customs/traditions.

9. You Might See Some Guns, but Don’t be Afraid

During our journey from Cairo to Dahab, we had to leave at 4am to be escorted by a military convoy. This is standard procedure for tour groups in Egypt to assure our safety. We also witnessed some snipers on the rooftop while we were eating dinner one night. A little alarming I must say. But again, it is for our own protection.

10. Expect to See Some EPIC Stuff

No one prepared me for the epic-ness of the Great Pyramids of Egypt. As I mentioned before, the Great Pyramids of Egypt are the ONLY remaining standing structures of the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World. How freaking cool is that?

Great Pyramids of Giza

I couldn’t resist. When in Egypt 🙂

Did you know that the Giza pyramid is made of 3 MILLION blocks? Mind blown. You can’t really appreciate the grandeur of these structures until you are standing right in front of them, with your jaw stuck to the floor.

Final Thoughts on Egypt

After reviewing this list, it may seem like all negative points, but it was not intended to be. It was just intended to make the traveler aware of what to expect so a complete culture shock is not as overwhelming.

Egypt is like a whole different world, in a good way! People only dream of visiting here, and I was so fortunate to finally get to see it with my own eyes. The ancient history here will blow you away and the hospitable culture will warm your hearts. Egypt has been one of the most unusual places I have ever visited and it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience I will treasure forever.

Is Egypt safe? That’s a never-ending question with a revolving answer. My only advice is to do your research, check national travel warnings, speak to those who have recently visited, and make an informed decision based on these factors. Traveling to Egypt was one of the best decisions I have made, and something I will always remember.

Do you have any more advice for traveling to Egypt? Do you think it’s safe to travel to Egypt? I want to hear your thoughts!

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10 Things to Know before you go to Egypt

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Top 5 Things I Loved about Clarion Collection Hotel Oleana Bergen

Top 5 Things I Loved about Clarion Collection Hotel Oleana Bergen

I had avoided Norway for so long because it is the most expensive country in Europe. Understandable. As you can imagine, I was thrilled to finally be going to Bergen after dreaming about it for what seemed like forever. I was almost equally excited about staying at Clarion Collection Hotel Oleana Bergen after obsessing over this beautiful hotel online for weeks beforehand.

I won’t bore you by describing every little thing inside the hotel room. “The room had a desk, a chair, a bed, a window…”. How boring does that sounds? If you want the little details you can check on the hotel’s website.  What I am going to tell you are the top 5 things I loved about Clarion Collection Hotel Oleana Bergen!

1. Amazing Ambiance/Decore

Hotel Clarion Collection Lobby

Spent way more time than one should in a hotel lobby sitting on that comfy couch

The first thing I noticed when I opened the door and stepped into the hotel was the incredible ambiance. Dim lighting, colourful and funky furniture, and an elegant and romantic atmosphere. I definitely felt underdressed arriving in my typical flight outfit of gym attire. Clarion Collection Hotel Oleana has a sophisticated flare about it, one that would normally make me feel uncomfortable. You know that super ritzy house of your rich friend that is so impeccably fancy that you feel like you don’t even want to sit down or touch anything because you might break it? This was the complete opposite. The seating area of the lobby was very warm and inviting with a big comfy couch centered right in front of the big screen TV. Throughout my stay, I spent way more time than anyone should spend in a hotel lobby because of that darn turquoise couch!

2. Ideal Location

Clarion Collection Hotel Oleana Location

Clarion Collection Hotel Oleana is only 3-4 minutes from the bus station!

The hotel could not have been in a better location! Right smack in the center of town situated along a cute cobblestone street. I took the Flybussen bus from the airport to the first stop after the central station called Festplassen. The journey took about 22 minutes and a roundtrip ticket cost 185 NOK (approximately $22). Clarion Collection Hotel Oleana was about a 3-4 minute walk from the bus stop. It was also about a 6-7 minute walk from the famous UNESCO Bryggen area, and a 7-8 minute walk from the I h, 2 of the city’s top attractions. 

When I arrived, I was a little worried that it might be a little loud at night (as most city center hotels are). But that was not the case at all. The only cars on the cobblestone street were taxis to pick up guests in the nearby hotels. There was absolutely no street noise or commotion outside of the hotel. I’m a super light sleeper, so this was a definite plus for me!

3. Complimentary Food

food at Clarion Collection Hotel Oleana

This might be the absolute best part about Hotel Oleana. Why? Because in the few days that I was in Bergen, I DID NOT SPEND ONE CENT ON FOOD! Norway is the most expensive country in Europe, and I didn’t have to buy food once. Score! Clarion Collection Hotel Oleana provides 3 meals a day on the house. Breakfast consisted of eggs, bacon, roasted potatoes, cereal, a variety of meat and cheeses, fruit, juices, and coffee. I was happy that I got way more than the typical European breakfast tends to offer. The mid-day snack consisted of waffles, various fruits, and coffee. Dinner was different every night and usually consisted of pasta, chicken, potatoes, meats and cheeses, and bread.

What I particularly liked about the food choice is that all the food allergens were listed next to the items. This was particularly helpful for me due to my dreadful gluten allergy. I was very pleased with the food choices and quality overall.

4. Extremely Accommodating Staff

Entrance to Hotel Oleana in Bergen

The beautiful and inviting entrance to the hotel. Can I stay forever?

People can really make or break your experience in a new place. But let me tell you from the very beginning that the staff went above and beyond what I expected. They were extremely friendly and responded quickly to any of my needs. What particularly surprised me is that one night they didn’t have any gluten-free options available for dinner except for salad. For those of you that know me, Im not a salad girl. I need my meat! As I was chomping away like a rabbit on my lettuce, the chef who had remembered my allergy came to the table and asked if I would like for her to make something special for me. About 10 minutes later, she came out with a lovely gluten-free pasta dish made just for me! I thought that was very thoughtful and I was basking in the wonderful hospitality.

They also printed out the bus schedule and helped me get to the bus station at 4am! All with a smile on their faces. 

5. That Shower Though!

Hotel Oleana sexy shower

The sexiest shower I ever did see. Right inside the room!

Ok I lied, this was my favorite thing about the hotel! I might have gotten the room with the world’s coolest shower ever! That was the first thing I noticed when walking into the room. The shower was inside the room, literally! What an extremely cool design concept. The mix of the purple velvet room decor, the abstract wall paintings in the bathroom, the dimly lit bedroom, and the sexy semi-private (but not really private) shower, was a recipe for romance if I ever did see one! I was traveling alone, but it would have been very nice to share with my other half!

Other things I really enjoyed about the hotel?

~the lovely view overlooking the colourful rooftops

~the large flatscreen TV with English channels

~the blackout drapes

~the queen chair in my room

~the most powerful hotel hairdryer I ever experienced

~extremely comfortable mattress and down comforter

~6 outlets in the room (most European hotels have only one or two)

~ incredible rain shower head

What I didn’t like about the hotel?

~small sink area for toiletry items (not a huge deal)

~not enough bright lights in the room (payoff for the sensual atmosphere)

Price

Ok, this is the part you I know really want to know about. How much would a hotel like this cost in the centre of town in the most expensive country in Europe with all meals included? Around $150 USD! Eating out in Bergen 3 meal a day alone would easily set you back $75+ a day. Keep in mind that I traveled in January (complete off-season) so prices were on the low end during this time. Expect to pay more in the peak summer months.

Final Verdict of Clarion Collection Hotel Oleana: A+

I had a wonderful time at Clarion Collection Hotel Oleana and I was pleasantly surprised at the highly quality of accommodation for the price. If you’re looking for a cute hotel with a great location, quiet, modern and romantic atmosphere, with a friendly staff, as well as 3 daily meals included, this is the hotel for you! I would definitely recommend this hotel to my closest family and friends. I cannot say enough good things about it. I will be back, Bergen. I will be back!

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Note: a special thanks to Clarion Collection Hotel Oleana for hosting me. My opinions, however, are entirely my own. If I don’t like something, I will definitely speak my mind! 

Have you had a superb hotel experience that really left an impression on you? Conversely, have you had a nightmare experience? I want to hear from you!

Above the Clouds in San Marino…Literally

Above the Clouds in San Marino…Literally

On a last-minute whim, I decided to go to take a trip to San Marino from Italy. Mainly because I tend to like visiting places that are lesser known. And since most people I asked had never even heard of it or could not even point it out on a map, I sensed this was definitely one of the more off-the-beaten path destinations.

Where is San Marino?

Truthfully, I hadn’t heard of San Marino until about 6 months ago, and I thought it was just another city in Italy. Little did I know it was its own autonomous country landlocked by Italy. It lies on the east between the Emilia Romagna and Le Marche regions of Italy. 

Top 5 Coolest Facts about San Marino

  • San Marino is the 5th smallest country in the world and the 3rd smallest in Europe, after Monaco and the Vatican.
  • San Marino spans 24 only square miles, about 1/3 the size of Washington, DC (my birthplace).
  • San Marino has the oldest republic in the world.
  • San Marino has no national debt.
  • San Marino has the lowest unemployment rate in all of Europe.
San Marino

Architecture of San Marino

Did you know any of these unique facts about San Marino? I sure didn’t before I visited.

Above the Clouds

I decided to stay in Rimini, since it was significantly cheaper than staying in San Marino itself. While chatting with my friendly Airbnb hosts, they informed me that it had been cloudy most days in Rimini and San Marino, and to not expect anything different in the next few days. At least they gave me a head’s up. As I left the apartment the next morning, I immediately stepped out into a cloud of fog. I couldn’t even see 20 feet in front of me, it was that bad. Oh no, this isn’t good news. I only had one day to explore San Marino, so I had no choice but to move on with my plans. Maybe it will be more clear in San Marino?

As the bus ascended up the windy mountain road to the tiny hillside country, we became more and more enveloped in clouds. It was getting worse, not better. I was extremely bummed to say the least. I’m not going to see anything, I though to myself. This is probably the only time i’m going to come to San Marino, and I’m going to miss that beautiful view I see in all the pictures. The magnificent Fortress of Guaita perched atop a glorious mountain overlooking the green rolling hills and Adriatic Sea in the deep distance. But I was going to miss all of that, sadly.

When the bus finally stopped at the top, I got off, and made my way to what looked like a lookout over the area. Holy crap!!! We were ABOVE the clouds, literally. For what it seemed like miles, white, fluffy, powdery clouds were all I could see. I had only witnessed this while in an airplane. But here I was, in San Marino, above the clouds. Wow.

San Marino view of clouds

Above the clouds…

Drop Everything and go to the First Tower!

Honestly, there isn’t a ton to do in San Marino. But, the one thing you must do is go to the first tower, Guaita (or Rocca), for one of the most EPIC views you will ever see. Guaranteed. It costs 4.50 Euro to enter and it was well worth it. After seeing what I saw, I would have paid more! The 3 towers are located on Mount Titano, which overlook the surrounding land.

Fortress of Guaita

Fortress of Guaita

I was afraid that it was too foggy to see anything so I even questioned paying to go up there. But I decided, why not? I came all the way here for this, I might as well take a chance. Best. Decision. Ever.

Beautiful clouds of San Marino

Clouds for days

As I started exploring the little castle, I began to climb higher naturally. After the first set of stairs, there was a little lookout, where all you could see was clouds. I noticed the set of stairs to the big tower, where I presumed the best views were. I then spotted a little detour to the mini stairs, leading to a ledge. I made the little detour slowly. Another lookout with clouds, hmm. Before I went back down, I turned my head to the right, and there is was. BAM!

Fortress of Guaita, San Marino

Wowzers, what an epic view! (shot with my iPhone 6)

It was one of those “ah hah”  moments that stops you in your tracks, leaving you crippled and momentarily void of expression. I couldn’t think, I couldn’t speak. It might sound a little cheesy, but it was exactly how I felt in the moment. The Rocca was not only visible, but it was mightily demanding a presence amidst the thick fog. The sun began to peak out, as if it were a spotlight highlighting the magic kingdom. It was perfect. It was ethereal. It was honestly the closest to heaven on earth I have ever seen. Pictures cannot properly convey the essence of this place.

I worried about not seeing the landscape that San Marino so famously frames, but I got something even better. I only hope that others get to see it in the same light that I did.

Fortress of Guaita

On cloud 9 🙂

I originally planned on going to all 3 towers, but after the first one, I was completely content. There is no way there was a better view than that. At least that’s what I told myself. I could die a happy girl. It is moments like these that really make traveling so special, and what continues to spark my passion to see more. 

How to Get to San Marino

There is a bus that leaves from Rimini train station that costs 5 Euro each way and takes 50 minutes. You pay for the ticket on the bus. The bus stop is right next to the Burger King. During the summer months, the busses leave about once every hour. 

Do I need a Passport to Enter San Marino?

You do NOT need to bring your passport with you to enter San Marino. Although San Marino is not a member of the EU or in the Schengen Zone, they have free borders with the surrounding country (Italy) and operate on similar principles.

Clouds in San Marino

First peek of the clouds surrounding San Marino

What else is Great about San Marino?

No tax!!! They have many leather shops throughout the tiny country, so make sure to spend some time shopping while you’re there. I stopped at the leather stand right outside of the first tower, and I ended up buying 3 pieces of leather for 95 Euros! I even got my mommy her Christmas present. Score!

Fortress of Guaita

I sat up on this ledge for an hour, admiring the heavenly view!

Crazy Travelista’s Gluten Free dining Pick

Il Beccafico-had an entirely separate gluten-free menu with pastas, pizza, and desserts. I tried the homemade tortellini with ragu sauce and it was really delicious. It also had a great view of the surrounding landscape. There aren’t many restaurants in San Marino, so this may be your only option for gluten-free food.

Have you ever been to San Marino? Did it exceed your expectations or did it let you down? I’d love to hear your thoughts!