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
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.
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
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
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?
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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