Egypt used to be a very popular destination for tourism. You have Acient Egyptian history as well as beach resorts and diving spots. Unfortunately after some political troubles and attacks in touristic places tourism rates dropped dramatically.
We went for one week with a group tour. Usually I like to plan everything myself, but keeping in mind of the current situation, I thought it would be nice to have a guide and all transfers covered. If you are interested in all the things we saw and did, you can read about it in my next post.
What I want to share with you all are some things that I think you really should know before booking your trip to Egypt! If you are having some doubts or want more information, I hope I can help you with it. So let’s get started!
1 You need a visum to enter
Depending on which country your passport is from, you will most likely need a visum to enter Egypt.
Luckily you can buy one at the airport and you will get a sticker in your passport. At the time we visited ( November 2017) the price was 25 dollars.
You also need to fill in the immigration form before entering the country, also available upon arrival at the airport.
2 The currency is Egyptian Pounds
The local currency is the Egyptian pound (EGP). You can exchange it there or get cash from the ATM. The tip here is to wait till you have a decent exchange rate (so check it the day of travelling before you arrive just to be sure).
You can also pay in dollars or euros in a lot of places. Just keep in mind that it will probably be cheaper to buy the things in the local currency.
3 Tourism still has a BIG part in Egyptian economy
A lot of people still rely on tourism to make it through their day. At every big sightseeing spot there will be a street with plenty shops at the entrance.
Also many tours make a stop at shops that give you a short presentation and would love for you to buy their products, such as: essences and oils, papyrus, albaster stones, handmade carpets,… They will always show you some hospitatlity by offering tea or coffee or something else to drink. They say you don’t have to buy anything, but they always expect you to.
As I mentioned before, tourism went down a whole lot the past 7 years. You can really feel how desperate they got at their approach. At every moment close by a shop or a seller, you WILL be called at. If you don’t want anything, just ignore or say no and keep walking!
On a more negative side there are many people on the streets, even children, who will ask tourists for money for something they need. It is up to you if you give in or not to their begging. But keep in mind if you say yes to someone, others may come to you as well.
4 Egyptian culture is a tip giving culture
One thing I noticed is that every (little) thing somebody does for you, they will expect and ask for money or a tip. Examples are staff in the hotel, restaurant, but even on the streets.
It doesn’t have to be alot, but if you count all the tips and extras you will give to strangers on your trip… well just keep in mind to bring extra cash for that too.
5 Egypt also has a bargain culture
On a more possitive note: BARGAINING is a must, especially if you want to save some money (and not be the stupid tourist who always pays full price).
A tip is to not show interest at all at first. When they ask you how much you would like to give, say no again or just half the price and go from there into the negotiating for the final one. If you are with two, play the trick where one is kind of interested and the other one walks away!
6 Be aware of tourist traps
Another downside of relying on tourism a lot, is that there are several kinds of tourist traps as well! Starting with a simple one: not bargaining. They WILL ask a very high price at first that is obviously not worth it, so take the price down yourself!
Then there is selling of fake products. If you are looking for authentic Egyptian products ask them for proving it is real. I can already tell you that most of them will be fake. So definitely not worth paying alot for it.
There are many forms of tourist traps going on. One you should be very carefull of is exchanging euros or dollars to Egyptian pounds with somebody on the street. They will convince you it is a better rate and have your money, but you will be stuck with fake notes!!
Egypt is a country where you can ride camels. Here you should also bargain before riding on one! It is not a trap on itself as you can ride on them. It is up to you if you chose to ride or not (I personally stopped riding animals for touristic purposes a while ago). BUT there are alot of pushy camel owners that will want you to take photos with them… and off course it will cost you. DO NOT give them what they say as it is ALOT. If you want a camel shot, bargain BEFORE the photo or give a little bit what you can, say thank you and walk away.
On the same note, anyone that pushes you for photos of something or someone… is never for free!
Another thing you should keep in mind if you want to be a respectful tourist is: DO NOT take photos in tourist sightings if it is not allowed to. An example was the tombs we visited at the Valley of the Kings. In order to preserve the drawings and hieroglyph carvings and keep them accessible to tourists for many years to come, you can not use flash or even breath too much inside. This is also the reason the guide can not enter and explain inside to a group. However you will find that the door holder or guard (I don’t even know what his function is really) will follow you inside, give a bit of information and even ask if you want a picture there. Please say NO, as it will cost you money AND is against the preservation of this ancient heritage.
7 You might have a culture shock
Something very important to know is: Egypt might be totally different from where you live. There is poverty, pollution, other religions, other habbits, other food,…
The thing that I most found difficult to deal with is how polluted and chaotic the big cities can be. I have to say honestly I did not like Cairo at all. There is SO much smog there, filthy waters, pushy people (sellers and beggars) and a traffic that is almost IMPOSSIBLE to drive in or even cross a street by foot.
8 Egypt is a muslim country
Keep in mind to respect this! Especially as a woman, some rules may apply.
You should try to dress properly. Meaning at least cover your knees and if possible your shoulders. I must say I did see tourists with short shorts and strap tops, but just to be a good tourist: please don’t.
When visiting a mosque especially: cover as much as you can. They already stare at you like crazy as you are a foreigner, there is no need to provoke it some more by dressing like you are at the beach.
An other thing that you might dislike is: alcohol is barely legal… and VERY hard to get (outside of your hotel or resort) and you shouldn’t go looking for it either. Just enjoy some local drinks and teas instead.
9 They might want to take pictures with you
As I mention: people will stare at you. At many occasions I had people stare at me and even take pictures.
At first I thought ” Is there something wrong with me?” But then the guide told me it is normal here. Especially Arabic tourists like to take selfies with foreigners to show it to others. It is up to you if you say yes or no.
Personally If I am not busy and they ask politely I don’t mind at all. However when they take shots without asking or are in mass staring at you and taking their phones in their hands when you are listening to the guide… NO NO. This is something I really do not like and can be very harsh in my reply.
I must say this is not something that happens in Egypt only, I also experienced it in China… but there are more places.. have you ever experienced it yourself? Let me know where, so curious why this is a phenomenon anyway.
10 Be careful for street food
Ok so… Egyptian food is PRETTY GOOD. I love well spiced foods. When you are not used to it though, be carefull what you take.
This is in general a golden rule for me whenever and wherever I travel. Don’t eat every street food you see. Look around first if it is a bit hygienic, how it is prepared and avoid all kinds of tap water (also ice!).
11 Keep an open mind at all times
I realize my post has more negative than possitive points. However I really enjoyed visiting this country!
My intention is only to warn people upfront. If you know these points before you go, you know already what to expect and you will be able to enjoy your trip more without disappointments!
This is why I have to mention that as a tourist you should keep an open mind at all times. Be careful in what you say and do, where you go, who you talk to and how you talk to them… but also don’t be afraid to do these things. You can socialise with the locals off course, I found the Egyptians in general super friendly. You just have to know your personal boundaries. Be kind and others will be kind to you!
Be open for the culture, the habbits, the food,… and the mentality… even if at points it may clash with your own. Like this I am sure you will have a wonderfull time in Egypt!
Now get some inspiration on what to see and do, and read the full itinerary I did on my week tour in Old Egypt coming soon.