Egypt


Overview

Egypt travel guide, including map of Egypt, top Egypt experiences, tips for Egypt travel, when to visit Egypt, Pyramids, tombs, temples, diving, beach

Nestled into North Africa between the Mediterranean and the Middle East, Egypt was, for centuries, the world's most advanced society. Alexander the Great was an early tourist, and it was years before the empires of Greece and Rome came anywhere near matching Egypt's sophisticated culture. Successive civilisations - including the West - have marvelled at its mega-monuments such as the Pyramids of Giza and the stone temples of Karnak.

The River Nile runs through the heart of Egypt, and is still the lifeblood of the nation, irrigating the verdant Nile Delta and the desert beyond, and linking the Mediterranean all the way down Africa to the Sudan. Along the way are a string of Egyptian marvels: the Pyramids at Giza and Sakara near Cairo, Kom Omboh, Dendera, Karnak and the Valley of the Kings further south towards Luxor.

West of the Nile is the ancient city of Alexandria, once home to the world's greatest library, and a string of oases heading south, palm-fringed communities marooned in a sea of sand that depend on ancient aquifers for their very existence.

To the east is the Sinai Peninsula, visited by the pilgrims, prophets and saints of the Orient's rival religions, now tracked by Bedouin leading camels through the sands.

The Suez Canal, still carrying vast cargo ships incongruously through the desert, links the Mediterranean with the Red Sea. This is where you'll find Egypt's world-class diving and snorkelling. International resort hotels line up on sandy beaches, taking advantage of year-round sun to offer fly and flop comforts to a steady stream of visitors.

Wanderlust recommends

  1. Sail the Nile. Egypt's greatest sights are clustered around the Nile's southern section, between Luxor and Aswan. Cruise the timeless waters in a traditional felucca, sleeping on deck under the stars, or a dahabiyya, its upmarket local counterpart. Alternatively, join a package-tour cruise ship where every day it is Gala Night 
  2. Talk to the Dead. The great painted tombs of the ancient Pharoahs provide a graphic glimpse of the ancients' view of death. The tombs in Luxor's 'City of the Dead' are the most complete, with vivid colours and exquisite craftsmanship
  3. Drive the Desert. Rent a car and head out into the Western Desert. You'll need to wake the guard to visit tombs and temples in atmospheric oases, far from the crowds
  4. Climb Mount Sinai. Trek to St Catharine's Monastery with a Bedouin guide, and spend a night under the stars, with camels by your side
  5. Dive the Red Sea. Rent a hut in Dahab or a suite in Sharm and take to the waters for world-class dives. Snorkelling is a substitute if you don't have PADI
  6. Passion for the Past. Delve into the wonders of Cairo’s peerless Museum of Antiquities and buy replicas at the Khan el-Khalili bazaar
  7. Be with Berbers. There's a very different atmosphere is Siwa Oasis, out towards the border with Libya. Explore the Delphic Oracle and ancient town centre, built from mud, that melted in an unexpected shower sixty years ago

Wanderlust tips

The lock on the Nile at Esna closes for two weeks each June and December; at this time Egypt’s cruising boats can’t pass – check the dates to make sure this doesn’t impact on your trip.

Although Egypt is used to Western tourists remember this is still a Muslim society and both men and women should dress conservatively (covered knees and shoulders) unless on a resort beach.

Further Reading

Travel in Egypt: vital statistics

  • Capital of Egypt: Cairo
  • Population of Egypt: 84 million
  • Languages in Egypt: Arabic, English widely spoken
  • Time in Egypt: GMT+2 (Apr-Oct GMT+3)
  • International dialling code in Egypt: +20
  • Voltage in Egypt: 220 V, 50 Hz
  • Visas for Egypt: UK nationals can buy a 30-day visa on arrival for US$15 or UK£10. Find out more: Egypt Visa
  • Money in Egypt: Egyptian pound (LE). ATMs are easy to find in the main centres, but scarce and unreliable in the more offbeat towns. As a Western visitor you are expected to be generous with baksheesh (tipping/donations).
  • Egypt Travel Advice: Foreign & Commonwealth Office
  • Egypt tourist board: Egyptian Tourist Authority

When to go to Egypt

Egypt is a great winter destination: from December to February the temperatures are warm but not baking, making sightseeing much more pleasant, although Cairo can be cool and overcast. Nights can get cold in winter.

Spring (March-mid-May) and autumn (September-November) are hotter but still bearable, with warm but not scorching temperatures.

Prices drop in summer and it's not hard to see why: southern desert temperatures can reach 50°C and sightseeing starts in the hour before dawn. The sea moderates the temperatures on the coast, and you can at least cool off in the water.

Check the dates of Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting. This can have an impact on your travels: tempers can fray and local restaurants may close during the day.

Egypt international airports

Cairo International (CAI) 24km from Cairo; Sharm El Sheikh International (SSH) 12km from Sharm El Sheikh; Luxor International (LXR) 6km from Luxor

Getting around in Egypt

Internal flights connect the main cities such as Cairo, Luxor, Alexandria and Abu Simbel – good for those short on time. Air-conditioned tourist buses serve Egypt’s main sites, or you can board cheap local pick-ups and minibuses. A useful train links Cairo and Aswan (via Luxor) with sleeping cabins for overnight journeys.

No visit to Egypt is complete without a boat trip on the Nile – options range from plush cruise ships to basic, sleep-on-deck feluccas. These generally sail between the Aswan and Luxor areas.

Egypt’s Western Desert is poorly served by public transport; join a tour or hire a car. Due to security concerns, travellers exploring the Nile Valley and Red Sea areas of Egypt by road may have to do so in a police-escorted convoy.

Egypt accommodation

There are few campsites in Egypt, though a tent is the best option for experiencing remote desert areas which get very cold at night.

Egyptian hotels come in all classes – very simple (and cheap) one stars will be tatty and basic, whereas five-star resorts in hubs such as Luxor and Sharm will be luxurious and boast all the mod-cons. If travelling to Egypt in summer, you’ll appreciate a hotel with air conditioning and a swimming pool.

There are some wonderful heritage properties in Egypt, dating from the ‘grand tour’ days: the Winter Palace in Luxor and the Mena House, overlooking the Pyramids of Giza, are two atmospheric examples.

For the ultimate Egyptian experience spend a few nights on the Nile. Budget travellers will love feluccas, which are cheap and basic (no bathroom or cabins; everyone sleeps on deck). Cruise ships come in all types; some are very luxurious.

The most romantic option is an intimate dahabiyya, a traditional sailing boat with private cabins and top-class service.

Egypt food & drink

A typical Egyptian meal from a local restaurant might start with soup, tahini, some kind of tomato dip, fuul (spiced fava beans) and flatbreads, followed by barbecued lamb or kofta (minced meat). A popular local dish is Kushari, a mixture of macaroni, rice, tomatoes, lentils, onions and spices – it's the Egyptian equivalent of a Pot Noodle.

Bread comes with everything in Egypt. Salads will often accompany meals – avoid them (and other uncooked food) unless you are sure they have been washed in purified water.

Meat accompanies most meals in Egypt but vegetarians shouldn’t have too much trouble as there are plenty of non-meat mezze-style dishes you can eat instead. At worst, you can get by on bread and hummus.

Do not drink the tap water in Egypt. Although most locals don’t drink alcohol, it’s not hard to get hold of – try Egypt’s Saqqara beer. Egypt’s higher end hotels will serve the usual alcoholic beverages. Shai (tea) is drunk constantly in Egypt, and generally served very sweet.

Health & safety in Egypt

Visit your GP/travel health clinic for advice on recommended vaccinations for Egypt. Diarrhoea and stomach bugs are common in Egypt – drink only bottled or purified water and watch out for salads, ice cubes and undercooked food. In summer the heat in Egypt can be intense – pack high-factor sunscreen and a hat, and stay well hydrated, especially in summer. Dress conservatively. Take local advice on security.