Where is Egypt?
Egypt on the North East of the African continent is a destination which has been etched into the imaginations of generations with images of pyramids, desert sands and the mighty Nile River. Egypt has Cairo as it’s capital and is bordered by Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Sudan and Libya. Egypt is also bounded on two sides by the Mediterranean on the northern edge and the Red See on the east.
Egypt is of course most famous for it’s iconic pyramids and ancient treasures of a once might empire. It’s medieval bazaars and man made wonders have attracted travellers for centuries. Egypt is also very rich in natural beauty and contemporary culture, making it a holiday destination without peer. Egypt’s cultural and architectural riches have been forged through centuries of influence from a great many peoples, everyone from the ancient Greeks, Arabs, Christians, Romans and the Pharaonic nations have contributed to the astonishing collections of treasures that can still be seen today. The medieval centre of Cairo is still largely unchanged from it’s formative years under the influences of Islam and Luxor. It is lined with extravagantly decorated burial chambers and impressive monuments. Further south, Aswan on the Nile River has temples to ancient gods and pharaohs and is the place to go for an Egyptian sailing experience on the world’s most infamous river.
To the west of the nation, Egypt’s deserts stretch to the horizon and the heat haze creates ghostly visions of the rock formations, fortresses and springs which break up the dunes. While off the eastern coasts the Red Sea sits quietly, masking the brilliant colours of the corals and frenetic activity of it’s abundant marine life. Modern day Egypt may have an erratic economy and tough living conditions for the locals however it’s people are resilient and travellers on an Egypt holiday will discover a lavish array of truly ancient history and hospitality that is out of proportion to expectations.
Egypt Visa Requirements
All visitors to Egypt are required to have a valid passport and it is recommended to have at least six months validity on your passport. All non-Egyptian visitors must be in possession of a visa to enter the country, however most tourists and visitors can obtain a tourist visa at any of the Major Ports of Entry. Tourist visas are valid for 3 months and can permit either single or multiple entries.
Visitors entering Egypt at the overland border post to Taba to visit Gulf of Aqaba coast and St. Catherine can be exempted from visa and granted a free residence permit for fourteen days to visit the area.
Visa requirements are less stringent for the resort areas of Egypt – Sharm El Sheikh, Dahab, Nuweiba, Taba and South Sinai resort area. Short stay fee-free visas are usually available when travelling to these areas but its wise to check current requirements with your local embassy or consulate.
Visitors from all countries except nationals of the USA and EU, must register with the police within a week of arrival in Egypt (this service is usually undertaken by hotels).
Nationals who are in transit to a third country within 24 hours and remain in the airport do not require a visa, but must have a confirmed onward ticket.
There is no departure tax levied at Egyptian airports.
As entry requirements may change from time to time it is strongly advised that you check with the department of foreign affairs or your local consulate or embassy for the current requirements.
Here is a list of phone numbers for some of Egypt’s foreign embassies:
Australia – Canberra: +61 2 6273 4437
New Zealand – Contact Canberra: +61 2 6273 4437
UK – London: +44 20 7499 3304
Ireland – Dublin: +353 1 660 6566
US – Washington: +1 202 895 5400
Canada – Ottawa: +1 613 234 4931
Egypt Travel Health
Vaccinations recommended for travel to Egypt are Diphtheria, Hepatitis A, Tetanus, Typhoid and sometimes Rabies depending on the season and region visited. A yellow fever vaccination certificate is required from travellers over one year of age coming from infected areas. Immunisation against polio is advised due to the persistence of polio in the country and precautions against Hepatitis E, Hepatitis B and Tuberculosis should also be considered. Bilharzia (schistosomiasis) is present in the Nile Valley and Nile Delta so swimming and wading in fresh water should be avoided at all times.
Always use bottled water for drinking and brushing teeth and ensure to check the seal of the bottle to make sure it is intact. Avoid ice and unbottled beverages in hotels and restaurants, and milk should be boiled as it is unpasteurised. Avoid any uncooked vegetables and peeled fruit that may have been cleaned in tap water. Ensure you drink plenty of water while in Egypt to avoid dehydration as the climate is very dry. Always wear sunscreen, wear a large hat and bring good sunglasses.
Public hospitals are available to tourists and are of a good standard in Cairo and Alexandria but of varying standards in other parts of the country. Health care and standards of hygiene are lacking in remote rural areas especially in the Western Desert oases. Health insurance is strongly recommended for any travel to Egypt.
Egypt is generally a safe country and the people are helpful and friendly. Egyptian men often compliment women so do not take offence as it is usually harmless. You may also encounter attempts of scamming or hassling, again this is usually pretty harmless and a polite ‘no thanks’ should help but most importantly don’t let yourself be bugged by everyone selling you something otherwise your holiday will not be a happy one.
Terrorism is definitely the most concerning safety issue in Egypt. There is a high threat and attacks can be indiscriminate and against civilian targets particularly in popular tourist destinations. Since 2004 there have been three separate bomb attacks in the Sinai Peninsula and developments in the region may trigger public unrest. Travellers should avoid public demonstrations and be especially vigilant in public places.
Although the crime rate in Egypt is low travellers should always safeguard valuables and important documents. Pick pocketing is a problem in Cairo. Women should dress conservatively as Egyptian society is quite conservative.
Emergency numbers for Egypt are: Police 122; Ambulance 123; Fire Brigade 180
What is Egypt Local Currency?
The official currency in Egypt is the Egyptian pound (E£) which is divided into 100 piastres. Notes are in denominations of E£200, 100, 50, 20, 10, 5, 1, 50 piastres and 25 piastres. Coins are in denominations of 25, 20, 10 and 5 piastres. British pounds sterling, Euros and the US Dollar are accepted everywhere however change may be given in Egyptian pounds.
Currency exchange is available at banks, most hotels and official bureaux de change. Banks generally offer the best exchange rates and all common international currencies are accepted. Credit/ Debit cards are widely accepted in most hotels and restaurants throughout the country except in the Western oases. ATM’s are prevalent throughout the country and to avoid additional exchange rate charges it is recommended to take traveller’s cheques in Euros, Pounds Sterling or US Dollars.
Banking hours are: Sun-Thurs 0830-1400. As
Taxes of up to 25% will be added to your bill in most up market restaurants and there are also hefty taxes levied on four and five star accommodation.
What is Egypt’s Weather?
Except for the Mediterranean coast, Egypt experiences a desert climate, which is hot and dry most of the year, especially in the summer months (June to August). Winter is from December to February with average temperatures of 20°C to 26°C.
Average temperatures range from 20°C on the Mediterranean coast to 26°C in Aswan. Maximum temperatures for the same places can get up to 31°C and 50°C, respectively. At night in winter the temperature sometimes plummets to as low as 8°C in Cairo and along the Mediterranean coast and in the desert it’s even more extreme, often scorching during the day and bitterly cold at night.
Alexandria receives the most rain, approximately 19cm a year, while far to the south in Aswan the average is about 10mm over five years. Between March and April the khamsin (a dry, hot wind) blows in from the Western Desert at up to 150km/h and the sky becomes dark orange and choked with dust.
The best time to visit the majority of sights, including the pyramids and the Valley of the Kings, is from February to April and October to November, when it is not too hot to be enjoyable. The intensely hot, dry summers carry the threat of dehydration and heat exhaustion, confining travelers indoors for much of the day. The winter, on the other hand, is mild and often overcast, leaving the desert and its ancient monuments looking lackluster.
Recommended clothing for travel to Egypt is loose, lightweight, modest cottons and linens with warmer clothes for winter and cooler evenings.
Culture of Egypt
The people of Egypt are welcoming and hospitable however the country is a conservative society and visitors should respect local customs and sensitivities. Religious customs should be recognized and respected particularly during the month of Ramadan when drinking, eating and smoking during the daylight hours is forbidden. Travellers should be discreet if partaking in any of these activities or do it in the privacy of their room. Dress conservatively at all times and be aware that photography of military institutions is prohibited (always ask people before taking anyone’s photograph). Homosexuality is illegal and frowned upon.
Tipping (baksheesh) is expected for most services so always have some small change on you at all times. A service charge is generally added to most restaurant and hotel bills however a 5% tip is usually given directly to the waiter and a 10% tip is given to taxi drivers.
94% of Egyptians are Muslim (mostly Sunni) and 6% are Coptic Christian and other. The Muslim religion governs most Egyptians personal, political, economic and legal lives.
Smoking is very common and cigarettes are very cheap. Steer clear of any conversations regarding politics or other sensitive issues to avoid causing offense and avoid conversations about Israel. Never discuss religion and be aware that the Islamic ‘call for prayer’ happens five times a day and is part of the Egyptian culture. Take care if you choose to drink as Egyptians look upon drunken people very negatively.
What Languages Are Spoken In Egypt?
The official language of Egypt is the Egyptian dialect of Modern Arabic however travellers should not have any problem finding someone who speaks English. Most Egyptians can not only speak English but also other languages particularly in tourist areas.
The telephone country code for Egypt is 20 and mobile phone coverage is limited to Cairo, Alexandria and along the north coast line of the Red Sea from Suez to Sharm el-Sheikh and the major towns along the Nile. Internet cafes exist in the main cities including Cairo, Alexandria, Luxor and Dahab and most hotels have Internet access.
The postal system is efficient for international mail and airmail to Western Europe takes around five days and the USA around eight to ten days. Post office hours are every day except Friday from 0830-1500 and the central post office in Cairo is open 24 hours.
Egypt Transport Options
Egypt has several international airports including: Cairo International Airport (the largest), Alexandria Nozha, Luxor International Airport, Aswan International Airport, Hurghada International Airport, Sharm El-Sheikh International Airport and Burg Al-Arab International Airport. The domestic air network is extensive and covers most of Egypt’s major towns. EgyptAir is the national carrier and provides flights to Cairo, Luxor, Aswan Abu Simbel, Hurghada, Sharm El-Sheikh, Alexandria, Marsa Matruh and Kharga oasis. Domestic air travel is relatively cheap and regular services are offered however it is recommended to book in advance particularly in peak season.
Egyptian National Railways offers a comprehensive rail network with a high standard of service operating along an east-west axis from Sallom on the Libyan border to Alexandria and Cairo, and along the Nile to Luxor and Aswan. Links are also offered from Port Said and Suez. There are frequent services daily from Cairo to Alexandria and overnight services are offered for travel from Cairo to Luxor and Aswan. Overnight bookings should be made in advance and travel on all trains is free for children under four years of age.
Traffic drives on the right and driving in Cairo is usually chaotic. The Nile Valley and Delta are served by an extensive road network and along the Mediterranean and African Red Sea coasts and the road looping through the Western Desert oases from Asyut to Giza are fully paved. It is recommended not to drive private vehicles in the desert regions unless they are suitable vehicles and a guide is with you. Along some roads the government often imposes convoy conditions for the protection of tourists.
The national bus system serves the Nile Valley and the coastal road and long distance taxis for all destinations are very cheap however fares should be agreed in advance. In the cities taxis are cheap and convenient and generally safe however most taxi drivers drive erratically along with all the other drivers on the road. Taxi drivers often speak enough English to negotiate a destination and a price but not much more.
It is recommended not to ride a bicycle in Cairo however in Luxor it is a great way to see the town with many places offering bicycle hire. Car hire is available through local and international companies and drivers must be 25 years of age or over. An International Driving Permit and insurance is required to drive any motor vehicle and all vehicles are required by law to carry a red hazard triangle and a fire extinguisher.
Egypt Travel Tips
Shaking hands is the usual form of greeting and for official, social or smart restaurants more formal wear is required. Smoking is very common everywhere. Tourists will have to pay a fee to take photographs inside tombs, pyramids and museums.
Do not accept an offer from someone including Tourist Police to take your photo as you may not receive your camera back unless you pay a fee. They will target tourists with expensive cameras. The entire country expects tips for absolutely everything so hold onto your luggage at all times as someone may grab it and then demand a tip to give it back.
Hygiene is poor throughout Egypt so always carry your own toilet paper and only ever drink unopened bottled water.
Egypt Local Food
Egyptian cuisine combines Middle Eastern cooking, not too spicy and well flavoured with herbs. There is a range of top quality large hotel restaurants and smaller specialist ones throughout the main towns with many offering fish and seafood dishes. In the centre of Cairo there are many American style snack bars on offer and alcohol is available in café style bars and good restaurants.
National specialities include: Foul (bean dishes); Stuffed vine leaves; Grilled aubergines; Kebabs; Falafel and Koshary (macaroni, lentils, rice, chickpeas and tomato sauce). There are also many exotic fruits available at very affordable prices including guava, mango, watermelon, and small melons.
Bottled water is available everywhere however always check the seal is unbroken and never drink tap water. National drinks include: Kahwa (thick, strong coffee); Shay bil na’na’ (mint tea); Karkaday (hibiscus tea); Aswanli (dark beer made in Aswan) and Zibib (alcoholic aniseed flavoured drink). The legal drinking age is 21.
Egypt Local Timezones
Egypt Standard Time is 2 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT+2). Egypt operates Daylight-Saving Time between the last Friday in April and the last Thursday in September when the clocks are 3 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT+3).
Electricity in Egypt is 220 Volts, alternating at 50 cycles per second. If you travel to Egypt with a device that does not accept 220 Volts at 50 Hertz, you will need a voltage converter. Outlets in Egypt generally accept 1 type of plug: Two round pins. If your appliances plug has a different shape, you may need a plug adapter.
Egypt Dutyfree Limits
The following goods may be imported into Egypt without incurring customs duty: 200 cigarettes or 25 cigars or 200g of tobacco; 1l of alcoholic beverages; 1l of perfume or eau de cologne; gifts up to the value of E£500.
Persons travelling with valuable electronic equipment such as cameras, video cameras or computers may be required to list these in their passports to ensure that they will be exported on departure. All cash, travelers’ cheques and gold over E£500 should be declared on arrival.
Prohibited Imports include: narcotics; firearms; cotton; gold and silver purchased locally unless for personal use only and in small quantities.