I can’t begin to count the number of times I heard people say, “Don’t visit Egypt, it’s dangerous” and “Let some years pass, it will get better”. I must not have been the only one hearing this and refraining from visiting since in recent years, tourism in Egypt has suffered as a result of the increased terrorism threats in the country.
Maybe the time was finally right, maybe I decided to ignore what people said or maybe I realized that similar to what people say about Chicago, a place I call home, a lot of the misconceptions of Chicago are exaggerated ideas being fueled by how media is portraying my city. I figured it could be the same for Egypt, so here I was, going to a country to find out for myself. After all, one cannot speak about a county if you haven’t visited it yourself.
Egypt was actually one of the places that eight-year-old me just dreamed about visiting next to Paris. I vividly remember sitting in a library reading about this desert land and being mesmerized by the pictures. The idea of visiting the pyramids, seeing mummies, walking Iike an Egyptian (Which now I know is walking with purpose but lazy) and riding a camel all enticed me and I could only dream of one day finding my self here. It’s no surprise that while I was in Egypt I was filled with an indescribable joy knowing that if I could go back and tell eight-year-old me that I would get her to Egypt one day, she would be beyond excited and proud of me.
Even as I write the above I choke back tears. Ultimately, I am doing this Girl Takes Mundo trip for that younger version of me who had dreams of afar. She only had her books to take her to these distant lands and I know she’s still inside of me. I refuse to give up on her dreams and aspirations because I became older and “life happened”. Thus far, eight-year-old Chris’ dreams haven’t disappointed and I thank her for dreaming.
See below all the things related to Egypt which helped make this stop on my trip so memorable and worthy of a return for further exploration since I can now say, “I’ve been there, I’ve done that and the hype about Egypt is wrong. To simply put it; I felt safe traveling solo as a female and it’s a very economical city to visit since the Egyptian pound is weak compared to dollars, euros and British pounds making you feel like a queen or a pharaoh while traveling here. So I am here to tell you, “it’s ok, no problem”, a phrase you will hear many say in Egypt, “Visit Egypt, it’s not dangerous” and “Don’t let some years pass, now is the perfect time”.
8 Day Itinerary
- Monday thru Tuesday – Cairo & Giza
- Tuesday night – Night bus to Luxor from “Tahrir” bus station.
- Wednesday thru Friday – Luxor (Leaving Saturday morning)
- Saturday – Hurghada (1 night)
- Sunday – Head back to Cairo (Leaving Sunday morning) and spend the evening in Cairo before heading to the airport for an early Monday morning flight.
- Visa: U.S. citizens can obtain a renewable single-entry 30-day tourist visa on arrival at Egyptian airports for a $25 USD fee. A multiple entry visa is also obtainable for $35 USD.
- Students: Bring your student ID for discounted prices upto 50% off the price at most tourist attractions including pyramids, temples, museums and places like Bab Zuwayla offer a discount. Just ensure it has a year as some sites will be more stricter on this and keep in mind you have to be a student that is younger than 30 years of age.
- Dress code: Be respectful of the women and culture here. Don’t wear nothing low cut, above the knee, or revealing your shoulders. Pants, capris, or a long skirts are preferable. Don’t show off those shoulders either. In Hurghada, since it’s a beach resort city, rules of dressing conservative gets replaced with beach attire so showing some skin in appropriate places is acceptable.
- Hours of Operation: Everything stays open late in Egypt and most people come out at night as the temperature falls making it manageable to be outside. Which means dinner is late and people start their days later as well.
- Bazaar shopping: People at the bazaar and souq are trying to sell you as much as they can. Be prepared for this as it may be annoying. Egyptian sales people are master at trying to sell you things and they must have written the book on the art of selling. Going through the souq / bazzar’s and hearing each tactic is a treat alone. The best way to deal with this is by keeping calm, and saying “No, thank you!”. (Tip: In Arabic “La” means “No” and “Shukraan” means “Thank you”. Put it together and use this as a respectful way to turn these sellers down.)
- Caution: Travelers often experience people on the street trying to show them the way or telling them certain tourist attractions are closed until a certain amount of time for x reason. Often those people lead travelers somewhere else like restaurants, cafes and the infamous bazaar’s. Keep your eyes peeled.
Other Cities to visit
- Alexandria: I hear is a beautiful city and only 2-3 hours away from Cairo. Certainly a place to consider if you have the time. I didn’t realize how close it was to Cairo because I would have probably done Luxor for 2 days opposed to 3 and used that extra day to visit Alexandria. (For my next visit.)
- Dahab: A local favorite for resort towns with many locals saying it’s far more beautiful and cheaper then Hurghada. I cannot speak to these claims but a local favorite is something that shouldn’t be ignored.
- Thankfully for me, I had the opportunity to meet some amazing locals while I was here as my friend Brent who I met in Namibia had visited Egypt a couple months back and couch surfed in Cairo. In addition to his amazing Egypt tips which helped me shape my trip here, he connected me with his couch surfing hosts and I had the opportunity to see the local, day to day side of Egypt. (I can’t thank him enough for this as I know this was a big component to me enjoying Egypt.) The people here are very welcoming and will treat you like family if you have the opportunity to meet them in a deeper level. And when I say they will treat you like family, I truly do mean it. For example, Ali, a university student from Giza who I spent most of my time in Cairo with had me spend one of my afternoons at his family’s home. Thanks to his mom I had a home cooked Egyptian meal, watched Egyptian soap operas with his cousin, and even got scolded by his 90 year old grama for not drinking my water cold. When you haven’t been scolded by your grandmother in a couple months since you are traveling it feels like your home when it happens to you even if it’s not your own grama. Thanks to Ali, Bodhji (who I spent an afternoon seeing the city and eating my way through Cairo) and George (who kept in touch and ensured I was safe while I was in Egypt) I had an exceptional time in Cairo and only have great things to say of the Egyptian people here. Thank you so much guys for helping me feel like a local and experiencing Egypt beyond the tourist sites.
- Don’t be surprised to have girls and young children approach you asking for a picture…with you! You’ll certainly feel like a celebrity and get your 15 minutes of fame if you choose to let them take a picture with you but this isn’t a two way street so don’t expect to be able to do the same with them on your phone.
- Other than being annoying, persistent, and sometimes creepy, Egyptian men are generally helpful. For women, sometimes Egyptian men will assume that you’ll give it up because you’re western and like to stand close to you, put their arm around you, etc. Keep in mind, this is “haram” (bad) according to the Quran, so don’t let them try anything like that. If they ask about your relationship status, always say you are married. Bonus points if you say you are married to an Egyptian man, which is very common in Egypt so it will be believable. Additionally, they tend to respect this more then being married to a foreigner.
Although Modern Standard Arabic is the official language, Egyptian Arabic is most widely spoken in Egypt. English is spoken as a second language which means that you should certainly get by speaking English without a problem. (It’s Ok, no problem.)
- La shokran – No, thank you.
- Shokran – Thank you
- Salam alaikum – Used as a greeting that means, “Peace Be onto you”
- Halas – Finish/enough
Uber is available in Cairo including the cool scooter option, perfect for solo travelers. Helps with also not having to haggle with taxi drivers or overpaying.
GoBus is a great option for traveling throughout Egypt with various bus schedules to many cities in Egypt. Big plus, it’s affordable and less hours than using the train.
- Wear warm clothes as the bus’ A/C is kept on high for whatever reason and is quite cold.
- Arrive early to the bus station to ensure you get your ticket if you don’t have a confirmation email on your phone and to be able to walk to the bus parking lot which is a 1/2 block away if you are in Cairo. (Thankfully for me, Ali walked me to my bus in Cairo and helped me navigate the waters for an easy transition to the bus.)
- Staff placing your bag in the bus storage compartment will ask for a tip. $5 Egyptian pound (.28 USD) should be enough.
- Arriving in Luxor you will be bombarded by taxi drivers and people trying to get you to their accommodations. Some even go as far as saying they are staff from the accommodation you just mentioned and guide you to be taken to another accommodation. Please avoid being dragged to a wrong hotel by the wrong people. For this reason ensure you have your accommodation in advance with directions to get there. Many accommodations also offer free pick up’s from the train and bus station. Just ensure you coordinate this in advance with your accommodation.
- If you’re going to spend time in Cairo pick the “Tahrir” bus station and if you are going to the airport pick the “Almaza” bus station as it’s closer to the airport.
Trains are also options for traveling through Egypt. They offer different class options and have nicer views while traveling than a bus but it does take more hours than a bus to get to places and costs more. Additionally, keep in mind that people have said the trains tend to be sketchy in Egypt with people getting things stolen from on the train.
If you’re short on time, all major cities in Egypt have airports so flying to cities is a very time efficient way to get around if getting to a city will take more than 3-4 hours. (Aka the amount of time it takes to be at the airport and flight time for flights within Egypt.)
What To Eat
- Sobia – A starchy, milky sweet coconut drink, that is used as a thirst quenching drink. Today sobia is one of the top popular beverages in Egypt during the holy month of Ramadan. My favorite one was in Old Cairo and the taste changes from place to place where you get this beverage from.
- Ruz Ba Laban – Enjoy this tasty rice, cream and milk dessert.
- Mahshi – Rice and herb stuffed grilled or steamed peepers and veggies. A perfect vegetarian dish that pairs well with their pasta soup.
- Egyptian Chicken Rice and tomato, cucumber salad – I had this as a home cooked meal courtesy of Ali’s mother when I was able to visit his home. A simple but delicious combination even though I didn’t eat the chicken in the rice dish and respectfully explained to Ali’s mom why.
- Kusheri – A pasta, tomato sauce, chick peas, and onion straw dish that is usually found in spots that typically only sell kusheri or other pasta dishes.
- Sugar cane and lemon ginger juice – I love all natural juices and these are very authentic to Egyptian cuisine.
Where I Went
Cairo/Giza (Many blogs will speak to the chaos that is this city which may be overwhelming for people. Don’t confuse chaos with potential safety concerns as it simply means similar to big metropolitan cities, there is lots of activity. I personally basked in the chaos of the city and enjoyed playing hopper in it’s streets while acclimating to it’s style of living.)
- Shisha cafe @ night – It’s such a cultural thing to do as many cafes are filled with locals till late hours at night smoking shisha, enjoying the coolness of the night and spending time with friends.
- City walking – Walk the city seeing the cool and out of place architecture while checking out some street art. Got lost? Don’t worry, all roads magically lead back to Tahrir square.
- Cairo/Giza – Explore the chaos of downtown Cairo and Giza by going either direction via mini bus (Having a local friend is a big plus for using the mini bus.) and/or getting on a uber scooter.
- Egyptian Museum – See the many artifacts, tombs, mummies found in the pyramids and temples.
- Bab Zuwayla – Climb to the rooftop for views of old Cairo, Al Azhar Park (only green stretched area in the city) and Citadel. (If you get lucky you’re uber will make a wrong turn and you will find yourself in the maze within the walled city of old Cairo where the streets were made for tuk tuk’s and not a car.)
- Giza complex – See the iconic pyramids and Sphinx. Consider a camel or horse ride to see all 9 pyramids in the complex. I paid $300 Egyptian pounds ($17.02 USD).
- Light and Sound show of the pyramids in Giza – Watch this but from a rooftop bar. It’s the cheaper and more logical option as you get to enjoy a tea, Turkish coffee, shisha, etc. while watching the cheesy show. You really just go to see the pyramids lit up anyway.
- Nile River – Do an evening cruise along the Nile river. Expect to pay $20-$40 Egyptian pounds ($1.13 – $2.26 USD) per person.
Luxor (A much slower and calmer city compared to Cairo/Giza where the heat is hotter and many people stay inside during the day and the city comes alive at night.)
- Luxor Temple – Might be the greatest testament to why Luxor has earned its nickname, “The World’s Largest Outdoor Museum” and Luxor Temple being called, “the southern shrine” during it’s hay day. Unlike other attractions, visiting the temple after 5pm is the recommendation.
- Luxor Museum – This museum holds one of the best displays of antiques in Egypt dating back to the end of the old kingdom and includes 2 mummies. There is an additional fee for taking pictures and they have interesting hours of operation. Open from 9am – 2pm and then reopens again at 5pm – 9pm.
- Medina Habu Temple – Ramses III’s magnificent memorial temple.
- Valley of Kings/Queens – The resting place for many of the kings and queens including King Tut and Nefertiti. There is a total of 62 tombs with only 7-8 open at a time from the 20 that have been restored. $160 Egyptian pound ticket ($9.07 USD) grants you access to 3 tombs. Keep in mind that King Tut, Ramsey and a 3rd one which I can’t remember now are an additional charge of anywhere between $200 – $1000 Egyptian pounds ($11.34 – $56.70 USD). Additionally, unless you buy the photography ticket you may not take pictures in the tombs.
- Temple of Hatsheput – Honors the only female Egyptian pharaoh ruler, Hatsheput. This temples main selling point is that it’s attached to a mountain and you get stunning views of the valley. It’s downside is that it’s had too much restoration on the building as this temple was greatly destroyed by the romans so you really feel like it’s a replica with 90% of the temple being rebuilt.
- Karnak Temple – The cult temple dedicated to Amun, Mut and Khonsu. The largest religious building ever constructed. The area of the sacred enclosure of Amun alone is sixty-one acres and could hold ten average European cathedrals. The great temple at the heart of Karnak is so big that St Peter’s, Milan, and Notre Dame Cathedrals would fit within its walls. If you’re comfortable taking local transportation, I’d take a mini bus for $1.50 Egyptian pounds($.08 USD) each way. It’s a 10-15 minute bus ride depending on how many stops the driver makes. The easiest way to catch one is to head to the train station and ask the drivers if they will go to Karnak. To return back you simply do the same thing and ask to go to the train station. Adult ticket is $120 Egyptian pounds ($6.80 USD).
- The Colossi of Memnon – Two massive stone statues of the Pharaoh Amenhotep III which have stood there for the last 3,400 years. Great place to stop for a picture.
- East Bank – This is where the bus or train will drop you off and where most people stay when visiting Luxor. Go to McDonald’s (😒, I know!) to see views of the Nile and Luxor Temple. Both on the East Bank side.
- West Bank – Most of the temples are on this side. A ferry to get you across to either the East or West Bank is around $20 Egyptian pounds each way. ($1.13 USD)
Hurghada (Can’t speak much on this city as I was only here one day and treated myself to an all inclusive resort where I spent my time while here.)
- Hurghada is one of the most popular resort towns along the Red Sea as it’s central location provides prime offshore reefs, which are some of the finest in the world. Additionally, Hurghada provides tourist with excellent aquatic facilities for sail boarding, yachting, deep-sea fishing, scuba diving and snorkeling. For those who aren’t running to do aquatic activities there are plenty of restaurants and late night bars for evening entertainment but with many affordable all inclusive resorts you may not leave the resort and it’s no wonder why Germans and Russians are flocking here for their holidays. I discovered how cheap it was to stay in an all inclusive resort in Hurghada and stayed at the 4 star, Giftun Azur Beach resort for a whooping total of $37 a night.
Below are blogs I referenced in addition to the amazing connections and recommendations given to me by fellow travelers, Brent who traveled here and Shelby who lived in Luxor.