Officially, the Arab Republic of Egypt is a transcontinental country in North Africa and the Middle East with its capital located in its largest city, Cairo. Egypt also extends into Asia by virtue of holding the Sinai Peninsula.
When you start to explore Egypt you will discover that is perhaps best known as the home of the ancient Egyptian civilization, with its temples, hieroglyphs, mummies, and – visible above all – its pyramids. Less well-known is Egypt’s medieval heritage, courtesy of Coptic Christianity and Islam – ancient churches, monasteries and mosques punctuate the Egyptian landscape. Egypt stimulates the imagination of western tourists like few other countries and is probably one of the most popular tourist destinations world-wide.
The regularity and richness of the annual Nile River flood, coupled with semi-isolation provided by deserts to the east and west, allowed for the development of one of the world’s great civilizations. A unified kingdom arose around 3200 BC and a series of dynasties ruled in Egypt for the next three millennia. The last native dynasty fell to the Persians in 341 BC, who in turn were replaced by the Greeks, Romans, and Byzantines.
Generally, the summers are hot and dry and the winters, moderate. November through March are definitely the most comfortable months for travel in Egypt. There is almost no rain in the Nile valley, so you won’t need wet weather gear!
Banks, shops and businesses close for the following Egyptian National Holidays (civil, secular), and public transport may run only limited services:
- 7 January (Orthodox Christmas)
- 25 January (Egyptian Revolution day)
- 25 April (Sinai liberation Day)
- 1 May (Labor Day)
- 23 July (Revolution Day)
- 6 October (Armed Forces Day)
- 1st Shawwal,the 10th Hijri month (Eid Elfitr)
- 10th Tho-Elhejjah, the 12th Hijri month (Eid Al-adha)
- 29 OR 30 days of Ramadan
- Ramadan dates
Ramadan ends with the Eid ul-Fitr festival extending over several days.
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and the most important month in the Islamic Calendar for Muslims, the majority religion in Egypt. Commemorating the time when God revealed the Qur’an to Mohammed, during this holy month, Muslims abstain from eating, drinking or smoking until after sundown on each day. Although strict adherence to Ramadan is for Muslims only, some Muslims appreciate that non-Muslims do not take meals or smoke in public places. During Ramadan, many restaurants and cafés won’t open until after sundown. Public transport is less frequent, shops close earlier before sunset and the pace of life (especially business) is generally slow.
As expected, exactly at sunset minute, the entire country quiets down and busy itself with the main meal of the day (iftar or breaking-fast) that are almost always done as social events in large groups of friends. Many richer people in Cairo’s streets cater full-meals for free for the passers-by, the poorer ones or workers who couldn’t leave their shifts at the time. Prayers become popular ‘social’ events that some like to enrich with special food treats before and after. An hour or two later, an astonishing springing to life of the cities takes place. Streets sometimes richly decorated for the whole month have continuous rush hours till very early in the morning. Some shops and cafés make the biggest chunk of their annual profit at this time of year. Costs of advertising on television and radio soars for this period and entertainment performances are at their peak.
Egypt has several international airports:
- Cairo International Airport — the primary entry point and the hub of the national carrier Egyptair.
- Alexandria Nozha
- Luxor International Airport — now receiving an increasing number of international scheduled flights, mostly from Europe, in addition to charter flights.
- Aswan International Airport
- Hurghada International Airport — receives a number of charter flights
- Sharm El-Sheikh International Airport — receives a number of charter flights.
- Burg Al-Arab International Airport
- Marsa Alam International Airport
Until recently it was unheard of renting car and self-drive in Egypt. However now you can rent a car. Though quite expensive, you can rent Dacia (Renault) Logan in good condition and roam freely from the coast to Nile valley. Roads are in quite good condition, but some stretches are bumpy and potholes are frequent.
In some parts gas stations are almost nonexistent, so fill up before heading to the desert. Eastern desert roads from Luxor to Aswan, and from Aswan to Abu Simbel are OK and fast, comparing to driving along Nile with all the traffic.
The official language of Egypt is Standard Arabic.
Foreign currencies can be exchanged at exchange offices or banks, so there is no need to resort to the dodgy street money changers. Many higher-end hotels price in dollars or euros and will gladly accept them as payment, often at a premium rate over Egyptian pounds. ATMs are ubiquitous in the cities and probably the best option overall; they often offer the best rate and many foreign banks have branches in Egypt.. Bank hours are Sunday through Thursday, 08:30-14:00.
American Express, Diners Club, MasterCard and Visa are accepted, but only bigger hotels or restaurants in Cairo and restaurants in tourist areas will readily accept credit cards as payment..
Many people who work in the service/hospitality industry try to make their main source of income from living off of tips.
Bear in mind that these people quite often live hard lives, often responsible for feeding large families and may simply barely doing such because their income from work is not sufficient for them to live easy lives.
Egypt is a shopper’s paradise, especially if you’re interested in Egyptian-themed souvenirs and kitsch. However, there are also a number of high quality goods for sale, often at bargain prices. Some of the most popular purchases include:
- Antiques (NB: not antiquities, the trade of which is illegal in Egypt)
- Carpets and rugs
- Cotton goods and clothing can be bought at Khan El Khalili. Better quality Egyptian cotton clothing can be bought at various chains.
- Inlaid goods, such as backgammon boards
- Jewelry Cartouches make a great souvenir. These are metal plates shaped like an elongated oval and have engravings of your name in hieroglyphs
- Leather goods
- Perfumes can be bought at almost every souvenir shop. Make sure that you ask the salesman to prove to you that there is no alcohol mixed with the perfume.
- Water-pipes (Sheeshas)
- Spices – can be bought at colorful stalls in most Egyptian markets. Dried herbs and spices are generally of a higher quality than that available in Western supermarkets and are up to 4 or 5 times cheaper, though the final price will depend on bargaining and local conditions.
When shopping in markets or dealing with street vendors, remember to haggle. You’ll find shopkeepers very open to haggling and prices lower than in the past – even in places like Luxor/Aswan and not just in Cairo.
You will also find many western brands all around. There are many malls in Egypt, the most common being Citystars Mall, which is the largest entertainment centre in the Middle east and Africa. You will find common western fast food restaurants such as Mcdonald’s, KFC, Hardees, Pizza Hut, etc. and clothing brands such as Calvin Klein, Levi’s, Michael Kors, Hugo Boss, Lacoste, Tommy Hilfiger, Armani Exchange and more.
Pickpocketing is a problem in Egypt’s bigger cities, particularly Cairo. You should keep your money in a clip in your pocket like the locals do. Violent crime is rare, and it’s highly unlikely that you will be mugged or robbed. If you do find yourself the victim of crime, you may get support of local pedestrians by shouting “Harami” (Criminal) while chasing the person who robbed you. Overall, scams are the main concern in Egypt.
Egyptians are generally a conservative people and many are religious and dress very conservatively. Although they accommodate foreigners being dressed a lot more skimpily, it is prudent not dress provocatively, if only to avoid having people stare at you. It is best to wear pants or jeans instead of shorts as only tourists wear these. In modern nightclubs, restaurants, hotels and bars in Cairo, Alexandria and other tourist destinations you’ll find the dress code to be much less restrictive. Official or social functions and smart restaurants usually require more formal wear.
At the Giza Pyramids and other such places during the hot summer months, short sleeve tops and even sleeveless tops are acceptable for women (especially when traveling with a tour group). Though you should carry a scarf or something to cover up more while traveling to/from the tourist destination.
Women should cover their arms and legs if travelling alone, and covering your hair may help to keep away unwanted attention
Egypt has a reasonably modern telephone service including three GSM mobile service providers.
Internet access is easy to find and cheap. Most cities, such as Cairo and Luxor, and even smaller tourist sites, such as Edfu, boast a plethora of small internet cafés. In addition, an increasing number of coffee shops, restaurants, hotel lobbies and other locations now provide free wireless internet access. Free Wi-Fi is also available at modern coffee shops.
There are some ways to get your laundry done in the desert:
By far the easiest, most practical – and not at all expensive – is to arrange for your hotel to have your washing done for you. By prior arrangement, clothes left on the bed or handed in at reception will be returned to you by evening freshly laundered and pressed.
Cairo possesses a few basic Western-style laundromats in areas where foreigners and tourists reside – they are virtually nonexistent elsewhere in the country. Some hotels in tourist towns like Luxor and Dahab offer a washing machine service in a back room – the machines are usually primitive affairs and you’ll be left with the task of wringing and ironing your clothes yourself.
Even in Cairo, dryers are extremely rare, but they aren’t exactly necessary: The combination of the Egyptian climate and a clothesline will do the job. Don’t hang any white fabrics up outside, the dust will turn them yellow.