Egypt is an amazing country with such a rich history and so many fascinating sights to see, but we did learn that there are a few things that will make your visit even better. We didn’t do a lot of planning in advance of our trip, but Egypt is definitely a location that requires at least some investigation prior to the start of your journey. We wish we didn’t have to say this, but we need to at least first say that visiting Egypt is safe. As we told people that we were planning a trip to Egypt, we heard over and over again that they thought that it was too dangerous to go there since the revolution in 2011. The fact is that we felt completely safe during our trip and the people there wanted very much for us to let others know that tourism is important to the country and they very much want people to start returning to visit once again. With that said, here are some of the things that we feel people should know before going to Egypt.
- Hire an Egyptologist for a Guide – To say that there is a lot of information needed to truly understand the meaning behind the temples, hieroglyphs, and pyramids is more than just an understatement. With 122 gods, 26 dynasties, hundreds of pharaohs, wives, and children, the information is truly overwhelming. Having a guide with a thorough knowledge of the history and the stories behind these impressive structures is crucial to having any idea as to why the ancient Egyptians went to the effort to build such massive structures and statues. You can obviously appreciate the grand scale and detail without having a guide, but you will miss out on the true meaning if you don’t have a guide with expert knowledge in the subject. We actually used three different guides during our trip and each provided their own unique insights into different aspects of the sights that we were seeing.
- Dress Appropriately – There are two aspects to dressing appropriately when visiting Egypt. First of all, it is a mainly Muslim country, which means that you don’t want to expose too much of you skin or dress too provocatively if you don’t want to offend the locals. Pants should be below the knees and shirts should cover the shoulders. Some people say that you can wear shorts and tank tops at the tourist locations, but we believe that you should respect the local culture whenever you are out in public, so we don’t think it is appropriate, especially not short-shorts. You can wear shorts and swimming suits back in your hotel or on the cruise ship, but not when out, especially in Cairo. The other aspect of dressing appropriately is taking into account the weather in Egypt. Although Cairo sits in the Nile delta and is more humid, you will spend most of your time in the desert heat with temperatures that can reach well above 100 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius). You will want breathable clothes that are lightweight and you will likely want to wear a hat to protect yourself from the strong rays of the sun. Also, wearing comfortable shoes that aren’t open-toed is a must, especially considering the amount of walking you will do in these large sites and since you will be walking on a lot of sand.
- Visit More than just the Great Pyramids – This might seem obvious, but a lot of people visit Egypt and the only place that they go is to the Grand Pyramids of Giza. With over 100 pyramids, there is a lot more to see in Giza alone, but you should also get out to visit Luxor, Edfu, Aswan, Alexandria and more. Although the pyramids are truly impressive and are one of the seven wonders of the world, we actually were more impressed with Karnak Temple, the Valley of the Kings, and some of the other sights that we saw during our time in Egypt. The more temples and other historical sites that you visit, the more that you begin to not only appreciate the grand scale of what was built thousands of years ago, but also start to appreciate more of the flow of history as different pharaohs updated these sites throughout the history of the country.
- Have Cash, Especially Small Bills – Although you will find that most places take credit cards, you will also find just as many places that don’t take anything other than cash. You can use Egyptian pounds, Euros, or US dollars, but we recommend using Egyptian pounds so that you don’t have to do the math every time you go to purchase something. Another thing that you will find is that you will need to tip people and having small bills will be important to have because you will likely find that nobody has change to give back to you. One thing to be aware of is that there will be many people trying to get you to give them money for one thing or another. The best thing to do is to try to avoid making eye contact with those people who are trying to hustle you to get a tip. They can include guards in the temples, attendants in bathrooms, children at the historic sites, etc. If you let them show you something or take your picture, you will be obligated to give them some sort of tip. As a country, the desire is to get the population away from hustling people for money, so you should try not to reward them for their bad behavior.
- Take Time to Learn About the Culture, Religion, and Recent History – Obviously in a country with over 5000 years of history, there is a lot to learn and understand. There is also a lot more to Egypt than just ancient history and it is important to understand the current culture and how it came to its current state if you want more than to just visit the country like it is a museum. Going to the churches, mosques, synagogues, markets, and other places that are part of the daily lives of the current residents of Egypt is important to understanding the country as a whole. Egypt was self-ruled into 3rd Century BC and then it has been invaded and ruled by the Greeks, Romans, Babylonians, Ottomans, French, and Germans. It wasn’t until the 1950’s that Egypt was once again self-ruled, which is important to understand how the culture has evolved to the point that it is at today.
- Try to Buy Authentic Merchandise – You will find markets and vendors selling trinkets and other items almost everyplace. Unfortunately, most of the time these items have been manufactured in China and are not actually made in Egypt. Although there is nothing wrong with buying those items and they will help the overall economy of the country, but if you really want to bring something authentic from Egypt, you need to be careful with where you purchase it. There are many wonderful places to buy carpets, tapestries, essential oils, spices, alabaster artwork, papyrus paintings, etc., but you find just as many knock-offs of the same items. We recommend working with your guide or concierge of your hotel to find the best places to purchase something truly handmade in Egypt if you want to bring back something special with you.
- Pack a Smile and a Sense of Humor – You will find yourself spending a lot of time learning about the history of Egypt, seeing these amazing pyramids and temples, going to museums, etc., but visiting Egypt doesn’t have to be like a school field trip. The people of Egypt are very friendly and having a smile on your face will make them more likely to interact with you in a positive way. Not everything that you do has to be educational or historical in nature. Ride a camel, go out on the Nile River in a Faluka, walk through a bazaar, or just generally relax. Lets face it, if you have fun and enjoy yourself, you will have better memories. It is true that there is more to see than you will likely ever be able to get to in a single visit, so don’t stress yourself out. See what you can and be sure to make the most of the time that you have.
Egypt is truly a special place with so much history since it is the cradle of civilization. We knew before we visited that this would become one of our favorite places and it certainly lived up to our expectations. We didn’t get to all of the places that we would like visit, so we will have to plan another trip sometime in the future. Hopefully, if you do plan a trip to Egypt, you will find some of these tips to be useful.