Know Before You Go- Egypt

Egypt is a lot of things- It’s frustrating, chaotic, a little dirty, and absolutely wonderful. Here’s what you need to know before you go:

Basic information:

Geographical Location: Northeast tip of Africa Main Language Spoken: Arabic, English is spoken very well in tourist locations Capital: Cairo Currency: The Egyptian Pound is the official currency of the country, but the U.S. dollar and Euro are widely accepted in many locations.

The Elephant in the Room- Is Egypt Safe??

YES! To be completely honest this was one of the biggest questions that I had prior to going to Egypt, and I’m happy to report that there really was nothing to worry about. While the state department does warn against certain regions (such as the Sinai Peninsula and the Western Desert) for terrorist activity, Cairo felt perfectly safe. Yes it is true that there has been turmoil in Egypt in recent years, but to be perfectly honest there aren’t many countries in the world that haven’t experienced turmoil in recent years (i.e. mass shootings in the U.S., terrorist attacks around Europe, etc.). The media seems to pick and choose what parts of the world it wants to seem scary. I will say it did seem a bit alarming (at first) seeing armed guards and metal detectors at the major tourist attractions and hotels, but at no point did I feel like I was in danger.

In summary- Yes Egypt is safe, but just like any other country, do your homework! Doing some research on Egyptian culture and current affairs will definitely help put your mind at ease, and keep you from feeling stressed or uncomfortable. Check the State Department website for up to date information

Another reason now is a GREAT time to visit Egypt? Tourism is still pretty slow (although improving!), so the major attractions aren’t crowded at all. Check out this view of the pyramids with literally ONE person in the background.

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Getting There

Instead of flying directly into Egypt, we actually chose to fly into Milan first. It is much cheaper to fly into Europe than Egypt (from the USA), and once getting there you can take a budget airline to get you the rest of the way. We were using points and flying directly into Cairo would have cost us twice the amount. From Milan we took a plane to Cairo directly via Air Italia and ended up saving a ton of money. Egypt Air is another low cost carrier (we flew Egypt Air when we left from Cairo-Tel Aviv and it was a really good experience).

Check out SkyScanner to find the most affordable flights and travel dates if you’re flexible.

Wondering what to do after you get there? Check out this post on our 3-day itinerary in Cairo and Giza.

Getting A Visa

A visa is required to travel to Egypt for American citizens. It’s very easy to get and can be done without even stepping foot in a consulate. Here is the official link to apply online. You simply have to fill out the application, pay the $25, and wait until the application has been approved to print out the visa. I was never actually notified that mine was approved so if they haven’t sent anything in a week or so I would log back in and check on the status.

You also have the option to simply when you arrive to the Cairo airport and go through customs. Note- if you go through this route you have to pay in cash (USD) so make sure you have some on you. My understanding is that this option is only available at the airport in Cairo, so if you are entering Egypt by another method you may want to visit the State Department website for up to date information.

Money

So you should definitely bring money to Egypt (lol). But for the real advice- I recommend bringing more US Dollars than you normally would traveling abroad because most places in Egypt accept (and even prefer the American currency) due to the fact that the Egyptian pound is pretty weak right now. Another reason to bring cash- we found that the ATMs were pretty unreliable. Another good thing to keep in mind is either looking up or downloading an offline currency converter app. We were unsure of the exchange rate when we arrived and ended up only taking out the equivalent of $10 (we didn’t get very far). Also, as in any trip abroad, you should make sure to call your bank and let them know that you will be traveling abroad so that your card doesn’t get shut off.

Vaccines/Health Information

The CDC recommends a number of vaccines (updated list here) including routine vaccines, Hep A, and Typhoid. If you are traveling to more remote locations there is a longer list, but since we were only going to Cairo we just got Typhoid shots. Passport Health is a clinic that specializes in travel vaccines so it’s a good place to go to (your normal doctor may not have specialized vaccines on hand).

Another big question I had before visiting Egypt was whether or not it is safe to drink the water. You should stay away from drinking any tap water (including brushing your teeth, ice in your drinks, and fruit that hasn’t been peeled). If you accidentally brush your teeth with it or get some in your mouth in the shower you should be fine, but avoid it where possible.

Accommodation

We stayed at two different places during our stay in Cairo/Giza- Best Views Pyramid Hotel and the Kempinski Nile Hotel. I’d recommend both, but the Best Views Pyramid Hotel is much more of a budget location (with a million dollar view) and the Kempinski is a luxury hotel. Below are views from our room at the Best Views Pyramid Hotel and the Kempinski.

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Getting Around

First and foremost, no matter what method of transportation you’re using, I would make sure to screenshot or save the address of the place you’re staying in Arabic. Most of the Taxi drivers do not speak (or read) English, so it’s always good to be able to show them in Arabic if you don’t speak it. Cairo does have a public transportation system, but we took taxis or UBER during our stay there (YES CAIRO HAS UBER). Most of the time your hotel/hostel will have good transport options and a lot of times they will call and arrange it for you to make sure that you get a good price. I definitely recommend using that method or calling an UBER so you don’t get overcharged. (For example on our way to the Egyptian Museum we paid $4 or about 70 Egyptian pound for an UBER, but on our way back we took a taxi and paid $11 or 200 Egyptian pound for the same distance) If you do end up hailing a taxi from the street, I’d recommend taking one of the white ones. They are metered, so you’re more likely to get a fair price

Download Maps.me!

I discovered Maps.me during my trip to Morocco, and it helped us navigate even the infamous medinas of Chefchaouen and Marrakech. Maps.me is a free offline map app that you can download and access from anywhere even without wi-fi. You simply download the maps of the locations you’re going before you go and they are saved to your app. You can even input locations of interest (such as your accommodation or various tourist sites) so you don’t have to waste time trying to find wi-fi or pay for data to figure out where you’re going. It actually helped us quite a bit when using Uber in Egypt, because on one occasion the Uber maps were taking us in the complete opposite direction. Despite the language barrier, we were able to easily show our driver on the maps where we were wanting to go and he understood perfectly. It’s honestly been a game-changer on my trips, especially with walking directions. Trust me- download it!

What to wear (as a female) in Egypt

Let me first start by saying that covering your hair is not necessary. Although in the more touristy attractions such as the pyramids, you can wear dresses and shorts, I think I would have felt a little uncomfortable. I like to adhere to the customs and culture of the places I visit even if that means wearing something differently than I would at home. Plus if you’re planning on going to any mosques, you’re required to cover your shoulders, so you’ll want to bring a scarf if you choose to wear a tank top. As a general rule I’d say no cleavage, no shoulder bearing clothing, and no short shorts/dresses.

I wore these pants from Zara more times than I’d like to admit throughout both Morocco and Egypt- they are SO comfortable.

Check out my full packing list here

Here are a few of my pictures so you can get the gist of what I wore:

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Have you been to Egypt? I’d love to hear any tips you have to add!

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