You’ve checked the weather reports, cashed up with local currency, purchased travel insurance, got your bags packed and found accommodation (at least for the first few nights). It might seem you're ready to go, but before you board the plane here are a few tips for first-timers traveling to Egypt.
Egypt's ancient history and intriguing culture draws millions of travelers each year, but there are a few local laws and customs that travelers should have at the top of mind. Did you know that taking photographs of military equipment, personnel, canals (including the Suez Canal), some bridges, buildings and monuments is illegal? Before you snap a photo of the bus station, perhaps ask a friendly local if it's okay. Possession of even small quantities of illicit drugs in Egypt can lead to the death penalty, long prison sentences or deportation.
Daniel Radcliffe from Volunteer HQ says he wishes he'd known that the Pyramids and Sphinx weren't far (at all) from the taxi entrance. Many local tour guides and taxi drivers work off commissions received by referral. If your taxi driver tells you "It's a five mile walk to the pyramids", and insists you hop on the back of a camel – with his "good friend" who has just appeared out of nowhere – politely decline. These horseback or camel riding tours often run parallel to the ancient sites, and won't get you there any faster than your own two legs.
Instead, ask for directions to the entrance, which isn't a long walk from where the taxi will drop you off.
On the streets of Cairo touts can be very aggressive and annoying to tourists. The sad truth is that many locals on the streets are likely to be looking for money, so it's best to be on your guard. Gary Arndt from Everything-Everywhere says he had to be on his guard constantly, more so than in any other country he's traveled.
These touts can be especially intimidating towards women, but here are a few coping strategies to help you get by.
Lonely Planet advise us that in Egypt a 10%–15% surcharge on your bill is applied in most upmarket restaurants and hotels. On top of that, a further value-added tax (VAT) and municipal taxes are also added. In other words, the price that you're quoted at a hotel or read on a menu could be almost 25% higher when you finally get to pay the bill.
Nomad Gilles says travelers should always carry coins and small bills in Egyptian pounds – the local currency. Travelers are expected to tip many times a day, so having small change available will save you from the awkward situation where you might need to ask for change when leaving a tip. Gilles told us, "I had to tip the guy at the entry of the washroom to get a few sheets of toilet paper."
Don't tip in coins from your home country, they are worthless and locals can't change them at the bank.
Egypt is a Muslim country, and the culture is very conservative. Modesty is key for women traveling in Egypt. It might be stinkin' hot outside, but cover your shoulders, chest, and legs to avoid unwanted attention. Aim for baggy pants or a long skirt, as tight pants will still attract stares. Christy McCarthy from World Nomads says, "Don’t fight for your right to wear what you want here – respect their culture and cover up".
In major cities, traveling solo can unfortunately be difficult for women, but shouldn't be avoided out of fear. Be street smart and aware of the risks while traveling around this fascinating country.
What do you wish you knew before traveling to Egypt?
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