5 Things I Wish I Knew Before Going to Egypt

Your knowledge of Egypt's ancient history won't impress any of the locals if you aren't up to speed on the current situation.


Leaving on a jet plane. Courtesy of Flickr.com, by [Mrs Logic]. Photo © Getty Images/Nick Brundle Photography

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.

1. Ask Around

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.

Arriving at the Pyramids of Giza car park. Photo credit: Getty Images/CasarsaGuru

2. Aggressive Scammers

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.

3. Hidden Costs

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.

4. Carry Change

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.

5. Dress Modestly

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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  • World Travel Guide said

    Nice Post...Its so very informative and knowledgable for your visitors or readers...Thank You for sharing.. Keep up the good work.

  • Helen said

    I spent 3 wonderful weeks in Egypt in Sept 2008. Luxor was the main place I was hassled by teenage boys selling poor quality goods,surrounding me so I couldn't get onto the boat and when I did agree on a price for some postcards insisted I handover more money. I was saved by a policeman who forcefully got them to move on. The other distressing thing was the condition of some of the horses. One of the horses actually collapsed and the other so exhausted it couldn't go any further,that's when the poor thing was whipped. My friend got out of the cart and walked the rest of the way after telling the owner what they thought of him. Pick a horse that doesn't look overworked,the owner has feed and water with them and keeps the whip under his seat!

  • Shane WILLIS said

    Was in Egypt/Sharm/Cairo recently - most of those whom approach you still want money for anything & are quite forcefull about it but be assertive an they move off- great place to visit - a must see an I will be back to see more of it

  • lenlen said

    1. and 2. Ask! Locals, who are not in the tourist business are friendly and will give advice gladly. But especially in tourist resorts you meet only those who are on the business and looking way of making money.<br>3. True...especially fish restaurants can give you a surprise bill. Luckily food was so good that we didn't care<br>4. So true! Having 1 pound and also other smaller notes enough makes life more easy. Tipping is common and it also makes your life easy, toilets, waiters etc. Also negotiation of taxi price is more easy with right money. Btw. In Cairo there is also now white taxis which use taximeter - but better to say you want to use it before hand.<br>5. About covering up; I did use normal city clothes, which I use back home too, without problem. There are areas in Cairo where is normal to walk by yourself safety and no one bothers you and some areas maybe better to be avoid totally. I sometimes wonder tourists visiting mosques and churches in their holiday in bikinis etc. - would they go dressed like that to their own church?

  • N.T.L said

    It's useful. Thanks!

  • Rain said

    Always take hand sanitising gel with you everywhere the money is very dirty & thats how you pick up tummy upsets we ised it all the time &we had no probs,other people not so lucky.

  • Ahmed said

    I'm Egyptian & my advice to you:
    Get a local Egyptian friend, Better to be a well-spoken person!

    Get to know a trusted local friend through facebook or something,
    It will make your life much much easier, Safer, Cheaper.

    A friend will never ask you for money, He will be enjoying your companionship,
    Lots of youth are passionate about tourists & open minded for other cultures,
    They will help.

    We have a lot of stupid, Bad people that works in the tourism industry
    Stay safe, Stay away from those stupid thieves.

  • Friend from egypt said

    If you need a friend from egypt to be with you ,, im ready
    EMAIL: [email protected]

  • Jamie said

    Totally agree with Ahmed. Seek out a local tour guide, they are around and cost less than international tour operators. Plus you give cash direct to Egyptians at a fair price. It is true, lots of Egyptians are passionate about their country and want you to see the best of it that they see and believe in. Egypt is safe. Try Mara House Luxor as a starting point, they will put you onto locals with local knowledge and are well connected people. Much better with a local. Shukran Misr.

  • Zanib Chaudhry said

    I also agree to have an Egyptian with you on your days out. The small amount you can pay to be accompanied by a guide could save you so much money as they will get the best prices for you. They will keep people from asking you for money. I've done cairo with and without a guide and the experience is much more enjoyable with someone who's knowledgeable and passionate about their country. I have lots of egyptian friends in cairo who I would be more than happy to recommend to anyone and they will not rip you off. They want tourism in their country and they get angry if people abuse tourists. I also know a great taxi driver in hurghada. He took us absolutely everywhere and knew the best places to eat and shop. He waited around for us until we finished. Picked us up at anytime we asked. A good honest family man who I highly recommend.

  • Zanib Chaudhry said

    My email is [email protected] if you want me to recommend my friends to you. I'm a British woman often travelling alone so I need to be accompanied by people I can trust.

  • tara thomison said

    thank you for info

  • Colette Myburg said

    Thanks for the useful information. We are from South Africa and will be visiting Egypt from Friday 12 May to 21 Mei. Can't wait. Very excited.

  • Arry Malaysia said

    Thanks for your very helpful information,

    Me and my friend will be in Cairo, Egypt and Alexandria from 18th of may to 21st of may for short holiday, so far we already agree with our tour package that Agency in Cairo had offered.

    Tour package : 265usd
    Upgrade hotel room Egypt : 15usd
    Upgrade hotel room Alexandria : 10 usd
    Camel ride : 10usd
    Nile River Cruise Dinner : 20usd
    Tipping : 40usd
    Total expect : 360usd/pax

    Tour package include :
    -1 driver & 1 English speaking tour guide
    -Airport pick-up/Transfer
    -B/L/D in hotel and Local Restaurant
    -2 bottle of water/day
    -Air- conditioned transportation
    - Visit all tourist attraction place in Giza and Alexandria

    i am very excited for this trip, just wish everything is smooth and nothing bad happen, may god bless my journey and let me embrace the new culture and experiences.

  • Eda said

    Very usefull tips, thanks..

    We're from Turkey, and will be in Sharm el Sheikh (11-12 Aug) and Cairo (13-15 Aug) next month, with 2 of my friends.
    And we need every kind of tip that wd be useful when we go there.

    Also if you know somebody (may be a tour guide or taxi driver) local that you met & trusted on your holiday, please share their information. So we and other people can call and get service from them as well.

  • abdallah said

    "EGP Now" is a mobile App will help you to get the latest exchange rate of the Egyptian pound regarding the prices of different currencies and Compare currency exchange rates between different banks in Egypt. For example:
    US Dollar (USD $),
    Euro (€ EUR), British Pound (£ GBP), UAE Dirhams (AED), Saudi Riyal (SAR), Kuwaiti Dinar (KWD), Qatari Riyal (QAR), Jordanian Dinar (JOD), Bahraini Dinar (BHD), Omani Riyal (OMR) ,Canadian Dollar (CAD), Australian Dollar (AUD), Japanese yen (JPY) and Chinese Yuan (CNY) ...
    download the app from aap store : https://goo.gl/O9IekO
    google play: goo.gl/HkL4sx

  • TravelMonster said

    I agree with the person who suggested Mara House in Luxor (although they organize tours from Cairo to Abu Simbel, their B&B and operational base is in residential luxor). A local Egyptian friend of mine suggested Mara House. They aren't cheap, but they are the best. They treat their guests like family and and treat their employees like gold.. you can't go wrong.

  • Amel said

    Hi there,
    I am the author of the book, “The Tomb Opens”. If you want to know more accurate details about the Egyptian culture before you visit Egypt, pick up a copy of this novel.

    You’ll be able to learn about egyptians’ emotional patterns, attitudes & behavioural cues.

    Egypt is a very rich culture. The typical Egyptian is by nature generally modest, friendly, helpful to the extent of giving you his own jacket if you are cold.

    Certainly they have been through a lot that buried such nature to a great extent. Yet once you trigger that buried side in them, it will easily surface up.

    Enjoy the novel and have a pleasant trip.
    Amel A.

  • Aly said

    I am Egyptian and I know everywhere and everything in Egypt. I live in Houston tx USA and Egypt is very stable tight now anyone want to visit Egypt anytime I am ready to help him without any fee and no money I will going to Egypt st 2/15/2018 to stay there one month and come back to Houston welcome to any one to come with me
    [email protected]

  • Karen said

    Hello.. I am visiting Egypt for 3 weeks in April 2018. Does anyone have a sample of an itinerary I can follow or know a guide that can help us? I am a budget traveller.

  • Momo said

    karen. i sent you an email concerning your request
    im waiting your reply in order to act :)

  • simone segers said

    I will be visiting Egypt in July with my son and his GF
    can anyone recommend where we should stay and the best/safety tours.

    thank you so much everyone
    our travel dates are July 25 - 31st

  • Ridzuan said

    I was in Cairo last week (1st week of May 2018) and I booked a tour to Giza pyramids via Holiday Inn Citystars concierge. I paid EGP1,500 and it was worth it. In the end I made friend with the tour guide himself called Mohamed Soliman. He was so passionate about his country and for a day tour, he also brought me to places where you can have your own khartoush (Egyptian ID), buy the real papyrus, perfumes and the museum. So, you may want to contact him directly if you want to have a fantastic deal. Here is his number +2 010 6614 7647

  • james said

    I am travel agent and traveler. I am 100% agree with your point The touts can be very aggressive and annoying to tourists. The fact is, any local who starts a conversation with you is looking for money.
    <a href="https://www.travelhouseuk.co.uk/flights/africa/egypt.htm" title="cheap flights to Egypt"> Egypt</a> is such a wonderful place to visit especially The Red Sea Coast

  • Passainte Assem said

    As an Egyptian female, I'd say the best way to visit Egypt is to experience it with locals so you'd not be subject to any scams. I recently had friends from Switzerland, and we had a blast, we went to the pyramids, Islamic Cairo, Old Cairo, the citadel, al azhar park, we covered 95% of Cairo's sights. Every time someone approached them, I'd step in & tell them no thank you in Arabic -they'd recognize I am Egyptian from the accent & the confidence- we don't need this or that.
    I always have friends and couchsurfers visiting all the time, and we've never encountered any problems. You don't necessarily need a guide, a local friend will do.. and Egyptians are really friendly and will always be more than happy to show you around.

    As for #5, I have to disagree because you don't have to get around with a male all the time, in some areas it's better to have a local regardless if it's a male or a female. And the dress code isn't so strict, it really depends on where you are, in some cities or neighborhoods you can walk freely in a sleeveless shirt and short dress, other areas you need to dress more conservatively, so a pair or loose pants and a t-shirt will do, if you are on the coast you can wear whatever you want, etc..
    Egypt is a country that in some weird way gets under your skin, it will overwhelm but after a while you'll just fall in love with it.

    If you're looking for more Egypt tips from the perspective of an American now living in Egypt & an Egyptian with a wide travel experience, I encourage you to check out my blog which is dedicated to Egypt tips & tricks: https://www.whynotegypt.com/, you can also join our facebook group and ask as many questions as you want, and we'll help you understand things right without sugar-coating our answers, and plan your trip hassle-free "Egypt Travel Tips" https://www.facebook.com/groups/160396274574031/

  • Tina said

    I will be on vacation in Egypt in December . looking forward to seeing as much as I can . thankfully I have a local friend that will be by my side

  • Yhazeline Jose said

    Hi! I will visit egypt this week and stay for 10 days I would like to go to beautiful places there. Any suggestion.

  • momo said

    Yhazeline Jose please contact me on this email [email protected] , may i help you with your concern

  • David from TravelScams.org said

    Great article, thanks for the tips! Indeed, Egypt is a country that needs no introduction, with its gorgeous sweeping deserts as well as some of the most iconic structures on earth. However, the country has one of the highest numbers of tourist targeted scams globally: https://travelscams.org/africa/common-tourist-scams-egypt/

    Do be wary of the unlicensed touts, papyrus scroll museums, camel handlers, tours with hidden extras, Valley of the Kings photography scam, show me your ticket scam, public beach scam, inflated prices, friendship gifts, postcard scam, scarf photo scam, entry visa scam, horse carriage scam, felucca scam, tourist menu scam and many more!

  • Kwasi Akuffo said

    Hi guys! Planning to visit Egypt this December and I would very much like to have a friend there before i touch down. Hoping for some favourable feedback.

  • Clarissa Calderon said

    Hi everyone, I will be traveling to Egypt with my mother and son (5months old) at the end of August 2018, I see the tour packages on Viator and they are all so expensive. I see from all the comments that it is best to do it at a local agency. I will be flying into Cairo, can anyone recommend an agency that will take me to see Cairo, Aswan and Luxor? Thank you so much.

  • Slavko said

    Hi everyone. I have booked a trip to Hurghada in september. Im planing to visit Luxor and the valey of the kings,my wife would like to visit the old part of the Hurghada and its market. She loves to cook and she is looking for any kind of strange spices :) My questions are,if its going to be a problem since i cant walk for long time and i use a wheelchair,how will the locals (the anoying ones) react to me,can i use the wheelchair in the valey? Thank you for any informations

  • Cait Mcn said

    Hi guys,

    A friend and I are hoping to come to Egypt next month. We only have 5 days however, do you think that is enough time? I'm a little nervous about spending so much money on flights to get there and then feeling like I missed out in things, though I also would really like to visit. Please let me know what you think / If anyone could recommend a 5 day itinerary that would be amazing! Thanks

  • Maram said

    Hi Cait Mcn,

    In Cairo I believe 3 days are enough. Just make sure you visit Downtown Cairo and Tahrir Square, Khan El Khalili and Muizz Street, The Pyramids of course, the Egyptian Museum, go on a Nile cruise if you want/can, Saladin Citadel, and Cairo Tower. When in Downtown and you want to try a real Egyptian dish, visit Abu Tarek for "Kushari". For a relaxing time by the Nile, you can sit in Left Bank restaurant in Zamalek district or visit Grand Cafe in Maadi district (my foreign friends just loved those two places!).

  • Lona said

    Hi! I will be traveling to Egypt in November with my sister and brother in law. I am a smoker, and am wondering if women are allowed to smoke in Egypt, or would this be a problem?

  • nikki said

    me and my teenage son leave next Tuesday for a 10 day holiday to hurghada anyone else going ive heard you have to have vaccinations for yellow fever is that true?will I be asked to produce travel health insurance as I have been away a few times without buying it I have no major illness's as I think its a waste of money,ive never been ill on holiday,furthest ive been is turkey, any comments would be appricated,lastly can you buy tour trips in hurghada cheaper than buying the tours in uk some of them are very expensive here

  • Michael said

    How are the Airbnb in Cairo? My friends and I will be heading there at the last week of October/November 2018? Also, is it better to buy the Nile River cruise while we're there for a better deal, like how much?

    Thank you!

  • Shirley said

    I think a minimum of ten days in Cairo is good if you have never visited a Middle Eastern country. Malls are nicer than the USA too. Museum, Pyramids, the Citadel, the Nile boat rides, casinos, a night club experience are all there for a great vacation.

  • Shirley said

    The Nile dinner cruises can cost anywhere from $35 to $70 per person depending on the boat.

  • Islam Ali said

    Better of to request pickup by the hotel shuttle as Taxies by the airport exit are overpriced and with no meter, First thing to do buy local SIM card prepaid and a prepaid recharge card with the help of the hotel's receptionist, stores everywhere operators are Vodafone, or Orange, then go online navigate the operators website using the hotel's internet and pick an internet package that suites your use, download Uber application from google app store or apple store if u r using I Phone, there is another local app similar "careem" any of them will help, the apps will help you move around with clear charge fixed priced pre set by the operators, you select the pickup and the drop off location on the map, and request the ride, you can add you credit card to the app that will be better you will not need to pay the driver in cash and you will be charged automatically once you arrive, just make sure that the driver ended the trip before you leave the car, and if you want to pay in cash you can look at the amount on the drivers cellphone he is using another app for drivers, or wait till you get the trip summary and pay the amount you see only in egp, all of that will solve your transportation issues, your other option and if it is in your way the subway, if you are a lady be aware there are two cars for ladies only with a red sign and a green sign above the door use these cars if you are alone it is safer, you can search for anything you want on google maps, locate your destinations, if confused pick a local guide from the app you will find them answering people's questions, and ask for whatever you want, enjoy your trip.

  • Ellen said

    The treatment of horses, Donkeys, and camels in Egypt is very difficult to experience and if you care about animals at all, do not patronize the carriage rides or even the camel rides unless you can see that the animals are healthy. I refuse to use those services (I am in Egypt now). They will beat them and it ruined my trip to Egypt. I saw them leave their horses in 100 degree noon sun for 2-3 hours while they were no where to be found. Despite the Quran forbidding mistreatment of animals, it is rampant here. Despite the history, I will not be returning to Egypt.

  • Neha said

    Hi we will be visiting Egypt in December. Is it normal to pay a guide the agreed price for a 5 day tour on the day of arrival or can I ask to pay in parts?
    Thanks in advance and looking forward to our visit

  • Norlida said

    Hi guys. I’m Malaysian, and I’m going to Egypt in a couple of days, for slightly over 2 weeks. Can I get the visa upon arrival at the airport?

  • The Vegan Travelers said

    Very informative article, thanks for that! Also we have been in Egypt for over two months and experienced a lot.

  • Olivia Duffy said

    I will be traveling to Cairo in January and would love to have a local friend and source there.

  • Rou said

    Pretty useful post.
    Can you post contacts - email / phone of local people who can accompany us in Hurghada and Cairo?
    We're quite a lot of people, and we'll split into independent groups, so the more contacts - the better.

    Thanks in advance!

  • khaled naserelden abdulhamed bakhet said

    Egypt very nice location to spend your holidays
    Any country you go should need a lot of Mony
    Not for Egypt only
    Egypt really sunny
    Good luck

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