Egypt is one of Africa’s major tourist destinations with the main drawcards being the Red Sea, Egyptology and the Nile. The Pyramids of Giza, the Sphinx and the Valley of the Kings need no introduction in the world of antiquity, the sun-soaked beaches of the Red Sea with their scuba diving are a massive attraction to those from colder climes, and a cruise on the Nile floods back memories of Cleopatra. Aside from these famous attractions, this desert country houses ancient ruins and mystical Oases and in Cairo ancient cultures remain, blending with the very modern. Egypt offers so much more than its world-famous pyramids. Visitors can enjoy desert trekking, scuba diving, golfing, fishing, bird watching or floating along the Red Sea.
Banking and Currency
Egyptian Pound or ginee (LE; symbol E£) = 100 piastres. Notes are in denominations of E£200, 100, 50, 20, 10, 5, 1, 50 piastres and 25 piastres. Coins are in denominations of 25, 20, 10 and 5 piastres.
British pounds sterling, Euros and the US Dollar are accepted everywhere although change may be given in Egyptian pounds.
The import and export of local currency is limited to E£5,000. The import and export of foreign currency is limited to US$10,000 or equivalent.
The Egyptian pound is available outside Egypt and you can change money before you leave for your trip. Alternatively, 24-hour currency exchange is available at Cairo airport. It is worth exchanging at least a small amount for incidentals during your first day or two in Egypt. Keep small denomination notes for taxis fares as drivers rarely seem to have any change, and for tips, known as baksheesh, which are a way of life in Egypt.
Banking hours: Sun-Thurs 08h30-14h00. Bureaux de change are generally also open in the evening 18h00-21h00.
American Express, Diners Club, MasterCard and Visa credit cards are widely accepted in all but the smallest hotels and restaurants throughout the country, except in the Western oases. It is wise to keep your credit card in view when you make purchases or pay a restaurant bill, and to keep receipts for checking exchange rates and charges on your statement.
ATMS can be found in all major towns and cities.
Travellers cheques are becoming less useful now that international ATMs are prevalent throughout the country. To avoid additional exchange rate charges, travellers are advised to take traveller's cheques in US Dollars, Euros or Pounds Sterling. You will need to show your passport when you change traveller’s cheques.
Currency exchange is also available at banks, official bureaux de change outlets and most hotels. Banks often have better exchange rates than bureaux de change or hotels. All common international currencies are accepted. It is wise to divide your currency between you if there is more than one person in your party and keep it secure to guard against theft. It is advisable to take only what you will need for a day’s excursion and keep the remainder of your money in your hotel safe.
Travel, Transport and Getting Around
The Egyptian national airline, Egyptair, operates all domestic flights in Egypt and serves 11 major airports: Abu Simbel, Alexandria, Assiut, Aswan, Cairo, Hurghada, Luxor, Marsa Alam, Marsa Matruh, Sharm el-Sheikh, and Taba.
The easiest way to move around major Egyptian cities is by using the always abundant public taxis; each city has its own colour of public taxi; yellow and black in Alexandria, and black and white in Cairo, for instance. Cairo has also a fleet of metered, air-conditioned Yellow and White Taxis with which you should book your taxi one hour before a journey.
There's an extensive network of buses running between the major cities in Egypt. Bus companies such as Superjet, Delta and Upper Egypt – only to name a few – usually provide air-conditioned buses, with some refreshments, toilets and an in-ride movie. Buses are by far the best transportation mean for day trips. They are very affordable, but you have to think of making your reservations at least one day in advance.
Renting a car in Egypt is easy; most major international car hire agencies have offices in Egypt’s airports and towns. Rates are comparable to international car hire charges and many companies offer online reservation facilities. In order to rent a vehicle and drive in Egypt, you’ll be asked to provide an International Driving License. Egyptians drive on the right-hand side of the road, and the official out-of-town speed limit is 90 km/h.
Food, Drink and Cuisine Advice
You should avoid uncooked vegetables and peeled fruit that may have been washed in tap water, and make sure any poultry or egg-based dishes, and any seafood or shellfish, is thoroughly cooked. Hotels and restaurants are generally safe to eat and drink in, but it is advisable to avoid street vendors.
Use only bottled water for drinking and, to be on the safe side, when brushing teeth. When buying bottled water, check the seal of the bottle is intact. A popular scam is for unscrupulous individuals to collect used bottles from rubbish bins, refill them with tap water, attempt a reseal and sell them as genuine clean bottled water. Also, avoid unbottled beverages and ice except in top hotels and restaurants. Milk is unpasteurised and should be boiled.
Egyptian food reflects the country's melting-pot history; native cooks using local ingredients have modified Greek, Turkish, Lebanese, Palestinian, and Syrian traditions to suit Egyptian budgets, customs, and tastes. The dishes are simple; made with naturally ripened fruits and vegetables and seasoned with fresh spices, they're good and hearty. Food in the south, closely linked to North African cuisine, is more zesty than that found in the north, but neither is especially hot. The best cooking is often found in the smaller towns. Although Egyptian cooking can be bland and oily when poorly done, most of the cuisine is delicious.
Although Egyptian eating habits may seem erratic, most natives begin the day with a light breakfast of beans (or bean cakes), eggs, and/or pickles, cheeses, and jams. Most families eat their large, starchy lunch around 14h00-17h00 and follow it with a siesta. They may take a British-style tea at 17h00 or 18h00 and eat a light supper (often leftovers from lunch) late in the evening. Dinner parties, however, are scheduled late, often no earlier than 21h00, with the meal served an hour or two later. In restaurants lunch is normally 13h00-16h00, dinner 20h00-24h00.
A 10-12% service charge is typically added to hotel and restaurant bills but an extra tip of 5% is normal.
Climate and Weather
With the small exception of its strip of Mediterranean coastline, the whole of Egypt has an arid desert climate. Throughout Egypt, days are commonly warm or hot, and nights are cool. Egypt has only two seasons: a mild winter from November to April and a hot summer from May to October. Egypt receives fewer than eighty millimeters of precipitation annually in most areas. Most rain falls along the coast, but even the wettest area (around Alexandria), receives only about 200 millimeters of precipitation per year. The best time to travel to Egypt is during the winter, between December and February, when temperatures range between 20 to 26 degrees Celsius (68 to 79 degrees Fahrenheit).
Clothing and Dress Recommendations
What you wear will depend a little on whether you are staying solely in the tourist beach resorts, or exploring the wider country. However always remember it is a Muslim country so you should respect their conservative values at all times. Local people like to dress up in the evening, so if you're going out to dinner it's a great opportunity to dress with more care than usual. Also on cruise boats it's nice to have something smart to wear in the evening. Egypt is a Muslim country, and although its cities are modern and local women may wear make-up now, they always dress conservatively.
Egyptians find it very inappropriate to reveal even the slightest amount of stomach or hips, so short tops, short skirts or shorts, or tight clothes should be avoided completely when away from tourist hotels. Cotton or other natural fiber long-sleeved shirts or t-shirts, worn with long pants or ankle length skirts are a good choice, and keep your shoulders covered too. Keep clothing loose - it will keep you cooler and you'll get less unwanted attention. Although the dress code is more relaxed in hotels and tourist resorts like Sharm el Sheikh, you will find that you will get more respect if you dress modestly - a pashmina or wrap can be useful for times when you need to cover up.
Internet access in most of Egypt is cheap and easy, with even the smallest and most out-of-the-way villages sporting at least rudimentary Internet capacity. Almost every cafe in Cairo, and quite a few fast-food outlets feature free wireless Internet, and those that don't are usually within range of one that does.
Electricity and Plug Standards
Electrical sockets (outlets) in Egypt are one of the two European standard electrical socket types: The "Type C" Europlug and the "Type E" and "Type F" Schuko. If your appliance's plug doesn't match the shape of these sockets, you will need a travel plug adapter in order to plug in. Travel plug adapters simply change the shape of your appliance's plug to match whatever type of socket you need to plug into. If it's crucial to be able to plug in no matter what, bring an adapter for both types.
Electrical sockets (outlets) in Egypt usually supply electricity at between 220 and 240 volts AC. If you're plugging in an appliance that was built for 220-240 volt electrical input, or an appliance that is compatible with multiple voltages, then an adapter is all you need.
But travel plug adapters do not change the voltage, so the electricity coming through the adapter will still be the same 220-240 volts the socket is supplying. If your appliances are not compatible with 220-240 volt electrical output, a voltage converter will be necessary.