Before you embark on your Egypt travel plans, read up on the unique culture of the country. Many travelers, who have visited the majority of the world’s countries, find that their “I’ve been everywhere, so I know all there is to know” is called into question once they arrive here. Why? Well, let us see if we can explain.
Egypt is an Islamic country, though about 15-20% of the population is non-Muslim, with Coptic Christians making up the majority. Throughout the world, Muslims are regarded as people who do not drink alcohol and are all virtually non-smokers … until you come to Egypt. Not only is alcohol tolerated here and reasonably easy to purchase, but you will also often find yourself in the company of a Muslim who is enjoying a beer and a cigarette, often finishing them in enough time to go and pray in the local Mosque.
Where else in the world will you see a man sitting on a cart being pulled by a donkey, dressed in a dirty-looking Galabeya (the male frock that you will often see worn in Egypt)? He is either selling fruit and vegetables or going around the street collecting certain refuse. And then he reaches into his pocket to answer his iPhone! For all intents and purposes, this man is no better than a beggar back in your own town, someone who can hardly afford to rub two pennies together, yet he has a piece of technology that you maybe do not own.
Many people believe that Muslim women must keep their heads covered, either with a scarf or with the all-enveloping cloak known as a burqa. Yet many women here have their heads uncovered. Again, this is something that Egyptian women have been doing for many years and is perfectly acceptable. Granted, some of these women will be Coptic, but vast amounts of Egyptians have decided not to wear head coverings, and are doing it for a non-religious reason: they do not get advances from men when dressed like this!
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Here are some hints and Egypt travel tips that should help you throughout your stay in Egypt:
The Pyramids of Giza and the Great Sphinx have watched the rise and fall of every great civilization and empire for over 5000 years. This longevity has made them some of the biggest magnets on the planet. Mention Egypt, and the imagination goes wild picturing these ancient limestone edifices. So, when the opportunity arises, they are a “must-see” for every visitor to Egypt. So why does almost every tour company have packages that combine a Nile cruise with a visit to Cairo?
One of the major reasons is to look after your welfare. The minimum Cairo/Nile cruise package tends to be about 7 days/6 nights long and for many people, especially those from colder climates, this is too long to be expected to walk around in the Egyptian heat continually. The heat of the sun, added to physical exertion, can have a damaging effect on the body and so it is best to be able to rest, even in the sun, to allow your body time to repair itself; hence the cruise.
After having to endure the 24/7 madness of Cairo’s traffic as well as the queues and hordes of fellow tourists at the various sites, the thought of a 3 or 4-night 5-star, or 5-star deluxe, cruise, and in some cases a 7-night one, is like an oasis in the middle of the desert: no traffic, no queues, no pressure; just a few days of self-indulgence, with a couple of excursions to prevent laziness from taking over. Why a 5-star, or 5-star deluxe, cruise? Well, you do want to be able to enjoy yourself without stomach problems do you not?
Thanks to the internet, and the many search engines available, finding cheap flights is simple as typing in “cheap flights to Egypt”. No matter where you live in the world, there are companies offering discounted flights; and please do not ignore charter flights. You may think that because they land at airports outside of Cairo that they are of no use, but any good and reliable travel agency will be able to either change a package to suit or even compose a special package for you. Do not be scared by the latter idea, a tailor-made package is not the millionaire’s playground type of package; you will find that the prices are very comparable with pre-made ones.
Though you may be keeping to a strict budget, sometimes it is best to stretch this slightly further for your health’s sake. One thing we never do is book cruises below 5-star standard and we are often asked why this is. This is because experience has shown us that more people suffer from stomach problems on sub-5-star cruises and so because we want you to enjoy every possible minute of your trip, we just refuse to book these cruises. No, every 4-star cruise does this, there are many superb cruises of this standard, but we simply will not put our customer’s health at risk.
We are often asked what the difference between 5-star and 5-star deluxe cruises is. Well, the star ratings get higher as the facilities and overall standard of the accommodation gets better, and so it is easier to imagine a 5-star deluxe (or any suffix added to 5 stars) as being 6 stars; something that those who fix the star ratings seem feared to utilize. Better amenities; better menus; larger and more luxurious cabins; masseurs and masseuses; Jacuzzis: the higher the star rating, the higher the standard!
So please, if you can, ensure you get yourself booked on a good standard cruise boat.
Ideally, the best time to visit outside sites is prior to noon when the sun has not yet reached its zenith. Sadly, though, ideal conditions are not always possible, especially when your schedule is tight, so the following offers some good tips on when to visit the various sites. Please note that only the sites which are referred to as “usual tourist sites” are included in this list. For advice on sites not given here, you should contact your tour agent.
Giza Pyramids and Great Sphinx:
The Giza plateau has very little shade, and even the pyramids do not offer that much due to their shape. Though the site is open all day long, it is advised to visit in the morning.
Again, this site is very much open, but at least it has some mastabas (tombs) that allow you to escape the sun. There are also some nice high walls which allow some good shade if you can get near them from the vendors! Therefore it is possible to enjoy Sakkara in the afternoon.
The Colossi of Ramses II is inside a building, away from the sun, and the gardens with various statues and other artifacts are well-shaded by tall trees. This allows this site to be visited safely in the afternoon (which is why it is often twinned with a visit to Sakkara).
Being inside this museum allows you to stay shaded all of the time, so it can be visited at any time, morning or afternoon.
Citadel of Saladin:
Though it is exposed to the sun, the majority of the little streets within it are shaded from the sun and the main places you will visit within the Citadel, the Mosque of Mohammed Ali and the Museum, are interior visits. Morning or afternoon is fine to visit here.
The only time you are exposed to the sun is when you are walking to each of the buildings, and the streets are shaded in the afternoon, so another visit that can be done at any time of the day.
The old market is well shaded so there will be no problems visiting here at any time.
Valley of the Kings:
Though people do visit here from opening to closing time, the ideal period to visit is in the early morning. The tombs are cut into the limestone mountain and rock does conduct heat very well, and it also retains it, so as the day progresses and the hot sun shines down on the valley, which is actually a sun trap, the rocks start to heat up. This heat is slowly given out into the actual tombs, which gradually become hotter and hotter. Add to this the heat generated by human bodies and it is quite obvious that by the end of the day, the valley is filled with little ovens, waiting to bake the next visitor. This is a definite morning visit only unless you like being baked.
Tip: One of the best tombs to visit is the tomb of Tuthmosis III (KV34). This tomb is situated at the far end of the valley and has some steep steps to negotiate to reach the entrance. It is only a short tomb, but it is steep inside ... and exceedingly hot, as the huge electric fan in the burial chamber will testify. It is advised to visit this tomb first!
Deir El-Bahri (Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut)
This has to be one of the most beautiful buildings of the ancient world still standing. It is located at the foot of the mountain which has the Valley of the Kings on the other side and also has a tendency to become hotter as the day progresses. A.M. visits are best.
Valley of the Queens:
Only a few tombs here, but rock-cut as well, so it needs the same warning as the Valley of the Kings: A.M. visit!
Colossi of Memnon:
These 2 gigantic statues are located on the road leading away from the sites of the West Bank and are not close to the mountains; they are actually on arable land. This site only takes a few minutes to see, so it can be visited at any time of the day.
Luxor and Karnak Temples:
The high columns, pylons, and walls give each of these two buildings its own natural interior shade. Karnak does have huge areas of exposed land where the sun relentlessly beats down, but these are punctured by walls and pylons, giving a short respite. A.M. or P.M. visits are suitable.
Temples of Philae:
Like the temples in Luxor, these island-bound buildings offer their own shade. To be honest, the only time you will be exposed to the sun is when waiting for the motorboat(s) to pick you up.
The most southerly, and possibly the hottest, a site on the majority of itineraries, either built-in or as an optional excursion. Built on the West Bank of the River Nile, now the West Bank of Lake Nasser, Ramses II’s phenomenal temples are only 40 Km from the Sudanese border and are south of the Tropic of Cancer. Though the site is open all day long, it is strongly advised to visit it in the forenoon as the afternoon sun is too hot for most tourists to endure. Some shade is provided inside the temples, but there is a long walk from the bus stop and another one on the way back.
Hotels and Cruises:
Over Easter, and again from just before Christmas until just after New Year, Egypt has what are called high seasons. These 2 periods are when school children are out of school when families realize they can all go on a foreign trip together, and so the owners of hotels and cruises (as well as international flight companies) like to add a supplement to bookings made then. These supplements can vary from hotel to hotel, cruise to cruise, and so the best way to get a good deal is to look for one in advance, not turning up with your $80 per night to find that it is now about 50% more than you expected. By planning this ahead, you will not get a nasty shock.
Many solo travelers can also be hit with a supplement as many hotels, and most cruises, do not have single rooms or cabins and so a person on their own is accommodated in a twin room, for which they are charged for the second bed not being used. Lots of hotels, as well as a few cruises, do have this facility and so it is best to check before you leave to find out which ones do; this can be essential when on a tight budget.
Another good reason for booking before you go is that many special offers can be found that are not available if you want to just turn up at a hotel or a cruise (very few cruises will let you purchase a cabin without prior booking anyway). So please try and book before you leave to ensure you have accommodation once you arrive and to save yourself some money as well.
If you only have a few days, and so wish to have a package that will allow you to see the sites in Cairo, this package will be the best one for you. You are met at the airport by our representative and then transported, in our air-conditioned vehicle, to your hotel. The rest of the first day is free, depending on your arrival time, which will allow for relaxation after your flight.
The next day you are taken to see the Giza Pyramids and Sphinx, and then after lunch, you are taken to Sakkara to see the Step Pyramid of Djoser and the Memphis Museum. Once back at your hotel, the evening is free for you to do whatever you wish.
Day 3: You will be visiting the Egyptian Museum, where you will get the chance to stand and gaze at the famous death mask of Tutankhamun. There are many rooms in this museum, built over 2 floors, and you may even wish to pay the extra to visit the Royal Mummies Room, home to many of ancient Egypt’s famous Pharaohs. Once you have completed your visit here you will be driven to see the Citadel of Saladin, built to protect the fledgling settlement, which became Cairo, from the Saracens. This is followed by a historical tour of Coptic Cairo to see some of the churches built by the Coptic Christians, as well as the museum that houses many of their artifacts. The day is rounded off with a visit to the Khan El-Khalili, where you can get the opportunity to buy those presents that you promised everyone, as well as a few mementos for yourself.
The final day is one of relaxation until it is time to be taken back to Cairo Airport for your departure.
Egypt Splendor is the entry-level package for seeing Egypt’s major sites. As in most packages, the first day is for arrival, which can be at any time because of international flights, and allows you time for relaxation.
The first day allows you to see the Pyramids of Giza as well as have an enjoyable lunch before visiting the Egyptian Museum in the afternoon. You will then be returned to your hotel for a relaxing evening and sleep. The next day you will be flown to Aswan, where you will have a private tour of the Aswan High Dam and the Temples of Philae before embarking on a 3 night Nile cruise, which will allow you to enjoy the temples of Kom Ombo and Edfu whilst en route to Luxor. Upon arrival in Luxor, you will be taken to see The Valley of the Kings, the Temple of Hatshepsut, the Colossi of Memnon, Luxor Temple, and the huge Temple of Karnak, before having your final night on the boat. The next day you are flown back to Cairo and can spend your last day in relaxation before your departure on the following day.
Whereas Egypt Splendor is ideal for those who only have a week to spare, Egypt Odyssey is ideal for those who have 2 weeks and as it is for one more week, this package allows more scope and freedom within it. Your first full day after arrival allows you to visit not only the Pyramids of Giza but also the Step Pyramid at Sakkara and the Museum at Memphis. The next day has you traveling slightly further south of Cairo to see, and enter if you wish, the Red Pyramid at Dashur and then the neighboring Bent Pyramid. Once this is completed, you will be driven back to your hotel, so that you can prepare for your flight to Aswan then the following morning. Upon arrival, you will be met and transferred to a hotel in the city before being taken to see the Aswan High Dam and the Temples of Philae. Upon completion, you have the opportunity to explore this ancient city before returning to your hotel.
The next day gives you the option to visit Abu Simbel before you embark on your 3 night Nile cruise, which will allow you to enjoy the temples of Kom Ombo and Edfu whilst en route to Luxor. Upon arrival in Luxor, you will be taken to see The Valley of the Kings, the Temple of Hatshepsut, the Colossi of Memnon, Luxor Temple and the huge Temple of Karnak, before having your final night on the boat. The next morning you will be transferred to a hotel in Luxor and this will allow you to either have time to relax, or the possibility of returning to Luxor’s West Bank to see some more ancient sites or to be taken to Dendera and Abydos, 2 places rich with Pharaonic history. After you have had your nights relaxation in the hotel you will be flown back to Cairo, where you will be able to see the Egyptian Museum, the Citadel of Saladin, the Coptic churches and Museum, and finally the Khan El-Khalili. One last night in a hotel and you will be transferred back to the airport for your departure.
Please do not think that if a package says ‘x’ amount of days, you are restricted to this. If your holiday/vacation is for more days than the package shows, these extra days are easily added, as well as more visits to sites. No package is “set in stone,” and they all can be tailored to suit your requirements.