One of my favorite countries in the world that I have seen so far. I would call this – lots to do and lots to see place which makes it an unforgettable travel destination. The land of Pharaohs with some of the most enduring historical monuments on earth, legendary Nile river, ancient treasures and many myths is fascinating and intriguing at the same time.
This Nile valley nation is bordered by Israel and the Gaza Strip in the north-east; the red sea in the east; Sudan in the south; Libya in the west; and the Mediterranean sea in the north. The river Nile vertically bisects the Sahara desert; the area to the west is known as the Western Desert, or Libyan desert, while the area to the east, as far as the Red sea, is called the Eastern Desert. Egypt links north east Africa with middle east and has its fair share of turmoil but remains welcoming and accessible when it comes to tourism.
There are two Egypts from the tourism point of view. One of them is Cairo, Alexandria, Giza, Nile cruise around Luxor, Aswan, temple of Abu Simbel , valley of kings etc and the other is the Egypt around the Mediterranean red sea where you would find some of the finest high end resorts, scuba adventures, water sports etc which is integral to many visitors from west.
I would say one should spend minimum 2 weeks in Egypt to get a flavor of this nation’s glorious past as well as to spend sometime beaching and sun seeking around Red Sea.
Basics- Quick facts
Capital – Cairo
Population – 98 million approx.
Most people in tourism sector understand and can speak in English
Currency– Egyptian Pound, USD is widely accepted.
A few interesting facts about Egypt
- Egypt has the largest Arabic population in the world
- The world’s largest pyramid is located in Mexico and not in Egypt as it is popularly believed.
- Egypt’s first pyramid was a step pyramid built by famed Egyptian architect Imhotep for the pharaoh Djoser in 2600 B.C
- The great Pyramid of Giza still has passageways which are yet to be explored. If the Great Pyramid were chopped into 12-inch cubes, there would be enough cubes to circle the moon almost three times.
- More than 14,000 Gods and Goddesses were worshiped by the Egyptians in ancient times.
- Early pharaohs (kings) were buried with their real servants. Later, model servants called shabti were used
- The ancient Egyptian calendar was a solar calendar with a 365-day year. The year consisted of three seasons of 120 days each.
- Egyptians were the first to invent writing known as “Hieroglyphics” as well as ink, and paper which they called “papyrus.”
- Clocks were first invented by the ancient Egyptians.
- Exchanging wedding rings was a tradition that was first started in ancient Egypt.
- Cats were lucky and hippos were unlucky. To mourn the death of their pet cats, the Egyptians shaved off their eyebrows.
- The oldest dress is found in Egypt aged almost 5000 years.
- Stones were used to making pillows on which ancient Egyptians slept.
Food & Culture
With 6000 years of recorded history, Egypt is one of the earliest civilizations that developed around the fertile land of Nile flanked on both sides by desert. This isolation probably contributed to the way the ancient Egyptians developed differently to their contemporaries. Pyramids, mummies, hieroglyphics are all some of the defining cultural characteristics of Egypt. Post Pharaonic era, Egypt came under the influence of Hellenism, Christianity, and Islamic culture. Today, its middle eastern Islamic culture that is most prevalent in Egypt.
Egypt is predominantly Muslim, with Muslims accounting for 90% of the population. Remaining 10% perhaps are primarily Christians belonging to Coptic Orthodox church
Architecture & Art
Egyptian civilization is known worldwide for its colossal pyramids and monumental tombs. Well-known examples are the Pyramid of Djoser designed by ancient architect and engineer Imhotep, the Sphinx, and the temple of Abu Simbel.
Besides, the Egyptians were one of the first major civilizations to codify design elements in art and architecture. The wall paintings done for the Pharaohs followed a rigid code of visual rules and meanings. That ways Egyptian art is quite unique which follows symmetry and geometry and continues to inspire the world till date.
Customs and Traditions
Islam is practiced by most people in Egypt and hence it governs their political, social and cultural lives. The family is the most significant unit of Egyptian society. Following Quran and its teachings are important which means honoring guests and friends, keeping one’s word, respecting elders.
Main festivals in Egypt include Ramadan and Eid-al-Fitr, Sham El Naseem, Leylet-en-Nuktah and Moulid a Nabi.
Most women wear either a hijab or a niqab and dress modestly to cover their bodies. As far as men are concerned, there are no religious restrictions for their dress code in Egypt. Most men in cities wear western clothing, however, some devout men, as well as villages, do wear Galabiya (loose fitting ankle length robe)
Food in Egypt has been influenced particularly by its neighbors from middle east , Persians, Greek, Romans and Turkish throughout the history. For Indians, this would be bland but you will get a variety of veg options. Their main dishes are Koshary, mashed fava beans – ful mudmas, mahshi (rice stuffed in grave wine leaves), falafel(deep fried mixture of herbs and beans), molokhia as well as kababs & kofta
How to go?
Major international Airports for tourism purpose are
Cairo International Airport
Luxor International Airport
Aswan International Airport
Hurghada International Airport
Sharm El Sheikh International Airport
Unless you wish to travel to Hurghada or Sharm El Sheikh first as per your itinerary, it would make sense to go land at Cairo
international airport for better flight deals.
Best time to go
Best time to travel to Egypt – October to April when temperatures are pleasant.
May to August temperatures are very high so plan accordingly.
December – January are considered high tourist season. This is winter time too. We visited during this season and it was great just that one needs to be well prepared for the chilling winds (keep enough warm clothes)
Stay – Mid range double air-conditioned room Families and couples in could get a decent place within $30 – $50. Good ones will come in the range of $80 to $100.The luxurious one can start from $150 onwards.
Food – On an average $10 to $15 per meal per couple or a nuclear family in a mid-range restaurant. In smaller local eateries, this could be much lesser. And in superior ones, it could go up to $20-$25 plus.
Local Transport – Flights from Cairo to Luxor $65 onwards one way, and the train fare for first class would cost $25-$30
Sightseeing – Admission to historic sights could vary from $4-$15. Check trip advisor for latest entrance charges in Egypt
Egyptian government provides the option of E-visa to tourists from US, UK and most countries of Europe. Indians have to apply for Egypt visa through the consulate in Delhi or Mumbai. Unless there is a large group there is no provision of e visa for Indians.
Single entry tourist visa for 30 days for Indians costs approx INR 2000 (Embassy fee) and you can get it within a week.
Documents required to apply for Egypt visa
- Passport size photograph
- Visa application form
- Covering letter / Request letter to the Consulate
- Confirmed Air tickets
- Confirmed hotel bookings
- Travel Itinerary
- Bank statement – Six months (Minimum balance 50,000 INR), attested (stamped and signatured) by your bank
- Last 3 years Income Tax Return (not mandatory)
- Photocopies – First and last page of your passport
- Original passport
Top things to do
If you love history, the stories of the kings and queens; if you love ancient treasures ,the mystery; if you love being on cruise or spending time on beaches by the Mediterranean; if you love desert & the life that developed around the great Nile, then Egypt must be on your bucket list.
- Explore the mystery world of Pyramids- Visit the great pyramid of Giza, Sphinx and Sakkara
- Visit the ancient Egyptian temples –Must see are Luxor, Kanark, Abu Simbel, Hatshepsut temple, Edfu temple.
- Admire the beauty of Egypt while spending a few days on Nile cruise – The best part, you can do sightseeing while taking this cruise. It runs for a minimum of 3 nights 4 days. Check the specific days that it sails from Luxor and Aswan. You can select either of the places to board the cruise.
- Explore the valley of kings and queens- This is the burial site in upper Egypt and has tombs of almost all the Egyptian kings (pharaohs) of the 18th, 19th, and 20th dynasties (1539-1075 BC); 62 tombs have been uncovered.
- Spend good time in Egyptian museum – Egyptian museum is bigger and better now, keep enough time at hand to look at antiquities and the display on child king Tutankhamen.
- Western desert tour – Unfortunately permissions are not available for this at present but this was the highlight of my tour. Whenever things settle down in Egypt for them to open this, please spend a night under the sky in white desert.
- Explore Egypt’s 500km-long Mediterranean coast – This part has beautiful beaches and sparkling sea all the way to Libya, one of the longest Mediterranean coastlines in North Africa . You may look at spending sometime in Sinai or Hurghada.
- Visit Alexandria -Along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea , this city founded by Alexander the great , was capital of Graeco-Roman Egypt. Its towering Pharos lighthouse, marking the ancient harbour’s entrance, was one of the Seven Wonders of the World, and its Great Library was considered the archive of ancient knowledge.
Itinerary Suggestion by destination expert
10 days itinerary suggested by Egypt travel expert and my friend Walid Fathy
Day 1 Cairo arrival : Arrival at Cairo, hotel to check in and stay in Cairo overnight.
Day 2 Cairo “Pyramids Tour” : Visit Giza Plateau to visit the impressive 3 Pyramids of Kings Cheops, Chephren, and Menkaure which are guarded by the rock-cut statue (The Sphinx). The Great Pyramid of King Cheops is the only wonder of the seven wonders of the ancient world that is still standing today, although it is 2,000 years older than any other wonder on the list. Visit the Complex of Saqqara which belongs to King Zoser and his step pyramid which is considered the first pyramid in Egypt and the first rock-cut building in the history.
Then go to Memphis “one of the ancient Egyptian Capitals until around 2,200 BC” which was a cult center for God Ptah god of creation and artworks, you will find there a lot of temples and monuments dedicated for him.
Stay overnight at Cairo.
Day 3 Fly to Luxor / Nile Cruise Luxor “East Bank Tour”:
Checking out the hotel and fly to Luxor . Visit the two famous temples.
Karnak Temple Complex which comprises a vast mix of decayed temples, chapels, pylons, and other buildings. Building at the complex began during the reign of Senusret I in the Middle Kingdom and continued into the Ptolemaic Period. It’s a vast open-air museum, and the second largest ancient religious site in the world. It’s mainly a place to worship the Theban triad (Gods Amon, his consort Mut, and their son Khunso).
The Second Temple is Luxor Temple which is believed that one of the ancient Egyptian’s festivals was held inside the temple as there are different scenes on the walls representing the celebration of the festival. Its inner part was built by King Amenhotep III while the outer part was built by King Ramses II. After entering the temple you will find a mosque called (Abu Al-Haggag) was built on the ruins of a church which were built inside the temple. To the rear of the temple there are chapels built by King Thutmosis III and Alexander the Great.
Then go for the Nile Cruise (3 nights 4 days) to have lunch, enjoy folkloric show, dinner and stay on board overnight in Luxor.
Day 4 Luxor “West Bank Tour”:
Visit the archaeological sites of the ancient Egyptians on the west bank of the Nile including (Valley of the kings where you will see the well-preserved tombs belonging to the kings of the new kingdom including the great ruler Ramses II and the child King Tut Ankh Amon, The Mortuary Temple of Queen Hatshepsut it’s called “the Holy of Holies”. It is one the best architecture buildings consist of three levels connected with each other by ramps and has different scenes on its walls depicting the divine birth of the Queen and her Commercial expedition to Punt Land. The temple is mainly dedicated to worship the supreme god Amon-Ra, and the 2 Colossi of Memnun which are two massive statues representing King Amenhotep III in a seating Position).
Then back to the floating hotel to have lunch, enjoy folkloric show and start sailing towards Edfu and stay overnight on board sailing
Day 5 Sail to Edfu-Kom Ombo “Sightseeing”:
In Edfu visit the most complete and well-preserved temple in Egypt flanked by beautiful granite statues of the falcon god Horus. The Ptolemaic temple was dedicated to the falcon god “Horus”. The reliefs that cover the walls, columns and doorways of the temple constitute an extremely important source of information about ancient Egyptian religious and political thought. Among the most interesting of these reliefs tell the story of Horus exacting his revenge on Seth for the murder of his father, Osiris, an event that was re-enacted annually in the temple. Other reliefs recount the stages of the temple’s construction and provide dates for the completion of different building elements.
Back to the cruise, proceed to sail to Kom-Ombo while having lunch. Upon reaching the area you will go to visit the unusual double built temple which is dedicated to the Falcon god “Haroeris”(the southern part) and the crocodile god “Sobek”(the northern part). It was built during the Ptolemaic era. The scene on the inner face of the rear wall of the temple is of particular interest, and probably represents a set of surgical instruments.
Go back to the cruise, have dinner and proceed to sail to Aswan overnight.
Day 6 Sail to Aswan / Abu Simbel “Sightseeing” / Felucca Ride:
Visit the location of the most famous temples (The Great and Small temples) of King Ramses II and his wife Queen Nefertari. The most spectacular aspect of this temple is its setting in the solid rock above the banks of the Nile River. The complex is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site known as the “Nubian Monuments,” which run from Abu Simbel downriver to Philae (near Aswan). It is believed that the axis of the temple was positioned by the ancient Egyptian architects in such a way that on October 22 and February 22, the rays of the sun would penetrate the sanctuary and illuminate the sculptures on the back wall, except for the statue of Ptah, the god connected with the Underworld, who always remained in the dark. These dates are allegedly the king’s birthday and coronation day.
Then back to Nile cruise, to have your lunch
After Lunch, go for a Felucca ride around the islands of Aswan and (Kitchener’s Botanical Garden where you will see different beautiful types of subtropical, exotic, and rare plantings and Elephantine island which is the largest island of Aswan area, Elephantine is Greek for elephant as It is believed that the island received its name because it was a major ivory trading center. There are different monuments which were excavated in the island like the ruins of a temple dedicated to the ram god Khnum “God of water”. Elephantine was considered as cult center for god Khnum
Stay overnight at cruise
Day 7 Aswan “Sightseeing” / Fly to Cairo :
Check out from the cruise and go for Aswan sightseeing -Aswan’s High Dam which is one of the most important achievements of the last century in Egypt .It Contains 18 times the material used in the great pyramid of Cheops and it provides Egypt with the water and electricity and secures the country from the destructive inundation of the Nile River.
Then you visit the Temple of Isis at Philae which its construction started during the reign of Ptolemy II and completed by the Roman emperors.
And it was dedicated to goddess Isis which was considered the mother of god and she is the mother god Horus and the consort of God Osiris.
Post Aswan sightseeing, fly back to Cairo. Stay overnight.
Day 8 Cairo “City Tour” :
Visit the Egyptian Museum of Antiquities which was built in 1902 and it exhibits a large number of items and treasures (exceeding 12,0000 masterpieces) dating back to the ancient Egyptian period and Greco-Roman period including the marvelous collection of the child king Tut Ankh Amon
Visit “The Coptic Cairo” where you will visit the “Hanging Church” which is dating back to the 3rd Century AD and was dedicated to Virgin Mary ,It’s called “Hanging” because of its location above the gatehouse of the ancient Roman fortress “Babylon” .It contains 110 Holy icons depicting beautiful religious scenes.
Then visiting “Saint Sergius and Bacchus Church” which is believed to have been built on the spot where the holy family rested at the end of their journey into Egypt.
Visit the “Jewish Synagogue of Ben Ezra” which gained its importance from its Geniza (Store room) was found during the 19th century containing a treasure of abandoned Hebrew secular and sacred manuscripts
Go for some shopping at Khan el Khalili Bazaar which is one of Cairo’s main attractions ..the district of Khan el Khalili was originally a mausoleum called “el Zaafran” for the burial of Fatimid Caliphs ,after that it became a district for the Turkish community during the Ottoman period , and now it becomes a bazzar where you will find many souvenirs shops ,coffeehouses “Café” serving Arabic coffee and offering Hookah “Shisha”, and restaurants throughout the area. Stay overnight at Cairo.
Day 9 Alexandria Sightseeing:
Visit Alexandria (about 3.30 Hrs. Driving) to discover the beauty and the Greco Roman civilization within a day-tour starting with visiting the catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa which are considered one of the wonders of the middle ages . It’s the largest known Roman burial site in Egypt, with three tiers of tombs that could accommodate up to 300 corpses. The cemetery originally was dug to be a private cemetery for one family ,then it was converted to be a public cemetery the architecture of the tombs mirrors Greco-Roman styles. This can be seen in the wall decoration, which shows a unique combination of Egyptian, Greek, and Roman artistic traditions. People are buried here in sarcophagi, in shelves, and in urns of ashes after cremation.
Take a photo stop at (Qaitbey’s Citadel) which is considered one of the most important defensive strongholds, not only in Egypt, but also along the Mediterranean Sea coast. It formulated an important part of the fortification system of Alexandria in the 15th century A.D.; The Citadel is situated at the entrance of the eastern harbour on the eastern point of the Pharos Island. It was erected on the exact site of the famous Lighthouse of Alexandria, which was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
Also visit The Roman Amphitheatre which is Located in the heart of Alexandria, Montazah Royal Palaces and Gardens and Modern Alexandria Libra (visit its open court + free museums).
Back to Cairo to stay overnight.
Day 10 Departure :
Departure from Cairo airport
- First thing is to pre-plan. Do research in advance and Stay in good places, Egypt hotels are not as expensive as hotels in other countries. Read FAQs, entrance fees, tipping advice well.
- Book only trusted, recommended hotels and do it before you leave home. This will allow you to take their advice on what to do, what not to do, where to go and where not to go.
- Bargain well when buying anything in Egypt. Many things are made in China and prices could be 3-4 times higher. Most people in Egypt tell you the price they think you should be able to pay. However, pay what you are willing to pay for the chosen service or product. You can even leave the shop without buying unless you feel the product is correctly priced.
- Ask directions from at least three different people at least 30 plus in age. Sometimes people try to help even if they don’t know the place.
- Take permissions before taking a photo.
- Pay tips- It’s expected everywhere as salaries are not good.
- Spend time talking to Egyptian people, they are friendly and love to exchange stories.
What not to do in Egypt
- Clothing- Don’t wear revealing clothes, dress modestly. Inside mosques and other religious temples, it is advisable to cover heads as well. This will not be the case if you are visiting Sharm-El-Sheikh, Dahab, Marsa Allam and Hurghada. There shorts, sleeveless tops are allowed.
- Behavior in public -Public display of affection is not a norm. No kissing in public. Shaking hands is ok in general, but strict Muslims don’t shake hands with people of the opposite sex in order to avoid any physical contact.
- Drinking – Don’t drink tap water and don’t drink alcohol in the street (it’s not socially acceptable, and in some areas, it’s forbidden by law).
- Tipping- Don’t overpay unless you really feel like. Please do read the articles on trip advisor and other sites to check how much you should pay for each job/service.
- Don’t expect drivers to know English. Most people can’t communicate in English. Hence it is advisable to hire a tour guide or book the complete tour with a reputed company. Company of tour guides can get intimidating at times but communication is important for a smooth travel.
- Traveling within Egypt- Don’t go walking along the Nile river at night. Don’t wander around darkened back streets at anytime. And don’t go off the beaten track alone looking for the ‘hidden Egypt’. May get risky at times. Also, attacks have mainly been aimed at the Egyptian security forces, their facilities and other government buildings in the recent past and hence you should take great care near these buildings.
- Rides- Don’t get befooled. Taxis, horses, camels, and donkeys whatever it is, be careful when negotiating the price of a ride. Make sure you state how many people it’s for, whether it includes all parking fees, what stops you will be making, and how far and long you will be going. Also, most importantly don’t take taxis alone in the night. Use Uber app or yellow cab.
- Don’t eat anywhere and everywhere. Not a very clean country and so hygiene levels at all places can’t be trusted. Moreover, check what you are being served. KFC in Cairo serves beef also along with chicken patty in the chicken burger.