One of the oldest civilizations in the world, Egypt has been attracting travelers long before the birth of Christ. Its former rulers include Pharaohs, Romans, British and French colonizers, all of whom have left their mark on the city. Egypt may be best known for its Pyramids, but the Islamic dynasties have produced a stunning collection of art and architecture over hundreds of years.
Why You Should Go
What’s Cool: The spell-binding Pyramids, the Sphinx, the Egyptian Museum, superb scuba diving in the Red Sea, the unusual Under Water Museum in Alexandria, the ancient catacombs at Tuna el-Gebal and the narrow and bustling streets of Medieval Cairo.
What’s Not: Unbearable heat during the summer, food and water hygiene, the crowds in Cairo, threat of terrorism and touts looking to sell products and services, crazy taxi drivers.
When to Go
Although Egypt has identifiable seasons, the times to visit are limited because of the intolerably hot weather during the summer. The weather can be summarised by hot, dry summers and mild, dry winters and cool nights. November through to January is the best time to plan a trip as temperatures are slightly cooler. If you want to avoid the peak season, then consider late September to late October.
Getting There & Away
Flying is the most popular way to arrive in Egypt, and Cairo has the largest airport in the country, which is served by many international airlines. In particular, there are good connections with many European cities. Other airports include those at Luxor, Aswan, Alexandria, Hurghada, Marsa Alam and Sharm el-Sheikh. Egypt is also a popular stop-off point for many cruise lines and the main coastal ports are Alexandria, Nuweiba, Port Said and Suez. The best way of getting around is by plane, and Egypt Air provides domestic flights to all of the main cities. For cheaper options, consider the bus and train networks, which are generally reliable and comfortable. Don’t attempt to travel in anything lower than second class, where even the luxury of a dirty toilet may not be available. Taxis are good for short journeys, but it can be difficult judging what is a fair price as the driver is likely to shout at you whether you payment is too low or not.
Health & Safety
The good news is that violence and muggings are rare in Egypt, and most visits are trouble-free. The bad news is that Egypt has become a terrorist target with a spate of attacks aimed at tourists over the last 15 years, the most recent in 2006 at resort town of Dahab. Check for recent advice from your embassy and be cautious when visiting busy tourist spots. Food hygiene is unpredictable and most people succumb to mild cases of diarrhoea so expect extra visits to the bathroom! You also need to protect yourself from the sun, which can be strong year-round.
Food & Hospitality
Egypt can probably lay claim to being the first country to experience tourism and has attracted visitors for hundreds of years. Consequently, the infrastructure is good and traveling through the country is fairly straightforward, albeit expensive during the main holiday season. Hotels are of good quality and there is a choice of places to stay which are suitable for most budgets. Most of the international chains are represented, especially in Cairo and Luxor. Egypt is also a good place to sample a unique range of foods that have distinctive tastes, and are not too spicy.
A minimum of two weeks is recommended to fully enjoy all of the sights and attractions.
Three or four days to take in the capital and nearby sites including the Pyramids.
Five days for a relaxing boat trip on the River Nile between Luxor and Aswan
Three or four days in Southern Egypt for the historical and cultural diversity of its towns and cities.
Three days for some diving in the Red Sea.
Two or three days for trekking in the remote and baron Sinai area.
Two days for a visit to one of the country’s six oasis.
Giza Pyramids: Egypt’s most popular attraction. The largest is nearly 450 feet high, and a labyrinthine of tunnels allows you to explore the insides.
The Sphinx: this ancient monument comprises the head of a woman and the body of a lion. In the evening, there are captivating sound and light performances that tell the story of ancient Egypt.
Valley of the Kings: located in the huge Theban Necropolis on the West Bank of the Nile, the valley contains some of the world’s finest tombs.
Egyptian Museum: this Cairo museum houses the greatest collection of Egyptian antiquities including treasures that belonged to Tutankhamen.
Abu Simbel, the Sun Temple of Ramses II: these huge statues of Ramses were constructed to intimidate travelers entering Egypt from Africa.
Aswan: gateway to Africa and a popular stop-off for many cruise ships. The Old Cataract Hotel was made famous as the location for the film Death on the Nile.
Diving: the Red Sea has some of the best dive sites in the world, with good reefs, abundant marine life and crystal clear waters. Courses are available for beginners.
Cruising the Nile: one of the most popular activities for visitors and a great way to see some of the sites. Trips usually operate between Luxor and Aswan, and take about five days.
Shopping: check out one of the largest bazaars in the world at Khan-el Khalili in Cairo. Bargain hard for the handicrafts, antiques, trinkets and copper products.
Camel riding: an authentic way to experience one of the country’s oasis and get a glimpse of the real desert.
Trekking: get off the beaten track and visit the barren area of Sinai. Take in the stunning St Catherine’s Monastery, home to Greek Orthodox monks.
Festivals & Events
Egypt has a limited number of festivals, but there are a few which are worth remembering if you happen to be visiting at the time.
January: International Book Fair in Cairo is one of the largest events of its kind in the region.
March: International Photography Festival is held in Cairo and has exhibitions, themed galleries and big competitions.
April: Moulid El Nabi (Prophet’s Birthday) sees shop windows brightly decorated with candy dolls and horses.