Egypt-Travel--Nile-Header Green

Egypt Travel: 10 Things To Know Before You Go (Part 2)

Do you have a tour or river cruise booked for Egypt? Having recently returned from a 7-night Nile cruise with an additional 4 nights in Cairo, here are  tips six to ten (see Part 1 for tips 1 through 5) to consider before embarking on this incredible adventure. After reading all the tips you may be a bit daunted by the do’s and don’ts listed but you can be assured this is a journey of  a lifetime not to be missed! The more you know what to expect, the easier the transition will be from your culture to another another, in this case Egypt’s.

6. The Food

Do try to sample all the various dishes offered at your hotel, recommended restaurants, or on your cruise ship if taking a Nile cruise. Our ship, the AmaDahlia had a display of all the meal’s dishes as you entered the dining room which was useful if you were not familiar with the names on the menu.  Entrés  are similar to dishes you may be familiar with but with a local twist. Beef tends to be served fattier from my experience. Fish dishes are divine and so are the desserts. What you won’t find is pork, so if you like your morning bacon, be cognizant that it will be beef bacon. The coffee seems stronger; the local beer was excellent.

Some folks can get away eating street food. If you are brave you can (reports from friends – who must have steel-lined stomachs – are it is delicious), but this practice is definitely not advised. Our North American systems have no defense against the unfamiliar intestinal bugs lurking in the food.  Even your guide, should you have one, will warn you not to drink the water and not to have ice cubes in your drinks. You brush your teeth with bottled water and keep your mouth closed in the shower. Your bucket list trip is not one where you want to have a bout of stomach sickness, especially when the food on offer is a wonderful culinary experience.

While we are on the subject of food, you will see many dovecotes on your travels through Egypt. They are for raising squab (young pigeons), a delicacy. It was never on any menu we encountered though, perhaps it will be on yours should you visit?

Egypt Tips - Menu

One evening’s menu on the AmaDahlia

Egypt Tips - Cake

 Cake! One of the more familiar types of desserts.

7. The Money

Bring US dollars. You can convert some into Egyptian dollars at exchanges to be ready for the odd street vendor who won’t accept the USD. (Note: we used USD exclusively.) Most will, as it is usually an easy conversion. When we traveled, it was 100 Egyptian dollars equaled twenty USD – a bit of a shock when looking at receipts! Small American bills such as ones, fives, and tens are invaluable for tipping guides, drivers, etc. If you are purchasing items that are of great value, chances are you are dealing with a merchant who will accept credit cards.

And this leads into the next tip subject: street vendors.

Egypt Tips - Outdoor Dining

Outdoor specialty dining, the Chef’s Table, on the AmaDahlia

Egypt Tips - Paprrus

You can buy a custom papyrus at the Papyrus Museum

8. Street Vendors

Street vendors are everywhere you go – in markets and at all the historical sites. If you don’t wish to buy, do not make eye contact and do not engage in any way, keep walking. It’s a shame really as sometimes you would like to browse especially if there is a little shop too, but these vendors can be very persistent if you do stop to look. Most items they are selling as souvenirs are not made in Egypt but in China. This situation of course is not unique to Egypt. Plus you realize they are not out to do any harm, just in most cases feeding their family. 

If you are cruising, in some places vendors will come alongside in boats and toss items up to you. You are expected to keep the item, place payment in the bag, and toss back. Again do not engage if not interested – we had our balcony door open on the scene and a galabya which is a traditional garment was tossed directly into our room. (Unwanted at the time, it was tossed back. We should have bought it – great price!)

But if you like a bargain, and want to purchase multiple souvenirs to take home for family and friends, street vendor items often can be a money saver. Your guide can tell you, if asked, approximately how much the popular items for sale are worth. This way you can bargain with an end purchase price in mind. (Sometimes a guide will also bargain for you.) You are warned not to use a credit card in street shops; your guide (again invaluable) will advise where credit cards can be safely used.

The same warning will be given to be wary of “helpful” locals. Once you are “helped” as the result of what you thought as a friendly gesture, a hand comes out and asks for money. For example, watch for those wanting to take your photo next to a camel at the Giza pyramids. One minute you could be standing beside a camel, next it is suggested the photo would be better if you were on the camel. The kicker comes when it is time to dismount which will cost you upwards of US$20 or so. And a camel is not something you can dismount on your own – at least not without injury.

If you are a woman, bring tissues or toilet paper with you on tours. In some washrooms on sites you may visit, there are local women who set up shop in the toilets holding the toilet paper “hostage”. They have no official job to be there. If you are brazen or desperate enough, you can ignore them but these women can be very aggressive to the point where they will follow you to the stall. Once on a site tour, our guide discovered one of our tour group had paid for toilet paper, so she verbally accosted the so-called attendant, and got the lady her money back. Now some washroom attendants are legitimate and they do require a tip for service – but you can easily tell the difference between toilet paper ransom and a true employee there to help you!

Egypt Tips - Luxor

Luxor in the Evening

Egypt Tips - Step Pyramid

The Step Pyramid of Zoser

9. What You Should See – & Maybe Not

This is a highly subjective subject; however, there are a few sites I would personally recommend: the Giza Pyramids, the Sphinx. Luxor, Karnak, Zoser’s Step Pyramid, and the Valleys of the Kings/Queens. The new Egyptian Museum in Cairo would be the “icing on the cake” if the old one is anything to go by. (Sadly, we missed the opening of the new museum by mere weeks.)

Abu Simbel World Heritage Site is also impressive especially when you realize the work that has gone into saving it from Lake Nassar. The only reason it is not on the “must-see” list is that it requires quite a bit of travel to get there – hours by coach or a short but pricey hop by plane. If you do not mind the extra time and cost involved to spend a couple of hours there, you should definitely go – especially if this is your one and only Egypt visit. 

The light show at the Karnak Temple sounds impressive; however, if you are visiting the temple during the day with a guide, you will find out all you need to know about this site. Going for the light show after a day tour of the site, you will hear this information repeated with  some colorful lights to add atmosphere. It is not a long event. But if you like a different experience, go for it.

Egypt Tips - Abu Simbel

Abu Simbel

Egypt Tips - Karnak

Karnak in the Daytime

10. Internet

The closer you are to Cairo the better your internet connection will be which is not surprising. Even then there are times you have no connection for no conceivable rhyme or reason.  If you are some distance down the Nile on your travels, it may be a futile task to upload any photos or videos to social.

That said, on our coaches and our river ship, we did have access to internet which was wonderful (when available). It was not a great inconvenience when you could not get any signal bars – one just had to be patient and it would eventually return. And after all, one is supposed to be on vacation and away from being tied to a phone, tablet or desk top computer! 

In Conclusion

Here’s hoping these few tips will prepare you for what you will find on your Egypt adventure. It is truly an experience to remember!

Be sure to check out our 4-part series on the Secrets of Egypt and the Nile + Jordan on our YouTube channel, RTE Travel Talk.

All photos courtesy of Compass Media.