Egypt Travel: 10 Things To Know Before You Go (Part 1)

Do you have a tour or river cruise booked for Egypt? Having recently returned from a 7-night Nile cruise with 4 nights in Cairo, here are some of the tips and information this writer would have been appreciative of knowing before embarking on this incredible adventure.

1. Pre-Trip Research on the History

Read a book or better yet watch a documentary series on Egyptian history. Many streaming services have excellent documentaries on this subject, or search the term on YouTube if you don’t have any streaming service. Hopefully your tour or cruise will employ an excellent guide or Egyptologist and the knowledge you receive from him/her will be enriched and expanded by the information you have garnered on your own. It is a thrill to see a depiction on a tomb or temple wall and you have already heard the backstory of it on a documentary! There is so much history in the tombs, temples and the Egyptian Museum in Cairo that a bit of prior knowledge helps to keep timelines and rulers straight in your mind and to appreciate what you are seeing even more. If travelling on a custom itinerary, hiring an Egyptologist for the sites you visit is highly recommended and his/her services will be invaluable (ask your travel professional about hiring one).


Model Boat and Servants Found in Tomb, Egyptian Museum

Egypt-Museum-Hieroglyphics inside a Sarcophagus

Hieroglyphics Inside a Sarcophagus, Egyptian Museum

2. Security

There is probably more security in Egypt than what most North Americans are accustomed to. Most, if not all,  public buildings including your hotel and the historical sites have scanners. We are all used to the security lines at airports but in Egypt you also have to pass security (including a pat down) just to enter the airport building. Our motor coach transport from the airport to our hotel had a police escort, and an armed policeman accompanied our group on excursions (very unobtrusively).Tourism ( and tourists) are well protected.

Why is this mentioned? Knowing you are going to have your bags and purses, etc. scanned continually makes it imperative that, for an easy passage, you should pare down the belongings you tote around on your excursions. Crossbody bags are great but if you are wearing a Quietvox® device to listen to your guide as well, one easily gets tangled with  the other and is really annoying when you have to remove your bag to be scanned! (Pockets or small backpacks are wonderful alternatives to a crossbody bag.) Also, keep your liquids confined to your checked bags if at all possible for airport security. If you have camera or recording equipment such as tripods that can easily be construed as something else under the x-ray scanner, put them in checked bags as well. Having your luggage searched really holds you up getting through an airport (and my particular itinerary had 5 flights plus 6 more to and from for a total of eleven!) .

Egypt Travel - Airport Abu Simbel

Airport, Abu Simbel

Egypt Travel - Alabaster Mosque Ceiling

Alabaster Mosque – No shoes or cover your footwear to visit here

3. What To Pack

You can wear shorts (men or women) but not short shorts, and woman can go sleeveless; however, it is more respectful to wear pants (men and women) or pants with a length below the knee (women). If you know you are touring a religious site, women can take a shawl  along to cover the shoulders. (We were never asked to cover our heads.) It’s hot most of the year so don’t feel you need to bundle up or wear excessive clothing. In the winter months you should bring a sweater or light jacket as the evenings apparently can be cool. What is absolutely necessary is a hat, preferably one that will both shade your face and your back neck. Our river ship also had umbrellas you could borrow and that is a fabulous alternative as well. The second necessity is a good pair of walking shoes or hiking boots. Sandals are great for the evening or around the city. Outside the city at most sites the ground will be sand, ancient and uneven  pavement stones, or rubble – and to see some sites you are walking a lot.

Believe it or not, you can travel carry-on. I did, and the trip was 17 days. My luggage (one small bag and a backpack) had numerous tops, mostly T-shirts and a couple of dressy ones, 2 pairs of pants with lots of pockets, and three pairs of summer pants that could be easily dressed up. Of course it also included underwear, nightie, toiletries, travel jewellery, a shawl. etc. I wore my walking shoes to travel ( plus jeans, heavier top, and hoodie because I would return to a chillier climate) but also packed a pair of day sandals and evening wedge sandals. The latter I never wore so could easily have been left at home. Returning from the trip, there was plenty of room for souvenirs and neither bag was very heavy going either way. It makes catching that connecting flight in a hurry a breeze! (And no stress from lost or delayed luggage!)

Check with your travel agent if on a river cruise whether laundry is available. Laundry strips were packed as I was travelling carry-on as they are very conducive to travel but discovered to my delight AmaWaterways™ offers laundry service on board ship at a very reasonable price. No need to be bothered with that chore while on vacation if it can be avoided!

Egypt Travel - Desert

Outside the Green Belt Along the Nile – Why You Need Good Walking Footwear

Egypt Travel - Camel Ride

Camel Ride – You’ll Need to Wash Your Clothes After This

4. Bring a Pharmacy

There’s nothing worse that having a minor ailment that would benefit from some over-the-counter medication and you are on a trip in a foreign country. Add to that a jam-packed itinerary on a tour or cruise with no chance to visit a pharmacy – and that is if you can navigate the language barrier.

Pack a drug store – not really – but all the necessary meds you might need: anti-diarrhoea, anti-nausea, heartburn, headache, cold & flu, antihistamine tablets., and so on – what ever you keep on hand at home. Plus pack band aids for blisters and hand sanitizer. This is addition to your prescribed meds. If you are bringing bug repellent, think the wipes rather than a lotion or spray. The packets take up less space in your luggage. Frankly, though I saw thousands of bugs illuminated by lights at night (and only the odd housefly in the day), I never had one land on me. Our ship had bug zappers which might have been the answer but bugs never seemed to be an issue on land or on the ship. Sunscreen is a must of course, especially if you are fair-skinned or a “ginger”.

Egypt Travel - Temple of Hathor

Visiting a Site in the Evening or After Dark Helps Avoid Some Heat (Temple of Hathor)

Egypt Travel - In a Tomb

Tombs Were Dug Into Hills – Should be Cooler But They Are The Exact Opposite!

5. The Weather – It’s Hot!

The best time to visit Egypt is winter – January through March. The summer even up to and including September is not ideal due to the heat. Dry heat at 40-41C (104F) is hard to ignore on September 27th. Apparently it was even hotter – uncharacteristically – the first week of the month according to our guides. Perhaps it is that hot where you reside but remember you are in your air-conditioned home, car, office or mall – not walking under the midday sun through sites in the desert. So, water is essential – a water bottle is your best friend and becomes a part of your being. Our group demographic was mid to late sixties in age so age was not really an issue with the high temperatures but if you really mind the heat, and it is detrimental to your health, you should discuss this with your travel professional and choose a “cooler” time to travel. Europe too as a whole is experiencing higher than normal temperatures during peak season. Walking sticks (and those with seats) were available on our river ship, the AmaDahlia, for people finding the long walks challenging, either from heat exhaustion or lower fitness levels. Again this was a bonus as I could not pack my walking stick flying carry-on.

One goes from roasting under the sun to air-conditioned buses and accommodations.  Our cruise director had a great tip: adjust the air in your room when you leave for an excursion so it is not as cold as usual. When you return, you can then gradually lower the air temperature as your body adapts – the result is no temperature shock. You can’t of course do that trick with public places like restaurants or lounges so as a woman, I found a pashmina shawl was invaluable to avoiding a chill. It’s amazing how quickly your body adapts to the heat!

Watch For Part 2

In the next tips article, we will touch on advice for food & drink, the ever present local vendors, currency, recommended attractions (and those you might wish to give a pass), internet, and getting about Cairo on foot or otherwise!

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.