Two weeks in Egypt: Recap and AMA
I went on a fairly long trip this summer including Greece, Turkey, and Egypt. Because Egypt is the least traveled and I connected with it most, I want to offer any help I can give as well as encourage other backpackers to go for it. If you have any questions or are thinking about planning your own trip, please ask!
Day 0 – Arrive late, slept at airport hotel
Day 1 – Giza Pyramids, Sphinx, Egyptian Museum, Cairo Tower
Day 2 – Saqarra, Dashur, Memphis tour
Day 3 – Islamic Cairo, Muhammad Ali Mosque, Al Azhar Park, Khan El Khalili bazaar/El Moezz Street
Day 4 – Luxor Temple, Luxor Museum, Karnak Temple
Day 5 – Collosus of Memnon, Valley of Kings, Hatshepsut, Medinet Habu, Valley of Queens
Day 6 – Dendera and Abydos tour
Day 7 – Hurghada Resort
Day 8 – Sharm Resort
Day 9 – Scuba/snorkel
Day 10 – Mount Sinai sunrise hike
Day 11 – Bus to cairo
Day 12 – Downtown Cairo
Day 13 – Heliopolis
Day 14 – Heliopolis, fly home
We benefited greatly from signing up for an American Express Starwood Preferred Guest credit card. Even though we paid off our flight tickets immediately, it allowed us to received roughly 28,000 points, and 8 free nights in nice places in Egypt.
- Le Meridien Cairo Airport. Very nice, convenient if arriving late. 1 hour, $10 uber to pyramids.
- Le Meridien Pyramids was fantastic, awesome pool, pyramid view.
- AirBnB, Jasmin Villa on the West Bank. I preferred staying on the west bank because it was quieter. Free hotel pick up, very helpful communication, and available for reasonably priced tours of anything, plus going to dinner with host and seeing more local areas. Locals seemed impressed and surprised we were staying on the west bank, where way less tourists are. If I had the money the Winter Palace Pavillion would maybe be my preferred choice though, because it's historic on the east bank. Electricity in the whole town went out once on west bank.
- Sunny Days Palma Mirette is a "get what you paid for" place. It's 'all-inclusive' but not many options, food probably made me sick. Was an okay place to stop. I would not recommend a long stay there. The city in general is very far behind in Sharm in quality and could be skipped if you would rather fly directly to sharm.
- Sheraton Hotel, Resort, Villa, and Spa (it appears only the main hotel is currently open because of tourism numbers). It was very nice with an amazing beach, service, and food.
- Le Meridien Heliopolis, pretty nice but less nice than the others. Still, location is good and heliopolis is one of the most upscale areas which was a nice note to end on after a really long trip. Malls and movie theaters nearby, etc.
Uber is much better than a taxi, and we took a taxi only twice. It guarantees you get to the correct location, occasionally when a driver doesn't speak English well it doesn't matter, the price is displayed beforehand and locked in, and tipping isn't allowed. Plus there is a method for recourse so drivers are more accountable. Whatever anyone says, uber is completely legal and abundant in Cairo and Alexandria, not available in Luxor or Sharm.
There's an extensive bus network. I recommend looking at Go Bus or Super Jet. Tickets can be bought the day of but I recommend going the day before to be safe. Buses leave slightly late, but were fairly reliable and comfortable. Show up on time. Intercity routes cost $10 max and could be less if taking economy buses. No reason not to get deluxe or business for that price.
There is one ferry that runs Hurghada-Sharm, each direction, every Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday. Definitely by tickets a day before, because high waves can easily cancel the ferry and you need time to adjust. Alternatives would be busing Hurghada>Cairo/Suez-Sharm for $15, or preferably just flying a 40 minute flight for about $70. The ferry costs $40 is two 2.5 hours and somewhat scenic.
There is a day train from Cairo to Luxor. Night trains are not available to tourists. I heard it wasn't reliable and the flight is $70 so it's preferred. Could be fairly scenic though if you're into the landscape.
There is a 1LE (5 cents) ferry in luxor that runs every 15 minutes, 24 hours a day to cross the nile. It's directly across/at Luxor Temple. Staying on the west bank was convenient because it made having a car for touring the spread out west side easier, while we could easily take a ferry for more the more walkable east bank.
$12 a day was our food/miscellaneous budget. In hotels or decent restaurants you can get a full meal for $5 easily. If you're out in towns/villages or away from tourist areas you can get it significantly cheaper. We once paid $1.5 and fed four people in Saqqara.
Uber typically costs $1-5 to go anywhere.
Most souvenirs, statues, papyrus, etc are $20 or less and can be negotiated. I bought a souvenir in one place but found something better in another city, so I sold my original souvenir to the second shop to get a discount. That's how negotiable things are.
In general, within any city you do not need a guide. Things are easy to figure out yourself. For history buffs, you can find free lance egyptologists capable of explaining hieroglyphics and myths in the entry buildings for places like Karnak or Luxor Temple, but would need to be organized before hand for smaller temples, the tombs, or pyramids. In my opinion if you want a knowledgeable guide for any place, the most important and fruitful is Dendera and Abydos. Each have amazing stories, art, and structure that are unique. Second, Karnak is more impressive if you have someone explaining things to you.
I hate large groups that move too slow or too fast, or block every picture you try to take, so Egyptian Sidekick was a great fit for us. Cheaper than major companies and more personal. The money goes in much higher percentage to the actual guides, who are young, well spoken students/recent graduates/certified free lance guides. [name removed] is the main guide in Cairo and a founder of the company. You will not be disappointed working with him. You aren't guaranteed an egyptologist, but one of ours was. Very friendly, willing to hangout after the tour, more like a travel buddy/friend. Very professional. Tours available to Saqqara/Dashur/Memphis, islamic cairo, pyramids, dendera/abydos, etc etc (any place you could want to go).
Sharm Excursions was okay for our Sinai trip. The 15 passenger van was really cramped but the tour was reasonably priced and really amazing. They also offer cheap scuba diving and snorkeling by boat in the red sea, but it should be noted that resorts also have tons of employees available to hook you up with tours the day before for slightly cheaper. Expect to pay $30 for a full day of snorkeling plus a fifteen minute intro scuba dive.
A free lance guide we met through egyptian sidekick was [name removed] [contact info removed]. He is an egyptologist and was our guide for Dendera and Abydos. We learned an enormous amount and his easy going, helpful, informative, personality made the day a highlight of the trip. The reason I point these small companies and individuals out is because tourism has been hit hard in egypt and it's these locals that need the money and offer the best service, not world wide touring companies.
Not once did we feel unsafe. Airports were more thorough in checking bags, there are numerous road check points and if tourists are noticed during excursions outside of the cities military trucks would escort us for extra safety, passports or ID's checked at some road checks, and hotels have road blocks/bomb sniffing dogs/below car mirrors, and metal detectors. BUT it seemed overkill, or at least, should be comforting that security for tourists is such a priority. It was comforting, not unsettling for me.
Only once did I feel like I should keep an extra eye on my girlfriends purse, and it was because a team of salesman were trying to encourage us to take a boat tour the next day, and it was late at night and we were somewhat alone sitting down. I would feel that way in any country at night in a new city, being approached, because you should watch your stuff.
In major tourist locations there are poor people/shop owners hustling for money. Some examples: locals walking around sights 'suggesting' good spots to take pictures or taking a picture of you and your partner, then asking for a tip. Tomb guards offering to let you take pictures when it's forbidden for a bribe. "Baksheesh". Locals attempting to make friends with you, offering you a gift "for free" and later telling you a sob story and taking their gift back unless they get some money. Lame things like telling you you have an 'egyptian face' and occasionally playing the long con like they really just want to talk to you. One guy was wearing a US college hat to make a connection, but was probably lying about having a brother who goes there. Taxi drivers will always offer ridiculous prices, 2-3x the appropriate price. Confirm with locals before hand. One bus attendant charged us $1 to store our luggage after we showed him our ticket. Being tired and the first ones to the bus, we didn't yet realize literally no one else paid to store luggage and he just took advantage of our ignorance. Camel drivers hustle to get you to ride, with prices dropping from 30LE to 5LE faster than you can imagine if you just keep walking. I don't recommend it though because I fear the animals aren't treated well. You have to explicitly say the price is not per person, and includes the whole trip before getting in or they will try to trick you. (same for taxi's). Only once at a restaurant I was given a menu in english and noticed all the prices were different than the local menu's price column. Even if I can't read the words, there's no reason the english menu has all it's numbers doubled or tripled so I called out the owner until they gave us a normal price.
That being said, tipping and hustling is part of their culture and needed in a tourism driven economy with such little tourism. Recognize that it's their job, smile, say no thanks and keep walking. "Show-krun" means no thanks. It's not rude to give short answers and keep moving and really it was more of an experience than a bother for us.
More so, average locals who aren't selling things are extremely friendly. There were very few white people seen in our two weeks, mostly just Russians or Italians at the beach only. And we saw zero other americans. There are some british expat women in Luxor. So mostly young kids looked amazed to see you and shyly wave. I think especially because I am tall and my girlfriend looks american, approximately 10 families stopped us and asked to take pictures because americans are rare. At first that is awkward, because I don't want to perpetuate any incorrect or harmful white savior nonsense, but in the end I think it's intended as harmless and something funny high schoolers show their friends. Two mothers together insisted we take turns holding and taking pictures with each of their babies. It's the same as what you might experience in some other countries around India, south east asia, etc. Everyone was very welcoming, especially hosts. People were friendly on the bus or if we had a question and couldn't read a sign (though nearly everything has English instructions and people speak english). "we love americans" "we love tourists" "I hope you enjoy your time here and tell others" "we want the world to know egypt is safe" was a constant thing. And sometimes locals would say goofy things attempting to appeal to you, like how they dream to visit las vegas or miami or saying 'hi ho silver', because of The Lone Ranger.
It was consistently 90-100 degrees, and 110 in Luxor. It would be slightly more hot south to Aswan or Abu Simbel. While my girlfriend would've preferred it a bit colder, I was always fine, and we're from the midwest. The real kicker is that it's so dry, unlike my humid home, so I hardly was sweating and it felt much better than 80 and humid that I'm used to.
If I could make a change, I would skip hurghada altogether and fly to sharm. Flying in and out of sharm is one of the main security warnings, but it's the same as every other airport, and I didn't feel uncomfortable.
Going inside the great pyramid ($10), going inside Seti I and Nefertari Tombs (included in luxor pass, which is $100 for students and includes every single site and museum in the city, very worth it), the gorgeous fish that swim right up to you in the red see on the shore, or when snorkeling/scuba diving with them, hiking mount sinai and drinking tea and hot chocolate, and smoking with actual bedouins who live in the mountain for weeks at a time in small houses/huts, learning some incredible history and how to identify major symbols and structure in tombs with Khaled, our guide.
If we had more time and money there are three things I would've loved to do:
Taking a Nile Cruise from Luxor to Aswan, seeing Edfu and Philae Temple along the way. Then taking a bus to Abu Simbel. And last, I would've loved to take a day trip, or just add to our trip, in order to see Petra. Petra is a 2 hour bus ride>ferry>2 hour bus ride away from sharm, and Sharm Excursions does the trip with a return late at night. Unfortunately we just couldn't afford it. An experienced traveler could also just bus and ferry themselves, and stay a couple nights in Jordan to get the cheaper Petra tickets.
I hope this isn't too rambly, but I wanted to give a general overview since I so often see people post with apprehension about going to the country in general.
If you have specific questions please feel free to ask and I can go much more into detail, post specific pictures, or give reviews or details/procedures for specific places, where to get things, how to get from place to place, etc.
Egypt was a wonderful country to travel too, as a world class destination for ancient sites, fairly good food, and a very unique experience. Since the revolution in 2011 tourism has had a sharp decline. And walking around in ancient tombs and temples with literally or nearly zero other tourists is a surreal experience I am glad we jumped on, and you could too!
…Names and contact info of guides have been removed per the rules. I can provide their contact info in a private message. I have no connection to them, other than being a happy customer and wanting to help hardworking locals.