Ah, Egypt! Dan and I spent 10 days in Egypt in April 2019, and we had the best time! By way of background, we have been wanting to go to Egypt for a long time, since 2008 to be exact, and we almost went in 2010, but opted for Turkey instead. Big mistake. The Egyptian Revolution happened in early 2011, and we have viewed Egypt as a bit too unsafe for Western tourists (or at least us) since. Last year, though, we started reading travel and news articles indicating that Egypt was once again safe. Soooo, we decided to go for it and booked tickets!
Spoiler alert, we had a FABULOUS time and already want to go back (but will wait until the new museum opens in Giza!). The ancient Egyptian monuments are more amazing than imaginable, and we really enjoyed the culture, food, and hospitality! If you have been thinking of booking a trip to Egypt, now is a great time to go and here is information for your booking based on our time there!
OUR EGYPTIAN ITINERARY
Our trip started in Luxor on a Saturday afternoon, having flown overnight from NYC to Cairo to Luxor on Egyptair. We spent two days in Luxor at the luxurious (get that?) Hilton Resort and Spa on the Nile River. We largely spent these two days relaxing, catching up on jet lag, and using our Hilton Aspire resort credit. The property was very nice, safe, and seemed more like an all-inclusive Caribbean vacation than an Egyptian adventure!
Of note on these two days, we ate two delicious restaurants in Luxor – the Lantern Room and Al Sahaby Cafe – and did an Egyptian wine tasting at our hotel! As a welcome surprise, Egyptian wine can be pretty tasty! I’m going to write separate posts on the Lantern Room and Al Sahaby Cafe, but suffice it to say both were great and an easy cab taxi ride into Luxor.
On Monday, we left the Luxor Hilton Resort and Spa boarded a 5-night Nile River Cruise to Aswan on the Nile Dolphin river boat. The tour company Emo Tours organized our tour and before boarding the Nile Dolphin, our Emo Tours guide, Ashrf, gave us a tour of the main sights on Luxor’s East Bank – the Temples of Karnak and Luxor. We also toured a papyrus factory and tried sugar cane juice (it was very sweet, but very good, especially on a hot day!).
Tuesday was spent touring Luxor’s West Bank sites with Ashrf, including the Temple of Hatshepsut and the Valley of the Kings. The Nile Dolphin departed Luxor in the afternoon and headed South toward the Esna lock. I was pretty excited about going through the Esna lock (not sure why), but it turned out to be pretty uneventful (and late and dark) when we finally passed through it.
Wednesday was one of my favorite days, sailing down the Nile (still on the Nile Dolphin) and stopping off twice to tour the Temples of Edfu and Kom Ombo – the temple to the crocodile! Cruising down the Nile was awesome and totally beautiful! Both of these stops were quite interesting, too. The Temple of Edfu is located in a very traditional town, so that was interesting, as well as touring the well-preserved temple. The Temple of Kom Ombo, on the other hand, is right on the bank of the Nile and you can even see mummified crocodiles (for a few extra dollars!). As usual, Ashrf gave us a tour of both temples.
The Nile Dolphin docked in Aswan on Thursday morning for our final full day on the river boat, and Aswan is gorgeous!! Like Mediterranean gorgeous! Ashrf, once again, took us on a tour of the Aswan High Dam, the Philae Temple, the Unfinished Obelisk, and a visit to the Aswan souks!
Friday, our final day on the Nile Dolphin, was actually a day trip to the Sudan border to visit the Twin Temples of Abu Simbel before flying to Cairo from Aswan in the evening. We left the Nile Dolphin (with all of our stuff!) around 4:30 AM (!!) and made the three-hour drive with Ashrf to Abu Simbel. After returning in the afternoon (via another three-hour drive, we had lunch at the famous Old Cataract Hotel before flying to Cairo in the evening.
In Cairo, we spent our first day, Saturday, touring the Mosque of Muhammad Ali (on our own) and going on a food tour with Bellies-En-Route through downtown Cairo. The Mosque was beautiful and the food tour was super interesting, and tasty! Both are recommended to visitors in my opinion.
Our last full day in Cairo, Sunday, was spent touring the Great Pyramids of Giza, the Egyptian Museum, and Khan el-Khalili Bazar, again on a tour with Emo Tours (but Asharf was not our guide!). The Great Pyramids were as amazing as you would expect, yet completely exhausting! The Egyptian museum was very cool, especially the King Tut room and the mummy exhibition. The Bazar was a super fun surprise, and Dan even got to go to a shisha bar!
Of the entire trip, our top two favorite sties were the Pyramids of Giza and Abu Simbel, even though it was very out-of-the-way. Aswan was my third favorite. It was so gorgeous and reminded me a lot of a Greek Island – very unexpected!! I am going to write more detailed posts on our Nile River cruise, as well as some of the other things that we did. We felt like we hit a lot of the big sites, but there are a few things that we saved (i.e. missed!) for our next trip!
DID WE FEEL SAFE IN EGYPT?
This is the main question we have been asked since we’ve been back. And the answer is a definite YES. We felt safe during our entire trip to Egypt and actually, never once felt in danger. We used tour companies for almost everything, felt completely comfortable, and would not hesitate to visit again under the current circumstances. That being said, you should always monitor current events prior to booking a vacation and before departure, check whether your government has any travel warnings to Egypt (or a particular part of Egypt – it’s a big country!). When we visited, the travel warning for Egypt was the same as that for Paris, France…
I would note that travel to a Middle Eastern country from a Western one can be somewhat shocking to Westerners, especially if you are not familiar with Middle Eastern, Arabic, and/or Islamic culture. Egypt is hectic, hot, and very, very different from many Western countries. Locals speak Arabic and many dress differently than Westerners. We were not shocked at all (we knew what to expect), but it can be quite an adjustment for people not expecting such a difference. I would just keep this in mind in visiting Egypt – different does not equal dangerous! We found Egyptians super friendly, helpful, welcoming, many English-speaking, and happy to have Western visitors.
As a fair warning to first-time Egypt visitors, almost all tourist places require visitors to go through an airport style metal detector and cars entering hotels and tourist attractions are checked with mirrors or dogs for bombs. Trunks are also required to be opened. This is standard procedure for everyone’s safety. Do not let this alarm you; it does not mean that you are in danger, nor does it mean that something has happened. It’s legitimately a regular thing.
Finally, in terms of food safety, we ate pretty much everything, including street food on our food tour and we were totally fine. We did stick to bottled water, though.
WHAT TO WEAR IN EGYPT
Ah, what to wear in Egypt! I agonized over this a lot and ended up packing wayyy too much! As you probably know if you have researched travel to Egypt at all, Egypt is a pretty conservative country and many Egyptians dress conservatively, mostly consisting of long bottoms and long sleeve tops. As a tourist, you will not be held to these strict standards; however, you will be much more comfortable if you are dressed somewhat conservatively to avoid stares. You definitely do not need to be covered head to toe or cover your head, but covered knees and shoulders are a good rule.
When we visited, in Luxor and Cairo it was less than 90 degrees, so I wore loose-fitting cotton pants and a short sleeve loose top or a long dress with cap sleeves every day. This was fine, and I felt completely comfortable. In Aswan, the temperature was close to 100 degrees F, so I wore a loose-fitting short sleeve dress that just came to my knees. I felt a little strange wearing this but, since we were only at tourist places and it was so hot, my outfit was completely fine and I did not feel uncomfortable. That being said, I would probably only recommend wearing such an outfit in very hot weather in tourist locations. On our Nile River Cruise, however, cruisers can wear whatever they want. Shorts, bathing suits, and tank tops are all fair game.
For shoes, I wore Jack Rogers sandals everyday except when visiting the Great Pyramids of Giza, where I wore closed toed tennis shoes (my Supergas). The Jack Rogers worked fine for everything but the Pyramids, but my feet did take quite a beating! Closed toed athletic shoes are probably the best, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it… Dan wore just-above-the-knee length shorts and a polo most days, opting for long khakis and a polo in the evening if the weather was cool. He wore Rainbow flip-flops or Toms everyday for shoes. Guys have it a bit easier.
WHAT WE MISSED AND WILL VISIT ON OUR NEXT TRIP!
On a 10 day trip to Egypt, we, of course, had to pick and choose where to go and what to do, being forced to leave a few sites and places off our final itinerary. Side note – we generally prioritize spending ample time in fewer places rather than racing around to “see” as may places and things as possible. This trip, we missed the following, which will be at the top of my wish list next time:
- Hurghada, a city on the Red Sea for swimming and relaxation
- Saqquara pyramid, a step pyramid outside of Cairo
- Alexandria (on the Mediterranean) and its surrounding vineyards
- Siwa Oasis (oasis 500 km west of Cairo)
- AND, the Grand Egyptian Museum that’s supposed to open in the next few years in Giza!!
PRACTICALITIES FOR VISITING EGYPT
Language: Egyptian Arabic is the official language, but many people, and almost everyone in the tourist industry, speaks English (though some with a heavy accent). Many menus and signs are in both English and Arabic. We also saw many tours in Chinese, French, German, and Spanish.
Electricity: Egypt uses 220v voltage and the standard European outlet plug. Some Western hotels and cruise ships with have both 220v and 110v outlets (ours did).
Money: Egypt’s official currency is the Egyptian Pound. Many vendors will also accept USD, British Pounds, and Euros. ATMs are easy to find in tourist areas and dispense Egyptian Pounds only. Touristy places will accept Visa and Mastercard, and sometimes only one of those. Credit machines are known to “break” frequently (but never the ATMs), so I would not guarantee being able to use a credit card. Read: vendors would prefer to be paid in cash money.
Alcohol: Despite this popular belief, Egypt is not a dry country. I would characterize alcohol as being much more accessible than I thought, but less accessible than I prefer on a vacation. Cairo is home to a few alcohol shops, and almost all tourist hotels serve alcohol (at least wine and beer). Some restaurants also serve alcohol, and its much more likely if the restaurants mostly caters to tourists. Cities, especially Cairo, are also home to some bars and night clubs. The drinking age is 21. If you are flying from abroad, visitors have 48 hours from arriving in Egypt (i.e., you do not need to visit duty-free immediately upon arrival) to visit one of Egypt’s “duty-free” shops and purchase up to three bottles of alcohol per person (wine or spirits) for consumption in Egypt. We visited the duty free shop at the Luxor airport (after changing planes & clearing customs in Cairo) and purchased a bottle of Stoli Blueberry vodka and three bottles of French wine. Duty Free shops also exist apart from the airport in Cairo and Luxor – just visit within 48 hours of your initial landing. Visitors can also bring up to two liters of alcohol into the country from abroad. Note – you need your passport to purchase the alcohol.
Alcohol at Airports and on EgyptAir: Like Egypt, its airports are not dry, which is good news for nervous flyers. Even the smallest airports and terminals will likely have a small stand selling at least the local Stella and Sakura beer, and often Heineken and wine. You can buy beer and wine and drink it in the terminal. If you are flying EgyptAir, EgyptAir is a “dry airline.” However, they have an unwritten rule that if you bring your own booze, you can drink it. On our way over from the US, we bought mini-bottles in our 311 bag. We asked our flight attendant if we could drink the alcohol and she said yes – done. On our way home, we tried to again bring mini bottles aboard (the same ones from the US that we did not drink on the way over), but security took them, citing that we could not bring them aboard since they were not purchased in Egypt (no tax sticker). In any case, the Cairo airport sells alcohol at duty-free – both full bottles of wine and mini bottles of liquor – and you can purchase at the airport and have delivered to the gate. We purchased two bottles of screw top wine (Egyptian Obelisk wine, not the best) and again asked the attendant if we could drink it on the plane. The attendant again said yes, so we drank the wine on the plane. I would note that if you are planning to BYOB, note that wine openers are often taken at security, so ensure the wine is screw off if buying at duty free. In the US, we could only find one bottle of wine in duty free that was screw off, so you are probably better off brining mini-bottles in your 311 on departing your home country.
Internet: Internet access completely depends on where you are. Both our Hilton hotels had fast internet. Our river cruise barely had any and it was super expensive.
TIPS AND TRICKS FOR VISITING EGYPT
- Carry toilet paper or tissues with you in your purse. These are in scarce supply.
- Carry anti-bacterial. Soap is also in scarce supply.
- Bring sunscreen and aloe vera from your home country. Even our Hilton hotels did not sell it. And wear it!
- For airports in Egypt, bring a print out of your flight confirmation or ticket. Security will request to see it to permit entry into the airport. I am serious about this – they almost didn’t let us into the airport in Cairo because we did not have a print out and the internet, surprise, did not work!
- Use a tour guide whenever possible, preferably booked in advance. Most sites have very little print information, especially in English, including even the Egyptian Museum, and you will get much more from the various sights if you bring a guide. If not, bring a guide-book at least. Some “guides” will probably be on stand by outside the museum, but prices and knowledgable are negotiable…
- If you are a picky eater, bring snacks from home, although Western food (of varying quality) can be found pretty easily.
- Carry a portable cell phone charger. You’re going to take a lot of pictures!
STEAL OUR TRIP
Hilton Luxor Resort & Spa: El-Karnak El-Gadid, Luxor, Luxor Governorate, Egypt. Reservations should be made online in advance.
The Lantern Room: Sharia Al Rawda Al Sharifa. Open Tuesday – Sunday, 17h – 22h30. Popular with ex-pats and tourists, but run by locals, I recommend a reservation. Alcohol served on premises. I made a reservation via Facebook.
Al Shabay Lane Restaurant: El Sahabi Street، Luxor City, Luxor, Luxor Governorate, Egypt (in the Nefertiti Hotel). Open daily 11 – 23h. Super casual, no alcohol served. Shisha is served on the rooftop.
Emo Tours: The tour companby that we used for almost everything. There is often a 10% discount code on the website.
Nile Dolphin River Cruise: Our Nile River cruise ship, which we booked through Emo Tours.
Bellies en Route Food Tour: Our food tour company! Book online in advance – tours sell out.
Grand Egyptian Museum: Wiki link to the new museum in Giza – I cannot wait to visit!