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Egypt is synonymous with Pharaohs, pyramids, temples and antiquities. Through this ancient and arid land flows the Nile, a mighty river which has shaped civilizations for centuries. Egypt lays claim to being the oldest tourist destination on earth. Greek and Roman travellers arrived as far back as 430 BC to marvel at some of the very sights that make it a beloved tourist destination today. The magnificence of the painted Valley of the Kings, exquisite temples, and the pyramids were all sought-after objects of admiration in these long-gone days, and many were already 2,500 years old.
With desert landscapes, rugged mountains that reach to the sea, dusty cities full of exotic sounds and smells, and green strips of agricultural land snaking along the banks of the Nile, Egypt has something to offer travellers from all walks of life. There is spectacular diving in the Red Sea resorts. Unique desert experiences await, whether on the back of a camel to Mount Sinai or on a jeep safari to the inner oases. The colour and chaos of Cairo is prevalent in its markets and bazaars such as Khan al Khalili. In stark contrast are the tranquil felucca cruises on the Nile River. Egypt promises an unforgettable experience of history and relaxation - a mixture of discovery and pleasure.
Visitors have come for years from far and wide to experience Egypt's world-famous attractions for themselves.
Cairo, the capital, houses the market place Khan el-Khalili, the Egyptian Museum, and the necropolis at the City of the Dead. Just outside stand the iconic pyramids of Giza, and the Sphinx. To the north sits the port city of Alexandria. Founded by Alexander the Great, the city is home to the Pharaohs Lighthouse, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. The city is at the estuary of the Nile. One of the best ways to experience Egypt is a boat cruise down this mighty river.
On the banks of the river lies Luxor. Built on the ancient site of Thebes, Luxor is home to the Valley of Kings and the tombs of Tutankhamun and Ramses II. Further south Lake Nasser offers peace and quiet, and visitors can take a multi-day cruise from Aswan to Abu Simbel, the site of the great temple of Ramses II.
The Red Sea is world-renowned for its scuba diving. Holidaymakers flock to resorts such as Hurghada for the warm waters and abundance of ocean life. In stark contrast are the plains of the Sahara. Egypt plays host to a corner of this arid landscape, featuring the rocks of the White Desert, and the palms and olive trees of the Siwa Oasis. If you've ever dreamt of being an explorer, the ancient world awaits.
Buzzing with enthusiastic buying and selling, Khan al-Khalili is one of the largest markets in the world. Situated within Islamic Cairo, the World Heritage Site attracts travellers and locals alike. On the northern corner of the bazaar is the Mosque of Sayyidna al-Hussein, one of the holiest Islamic sites in Egypt. The market is the best place to soak up the colour of Cairo and to people-watch and the streets themselves are charming with arches, carvings and mosaics. You will get many amazing photo opportunities wandering the labyrinthine little streets, just be sure not to get lost!
Traders have been bargaining in these alleys since the 14th century and it is possible to buy almost anything, from exotic perfume bottles to everyday Arabic clothing. There is, of course, a lot of junk as well but treasures and great bargains can be found. Be prepared to barter as the prices originally stated will always be much too high and the merchants expect you to negotiate. Although some of the traders are delightful others can get pushy and rude. Unfortunately, women travelling alone will almost certainly have to put up with a certain amount of harassment. No matter how many times you visit this vibrant market you will always find something new and enchanting, just keep a careful eye on your wallet.
With over 100,000 artefacts in 107 halls, the Egyptian Museum provides days of exploration. Inside are treasures from ancient Egypt, including priceless finery taken from ancient royal tombs, and one of the museum's masterpieces, the statue of Khafre (Chephren). The most popular attraction is the Tutankhamun Gallery where exquisite treasures from the tomb of the iconic Boy King are displayed, including the famous solid gold death mask. Another top attraction is the Royal Mummy Room containing mummies of some of the most powerful Pharaohs in Egypt dating from the 18th to 20th dynasties (there is an additional cost for this room). The museum also contains collections of artefacts including coins, papyrus scrolls, scarabs and sarcophagi. There is a cafeteria, bank, post office, gift shop and library at the museum and taped audio guides are available in English, French and Arabic. Visitors should be aware that photography is not allowed.
Although a trip to Egypt would feel incomplete without a visit to this incredible museum, its location on Tahrir Square means that foreigners must be cautious visiting during periods of unrest. If there are demonstrations on the square it is best to avoid the area.
The pyramids are the earth's oldest tourist attraction and the Great Pyramid of Khufu (also referred to as the Great Pyramid of Cheops) is the only remainder of the seven ancient wonders of the world. Throughout history the pyramids have fired human imagination, with much speculation as to their origin and purpose. The most compelling theory is that they were built by the ancient Egyptian civilisation as tombs or great monuments in which to bury their kings and nobles; a place to start their mystic journey to the afterlife.
The oldest and largest pyramid, the Great Pyramid, is thought to have taken 20 years to build and is made of about two million blocks of limestone. No one knows how the two-ton blocks were moved into place, but it was known to be the tallest man-made structure in the world for over 40 centuries. The Great Sphinx, known as the Abu al-Hol (Father of Terror), stands in front of the Great Pyramid and is thought to be older than the pyramids themselves.
Tours of the pyramids are conducted by many tour operators in Giza. Access to the interior of the pyramids is restricted, and at least one is closed for renovations at any given period. While climbing the pyramids was once a popular activity, the practise has now been banned. The best time to visit the Pyramids of Giza is early in the morning, before the tour buses descend on them. While unofficial 'tour guides' lurk around the site to demand tips, better-informed guides can be booked in advance from Giza. It is often best to ask your hotel's advice on guides.
Once known as the Roman stronghold of Babylon, Coptic Cairo is the oldest part of the city and the heart of the Coptic Christian community. Home to 5 original churches alongside Egypts first mosque and oldest synagogue, these ancient walls house three of the major religions of the modern world in one special area. It is a peaceful place to wander around and a respite from the busy city centre.
Churches of interest are the Al-Muallaqa (Hanging Church), the oldest Christian place of worship in the city, and St Sergius where the Holy Family reputedly sheltered during their flight to Egypt. You can take the metro into Coptic Cairo from Tahrir Square. It is useful to have a guide when exploring the area as there is so much history to discover and so much to see. However, visitors who chose to explore alone will feel the power and age of the place and should still be able to find all the major attractions.
The main place of worship in Theban times, and built over a period of 1,300 years, the massive Temple of Karnak in Luxor is an incredibly impressive structure. It was known as Ipet-isut, the most select of places, to the ancient Egyptians and it is one of the largest religious buildings ever erected. One of the world's great architectural achievements, the Hypostyle Hall, is filled with immense stone pillars still bearing the engraved and painted inscriptions from the 12th Dynasty, and covers an area of 64,583 square feet (6,000 sq metres). The complex also contains the Avenue of the Sphinxes, the Sacred Lake, and many huge statues, halls, ornate wall murals, obelisks and colonnades.
One of the lesser known attractions of this vast temple complex is the small Temple of Ptah, hidden on the northeastern boundary. It is very special because the room is intact - giving a realistic sense of what the dark temple interior would have felt like in ancient times - and a statue of Sekhmet remains in place, lit up by natural light. The Temple of Karnak can be a bit overwhelming without a guide, or at least a good guide book, so be sure to either hire someone or do your research to fully appreciate the wonders of the place.
The West Bank is an area of limestone hills and valleys riddled with tombs and temples across the river from Luxor. Goats roam freely among the ruins, and the tiny settlements on the slopes provide a splash of colour in an otherwise desert-like barrenness. The 59 foot (18m) high pair of enthroned statues of the Colossi of Memnon are the first things most visitors will see on the West Bank. These are the only remaining structures of the mortuary temple of Amenophis III.
Most travellers come to visit the Valley of the Kings, where the secretive tombs of the Pharaohs were built to immortalise their mummies and treasures for eternity. In an attempt to thwart tomb robbers, traps and deceptions were part of the architectural planning. Dramatic descents, spectacular murals on the passage and chamber walls and a replica of the original sarcophagus at the end of the tunnel create an awe-inspiring atmosphere. There are a number of areas and tombs to explore and highlights include the tombs of Tutankhamun and Ramses II. However, the country's finest tomb, the Tomb of Nefertari, lies in the Valley of the Queens, which has exceptional painted murals. Nefertari's tomb is open to the public after a restoration project. However, only small groups are admitted at a time, and each visitor must pay 1000 Egyptian Pounds (about $56). Also worth a visit is Hatshepsut's Temple, the mortuary temple of Egypt's only female Pharaoh.
The Nubia Museum in Aswan is an excellent introduction to the history and culture of the Nubians. It contains a collection of artefacts from Nubia (the region approximately between Aswan and Khartoum in Sudan) and an exhibition of Nubian culture and crafts. It also portrays the history and people of the Nile Valley from ancient times until the present, and has a hall full of impressive statues and tombstones from the region.
One of the most interesting exhibits is that covering the project of UNESCO to move monuments like Abu Simbel, endangered by the High Dam on Lake Nasser, to higher ground. Visitors can get an idea of what the area looked like before the floods and how much effort was put into preserving this endangered ancient culture. At the Nubia Museum you can see weaponry, pottery, jewellery, statues and the ever-popular mummies. The exhibits are well organised and laid out and have good English labels. The museum is well air-conditioned, making it a popular retreat from the heat of the day. It is also open until late, providing a good option for an evening of culture.
The two temples of Abu Simbel - the Temple of Ramses II and the Temple of Hathor (the Sun God), dedicated to his wife Nefertari - were cut out of the sandstone cliffs more than 3,000 years ago. Not only are these ancient temples among the most magnificent in the world, but their removal and reconstruction are recorded as an impressive engineering feat. The temples were relocated, very successfully, during the construction of the High Dam on Lake Nasser in the 1960s. The monuments were threatened with submersion, and after an appeal by UNESCO, in co-operation with the Egyptian Government, they were dismantled and reassembled exactly as before, about 197 feet (60m) higher up.
The intimidating sight that first greets the visitor at Abu Simbel is that of the four colossal statues guarding the entrance to the Grand Hall of the Temple of Ramses. The interior is highly decorated with relief paintings and is supported by eight statues of Ramses acting as giant pillars. Leading off the hall are painted sanctuaries and chambers. The Temple of Hathor is smaller and simpler, also with statues guarding the entrance and a manifestation of the Sun God portrayed above. It is aligned in such a way that the sun's rays reach inside to illuminate the statues of Amun-Re, Ramses II, and Re-Horakhty twice a year. The statue of Ptah, a god of the underworld, remains in shadow. The temples are considered to be the grandest and most spectacular monuments built during the reign of Ramses II.
The only round, or domed, church left in Cairo, the Greek Church of St George features a long set of steps that lead up to the church, where visitors will find a relief of St George and the dragon wrapped around the outer brickwork of the tower. The original church dated back to the 10th century, or earlier, but this ancient structure largely burned down and the current church replaced it in 1904. For centuries, the church alternated between Coptic and Greek ownership, but since the 15th century it has remained Greek Orthodox, and the adjoining monastery of St George is now the seat of the Greek patriarch. Despite this, the Moulid of Mari Girgis, a large Coptic festival celebrating St George, is celebrated at the church each April.
The St George Church is most famous for its beautiful wedding hall ( ), which dates back to the 14th century. St George was a warrior saint imprisoned and martyred near the church, which is built on an ancient Roman tower. Sadly, this wonderful building is often not included in tours of Coptic Cairo but it is well worth the visit and very easy to find. The church and monastery are visible from Mari Girgis Station.
The Hanging Church in Cairo derives its name from its location on top of the southern tower gate of the old Babylon fortress, with its nave suspended over a passage. It is the most famous Coptic church in Cairo with the earliest mention of the church being a statement in the biography of the patriarch Joseph, who lived in the mid-19th century. It went on to become known to travellers as the 'staircase church' during the 14th and 15th centuries, because of the twenty-nine steps that lead to the entrance.
The visual impact of the church's elevated position has been reduced due to the rise of land surface by around 20 feet (six metres) since the Roman period, not to mention the rise of tall buildings around it, but it is still an impressive and beautiful church. The Roman tower upon which it is built remains mostly buried below ground. It is calm and peaceful inside and visitors are not pestered here as they may be at many other Cairo attractions. Among the highlights of the church are the intricate carvings and mosaics which decorate the walls, windows and doors.
The Egyptians were the first people to develop the art technology to manufacture glass and cut it into beautiful shapes. This ancient civilisation started making crystals 5,000 years ago. Asfour Crystal was established in 1961 and the Asfour Crystal Factory Showroom is one of the largest and most respected crystal factories in Egypt and provides crystals to many countries across the globe. They are said to be the world's single largest employer of skilled crystal workers. Products range from jewellery to 3D laser gifts, figurines and a selection of chandeliers and other light fittings. The jewellery is not quite of the same standard as Swarovski crystal but some lovely pieces can be picked up at the factory at prices up to 60 percent cheaper than what you'll find at retail shops, and there are some beautiful, creative pieces on show. Asfour Crystal is most famous for their crystal chandeliers and there is a vast array to choose from. The hundreds of shining lights and glittering crystals in the showroom make it a magical space, worth seeing even if you don't purchase anything. There is also a small display detailing the manufacturing process, and helpful and knowledgeable sales staff available to help. A tax certificate is given with all purchases.
The Saladin Citadel is a massive stone fortress, set in a beautiful tropical location, built by Salah ad-Din in the 12th century. Visitors have the freedom to roam the castle, which remains in pristine condition, and which boasts incredible views of Cairo. If you are lucky enough to visit on a clear day you will be able to see all the way to the pyramids. The execution room is particularly interesting but just wandering around this ancient citadel is fascinating. The Mohammed Ali Mosque (also called the Alabaster Mosque) crowns the citadel and this magnificent place of worship is the highlight of the fortress. It was built between 1824 and 1857 and modelled on the famous Blue Mosque in Istanbul. There are two other mosques within the Citadel: the 13th-century Mosque of al-Nasir Muhammad, and the 16th-century Mosque of Suleyman Pasha. As always, women visiting the mosques must wear loose clothing and be prepared to cover up (there are scarves available at the entrance for this purpose if you do not bring your own). The Al-Gawhara Palace, National Military Museum and Police Museum can also be found inside the Citadel.
Discovered in 1882 during excavations, the giant statue of Pharaoh Ramses II was cut into six pieces in the 1950s and moved to Ramses Square in central Cairo where it stood for a further 50 years. In 2006 the statue moved to a new, temporary museum a few miles outside of Cairo, as there were growing concerns that heavy pollution was damaging the 3,200-year-old statue, which weighs 83 ton and stands 36 feet (11 metres) high. The moving of the massive statue was a technological challenge and has been covered in a documentary by National Geographic.
Ramses II, who ruled Egypt for more than 60 years during the 19th dynasty of pharaohs, was one of ancient Egypt's most prolific builders and there are a number of statues of him remaining in Egypt. However, none are as impressive as the colossus. All in all, the statue is beautifully preserved although one side is discernibly less perfect as it was exposed to the elements for centuries before its re-discovery in 1882. The expression on his face is serene and quite enthralling.
The famous statue was moved for the final time in January 2018. It now takes pride of place in the entrance hall of the Grand Egyptian Museum. This 650,000-square-foot museum is currently under construction and will have capacity for up to 100,000 artefacts upon completion in 2020.
This living museum is a fabulous attraction for the whole family to enjoy. Visitors sail down a network of canals in motorized barges where a cast of actors and actresses work to recreate ancient Egypt. All the characters from pharaohs and fishermen to slaves and potters are represented and even moments in history are recreated. Apart from the faithful reproductions of ancient Egyptian buildings, clothing and lifestyles, there is a complete replica of the tomb of Tutankhamen and a number of museums and interactive exhibits covering different periods of Egypt's history.
Exhibits and activities change regularly making it a different experience every time you visit, but favourites include the mummification exhibit and the Cleopatra exhibit. There is a small amusement park, a restaurant, shops and an art centre, as well as boat hiring facilities. The experience is fun and educational and will take a family at least a few hours to fully appreciate so be sure to allow sufficient time.
This indoor amusement park spans two floors and features a handful of big rides, more than 100 games, and even a Baby Zone section for very young visitors. Kids can enjoy rides such as the Moon Buggy or Falling Star, and family rides like the Comet Coaster and Demolition Derby. They can spend hours ensconced in games and fun activities, or even let off some steam in the Soft Play Room. This is a fantastic attraction for the whole family, and a great way to beat the Egyptian heat for a while, or take a break from historical sightseeing. The focus of the amusement park is on children aged between two and 12 but there is fun to be had for all age groups.
Upon entry you will get a Magic Galaxy Card which is prepaid for use of games and rides and can be recharged with fresh funds whenever needed. The cards also accumulate points from certain games and you can pick prizes according to how well you have done. If you happen to go on your birthday you'll get a whole bunch of nifty discounts.
A trip to Dream Park is a must for children of all ages and makes a great day out for the whole family. Featuring rides, shops, fun activities and simulators, the 160-acre Dream Park is also encircled by a train, making access easy. Visitors can enjoy a number of stomach-turning adventure rides, or a selection of mellow family rides, as well as two theatres and one of the largest concert areas in Cairo. Numerous restaurants provide refuelling stops, and there is a selection of gift shops for souvenirs. The Dream Park claims to be the largest and most unique amusement park in the Middle East and can host up to 30,000 visitors. It was designed by the same people who designed Universal Studios.
With the small exception of its strip of Mediterranean coastline, the whole of Egypt has an arid desert climate. The weather is constantly hot and dry and there are only two seasons. Summer brings blistering heat between May and October. Winter is mild and warm, and stretches from November to April. As is typical of desert climates, it tends to get cold at night in Egypt, whatever the season, so visitors should be sure to bring something warmer for the evenings. Egypt has a low annual rainfall and the majority of rain falls in the coastal region. It hardly ever rains during the summer months. A phenomenon of Egypt's climate is the hot wind that blows across the country, known internationally as the sirocco and to Egyptians as the khamsin. These desert sandstorms usually arrive in April but occasionally occur in March and May. They can continue for days and cause temperatures to rise dramatically, as well as cause damage to crops and buildings.
The best time to travel to Egypt is during the mid-winter, between December and February, when temperatures range comfortably from 68°F to 79°F (20 to 26°C). If travellers are keen to visit in summer, the best city to spend time in is Alexandria, as it has cooler summer temperatures then the rest of the country.
Delicious food and an inviting, cosy atmosphere have made this Italian restaurant one of Cairo's favourite eateries. Soft lighting and tasteful décor create the perfect atmosphere to dine on such dishes as creamy onion soup, veal cordon bleu stuffed with mushrooms and topped with cheese and tomatoes, or thick-crust pizzas loaded with delectable toppings. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Reservations essential.
With authentic ingredients flown in from Bangkok and a highly skilled Thai woman at the helm, it's no wonder the food at Bua Khao keeps guests coming back for more. Renowned for serving the best Thai food in Egypt, the and curries are to-die-for and the (chicken and coconut milk soup) is a great way to start things off. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Reservations advisable.
Towering 41 floors above the city in the Grand Nile Tower Hotel, diners can enjoy truly panoramic views of Cairo as the scenery circles by. Besides taking in the Nile, the city and the pyramids, an open kitchen in the centre of the restaurant puts on a show serving up an eclectic range of multi-national menu choices. A slightly formal setting is perfect for romantic evenings and a reprieve from the congestion 41 floors below. Reservations are advised.
Gone are the days of travelling to Alexandria for good fresh fish. Nowadays, those looking for decent sea fare can book a table at the Fish Market, situated on the upper deck of a boat permanently moored on the west bank of the Nile. With no menu and just a display of some of the freshest seafood Cairo has to offer, diners pay by weight and choose their own fish, shrimp, calamari, crabs and shellfish, which the kitchen will prepare beautifully. Couple that with a slew of Middle Eastern salads and deliciously home-baked bread and diners have a recipe for success! Open daily for lunch and dinner. Reservations advisable.
Overlooking Maydan Sphinx and complete with exquisite woodwork detailing, the lavish dining area in Kandahar features authentic Indian furnishings. The food tastes as good as the restaurant looks. The (creamy smoked eggplant baked in a clay oven and perfect for dipping fluffy Naan bread in) is an absolute must and (spiced chicken kebabs marinated in yoghurt) is a firm favourite. Service is excellent. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Reservations advisable.
Consistently ranked as one of the most popular restaurants in Cairo, Koshary Abou Tarek serves up a uniquely Egyptian dish, koshary (sometimes spelled koshari), best described as an Egyptian-style chilli, in large portions for prices even the most budget-conscious travellers will love. As ubiquitous in Egypt as curry is in India, Koshary is available at nearly any street vendor in Cairo, but Abou Tarek's koshary is among the best in the city.
The unit of currency is the Egyptian Pound (EGP), which is divided into 100 piastres. All major credit cards are accepted in midrange and high-end establishments. Banks are usually closed on Friday and Saturday, but money can officially be changed at foreign exchange bureaux (forex) and some hotels. Cairo branches of the Egyptian American Bank and Banque Misr have ATMs available that accept Visa, MasterCard and Cirrus and are quite common in the main tourist areas.
Arabic is the official language although English and French are widely spoken, especially in the tourist areas.
Electrical current is 220 volts, 50Hz. European-style two-pin plugs are standard.
US nationals: US citizens must have a passport valid for six months beyond the period of intended stay in Egypt. A visa is required, except for tourists arriving at Sharm El Sheik (SSH), Saint Catherine (SKV) or Taba (TCP) airports, and staying in the Sinai resort area only for up to 15 days. Visas can be obtained on arrival, for a maximum stay of 30 days. E-visas can be obtained online at www.visa2egypt.gov.eg
UK nationals: British citizens must have a passport valid for six months beyond the period of intended stay in Egypt. A visa is required, except for tourists arriving at Sharm El Sheik (SSH), Saint Catherine (SKV), or Taba (TCP) airports, and staying in the Sinai resort area for up to 15 days. Visas can be obtained on arrival, for a maximum stay of 30 days. E-visas can be obtained before departure at www.visa2egypt.gov.eg
CA nationals: Canadian citizens must have a passport valid for six months beyond the period of intended stay in Egypt. A visa is required, except for tourists arriving at Sharm El Sheik (SSH), Saint Catherine (SKV), or Taba (TCP) airports, and staying in the Sinai resort area for up to 15 days. Visas can be obtained on arrival, for a maximum stay of 30 days. E-visas can be obtained before departure at www.visa2egypt.gov.eg
AU nationals: Australian citizens must have a passport valid for six months beyond the period of intended stay in Egypt. A visa is required, except for tourists arriving at Sharm El Sheik (SSH), Saint Catherine (SKV), or Taba (TCP) airports, and staying in the Sinai resort area for up to 15 days. Visas can be obtained on arrival, for a maximum stay of 30 days. E-visas can be obtained before departure at www.visa2egypt.gov.eg
ZA nationals: South African citizens must have a passport valid for six months beyond the period of intended stay in Egypt. A visa is required.
IR nationals: Irish citizens must have a passport valid for six months beyond the period of intended stay in Egypt. A visa is required, except for tourists arriving at Sharm El Sheik (SSH), Saint Catherine (SKV), or Taba (TCP) airports, and staying in the Sinai resort area for up to 15 days. Visas can be obtained on arrival, for a maximum stay of 30 days.
NZ nationals: New Zealand citizens must have a passport valid for six months beyond the period of intended stay in Egypt. A visa is required, except for tourists arriving at Sharm El Sheik (SSH), Saint Catherine (SKV), or Taba (TCP) airports, and staying in the Sinai resort area for up to 15 days. Visas can be obtained on arrival, for a maximum stay of 30 days.
A yellow fever vaccination certificate is required to enter Egypt, if travellers are arriving from or transiting through infected areas. Persons without a valid yellow fever certificate, if one is required, will be subject to quarantine. The wives and children of Egyptian men and the children of Egyptian women born after 25 July 2004 are exempt from visa requirements upon presentation of a birth certificate, passport or National ID Card of the relative. It is highly recommended that travellers' passports have at least six months' validity remaining after the intended date of departure from their travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.
A yellow fever vaccination certificate is required for entry into Egypt from travellers over nine months of age coming from infected areas. No other vaccinations are required but vaccinations are commonly recommended for hepatitis A, hepatitis B and typhoid. Travellers to Egypt should come prepared to beat the heat with a high factor sunblock and drink plenty of water to combat dehydration. Tap water in the main cities and towns is normally chlorinated but it is still advisable to drink only bottled water or tap water that has been boiled or filtered. Visitors should only eat thoroughly cooked food and fruits they have peeled themselves to prevent travellers' diarrhoea. The waters of the Nile are contaminated and should not be consumed.
Medical treatment can be expensive and standards vary (private and university hospitals are excellent; others are patchier) so comprehensive travel health insurance is strongly advised, including evacuation insurance. Medical facilities are generally adequate for routine ailments in the big cities and main tourist areas but outside of the main centres medical facilities can be very basic in Egypt.
Tipping is known as 'baksheesh' and some small change is expected for most services, though small change can be hard to come by. 'Baksheesh' can be a useful practice in order to gain entry to seemingly inaccessible places, or for extra services - a small tip can open doors, literally. A service charge is added to most restaurant and hotel bills but a tip of about 10 percent is normally given directly to the waiter. Taxi drivers are tipped about five percent.
The US Department of State and the British Foreign Office advise caution when travelling to Egypt, as there is a high threat from terrorism. All travel is advised against in North Sinai. All but essential travel is advised against in South Sinai, however the area within the Sharm el Sheikh perimeter barrier (including the airport, Sharm el Maya, Hadaba, Naama Bay, Sharks Bay, and Nabq) is protected by enhanced security measures and has experienced little violence. The resort areas in Hurghada have similar measures in place, although isolated incidents in non-tourist areas have been reported. Other areas under travel advisories include the border with Libya and swathes of Egypt's western desert (west of Cairo and the Nile Valley). Travellers should stay up to date on travel warnings and advisories.
Terrorist attacks have been ongoing, with several bombings taking place in Cairo and other regions in the last few years. Attacks against tourists have been reported.
Demonstrations are common near foreign embassies and around Tahrir Square in Cairo, and in other cities, including Alexandria. There have been incidents of foreigners, including British Nationals, being targeted and attacked during protests. There have also been reports of sexual assaults on women during demonstrations. Tourists are advised to avoid all street protests and gatherings and not to attempt to cross roadblocks.
Visitors to markets and major tourist sites will experience a fair amount of hassle from touts and are advised not to carry more money on them than needed, as petty crime is a concern. Women should be extra cautious when travelling alone as incidents of harassment and sexual assault are not uncommon. Women should be particularly alert when visiting spas and doing other tourist related activities, and should be careful to dress conservatively. Racism towards black and Asian people is prevalent and considered acceptable. Egypt also has a poor train safety record with several fatal accidents each year.
Egypt is a conservative society and visitors should respect local customs and sensitivities. Homosexuality is solemnly frowned upon and homosexual acts are illegal. Public displays of affection are frowned upon. Religious customs should be recognised, particularly during the month of Ramadan when eating, drinking and smoking during daylight hours is forbidden by Islam. During Ramadan travellers should be discreet in public places or choose to partake in the custom themselves. Travellers to Egypt should dress modestly (women's clothes should cover the legs and upper arms). Photography of military institutions is prohibited and the Suez Canal counts as a military institution. Egyptians can be sensitive about any photography of infrastructure and it is best to ask for permission if in any doubt.
Egyptians are friendly and approachable at work, and personal relationships are very important when conducting business. Business is usually conducted formally in Egypt. However, meetings may not take place in private and it is normal for them to be interrupted with other matters. Punctuality is important for visitors doing business, though foreigners shouldn't be surprised if their contact is late or postpones the meeting. It's important to remain patient. Dress should be formal and conservative; suits and ties are standard and women should dress modestly. Women may encounter some sexism in the business world. Most Egyptians are Muslim, so business people should be mindful of Islamic customs. English is widely spoken and understood, although attempting to speak some basic Arabic will be highly appreciated. The normal working week runs from Sunday to Thursday. Business hours vary, but in the private sector they are usually 9am to 5pm and in the public sector, 8am to 3pm. It's wise to avoid scheduling business trips during the month of Ramadan as working hours are minimised during the holiday period and many key players will not be available.
The international access code for Egypt is +20. Most hotels, cafes and restaurants around major tourist centred areas provide free wifi access. International calls made from hotels have high surcharges; travellers can cut costs by purchasing local SIM cards.
Travellers over 18 arriving in Egypt do not have to pay customs duty on 200 cigarettes or 25 cigars or 200g tobacco; one litre of alcoholic beverages; and perfume for personal use. The import and export of local currency is limited to EGP 5,000. Banned items include firearms, cotton and drugs.
Egyptian Tourist Authority: egypt.travel/
Egyptian Embassy, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 966 6342.
Egyptian Embassy, London, United Kingdom: +44 (0)20 7499 3304.
Egyptian Embassy, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 234 4931.
Egyptian Embassy, Canberra, Australia (also responsible for New Zealand): +61 (0)2 6273 4437.
Egyptian Embassy, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 (0)12 343 1590.
Egyptian Embassy, Dublin, Ireland: +353 (0)1 660 6566.
United States Embassy, Cairo: +20 (0)2 2797 3300.
British Embassy, Cairo: +20 (0)2 2791 6000.
Canadian Embassy, Cairo: +20 (0)2 2461 2200.
Australian Embassy, Cairo: +20 (0)2 2770 6600.
South African Embassy, Cairo: +20 (0)2 2535 3000.
Irish Embassy, Cairo: +20 (0)2 2728 7100.
New Zealand Embassy, Cairo: +20 (0)2 2461 6000.
From Cairo it is possible to experience Egypt's finest journey on offer, the Great Desert Circuit. It runs for over 621 miles (1,000km) through spectacular desert landscapes and is punctuated by four oases situated in a depression: Bahariya, Farafra, Dakhla and Kharga. The first two have hot springs and palm groves, Farafra being the more traditional and rural of the two.
To experience the remoteness of the desert travellers can spend an unforgettable night in the White Desert between oases. Dakhla and Kharga are surrounded by old ruins and villages from the times of the ancient caravan routes to Sudan. The Great Desert Circuit is a fascinating journey and really allows travellers to grasp the enormity of the Egyptian desert and appreciate the history of exploration in the region. The roads are in good condition, with hardly any traffic on them, and the whole circuit can be done in anything between 16 hours and a week (you can linger as you please). Some of the oasis towns are lovely places to spend a night before setting off on your road trip again.
Memphis and Saqqara are small towns today, but in ancient Egypt they were great cities and seats of power, a legacy still traceable in the ruins and relics in each. Memphis is home to the Temple of Ptah, which includes the Colossus of Ramses II, a 33-foot (10m) statue near the entrance, and a small museum. Memphis was once the capital of Egypt and you can still tell how impressive it once was.
Less than two miles (3km) away is the plateau of Saqqara. Here visitors will find the vast Saqqara Necropolis, containing many cemeteries, pyramids, mastabas and private tombs, including the Mastaba of Ti, the Pyramid of Teti I, and the Unas Causeway and Pyramid of Unas. One of the most famous structures in Saqqara is the Step Pyramid of Djoser, also known as the Step Tomb due to its rectangular base. Saqqara is also home to the Imhotep Museum.
Memphis and Saqqara together make a popular excursion from Cairo. There isn't much in the way of entertainment, dining, or accommodation at these sites, however, so most visitors don't overnight.
One of the most worthwhile things to see and do in the Cairo area is take an excursion to Dahshur, a royal necropolis in the desert, where the oldest true pyramid, the Red Pyramid, can be found. Some of the burial sites and pyramids date back to the Old Kingdom of the 4th dynasty and the Red Pyramid and the Bent Pyramid were built by Sneferu in about 2600 BC. The Bent Pyramid is so-called because the angle of its sides is not quite straight, probably the result of an ancient engineering mistake. The Red Pyramid, made out of red limestone, was built after the Bent Pyramid and is thought to have been the first true, straight-sided pyramid in Egypt. The famous Pyramids of Giza were modelled on this design. You can usually climb into the Red Pyramid and descend down a tunnelled ramp into its three interior chambers which is a rare privilege. There are other tombs of interest scattered around the area and you can't walk far without stumbling on some wondrous ancient ruin.
Dahshur is about 20 miles (32km) from Cairo and makes for a fascinating excursion from the city. The drive takes under an hour and follows a scenic route which passes through date orchards. Dahshur is far less crowded than most other big tourist attractions and visitors experience far less of the hassle from locals and touts that they do at Giza. At this site you can still get the thrill of an explorer discovering something mysterious and ancient.
However, the empty nature of this famous archaeological site is partly due to occasional sectarian violence in the nearby town of Dahshur, so travellers are advised to check out travel alerts to gauge how safe it is before they visit.
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