A Guide to Staying Safe and Having Fun in Egypt
By: Tiffany Soukup
IMG has compensated the author for providing this article.
Prior to 2011, Egypt was a very popular tourist destination. Several negative events occurred between 2011-2013 that caused a significant decline in tourism to the country. The effects are still felt years later.
However, in 2017, the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) stated that Egypt was one of the fastest growing tourist destinations. This is reason to celebrate and start packing. Egypt is dotted with UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Wonders of the World, and many other amazing destinations.
Many people say they are hesitant to travel to Egypt; they’re unsure if it’s safe. I recently spent a week traveling Egypt by train, plane, bus, felucca (boat), taxi, and camel without any problems. Given this was a shorter and more expensive trip, I wanted peace of mind that any unforeseen circumstances that could disrupt our trip would be covered. I chose IMG’s iTravelInsured SE. For the vacation package I purchased, it was a mandatory requirement that we purchased $200,000 coverage for emergency medical evacuation. This IMG plan went above that by offering $500,000, making me feel confident in my selection. It covered emergency sickness or injury, travel delay, and trip interruption, along with other benefits.
Here is how to stay safe and have fun while visiting Egypt:
Egypt has pharmacies almost everywhere, and visitors can pick up a wide variety of medications. For general travel to Egypt, most travelers do not need to take any further precautions other than packing a small first aid kit.
A few more things to be aware of:
- Wash your hands whenever the opportunity presents itself—it’s one of the easiest ways to stay healthy while traveling
- If you take prescription drugs, keep them in labeled containers and bring a written copy of the doctor’s prescription. Egypt has different classifications on how it views certain drugs and very strict drug laws (i.e. don’t take Codeine into the country). If you have any concerns about prescribed medications, contact the Egyptian embassy nearest to you
- Sun and heat are one of the biggest health and safety concerns for visitors; always wear sunscreen and a hat, and drink plenty of water
- Consider enjoying a cafe during the heat of the day and venture out again after the intensity of the afternoon sun has decreased
- It’s common for bathrooms to not have toilet paper or soap, so pack a stash of toilet paper and hand sanitizer to carry with you
Note: Across Egypt, even at the nice hotels, the plumbing is not at the same standards as the U.S. Toilet paper should always be thrown in the waste basket and not the toilet.
Crossing the road:
Crossing the road will most likely be the most dangerous thing you do in Egypt. If you have never traveled in a chaotic country before, dealing with traffic like this can be very intimidating. There is a bit of a method to the chaos, but it can still be overwhelming. In most of Egypt and especially the big cities, there is a lot of traffic. It rarely stops, and crosswalks are nonexistent.
Here are some tips on how to cross the road:
- Try to spot a local or someone else who is already planning to cross and stand next to them to follow their lead as they start moving out into traffic (pay close attention!)
- Take time to observe how the locals cross the street—they aren’t in a rush, everyone moves at a slow and methodical pace, which allows everyone to calculate their next move
- Think of it as getting across one lane of traffic at a time, not the whole street at once
- Keep calm and be decisive
- If you are with a group, your tour leader should help you cross the street
- Many times, you will need to walk down the side of the road instead of on sidewalks—these are for parked cars and shops
What to expect for safety procedures:
Egypt wants visitors to both feel and stay safe. The government has been working hard to make that happen.
Expect to see tourist police and regular police stationed throughout the cities and at checkpoints. Police will be stationed outside churches, hotels and roaming about the city. The government wants to assure that if visitors need assistance, there will be someone close by to help them.
Security screenings are common. Prior to entering places like the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, you will be asked to place your bag or purse through a security screening machine. You will proceed and walk through a metal detector. Every place I visited was safe to put your camera above the screening and a guard passed it back through. Screenings like these are becoming common place all over the world, now.
Bargaining is common practice in Egypt. If you aren’t accustomed to bargaining, the process can feel frustrating and confusing. Remember, the goal is to pay a fair price. The transaction should be a smooth process and leave both sides feeling happy.
Here are a few general guidelines for safe and fun bargaining:
- Only begin the bargaining process if you’re interested in the product
- Never accept the first price—in most instances, locals are aware that you’re a tourist and will mark the price up by 50 percent
- Offer around half of whatever the asking price is
- Ask people at your hotel or a guide what a decent price is to pay for a specific product. Vendors want to make a sale and, in some instances, are desperate for the transaction. Researching a ballpark figure of what you should pay will greatly help you with your bargaining
- Try to carry small bills and make a point of breaking up large bills where it seems appropriate, otherwise sellers may attempt to take advantage, and you may find yourself paying more than necessary
- Many smaller restaurants and shops do not take credit cards; plan ahead to make sure you have two separate ways of withdrawing cash for your travels
Many people I spoke with prior to traveling around Egypt were quite intrigued and concerned with how conservative Egypt would be as a country. Most of the population is Muslim with a small percent consisting of Christians and a few other denominations. I observed travelers, both male and female, wearing clothes similar to the clothes they wear back home. Female travelers of all ages would wear shorts and t-shirts. My observation was that Egyptians have their own culture and dress, but they don’t expect or push it onto travelers.
- Wear what you feel comfortable in, keeping in mind you may prefer to not stand out as much
- In most instances, if someone says hello to you, say hello back. Egypt has had such a decline in tourism, that most people are so sincerely happy you are there to visit their country
- If someone says hello to you and you think they want to sell you something, simply say “No thank you” and keep walking—do not engage and do not make eye contact
- You will get asked a lot to buy things and to take taxis—just say “no, thank you” and move on
- Hugging among strangers or upon meeting new people is unusual, and not recommended
Tipping is a huge part of the Egyptian culture. People rely heavily on tips and they are expected from everyone, not just tourists.
Here are some guidelines for common interactions:
- Restaurants: 10-20% of the bill
- Bathrooms: 2-5 Egyptian pounds is the expected tip
- Hotel staff: if the hotel does not have a tip box, you can leave an envelope with the front desk and tell them it’s for the entire hotel staff
- Tour driver or leader: hand them a tip at the end of the service
- Taxi: usually it is ok to simply pay the agreed upon price
Note: if you are visiting a site and suddenly someone is extra helpful, starts following you around, pointing things out, and offering to take your picture, they will expect a tip. If you do not want to tip that person, don’t accept any of their services, simply say no thank you and do not engage any further. Nothing is free in Egypt. However, if someone offers to show you something extra, and they must get a key to unlock something for you, it would be appropriate to give that person a small tip. It can be a delicate balance, so remember the rule of thumb is both sides should feel good about the interaction.
Where to go:
I traveled around Egypt partly with my husband and then partly with a group. I met people traveling both independently and with groups. In all interactions I had with people, I did not meet anyone who had any problems. Highlights of our trip included:
- Cairo: make sure you wander around the Khan el-Khalili Market, see the Great Pyramids and Sphinx and check out the Cairo Egyptian Museum
- Aswan: learn about local Nubian culture. This is a great place to jump on a boat and sail the Nile. Try to visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Abu Simbel if you can
Tip: booking the overnight train from Cairo to Aswan for a two-person, private sleeper car with a hand sink is a comfortable option
- Luxor: this is the place to visit the Valley of the Kings with tombs of pharaohs ranging from Thutmose to Ramesses
Social responsibility and eco-considerations:
As much as Egypt is working to propel itself forward, you will undoubtedly see trash and other social problems. Try to be mindful of your daily actions and how they can make a positive impact.
- Bring a few reusable bags; plastic pollution is a huge issue in Egypt; try to refuse all plastic bags
- Don’t buy products from children—in many instances, the money may go to another person instead of the child. If you are interested in helping the local community, donate to a local charity instead
- If you are traveling with a group and making purchases along a row of shops, spread out the spending to allow multiple small shop owners to make a profit
Note: Regarding camel rides particularly at the Great Pyramids: Relationships between tourists and locals can be tense and aggressive. A common scam that local camel owners will attempt is to agree on a low price for your camel ride, and then refuse to let you off the camel unless you pay a higher price. We had an excellent guide who knew the camel owners, negotiated a price of 300 EGP/17 USD per person for the ride, and we did not have any issues. We also were assured that our camels were being fed and that everyone was receiving compensation for their time. Due to lack of humane standards and treatment of the animals, we were strongly advised to not ride horses at The Great Pyramids or Petra.
Finally, have fun! Egypt has some of the most well-known and impressive sights in the world. Prior to traveling there, I had many questions of what it would really be like to be a traveler in Egypt. After traveling all around the country without any problems and feeling welcomed, I would not hesitate to go back to Egypt. This country is filled with culture, history, interesting food, and iconic destinations.
Egypt is a dynamic and intriguing place. Upon digging my toes into the sand, learning about its history and culture, and meeting so many down to earth people I would absolutely recommend traveling to Egypt. If you have the means and enjoy travelling to a foreign country with a different culture, this is a place full of people waiting to welcome you.
For over a decade, Tiffany Soukup has traveled to more than 35 countries with her husband Chris, hiking into remote jungles, looking for endangered wildlife and seeking adventures.
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