Visiting Egypt for the first time? Here are 14 travel tips to help you during your visit.
1. Book accommodation with transportation
At least for your first night until you get a sim card. After picking up your bags and exiting the airport, you will be greeted by many taxi drivers offering to take you to your hotel. But many hotels and even Airbnbs will include pick-up. Arrange it with your accommodation in advance and avoid the hassle of haggling over a price or getting scammed while jet-lagged.
2. Get a local sim card
They’re relatively cheap and useful when using uber. Remember to bring your passport with you to the shop as you’ll need it to purchase the sim card. There are data plans with GB for general use, or plans specifically for unlimited use on social media apps only. Sim cards are available at the Cairo airport, but you’ll get a better deal if you go to a shop in the city instead.
Taking Uber saves you the hassle of haggling with taxi drivers. It’s easy to use and if you don’t speak Arabic, you’ll still be able to get where you need to go. Even our local Cairo friend opted to take Uber rather than the taxis because he said the prices are fairer.
4. Download WhatsApp
Both of the tours we went on used this app to communicate with us to coordinate pick up times. We also made friends with some local Egyptians and they use WhatsApp to keep in touch.
5. Download the Otlob app
You may not need this app depending on your style of travel, but it’s useful if you want to order delivery food. You can order in English and choose pay on delivery. Some restaurants may have the option to pay by credit/debit card, but we found that the payment didn’t always go through. It was easier to pay the delivery driver in cash when they brought the food.
6. Take a tour
It’s definitely possible to plan your own itinerary, transportation, lodging, and activities around Egypt. Transportation is probably the most challenging to figure out. But tour prices are reasonable and they will do all the planning and arrangement for you. The price may end up being very close to what it would cost for you to plan it yourself and the tours will have guides to enhance and educate your visits to historical sites. We booked a week-long tour through Tourradar.
7. Carry small bills for tipping
If you use Uber, you don’t have to tip the driver. But going to the restroom? Tip the person handing out toilet paper/paper towels around 1-3L.E. Tip the policeman that helps you cross the road or watches your car 1-5L.E. Tip the shoe attendant at the outside of mosques when you pick up your shoes 1-3L.E. Tour guide tips are around 50-100 L.E. and drivers around 25-50L.E. It depends on how long the tour is (half-day, full-day).
Restaurants often add a service charge and taxes to the bill, so you could pay about 25% more than the listed price after it’s all added up.
Tips can add up throughout the day, but remember that the exchange rate is currently (as of November 2018) about 18L.E. to $1 USD.
If you go to a supermarket like Carrefour the prices will be set. But be prepared to haggle when shopping at all of the street markets and tourist shops. Even if you’re just planning to browse, you may end up feeling pressured to make a purchase as the shopkeepers and vendors are well-versed in the art of selling.
9. Carry tissues/toilet paper
Some toilets won’t have an attendant, which means you don’t have to tip them… but they may not have any toilet paper. So bring a travel-size packet of tissues with you, or a small roll of toilet paper.
10. Bring hand sanitizer
Money everywhere is covered in germs, and you’ll be handling it more often with all the tips. Some foods are eaten by hand and you’ll want to sanitize your hands before eating! The sit-down/table service restaurants we visited usually had sinks outside of the restrooms for everyone to wash their hands before eating. Make use of them, but also bring your hand sanitizer for use before eating fast food or street food.
11. Water/food safety
Not even the locals drink the tap water so be prepared to drink bottled water. You may want to avoid ice in your drinks as well. Avoid salads, fruits, and vegetables that need to be washed before eating unless you are sure that they were washed well.
We didn’t have any trouble using the tap water to brush our teeth, but use your best judgement.
12. Dress appropriately
Wearing shorts and short sleeves were acceptable in tourist areas. But if you want to blend in more with the locals, wear long sleeves and long pants. For ladies, it’s a good idea to carry a scarf to cover up as well. Some mosques may require you to cover your head, but not all did.
When visiting mosques, wear shoes that you can slip on and off. You’ll have to remove your shoes before entering. Use your left hand to carry your shoes. There may be shoe covers being sold outside the mosques that you can use instead of taking off your shoes.
13. Mosques/prayer times
Egypt is predominantly a Muslim country so don’t be alarmed by the loudspeakers announcing the call to prayer. You’ll hear the call to prayer 5 times a day – with the first sign of light, when the sun is directly overhead, when your shadow is the same size as you, when the sun sets, and at the last light of day.
14. Learn some Arabic
It’s always useful to learn some phrases in the local language. The word we used the most was “shukraan” which means “thank you” and earned many smiles in return. We also learned “laa” which means “no”, and “aafwan” which means “you’re welcome.”
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Jenny & Bradley of EatWanderExplore