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Egypt guide

Overview

Home to one of the oldest and certainly most important civilisations known to man and strategically situated on the important trade route between Africa and the Middle East, Egypt’s vibrant and unique history has been attracting foreigners for centuries with the result that today, the ancient sites of Egypt are among the most interesting and certainly most visited sites in the entire world. Egypt’s Pharaohs and dynasties gave birth to a culture unlike anywhere else in the world and the occupations that followed the demise of ancient Egypt, be it Alexander the Great, the Romans, Byzantium, Muslim Dynasties and the Ottoman Empire, have all left their mark on the country.

Tourism in Egypt is no new discovery as the incredible landscape and important archaeological sites have been attracting travellers for millennia. Then as today, people came to marvel at the Pyramids and nearby Sphinx, visit the Tombs of ancient Luxor and to explore the banks of the Nile from Dendera to Abu Simbel. Surrounded by history, these monuments to a once great civilisation, perhaps the greatest civilisation can still capture the imagination of travellers today.

However, Egypt is no longer just about monuments, ancient Pharaohs and history. These days, travellers come from all over the world to experience the warm blue waters of the Red Sea. The golden sandy beaches and colourful marine life found all along the coast provide some of the best snorkelling and diving in the World. Away from the coastal resorts and cities, the desert Oases of Siwa (where Alexander the Great visited the fabled Temple of the Oracle), Baharya and Farafra have produced fertile green islands which lie surrounded by incredible scenery unlike any other desert.

On top of this, bustling, modern day Cairo is home to medieval bazaars, lively nightlife and fantastic restaurants. With enough culture, life, history and adventure to rival anywhere in the world, it’s easy to see why Egypt remains the perfect tourist destination.

Brief history

Archaeological evidence suggests that over 250,000 years ago roaming hunter-gatherers inhabited Egypt, which at the time was rolling grassland. During the Palaeolithic period, around 25,000 BC, climatic changes turned Egypt into a desert. During this period a shift to primitive forms of cultivation occurred as communities began to settle in Middle Egypt and the Nile Delta. Soon these farmers were growing wheat, flax and weaving linen fabrics, as well as tending flocks. Gradually the primitive settlements became small tribal kingdoms, which eventually evolved into two loosely aligned kingdoms - one in the Nile valley (worshiping the god Horus) and the other in the Nile Delta (worshiping the god Seth). The two kingdoms vied for control over all the lands of Egypt, and in 3100 BC unification of Egypt, under the command of Menes, marked the beginning of the dynastic period of the Pharaohs. Read more...

Highlights

  • Islamic Cairo - Souqs, Mosques and Medieval Architecture
  • Gisa - Great Pyramids, and the Sphinx
  • Alexandria - Catacombs, Fort Qaitby and Roman Amphitheatre
  • Luxor - temples of Karnak and Luxor, and the Valley of the Kings
  • Aswan - Abu Simbel, and great Aswan Dam, Temple of Philae
  • Nile Valley - Temple of Edfu, Temple of Kom Ombo
  • Hurghada - Red Sea, and St Anthony's & St Paul's Monasteries
  • Dahab - Red Sea, Blue Hole, and Mount Sinai
  • The Deserts - Bahariya, Dakhla, Farafra, and Siwa Oases
  • Natural Sites - Wadi Rayan and the Valley of the Whales, Mount Sinai, White desert rock formations, and the tranquil beaches and coral reefs of the Red Sea

When to go

Egypt can be visited all year round, and decisions about when to go are best based on whether you like hot weather, and if you want to avoid the very busiest periods.

The sites in Egypt are busy all year round, but will be most crowded over the Christmas/New Year and Easter holidays, in February, and in October. The quietest, or least busy, months are May and June.

The best time to visit weather wise is generally spring (Feb-April) and autumn (September-November), as it will be very warm but not uncomfortably hot. The summer months of May to early September can reach well over 40°C, particularly in the southern regions around Aswan and Luxor. During these months we adjust our daily itineraries slightly to start earlier in the morning and have longer lunch breaks so we avoid the extreme heat in the middle of the day.

The winter months of December and January will still be pleasantly warm and there will be hardly any rain, but you will need some warmer clothes for the evenings. The skies will be overcast some of the time, particularly in the northern half of the country around Cairo and Alexandria.

Geography

The River Nile literally remains the lifeblood of Egypt encouraging crops and farming, delivering food and fresh water and these days, even generating electricity through damming.

Geographically the river also acts as a natural border between the east and west of the country. In Egypt, the Nile pours in from the south at Lake Nasser and runs north all the way up to the Nile Delta.

It’s impossible to truly convey the importance of the River Nile in the development of ancient Egypt with towns and cities developing all along its fertile banks.

Moving west of the Nile, the Libyan Desert is a large plateau dotted with huge and improbable rock formations, deep sandy deserts and fertile oasis. East of the Nile leads to an even more barren plateau, slowly rising into a ridge of mountains in the far east of the country.

The Sinai Peninsula begins to straddle the Middle East, turning Egypt from Africa into Asia. The peninsular itself rises from the coastal plains in the north to the peaks of Sinai and Catherine (2,642m) in the south.

Weather & climate

There is never a shortage of sunshine in Egypt with the country averaging 11 hours a day during the summer and 8 hours a day in the winter. From April to October the average temperature ranges from 21-28C (70-83F) while between November and March this drops to 13-20C (55-67F). This does vary more along the Mediterranean coast which while still warm, is more prone to periods of cloud and rain in the wintertime. During the spring months the coast and the Nile Delta regions brace themselves for the strong Khamsin desert winds. Generally, the winters in Egypt are warm enough to allow pleasant and comfortable travelling all year long.

Light, airy clothes are perfect for the daytime when the temperatures are usually high. By contrast, the evening temperatures can plummet once the sun goes down so always have some thicker, warmer clothes on hand.

Click for Cairo, Egypt Forecast
Cairo
Jan
Feb
Mar
Apr
May
Jun
Jul
Aug
Sep
Oct
Nov
Dec
Rain (mm)
4
4
3
1
2
1
0
0
1
1
3
7
Sun (hrs)
7
8
9
10
10
12
12
11
10
9
8
7
Temp (Max)
19
21
24
28
32
35
35
35
33
30
26
21
Temp (Min)
9
9
12
14
18
20
22
22
20
18
14
10
Days of Rain*
1
1
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
1
Hum (%)
43
39
33
28
25
27
31
35
37
36
42
46
Click for Luxor, Egypt Forecast
Luxor
Jan
Feb
Mar
Apr
May
Jun
Jul
Aug
Sep
Oct
Nov
Dec
Rain (mm)
1
1
1
1
1
0
0
1
1
1
1
0
Sun (hrs)
10
11
10
11
11
12
12
11
11
11
10
10
Temp (Max)
23
25
29
35
39
41
41
41
39
35
30
25
Temp (Min)
6
7
11
16
20
23
23
24
22
18
12
7
Days of Rain*
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
Hum (%)
38
32
23
18
15
15
17
17
21
28
32
39
* denotes number of days with at least 1.0 mm of rainfall

Money

Egyptian Pound (E£)

1 E£ = 100 Piastres
1 US$ = 6.0 E£ (June 2012)
1 UK£ = 9.3 E£ (June 2012)

Common coins

  • 2 Piastres
  • 10 Piastres
  • 20 Piastres
  • 25 Piastres

Common notes

  • 5 Piastres
  • 10 Piastres
  • 1 E£
  • 5 E£
  • 10 E£
  • 20 E£
  • 50 E£
  • 100 E£

NB: Throughout Egypt, there is often a shortage of small change - this is useful for tipping so do try to hold on to this when you can.

When it comes to changing money, this can be done at any bank, exchange office and even most hotels. Banks tend to open Sunday through Thursday from 8-8.30am until 2pm with some banks in Cairo and other main cities opening again in the evening from 5-6pm for 2 to 3 hours. Most foreign exchange offices remain open all day long. If you prefer to use traveller’s cheques then the main brand cheques (Thomas Cook, American Express, etc.) are widely accepted but may draw a small service charge for each cheque cashed. ATM’s are now widely available throughout Egypt and accept all major credit and debit cards – always check with your bank for international withdrawal rates. Credit cards too are now widely accepted in most hotels and shops with Visa and MasterCard among the most popular. It’s also possible to receive cash advances from banks and exchange kiosks against your debit or credit card. It’s worth remembering that no currency black market exists in Egypt.

Holidays

Fixed Public Holidays

New Years Day-1st January
Coptic Christmas-7th January
Sinai Liberation Day-25th April
Labour Day-1st May
Revolution Day-23rd July
Evacuation Day-15 th August
National Day-6th October
Suez Victory Day-24th October
Victory Day-23rd December

Variable Muslim & Christian Holidays (2013 dates)*

Good Friday-29th March
Easter Sunday-31st March
Milad un Nabi (The Prophet's Birthday)-24th January
Ramadan-9th July - 8th August
Eid Al-Fitr (Feast at the end of Ramadan)-8th August
Eid Al-Adha (Feast of the Sacrifice)-15th - 18th October
Al-Hijra (Muhammads Fight for Mecca)-4th November

*These religious festivals have no fixed dates and vary each year.
For exact dates of holidays and festivals for the coming year please click here.

Religions

The vast majority of Egyptians (94%) are Sunni Muslims with the remaining 6% made up by Coptic Christians and other faiths.

Vaccinations

We do always recommend that you seek professional medical advice when considering holiday vaccinations but the ones that are normally recommend for travel to Egypt are listed below:

  • Diphtheria
  • Hepatitis A
  • Tetanus
  • Typhoid
  • Polio
  • Yellow (A Yellow Fever vaccination certificate is required when arriving from an affected area)

For direct, up-to-date information on vaccination requirements for Egypt please click here

Customs

  • Egypt is an Islamic country and therefore it is vital for all people to dress conservatively, particularly women. This is most important when entering mosques (shorts are not allowed), churches, synagogues and bazaars. If you would like to find out more information on specific dress codes in the Muslim world then please view our Muslim country clothing guide.
  • The conservative nature of the country extends to Egyptian women and they should never be touched without their consent. It’s regarded as inappropriate to display public shows of intimacy and with the obvious exception of the beach, it’s important to dress conservatively wherever possible.
  • When it comes to communal eating and social interaction, remember to always use your right hand. As with a lot of the Arab world, the left hand is for toilet duties. If you are lucky enough to be invited into a local’s house to eat, you must remove your shoes before entering and make sure to wash your hands before eating.
  • Alcohol is widely available throughout the country but it’s worth remembering that this is still considered forbidden by many Muslims and as a result you should always act with discretion and refrain from drinking in public.
  • Tipping, or more locally, baksheesh, is standard practice in Egypt and often helps subsidise extremely low wages. It’s important to understand that tipping is an appreciation for services rendered, and how well this service is delivered so if you are not happy with the service then don’t tip. 1LE (Egyptian pound) is more than enough for hotel staff, porters and helpful site guards. In restaurants, tips should be around 5-10% of the meal. The TourEgypt website has a particularly useful page on tipping with general information and suggested amounts.
  • Haggling – there is no escape from this fundamental aspect of Egyptian life and with plenty of tourists visiting the country, locals have learnt to inflate prices dramatically so if you don’t want to be caught out then learning to haggle is essential. It’s important to remain friendly and always barter with a smile for the best results. Street sellers are common, particularly in tourist areas but exercise caution here as what they are trying to sell you may not always be what you think it is.
  • Always be considerate when taking photographs - it’s simply polite manners to ask somebody’s permission before taking pictures of them. Naturally, it’s against the law to photograph anything of a military nature such as bridges, railway stations, airports and other public works. Signs are usually posted in obvious places but if not, always err on the side of caution. Due to their sensitive nature, flash photography is banned from most of the tombs and it really should be avoided inside temples or around any light-sensitive paintings or artwork.

Security

When travelling to any foreign country, we would always advise you to check with your local consular advice in order to obtain the most up to date security information prior to travelling. Generally, Egypt remains a calm and trouble free country to travel in at this present time. However, tensions can rise quickly and dramatically due to the volatile nature of the Middle East situation. In the past, there have been terrorist attacks on some tourist sites in Egypt but these have resulted in much improved security precautions and presence. The Egyptian authorities of course understand the importance of tourism in the country and they have made clear their intent to prevent any further incidents. Armed guards and metal detectors are present at most hotels with undercover police working at all major tourist sites. It’s possible that police escorts may accompany you on some journeys in particular areas. Please support and assist the police as they are there for your benefit.

Know before you go

In association with the ‘Know Before You Go’ Campaign, we are working with the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) to do all that we can to help British travellers stay safe overseas. Before you go overseas, check out the FCO website at www.gov.uk/knowbeforeyougo. It is packed with essential travel advice and tips, and up-to-date country information.

FCO know before you go logo

Visas

The vast majority of travellers to Egypt can usually obtain their visas on arrival into the country. This includes British, most European, north American and Australasian passport holders. The cost of the visa for UK travellers is US$15 per person (around £10) which must be paid in hard currency, ie UK£, US$, Euros, or in Egyptian pounds (LE). If you are in any doubt as to whether this includes you then either contact your local consulate or simply arrange your visa in advance. All African nationals are required to obtain visas in advance.

Once issued, the visa is valid for a stay up to 3 months and you may request single, or multiple entry visas. It’s not possible to give exact visa costs for all nationalities as this does vary.

How to get there

By Air

There are several international airports in Egypt, the main ones being Cairo, Luxor, Hurghada, Sharm-el-Sheikh. The vast majority of scheduled flights are in and out of Cairo, with a wide range of European and international airlines flying every day. Other flights to Luxor, and to Hurghada and Sharm-el-Sheikh are mainly with charter flight operators and low cost airlines.
We start and finish nearly all our Egyptian tours in Cairo, though you can choose to start in Cairo and finish elsewhere if you wish, using a flight with a stop-over in Cairo on the way home.

Flying from the UK

If you are flying from the UK, then the only direct flights to Cairo are from London Heathrow, with either British Airways, Egypt Air or BMI. The flight takes around 5 hours. British Airways leave London around 5pm, arriving just before or after midnight, and return from Cairo at around 08.00am, requiring an early departure from your hotel (Note - schedule changes were applied after the 2011 revolution). Egypt Air and BMI code-share, and their times are much better with one morning and one afternoon flight to choose from each day. Fares range from around UK£270 to UK£350 if you book well in advance, but do increase significantly during busy periods. You will normally find a slightly cheaper price if you choose an indirect flight with a European airline such as KLM, Air France, Lufthansa, Swiss Air, Austrian Airways or Al Italia. In general, the earlier you book the better, as flights tend to get more expensive the closer to departure you leave it. Flying from regional airports such as Manchester, Newcastle or Glasgow will require a stop-over in London or Europe and normally is a little more expensive than flying from London.

Where to book

We hold an ATOL, and you are welcome to book your flights with us. Please discuss your ideal dates and departure airport with our sales staff, and we will send you a selection of airlines, flight times, and prices. You can then choose whether to book your flights through us, or to make your own arrangements. If you book your own flights, we will still include both your arrival and departure airport transfers. 

By Sea

Several Mediterranean cruise boat routes take in Alexandria as one of their stops. We are happy to pick you up from here, either just for a day trip to see the pyramids and Egyptian Museum in Cairo (around 3 hours drive away), or to start a longer tour. There are also some Red Sea cruises which stop in Hurghada and Sharm-el-Sheikh. Again we can arrange collection from these ports if required. If you are travelling into Egypt from Jordan, then there are two ferry options that you can use from Aqaba to either Taba or Nuweiba in the Sinai peninsular.

By Land

We sometimes use an overland crossing from Jordan into Egypt (or vice versa) for tours that combine the two countries.
This journey leaves from Aqaba on the tip of the Red Sea, and passes through Eilat in Israel, before entering Taba in Egypt. We have representatives in each location to assist you with this crossing, and will advise you on issues regarding Israeli visa stamps at the time of booking.

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Egypt flag

Factfile

Time: GMT+2
Dial code: 00 20
Area: 1,001,450 sq km
Elevation: Lowest point: Qattara Depression -133m Highest point: Mount Sinai 2,629m
Population: 81,714,000 (2008)
Capital: Cairo
Government: Republic
Language: Arabic (official), English and French widely understood by educated classes

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Customer feedback

"Fantastic country, wonderful food, exceptional diving, beautiful weather - truly a holiday of a lifetime. From the easy to navigate website to the excellent customer service and helpful, friendly tour reps, the trip was well organised from start to finish. The tour guide (Ahmed) was outstanding and made the Egyptian history fun and informative. The whole trip - WOW!"

Claire Birdine (Egypt Experience)

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Egypt Uncovered, Head office: Leigh House, Varley Steet, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS28 6AN

Phone: +44 (0) 845 130 48 49 Fax: +44 (0) 845 130 48 84

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