Our trip to Egypt might have been the very best trip I’ve ever taken. We went with Lindblad/National Geographic, and the trip was led by two Egyptologists who gave us history and context for what we saw. This was so helpful!
In addition, our practical needs were handled. If you haven’t traveled in a developing country it’s easy to underestimate how different the systems and customs are and how important it is to have a local guide who can help you adapt.
But on top of that, we got good advice. We were told what to expect and how to pack. It was helpful. But now that I’ve been there, there were a few things that weren’t revealed in advance. Like the issue of toilet paper. Read on for Egypt travel tips!
Sunhat, sunscreen, sun umbrella
Remember that Egypt is probably closer to the Equator than you live, and you can really get burned. I wore a broad-brimmed, Tilley-type hat every day, plus more sunscreen than I’ve ever used in my life. I take a med that makes me sunburn easily, so this was a MUST and worked well.
Many places are not shaded so expect to be in full sun most of each day. I brought along a pretty but unwieldy parasol and wish I’d used a small, portable umbrella for shade, instead.
Nothing is accessible — you must be mobile and fit
I didn’t see a single wheelchair in Egypt. There are ramps but they weren’t meant for chairs–they were so steep a chair would flip over. They’re meant for walking and not easy walking, either.
If you can’t walk up and down a half a dozen flights of stairs without pausing, you’re going to have a problem. If you can’t walk five miles without thinking about it, you’re not going to have fun. This is no joke.
Most of the tombs require you to traverse long flights of stairs, some higher than others –not standard height at all. Or those steep ramps. And walking a couple miles on uneven surfaces in an outing, sometimes at a pretty rapid pace, is not unusual when sightseeing in these ancient places.
M and I did three months of gym training–walking, cycling and elliptical work. It helped so much.
Expect uneven footing: wear good walking shoes and bring a hiking stick
There’s so much uneven footing that even if you’re fit, a hiking stick is helpful to those of us no longer young. Not much is paved. Most places you’re walking are fraught with peril: pebbles, rocks, uneven footing. It’s easy to twist an ankle. I used my Leki hiking pole every single day. I bought both my hiking poles but really only needed one. It’s the only reason I didn’t hurt myself.
Oh, and don’t wear sandals: sturdy walking shoes are a must. And no pretty little shoes–the dirt and dust and sand are legendary.
Watch your step because of the steps
OSHA would have a field day in Egypt. Stairs are almost invisible–big, little, you don’t always see them coming. And then there is pavement that looks like a step but isn’t. I was always calling out to my travel companions “steps ahead” or “watch out for that little unexpected step.” Despite the many distractions just begging me to look up all the time (pyramids, Sphinx, temples), I looked down as I walked. That’s the only reason I didn’t injure myself.
Little pools and big decorative pools of water flush with the ground dot the property of the spectacular famous Mena House in Cairo, which is situated just outside the pyramids. We stayed there and at night I was always afraid I’d mistake a pool for the sidewalk and break a leg. I’m certain it’s been done. The safety precautions we take as the norm in the US do not exist in Egypt.
And about handrails? I saw them maybe 50 percent of the time, and usually rough-hewn. Those of a certain age, like us? Have to be super-careful.
It’s BYO TP.
Call it bathroom tissue, toilet paper or TP–no matter what you call it, you’re probably not going to find it in most public restrooms. So bring your own supply.This is something we weren’t told in advance. A friend brings portable baby wipes.
Also bring bathroom money
That’s because most public restrooms have an attendant and you are expected to pay that attendant 1 Egyptian dollar (about 17 cents) each time you use the restroom. So before your first outing, be sure to have a whole bunch of Egyptian dollar bills at the ready.
In return, the attendant might hand you a single square of toilet paper (yes, one thin square) before you go in the cubicle, or on your way out she might hand you two squares with which to DRY YOUR HANDS. Have you ever dried your hands with toilet tissue? It’s everything you might imagine it to be. Still, they do expect that tip.
My tip to you: I had some Egyptian money left–not much, maybe a few bucks American. I gave it all to the female bathroom attendant at the airport the day we left.
Hand sanitizer is a must
You might find soap in public restrooms–half the time. The other half of the time the dispenser will be empty. Or not even there.
Also, Egypt is a developing country and sanitation isn’t to our standards. So make good use of your hand sanitizer. I usually had a small bottle in my purse or pocket and I’d refill it back at the hotel from a little bigger bottle I’d packed in my suitcase.
If you aren’t convinced this is necessary, consider that one small, thin square of TP people are given and then consider that soap might or might not be available. I rest my case.
Brush your teeth with bottled water
Do not brush your teeth with tap water. Our bodies are not used to the “bugs” in their water so drinking it or even using it to brush your teeth is risky. But turning the tap on to brush is such an automatic action–so we learned on our trip to India a few years ago to throw a washcloth over the faucet so we had to consciously remove it to use the tap. Just be conscious.
About safety and going with a group
I never felt unsafe in Egypt. But that might have been because we traveled with a ton of security: a police car in front and in back of our bus (cops with machine guns) and an armed tourist policeman aboard our bus. Sometimes, they used sirens. I felt like the President. Only not.
Still, for some reason it didn’t give me pause. Tourism is important to Egypt and Lindblad made sure we were safe. And besides, we can’t let our fears keep us from doing what we want to do. Prudence is smart. Over-reaction keeps us at home.
In Jordan, we also had an armed tourist policeman on board, but mostly to help us avoid traffic check stops where people are asked to show their documentation. Yes, just like it could be like in Trump’s America. Jordan is an amazing place. More on that later.
Expect airport-style screening at museums, hotels and most public places, so be conservative about what you carry with you every day. A decent sized fanny pack is about right –it’s easy totake it on and off for x-ray examination. I found my regular camera to be too bulky and ended up mostly using my phone for pix.
Safety was not at all a preoccupation. I took at as a given, thanks to these precautions.
Many people do like to travel on their own, but I just think it’s risky, unless you really know the country. I can’t tell you how often our guides smoothed the way for us. Had great advice. And knew places with the best restrooms. I won’t say they are “good” or even “clean”–“best” is the right word.
Don’t exchange much money
It’s hard to switch back if any’s left over. You’ll need Egyptian cash for bathroom tips and for souk purchases (do not use your credit card in souks–only in reputable larger shops and let your guide be your guide) so not much cash is needed.
Yes, even in winter or shoulder seasons. Our tour bus was equipped with bottled water and lots of it.
It’s terrible. It’s sad. And it made me appreciate even more what we have in the developed world.
The people are so nice!
Despite what you might hear, we are not hated by the majority of the population. I found all the people pleasant and interested in America. There’s no need to be afraid of this part of the world–just be prudent.
Egypt was fascinating–but I was very taken with Jordan and its spiritual vibe. I’m hoping to put a trip together for a small group of women who would like to experience some of what I did. More on that later, but if you’d like to be on the list for updates as I put it together for April 2020 or 2021, email me at ccasssara at gmail.