Egypt is synonymous with Pharaohs, the pyramids, temples and antiquities from ancient civilizations. And at the center of these great civilizations lies the Nile River that has influenced their economics, social life, politics and religion. It is the oldest travel destination on earth: Greek and Roman travelers came in 430 BC to wonder at some of the very sights that make it a modern travel destination today. The magnificence of the painted Valley of the Kings, exquisite temples and the pyramids were all sought-after subjects of admiration, and many were already 2,500 years old!
From desert landscapes and dry, 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 all travelers from all walks of life. Spectacular diving in the Red Sea; unique desert experiences, whether on the back of a camel to Mount Sinai or on a jeep safari to the inner oases; the color and chaos of Cairo and its markets; and felucca cruises on the Nile River are just some of the exotic attractions awaiting visitors. Egypt promises an unforgettable experience of history and relaxation - a mixture of discovery and pleasure.
Language: Arabic is the official language although English and French are widely spoken, especially in the tourist areas.
Currency: The unit of currency is the Egyptian Pound (EGP), which is divided into 100 piastres. Most credit cards are accepted in major hotels and restaurants. Visitors are advised to take travelers cheques in US Dollars or Pounds to avoid additional exchange rate charges. Banks are usually closed on Friday and Saturday, but private exchange bureaux, called 'Forex', are open daily and banks in major hotels are open 24 hours. Cairo branches of the Egyptian British Bank and Banque Misr now have ATMs available that accept Visa, MasterCard and Cirrus and are quite common in the main tourist areas.
Time: Local time is GMT +2 (GMT +3 from last Friday in April to last Friday in September).
Electricity: Electrical current is 220 volts, 50Hz. European-style two-pin plugs are standard.
Communications: The international access code for Egypt is +20. The outgoing code is 00 followed but the relevant country code (e.g. 0027 for South Africa). The city code for Cairo is (0)2. There are high surcharges on international calls from hotels; it is cheaper to phone long-distance from the 24-hour Post, Telephone and Telegraph (PTT) offices that are available in the major cities. For international directory phone enquiries dial 120. The local mobile phone operators use GSM 900 networks and have roaming agreements with all major operators. Internet cafes are available in the main tourist areas.
Duty Free: Travelers arriving in Egypt do not have to pay customs duty on 200 cigarettes or 25 cigars or 200g tobacco; alcoholic beverages up to 1 liter; perfume for personal use and 1 liter of eau de cologne; and goods for consumption to the value of E£100. Prohibited items include narcotics and drugs.
Emergencies: 122 (Police); 123 (Ambulance).
- Egyptian Embassy, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 895 5400
- 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 1590/1
- Egyptian Embassy, Dublin, Ireland: +353 (0)1 660 6566
- United States Embassy, Cairo: +20 (0)2 797 3300
- British Embassy, Cairo: +20 (0)2 2794 0852
- Canadian Embassy, Cairo: +20 (0)2 2794 3110
- Australian Embassy, Cairo: +20 (0)2 2575 0444
- South African Embassy, Cairo: +20 (0)2 2359 4365
- Irish Embassy, Cairo: +20 (0)2 2735 8264
- New Zealand Consulate-General, Cairo: +20 (0)2 2574 9360
Egypt VISA and Health
Visa requirements change at short notice. With the exception of travelers from the US, Canada and EU countries, all visitors must register with the police within one week of arrival; this can usually be organized by a hotel. Passports must be valid for at least two months beyond the period of visit.
There are a number of health risks associated with travel to Egypt and travelers should check that their inoculations are up-to-date before leaving. Typhoid, Hepatitis A and polio immunization is recommended. Come prepared to beat the heat with a high factor sunblock, and drink plenty of water to combat dehydration. Drinking water in the main cities and towns is normally chlorinated but it is advisable to only drink bottled water. Traveller's diarrhoea is the most common form of illness for travelers; visitors should only eat thoroughly cooked food and fruits they have peeled themselves. The waters of the Nile are contaminated and should not be consumed or bathed in. A yellow fever vaccination certificate is required from travelers over one year of age coming from infected areas. Medical treatment can be expensive and standards vary so insurance is strongly advised, including evacuation. Medical facilities outside of Cairo can be very basic. Cases of bird flu have been reported, and human fatalities have resulted, and although the risk is low for travelers, all close contact with caged, domestic and wild birds should be avoided, and all poultry and egg dishes well cooked as a precaution.
There is a significant threat from terrorism in Egypt. Red Sea resorts on the Sinai Peninsula in particular have been targeted, most recently in April 2006, when a series of bomb explosions tore through the popular resort of Dahab. Other resorts and dive centers have suffered similar bomb attacks in the last two years, and over 100 people have been killed and hundreds more seriously injured, many of them foreigners. Security forces persist with their counter-terrorist operations on the Sinai Peninsula, and police continue to provide armed escorts for travelers in certain areas. On 7 April 2005 an explosion in central Cairo caused four deaths and 19 injuries, and on 30 April 2006 an attack on a tourist bus and one near the Egyptian Museum injured seven people; the three incidents specifically targeted tourists and Egyptian authorities believe they are linked to the same perpetrators and warn that further incidents in Cairo are possible. In general, there are increased security measures at all tourist sites, and especially in resort areas on the Sinai Peninsula, but visitors should be alert and are advised to avoid political demonstrations and public gatherings. Developments in the region, including the conflict in Iraq, the tension between Israel and the Palestinians, and situation between Israel and Lebanon, continue to trigger demonstrations of public anger, and visitors are warned to be especially vigilant in public places; the mood at present is extremely anti-US, anti-Israel and anti-UN. Visitors to the cities and tourist sites will experience a fair amount of hassle and are advised not to carry more money on them than needed at a time. Women should take extra caution when traveling alone as there have been isolated incidents of harassment. The sinking of the passenger ferry traveling across the Red Sea from Saudi Arabia to Egypt on 3 February 2006 has left over 1,000 dead and was one of the worst maritime disasters in recent years. Egypt also has a poor train safety record with several fatal accidents each year.
Except for the Mediterranean coast the country experiences a desert climate, which is hot and dry most of the year, especially in the summer months (June to August). Winter is from December to February with average temperatures of 68°F to 79°F (20°C to 26°C).
Islam is the dominant influence and many traditional customs and beliefs are tied up with religion. The people are generally courteous and hospitable and expect similar respect from visitors. Shaking hands will suffice as a greeting. Because Egypt is a Muslim country, dress should be conservative and women should not wear revealing clothes, particularly when in religious buildings and in towns (although the Western style of dress is accepted in modern nightclubs, restaurants, hotels and bars in Cairo, Alexandria and other tourist destinations). Official or social functions and smart restaurants usually require more formal wear. Smoking is very common. Photography: Tourists will have to pay a fee to take photographs inside pyramids, tombs and museums.
The national airline is EgyptAir (MS) (website: www.egyptair.com.eg).
Approximate flight times
From Cairo to London is four hours 45 minutes (from Luxor to London is five hours 35 minutes), from Cairo to Los Angeles is 16 hours 40 minutes, to New York is 14 hours 25 minutes, to Singapore is 12 hours 35 minutes, and to Sydney is 20 hours.
Food in Egypt
Egyptian cuisine is excellent, combining many of the best traditions of Middle Eastern cooking, and there are both large hotel restaurants and smaller specialist ones throughout the main towns. Some of the larger hotels in Cairo and its environs have kitchens serving top quality cosmopolitan dishes. In the center of Cairo, American-style snack bars are also spreading. Restaurants have waiter service. Although Egypt is a Muslim country, alcohol is available in cafe-style bars and good restaurants. The legal drinking age is 21.
- Foul (bean dishes).
- Stuffed vine leaves.
- Roast pigeon.
- Grilled aubergines.
- Humus (chickpeas).
- Kahwa (thick, strong coffee).
- Shay bil na'na' (mint tea).
- Karkaday (clear, bright red drink made from hibiscus flowers).
- Aswanli (dark beer made in Aswan).
- Zibib (alcoholic aniseed-flavored drink).
10 to 12 per cent is added to hotel and restaurant bills but an extra tip of 5 per cent is normal. Taxi drivers generally expect 10 per cent.
Sophisticated nightclubs, discos, casinos and good restaurants can be found in Cairo, Alexandria and most large towns. The nightlife in Luxor and Aswan often includes barbecues along the Nile.