Quick Guide: Visiting Egypt for the First Time

Guest Writer: Claudia Ortega Miró

I have always been fascinated by Egypt's ancient history. During history classes I often found myself thinking about what a trip to Egypt would be like. I wanted to visit the Egyptian pyramids, tombs see where the pharaohs are buried, experience the ancient temples up close, and sail the River Nile.

My desire to tour Egypt is one shared by many people. Egypt has, for years, been an extremely popular tourist destination. Millions of people travel to the country to take photos at the pyramids and tour King Tut's tomb.

Prior to the Arab Spring revolution in 2011 Egypt received over 12 million tourists annually. The revolution in the North African region however severely affected their tourism industry with tourist numbers going to as low as 1 million visitors annually.

With peace restored in most parts of the country, major tourist sites are open and safe making Egypt a perfect travel destination for you.

What You Need to Travel to Egypt

If you’re traveling from America you’ll need a valid passport and an Egypt visa for US citizens. If you’re traveling from other locations like Europe, Australia, Canada or several other nations, you will also have to apply for a visa. Visa applications can be made online or at the airport when you arrive and should cost you about $25 USD.

What to Do During Your Trip to Egypt

There is a lot to see and experience in Egypt starting with the amazing ancient sites found across the country. With the help of a local guide, you should be able to visit several cities including the capital Cairo, Alexandria, Aswan, and Luxor to enjoy the following sites and experiences.

The Great Pyramids and Sphinx in Giza

It is hard to go to Egypt and not experience the pyramids up close.

The Egyptian pyramids are the main reason millions of people travel to Egypt each year. The pyramids are over 4000 years old and are listed as one of the 7 wonders of the world. Despite being 4000 plus years the pyramids are well maintained and not in ruins as you would expect of something that old. The pyramids and the Sphinx, which is a mythological creature with the body of a lion and the head of a human, are Egypt’s most popular ancient sites and you must make a visit there.

The Egyptian Museum in Cairo

This museum has the largest collection of Egyptian antiques numbering about 120,000 items. Not all of the items are on display some are in storerooms where they are preserved. At the museum, you can see the mummies of two royal sisters up close, Tutankhamun's head mask and the gold jewelry of ancient times.

The Catacombs of Kom Ash-Suqqafa in Alexandria.

This tombs were discovered in 1900 and are said to be the largest Roman burial site in Egypt. The catacombs have three tiers of tombs and you can access all tiers except for the bottom level which is flooded. If you choose to visit this ancient site carry water and please note the place is not disability friendly.

The Abu Simbel Temples

These temples are located south of Aswan close to Egypt's border with Sudan. They are two temples, the great temple which has huge statues of a great Egyptian pharaoh Ramesses II and a small temple which was dedicated to his wife Nefertari, who was his favorite wife. The temples dates back to 1200 BC and are a magnificent sight to see.

These temples are not at the location they were built as they were moved in 1968 to save them from destruction by floods caused by the River Nile.

Valley of the Kings

This is where all the famous Egyptian pharaohs were buried. A trip to Egypt would not be complete without a visit to this location. To access the various tombs you’ll have to pay to enter. Not all tombs are open to the public as some are closed for restoration.

These are just some of the key sites you can visit in Egypt. Other activities you can plan include:

  • A visit to Philae Temple and a felucca ride in Aswan.

  • A trip to a Nubian Village near Aswan where you can dine with local families and enjoy Egyptian cuisine.

  • A Cruise down the Nile with and stop at Kom Ombo Temple.

  • A guided tour of Karnak Temple, Colossi of Memnon and Hatshepsut Temple in Luxor

  • A visit to Khan al-Khalili bazaar in Cairo to shop for souvenirs, antiques, and jewelry.

  • A leisure walk around Islamic Cairo

Some Helpful Tips for Visiting Egypt

  • Women tourists aren’t required to wear hijabs to cover their hair in Egypt unless they are entering a mosque. Covering up when entering a mosques shows you respect their religion. You also need to watch what you wear. Strapless tops or tanks and revealing clothes are frowned so leave those at home when packing for your trip.

  • Traffic in Egypt is a nightmare, particularly in Cairo. The traffic is largely caused by drivers not following traffic regulations and the roads being shared by cars, buses, donkey carts and motorbikes. So be prepared to spend some time in traffic as you travel to your destinations.

  • The food in Egypt is amazing! Be sure to try out Kushari which is a dish made of rice, lentils, chickpeas, pasta, onion, and tomato sauce toppings. Kushari is Egypt's national dish and a bowl should cost about $1. Other foods you can try in Egypt are camel and stuffed pigeon.

  • Get used to tipping when in Egypt. This is expected by the locals for whatever service they offer from delivering your bags to your room to when they offer you paper towels. Tips don’t have to be large they can be as small as 5 Egyptian pounds which is 0.25cents USD.

  • The best time to travel to Egypt is during winter. If you travel during the summer the temperatures may be ridiculously hot for your comfort.

  • Visits to most sites will cost you 50 to 100 Egyptian pounds.

Final Thoughts

If you choose to travel to Egypt I would recommend that you use a tour guide. There is nothing wrong with traveling independently. A guide, however, will be able to tell you the history all the ancient sites you visit. This history I believe will help you appreciate the sites more. At the very least I definitely recommend bringing a guidebook along with you. Here are some books I recommend...

Also, a super common question I get is: What camera do I use for my travels. The body is a Nikon D3300 and I use the kit lens and a Sigma wide-angle lens which I am genuinely obsessed with.

My full list of travel gear, that I take on every trip can be found here.

And of course, if you have any questions DO NOT hesitate to reach out to me via Instagram, Twitter, or just shoot me an email (tessajuliette@gmail.com). 

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