Home of the pyramids, pharaohs, and the legendary Nile, Egypt needs no introduction.
And its fame is richly deserved: where else can you visit monuments as iconic as the Great Pyramids of Giza, the Sphinx, and the 3000-year-old Abu Simbel? But it’s not all ancient history. Cairo – then known as Al Qahira – was the capital of a medieval Islamic empire, with the soaring minarets and mosques to prove it, while Egypt’s rich Coptic Christian tradition is manifest in the churches of Old Cairo. And, lucky for hungry travellers, the food is reliably excellent, fusing Middle Eastern staples with culinary traditions dating back to Ancient Egypt.
Odyssey travels by coach and occasionally uses local transport, including trains, ferries and planes. Specifics are always outlined in your tour itinerary. Odyssey’s Egypt tour requires two short internal flights – one from Cairo to Luxor and another from Aswan to Cairo.
In major cities in Egypt, Odyssey stays in centrally located 4 -5 star hotels, with easy access to public transport. In smaller towns or rural areas, we usually stay in family-run hotels or guesthouses. On our long stay tours, during which we spend the length of the tour in a single location, we use serviced apartments.
Odyssey always engages local guides with regional knowledge to ensure an authentic experience during which you can learn as much as possible about the history and culture of places you visit.
Geography, environmnet & Weather
Egypt is situated at the meeting place of North Africa and Southwest Asia. It extends into Asia by virtue of holding the Sinai Peninsula. Egypt is bordered by Israel and the Gaza Strip to the north-east, by Sudan to the south and by Libya to the west. The Mediterranean and Red Seas (to the north and east respectively) bound the nation. It is geographically
dominated both by the Nile River and its fertile well-watered valley, and by the Eastern and Western deserts. It is predominantly desert, and only 3.5% of the total land area is permanently settled. Almost 99% of the population live along the valleys and delta of the Nile.
The climate is variable, but generally defined by hot and dry summers, and moderate winters. There is almost no rain in the Nile valley, but the North coast receives some of the country’s heaviest rains.
World Heritage sites
Egypt contains seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites. You can view the official list of the sites here (http://whc.unesco.org/en/statesparties/EG). While every site has something of value, here are a few highlights:
The early Christian holy city of Abu Mena
Ancient Thebes, the pinnacle of Egyptian civilisation, including the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens
The Pyramid Fields in Memphis, the capital of the Old Kingdom of Egypt, once considered one of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World
Festivals & events
Egypt celebrates an amazing variety of religious, secular and ancient cultural festivals.
During the month of Ramadan, Muslims refrain from eating and drinking during daylight hours. The end of Ramadan is celebrated with a fast-breaking festival known as Eid-al-Fitr. The festival follows the lunar calendar so is on a different date each year.
Leylet en Nuktah is the ancient Egyptian celebration of the rise of the Nile River. On June 17 each year, modern Egyptians picnic and camp along the shores of the river or spend the night with family and friends.
Most Egyptians, regardless of religion, join in the festivities of Coptic Christmas on January 7. In the week prior, homes and businesses are decked out in colourful lights and decorations.
Sham al-Naseem, or ‘sniffing the breeze’, is an ancient holiday celebrating the coming of spring on March 21.
- The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt by Toby Wilkinson
- Napoleon in Egypt by Paul Strathern
- Public Culture and Islam in Modern Egypt by Hatsuki Aishima
- The Automobile Club of Egypt: A Novel by Alaa Al Aswany
- Egyptian Myth: A Very Short Introduction by Geraldine Pinch
Eating & Drinking
Egyptian food reflects its place at the crossroads of three continents, often combining aspects of Lebanese, Greek, Syrian, French and Turkish cooking. There are also regional differences: northern cities like Alexandria are more Mediterranean in style, while food can be much spicier in the south.
Egyptian staples are bread (usually pita), fuul (fava beans) and taamiya (deep-fried green bean patties). Many more flavoursome local delights can be enjoyed in the cafés, street stalls and restaurants of Egyptian cities and towns.
As a mostly Muslim country, most Egyptians give alcohol a wide berth. Alcohol cannot be sold during Ramadan. Egyptians instead usually prefer tea, Turkish coffee or a refreshing scented beverage known as Karkaday.
Health & Safety
Prior to making the decision to travel you should check, smarttraveller.gov or the equivalent. It’s always best to check the latest details before setting out on a trip. Certain parts of Egypt should be avoided for the time being, particularly the border with Libya. There are risks associated with certain areas, and it is important to take these into consideration when planning your trip. But countries like Egypt rely heavily on tourism, and refusing travel can be detrimental to a struggling economy. Stay apprised of government recommendations for Egypt in order to be best prepared for your trip.
Typically you should only consume bottled water and avoid foods such as salads that have been prepared with local water.
Whenever you travel overseas, it’s always wise to take an appropriate travel adaptor. Plugs in Egypt are type C and F, so make sure to pick up the right adaptor before your trip.
Egypt has a single time zone, Egypt Standard Time, which is exactly the same as Eastern European Time. That is Egypt is two hours ahead of GMT.
If you’re on an Odyssey tour, we take care of tipping so you don’t need to give it a second thought. However, in your free time, or if travelling independently, it’s essential that you make sure you tip an appropriate amount for services, as is the case throughout much of Egypt.
Generally tipping around 10% is good etiquette at a restaurant in Egypt. However, you will more than likely see a “service charge” on your bill. This service charge goes to the restaurant, not the waiter so be sure to tip the waiter or waitress in addition.
Internet access is quite good in Egypt, with even the smallest villages boasting at least basic internet access. In Cairo, most cafes and fast food outlets provide free wireless internet. A word of caution: always read the fine print before browsing on a free wifi network.
If you have a 3G or higher phone with global roaming capability, your phone will work in Egypt, as long as you are in an area with phone service. You will be charged international roaming rates.
Only drink bottled water. If the water doesn’t taste right, even if it was unsealed in front of you, send it back and get another.
Responsible Travel Tips for Egypt
- Be considerate of Egypt’s customs, traditions, religion and culture. Culturally Egypt can be vastly different from many Western countries.
- If sightseeing in rural areas, remember to be respectful of residents and locals. As well as being tourist attractions, these are peoples’ homes!
- Support local artisans and vendors, when appropriate.
- Monitor travel warnings and check the latest details before setting out on a trip.
- Carry a card in your wallet or purse from your local hotel, to assist you with the return journey if you do become lost.
- Always ensure that you are covered by travel insurance. If you need advice on this feel free to contact Odyssey and we’ll be able to help.
- When travelling independently, make sure you check the opening hours of shops and museums so that you don’t miss out! Museums & galleries are often closed on Mondays. Also be certain to check whether your trip coincides with any public holidays, so you can plan accordingly.
- Consider contacting your bank to inform them that you may be making purchases overseas. Otherwise, they may flag any activity on your account as suspicious. Also, check which ATMs and banks are compatible with your cards, to ensure you can withdraw cash with minimal fees.
- Before departing, make sure you have a number of pounds in a range of denominations. You don’t want to be carrying around enormous amounts of cash, but take enough to make it easy to pay in locations that might not accept credit card. It will also help you avoid card transaction fees, and it makes tipping a breeze.