From the classic pyramids to the coral-rich Red Sea, breathtaking temples, sailing on the Nile River and off-beat places like camel markets, hidden ruins, and lovely rural villages, Egypt has thousands and thousands of years of history to tell, show and amaze any traveler.
Egypt is, in fact, a major travel destination but, despite being one of the most visited countries in the world, traveling in Egypt is quite challenging, even more than in less touristic countries like Iran or Kyrgyzstan, as constantly arguing and fighting against not getting ripped-off by the locals is a real fact plus, outside of the main touristic areas, things are pretty wild, especially if you move around by public transportation.
My top recommendation when you travel to Egypt is that, in order to get away from the scammer Egyptians and meet some really cool locals, as well as beat the crowds, you must get off the beaten track.
Luckily for you, in this 1 to 3-week itinerary for traveling to Egypt, I reveal not only the most touristic places but also, plenty of cool spots which are rarely visited by regular tourists.
For entering Egypt, you must be in possession of either your COVID-19 certificate or a negative PCR.
IATI Insurance is one of the few providers that offers full Coronavirus coverage, not only when it comes to treatment, but also cancellations costs in case you tested positive before departure.
Remember that you should travel with insurance.
Readers of Against the Compass can get an exclusive 5% discount.
Most Western nationalities can get a visa on arrival at any international airport and land border, both Israel and Sudan.
At the airport, a visa costs 25USD and it is valid for 60 days. You can also pay in €.
Summer is the high season for traveling in Egypt, basically because people from Europe are on holidays.
However, besides being crowded, summers are utterly hot here so, in my opinion, this would be the worst season to come. I personally went in November and it was great. The weather was good and the main sites weren’t particularly busy.
All right. This is the 1-million-dollar question: Is it safe to travel to Egypt?
In the last couple of years, the country has been pretty unlucky, as it has been the target of several terrorist attacks, affecting mainly in Cairo and some parts of the Sinai Peninsula.
If you look at the FCO Travel advice for Egypt, they don’t actually portray it as a very appealing destination.
However, you should know that their recommendation is tremendously biased and super-mega-exaggerated, basically, because if the unlikely happened to you, your Government won’t want to have anything to do with it.
They do this with Egypt and with a big bunch of other destinations.
Read: Is Pakistan safe?
Whereas it is true that Cairo has been a top target for terrorists, what actually happened is a set of very specific attacks in very specific areas in a 10-million city, which means that being affected by one of these unfortunate events is quite unlikely.
The other sensitive part is the Sinai Peninsula but, nowadays, the only unstable part is the area bordering Gaza, which is off-limits for tourists anyways and the rest of the Peninsula is full of military checkpoints.
The rest of the country has maintained safe and stable and, if you are still being skeptical, I invite you to ask anyone who has been there recently.
Another important point to mention is the way people drive.
After traveling all across the Middle East, I had never seen as many reckless drivers as in Egypt, especially those ones who drive the mini-vans, the local public transportation and the transport used for most backpackers. I am telling you that, during my almost 4-week journey, I was about to die 8 times.
Egypt can be wild, get proper travel insurance. I recommend IATI:
Most Egyptians are Sunni Muslims but there is a significant Christian community as well, called Christian Copts. These Christians are the actual inventors of hummus, a dish they came up with to replace meat during Lent.
Anyways. Like I was saying, Egypt is a Muslim country and, as such, you should slightly adapt to their customs. Honestly, it isn’t a super conservative country or, at least, they are quite tolerant to Western behaviors, especially because they have been receiving many Western tourists for decades, so they are quite used to see women in light clothing.
However, it is still recommended for women to dress modestly, especially when you get off the main touristic sites. Just bring something extra to cover your shoulders and try to show your legs as little as possible.
Arabic is the official language but all educated Egyptians speak impeccable English and, in touristic places, pretty much everybody can have a decent conversation, so the language barrier doesn’t tend to be a problem when you travel in Egypt.
Egypt uses the Egyptian Pound (EGP) and approximately:
1 USD = 30.63 EGP
Unfortunately for Egyptians but fortunately for travelers, the Egyptian Pound devalued 50% back in 2016, meaning that everything became half-price overnight.
Egypt can be very expensive but it can also be ridiculously cheap. If you travel like the locals do and just eat in local restaurants, you won’t be spending much, as traveling between cities costs less than a few USD and meals even less than a dollar, sometimes.
Budget accommodation is also quite cheap and I think I never paid more than 8USD for a private room. However, your expenses will definitely increase if you hang around the endless tourist traps around the country.
You will also have to pay for all the archaeological sites, with no exception. For you to have a rough idea, on my Luxor guide, you can find the 2018 prices for all the tombs and temples.
Train – The railway network goes from Alexandria to Aswan. Train is a beautiful way to travel around Egypt, especially because it follows the Nile, so the views and landscapes are spectacular.
Mini-buses – A quick and cheap way to move around, even though drivers are nuts. In fact, my Egyptian friends, who are all rich (there is no middle class in Egypt), told me that I was crazy for traveling in one of those.
Taxis – Whatever price they tell you, divide it by 3 and even 5, if you still find it expensive. To avoid bargaining, you can use Uber in Cairo and I think in other cities as well.
Do you know what I really hate about Egypt? In all my travels, I have never ever met so many annoying locals trying to rip me off as in Egypt, and this is the only and unique reason why I will never go back there. Traveling in Egypt involves constantly negotiating and bargaining for absolutely everything, including buying something as simple as a bottle of water.
While waiting for my visa for Sudan, I spent nearly a week in Aswan and, even in places where I was going every day, they tried to charge me ridiculous amounts for just a few apples and simple meals, thinking that I might be stupid or something.
I really hope that the Egyptians will, one day, realize that this is not the way to treat foreigners, especially now that they have experienced a massive tourist drop due to the terrorist threat.
Egypt is big, really big, so trying to squeeze many places in your 1-week Egypt itinerary can be quite challenging, not to say impossible.
In one week, I would recommend you just visit Cairo and Luxor, as you will already find plenty of things to do there and, in any case, they are separated by almost 700km, so you’ll need some time to move to each destination.
However, it is completely up to you, so if you don’t mind rushing, consider adding other places within this article.
Unless you are overlanding from Sudan or Israel, your Egypt itinerary will most likely begin in Cairo, one of the craziest cities in the Middle East.
From chaotic streets filled with the largest amount of traffic you will ever see, air composed of dust, trash everywhere and thinking that you are likely to die every time you cross the street, because trust me, cars don’t stop, the first impressions of Cairo are never good and, in fact, many people hate it.
Nevertheless, Cairo has some amazing sites and, if you try to be optimistic, you may eventually enjoy the beautiful chaos.
Cairo can easily keep you busy for many weeks but if you only have a few days, these are the places I recommend:
Things to do in Cairo
Pyramids of Giza, of course – The highlight of any trip to Egypt.
Egyptian Museum – One of the most impressive museums you will ever see.
Khan el-Khalili bazaar – A traditional bazaar, full of locals but also souvenir shops with plenty of traditional handicrafts and other typical things to buy in Egypt.
Tahrir Square – The main square where the Arab Springs took place.
Hanging Church – Meet the Christian Copts of Cairo.
Zamalek – A pretty big island on The Nile, this is the most Westernized part of Cairo, and where I recommend you to stay.
Where to stay – Here you can find the best affordable hostels in Cairo
All right. There are different ways to get to Luxor:
Night train – A good option for time-savers but expensive, as it costs up to 100USD.
Day train – Very cheap, around 10-15USD. You will waste one entire day but the upside is that the train runs along The Nile, so the landscape can’t be more epic.
Bus – Also feasible but not as epic.
Plane – Of course, the quicker option.
My personal recommendation is to take the day train and come back on the night train.
The Pyramids in Cairo leave you breathless but Luxor is definitely more awesome and, why not, the main reason why people should travel to Egypt.
Here is where you find the greatest temples, monuments, and tombs ever built during Ancient Egypt, real wonders and architectural masterpieces which are extremely hard to believe that they were built thousands of years ago, yet, many of them are still standing in great condition.
Luxor is far from Cairo but, seriously, you can’t definitely miss it in your Egypt travel itinerary.
For planning your trip to Luxor, read: How to visit Luxor independently, in 2 days
If you have 2 weeks in Egypt, consider traveling to the south.
(Already explained before)
Why so many days in Aswan?
Because there is plenty to do here and it is a great base for day trips to pretty awesome places.
Aswan is a particularly beautiful city which sits on the Nile shore and has a large population of Nubians, an ethnic group of people indigenous to the Nile region who claim to be the authentic Egyptians.
Around Aswan, there are plenty of Nubian villages which are worth a visit. Some of them are quite touristic, while if you go to the less visited ones, you may receive a hospitality overdose.
By the way, in north Sudan there are plenty of Nubian villages as well, much more untouched. If you are interested about it read my article: Tales of the Nubian people in Sudan
I spent nearly a week in Aswan while waiting for my visa for Sudan and the truth is that I never got bored!
Things to do in Aswan
Visiting Nubian villages – They are just across the river and I recommend visiting Nag el-Balida, a barely visited one. Here are the coordinates: 24.154865, 32.869117.
Philae Temple – One of the greatest temples, located on an island just outside of Aswan.
Sail the Nile on a felucca – You will actually get sick of the locals trying to sell you felucca rides. Get the best price by trying to bargain with 10 different people.
Lake Nasser dam – A very controversial dam on the Nile, but also impressive, that forms the famous Lake Nasser.
Top day trips from Aswan
Camel market of Daraw – The most authentic place I ever visited in my Egypt itinerary. A real, dusty and extremely busy animal market where you will feel like a superstar. The market takes place every Tuesday and Sunday but dates may change. Daraw is 40km north from Aswan. You can go there by mini-bus.
Kom Ombo Temple – North of Daraw, you find this pretty cool ancient temple which is definitely worth a visit, especially because it has a museum with real crocodile mummies. You can actually come here after visiting the camel market of Daraw, on the same day.
Kalabsha temple – The greatest least-visited temple in Egypt. Located on a remote island, there is no tourist infrastructure to reach this temple, so you need to negotiate with the local fishermen. When I went there I had the temple completely to myself. For more information, read: How to get to Kalabsha, the least visited temple in Egypt
How to get to Aswan from Luxor
You can easily come by train.
In the 13th century BC, when Ramesses II was the Pharaoh in power, in order to commemorate a war victory, he decided to build for his queen and himself, one of the most jaw-dropping remaining monuments that exist today, Abu Simbel.
Abu Simbel is very far away, very close to the border with Sudan, almost 300km south of Aswan but seriously, you won’t regret it.
From Abu Simbel, you can catch a bus to Aswan and, from there, you can take a direct train to Cairo.
After Cairo, you can head north to explore Alexandria and the Suez Canal, then go to the Sinai Peninsula and, from Sharm el-Sheikh, you can get a ferry to Hurghada, from where you can head straight to Luxor.
(Already explained before)
Founded by worldwide famous Alexander the Great and the center of Hellenistic civilization, the capital of Roman Egypt for 1,000 years and what used to be home of one of the 7 wonders from the Ancient world, Pharos (lighthouse) Alexandria is, surprisingly, not a very common destination in favor of cities like Cairo, Luxor and Aswan, where you find the most surreal Egyptian ruins.
However, the fact the Alexandria doesn’t tend to be part of most people’s itinerary is, perhaps, the best about it, as here you are likely to experience a very genuine atmosphere in a prime-location city, on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea.
Alexandria is a place where to meet locals and enjoy what is, in my opinion, the best food in Egypt, consisting of, mainly, real, fresh Mediterranean fish.
Things to do in Alexandria
Bibliotheca Alexandrina – Where used to stand one of the most important libraries in the world, the reason why Alexandria was often called the capital of knowledge, today, you find a modern new library.
Qaitbay Castle – A pretty cool restored castle by the sea.
Try the local food – There are quite a few great seafood restaurants along the promenade.
How to get to Alexandria
There are daily buses running from Cairo to Alexandria and it is a 3 to 4-hour ride. Bus Station coordinates: 30.062338, 31.246309
Since it was first opened in 1869, the Suez Canal has served as a connection between the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean, saving a journey of thousands of kilometers.
Every day, hundreds of cargo ships make their way through the Canal of Suez and you really want to see that because their vast dimensions are spectacular.
Now, here is the thing. There are two main cities worth a visit that sit on the Canal of Suez: Port Said and the City of Suez. I actually went to Suez and it turned out to be an industrial city and, for security purposes, the military doesn’t allow you to get close to the Canal, which really sucked.
Therefore, I strongly recommend you go to Port Said instead, which is also a particularly beautiful city, more than any other in Egypt.
How to get to Port Said or Suez
From Alexandria, is very easy to reach Port Said and, from there, you can catch a second bus to Suez. If you are in Cairo, there are also direct buses from the main bus station: 30.062338, 31.246309
Dahab is like nowhere else in the Middle East.
Located in the Sinai Peninsula, a native land for the Bedouins, Dahab is, perhaps, the only real backpacking-friendly place in the entire Middle East.
A town usually filled with windsurfers, scuba-divers and a kind of hippy vibe, Dahab is the place to chill, smoke weed and just relax among the most friendly people in Egypt, the super chilled-out Egyptian Bedouins.
I enjoyed my time in Dahab so much by just doing virtually nothing.
Things to do in Dahab
Chill – It is an extremely laid-back town, where people just eat, drink beer and sleep at the beach
Scuba-diving or snorkeling – The underwaters of the Red Sea are home to some of the most incredible and colorful fauna, the Blue Hole being the most popular spot among divers.
Trips into the desert – From Dahab, you can organize plenty of trips deep into the desert, like camel riding, hiking, etc.
Day trips from Dahab
Ras Abu Galum – I recommend you go to this very tiny and untouched village to get a real glimpse of the actual Bedouin culture. The tiny settlement is around 16km from Dahab. For this, you need to first go to the Blue Hole. A taxi may be around 70EGP. From there, you can take a local boat (50EGP) but you can also walk by following the shore.
The journey from Dahab to Luxor can be a short one if you manage to take the ferry from Sharm el-Sheikh to Hurghada. Find the latest information here.
However, this ferry is very unreliable. The day I booked my ticket, the ferry was delayed for 5 hours. Then, when we finally got into the boat, they said the weather was too windy, so we couldn’t leave.
In the end, the ferry company took us from Sharm el-Sheikh to Hurghada by bus (around 12 hours) and gave us 50% of the money back.
The ferry should be your first choice but, if there is no ferry, I recommend you take the night bus to Hurghada, from where you can find a quick bus to Luxor. If you can’t find a direct bus, you will need to figure it out but, at least, I am sure you can get a direct bus to Suez and, from there, head down to Hurghada or Luxor.
(Already explained before)
Don’t forget to check our travel guides in the Middle East.