After spending 16 days in this marvelous country, I’ll be the first to admit that I fell for it – HARD! With its’ diverse landscapes, warm people, rich culture and history, how could you not?!
For those of you thinking about visiting, here are a few of the important things you should know beforehand…
Yes, it is safe.
This is the question that I’ve gotten the most, so I instantly feel the need to address it. I’ve spoken about it briefly on my Instagram before, but as an American, the media makes Egypt out to be a dangerous place. In my own experience, I would have to respectfully disagree because I can say with confidence that I felt very safe the entire time I was there. I’m not saying go wandering around in the middle of Cairo alone at 3am – You should use caution and take measures to be safe in any new city that you’re unfamiliar with; But don’t let the media and/or peoples’ preconceived notions translate into fear for you. I was there and I saw it for myself. If there’s one thing that you take from this blog post, let this be it!
You should hire a tour guide for your first time.
While it’s a perfectly welcoming country, I still do recommend visiting with a tour company or tour guide for the simple reason that transportation, accommodation, and communication can be quite difficult to arrange with the language barrier. For 11 of the 16 days that we spent there, we were accompanied by the wonderful team over at Lady Egypt Tours. They crafted the most perfect itinerary for us and handled every little detail along the way, making our entire trip super enjoyable and hassle-free! For those interested, it was the Egyptian Legacy Tour.
Don’t leave your sense of humor at home.
Egyptians are a friendly, funny, and outgoing bunch. They are lovers of life and proud of their country, and it shows. You’ll often hear phrases such as “Welcome to Alaska!” accompanied with a hearty laugh – intended to poke fun at the warm desert climate. Then, there’s the hustlers. They will haggle and haggle you – then haggle you some more! You can react in one of three ways here:
1) Whip out those negotiation skills and get what you want at a good price!
2) Get annoyed at their rather crass, “in your face” approach.
3) Learn to laugh it off.
We chose to go with #3 😉 Have fun with it!
Bring your own toilet paper.
Seriously, do not leave your hotel without it. Many of the public restrooms don’t offer it – and the ones that do charge – so just trust me on this one. I kept a roll in my backpack and it came in handy many, many times.
This goes for any place you plan to visit. It’s important to do your research beforehand about what is considered appropriate attire. Egypt is a Muslim country and it is therefore standard for women to dress conservatively and wear a hijab, or a head covering which keeps their neck and head hidden. A good rule of thumb for female travelers is to keep your shoulders and knees covered. (Note that this doesn’t apply to beach resort areas/snorkeling and diving excursions). For men, dress fairly modestly – no tank tops. This is one of the easiest ways to show that you respect their culture. Another simple way is to learn a few key phrases. You can start with “Shukran” or thank you – and “L’a Shukran” which means no thank you. You’ll find that they appreciate small, but kind gestures such as these.
“Egyptian time” is a very real thing.
1 hour means 3 and 3 hours means the whole day. Seriously – there’s no real sense of urgency here which is actually quite lovely most of the time. Savor it while you can!
Yes yes, the Pyramids of Giza and Sphinx are on everyone’s list – and no trip to Egypt would be complete without them; But there is SO. MUCH. MORE to this country! It’s geographically quite large so this definitely isn’t a trip that you want to squeeze in over a weekend. Allow yourself plenty of time to check off all the must-sees on your list, whether that be sandboarding down the desert dunes, riding a felucca through the Nile River, visiting the ancient tombs, trying their delicious cuisine, or whatever else your heart desires!
Cairo is pure madness.
How to cross the street in Cairo 101: Walk out in front of traffic and hope for the best! (Not joking.)
I won’t sugarcoat it; I was fairly overwhelmed and intimidated during my first two days there but you quickly learn that its’ hectic air has a strange sort of charm to it – like New York City on steroids! You can expect to see children riding donkeys in the middle of the street and entire families (I’m talking 5 people) on a single motorbike. The traffic is unlike anything you’ve ever experienced before and you will, matter-of-factly, hear cars honking at all hours of the night from your 18th floor hotel room downtown. But I grew to love the madness all the same – and I have a feeling you will, too. With the chaos comes a sense of normalcy after being there for a few days.
You WILL miss it once you’re gone.
Trust me – you will. Here I am, sitting in my family room at home, and I can still picture the school children smiling and waving excitedly. The teenagers asking to take photos with me. The hospitality and constant offerings of coffee. The beautiful, distinctive garb and warm, smiling eyes behind them. The smell of fresh hibiscus tea.
It would be impossible to capture the full essence or sum up the magic of Egypt in a single blog post, but between my video, pictures, and copy, I sure will try!
I want to send out a special thank you to Ramy, Nahla, Khalifa and each of our incredible tour guides – Mohamed, Mahmoud, and Shareef – at Lady Egypt Tours for making our trip an incredible and memorable one. We are so grateful to have worked with such a fantastic, knowledgeable, and passionate team of people.
Spending time in Egypt was a lifelong dream that we’re thrilled to have been able to check off. We can’t wait to return one day!