The perfect guide for backpacking in Egypt
Why I want to go backpacking in Egypt?! I guess for the same reasons everyone wants to go. When I was younger, I was fascinated by stories about mummies and pyramids. While you can hear a million stories, there is nothing like seeing it with your own eyes. A lot of people are afraid to go to Egypt because of the political and social situation. Egypt (and a lot of other countries), is not the way it’s being showcased in the media. Go and find out yourself! It will not be the easiest country you traveled in, but it will be worth it! Read here how cheap, accessible, developed, beautiful and diverse it is and put backpacking in Egypt on your bucket list!
The fun part about travelling – NOT! I was even kinda worried this time because there is not a lot of information on the internet and it changes all the time. We took the chance to get a visa on arrival, and we did get one! 🙂 January 2017 – It was still possible for travellers from a lot of countries to get a tourist visa on arrival. You can check out the information about all Egyptian Missions abroad and read more about Egyptian visa regulations on the airport’s homepage.
RESPECT THE CULTURE AND DRESS APPROPRIATELY
Especially as a women if you decide to go backpacking in Egypt – Cover up! Wear decent clothing like long skirts, t shirts, a scarf or long sleeves, it will help with not bringing too much attention to you on the streets. You’re going to stick out, but at least try to blend in a little… I traveled during winter so it was okay, but in summer it can be extremely hot, just be prepared! A lot of the people you come across in the streets or on public transport haven’t seen many tourists before, the sooner you realise they are just intrigued by you, the quicker the staring effects you less…
SAYING NO, NO, NO…
There were no days, wait hours, wait… maybe even minutes that we not got hassled on the streets. Especially in the markets and street stalls you definitely get hassled by an eager shop keeper who is just trying to feed his family. Sometimes a bit to aggressive though.. :/ Just keep on walking and keep on saying “No!” Cairo is known for having one of the lowest crime rates of any metropolis, so don’t worry, you’re not in danger when you get haggled there! 🙂
DON’T MISS OUT ON ABU SIMBEL!
It’s a mission to get there but if you are backpacking in Egypt, you can’t miss out on Abu Simbel. It is possibly the coolest temple in all of Egypt! It is located nearly 300km south of Aswan (which is already the most southern city in Egypt) and you’ll need to arrange a bus from there around 3am to try to avoid the hordes of tourists from the package resorts… We had the Great Temple of Ramses II all for ourselves…
MAKE YOUR OWN NILE CRUISE
Nile cruises are overrated and a tourist trap. It’s a thing to do but if you don’t like tours, just make your own little Nile cruise on a Felukka, a traditional wooden sailing boat.. It will be just as fun and just for you and a couple of friends. Relaxing in total silence! Smile on the Nile! If you decide to go on one of the big cruises anyway, you can save some money by buying your own booze! Drinks are not included and on board they are four times the price as in a local shop.
FOR SURE, VISIT THE PIRAMIDES
Obviously the Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx are something special and should be visit if you’re backpacking in Egypt. For thousands of years, these majestic structures have symbolised the Ancient Egyptians and their fascinating civilisation. We walked the whole day between these man-sized lion paws and beautiful pyramids and imagined ourselves in the time of the pharaohs. People will walk with you, want you to ride their camels and show you secret places, be prepared to pay, if you let them.
GO TO THE EGYPTIAN MUSEUM, EVEN IF YOU DON’T LIKE MUSEA
Other than the Pyramids, the other must-see attraction in Cairo is the Egyptian Museum. Here you can enjoy what is the best collection of Egyptian antiquities in the world! I also recommend to go to the optional mummy room. It cost an additional 100 LE (5 euro), but well worth it! Descriptions are in Arabic and English and probably printed out around the time I was born. The dust on the show cases contributes somehow to the whole atmosphere. Anyway, there are some real treasures exhibited, what makes the museum a fascinating place to visit… Even if you don’t like musea, promise!
WAKE UP EARLY!
Wake up early and visit the Temples on your own! Egyptians don’t wake up early so it’s quiet on the streets. Tours are always later, so you’re the first one, what means that you have all the time to get the money shot (without people on it). And.., It’s not that hot, yet. Reasons enough I guess..
TAKE THE TRAIN, AT LEAST ONES
One of the cheapest ways to travel between cities is to take the Egyptian train. Also, it’s an experience! You can buy tickets upfront at the station, what I recommend for night/ long-distance trains, so you have a seat.. But for short journeys, just get on the train and sit anywhere! Once the train starts moving, a conductor will check your ticket. If you don’t have a ticket, he will sell you one at the same price as the train station. We took the train from Luxor to Aswan and paid 10 EGP, what is €0,50 cents for a 5 hour long journey! Haha!
GET A LOCAL SIMCARD
I’m a bit against this one. I like to enjoy my travels and not be distracted by Facebook/ WhatApp or whatsoever. But while backpacking in Egypt it can be really handy. It’s cheap and could’ve saved us a lot of hassle and probably also money. I just bought one because I’m now staying for a while in Dahab where the mobile internet is faster then the Wifi.
GET UBER ON YOUR PHONE
If you have internet on your phone, instal Uber. If you have strong bargaining skills, taxis are also a way to go. But sometimes there are no taxis or you just don’t feel like all the hassle. Especially in Cairo is Uber the cheapest and most convenient way to get around. You can pay by credit card or cash and the prices are set so you won’t get ripped off. In Luxor and Aswan it’s also really easy to take the local busses. Straight forward and they’re only 1 pound (yes, that’s 0,05 cents). Or hitchhike, what we did to get from temple to temple in Luxor.
KNOW WHAT THE LOCALS PAY…
While backpacking in Egypt, you wanna pay local prices, no tourist prices. Especially because we don’t speak the language, they can ask whatever they wanna ask. Clever we are, we asked a local to write down all the numbers. Now we know the prices and don’t pay (SERIOUSLY) 5 times the price! Here you are, print this image out, or copy it… This will save you loads of money… 🙂
DON’T FORGET YOUR STUDENT CARD
Temples and pyramids in Egypt are half prize for students. It could’ve saved us a lot of money if we had a (fake) student card. It wasn’t that expensive. I mean, The Great Pyramids Of Giza, one of the most famous sites in the world will only set you back about 80 pound/ 4 euro! Other sites are equally impressive and affordable. Only when entering the Valley Of The Kings in Luxor, you will have the option to visit many tombs at an extra expense what can add up quickly. Anyway, it’s all not really expensive but if you’re backpacking in Egypt with a student card it’s even cheaper!
ALWAYS HAVE SMALL MONEY
Nobody has change, so make sure you always have small money on you. Try to pay with big bills if possible, so you can get small money back. When you take local transport or need a bottle of water, just make sure you have some coins. Also, for bargaining, it’s easier to say that this is all you have!
TRY THE LOCAL FOOD
Egypt may not be as diverse as other parts of the world, but if you like roast chicken, breads, tahina, falafels, kababs and kofta, it’s the place to be! Falafel is the most common fast food. The Egyptian falafel is made out of crushed fava beans what is mixed and made into a paste. I like this falafel more then other places in the Middle East (sorry Israel ;)). Kushari is another famous local dish,. A mix of lentils, spaghetti, pasta, hummus and onions, tossed together in a tomato and hot sauce with vinaigrette. You should try it, and tell me what you think!
DON’T BE SCARED OF ALL THE GUARDS WITH BIG GUNS
Guards are there to protect you! Many travellers are worried about traveling to the Middle East/ Egypt because of political insecurity or danger because of terrorist attacks. I never saw so many police agents and guards as in Egypt! Having a lot of armed policemen around and passing a lot of checkpoints during the overland bus rides, will probably not help you to feel safer. But really all the police and army are there to protect you!
ENJOY THE CHAOS!
Chaos, dust, heat, noise. Especially Luxor and Cairo feel like a little challenge. Walking along the streets in Cairo among the estimated 30 millions inhabitants, trying to cross the busy streets without working traffic lights, using the metro during rush hours and everyone who wants to talk to you, make your heart sometimes beat a little faster. You get used to it and might even love it after a while.. Especially crossing the busy streets, trying not to look at the cars who are coming your way, in the hope you’ll make it safely to the other side of the road, was my dose of daily happiness!
Accommodation in Egypt is cheap and great! There are plenty of opportunities, from dorm rooms to big classy resorts. At the moment there are not a lot of people backpacking in Egypt, so you have all the choice! Just be careful that some hotels/ hostels are not easy to find by just walking around the streets, they might be in the 3rd or 5th floor of a building, not always clearly marked. I would recommend to check out Hostelworld for available hostels and directions on how to get there! Or/ And check out the deals on Booking, booking through the internet was often cheaper then showing up and perfect for a free airport pickup!
CHILL OUT IN DAHAB
If you wanna soak up the sunshine, dive in the red sea and you prefer a hippie vibe instead of four-star-resorts, Dahab is the place to be! I you go backpacking in Egypt you really can’t miss out on this place! I just got the key from my new apartment and I’m going to chill here for a while… Like the whole country, Dahab suffers from the decline in tourism. Some restaurants were forced to shut down, some hotels are closed and some def need some renovation. Still, there are more backpackers here then I saw across the whole country! And.. There are some lovely places, where you can eat on comfy cushions, under the stars, feeling a light breeze of the ocean, dreaming away while writing this blog post….
Is backpacking in Egypt on your bucketlist!?
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Hi! I’m Maartje, a Dutchie who left her home to explore the world slowly, thoroughly and never came back. I’m just a little obsessed with travelling, photography, scuba diving and enjoying life.
I’d rather look back at my life and say, “I can‘t believe I did that,” instead of saying, “I wish I did that.”