I visited Egypt in mid December, following a tour group for a 11D9N trip. Here are some things to take note of if you intend to travel there too.
1. Language barrier
Most locals do not understand English. They may be able to say a few simple words, but if you reply or talk to them, it’s highly likely that they cannot comprehend you. The only exception, of course, are local tour guides trained in English.
2. Getting around places
Your best choice is a private hire, or if you’re following a tour group that would be the coach bus. From what I observed, Egypt’s public transport was mainly vans that would pick people from the roadside and presumably drop them off at their destination? I saw people waiting along roads with no apparent bus stop signs and the vans had no clear indication of its route or “bus number”. Coupled with the language barrier, I would imagine taking public transport to be quite a tough challenge.
3. Public toilets
Most public washrooms require an “entry” fee. The average rate is roughly 10 Egyptian pounds (EGP) per pax per entry. However, if you do not have small notes and end up giving 50 or 100 EGP instead, be prepared to not receive change. Even though the “guards” do have small notes on hand …
4. Social rules, or rather the lack of it
There are really no set rules in Egypt. It can be quite chaotic and messy at times. You just have to adapt and go with the flow. On roads, there is no concept of “keeping to your lane”. On paths, there is no concept of “respecting personal space”. People just move and get to where they want.
5. Security checks
When driving between destinations or cities, the coach bus would stop occasionally at security gates. But, I don’t know what the guards and bus driver said, due to language barrier. (Which is why I also strongly don’t recommend driving on your own there.) Before entering hotels and temples, we would have to put our bags through a scanner and walk through another scanner. Despite hearing many beeps, all of us were let through, which kinda puzzles me ._. My guess is that they were scanning for weapons?
6. Water safety
Please drink only bottled mineral water! And when opening a bottle, make sure you hear a “click”. Else, it means that the seller just topped up a used bottle with tap water. For me, I also brushed my teeth with mineral water. There were a few instances where I accidentally rinsed my toothbrush with tap water (out of habit) but quickly rinsed again with mineral water and I was fine.
7. Physical safety
On the whole, I didn’t feel physically unsafe. I didn’t feel like locals had any intention to harm us. But disclaimer, we only visited tourist attraction places, so that may be a significant factor.
8. Emotional safety
(I’m not sure if this term exists or whether I’m using it correctly…) But we had to watch out for tourist traps everywhere ._. Most locals were really “hungry for money” and would try various ways to get your money, without committing theft or robbery. Here’s a list:
- Taking photo of donkey, horses, or camels (or any moving animal larger than a cat or dog). The owners will most likely not stand right in front of the animals but at a distance away so that they are not in obvious sight. And when someone finally snap photos, they would walk up to them and demand for money.
- Horse carriage or camel rides. Although you already paid quite a large sum for those activities, after the activity ends, the local serving you will ask you for a tip before letting you leave. For me, after I finished the camel ride, the guide asked me to get down on a side where there was another camel right beside, and then proceeded to “body block” me (from exiting between the 2 camels) and asked me for tips.
- Locals offering to help you take a photo or giving you pose ideas. This was very common at the Great Pyramid of Giza, one of the 7 wonders of the world. At first they may say “no money”, but once you pass them your phone, only money talks.
- On a sailboat, kids may start to swim towards you on paddleboards, hang onto the sailboat and start singing. And they can really keep singing until someone on board finally gives a tip .-.
9. Shopping culture
When walking within bazaars or roadside stalls, don’t be surprised if shop owners start approaching you, holding up some products and saying things like “one dollar one dollar … very cheap”. (Btw, dollar = USD, locals prefer receiving USD to EGP.) Some would even do it to a point close to forcing. If you are not interested or feel uncomfortable, just walk away. They may follow you for a few steps but stop trailing shortly later. After all, they still need to tend their shop right? 😅
10. Prices, or rather tourist prices
Most street stalls do not have a price tag on their products. Sellers would just quote you a price, which is very likely hiked up for tourists. Tip from our tour guide: ask for half the price and after bargaining for a while, walk away slowly and they will call you back for continued negotiation. As mentioned before, there are no set (social) rules in Egypt. The person in front of you may be charged 20 EGP while you may be charged 25 EGP for the same bag of chips ._.
11. Local students may want to take photos or videos of you, just because you look different.
Unfortunately, I’ve experienced this personally. Students just walked up to us, shoved phones in our face and take photos or videos. (& we’re not even famous!) We even had to resort to running away from them and hiding for a while to avoid the harassment. My only reasonable explanation is that they probably don’t have much opportunities to travel overseas and meet people of other nationalities or from other cultures.
Egypt has its own beauty, as seen from its meticulously carved temples and laboriously built pyramids. But in my opinion, it’s not necessarily a traveler’s paradise. You need to be cautious when you’re outdoors and should travel with a local tour guide to help you navigate around. Unless you are born and raised there, I would find it hard to stay there for the long term.
p.s. I write about my other travel experiences here 😀
Thank you for reading!