Top 6 Travel Tips when Visiting Egypt

Egypt offers some of the most famous and stupendous ancient sights on our planet. They are so impressive that even the tourist crowds, the constant hassle of locals on the make, the heat and dust and the tiring sightseeing schedules don’t spoil their impact.

Egypt’s a country where no transaction is ever straightforward. You won’t need to learn much of the local language (English is widely understood) but you will know the word baksheesh, from the minute the first unofficial ‘porter’ fights to the front of the crowd to carry your bag. The word can be translated either as ‘tip’ or simply as ‘hand-out’. You can’t move in Egypt without being asked for baksheesh. Even if your tour is supposed to be inclusive, you will constantly need a pocketful of small change for porters, drivers and guides. If someone quibbles over how much you’ve handed over and you don’t think he deserves more, stand there stony-faced and silent. If you start an argument it will be long and loud and draw a crowd. Don’t expect other Egyptians to side with you.

Don’t buy anything on your first day, or from the first salesman you meet. It will take you at least two days to get into the swing of bargaining and knowing the average realistic prices. You’ll find that the conversation over dinner is more often about who paid how much for what than about the finer points of the Pyramids.

Food and drink:
Don’t, don’t ever drink the water. Don’t eat salads that have been washed in water. And don’t ever take ice-cubes in your drink – freezing the local water doesn’t kill the bugs. It was on my first trip to Egypt that
I picked up something from the water that made me ill for weeks. It says a lot about the appeal of the country that I did return. On my second trip, the Australian tour rep made fun about me being so particular – until he was horribly struck for two days with sickness and the runs. I wasn’t. Ah, the Pharaoh’s revenge.

Alcohol is expensive, so bring in your own duty-frees. You’re allowed to import one liter of spirits per adult. I find Egyptian wine not quite drinkable. Cairo is the only place in the world where I have seen journalists refuse a free bottle of wine and ask for mineral water instead. Many of the Egyption restaurant are unlicensed.

Passionate pests:
If you’re female and single, wear a wedding ring. This helps stop the endless unwanted overtures from Egyptian men who have quite a thing about Westerners. In Egypt I not only invent a fictitious husband, I make sure pursuers are told that he is Egyptian, he is an army captain and we have five children, all boys. That shuts them up.

The sights to see in Egypt are stunning. But seeing them is exhausting. Most tours start very early in the morning, before the intense heat of the day. You will need firm walking shoes for the dusty, uneven ground and a hat for shade. A foldable paper fan will come in useful, and so will polythene bags to protect your camera from the dust and sand, a shoulder-bag for carrying a bottle of water with you.
Take a torch with you. You will need it when you visit the tombs. Lighting inside the tombs and pyramids is not very good and there are often power failures – a claustrophobic’s nightmare, quite honestly, but the sights are worth it.

When to go:
Winter is the most pleasant time to visit Egypt. The climate is warm and dry from October to May. As a result, that is also the most crowded and most expensive season for tourists. Egyptian summers are stiflingly, almost unbearably hot.

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