picture by hobotraveler
Egypt is one of the world's most traveled to destinations due to its history, proximity to other well-traveled countries and its unique vision. Cairo is the usual first destination for visitors to Egypt and is the stopping off point for seeing the great pyramids of Giza, the Valley of the Kings, Khan Al-Khalili marketplace, the Dead City, museums, King Tut's mask and the famous Cairo nightlife.
Other popular destinations are Alexandria for its ruins, a nile cruise for the scenery, one of the most popular beach destinations at Sharm Al-Sheikh including some of the best scuba diving in the world and the tranquility of places along the Sinai.
Egypt also has an incredible and diverse cultural makeup, is the Arab world's Hollywood and is the only place you'll race at 100 mph in a taxi playing the group Wham! on sidewalks and through donkey carts, falafel stands, and massive buses.
Most people visit Egypt as part of a package tour though you should really concentrate on seeing all of Egypt's smaller nuances on your own and spend more time in the country. Many people come away from the cattle-call type pyramid-shopping tours with a feeling like they've been had, and with good reason because they have! Explore the city on your own or through a very small independent travel agency rather than with a huge group and you won't get ripped off.
Weather & Climate
Egypt is hot! Egypt is quite hot during the summer and actually cool, especially nearer to the Mediterranean coast, during the winter months. The best times to visit would be during the spring and fall seasons when the weather is more temperate and the summer hordes are at work.
Religion is a huge part of life in Egypt: over 90% of the population are Sunni Muslim. Mosques broadcast the call to prayer five times a day and Ramadan and other Muslim holidays are prominent in the country. The farther South you travel the more conservative the religious climate becomes and there is some problems in the Southern part of the country with Muslim groups calling for an instatement of a heavily Islamic government. As with any country, however, politics tends to disappear when you personally meet the people and you will find one of the most cosmopolitan and welcoming populations in the Arabic-speaking world.
Egypt is very much an Arabic speaking country and not too much English is spoken outside the mega-hotels and resorts. That said there is usually someone around who can speak English somewhat unless you are really in the middle of nowhere. Most people go on package type tours to Egypt and usually never come into contact with a person who can't speak their language (unfortunately).
Egypt is a Muslim country, meaning that people tend to dress modestly. Don't wear shorts anywhere unless to the beach or pool and tank tops should also be avoided outside. Women should avoid tight fitting clothing and traveling alone in Egypt. In some of the more rural areas it may be wise for women to cover their hair though this is usually quite rare.
No topless or nude sunbathing is permitted on the beaches or at the pools.
It's a very good idea to get your Egyptian visa in the country you live in before you travel. Your travel agent can arrange this for you. Otherwise you may find yourself sitting in the airport or border crossing area for some time.
All visitors to Egypt who aren't Egyptian should have a valid passport which doesn't expire for at least six months. Tourist visas are issued on arrival for passport holders from EU countries, GCC countries, USA, Australia, Japan and most others. Visa applications are given out by your airline, or at on-land border crossings.
Note: The status of the Palestinian Territory/Egypt border crossing is constantly changing, please check with your local Egyptian consulate before attempting to cross at this point.
Egypt has a peace treaty with Israel and travel between the two countries is common and encouraged.
Visa restrictions are strict and complicated for travelers from Eastern Europe, Africa, non-GCC Arab countries like Lebanon and Palestinian Territories, Iran, Iraq, and on persons who appear to be Arab but who are passport holders of any other country (including US). If in doubt check with the Egyptian consulate before going.
International Driving Permit is required. Application and info for US drivers on AAA's website here: http://www.csaa.com/.
Driving in Egypt is highly discouraged, however, especially for the uninitiated and while in Cairo. Driving in Cairo is one of the most dangerous things to do in the world, seriously perhaps. It may even be more dangerous in Cairo to walk, though, given that most traffic laws are disobeyed by everyone, the streets are careening with speeding traffic, donkey carts, and other things, all attempted to be "directed" by policemen who stand on platforms wearing plastic helmets.
Try not to take the bus in Cairo either, as you will be a target, if you are a visitor, for pickpockets and other shysters.
Driving outside of Cairo can be quite pleasant, conversely, though dangerous road conditions exist throughout the country and unfamiliar situations can turn ugly quickly. Exercise caution, dear traveler.
Drugs and Alcohol
Alcohol is available in Egypt and Egypt even has its own beer, whiskey, gin and wine brands which are popular throughout the country.
Stella beer is the most popular Egyptian brand of beer in the country and is a pleasant lager tasting brew made since the 1800s.
Buy alcohol from liquor stores, the three main ones are Drinkies (!), Maison Thomas, and the Egypt Free shops (the only place to find legally imported alcohol). Other smaller shops are scattered throughout the country and there is a sizeable black market on alcohol though the quality is generally much poorer and even may be dangerous to your health.
Alcohol is also available in hotels, nightclubs, and many restaurants and tourist boats.
Drugs are widely available throughout the country, particularly hashish. Egyptian drug penalties are very harsh, however, and you do not want to spend any amount of time in an Egyptian prison. Your country cannot help you other than to send an embassy employee to visit you occasionally.
Egyptian money is made of the Pound which is broken into Piastres (25P is the smallest currency).
Egyptian bills are different shapes and sizes depending on their value (the higher, the larger, naturally).
The only vaccinations required are Yellow fever and Cholera form people who have traveled in an infected area six days before arriving in Egypt.
Other vaccinations are highly recommended, however, and include hepatitis, typhoid, polio booster, and any other common vaccination.
Use a condom in all sexual contact in any country.
Visitors to Egypt will get diarrhea, it's part of the experience! Avoid all water from the tap, all ice cubes and most veggies that you don't peel to eat (salads especially). That said, some of the best food in Egypt is found on the street, just be careful and watch them cook it for you! Bring plenty of anti-diarrhea medication and anti-biotics and stay hydrated with bottled water.
Egypt is actually a very safe country to visit despite its size and Cairo's frantic feel. The most annoyances you will get will be from shopkeepers and tourist touts who want you to buy their hieroglyphic pictures, hashish, ride their camel, or come with them to some shady cafe somewhere. Avoid anyone who makes friends with you for no reason, especially those that are directly approaching you. Pickpockets and scam artists are the most annoying feature of Egypt and are mostly only found in Cairo.
Women traveling alone will get looked at and possibly talked to on the streets of Cairo or in the South of the country. By hailing a taxi or entering any nearby shop you can avoid put an end to it but several readers of gomideast.com have commented on this aspect of Egyptian life unfortunately.
Avoid taking unwanted photos of people, always ask if you can first.
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