One of the trips I have made while the blog was "out of service" has been to Egypt. Travelling to Egypt is one of those trips that I had idealized since I was a little girl and that has finally been fulfilled. I leave here a summary of my first adventure in the African continent.
What do I need to travel to Egypt?
If you're from Europe, in addition to carrying your passport and travel insurance, you'll need to get a visa. This visa can be obtained online, but I recommend buying it directly at the airport with cash, as it's a quicker and more direct process, on the spot. This visa is a sticker in your passport that is stamped and costs €25 (yes, you can pay for it on the spot with euros).
Where is the stand where you buy your visa?
I got off at the airport in Hurghada (a stopover, because from Hurghada I took the flight to Cairo) and as soon as I got out of the plane tunnel I found a stall where it said "Visa". At Cairo airport you can look for ¨Bank Cairo¨ or ¨Bank Egypt¨ and buy your visa there.
Don't worry too much about the rest of the paperwork, as I said, take out insurance and on the plane you'll be given some papers to fill out (on one side the papers are in Arabic and on the other in English, the pink one is for foreigners and the green one for people with Egyptian nationality). In my case, these papers were: the declaration that you don't have Covid and the collection of your personal details along with the postal address of the places where you will be staying during your stay in Egypt. .
Once you arrive at the entrance control area, depending on the day, the queues can be very long or last only a few minutes, depending on your luck that day.
As for the language, you can understand them in English more or less. And as for money, they use Egyptian Pound or EGP, which is equivalent to 0.052 euros (this in July 2022). By the way, don't forget to bring warm clothes even if you go to Egypt! The desert is very cold at night.
How to organise your trip to Egypt?
Egypt is not just Cairo, so take the opportunity to visit different parts of the country. In my case, I visited several towns and cities with the company of a local person: my friend Carine. This was a great advantage as she knows the language, places you wouldn't otherwise think of visiting, knows how to drive around the area, and so on. Yes, yes, driving a car in Egypt is not easy, there are people crossing the highway on foot, trucks transporting tyres or oranges in a way of dubious safety (or some animals, like cows), constant honking and overtaking everywhere (especially in Cairo and Alexandria)... But, all this is also part of the charm of the country!
Now, I would like to share with you my personal experience, what itinerary I followed, how I did it and what are my main recommendations.
One-week trip to Egypt (well, 7 days or so)
Using my favourite flight comparator (Skyscanner), we found an interesting combination of flights for January 2022. The itinerary was: Departing from Munich to Hurghada and ending in Cairo with a stopover. On the way back, we flew directly from Hurghada to Munich (so we could enjoy the beach on the Red Sea).
Day 1 - Arrival in Hurghada:
The first day, after being ripped off for the first time (in another post I will explain it better and tell you some tricks to bargain and avoid, if possible, being ripped off), we arrived in Cairo and our friend came to pick us up by car (thank goodness because using the public buses in Cairo are crazy) to take us to her house where we would stay the first few days.
There awaited us the first Egyptian delicacies we would taste: molokhia soup (moloheyaa or I say molojeya), stewed pigeons and other homemade food. That day we also stopped by a Vodafone branch where we bought SIM cards to have internet over there (at 10€ a card) and tried other dishes such as: Asab (also "Gasab", cane juice drink) and kunafah. Here is my post about Egyptian food..
Day 2 - Pyramids of Giza, mummies and sailing in ¨felooca¨:
We were lucky that our Egyptian friend had a car and we were able to get around Cairo very easily. About an hour's drive away we began to see camels on the road and later the pyramids and the sphinx..
They gave us a lot of trouble getting in and didn't speak to us politely (thank goodness our friend knows Arabic and was able to handle the situation). Things got better when the guide we had contacted joined our group. Going with a guide was great, Sherifa told us very interesting facts about the area and was very friendly (if you're interested I can put you in touch with him, I still have his phone number).
A great recommendation if you're going to see the pyramids of Giza: You can have breakfast watching the pyramids if you visit the 9 Pyramids Lounge bar, a breakfast of 175 EGP per person (9 euros), contains: feta cheese, falafel, tahini, fava beans, tea, etc. Here, for a small tip, you can watch the local bread being baked live. The views are unbeatable and if you've read Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist, you'll remember the book when you see this.
Everything went very well with the guide, but it's also true that the guides there take you to places you haven't asked for or haven't been asked if you want to go there. This one took us to the perfume shop of the Al-Fayed family (yes, Dodi Al-Fayed's) and there they gave us a talk about the importance of expensive perfumes. The one I found most interesting was the ¨Blue Lotus¨, the scent they were supposed to apply during the mummifications (that's why some say they smell nice and soft).
After the visit to the Giza area, we drove to the mummy museum, which is also called "The Egyptian Museum". In my opinion, it's a super interesting museum where I recommend spending at least a morning or afternoon (I didn't and regretted it very much). If you're really interested in Egyptology or directly in mummies, it's a must-see .
After the museum, we sailed down the river in a falucca or ¨Felooca¨ (felucca), a typical boat from there. Later we had dinner at a very Egyptian place according to the locals called "el Brens" (very authentic food) and dessert at "Vasko". As I said, we were going by car and with local people, so maybe it's better not to go to the first place on your own and better to eat in more touristy places, just in case.
Day 3 - Alexandria:
To visit Alexandria we went by private car but returned by train. As soon as we arrived in Alexandria we bought our return tickets to Cairo over the counter paying 100EGP in cash (we couldn't find a way to do it online) and inside Alexandria we travelled by taxi (the colours of the taxis are the same as the ones in Barcelona).
In short: I was disappointed, it's not worth it (in my opinion, of course). It is the city where I felt the least safe. Obviously, there is nothing left of the famous library and the famous lighthouse (fires, earthquakes...) and the new library is nothing worth visiting. What I did like was that I saw a lot of cats and they are generally very well cared for and respected there.
We visited the Citadel of Qaitbay, which is worth entering. I also liked the place where we had dinner: The Greek Club (the best fish soup I've ever tasted). We had heard about an ice cream parlour called Azza, where they supposedly have seven flavours of ice cream. The ice cream was a bad idea, you're missing absolutely nothing by not trying it.
Once on the train a man offered to help us turn the train seat in exchange for a tip. We said no, turning the seat is not a difficult task, and we hed back to Cairo. Take a scarf or jumper to cover up, it's usually cold on trains because they turn the ac up to full blast..
Day 4 - Cairo:
Last day in the Egyptian capital. We decided to drive to The City of Garbage and visit a Christian church built inside a cave (driving there is much more difficult than in other areas). The church is called St. Simon's Monastery or The Cave Church.
Availing ourselves of the trip, we made another stop at The Citadel and visited one of the mosques inside. It's a recommended visit and not far from the next stop: El Mosky and Khan el Khalili market. You've probably already seen a photo of this place, a market where you can eat and stop at the "El Fishawy" tea room, try the tea with lemon and mint.
Yes, it's a very narrow market and it's very difficult to do it in that area without hitting people with your car, try to get there another way or park a bit further away. While driving through there on what is supposed to be a normal road you can drive alongside donkeys, sheep and motorbikes with 3 passengers, just to give you an idea.
We dined at a place with a view: the rooftop terrace of the Novotel hotel. From the rooftop you can see the Nile and the party boats floating on it, as well as lots of mosquitoes. That night we prepare for the next long journey: a 12-hour bus ride to Luxor.
Day 5 - Luxor:
We booked this bus with the company Go-Bus (booking can be done online), Cairo (Nasr City) - Luxor for less than 10 euros. To get to the station, our friend's parents gave us a lift. The bus broke down at 2AM in the middle of the desert (the desert is cold at night, bring warm clothes also to Egypt). When the replacement bus arrived we stopped around 4AM at a service station where many people were smoking shisha and the toilets were of dubious hygiene. .
The final stop was Luxor. We took a taxi to the hotel but it took us to the river, as you can only cross by boat. Another tip if you're staying in Luxor: try to book your hotel on the side of the river where the things you find most interesting are, and not on the other side, so you'll save time and money crossing the river every day.
We stayed in a hostel called Luxor Old Nile Hotel. When we arrived nobody would open the door, a door guarded by two real goats. After several minutes a very nice lady opened the door and told us to wait for her son. In the end everything went well and I would recommend this accommodation. It was 5 euros a night, they were super hospitable (campfire to chat every night, they let us use their boat to row on the pond and even wanted to invite us to a wedding).
That afternoon we visited Karnak Temple. Many people there offer to be your personal guide, claiming to be Egyptologists. I can't tell you if they really are, but for a tip it's worth paying one of these people and learning about Amon Ra, Ramses II and Hatshepsut, hieroglyphs, scarabs and the rest of the family. If you also pay other people who ask you directly (about 100EGP is fine), they let you see areas they don't let you access otherwise. In short, the daily story in Egypt.
For dinner we decided to go into the town of Luxor and try the chicken shawarma at a restaurant. Some nights there is a light show at Karnak Temple, but as we were short of time we preferred to visit the less impressive Luxor Temple. Besides, we had to get up early the next day for our balloon ride.
Day 6 - Hot air balloons, Valley of the Kings, Hatchepsut and Medinet Habu:
We got up at 4am and put on many layers of warm clothes because we were warned that it was going to be very cold. We booked the trip on this website and the price was the equivalent of 68€ per person (it's cheaper to fly in a balloon in Egypt than in Cappadocia) and also includes transport later to two more temples (but does not include entrance to them).
When you make the reservation you put the name of your hotel and they pick you up by van. We picked up other people along the way and finally arrived at the meeting point where the balloons were being inflated. We were distributed into baskets and the hot air balloon was lifted up so that, from the heights, we could see the sunrise over the Valley of the Kings. It was well worth it!
After that, we were picked up again at the hotel to take us to the Temple of Hatshepsut. Later, our guide told us that the tombs most worth visiting are those of Ramses II (full of colours), Ramses IV and Merenptah. I recommend you do the same, because the entrance fee only covers you to see three burial chambers (although if you have time, feel like it and don't mind paying more, take advantage and try to see them all). They say that Tutankhamun's tomb is not worth it and you have to pay separately.
As with the guide a couple of days ago, he also took us to a stop we had not asked for: an alabaster workshop. We were polite and drank the complimentary mint tea but left without buying anything.
For an extra tip, the guide dropped us off at the Temple of Medinet Habu, a very worthwhile stop as it is an open-air temple that preserves the colours very well in some parts and is very close to the other very touristy attraction called The Colossi of Memnon.
From there, we got on a minibus that we stopped in the middle of the road and returned to the area of the boats where we crossed the river again. The microbuses in Egypt are a local means of transport that, according to the locals themselves, cause many accidents, so it is not a very safe but cheap means of transport. Back in Luxor we tried the typical dish "Koshaari" (in the restaurant "Koshari Alexandrino", in front of a place called "Zara"), very tasty and filling. For dessert some ¨tulumba¨, an "Om Ali" and watch the sunset over the Nile River.
Day 7 - El Gouna:
We took a Go-Bus Luxor-Hurgada (about 145EGP per person). When we arrived in Hurghada we took a taxi (before getting in we agreed the price with him) and arrived in El Gouna (it's important to have booked the hotel before arriving in order to get into the resort). The journey is a bit of a slog.
We had lunch (at the Thai restaurant The White Elephant, we also tried a very nice Greek restaurant and you can buy pizza on the beach) and sunbathed a bit and then walked to La Marina.
Day 8 - Red Sea and return:
The buffet breakfast at our hotel was fantastic (Sultan Bey Hotel with swimming pool, free boat to the other side of the beach and breakfast included). We took a dip in the pool and then hopped on a free boat to take us to the shore of the Red Sea for a swim. .
We got back on the same little boat and got ready to go to the airport (also by taxi with the same price as before, although this one ripped us off and asked us for more money because he said we were carrying more luggage than he thought we were). We got on the plane, made a stopover in Turkey and arrived to Munich.
It was a very complete trip but, of course, we left many things to visit next time, such as Abu Simbel or Mount Sinai. I hope you find it useful to prepare your next trip to Egypt, don't hesitate to write me or leave a comment if you have any questions.