In my head, Egypt was going to be just like Turkey. Middle Eastern / European flair with tons of history and infrastructure to support it. Egypt was a bit different than my source of comparison. Hopefully you will be more prepared than me for your upcoming trip to Egypt! Here are my big takeaways:
You Drive Everywhere
Egypt is both a very condensed population along the Nile, and spread out attractions. I was so unprepared for the amount of driving we did. It would take about an hour to get anywhere within Cairo and when we were along the Nile Cruise, we would drive even more out to temples or other sites. Plan to spend more time than you expected in a vehicle. Several of our mornings started in the 3am hour because of a 3-4 hour drive or early flight and drive combined. There are long term plans by the current president to build a modern rail line connecting major sites and cities but the timeline is still very far away. Hopefully in the future the public transportation will be better for everyone – locals and tourists alike.
Thinking of the oldest and most grandiose civilization of all time, I didn’t expect the amount of smog and trash. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVED Egypt, but the city of Cairo in particular is a hard living place. We were coughing and sneezing the entire time we were there and I think a large part is due to the dense traffic and population. Vehicles don’t have the same emission regulations we are used to in the US, so a lot of that ends up in the air. If you opt to do a Nile Cruise, you arrive in Luxor and may hear from your guide “Welcome to the greener and cleaner part of Egypt” just like we did.
Cross selling and up selling
Egyptians are natural born salespeople and entrepreneurs. It got a bit tiresome at the end, but everyone will assume you have deep pockets as a tourist and want to buy allllll the souvenirs and upgrades and VIP status. If you expect it, it is a less painful initiation into Egypt. We only felt like an upsell wasn’t worth it for the “Luxor by Night” ride. That was an absolute waste, but most other upsell packages and tours were worth it considering you will probably only go to Egypt once. If you have a strict budget, practice saying no well in advance of your travels.
Equivalent to “I’ll get there when I get there”. Traffic is really bad and way of life isn’t built around this weird need for efficiency like America, so service will be more leisurely, your flight probably won’t take off on time and the museum may be late opening. Expect to be more go with the flow and you won’t get hung up on things taking longer or being later than expected.
Egypt is mostly Muslim, and Muslims typically don’t drink alcohol. We have all the love and respect for Muslims, however I will say, I love a glass of wine on vacation. What was a bit of a surprise was how little we came across wine, beer, liquor shops. In fact, I didn’t see any. We stayed in Old Cairo and that neighborhood isn’t allowed to serve or sell alcohol whatsoever so our hotel couldn’t even provide us with it if we asked.
Camels are not indigenous
Hollywood has lied to me! We thought the camel ride around the pyramids was a total blast, but found out later that they actually aren’t indigenous to the region at all. Don’t pass on the opportunity to ride one, but know that this cute touristy and Hollywood icon is not reality.
Strong Police Presence
This isn’t a huge surprise coming into Egypt. There is a heavy police presence all over as being in the force has many benefits and great salary. The interesting thing is that many of the guns of patrolling officers looked like they needed to be retired. I’m sure they’re rarely, if ever, used but one barrel was even cracked that an officer was walking around with. That would likely do more damage to the officer than the target. The police presence is normal and weapons are carried openly. It was never an issue or concern. The only quirky thing that happens is when an officer shows you a cool part of a temple and then puts his hand out for a tip. Asking for a tip while wearing an AK47 is a bit more incentivizing than usual. Let me just say, it was never in a threatening way, just a funny quirk of Egyptian tipping culture.
But lots of juice. Egyptians are used to the Sahara and our pale faces and indoor temperature controlled home did not prepare us to be dried out the entire time. Maybe Americans have a weird culture around drinking a ton of water, but truthfully we couldn’t find it or drink enough of it the entire trip. It is up for debate if the sink water is drinkable, so we opted for bottled water most of the time. Even still, we had to plan ahead and order 6 massive bottles of water every other day otherwise we couldn’t find a way to get it.
No American Music
This was a great surprise. I’ve been to Italy and other countries to hear the exact same tunes in the US. We are a major exporter of entertainment, but it was great to literally hear a different soundtrack in Egypt at all the restaurants and markets. I’m not sure what the movie and tv scene is like in Egypt, but I really appreciate the fact that Egyptians music scene is going strong.
All Currencies Accepted
The funny thing about Egypt (and Costa Rica) is that you can pay in multiple currencies. They accept Egyptian Pound, British Pound and American Dollar. Almost everyone from shop owners to market stands to hotels. It is important to have a lot of small currencies / change on hand for things like going to the bathroom, but I wasn’t expecting to have USD so widely accepted. It may be a different story if you’re coming from a different country and currency norm. We met some British pals who quite literally got USD for the trip because they heard it was easier to exchange and use than British Pounds.
Oh, also don’t wear shorts. That is the +1 tip for anywhere other than the US, please just don’t wear shorts. Anything that surprised you about your trip to Egypt?
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