2020 Egypt Travel Guide
Home to the last of the seven wonders of the ancient world, Egypt is as mysterious as it is breathtaking. With a history that stretches as far back as we have records of, a trip to Egypt seems like a natural desire.
This Egypt travel guide is designed to answer some of your burning questions, provide tips for traveling and things to do in Egypt, and help you make the most of your trip.
Is it safe to travel to Egypt in 2020?
I am often asked “is Egypt safe?” It absolutely is. During my last trip over to this mysterious and enchanting country, not once did I feel in danger.
Nonetheless, traveling to Egypt, Middle East or North Africa comes with travel advisories and restrictions--many of which can be addressed with common sense and by practicing caution as you would anywhere else in the world.
Whether you are traveling to Egypt as an American or not, always check with your country’s foreign ministry. In the U.S., the Bureau of Consular Affairs provides the information you need before making a decision.
Fortunately, the best places to visit in Egypt are far removed from the ‘Do not travel to” list, such as the borders, the Western Desert, and the Sinai Peninsula.
Now to the fun stuff! Depending on your interests, budget and number of days on the land of the Pharaohs, different itineraries can take shape.
You can always book a free 10-minute consultation with one of our WandrHop Travel Engineers to discuss your trip to Egypt.
10 Best Places to Visit in Egypt
The Giza Plateau (Pyramids and Great Sphinx)
The Grand Egyptian Museum (Giza) &/or the Egyptian Museum (Cairo)
Luxor Temple and the Valley of the Kings
Cruising the Nile
Edfu Temple (Temple of Horus)
Islamic Cairo & Khan el-Khalili
Philae Island & Temple (Aswan)
A Stay at the Mena House (Giza)
Aswan city and the Cataracts
A 10-Day Egypt Itinerary: What to See and What to Skip
If you are traveling to Egypt from the U.S., chances are you are spending a bit of money. Skip the Red Sea resorts! This captivating country has much more to offer.
For similar reasons, I am inclined to also recommend skipping Alexandria (unless you have extra days in the country) as it takes time away from what I reckon to be the most comprehensive 10-day Egypt itinerary.
While this is just a sample Egypt itinerary, we know different folks have different strokes. Our travel engineers at WandrHop can tailor Egypt itineraries to your needs, length of stay and budget. We have become quite the experts (if we do say so ourselves) at negotiating cruise rates and coordinating all aspects of your trip to Egypt.
This ideal first-timer 10-day Egypt itinerary consists of 3 legs.
First Leg: Travel through time and back to the future in Cairo and its surrounding sites
Spend the first 3 days of your trip to Egypt in Cairo and Giza. I recommend staying away from the hustle and bustle of Cairo by choosing a hotel in Giza (don’t worry, you’ll experience the madness that is downtown Cairo by night on the 3rd leg of the trip).
Giza is technically part of Cairo and is where you will find the brand new Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM) alongside the Giza Plateau, where the Great Pyramid proudly stands.
As you get that first glimpse of the pyramids on the way to your hotel from the taxi, you will know this is the start of a legendary vacation! Added goosebumps if you decide to stay at the Marriott Mena House, with its perfectly manicured gardens and pools reflecting the stone giants standing right outside its gates.
The Mena House is a historical palace with the most dramatic vistas of the pyramids right from your balcony, while also offering a much-needed oasis at the end of a day wandering around the sites.
Egypt Travel Day One
Start with a day of Learning. Get to the foundation of a culture that lasted several millennials in Saqqara and Memphis, visit the original Step-Pyramid and its plateau to understand the history of the pyramids and the construction process (spoiler alert, there were no aliens involved).
In the afternoon head over to the Cairo Museum or the Grand Egyptian Museum, either option is good, you will definitely see more at the GEM but the Cairo Museum’s vintage flair and architecture makes me feel like Indiana Jones and that museum still has a lot to offer.
A visit to the museum will allow for a deeper understanding of the ancient culture and give you more tools to appreciate on a more personal level all the wonders you will see throughout the following 8-9 days.
Egypt Travel Day Two
Today is the day! I know it’s a tease to be so close without going to see them face-to-face, but the wait is worthwhile. Now that you understand all it took to build those royal tombs, the life around it and the civilization that took part in it, touching them for the first time will be even more dreamlike.
Get there early--people line up before the gates even open! Visiting the plateau, taking in the views, entering the great pyramid and checking out a couple of exhibitions around the site will keep you busy for most of the morning and will definitely exhaust you!
Take advantage of being close by to the hotel for a lunch break and quick shower before heading to Cairo.
In the afternoon of the second full day in the city, I recommend taking a stroll in the Islamic Cairo (especially on and around El Moez Street) and Khan-el-Khalili Market.
These areas are about 20-30 minutes from Giza by taxi and will awaken all your senses as soon as you close the car door behind you and take in the picturesque and exhilarating views of the oldest parts of ‘modern Cairo.’
Be open for new encounters. During my last visit to Cairo I was invited to go all the way up a major minaret during the call for prayer (Azan) and resulted in an experience I will never forget, overlooking the entire city from the top while the chants resonated through its narrow streets.
Second Leg: Luxor to Aswan through the Nile
The following 5 days are less Indiana Jones and more Agatha Christie’s characters in an unforgettable journey aboard one of the several river cruises on the Nile.
Egyptian Nile Cruises have set departure dates and length; hence it is important to take those dates in consideration when planning your trip to Egypt.
You will have to choose between 5 days and 4 nights (from Luxor to Aswan) or 4 days and 3 nights (from Aswan to Luxor). Although the North to South option adds one more day, the schedule will feel less rushed and allow you to truly enjoy the scenic voyage, discovering the Nile in a unique way, a timeless rural tableau floating by like a hieroglyph come to life!
I have added a section later on this article to help guide you through the plethora of boats and offers to choose from.
Egypt Travel Days Three-Seven
The five days (three full days + checking-in and check-out days) on the Egyptian Nile cruise are planned, although I would also recommend that you go explore on your own while the boat is docked for the evening.
There is something very special about enjoying playing soccer with kids by the Nile and roaming the streets before dinner. Here is a typical Nile Cruise itinerary:
The city of Aswan is often overlooked by tourists and it is the very place most tourists coming back wish they had more time exploring!
The afternoon prior to check-out, the boat will be docked in Aswan, outside of the main excursion that day (Philae Temple and Island) you will be offered several other tours including the botanical garden, a Nubian village, a perfume shop etc.
My suggestion is to skip the Nubian Village and the perfume shop, instead, go explore Aswan!
Especially in order to spend a few hours at The Sofitel Legend Old Cataract in Aswan, rated one of the best hotels in the world and fancied by legendary authors and politicians.
DISCLAIMER here is a Million Dollar tip for you, this amazing hotel (where Death on the Nile amongst other movies were filmed) is accessible to visitors for a $20 voucher to be used on property (equivalent of 3-4 cocktails per person while lounging by the pool or walking around the property).
Make sure to stay for Sunset as the hotel’s trail by the cliffs offer some of the most breathtaking views of Ra disappearing in the horizon while Osiris is coming up (as one would have described the sunset a few thousand years ago).
On Day 7 (Day 5 of the Nile cruise), check-out is usually around 8 a.m. but I highly recommend you to check-out at 3:30 a.m. You heard me right!
Go on a sunrise road trip South through the desert to reach the renowned temple of Abu Simbel, a Jewel of Ancient Egypt erected by one of the most, if not the most, powerful pharaoh Egypt ever had: Ramses II.
You will be back in time for the early afternoon EgyptAir flight back from Aswan to Cairo.
Third Leg: Back to the City that Never Ceases to Amaze
Depending on when you landed or when you depart from Cairo, you have 2 full days left to spend in Egypt and what better place than in the center of it all?
Choose a hotel in Cairo this time. If you are an American Express Platinum card holder, I highly recommend staying in one of the two Four Seasons hotels as the perks you will receive make up for the price tag.
During my last stay in Cairo, I chose to stay at the Four Seasons First Residence. Thanks to the Amex Platinum I had a noon check-in, 7 p.m. check-out, 50-minute massage at the Spa included per person per room, and most importantly a room upgrade from a regular Deluxe room to a Presidential Suite on the highest floor.
Now is the best time to discover what you’ve been missing in Cairo and go for shopping excursions to find that perfect souvenir (beware of the tourist traps, check the Egypt Travel Advice section of this post for more details). In addition to calming any shopping addiction, I do recommend you to visit at least the following four spots prior to departing.
Go back to the old Islamic Cairo and get lost, you’ll notice that although everything has been the same for hundreds of years, every visit feels different and you’ll likely experience a feeling of sweet overwhelmingness that only Cairo can offer.
Trade one religion for another by heading to Coptic Cairo, an area highly influenced by the early Christian roots of the city, also home to the hanging Church.
Have dinner (during Sunset and grab a table by the window) at Zitouni – you can thank me later!
Take a stroll through Al-Azhar Park during the day and mix in with the locals as they also enjoy the breeze and shade from large trees, bonus, the park sits on top of a hill and offers stunning views of the city of a thousand minarets.
Egypt Travel Advice
Airport Logistics at Cairo International
Whether it is your first or fifth time landing in Cairo, if you do not speak Arabic you may feel slightly lost and overwhelmed by the security & visa process upon arrival.
I do recommend the use of a third party “Meet & Greet” assist, it will cost $20 per person and will save you a lot of time, especially if you land late at night.
As a U.S. or European citizen, you will need to pay for a visa upon entry to Egypt and this can be done at one of the banks inside the terminal. It takes no more than 3 minutes to obtain your visa on your passport. The ‘Meet and Greet’ will take care of everything for you and will even get you through the lines at security and exit gates much faster.
Uber in Cairo, Egypt
As surprising as it may be, Cairo is equipped with great Uber coverage. So instead of spending a fortune on a VIP car service to drive you to your hotel from the airport, get an Uber select!
Only drawback is that most drivers won’t speak English, which is fine since all the information about your destination is in the GPS already but in many cases, they will send a message through the app to ask about your exact location, as this will be written in Arabic, be ready to have to translate on Google or any other app you may want to us to be able to understand the question and respond accordingly.
If you enjoy immersing yourself in a new city like I do and like to keep the tour guide experiences to a minimum, Uber will be your best bet.
Understand & Accept the Pushy Behaviors for a Better Experience
Alright, as an experienced traveler you may have already experienced the somewhat pushy behaviors in certain countries. Egypt is probably more intense than what you may have experienced before, and you need to be ready for it.
The country relies immensely on tourism and because of low levels of tourist money in the past years, it will feel like your presence ignited a great deal of excitement in them. That enthusiasm will be shown in a way that may make you feel uncomfortable at first, as you will quickly be surrounded by several people trying to sell you souvenirs.
Keep in mind that those people are not mall-kiosk vendors asking you to try their new anti-wrinkle creams, saying ‘No thanks’ will not suffice and they will often keep following you until you give a clear sign you are not interested.
The best policy if you are not intending to buy anything is to not talk and not make eye contact, walking straight to your destination without even answering simple questions like “where are you from?”
The sooner you understand the reasons behind their behaviors and accept it, the sooner you will be able to move past the uncomfortable feeling and enjoy the experience.
Baksheesh: Tipping in Egypt
Baksheesh (or little tips) are, in most cases, no more than EGP10-20 and will be a big part of your time in Egypt!
First and foremost, I want to highlight the importance of always having a good stack of small bills in your wallet.
Baksheesh, although translate to small tip, in reality also have a connotation of ‘I help you a little, you help me a little,’ meaning that in most cases you can give a Baksheesh to a guy that helps you skip the line, or to take photographs in areas where it usually is forbidden.
Be mindful not to over-baksheesh. Everybody will expect a baksheesh and for the smallest things. Additionally, some people, sometimes park officials even, will allow you to climb on historical monuments for a small fee. Obviously, as good as that shot may be, the answer should always be ‘No’.
Water in Egypt
Water never felt more like liquid gold than last time I was in Egypt in the July heat. Hydration in any desert-climate area is not only recommended but also mandatory to be able to function. That being said, access to bottled waters is not always easy so be aware and do not leave your hotel without a bottle in your bag!
Bottled water will be your savior not just for drinking but also to prepare coffee, ice cubes and to brush your teeth.
It is very important NOT TO drink tap water in Egypt and that means no iced coffee (ice cubes are usually made from tap water unless noted otherwise by the owner of the shops). I had to learn the hard way and trust me, I don’t recommend it.
When is the Best Time to Go To Egypt?
There are several schools of thought on that topic. I’ve lived in Florida for a few years now and I am used to the heat, therefore July/August are usually my recommended months.
Summer months will mean 2 important things for you:
There will be a lot less tourists and you often will have the entire monuments for yourself to daydream about what life must have been like in the ancient times
Rates for hotels and cruises will be cheaper because of the low demand, which will make the cost of that trip of a lifetime a bit more affordable.
If the heat is not something you can handle, then anytime during the winter months will be a great getaway from the cold. Christmas and New Years’ Eve Nile cruises have been en vogue for the past couple years and you might consider them as a family trip, but high-demand weeks also mean a lot more tourists and higher fares.
Camel Ride by the Giza Plateau
Did you know that it is not representative of ancient Egypt to be riding a camel by the pyramids? Camels were not part of Ancient Egypt’s fauna, instead riding a horse would be a much closer depiction of a scene as it would have been then.
Aside from this fact, riding a camel by the pyramids is almost a must-do, and not for the experience in itself but for the glorious pictures of you looking like a true adventurer with the most appropriate backdrop.
Do not fall into the trap of booking in advance on Viator or any other sites (and even from a guide, should you have one for the pyramids), there are hundreds of camels and camel-owners on the site and paying and negotiating the rate right then and there will save you a lot of money, the 40-min ride all the way to the Great Sphinx should not cost you more than $15 per person (plus baksheesh).
Hiring a Tour Guide or Egyptologist in Egypt
If you are like me, you may prefer the power of organization and preparation over the use of a guide to hold your hands throughout the day. But Egypt is one of those countries where, unless you speak Arabic, you will not only want a guide, but also benefit greatly from it.
During my last trip to Egypt, I hired an Egyptologist guide and a driver for two full days for $100 a person, to visit the main sites around Cairo (Saqqara, Memphis, Giza Plateau Pyramids, Egyptian Museum guided tour, etc.).
Instead of booking those through Viator and other sites, either use Wandrhop services to hook you up with the best Egyptologists at a fair price, or do your own research: but not on Google. Use Instagram!
Many small tour companies ran by guides have Instagram accounts and can easily be found and rates negotiated right at the source. Another reason why a guide is the way to go: many of them are trained photographers and will take epic pictures for you, you can trust them, they know all the best spots!
The Nile Cruise is a Must-Do While Traveling in Egypt
A River cruise is a luxury experience, don’t go and imagine this is anything like that Carnival cruise you once took in the Caribbean! Most boats have a limited number of rooms and white-glove 5-star service, complemented by fine cuisine and daily excursions led by experts.
As you start your search towards finding the best cruise for the best price, you will likely feel dizzy by the amount of choice and the lack of clear directions, you may revert to the easy choice that is booking using Expedia or Viator and end up paying twice as much as some of your fellow passengers.
My first tip is to book directly with the cruise companies and my second tip is to reach out to Wandrhop as we have preferential rates with some cruise companies!
My selection for the best cruises on the Nile right now is as follow (from most extravagant to the most budget-friendly while still being a luxury experience):
The Steamship SS Sudan: a floating piece of art dating back from the 1920’s harboring bell-epoque décor and an impeccable lifestyle. Book the Agatha Christie or Hercule Poirot suites and re-create your favorite scenes from Death on the Nile. Honoring this historic ship comes with a substantial price-tag (based on 2020 prices) of 2,500 euros per person (during high season). Please also note that the SS Sudan’s itinerary runs 1 day longer than most other cruises.
The Sonesta St George I: a newer boat part of the Sonesta float of three Nile cruises is also top of the line. You may not be in a historical floating monument, but you will feel like it with their liberal use of wood and vintage themed rooms. During high-season, the five-day/four-night cruise from Luxor to Aswan will cost 1,800 euros per person.
The Sonesta Moon Goddess: a more budget-friendly option although still considered luxury cruise ship vs. a lot of what you will find. The ship is more modern looking and lacks the belle-epoque feel that I usually go for, but is still a remarkable ship with exceptional amenities and service. Prices during high-season go for 1,260 euros per person.
There is a plethora of cruise options for you to choose from, but the options above will provide the most value for the money.
Traveling to Egypt as a Solo Female Traveler
Women may experience Egypt slightly differently than men do because of the local culture, religion and beliefs. Nothing to be worried about though, the key is to opt for conservative clothing and staying away from anything extravagant that would put a target on your back.
If you are a fair-skin blond woman with blue-eyes, chances are you will attract lots of attention from locals and children who will want to take a picture with you, nothing malicious here though! Outside of that, traveling solo as a woman in Egypt is safe, especially if you do opt to get a guide.
Want to skip the eventual misogyny from the guide that is assigned to you? Go for a female Egyptologist, contact a Wandrhop Travel Engineer to find who would be best for you. After all, there needs to be a great deal of trust and confidence between traveler and guide.
What to Wear in Egypt
Preparing your luggage and outfits for Egypt should follow 3 simple rules.
Wear what you feel comfortable in, there is no need to change who you are based on where you are!
Choose the more conservative approach, anything that shows a lot of skin is not a good idea. That means no tank-tops for men (please don’t be that guy) and no mini-skirts for women.
Breathable items! Stay away from Linen as it wrinkles too much, and you don’t want to look like a slob in all your pictures but Cotton and other mixed materials that dry fast and won’t show as much sweat will be your best options.
In conclusion, Egypt is not only safe, it is also THE place to visit right now!
Go fast before everybody hears about it.
Preparation and organization are two of the qualities required for a good trip to Egypt.
Want WandrHop to organize your trip to Egypt? Get started here.