Obervations on Egypt

This item appears on page 12 of the August 2010 issue.

The following is supplemental advice for your first trip to Egypt, based upon experiences from an April ’10 trip I made with my wife and several friends. These tips and observations cover topics that either were not addressed or, more commonly, did not receive sufficient emphasis in the guidebooks and Internet resources we consulted pretrip.

These tips only complement your guidebooks. Guidebooks contain lots of good information and useful suggestions that are omitted here (e.g., don’t drink the water).

Among pleasant surprises, the sights (pyramids, tombs, temples, etc.) lived up to or exceeded our expectations.

The Egyptian people we met were friendly and professed to like America and Americans.

Cairo’s scenic Al-Azhar Park is an excellent place to spend some rare, stress-free time in the city. You won’t be hassled, and you can meet local people. In fact, you may be the only foreign traveler there.

The high temperatures (over 100ºF) in the south don’t feel too bad as long as you minimize time in the sun and drink plenty of water.

The roads around Aswan and Luxor were fine.

Among unpleasant surprises, traffic in Cairo and, to a lesser extent, Alexandria was horrible, albeit at times entertaining. It will take longer than you expect to get to your destinations in those cities.

It’s difficult to fully appreciate the intensity, brazenness and persistence of street peddlers, taxi drivers, felucca pilots, etc., until you’ve experienced it firsthand. Consider yourself a target when you are near hotels, near cruise ships, in souks or visiting the Sphinx or the Giza pyramids.

Nile cruise ships can dock up to six abreast. Even in Aswan, which has lots of docks, expect to spend most of your nights and part of your days aboard docked with another ship — with a noisy engine — just inches outside your cabin window.

Your guided tour inevitably will include an unscheduled stop at a “carpet factory,” “papyrus museum,” alabaster factory or perfume shop. Expect free tea and fairly interesting demonstrations before the sales pitches begin.

Be very careful when buying alcohol in souks and even in more traditional shops. Counterfeit booze abounds, e.g., “John Waler” instead of “Johnnie Walker” scotch. (Enter “John Waler + Egypt” in a search engine for entertaining tales.)

The road from Cairo to Saqqara, Memphis and beyond is terrible. Expect a slow, bumpy trip.

The toll expressway between Cairo and Alexandria is under construction and likely will be for many years. It’s a tiring three- to 3½-hour journey each way.

More information you may find useful — several key sights (e.g., Valley of the Kings and the Egyptian Museum in Cairo) not only prohibit photography but prohibit cameras and cell phones that can take photos. You can check your camera or phone, but there might be a fee or tip involved to have it returned.

You will need to tip an astonishing number of people. US currency in good condition is widely accepted. Take lots of it. Estimate how much you will need, then take double that amount. Egyptian coins and small bills are better but are in short supply.

Hotels and cruise ships charge premium prices for bottled water. We purchased 1.5-liter bottles of water from street vendors for prices as low as 2½ Egyptian pounds (near 37¢) each, while our Cairo hotel charged EGP20 ($3.60) for the same brand and size.

Metal detectors are common at entrances to museums, hotels and even some restaurants.

While some of this information may make visiting Egypt sound a bit daunting, don’t let it discourage you. Egypt is well worth visiting and you’ll return with some entertaining stories.


Charlotte, NC