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8 tips I wish I knew before traveling solo to Egypt

May 28, 2022
8 min read
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Egypt is a magical place that attracts travelers from all over the globe. Most tourists go there to see the pyramids in Giza, but you'd be remiss if you didn't branch out beyond Cairo's famous sites.

Traveling throughout Egypt can be a bit tricky. Fortunately, with a bit of research and careful planning, you can minimize the likelihood of encountering any unexpected surprises during your visit.

Here are some tips to keep in mind before you visit based on my solo travels around Egypt.

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Know what to expect when it comes to money

Overall, Egypt is an affordable destination, with most meals costing less than $5. However, be wary of scams and being overcharged. If you plan to shop, which you should at Khan el-Khalili in Cairo, be prepared to haggle. Never pay the first price offered by a local vendor, and use your bargaining skills to get whatever you’re purchasing for a little bit cheaper.

Also be sure to pack cash. Although this is standard advice for just about everywhere, it's especially crucial in Egypt, as you'll be expected to leave a hefty tip in Egyptian pounds (the country's currency) for every service you partake in and receive.

(Photo by Kaitlyn Rosati for The Points Guy)

Dress appropriately

While you may be tempted to whip out your short shorts due to the scalding heat, Egypt is not the place to do so, as it's a conservative country. Wear clothes that go at least past your knees, do not show any cleavage and make sure to cover your shoulders, especially at holy sites. Female tourists are not expected to wear a hijab, though they can choose to do so out of respect. It is recommended for women to wear baggy clothes.

Bring a light jacket if your visit is during winter. Despite popular belief, Egypt does indeed get chilly. Wear comfortable walking shoes, and don’t repeat my mistake of wearing cute sandals while temple hopping in Luxor. Some tombs are underground with a steep slope downward, so good footwear is essential.

(Photo by Kaitlyn Rosati for The Points Guy)

Related: The potential is there: A review of EgyptAir’s business class on the 787-9 from Cairo to New York

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Take advantage of student discounts

Most of Egypt's archaeological sites like the pyramids, temples and more charge an entry fee. These fees can add up over time, especially if you’re trying to see several throughout your trip, as you should. I visited Egypt when I was a law student, and my guide in Luxor informed me there is a student discount. However, some sites wouldn’t accept my New York City student ID card.

To avoid a U.S. state ID not being accepted, you can look into getting an international student ID card (or an ISIC), which will likely be accepted at all sites in Egypt. The only caveat is you have to be younger than 26 to qualify for the Egyptian student discount.

(Photo by Kaitlyn Rosati for The Points Guy)

Sample the country's food and beverages

Sampling local cuisine is always a big treat when traveling. In Egypt, the delicious fare is seemingly endless. You'll find a variety of vegetarian and vegan dishes in the country, including falafel and fül, a stew of cooked fava beans made with olive oil, parsley, cumin and garlic that's typically eaten for breakfast. You should also try koshari, Egypt's national dish. It's a wonderfully tasty concoction of pasta, rice, chickpeas, lentils and fried onions served in a spicy tomato sauce.

Tap water is not recommended for drinking here, so opt for a bottled beverage to wash down your meal. Despite being a predominantly Muslim nation where many locals abstain from drinking alcohol, Egypt produces its own wine and beer, so you'll have a few alcoholic options to choose from. If you want to indulge after a long day of sightseeing, most hotels serve alcohol or you can order it online through the popular Egyptian site Cheers. Know, though, that being intoxicated in public is a big no-no.

(Photo courtesy of Manish Gosalia)

Come prepared with layers

There’s a common misconception that Egypt is extremely hot year-round. While the country undoubtedly gets hot much of the year, it does indeed have a cooler season from December to late March, so bring a light jacket if you're planning a winter visit.

Know, too, that Egypt is a large country, so the weather may vary depending on where you are in the country.

(Photo courtesy of Manish Gosalia)

Hire a guide

Egypt is an attractive tourist destination thanks to its rich history, which can be traced back to some of the earliest signs of communication. Self-research is always an option, but if you want to make the most of your Egypt experience, consider hiring a guide to explain the many sites you’ll see to you. It can be overwhelming to view pyramids, hieroglyphics, mummies and more on your own. A certified Egyptologist will ensure you know what you’re looking at and can deepen your connection to the country's history.

Additionally, a local guide who speaks the language can help you navigate unwanted attention, especially for women traveling on their own. Catcalling is unfortunately common in Egypt, but touring with a guide might eliminate some of the harassment experienced. If you're a woman traveling alone and you're uncomfortable hiring a male guide, don't fret: I was pleasantly surprised to find many female guides available for hire when I visited.

(Photo courtesy of Manish Gosalia)

Related: Egypt opens 4,600-year-old ‘Bent’ Pyramid to the public

Plan your itinerary and in-country transportation ahead of time

There's more to Egypt than just Cairo. In fact, many travelers only spend a day or two in Cairo to see the pyramids before venturing out to other destinations. There are several ways to travel throughout the country, but you’ll need to narrow down where you’d like to go before deciding how you’ll get there.

Luxor, like Cairo, is an obvious choice for most since it offers some of the best and most popular sites in the country. If you’re into scuba diving or snorkeling, any of the towns along the Red Sea should be on your radar. The most popular spots for water activities are Sharm el-Sheikh, Hurghada and Dahab. And if you're feeling adventurous, head east toward the Libyan border to discover the magical Siwa Oasis, where you can float in one of the area's famous salt pools.

Other popular destinations in Egypt include Abu Simbel, Aswan and Alexandria.

(Photo courtesy of Manish Gosalia)

Once you narrow down where you’d like to go, you'll then have to decide how you’ll get there. Traveling throughout Egypt via EgyptAir is incredibly easy, as there are flights connecting throughout most major cities at affordable rates. An overnight sleeper train is another popular way to travel due to its relatively low cost, or you can get a unique perspective of the country by enjoying a relaxing Nile River cruise.

Renting a car is an option, too. However, it’s not recommended due to heavy traffic, lack of speed limit enforcement and the presence of police checkpoints throughout the country. Should you need to get around in a car, consider hailing a taxi or ordering an Uber.

Use the right photography tools and equipment

Getting photos with no one else in them can be a challenge due to the large volume of visitors that flock to the main tourist sites, so you may want to work on your photoshop skills. Most sites are grandiose in size, so a wide-angle lens will serve you well.

Remember that drones are prohibited. If you attempt to bring one to the airport, it will be confiscated.

(Photo courtesy of Manish Gosalia)

Bottom line

Egypt is a thrill.

While you may want to brush up on your Arabic — it's the national language there — and check to see if you need any vaccinations (like one for yellow fever, which is required if you're not traveling directly to Egypt from the U.S.), these preparations are more than worth the effort to visit this culturally and historically rich destination.

As long as you practice general safety precautions, you should be all set to have the time of your life.

Featured image by (Photo by Kaitlyn Rosati for The Points Guy)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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Why We Chose It

Sometimes it's worth a large investment to reap the benefits of a great credit card. That's exactly the case with the Amex Platinum card. In exchange for the annual fee, you'll unlock access to the Amex Membership Rewards program that let you access airline and hotel transfer partners, along with new lifestyle and travel credits. This card is also incredibly rewarding for travel purchases, helping you rack up a ton of Membership Rewards points for your next award trip.

Pros

  • The current welcome offer on this card is quite lucrative. TPG values it at $1,600.
  • This card comes with a long list of benefits, including access to Centurion Lounges, complimentary elite status with Hilton and Marriott, at least $500 in assorted annual statement credits and so much more. (Enrollment required for select benefits.)
  • The Amex Platinum comes with access to a premium concierge service that can help you with everything from booking hard-to-get reservations to finding destination guides to help you plan out your next getaway.

Cons

  • The high annual fee is only worth it if you’re taking full advantage of the card’s benefits. Seldom travelers may not get enough value to warrant the cost.
  • Outside of the current welcome bonus, you’re only earning higher rewards on specific airfare and hotel purchases, so it’s not a great card for other spending categories.
  • The annual airline fee statement credit can be complicated to take advantage of compared to the broader travel credits offered by competing premium cards.
  • Earn 80,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $6,000 on purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership. Apply and select your preferred metal Card design: classic Platinum Card®, Platinum x Kehinde Wiley, or Platinum x Julie Mehretu.
  • Earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year and earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel.
  • Get $200 back in statement credits each year on prepaid Fine Hotels + Resorts® or The Hotel Collection bookings, which requires a minimum two-night stay, through American Express Travel when you pay with your Platinum Card®.
  • $240 Digital Entertainment Credit: Get up to $20 back each month on eligible purchases made with your Platinum Card® on one or more of the following: Audible, Disney+, The Disney Bundle, ESPN+, Hulu, Peacock, SiriusXM, and The New York Times. Enrollment required.
  • $155 Walmart+ Credit: Cover the cost of a $12.95 monthly Walmart+ membership with a statement credit after you pay for Walmart+ each month with your Platinum Card. Cost includes $12.95 plus applicable local sales tax. Plus Ups are excluded.
  • American Express has expanded The Centurion® Network to include 40+ Centurion Lounge and Studio locations worldwide. There are even more places your Platinum Card® can get you complimentary entry and exclusive perks.
  • $200 Airline Fee Credit: Get up to $200 in statement credits per calendar year in baggage fees and more at one select qualifying airline.
  • $200 Uber Cash: Enjoy Uber VIP status and up to $200 in Uber savings on rides or eats orders in the US annually. Uber Cash and Uber VIP status is available to Basic Card Member only.
  • Get up to $300 back per calendar year on the Equinox+ digital fitness app, or eligible Equinox club memberships when you pay with your Platinum Card. Enrollment required. Learn more.
  • Breeze through security with CLEAR® lanes available at 100+ airports, stadiums, and entertainment venues and get up to $189 back per calendar year on your membership when you use your Card. Learn more.
  • $695 annual fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees