I visited Egypt twice and I believe I am in a position to share some useful tips (exactly 8 of them) for travelling to the 'gift of the Nile' . First things first, I visited Egypt in February and in July, both times at different locations. If you are looking at spending a lot of your time sightseeing, winter months are probably better as the heat can be unbearable.
Photo: Pyramids of Giza, Cairo, Egypt
1. Choose the time and location
I have stayed in Taba Heights, which is a great location if you want to explore countries to the east e.g. Israel and Jordan as the boarders are few miles away. Taba is located at the northern tip of Gulf of Aqaba and it is Egypt busiest boarder crossing with Eliat, Israel. This is exactly what I planned to do during this trip. I used Taba as a base for visits to Petra in Jordan and Jerusalem in Israel. You can read more about this trips here.
My second location was Sharm El Sheikh which is a heaven for coral reef lovers (aka me!). This is where my interest and love for the marine life started, as well as ocean consciousness and how humans pollute it. Yes it is touristy, and full of resorts, however I was enjoying holiday time with friends and manage to do a bit of sightseeing as well. The proximity to the beautiful coral reefs beats all the cons!
While Taba in February was nice and pleasant at 25 degrees Celsius, Sharm El Sheikh in July was at 40 C to even 45 C degrees. It was fine when I was snorkeling and spending time locally at the beach. However, whilst sightseeing in Cairo the summer heat was really preventing me from enjoying the sights. It also affected taking good photos as the camera lens would get moist (and only thing on my mind was to hide in AC car).
While sightseeing the pyramids of Giza, it was the early hours of the morning and you could already feel the heat. We took time to walk around, take photos, and also we were able to walk inside one of the smaller pyramids - where structure had no air ventilation which made me feel like in a sauna. After seeing the pyramids we moved to the Sphinx and that was somewhere around midday and the heat was unbearable. I run outside the coach, took photo and run back. My friend E stayed inside the coach! So think about the time of the year depending on your activities.
2. Currency & shopping
American do$$ars seem to be more worthy than European Euros, so if you can bring dollars with you as they are more handy for tipping and markets. Egyptians prefer dollars and even when they convert Euros or Pounds for you, you're loosing. Generally in stores they prefer dollars and a lot of places will have prices in $$$.
Photo: Tea shopping in Sharm, although it looks like a poo, it is a great tea - don't be deceived by the look!
While shopping, it is a custom to bargin for everything - the locals love that! So this seems to be quite natural thing at any shops apart from the shopping malls, or shops with 'fixed price' signs. When you are trying to buy a tea (I highly recommend hibiscus tea) you may even get a tea to try different flavours, shopping is a way of life for shopkeepers and they will try to get you involved.
3. Sun protection
This may seem a bit patronising, but the sun in Egypt is quite strong. During summer time you have 12 hours 6 am to 6 pm full sun. I did not leave the room without sunglasses to get to the breakfast as it was that strong.
If you are planning to snorkel, PLEASE do environment and all beautiful coral reef and fish a favour and buy a BIODEGRADABLE and marine life friendly sunscreen! I discovered one which is quite good and will attach link to buy it here. Also if you have a sensitive skin this cream is absolute must have!
Given the number of tourist who come and visit and swim nearby the reef, the life at the reef may die quicker than we think.
Photo: Pharaoh's Island, off the coast of Sinai Peninsula
4. Sea Life
If you are passionate about snorkeling or diving, the reef by Sharm El Sheikh is just what you are looking for. The diversity of the reef is so huge, and the colours of the reef as well as the fish is like a paint pallet in DIY store. The coral reefs are protected by Ras Mohammad Natural Park in fact you may be swimming in a natural park (only on tours).
If you decide to stay in Hugharda there's a possibility you may swim with turtles (if you are lucky) as well as dolphins (in the wild). I have not stayed there but my sister did and she was lucky to snorkel and have a turtle swim by... how cool!?
5. Tours & sightseeing
Egypt is well prepared for tourists and you will find array of offers for sightseeing and tours. I would avoid renting a car and driving on your own as I experienced a night ride through a dessert and we had to wait around 2 hours for more cars to join a convoy to cross the desert. Something I would not think about or did not know how to plan if I was to drive on my own.
Photo: A tourist in Giza, doing a touristy photo with pyramids :-)
I used local tours to visit Cairo from Sharm El Sheikh, and Petra in Jordan from Taba, as well as Jerusalem in Israel from Taba. I also spend half a day quad riding on the desert which ended up with camel ride in Bedouin village and a glimpse of beautiful sunset over desert. The best snorkelling trip of my life was in Sharm and I spent a day on the boat and had 3 hours of snorkelling and admiring the reef. All arranged by local tourist offices. On this particular trip we had an amazing guide who was swimming with us, our longest time in water was 1 hour following him while he was pointing different types of fish. I really appreciated his knowledge and enjoyed this type of trip rather than just swimming around the boat (if you've been on those boats you know what I'm talking about). On this underwater safari I saw tuna and realised how big it was! (not a small image of tuna I had in my head - probably because of canned tuna ;-) ) I definitely recommend seeing the reef in this part of the world.
6. What else is there to see?
There's still a lot! On my bucket list for my return visit is River Nile cruise with visit to Abu Simbel Temples as well as Alexandria - a Mediterranean city with Roman influence from city's Hellenistic period. It was the home of the light house which belonged to Ancient Seven Wonders of The World, as
well as allegedly the biggest library of Ancient World.
Photo: one of many shisha pots ready to be smoked at local cafes.
What I would also recommend doing is to take the time to stroll around where you are based and see if there are any cafes nearby. It's a cafe & shisha culture and the locals would sit outside in the late hours of the night and smoke the aromatic pipe, talk, drink tea and relax. It is certainly a different way of spending your evening.
There's an important consideration while choosing your hotels; try to choose 4* or 5* hotels (4* is the lowest you want to go). Hotel standards in Egypt differ from Europe, and 3* may become a holiday from hell. It might be a safe bet to choose one of the chains or well known group of hotels whose name will guarantee a certain standard.
As a way of example, in Taba I stayed in Taba Heights Marriott which was a great hotel and I am tempted to say amazing. And in Sharm El Sheikh we stayed in Grand Plaza which was very good as well. The big plus for me in our hotel in Sharm was a private jetty with an access directly to coral reef as pictured below:
Photo: Beach view - our hotel in Sharm El Sheikh had a private jetty which allowed an easy access to coral reef
8. Great souvenirs
Any type of tea - hibiscus tea, green tea, black tea are all great and sold per gram so you can buy loads for quite a cheap price.
Another great souvenir is the art on the Papyrus a great memory and a very nice decoration to your house.
In Cairo we had an opportunity to visit perfume factory. Apart from getting to know the process of making perfumes we also were able to smell a lot of scents that were very unusual. I bought a small bottle and I regret I did not buy a bigger one as these perfumes stay on forever! They are made in a different way than your usual perfume and I think they have some kind of secret ingredient. :-)
I hope this article was helpful, and if you enjoyed reading it do let me know.