EGYPT TRAVEL TIPS
GMT + 2 hours in winter; clocks move forward 1 hour in summer.
The national language in Egypt is Arabic. However, tourists will rarely find a problem communicating as English is widely spoken in hotels and shops, with French a close second, and many staff in tourist areas also speaking German or Italian.
The unit of currency is the Egyptian Pound (LE), which is divided into 100 piasters. Pounds are issued in notes of 1, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100 and 200. Coins are issued in denominations of LE1 and 25 and 50 piasters.
It is useful to have local currency for tipping or for shopping in smaller souks or local restaurants, and it is easy to change money at any hotel bank. US dollars are widely accepted in major tourist establishments, hotels, and souvenir shops.
There are no restrictions on the amount of foreign currency or travellers cheques which may be brought into the country. However, passengers entering Egypt with Egyptian currency exceeding 1000 USD must declare this on arrival.
Currency may be exchanged through banks or currency exchange houses which can be found in most major cities, and are usually open from 10am till 9pm every day of the week. All major hotels will exchange major foreign currencies at the same rate as banks. You will be issued a receipt which must be retained to permit currency to be re-exchanged when leaving the country and as evidence that exchange of currency has been through official channels.
Banking hours are normally 9am-2pm, Sunday through Thursday, closed on Fridays and Saturdays. Cairo Airport and the majority of major hotels in Cairo offer 24 hour banking services. Please remember to have your passport on you as this will be required to effect any transaction.
MasterCard and Visa are widely accepted at major restaurants, almost all hotels and many shops. American Express is less common but is still normally accepted at major hotels.
For full details on climate, please see Best Time to Go.
Women should not wear strappy dresses, miniskirts, shorts, or low necked dresses in public places (such as offices, markets and shopping areas). Modest dress is particularly important when visiting mosques, synagogues and churches. Ladies should wear loose-fitting non see-through clothes and shoulders should be covered.
When visiting mosques, men should wear short or long sleeved shirts and long trousers. Shoes are not permitted inside, therefore a thick pair of socks is useful for protection from sun baked floors. Cloth shoe coverings are often available for which a small tip is payable.
Shorts and beachwear should be worn only at the beach or hotel pool area.
Egypt's climate is dry all year round, so you won't require rainwear unless you are going to Alexandria between December and February.
In winter you will need light woollen clothes with sweaters, although a light sweater may be useful all year-round in the evenings throughout the country. Cairo can sometimes be surprisingly cool during the mid-winter months so layers of clothing are recommended.
From December to February travellers to the interior of the Sinai can experience extreme cold, so thick winter clothing is essential. In spring and autumn a combination of both is advisable for the warm days and cool nights, so pack accordingly. From May to November, light cotton clothes are recommended.
To prevent sickness while staying in Egypt you are advised to follow the golden rules, which are:
Only drink bottled water, never tap water Avoid ice in your drinks Eat only vegetables that have been cooked Avoid salads and all fruit that cannot be peeled Avoid food that looks as if it has been around for some time especially meats or salad dressings containing mayonnaise
For up to date information on latest health and vaccination recommendations, please contact your doctor.
Egypt electrical current is 220V, and sockets take the standard continental European dual round-pronged plug.
All video equipment must be registered with customs upon arrival at Cairo International Airport.
There are a variety of rules governing photography of different sites and monuments in Egypt. These restrictions are truly in the interest of preservation of these fragile sites. Postcards and slides are available at most sites. Signs are usually posted in restricted areas but if in doubt, ask your guide.
At all open, outdoor historic areas, photography is unrestricted, such as outside the Pyramids and the temples at Luxor and Aswan.
In some areas a ticket must be purchased to use cameras and video equipment. Tripods and flashes are seldom allowed in those museums that do permit photography.
At some museums and tombs you will be asked to leave your equipment in the care of the door custodian - your guide will advise you.
Egyptian food is generally similar to many other Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisines, including stuffed vine leaves, grilled meats, and numerous "dips" traditionally eaten with pitta-style bread. Rice with vegetables in tomato sauce, and pasta dishes baked in a similar way to lasagna, are both common. Specialties include stuffed or spit broiled pigeons, small ground lamb kebabs called kofta and shish kebabs made of marinated chunks of lamb and spices grilled over hot charcoal. Seafood is a good choice with prawns from the Red Sea, sea bass from the Mediterranean and a wonderful fish dish, tilapia, from the Nile.
Desserts range from regional specialties such as honey-soaked pastries like kunafa which looks like shredded wheat, made with rose water, nuts and sugar, and basbousa made from fine semolina and flavoured with almonds, lemon and vanilla to the famous and uniquely Egyptian "Om Ali", a baked dish of layered pastry cooked with milk, nuts, raisins and spices.
Traditional drinks abound, ranging from chilled carob juice or hot liquorice infusion, to a thick milky concoction filled with nuts and spices called sahleb. Karkady is a local speciality - a rich, sweet infusion of the dark red hibiscus flower, usually drunk cold but also sometimes served hot - and lemoon is a fresh lemonade made from the small local yellow limes, served frothy, tangy and sweet.
Alcohol is available in all hotels in Egypt, and most restaurants are licensed. Bars and other drinking establishments are commonplace, and are popular with many locals as well as foreigners. In addition to the usual range of international brands, visitors can try Egyptian-made wine and beer, some of which are very good quality.
Shopping in Egypt can be relaxed and leisurely at high-class souvenir stores and hotel outlets, or as part of an Middle Eastern experience at the local bazaars and souks. Particularly in the local bazaars, a healthy amount of bargaining is expected - which means that the best or correct price is simply the one that both parties agree on during that sale. Some of the loveliest and best value souvenirs available from Egypt include:
Gold and silver jewellery, or "Cartouches" inscribed with your name in hieroglyphics.
Wooden boxes inlaid with mother-of-pearl.
Hand-engraved brass and copper-work.
Carved alabaster from the quarries of Upper Egypt.
Hand-sewn appliqué work - with Arabic, Pharaonic, or "naïf" folk designs.
Cotton "Galabeyyas" - traditional robes and kaftans, often beautifully embroidered.
Papyrus - still made by traditional methods and hand-painted with intricate designs.
Ramadan, the Muslim holy month, lasts for 28 days each year with the dates moving back compared to the western calendar by around eleven days per year. Nightlife blossoms during this period, despite it being a "dry" time for Egyptians, and special temporary entertainment tents spring up all around Cairo serving huge quantities of oriental food, aromatic water pipes or sheesha, and loud Arabic music in equal abundance from sunset till 4am. Tourists welcome!
Between March and May each year, depending on the Coptic Easter, a national holiday called Sham El-Nessim - "Smelling the Blossoms Day" - celebrates the fragrant blossoms that grace Egypt's many flowering trees at the beginning of spring. Families often spend the day with a picnic in a local green area - sometimes simply on grassy roadside verges - and traditionally enjoy a pickled fish dish called fesikh.
You should keep all travel documents, travellers cheques, cash, passports and other valuables in your hotel or cruise boats safety deposit boxes. Although street crime is at a minimum, as in any other country, travellers are encouraged to use common sense and not wear ostentatious jewellery. It is also advisable to carry only small amounts of money.
In general you will find people hospitable and friendly. Personal security in Egypt is rarely an issue at all, and Cairo is considered one of the safest cities in the world. Visitors can comfortably walk at night along main city streets. However, it is recommended that a tighter hold on purses and wallets is kept when wandering round bazaars and it is advisable for women in particular to dress more conservatively out of respect for local customs when in more traditional areas or small towns.
Taxis are a relatively cheap method of travel, but you should ensure you take a licensed taxi. Always agree the price before your journey and do not pay until you reach your destination. Drivers normally expect a 10% tip.