Egypt is not only home to the oldest existing man-made stone buildings on earth, Saqqara and the Pyramids of Giza, mummies, and other exciting things for history buffs, it also offers superb diving spots. And most importantly, Egypt is home to some of the world’s most hospitable people. But what else should you expect?
Here are my 11 things to know before traveling to Egypt:
Cities don’t sleep
I saw barbershops open at 3:45 a.m. in Luxor and they were all packed! Cairo’s malls close at midnight or even later and if you feel like shopping for clothes at 10 p.m. – you will be able to – without a doubt! Nighttime is when Egypt’s cities come alive, especially during summer, because the relentless sun went down and with it the scorching hot temperatures.
You will be stared at and asked for selfies
Especially if you’re a foreign-looking girl. And beware, if you start taking selfies with one person, chances are that you’ll find yourself surrounded by 20 people who want to do the same, families dropping their kids and babies into your arms, and even Uber drivers asking for a picture with you. Get ready to feel like a celebrity – there are worse things in this world.
Learning a few Arabic words will warm local’s hearts
Greet them with “Al Salaamu Aalykum” and you’ll already see a big smile on their face. Adding “Shukran” or a few numbers or directions to your Arabic vocabulary will make them smile from ear to ear because most tourists will not make this effort. “You speak Arabic?” they will ask excitedly.
Just try not to snort like a pig in public. Not that you would do that anyway. But here, it’s an insult. It will crack up locals our age, though 😉
You will get ripped off
Kinda sad, but you have to know this before traveling to Egypt: Unfortunately, in a lot of countries, your foreign looks are equated to wealth. Cab drivers, store owners, and people in the tourism industry are likely to rip you off here and there and will tell you about their poor families and whatnot. This even happens to Egyptians and it happens even more often when they’re hanging out with foreigners.
Store owners are also open to haggling – it’s rather expected.
Sometimes – and that’s even the case in official places such as the Pyramids and museums, for example – prices for foreigners and Egyptians vary.
Uber is the most reliable choice to get the best price and stay safe when it comes to transportation.
Just be aware, deal with the occasional rip-off, but please don’t assume that everyone is out here trying to get you. That’s not the case.
Traffic rules don’t exist
Basically, people do whatever the heck they want. Lane separation lines are only there to look at, not to be followed. The minimum distance between two vehicles – what’s that? Blinkers – never heard of them. Traffic lights are the most likely to be followed by people. Crossing the street – yikes. One time I had an Egyptian leading me while closing my eyes – that’s how bad it was. But you’ll get used to it and manage.
You can find anything in Cairo
That’s what my Egyptian friend said. I didn’t believe him until he took me to a club where I felt as if I was in Europe. During the day, I had only seen the vast majority of women covering their shoulders, ankles, and hair. But in this club, I saw short dresses and heels, just like in other places in the world.
This is a very broad generalization, but the richer the area, the more free women dress and people act. Go to New Cairo on 6th of October and you will see couples openly showing their affection and most women not covering their hair. Same in Zamalek, the embassy island where you find lots of expats and diplomats.
Showing skin (and tattoos)
Because you can find anything in Cairo, you can theoretically dress however you want there, but “you will be judged,” several people told me – judged especially as a girl who’s sexually more open. And if you have tattoos – some people may not like that at all. That’s also why I’ve been advised to always cover knees and shoulders, which I did. Tall-white-girl-me stuck out like a sore thumb anywhere anyway, so I didn’t need more attention and rather covered up.
Especially at the pyramids, girls don’t care and even wear booty shorts. Is that necessary or respectful? Make your own opinion.
In Hurghada and Dahab, it’s very common to see girls and guys in summer attire flaunting their tattoos. At the big tourist attractions in Luxor as well. I’ve seen foreign guys wear shorts a lot, but the Egyptian public is rather covered up – that means long pants and t-shirts for guys (no tank tops) and long pants and shoulder covering attire for girls.
Alcohol is not available everywhere
Egypt is a country where the majority of people are Muslim; therefore, in most places, you will not find alcohol. To grab a drink, go to places with a lot of tourists or expats.
Best Dive Spots in the World
Egypt is famous for the great pyramids, but did you know that the Red Sea in Egypt has some of the best dive spots in the world – Thistlegrom Wreck, Abu Nahas Reef, or the Blue Hole in Dahab, for example. And if you’re not into diving that much, crystal clear turquoise water and white sandy beaches are awaiting you!
If you’ve traveled to Middle Eastern countries, you know how friendly and hospitable people are. Before Egypt, I had traveled to a few places in the Middle East, but I’m not kidding you if I tell you that in Egypt, I’ve met the most helpful people I’ve ever come across, which includes Sudanese expats.
Girls and guys alike will do anything they can to make you feel safe and comfortable in their country. They know how the few bad apples that this country has – just like every other country – have given Egypt a bad rep, especially in the media. But Egyptians want to show you the best their beloved country has to offer and they will do anything to make this happen, even if they have to communicate with their hands and feet.
Egyptian time is a thing
One last thing to know before traveling to Egypt: Don’t expect anyone to be on time. If you show up early, be ready to help prepare the party or just wait for another hour or two. I once thought I was late to a felucca party at 9.15 p.m. (you can’t get the feeling bad for being late out of the German), which ended up starting at 11 p.m.