Ancient Pyramids. The Sphinx. The Nile. The Valley of Kings. Endless deserts. Mummies and museums. Awesome scuba-diving. Beautiful beaches. Wonderful weather. Arabic food and culture. Most people would agree those are all great reasons for visiting Egypt! Keep reading this page for an overview of Egypt, what not to miss, and when it is best to visit. We also have specific blog posts if that’s what you are looking for. We have a complete guide to visiting the pyramids as well as the full itinerary we used to have a perfect weekend in Cairo. If you are still not convinced, we have compiled 15 good reasons why you should visit Egypt.
We have also made a little video we hope might inspire you to visit the pyramids of Egypt
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What's covered in this guide
Despite all the many good reasons for visiting Egypt, unfortunately, security concerns seem to get the better of most people. In 2010, 15m tourists visited the country. In 2016 that number was down to 5m. In recent years numbers have picked up a little bit but there was still less than 10m people visiting during 2018. Although terrorist attacks in Egypt have been few and far between, there is a perception by foreigners that the country is in turmoil. This is a real shame for a country whose economy is so dependant on tourism. The Egyptians are, of course, aware of this perception and are taking security measures very seriously. It seems to help very little in convincing fearful tourists, though.
If there is one thing we fear, it is irrational fears. To be held back by fear, when it is entirely illogical, does nothing good for anybody. It is important for us to highlight that terrorism can hit anyone at any time, whether in Egypt or the middle of Europe. That is just a fact of life. It happens so rarely though, that to pay any attention to that whatsoever is entirely meaningless. You are in much bigger danger of being hit by a lightning strike than a bomb vest. So stop paying attention to popular media, and break free of the chains of fear. We visited Egypt in January 2019 and felt very safe, and we would in no way discourage people from making this their next travel destination! Now is a perfect time to go as well, because you will, of course, benefit from the lower amount of other tourists. For you, this directly translates into lower prices and less queuing.
Now that we have gotten that out of our system let’s focus on how you can have a good time in Egypt.
Most visited regions
Cairo is a mega-city, one of the largest in Africa and by far the largest in the Middle East. It accommodates more than 9m people, but in fact, it doesn’t feel all that big. It is mostly the traffic that makes you realise how many people are crammed into a relatively small area. Luckily, you will not need to spend a lot of time in the hot and busy city centre, as this is not where most of the interesting sights are found. The only real draw inside the city is the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities where you can see countless ancient artefacts as well as of course mummies. We are not museum-people (if such a term even exists) so we didn’t go. We have seen plenty of mummies before, but from people who are more historically inclined, we have heard good things about it.
Regardless of our lack of historical interest, we were still very excited about seeing the ancient pyramids! And Wow! You simply cannot miss the extraordinary experience of seeing the majestic Pyramids of Giza up close. The experience is even better now tourism is down, allowing you a little more elbow room. Remember there are even more pyramids than the ones at Giza. We really enjoyed seeing Dahshur and Sakkara as well! If you need some travel tips for this part, we have written a blog post detailing our itinerary when we spent a weekend in Cairo back in January 2019.
The Red Sea is known to be an excellent beach destination. Looking at monthly weather averages, it is easy to imagine why. Most of the Red Sea areas, such as Sharm El-Sheik and Hurghada, doesn’t really do rain. The weather is excellent pretty much year round, and there are plenty of resorts to choose from. The Red Sea is also known for its great diving opportunities – with clear water and lots of fish.
To help you decide when to visit, we have included an overview of the average air and sea temperatures further down this page.
Southern Egypt is also, confusingly, referred to as Upper Egypt. The Egyptians didn’t glance at a map when they decided this but instead looked at the water flow of the Nile. Since it flows northwards, into the Mediterranean, the northern areas are considered Lower Egypt and vice versa.
The most famous site in Egypt, next after the Pyramids, of course, can be found in Luxor. The Valley of the Kings on the west bank of the Nile is a famous cultural area referring back to Ancient Egypt with its abundance of royal tombs and temples.
Another popular destination in southern Egypt is the city of Aswan. Located on the east bank of the Nile, Aswan has its share of ancient temples and museums, such as the Nubian Museum and the Philae Temple. It also boasts real, local markets, the Elephantine Island as well as the Aswan High Dam. A little while out of the city, 230km south towards the border to Sudan, lies the massive temple of Abu Simbel. This is one of the most significant man-made sites in all of Egypt.
There are a lot of 3-4 day Nile cruises going between the ancient cities of Luxor and Aswan. We haven’t sailed ourselves, but we imagine this might be a leisurely way to travel in that region. Fun fact is that some of the finest granite used in the Great Pyramid was shipped all the way to Giza from Aswan.
Then there is the Nile Delta, referring to the area in Northern Egypt where the Nile flows out into the Mediterranean Sea. This is one of the largest river deltas in the world, creating a rich agricultural region. Before draining into the Sea, the Nile widens out, and so the delta stretches all the way from Port Said in the East to Alexandria in the West. Only the latter is of interest to tourists. It will take approximately 3 hours to drive from Cairo, but the trip can easily be worth it if you are looking to swap the stuffing heat with the fresh ocean breeze.
Alexandria is the second largest city in Egypt, founded of course by Alexander The Great. The city is mostly known for its rich history. Once upon a time, it boasted one of the 7 wonders of the world, the Lighthouse of Alexandria, which was sadly devoured by an earthquake. It also used to have the largest library in the world as well as the famous Necropolis – a series of underground tombs. Often referred to as the Pearl of the Mediterranean, today Alexandria is mostly known for its extensive “corniche” area, 19km of coastline, where you should be able to enjoy a refreshing day at the beach. If you are not a beach person, it also attracts visitors with a vast (new) library, a few museums, and the remaining Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa.
Best time to visit
Like for most places, there is no best time to visit Egypt. It depends on you as a traveller, what your interests are and what you aim to see while you are here in this ancient bucket list country. It will mostly be dependant on your weather preferences, though. Egypt can actually get quite cold during winter, whereas summer is scorching. There are also local holidays you may (or may not) want to avoid as well as certain times of the year where there will be a flood of tourists.
Celebrations and national holidays
National holidays in Egypt are plentiful and typically celebrated by everyone in the country. Some special days or events are religious, while others are secular. More importantly, some of the holidays are on specific dates, while some change from year to year. Remember to check an updated list of the national holidays and celebrations for the year you are planning to visit. It might not be that easy because they tend to depend on visual moon sightings, which can be hard to predict precisely. A simple google search for public holidays should give you a general idea, though, or you can visit www.publicholidays.me where you will find detailed descriptions of celebrations and what this means for you as a tourist.
The month of Ramadan
The main, and most well-known, Muslim celebration is Ramadan. In 2019, this was pretty much the full month of May. It changes every year though, always a week earlier, meaning in 2020 it will start around April 23rd. During the month of Ramadan, Muslims refrain from any eating, drinking, smoking or intimate activity whatsoever, between sunrise and sunset. The exact timings are not that simple, but that is the general idea. This can create some challenges for tourists, first and foremost if you are not aware of this. It is indeed illegal for anyone to be seen eating, drinking or smoking in public and even accidentally doing so could get you in quite some trouble. If you are not used to such restrictions, it is very easy to forget, and you may suddenly find yourself chewing on some bubblegum in front of a not so friendly police officer. If you do manage to stick to the rules, there are still challenges, especially if you are not used to the warm weather. Going a full day without food or water is not advisable so we suggest you do not try to fast in the same way as the locals. It is perfectly fine for you to continue eating and drinking as usual, but you should be subtle about it. These restrictions will typically not be in place at hotels, so it is only something you have to think about while you are out and about. As long as you are thoughtful and respectful of the culture, you will have a great time. When the sun sets, each evening, all Muslims join together to celebrate Iftar with their families. For them, the month of Ramadan is both a joyous occasion, as well as a time to reflect and do good by volunteering or donating to charities. Much like Christmas is in the Western world.
Weather and climate
The different regions in Egypt experience similar weather and a desert climate. That means it’s both hot and sunny throughout the year. The seasons generally follow the ones in the Western hemisphere. Winters are mild, with lows around 10 degrees Celsius. However, in the desert, temperatures can fall below freezing during the night. The summers, on the other hand, get very, very hot. With average summer temperatures above 30 degrees Celsius, Cairo is plenty warm, but it gets even worse in desert areas (probably not a big surprise). Temperatures also soar at coastal areas; however, they tend to be bearable due to the sea breeze. Further down this page, we have prepared some monthly overviews of the weather in the most popular tourist areas. We hope these will help guide you, to determine when it is the best time for you to visit Egypt!
Best time to visit Cairo
You can visit Cairo throughout most of the year, but we would advise against coming in the middle of summer. It is not much fun taking a leisurely stroll around the Pyramids of Giza while the desert sun is frying your skin and boiling your blood. You will have a hard time enjoying the experience unless you are used to that kind of heat. Don’t count too much on air-condition outside of the biggest resorts either. But if you do brave the scorching sun, there is a significant upside to visiting during summer. There will be far fewer tourists. No one else is stupid enough. Temperatures during Winter, on the other hand, will be perfect for exploring the Pyramids. You will have no problems with a full day without shade. You will be spending it with hordes of other tourists though, and you will need a warm jacket at night. You should be alright in the transition periods of spring and autumn though.
Best time for a historical trip to Luxor or a Nile cruise
Similarly to Cairo, you will not be having a nice time in the stagnant depths of an ancient tomb, with no air circulation, when the temperature reaches 40 degrees Celsius. As you can see in the graph below, Luxor can get even hotter than Cairo during the summer. And there is no need to bring an umbrella because it will never rain. Spring or autumn seems to take the laurels once again. Just remember Ramadan 2020 should fall around the middle of April.
Best time for relaxation at the Red Sea
By now you should be getting it. Egypt is hot in the summer, busy in the winter, and probably lovely during early spring and autumn. That’s pretty much any area in the Middle East and Northern Africa for that matter. Specifically for the Red Sea though, the water temperatures are quite interesting. Check the second graph below. During summer the water will offer quite some relief from the scorching heat above the surface, but probably not enough so to make a full day at the beach bearable. During winter the water will be around the same temperature as the air. In spring, the weather will be quickly improving, but the water will not be quite as quick to follow suit. The best time must be during autumn, where the temperatures are perfect for beaching, and the water will be nice and warm. It looks to us like October/November has the ideal combination of air and sea temperatures. Visibility for diving is said to be great year round!
Health, insurance and vaccinations
We recommend travel insurance when visiting Egypt. You might already be covered through your credit card, bank or the like but if not, make this a priority. Compared to other countries, we wouldn’t say there are more significant risks associated with travel to Egypt. But no matter if you go to Australia, Denmark or Africa, we always advise the cautious approach. The fact that cars in Egypt don’t seem to have seatbelts might be a factor as well. Like many other travel blogs, we suggest World Nomads. It just seems to be a reliable brand, with good coverage at a reasonable price. Also, the online purchase process is straightforward and hassle-free. If you are going for more extended periods, you could also consider one of the newer players such as SafetyWing. It is okay to shop around, but if you do not want to spend a long time on this, World Nomads is usually a safe choice. Quick note: If you decide to go diving, make sure the policy covers this.
Do you need to get vaccinated when going to Egypt? Probably not. Shots like Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Rabies, Typhoid, Tetanus should be considered though. Hepatitis B would only be necessary for longer trips, but the rest would be good to have. We have taken them all. They will be nice to have for most other destinations as well, so if you don’t already, it might be useful to get them out of the way sooner rather than later. Finally, if you arrive from a country with yellow fever, you will need to document your vaccinations. Otherwise, you risk detention for up to a week – doesn’t sound much like fun to us.
Female and solo travellers
First and foremost: You can definitely travel to Egypt as a solo female traveller. The country has been a huge tourist destination for many years, and the locals are used to visitors. You will notice this right away, as almost all of them speak English and are very welcoming. If you feel a little insecure anyway, consider starting with a few organised tours. Being part of a group should shield you from pretty much any interaction with locals. That’s not for everybody, though, and it’s not essential. You’ll be fine on your own. If you don’t believe us, hear all this from a real solo female traveller.
The most important thing to mention for female travellers is to think about what you wear. Dress modestly. Egypt is a Muslim country, and the whole of the Middle East is generally more conservative than what Westerners are used to. This does not mean you need to wear an Abaya. We have lived more than 2 years in the United Arab Emirates, and when we first moved down here, our family thought Kia would be imprisoned at home, not allowed to drive and forced to wear an Abaya. That’s not even close to being true! In fact, you don’t need to cover yourself up at all. Just being a little less daring than at home will go a long way. It is a question of being respectful of the culture and religion. You will find that most Egyptian women are wearing clothes very similar to your own. Especially the younger generation – most are not even wearing a headscarf.
The worst thing you will experience on your trip is the occasional stare, and perhaps a few street sellers commenting on your blonde hair as part of their sales pitch. That’s it. That would happen throughout the entire world, and there is absolutely no reason that should keep you from experiencing all the magnificent wonders Egypt has to offer.
Having an ethical and sustainable trip
We believe that travellers always have the best intentions on their holiday. However, making the most sustainable or ethical choice in any given situation can be very hard when you are on the spot. We have experienced this many times ourselves. When you are in a new place, it is easier to get confused or pressured to take the wrong decision. To make it easier for you to travel to this land of ancient wonders sustainably and ethically, we have collected some advice below. Much of this, we wish we had known before arriving in Egypt. If you want more in-depth research concerning more sustainable and ethical travels in general, then stay tuned. We are currently working on the ultimate guide, that will help guide you no matter the destination.
Camel, donkey, horse rides - should you do it?
If you are planning to go to Egypt, chances are you are primarily looking forward to experiencing the Pyramids. And rightly so. The question is, how are you going to go about that? Will you be taking a camel or a horse-driven carriage, and is it okay for you to do so? Around all the historical sites, and especially at the Pyramids Plateau in Giza, you will be offered camel, horse or donkey rides by the locals. You cannot get around that. The hassling is almost part of the experience. You will be doing yourself a big favour if you decide beforehand whether you are willing to accept one of those offers. We suggest you do a bit of research on animal welfare before reaching this point. Having done that, it will be much easier for you to take an informed decision and do whatever you are going to do with a clean conscience.
If you watched our Egyptian travel video at the top of this page, you would have noticed we rode two camels around in the surrounding area of the Pyramids of Giza. Unlike you, we had not done our research before arriving, and now, of course, we wish we had. After reading article after article as well as several academic studies, we would probably not choose to do it again. However, you might not reach the same conclusion, and we are not here to judge. Please be informed, take your own decision, and ensure you are okay with it, also after you get back home.
If you choose to ride an animal at the Pyramids, then please follow the few simple guidelines outlined below. This will ensure you have a great experience and do not return home with a bad feeling in your stomach.
A final note on this: We were living across from the Pyramids complex and from our hotel’s rooftop terrace we could see what was going on just within the entrance. One day, while we were enjoying a cold beer in the sun, we saw something, it will take a while to forget. A horse carriage was riding at full speed without any passengers. It was just the driver in the wagon pulled by a single horse. Now, the speed they were going at looked a bit too high for hoves on tarmac (and it would be dangerous for any pedestrians getting in the way as well). And sure enough, at the first sign of a gentle curve, the horse slipped. The carriage didn’t slow down though, and the horse was basically driven over. Naturally, that hurt a little bit and the horse didn’t exactly feel like getting up again. Good thing the driver had his whip. It took him a while, but he eventually managed to force the horse to its feet. You could see it was bleeding. We hoped he would walk it back to its stables and take care of it, but you could sort of sense that was not his plan. And indeed he did not. Instead, he mounted the carriage and used the whip again, and moments later they were racing onwards at the same speed as before. Imagine being that horse. It is living a life of torture. It was tough to watch. The worst part might have been, that this happened in broad daylight, just within the main entrance to the Pyramids. Yet, none of the officials acted on this, and in fact, it looked like this was something that was happening all the time.
Unfortunately, we only had this experience after we rode our camels. There’s no way we could have done it otherwise – no matter how healthy they looked. We hope that the animal cruelty situation at the Pyramids will soon be taken more seriously by the locals and the government.
Egypt is a desert country, and trips to the desert (often called desert safaris) will probably include dune bashing. As fun and harmless as it might sound to bash around in the desert sand, it is really, really bad for the complex ecosystem located underground. Best practise is to refrain from “disturbing” the desert unnecessarily, and dune bashing, unfortunately, falls into that category. We love the desert, though, and we still recommend going out there. Go ahead and feel free to camp for the night camp. It is a beautiful experience to sleep under the stars, and you can have some long and lovely walks out there as well. We love the beauty and serenity of the desert, and we have been in plenty of them around the globe, so we completely understand why you want to explore it for yourself.