Author: Dr. Alex Cullison
Date of Trip: December 2014
It is January 2015, and my family and I have just returned from a two week vacation in Egypt. We spent 5 days in Cairo, 5 days in Aswan and 2 days in Luxor.
We went on every tour that was offered. We had tour guides and Egyptologists that immersed us in both ancient history and the modern day culture of the Egyptian people. We ate, walked, shopped and prayed with the locals.
The sights that Egypt has to offer can’t be found anywhere else. We had wonderful weather, the sun was warm and the breeze was cool. A light jacket was all that was needed in the evening.
The press has been unfair to Egypt – capitalizing and dramatizing protests into something more than what they are. The Egyptians are passionate about their country and they take their politics very seriously. Like us. They will publicly demonstrate, like us, when they feel they need to capture the attention of a greater audience for mutual support. We walked all over Cairo and felt perfectly safe.
Allow me to dispel many of the misconceptions about Egypt.
Safety: Their airports are rigorous about safety as ours. The streets, museums, sights, temples, etc., are all very safe because Egypt has seen to assigning copious tourism police to protect travelers like ourselves. They are everywhere.
Clothing: I didn’t see any adherence to any clothing protocol. The Muslim women can choose to wear clothes that are consistent with the norms and values of their community, but same is a personal choice. Everyone else dresses like what you would expect to see in a US shopping mall.
Attitude: We found the Egyptian people to be friendly and welcoming. Tourism has been down for four years now and they are very accommodating to Americans (we tip better).
Shopping: The prices for hotels, food, tours, transportation and souvenirs was very reasonable. There are many bargains to be found. You can safely negotiate a 25% deduction off most items.
Money: The exchange rate is good. They use Egyptian pound notes. 100 Egyptian pounds is roughly equal to about $15 American dollars. They will accept American dollars in most stores and for tours. They like Visa cards. American Express was not accepted in most stores.
Food & Water: The water out of the faucets is not toxic, but very few drink it. Bottled water is plentiful, inexpensive, and widely consumed by all. Stay away from ice. You won’t get Pharaoh’s Revenge if you stick with fruits that you can remove the outer skin. They have great flat breads. Meat should be well cooked and be of local fare. They do a great job with desserts. If you order something totally unique to the states, there is no telling how long it has sat in the freezer. When in Rome; eat as the Romans.
Traffic and Car Rental: Take a taxi or your tour vehicle. Do not rent a car in Cairo. Do not drive in Cairo. Nothing in your or my life experience could prepare you for driving in Cairo. Aswan and Luxor are a little better. I thought Washington, DC traffic was challenging. In Cairo, driving is a systematic free-for-all. Although there are very few accidents, it is not for a lack of trying. When they do have an accident, they stop their cars, blame others and yell a lot for about 10 minutes. Then they simply drive off.
Dust and sand: Lots of dust. Lots of sand.
Prayer: You will be prayed over by an outdoor PA system at least 5 times a day.
Smoking: The Egyptian people do smoke cigarettes and it is a widely accepted practice throughout Egypt. If you are a smoker, you will feel more welcomed than ever. If you are a rapid non-smoker, then look for those no-smoking signs.
Alcohol: Most of the native Egyptians do not drink for religious reasons. You are welcome to drink and alcohol is readily sold, albeit only inside of buildings, like at a bar or at a dinner table.
ADA Compliance: Okay baby boomers, this is important… if you had any inkling to go to Egypt, GO NOW! When you go to temples, tombs, and especially pyramids, there is no facilitation for wheelchairs or walkers. There are little to no hand rails or conventional steps. If you have any desire to actually descend into a pyramid or tomb corridor, it is steep and low… Quasimodo low… you will need to be fit and agile enough to make the pilgrimage both down and back up. I am serious. If you wait a few more years to go to Egypt and your physical prowess deteriorates; you are going to miss a lot.
Flights: Plan your flights from the US carefully. Nothing flies directly into Cairo from the US. We flew into Istanbul first, then into Cairo. We flew Turkish airways. The price was fair and the connections almost seamless. We then flew EgyptAir, which is like our Southwest Airlines, to Aswan and Luxor.
Luggage: Each of us had one piece of conventional size luggage with a carry-on bag. The suitcase must weigh less than 18 lbs. if you want to carry it on the plane (and not check it). We made it work. We packed light. We weren’t walking down any red carpets.
Documentation: You will need a passport. When you get to the Cairo airport, you buy an Egyptian VISA stamp that gets adhered to a page in your passport. It cost about $15 American dollars (100 Egyptian pounds).
Shots and inoculations: We were not required to get any foreign travel injections.
That’s it. If Egypt is on your bucket list, now is the time to go. It is safe, friendly, economical, and not marinated in global tourists. No lines. The trip of a lifetime!