I went to Egypt in the spring of 2010, a few short months before the Arab Spring left the tourist industry there in shambles. I had dreamed of visiting Egypt for more than fifty years, and I was not disappointed.
Security was tight. We stayed on river boats while cruising the Nile, and larger craft while on Lake Nasser. A man impeccably dressed in a suit with his sidearm discretely hidden under his jacket watched from the upper deck at all times.
When on land, our hotels were in the middle of the Nile, our rooms on upper floors. We always had armed security along with us on side trips to archeological sites, but they never seemed intrusive.
Unless you want to ruin your trip by getting ill, I have a few tips to pass along. I met a woman from the American Embassy in Cairo while on a birding trip in Costa Rica. She passed on some good advice. Other things I learned along the way.
“Once you have touched the waters of the Nile, you are destined to return.” A quote from my magnificent tour guide. I hope he is right.
Tips for traveling in Egypt
- No matter how tasty the lettuce looks, DO NOT EAT ANY! I don’t care if they’ve washed it a dozen times and the hotel has a 5-star rating. Parasites live in the water used for irrigation. They remain in the veins of the leaves, and no amount of washing can remove them. The only cure is heat. And hot lettuce is not very appetizing.
- If the food has not been thoroughly cooked AND served hot, DON’T EAT IT! Save your fruit and raw salads for when you get home. Fruit is iffy. Some say, if you peel it yourself, it’s OK. I wouldn’t trust it. Hot food is safest. Deep fried is great. Grilled meats -yum! Make hard-boiled eggs your mainstay. A great breakfast: deep-fried felafel on a hard roll, a hard-boiled egg, and coffee with HOT milk. No hot milk? Drink it black. Egypt is a Muslim country. Do not expect any form of pork, especially pork bacon. (P.S. I think beef bacon tastes totally disgusting.)
- The water is NOT safe to put in your mouth.
- DO NOT drink anything but bottled water. High chlorine levels in city tap water are necessary to kill off the germs and can lead to stomach woes for those not accustomed to it.
- Brush your teeth with bottled water. Practice not using sink water for rinsing out toothbrushes, or rinsing your mouth. Keep a bottle of water on the sink to remind yourself of this. Do not turn on the tap and fall into old habits from home. Bring extra toothbrushes or powerful mouthwash for when you do forget yourself.
- When showering keep your mouth closed, and your eyes closed too
- Do carry lots of small change. Tips are expected and a needed source of income for those providing you a service. Tips are mandatory for bathroom use anywhere except your hotel room or boat cabin. Usually 1 Egyptian Pound is enough (~ 6 US cents). Always carry some toilet tissue with you. The bathroom attendant gives you a sheet or two when you pay your Egyptian Pound. It’s never enough.
- Always carry bottled water with you. Egypt is hot and dry. (It’s a desert!) Dehydration makes you stupid. Stupid people make poor decisions. Poor decisions can make you sick.
- Do drink HOT tea. It will be offered at many of the shops you’ll visit. It’s delicious. Mint tea is wonderful. Lipton YELLOW label is the best.
- Give up your obsession with ice. It is NOT safe. I don’t care how hot you are. Don’t be stupid. Drink your tepid bottled water. Stay hydrated and healthy.
- At the Pyramids: Friendly hustlers will want to take your camera to take a picture of you with the pyramids. They expect a tip. If they are in the picture, they expect a tip. If they wrap their scarf around you, they expect a tip. (This is from personal experience.) The cheap souvenirs are from China. Don’t fill up your luggage with them.
- At Other archeological sites: If someone dressed in robes and a turban invites you to go to see something fantastic off the beaten path, don’t be stupid. Don’t go. Chances are he will demand money to let you out again.
- Do NOT travel alone on the streets or in the sooks. They can be wonderful adventures, but ALWAYS be aware of your surroundings. Travel in groups, especially if you are a woman and look like a tourist.
- I do recommend you travel with a reputable company that has a good track record for taking care of their guests. Stuff happens. Expect to pay extra for everything not explicitly scheduled on your tour.
- LISTEN TO YOUR GUIDES. A good guide can help you get the most out of your journey, and keep you out of trouble.
- Be generous with tips for good service. Salaries are low, these people need your money.
- Arabic Phrases I used constantly: People appreciate your attempts to communicate.
- shukran (thank you)
- salaam alaikum (Hello)
- In Shallah (God willing.)