Although famed as the cradle of civilisation, Egypt is also one of the world's oldest vacation spots. For 3,000 years people have flocked here to enjoy the year-round sunshine, warm hospitality, incredible value for money and convenient proximity to Europe.
The country's biggest attractions are the astounding temples and relics of Egyptian antiquity. The pyramids of Giza are still magnificent thousands of years on from construction, and even though its nose is out of joint, the inscrutable Sphinx retains its beguiling quality. Although looted by grave robbers and over-zealous archaeologists over the centuries, the wealth of treasures rescued from the pyramids and exhibited in Cairo's spectacular Museum of Antiquities is one of the most important collections of ancient artefacts on earth.
Egyptian life has always centred on the Nile, the source of life and irrigation for the vast majority of the population. Today feluccas (traditional dhows) offer short pleasure trips from Cairo while cruise ships travelling between Luxor and Aswan allow visitors to imagine the peaceful rhythms of traditional Egyptian life.
Away from the Nile, in the naturally irrigated oases of the Western Sahara, visitors can gain further insight into Egyptian life away from the influences of tourism. Egyptian people are renowned for their hospitality and irrepressible friendliness.
Cairo is one of the world's great capital cities with 18 million inhabitants bringing together centuries old culture and ultra-modernism. Second-city Alexandria is less frenetic and more European in outlook but still offers plenty of Middle Eastern charm.
Further afield, Red Sea diving is a rapidly growing boom industry with low rates for learning divers and good quality visibility for exploring the richly coloured coral. Dahab and Sharm El Sheikh are ideal places to begin your diving holiday. Meanwhile the intrepid traveller can take a desert safari into the Western Desert and discover the sublime desolation of the Empty Quarter. And of course, growing numbers of tourists are foregoing pleasures both ancient and active, and instead indulging themselves on Egypt's dazzling Mediterranean or Red Sea beaches.
Quite simply Egypt is a spellbinding destination offering visitors a spectacular portfolio of sights and sounds ranging from the ancient splendour of the temples to the contemporary pleasures of diving and cruising.
Egypt has hot summers (Jun-Oct), mild winters, and negligible rainfall, with the most extreme temperatures experienced in the desert regions, where boiling temperatures during the day contrast with freezing temperatures at night.
The annual khamseen starts around April and is traditionally a period of sandstorms lasting 50 days.
Egyptians are a nation and ethnic group of Mediterranean North Africans indigenous to Egypt.
Egyptian identity is closely tied to geography. The population of Egypt is concentrated in the lower Nile Valley, the small strip of cultivable land stretching from the First Cataract to the Mediterranean and enclosed by desert both to the east and to the west. This unique geography has been the basis of the development of Egyptian society since antiquity.
The daily language of the Egyptians is the local variety of Arabic, known as Egyptian Arabic or Masri, Also a sizable minority of Egyptian speak Sa'idi Arabic in Upper Egypt . Egyptians are predominantly adherents of Sunni Islam with a Shia minority and a significant proportion who follow native Sufi orders. A sizable minority of Egyptians belong to the Coptic Orthodox Church
In north eastern Egypt, the Nile Delta is where most Egyptian economic activity takes place. In the last 30 years, the government has reformed the highly centralized economy
Since the turn of the new millennium, The pace of structural reforms, including fiscal, monetary policies, privatization and new business legislations, helped Egypt to move towards a more market-oriented economy and prompted increased foreign investment. The reforms and policies have strengthened macroeconomic annual growth results which averaged 5% annually
Egypt has been a republic since 18 June 1953. Since the declaration of the republic, four Egyptians have served as presidents. The first President to take office was President Mohamed Naguib. The fourth president was Mohamed Hosni Mubarak, the President of Egypt since October 14, 1981
Parliament meets for one eight-month session each year; under special circumstances the President of the Republic can call an additional session.
There currently exist eighteen recognized political parties from across the political spectrum.
According to the Egyptian Constitution, political parties are allowed to exist.
Travel within Egypt is cheap and prolific
During religious festivals and public holidays (especially the month long Ramadan) timetables change so make sure you re-check if you're in Egypt at this time of year. Due to the difficulties of land transportation in such a difficult terrain more airports are constantly being built to provide international and internal links with resort areas.
Planes are fast becoming the transport method of choice for many people. Reservations are recommended for all forms of transport, especially at holidays.
Most trains run up and down the Nile (Alexandria, Cairo, Luxor, and Aswan with stations in-between) and are comfortable and air conditioned in 1st and 2nd Class at least. Meals are often forced on you with the price of the ticket and videos play throughout most journeys. Bring a sweater (even in summer as air conditioning is set to Arctic), food and water, earplugs, and eye patches. Train departures are always on time
Other main stations are Alexandria, Luxor, and Aswan. The main journeys undertaken by tourists will be: Cairo to/from Luxor and Aswan (10 and 14 hours respectively. rains leave mornings and evenings only); and Cairo to/from Alexandria (2h20min.Trains run all day). Ismailia, Port Said and Suez are also available from Cairo.
Egypt's buses and national coaches are often the only way to travel and the service is generally excellent. Most vehicles are modern and air-conditioned and run to a relatively extensive schedule.Tickets can only be bought one-way. The return ticket must be purchased from the destination.
Stations at the Airport, Almaza (Heliopolis), Turgoman (Downtown), and Giza Square. These are the deluxe buses, going to and from these destinations: Alexandria (, 2 hours), Port Said (2 hours), Hurghada ( 6 hours), and Sharm El Sheikh ( hours).
East Delta Bus Co
Stations at Almaza (Heliopolis), Turgoman (Downtown), plus Tagnid (Heliopolis) for Ismailia and Suez, and Abbasiya for Al Arish and Sinai. Main destinations are Ismailia, Suez, Al Arish, Sharm El Sheikh, Dahab, and Nuweiba (6 hours).
West Delta Bus Company
Stations at Almaza (Heliopolis), and Turgoman (Downtown). Main destinations are Alexandria, Marsa Matrouh (6 hours), Siwa (10 hours), Bahariya and Farafra (4-5 hours).
Upper Egypt Bus Company
Stations at Turgoman (Downtown), Tagnid (Heliopolis), Almaza (Heliopolis), and Munib (Giza). Main destinations are Hurghada, Safaga, Luxor, Aswan, and the Oases. Foreigners are sometimes not allowed on buses to these destinations depending on security threats.
Driving in Egypt leaves much to be desired.If you don't fancy driving yourself, a cheaper option is to hire a car and even the bus is the service taxi, a large Peugeot or minibus (pronounced ser-vees) that must be filled before it leaves. Rameses Square in Cairo is the main departure point
Points to consider:
The wearing of seat belts and speed restrictions (
Your national driving licence is sufficient to give you the right to drive in Egypt although if you have an older paper licence rather than a new photocard one it's advisable to obtain an international driving licence beforehand.
If choosing to self-drive note that you do so at your own risk. Car rentals cost around USD80 a day with unlimited mileage. Taking the cheaper basic rate for limited mileage is not a good idea in Egypt due to the length of the country.
Cairo International Airport has two terminals, the newer, second terminal takes all international flights except Egypt Air and some Eastern European carriers. If you don't speak Egyptian it may be advisable to ask your hotel or an Egyptian speaker to call on your behalf if you're seeking airport information.
Major airports are located at Alexandria, Aswan, Luxor, Hurghada, and Sharm El Sheikh. There are also a growing number of small airports that receive air taxis and charter flights located at desert settlements and tourist resorts. Prices can be high but the benefits of travelling by air often make it worthwhile.
There are countless companies offering Felucca (traditional dhows) trips up and down the Nile. An hour on the Nile on any stretch of the river should cost no more than EGP50, no matter how many people are on board. For the more adventurous traveller, a three or five day drift up the Nile from Aswan to Esna or Edfu may cost a bit more but is worth it. You have to negotiate to get the best deal and it will depend on your captain as to how much you pay and how far you go. Make sure your captain buys enough bottles of water.
International ferries to European destinations have ceased to be popular, as costs are often higher than flights. However cruises still use Alexandria as a Mediterranean port and there are also several ferry routes on and around the Red Sea and the Sinai Peninsula:
This route has two ferries daily, one a car carrying ferry (Single ticket EGP185, adult; EGP545 single car, 6 hours), and the other a superfast passenger only catamaran (EGP245, 1 hour). Tickets can be booked ahead or purchased on the day of travel. Times tend to vary, but the catamaran usually leaves in the early afternoon, between 12h00 and 15h00.
Hurghada-Sharm El Sheikh
This great fast ferry carries 12 cars as well as 300 passengers, takes 90 minutes, and costs EGP475 return per adult (various other ticket prices are available for children and cars).
Egypt has some great shopping opportunities, and the prices will leave you smiling. You'll need to sharpen your bargaining skills, however, to get the right price .
What to Buy
At Cairo's Khan el-Khalili and souks throughout Egypt, the majority of souvenirs consist of tacky plaster pyramids, carved camels or pictures on papyrus, but shop around and there are some great buys.
Rugs and appliqué cushion covers are more discerning purchases; the best place for these is Tentmakers Lane by Bab Zuweila in Cairo's Khan el-Khalili.
Whenever you shop in a souk always bargain hard and always be prepared to walk away. No matter how many days the storekeeper says his children will go hungry for this sale, he will have made money off you - otherwise, believe us, he wouldn't sell. As a rule of thumb, pay no more than a third of a shopkeeper's first demand.
Things to look out for include traditional jewellery throughout the country, particularly old and new silver and amber. There is not much antique jewellery left on the market nowadays so you might have to hunt hard for good pieces.
Wraps and scarves in camel and sheep wool make lovely gifts and are extremely warm. They are large and come in various bold colours with Islamic patterns embroidered in gold. Egyptian cotton is always a good buy, and if you have the time, get a suit made at one of the numerous tailors around. If you don't fancy this kind of outlay cotton scarves are found on every market stall. Having shoes made is also a good idea, with high levels of workmanship and excellent quality of leather, they will last years.
Cairo has one-stop shops to get all these items and more. You'll pay a little more in these galleries than you would in the market, unless you are a great haggler, but they are all under one roof, and there is no hassle. Nomad at the Cairo Marriott Hotel, and the Bashayer and Al Ain Galleries, both in Dokki, are three of the best.
Hot spots around the country to look for shopping opportunities include Siwa Oasis. Here can be found some of the most beautiful artefacts, including material, jewellery and rugs, in Egypt. Siwa merchandise can be bought elsewhere if you can't get to the oasis itself.
El Arish on the north coast produces some beautiful embroidered goods in colourful and intricate patterns and landscapes. There is a weekly market at this seaside town every Wednesday. Never buy anything that is said to be an artefact recovered from the pyramids or any ancient site. The likelihood of you being offered a genuine article is extremely small, and such items are heavily protected by law.
Shops generally open according to seasonal demand. You'll find shops in tourist areas may keep longer hours.
Most stores will open at least from 09h00-19h00 during the winter months (Nov-Mar). During summer (Apr-Oct) shops open much later but will close for an extended lunch hour during the day.
Opening hours during this period are generally 09h00-12h30/13h00 and 16h00-20h00/21h00. During Ramadan opening times can be severely disrupted.