Howdy all. It’s been some twenty-one years since I went to Egypt. In that time there has been the Arab Spring, and a period where Egypt was not considered a particularly safe destination to travel too. Thankfully, things have really improved over the past five or so years, and now, Covid-19 aside, it is once again becoming a well visited country.
The fact is though, Egypt is actually a large country, and on top of that it has countless ancient historic sites which are likely to ‘wow’ the visitor. From the pyramids to Abu Simbel in the south, there is always some awe-inspiring monument or feature that is sure to drop your jaw to the ground if you look in the right direction. Then you have Dahab, Sharm El-Sheik over on the Sinai Peninsula which are resort like towns for a little R&R. Alexandria in the north is quite different, still with ruins from the days of the Romans, and then Cairo is one of the world’s biggest cities, and has plenty to keep you occupied with an amazing setting right on the Nile (where indeed you’ll find a great deal of anything of interest in Egypt). Finally, if it’s something you’d like to see, the Siwa Oasis is right in the east of the country, not far from the closed Libyan border. Something that sounds like it’s from a fairy tale. So – our challenge today, should we choose to accept it – can we cram ALL of this into a 21-day itinerary? Let’s find out!
Before We Go…
Before we board our plane to Egypt, we are going to need to know about the essentials. Visas of course, and money. Visas these days cost upwards from $25USD, and are available in a number of different ways.
If you are lucky to be one of 41 states – including Australia, the USA, Canada, UK or European Union – that can get a ‘visa on arrival’, then there is always this simple way. Simply go to a kiosk when you arrive at an Egyptian international airport and pay for it there, should be valid for 30 days which has us covered. There is also the eVisa, or getting it via a consulate which will take a few days at least to process. The advantage is limited I guess, you get through customs quicker perhaps if you already have it, and you won’t worry about not having a visa when you arrive.
Money and Budget
Egypt’s currency is the Egyptian Pound. As of today it’s a little under 16 pounds per one USD. Egypt generally is actually a pretty cheap country to travel. When I was there in 1999 I often paid well under $10USD for a bed at night, a couple of times less than $5USD but I have to say, the quality was not always there! One place in Cairo was incredibly cheap, but boy it was also not clean and the mattresses were bare in spots and if I went today I wouldn’t opt for a place like that. If they even exist today.
I just did a very quick search on ye faithful ‘booking dot com’ and found a very comfortable looking room in Cairo for $15AUD a night, so around $11-$12 USD. So if we want to be really stingy I can’t see why a budget of around $30USD a day wouldn’t cover us. I like to use a general rule of double your accommodation and add a couple of bucks to work out a minimum sort of budget for travel. Although these days I tend to spend more on accommodation – significantly more than I used to and if I was spending $100 on a hotel, I wouldn’t be budgeting $200 per day, it would probably be more like $130-$140.
Allow a little extra for tours and site, because there’s always that little something extra and Egypt is such a brilliant country in so many respects, you want to be able to spend a little extra if required.
Be Prepared for Hassle
So, ummmm, yes. This is a little warning in regard to Egypt because no matter where you go in Egypt, you are going to encounter hassle from people trying to make a buck. Egypt was my first Middle Eastern country, on my first solo trip, and I knew that I would face some hassle when I got there. I’d already been to India earlier in the trip and I’d faced people who follow you around offering you this or that, and more essentially, trying to make a buck out of you. And look – you can’t blame them. Everyone has a right to try and support themselves whatever way works for them. But as a tourist, and especially as a first-time visitor to a country, this can get overwhelming and I have seen people turn around and scream in people’s faces to leave them alone. It can be really confronting for solo female travellers.
And to be honest, I would say it’s more relentless in Egypt than India, in fact I think Egypt was the most relentless place for touts, hassle and hustle I have ever been. Here I am talking about the sheer number of people who approach you wanting something from you. I remember it distinctly in Alexandria, Luxor and in the area of the Pyramids of Giza, but I certainly experienced it everywhere I went. What’s my advice? Well, try to laugh it off is probably the best advice I can give you.
Don’t let it get to you! Because if you do, it can really affect your total mindset and how you enjoy a place (or not obviously). When I say in Luxor I had to take a deep breath just to walk down the street, I’m not exaggerating. I was actually not solo in Egypt – I was with my friend Greg, and this helped because we could bounce off each other. We tried pretending not to speak English, I knew a couple of words in Russian and figured (wrongly) that the guys wouldn’t know Russian. They did, but still, it worked on a couple. The most common request we had from the hustlers was to ride a camel, which neither of us fancied in any way. I have to say, it became quite amusing in the end because it seemed so silly!
On top of that, there are scammers out there and you will need to be prepared to exercise common sense and caution. We heard of an American guy who had taken up one of these tours on their offer for a camel tour around the pyramids. At the time these tours went for a few bucks, but he paid something like $200USD, probably at least $190 more than he should have, if the thing was legit. They stopped at one of the pyramids for him to go inside. He left his valuables with the touts and camels. He came out and they were no where to be seen. Lost money, tickets, passport. You may say that he was just plain naïve I guess, but this can happen to anyone if they’re not alert and thinking. Never leave your money and passport with people you don’t know. In fact, keep it hidden on your body at all times! When travelling you can’t afford to lose it, because the hassle, time and money required to replace it is a LOT.
I don’t want to panic anyone here, because with a bit of patience, a sense of humour and some common sense, you should be fine. I personally have been incredibly lucky in my travels, I have had stuff stolen twice in all my travels, once was on a train in Sri Lanka, and my phone was lifted from my bag in Niamey but I got it back. Both were from being lax and not following the usual procedures that I typically do to ensure that I don’t get robbed!
Flying in and Out
So now that we’re all set, we need flights, presuming that you’re flying in and out. Libya’s borders were closed before the pandemic (and I presuming this plan is for the post-pandemic world) so are unlikely to open once it’s over. You can cross from Israel (Egypt is one of the few Arabic countries to recognise Israel) and also from Jordan, which doesn’t share a land border but you can cross by boat from Aqaba to the Sinai Peninsula by boat. According to the interweb, there are no ferries from Europe to the Mediterranean Coast of Egypt, so the only other border you could possibly cross is with Sudan in the south. It’s a little tricky and actually is done on a ferry on this giant lake – Lake Nassar in Egypt. It’s actually only 30km or so from the ancient site of Abu Simbel.
Egypt has a number of international airports, the main one obviously being Cairo. Loads of airlines service Cairo from Europe and further afield. Alexandria has an international airport, and there’s one at Sharm El-Sheik as well as many go there (especially from Russia) for short package resort style holidays.
I think there’s a new airport in Cairo built since I was there, but for this itinerary I’m going to suggest that we fly into Alexandria, and out of Sharm El-Sheik. The idea with all of my itineraries is to do what we do without internal flights. This will, WARNING!, involve some serious travel time on road and possibly ferry too.!
I flew into Alexandria with Lufthansa back in 1999, and that’s where we are going to start. There are a couple of reasons, mostly to limit the amount of backtracking we need to do and also it’s a much gentler introduction to the country of Egypt compared to Cairo.
Finally, before I launch into the actual itinerary, we need to consider when to travel. Probably January is the best bet, the coolest time of the year. In 1999 I was there in April and down south in Aswan it was well over 40 degrees every day, and it was getting hotter. And I didn’t go south from there. So I would, in a perfect world, limit travel to Egypt to between November and March.
Day One – Arrive in Alexandria
So, you’ve flown into Alexandria and are charmed by its tiny airport. To be honest, it probably has a new one too since 1999, but it was literally a large tin shed when Greg and I arrived in 1999 which was very amusing. It meant customs and all that was over very quickly. Check into your hotel. We stayed in the HI Hostel there, and had our own twin room which was pretty comfortable.
Day Two – Explore Alexandria
Alexandria is not a city with masses of stuff to see, but it certainly is pretty in its way and if you can find them, there are Roman ruins about the places and some catacombs we failed to find as our map was rubbish. Not sure that there’s much more than a day’s worth of sites – check out the disappointing Mediterranean beaches by the way – but it’s an easy start to the trip. Organise your transport for the next day!
Day Three – Travel to Siwa Oasis
You may find a tour to take you there, or find your own way if you can. There is a bus, but I’m sure tour companies will take you. It’s the best part of 8 hours if you drive, so we are talking about an all day (or all night) affair.
Day Four – Siwa Oasis
Chill and relax, you’re in an oasis man! Do as a little as possible.
Day Five – Travel to Cairo
You may choose to leave on the night bus, or find your way during the day. It’s up to you. If you’ve travelled during the day TO Siwa, perhaps the night bus makes more sense to Cairo. I know I don’t sleep much on buses though so I’d be torn. In the end though, it would probably lose me half a day in Cairo, and I’m okay with that.
Days Six to Eight – Cairo and the Pyramids
Cairo is full of stuff and this will be a full three days. Get to the pyramids early one day and soak it up. Look for a guide too and learn a bit about what you see. Say ‘hi!’ to the Sphinx of course. In Cairo you have the Egyptian Museum (a must), the Mosque of Muhammed Ali, the Nile River of course, the Khan E-Khali Market, the Cairo Tower, night life, places to eat, everything you could possibly want!
Day Nine to Ten – travel to Aswan and organising the next portion of the trip
Getting to Aswan is to be done one of one ways – the night train! It’s now a pretty comfortable experience – we took a seat on it and it wasn’t so comfortable, but it was a lot cheaper back then. The ticket could be up to $110USD these days but worth it, because when you wake up alongside the Nile River, you will have yourself one truly unforgettable experience.
Once in Aswan, and our train was delayed so we arrived after lunch, you need to prepare. Firstly we are going to Abu Simbel, exciting for me as I didn’t get to this place last time, and once back in Aswan we are taking a trip via felucca on the Nile back to Luxor, the quintessential Egyptian backpacking experience. We’ll ask around at our hotel for recommendations and seeing if we can get ourselves a good captain. Once this is arranged, we’re off to Abu Simbel!
Day Eleven – travel to Abu Simbel
Abu Simbel is the furthest south we go in Egypt, not far from the border with Sudan. In 1999 the only way to see these amazing ancient temples was by flight from Aswan, because of the security situation in this part of Egypt, but nowadays it’s much safer and people can go by road which takes between three and four hours. You can stay in Abu Simbel, and because we seem to have the time here, I’m putting a night there in the middle of the desert underneath this giant statues in as part of the itinerary. It could definitely be done as a day trip from Aswan, but by putting a night in here it means if we’ve fallen behind in the itinerary, we could make a day up by doing a day trip.
Day Twelve – return to Aswan
There’s no rush, but there may be little details to organise before the felucca trip the next day, a chance to perhaps stock up on snacks for it too.
Day Thirteen – Fifteen Felucca on the Nile to Luxor
Presuming that the trips are still similar to what I experienced, we leave early in the morning on the Nile on our felucca as the sun rises. It’s a boat with enough space for around 8-10 passengers and a few crew. Blankets across the boat to make it comfy, we sleep under the stars. It’s a really unique and unforgettable experience! Two nights heading towards Luxor, even hopping into the Nile’s waters for the occasional dip!
The final day we leave the boat, see some of the Nile-side ancient temples such as Edfu, and are driven to Luxor.
Day Fourteen to Sixteen – Luxor
Luxor and its surround will hold us captive for a few days. There’s nothing quite like the Valley of the Kings, the Valley of the Queens, the Colossis of Memnon. Even in Luxor proper you have a number of temples, including the huge Karnak Temple. It’s genuinely all brilliant.
Day Seventeen – travel to Sharm El-Sheik
The last great crossing takes us by land to Hurghada, on the Red Sea coast, and then by ferry to the Sinai Peninsula, finally by road to Sharm El-Sheik. Go on to Dahab if you fancy it! Google says just over six hours, seems a little hopeful to me.
Day Eighteen – Twenty-One – Sharm El Sheik/Dahab
We spend the last four days relaxing pool or beachside. We deserve it! It’s been hard going through the deserts of Egypt, covering huge distances and seeing the wonders of the ancient world! When we’re done, we fly out of Sharm El-Sheik to our next destination… wherever that may be!
What do you think? Are you in? Did I leave any essentials out? Please do comment! Thanks for visiting today and May the Journey, as always, Never End!