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8 Tips for your first trip to Egypt

For some people a trip to Egypt is deterring and full of dangers. For us it was an opportunity to go on a trip full of adventure. Why has this foreboding image of Egypt been created and is it really a dangerous country to visit?

The recent attacks from the terrorist world, the refugee issue and the impingement of human rights has created a negative image for the tourism of these muslim countries. The main question is if Egypt is a safe country for visitors. And the answer to this is Yes! It is safe! Especially after 2018 when the country gained a stable government there was an increase in tourism according to the local tourist guides. Security in airports and various other locations has increased significantly. The police are heavily armed and on constant patrols.

On the other hand, this is a poor country with a people who have received many blows. Therefore, through our personal experience we will give you a few tips for a safer and more comfortable trip. Below you will find all the information you need to have as beautiful a time as we did to our first trip to Egypt.

Bargain a lot

In any market you go to the prices you will see do not represent the true value of the product. If you do not bargain you will end up paying double or triple the price. 

Do not hesitate to ask the seller to pay half the price. Do not feel bad if they tell you the price you suggest is too low and do not hesitate to leave the bench if they do not agree to your price. The most likely scenario is that they will stop you as you are leaving and sell you the product at the price you initially suggested. However, do not ask for extremely low prices. For example if something costs 30€ don’t ask to pay only 5€.

Personally (Αliki) I found it very difficult to bargain as I was too embarrassed to ask for a lower price. This resulted in my paying 20 euros for a small statue (whereas I was informed later I could have paid only 9e). I paid 15 euros for 5 magnets (whereas I could have paid 7,50e) and many other instances where I could have saved a whole lot of money if I had bargained.

“Backsheesh”, the tip for everything

Egypt has developed a culture where tipping or  Backsheesh is necessary for everything. Did someone take your photo? Backsheesh. Did someone give you directions? Backsheesh. Did someone show you a good restaurant? Backsheesh!

It is an aggressive and annoying habit for tourists, especially when they’re travelling to Egypt for the first time and are clueless. Some of the locals are extremely insistent and will not stop following you around. Some of them might put a “present” in your hand, for example, a lucky scarab beetle or a cheap piece of jewellery, which you will decline, something which will make you feel bad enough to offer a small tip.

Our experience was inside a souvenir shop. As we were paying they asked us for a tip for the boy wrapping the gifts. Obviously we didn’t give it as we had already paid more than enough for the souvenirs. Our tour guide had taken us there and they weren’t particularly convincing.

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You will feel famous

The strangest experience was when dozens of children would surround us asking to be photographed with their mobile phones.  We couldn’t understand if this was due to the fact that tourism in this country has been lacking in recent years and so children were not used to tourists or whether they were just curious about foreigners .

They lurk in the tourist areas, like the pyramids of Giza, where we found ourselves surrounded by at least 30 children from a school trip. They wanted to touch my hair (Αliki), to observe me from close up and to take selfies together. Some of them even called me Shakira (?).

Something similar might happen to you. In those moments you should take care of your personal belongings even more, as the children come very close to you and it is very possible they might steal from you. In our case there was no unpleasant incident. We just took some photos and then they returned to their teacher.

Do not drink tap water

The water in Egypt is not drinkable so avoid it. Use bottled water even when you are brushing your teeth. You can tell how dirty and unhealthy the water is when you are showering or taking a bath from the colour and the smell of the chlorine. When you are buying bottled water you must also make sure the caps are tightly sealed.

Respect their culture and religion

As in any country it is extremely important in Egypt as well.  Egypt is mostly a muslim country. Women must dress conservatively and cover certain parts of their bodies. Likewise, tourists must respect their customs and dress similarly. Women must cover their shoulders, breasts and knees.

Tourists must also show respect towards their places of worship such as mosques, especially during praising time.

The supposedly helpful people

You must be very careful with people approaching to give you information or other kind of help. You must be especially careful in the pyramid area where many overly polite men will offer to show you forbidden parts of the pyramids or take you on camel rides.

The result of this extreme politeness is to ask for payment for their help. Many are the cases where an extremely polite man will offer to take photos of a couple and then ask to be paid, and even refuse to give back their smart phone unless he receives his payment. We also met one of those very polite gentlemen who offered to take a photo of us in front of the pyramid of Cheops and we politely refused.

We have also heard of tourists not being allowed to get off their camels if they didn’t give the requested amount or being left very far away from the main entrance of Giza. We actually know two Greek girls who jumped off their camels in defiance of paying anything extra to the agreed price.

As they are extremely insistent you also must be very insistent and adamant that you are not interested in their services or else they will not stop following you to get what they want.

More information on the pyramids here.

Uber

The safest and cheap way to travel within cities like Cairo is the Uber. Your trip to Egypt will be more convinient. Thanks to this app, the price is set and you can monitor the route and make sure the driver is not sidetracking.

On the contrary, taxi drivers will charge double and not back down unless you bargain fiercely. Also, most of them take longer routes, so the taximeter can charge you more (if they actually have it on). Also, be very careful with the change as they always give back less.

In every case you will be asked for the typical backsheesh for their services.

More informations for Uber you’ll find here.

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Egyptian driving

As you set foot on Egyptian roads you will be inundated with sounds of honking and noise pollution. Even if you are from a Mediterranean country like Greece and are used to car honking, the situation here is much worse.

During our visit to Cairo we stayed in a central city hotel. Consequently, we could hear car honking from the very early hours throughout the day. Another observation about Egyptian driving is that they don’t keep to their lanes and no one indicates when they want to change lanes or turn right or left. A two lane road in our country can become a three or four lane road here.

It was especially challenging to cross the road. After a few attempts we decided to follow the locals closely who, without even looking at the road, would cross at a relatively slow pace.

It made a great impression on us that although the traffic on the main roads was absolutely chaotic, with constant honking, we never came upon an accident. Whenever we were in a car we were in a state of panic not to crash or hit someone.  A driver explained that because of their religion they respect and are considerate of other drivers and pedestrians and that they are accustomed to this kind of driving.

We hope our article helps you taking the right decisions and making your first trip to Egypt more safe!

Organize your first trip to Egypt here!

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