Travelling in Egypt is the trip dreams are made of. From the pharaoh’s tombs, to the roaring Nile, to vibrant coral reefs, and serene desert, Egypt has so much to offer tourists. It is the perfect wonderful blend of ancient historical charm and warm Arab hospitality. Polar & I recently spent 10 days travelling in Egypt and I can’t recommend this destination enough. Dare I say it might be one of our top 5 destinations that we’ve visited together?!
Whether you are travelling in Egypt on a backpacker’s budget, or planning a luxury Egypt tour, you can make your Egypt trip fit your budget. There are a number of accommodation options available throughout Egypt and even the most luxurious of options are a fraction of the price of what you would pay in, say, Dublin or Dubai. If you’re thinking of visiting Egypt then this is the guide for you, it will help you plan a trip that allows you to see the best the country has to offer by covering a large distance in a short space of time.
How to use this post:This post provides a day by day itinerary & daily overview of my time travelling in Egypt. On the days I provide accommodation information, it’s a place I recommend and enjoyed staying at. If there is no accommodation information, it’s because I stayed at a place I would not want others to waste time at.
Note: The flights, accommodation and activities mentioned in this post were NOT sponsored/gifted.
FIRST IT’S TIME FOR A BRIEF PPG (PANDA’S PROGRESSIVE GEOGRAPHY) LESSON!
Egypt has a contrast of historical layers that varied from the Ancient Egyptian civilization to the Roman Empire with all their greatness, and from the Islamic dynasties to the modern history of Egypt is what you’ll find in modern Egypt.
The civilization has always been strongly connected with other parts of the world, bringing in and exporting goods, religions, food, people and ideas. At times ancient Egypt ruled territory outside the modern-day country’s border, controlling territory in what is now Sudan, Cyprus, Lebanon, Syria, Israel and Palestine.
The country was also occupied by other powers — the Persians, Nubians, Greeks and Romans all conquered the country at different points in time. In 1914, World War One broke out. Egypt found itself in an awkward position: the Ottoman Empire, of which it was a province, was fighting the British and French, who occupied it. At this point, the Europeans stepped out and took control of the country. The khedive was deposed in favor of his uncle, Hussein Kamil, who was declared sultan of Egypt. Egypt was then officially declared a British protectorate. In 1948, the British pulled out of neighboring Palestine, and the Egyptians, along with other Arab forces, attacked the infant state of Israel and were badly beaten.
A young army officer named Gamal Abdel Nasser was the one who established the Republic of Egypt and ended the monarchy rule in Egypt following the Egyptian revolution in 1952. In 1956, on the fourth anniversary of the Revolution, Nasir announced that Egypt was taking control of the Canal, and that the British forces were to leave Egypt. Egypt was ruled autocratically by three presidents over the following six decades, by Nasser from 1954 until his death in 1970, by Anwar Sadat from 1971 until his assassination 1981, and by Hosni Mubarak from 1981 until his resignation in the face of the 2011 Egyptian revolution.
The currency used in Egypt is the Egyptian Pound confusingly known by the abbreviation LE.
PREPARING FOR TRAVELLING TO Egypt- entry requirements
Cairo is Egypt’s capital city but the country has various airports. Cairo International Airport (CAI) is the most popular one with most international flights landing there.
During this time, Egypt is allowing people of all nationalities and destinations to enter. However, depending on where you come from, you may be required to take a mandatory PCR test upon arrival. Please contact your nearest Egyptian Embassy to see who is allowed, what the entry requirements are and what documents are needed. For vaccinated passengers you DO NOT NEED a negative PCR test, just proof of vaccination. Make sure your vaccination certificate has a QR code. Your vaccination certificate must state full vaccination at least 14 days before travel. Accepted vaccines are AstraZeneca, Janssen, Moderna, Pfizer.BioNTech, Sinopharm, Sinovac, and Sputnik V.
PCR tests should be done within 72 hours. However, when arriving from Argentina, Australia, Bolivia, Brazil, Cameroon, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Ecuador, France (Paris), Germany (Frankfurt), Guyana, Italy (Rome), Japan, Republic of Korea, Mexico, New Zealand, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Thailand, the USA, the UK (London Heathrow), Uruguay, or Venezuela, the test and certificate window extends to 96 hours.
Passengers arriving from the following countries are subject to a PCR test upon arrival in Egypt: Argentina, Bangladesh, Belize, Bhutan, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, India, Mexico, Myanmar, Nepal, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Sri Lanka, Suriname, Uruguay, Venezuela, or Vietnam.
South Africans DO require a visa to travel to Egypt. I easily applied for my visa in Doha via the embassy. The visa is free and you can find more about what you need to apply in this post I wrote.
HOW WE GOT AROUND Egypt
Egypt is a vast country. In order to maximise our time, we took domestic flights with EgyptAir, a train and a long distance bus. Within Cairo, we were able to easily use Uber. I DO NOT advise driving in Egypt. In cities like Luxor, we found a taxi driver we liked and booked him for our days there. Win for him because he had steady business and a win for us because we didn’t have to keep bargaining prices with different taxi drivers.
Stop 1- Pyramids of Giza
I have mixed feelings about this place but I understand that it’s a necessity to visit when travelling in Egypt. I visited the pyramids in 2017 so please click here for my earlier, more detailed post.
These are the tips I think are necessary to visit the pyramids in 2021:
-Go with a guide. The amount of scammers and hustlers at the pyramids are unreal. Worse than Petra. Worse than the Taj Mahal. Trust me, you want to have as much protection as possible here. As much as I love independent travel, I also love NOT BEING HARASSED.
-Go as early as possible. The pyramids are open for entry at 8am. Be there early. Firstly this means you avoid the tour buses and will have beautiful morning light for your photos. Secondly, the pyramids are in the middle of the desert; no matter what time of year you go, they are bound to be scorching around midday. It gets really chaotic, full and hot the later you go.
– There’s 2 entrances to the pyramids site. You should start at the ticket counter near the Great Pyramid (past Marriott Mena House). If you’re walking that will be the least taxing route as you will head downhill towards the Sphinx and can exit easily afterwards.
-If you’re with a guide I strongly recommend hiring one with a car as distances are far between the pyramids and the Sphinx.
-Skip going inside the pyramids. It’s hot, dark and claustrophobic. There’s nothing to see in there. I don’t understand the attraction. You can do it but don’t say I didn’t warn you!
Stop 2- Al Azhar Park
A wonderful sunset spot that the locals gather at. The Mohamed Ali mosque serves as the perfect backdrop and you can watch the sunset over Cairo while you munch on some snacks. As you can see we had a professional photographer take our post wedding photos here and I loved how they came out.
Stop 3- Zooba
We loved our first foray into upscale Egyptian street food at Zooba. Everything we ate was delicious and we loved the quirky details of the restaurant. The menu is in English and I recommend the shawarma plate and hawawshi.
Accommodation: Hilton Zamalek
Stop 1- Black Desert
We joined a local tour group Puzzle Egypt, to take us on a 2 day camping adventure deep into the deserts of Egypt. Polar & I are not camping people but we were really keen to do see a part of Egypt that is largely off the main tourist track. After a 5-6 hour drive from Cairo (we set off at 6am) we arrived at the black desert. (We were in a bus for 4 hours and then a jeep for 2 hours- it was a long journey!).
The black desert was a landscape I never anticipated to see in my lifetime. It was otherworldly. The ground beneath us was rocky, peppered with fragments of black basalt and iron sandstone, and volcano-shaped mounds towered over us. I couldn’t believe that such a place existed in Egypt!
Stop 2- Agabat Valley
After the black desert we headed to another unique landscape. The black faded away and gave way to more golden and white landscapes. Millions of years ago, Agabat Valley used to be under the sea. Over the years, unique rock formations of limestone, and chalk developed. When you stand atop the small rock cliff at one of the valleys and the valley with the rock formation unfolds before you, it’s a wonderful view. You’ll forget that you’re in travelling in Egypt, you’ll feel that you’re on another planet!
Stop 3- White Desert
From Agabat we made a stop for a late lunch and then headed to our stop for the night- the white desert. I have never seen such a place before; it almost looked like snow on top of sand. Towers of chalk were scattered as far as we could see, whittled into strange shapes by the desert winds.
The wind has eroded chalk monoliths into surreal forms resembling skulls, ostriches, hawks, camels, mushrooms and leopards, looming above a dusty pan strewn with shells, crystals and iron pyrites shaped like sea urchins or twigs. The sunset from here was majestic, especially combined with a cup of mint tea made by our driver.
We drove around for a bit finding the camping spot and then we relaxed and gazed at the stars.
What was incredible about the white desert was the opportunity to see the stars and watch meteor showers. Our guide took us to an amazing spot and I could not take my eyes off the brilliant pearls of the nighttime that sat as if cushioned upon pure black velvet. The intense darkness gives the perfect conditions for gazing at the galaxies of stars, more than I ever thought possible to see at once. The sky above practically sparkled, and I saw two shooting stars which I thought was very exciting!
Stop 1- Crystal Mountain & Sandboarding
After an incredible night in the desert, we started our long journey back to Cairo. Along the way we stopped to marvel at Crystal Mountain. At first, it didn’t seem like anything special but upon closer inspection, it’s clear that gis landform is an exhumed cave- a cave complete with stalagmites and stalactites that have been thrust upwards by earth movement and with time has lost its roof to erosion and has almost weathered away.The crystals themselves are quartz. And I had never actually seen something like this before. No wonder it’s called “The Fairytale Mountain that Sparkles”.
We also stopped at a place with high dunes to do some sandboarding. Sadly this was only for a little while as it was scorching hot in the desert! As we packed up to head back to the city, I looked around and marvelled at the way the desert was a warm and expansive golden brown, as wide open as it is ever possible to imagine.
Stop 2- Back to Cairo
Accommodation: Hilton Heliopolis
Fly from Cairo to Aswan
Stop 1- Aswan Nubian Village
We had big plans for Aswan but we were so exhausted after our early mornings and night in the desert that we spent most of our time in Aswan relaxing. We stayed in the Nubian village and after 5pm we wandered around to explore. Small houses brightly painted in light blues, yellows, oranges and purples and set in front of red and orange desert sand hills, the Nubian village is a gem.
Who are the Nubians? Ancient Nubia was the site of highly advanced black African civilizations that rivaled ancient Egypt in wealth, power and cultural development. In fact, Nubian kings ruled over Egypt as pharaohs for nearly 100 years. Nubia as a region extends from Aswan in Egypt south to modern Khartoum, Sudan, and beyond. They have some interesting customs for example, when a man marries he literally moves into her family home as he builds a new home for his own family. They also have their own unique language and culture! The village is definitely worth a visit and spoil yourself with a meal at Onaty Ka which serves traditional Nubian cuisine.
My only recommendation for Aswan is to visit the Nubian village but stay elsewhere. It was too far from the other sites and we struggled to organise transportation (our hotel was quite unhelpful). If I went again, I would probably stay at the Movenpick and go for dinner in the Nubian Village.
Stop 1- Train to Luxor
After our inability to do & see much in Aswan, we hopped on an intercity train to Luxor. You can easily buy your tickets on the day. Tourists are sold first class tickets which are exceptionally affordable (73LE each). You can check the train schedule from the official website here.
We checked in to what is arguably one of the best hotels at our stay during our time travelling in Egypt- Hilton Luxor– and organised a felucca boat ride along the Nile.
Step 2: Felucca Ride along Nile
A felucca is a traditional Egyptian wooden boat with a canvas sail. We organised this through our hotel however you can organise this yourself with any tour agency or at the ferry dock in Luxor. Our felucca ride came with canapes and the slow sail was actually very romantic!
We made our way back to the hotel just in time to enjoy the sunset over the River Nile from the pool.
Accommodation: Hilton Luxor
Stop 1- Luxor Temple
We headed to Luxor Temple at the crack of dawn (not really, we went at 7:30am only to find out that it opens at 8am) in order not to be bombarded by tourist buses. It worked because we were the only people there and we got to explore this magical site in peace.
Luxor Temple was not devoted to a God, a set of Gods or a deified version of a King; instead, this temple was built as a dedication to the rejuvenation of kingship, and was possibly where many Kings were crowned. It costs 160LE to enter but we paid 80LE (the ticket seller seemed to like Polar) and it’s really small so you can be done in less than an hour even at a leisurely pace.
Stop 2- Karnak Temple
Karnak Temple is often described as “an open book of Ancient Egyptian history”. I found this description to be apt because as you walk through Karnak, you’ll see the influences from various eras.
The hieroglyphs carved on the walls and the columns, tell the stories of centuries of pharaohs. As we wandered around, Polar’s jaw was on the floor. “It’s like walking around a real life movie set!”, he exclaimed about 7 times as I rolled my eyes. In short, what I am trying to tell you is that you MUST visit Karnak even if you skip everything else in Luxor.
Karnak Temple was not a single temple built by one ruler. It is more like a city of temples that each pharaoh has added to, expanding it outwards in at least one direction, leaving their own distinct signature. Karnak is allegedly the second largest temple in the world (after Angkor Wat in Cambodia).
Entrance is 200LE per person and is well worth it. It will remind you that Ancient Egypt is one of the greatest civilizations of all humanity and it is a privilege to be able to walk amongst one of its most spiritual complexes.
Stop 3- Valley of the Kings
Valley of the Kings provides a first-hand look at just how artistically talented the Egyptians were and how revered their pharaohs were to them. This site is located around 25km (about 45 minutes away) from the city of Luxor. As usual in Egypt, the best option to get there is to get a taxi from your hotel, as they are quite cheap and a better option than figuring out public transport. In Luxor it’s really easy to find any taxi as they are usually congregated outside hotels or temples.
An entrance ticket (240LE per person, although we got in for half price) includes a visit to three tombs, which means you have the opportunity to enter and explore only three of the tombs unless you are willing to pay more. Some tombs, like King Tutankhamen’s, cannot be seen as one of the three included with your ticket, and it is more than the cost of a single ticket to add it to your itinerary. The location of these tombs wasn’t a pure coincidence; the Pharaohs were buried on the West Bank of the Nile river, the same place where the sun goes each day, representing the end or death of the day. Pharaohs were brought there at the end of their days on Earth, just before starting their journey to the afterlife.
We saw three of the tombs that were included in our tickets and we were happy with what we saw. Certain tombs close depending on the time of year in order to preserve the colours in the tombs so what you see depends on when you go! This was the only attraction we decided to visit on the west bank and we were happy with our choice. I didn’t want to overload our day and preferred to just spend some time indoors, out of the summer heat.
Stop 1- Bus to Hurghada
We decided to give intercity buses a chance and booked one way tickets from Luxor to Hurghada with GoBus. This was really simple and I was able to complete the transaction online. All I did on the day was show up with my printed bus tickets. The tickets cost us 120LE each and we paid an additional 10LE for our large suitcase. The journey itself was uneventful but just be aware that the bus makes a bathroom and shop stop midway through the journey. They will try to scam you if you can’t read/speak Arabic. It’s far better to buy your snacks before getting on the bus.
We arrived at our accommodation- Hilton Hurghada Plaza– and spent the rest of the day relaxing at the pool.
Stop 1- Boat Ride to Paradise Island
We organised a snorkelling trip through our hotel (600Le each) and despite the minimal information given to us by our hotel, it turned out to be one of the best days of our holiday travelling in Egypt. Now bear in mind that this trip wasn’t specific to our hotel, we saw MANY boats out there with both locals and tourists not from our hotel. So I believe you could organise this trip from anywhere in Hurghada and most likely, for cheaper.
After a 90 minute boat ride, we started to see the reefs under the transparent water. It was really amazing! Even in Seychelles and Maldives, the water was not as clear. Our trip included all snorkelling equipment (but we carried our own masks), and once we headed under the water, it was incredible. I thought snorkelling in Zanzibar was breathtaking but this defied my expectations.
A great thing about snorkeling in Hurghada is that there is a huge emphasis on conservation and safety. So people are not allowed to snorkel away from their group or do their own thing. While this is initially irritating, I have seen how not having this behaviour has ruined many snorkeling sites around the world. Another thing worth noting about snorkeling in hurghada is that the fish swims freely around humans, no one has to coax or feed them. Overall, it turned out to be one of my all time favourite snorkeling experiences. You can watch my video to see what we saw:
We stopped at two snorkeling sites, had lunch on our boat and then docked for an island at Paradise Island which is basically Instagram heaven. We took some photos, enjoyed some drinks and then headed back to our hotel. I was so happy with our day out, and its definitely a highlight of my time travelling in Egypt.
Stop 1- Flight to Cairo
From Hurghada to Cairo is a 1 hour flight and many carriers run this flight so choose the option best for you! We flew Egypt Air and while our flight was delayed, everything else was smooth. Domestic flights are a good option to use when travelling in Egypt.
Stop 2- Koshary Abou Tarek
Many locals had advised us to try the koshary at this renowned restaurant when travelling in Egypt. One of Egypt’s most popular recipes, koshari is widely considered the country’s national dish – an unlikely mix of macaroni, lentils and rice, jazzed up with cumin-spiced tomato gravy, garlic vinegar and optional hot sauce, garnished with chickpeas and crispy fried onions. Koshary Abou Tarek is so popular that the restaurant is spread over 4 floors and they only serve this one dish!
It was delicious- even fussy Polar could agree that this was yummy- and for two LARGE portions including salad and drinks, we paid 73LE. Also, it kept us full for HOURS and everyone in the restaurant spoke English.
Stop 3- PCR Test at Children’s Cancer Hospital
Sharing our experience here but this is not necessarily what I would recommend. Upon scouring the internet for information on where we can get a PCR test for travel, the only information I could find was at Children’s Cancer Hospital. Not such a fun name right? We headed there, were given a ticket and then proceeded to wait 2 hours outside. Also not so fun. The only upside was that the test is the cheapest in Cairo (800LE each) and most of that fee is dedicated towards researching cancer in children. I would head there earlier in the day (we went around 3pm) to reduce wait times. Alternatively you could ask your hotel to arrange one for you (we stayed at a useless hotel that was unable to provide this service).
Stop 1- Breakfast at 30 North
Since our hotel turned out to be a disaster we decided to eat elsewhere. We treated ourselves to one of the best breakfast places we have been to- 30 North. They have an extensive menu and I strongly recommend the peanut butter hot chocolate!
Stop 2- Manial Palace Museum
hough overlooked by most visitors when travelling in Egypt, Manial Palace offers some of the best experiences in Cairo: a peep into the 19th and 20th-century Egyptian royal life, beautiful gardens, empty, quiet oasis in the midst of chaos, lovely architecture, and moments of solitude in the middle of a city bursting with craziness. Manial Palace was built by Prince Mohammed Ali Taufik (1875—1955) and offers visitors a fascinating mix of Ottoman, Moorish, Persian, and European styles.
This palace is really stunning and the best part is that it comes with a free guide (the local archeology students from the nearby university offer free tours to practise their knowledge) so you can really learn a lot! It was particularly crowded when we went (at 3pm) so I strongly suggest going earlier if you want amazing photos. It costs 100LE per person to visit this complex and if you plan to enter the mosque (not a necessity), be prepared to remove your shoes and cover your hair.
Stop 3- Collect PCR Test result at Children’s Cancer Hospital
We needed stamped printouts of our PCR test results so we had to head back to Children’s Cancer Hospital to collect ours. Thankfully it took less than 30 minutes to collect. Make sure your name and passport number are correct before departing.
Stop 4- Khan e Khalili Bazaar
This is one of the top places to visit when travelling in Egypt but the night I went, there was no power in the entire souk! So we were wandering around in the dark. I wanted to bring back the ultimate souvenir for my friends and family- silver hieroglyphic pendants.
We found a reputable jeweler in the souk and it took my Egyptian friend 30 minutes of bargaining till we agreed on a price (in the dark). I’m sharing the name of the shop and the gentleman who sold them to me in the photos below (we paid 330LE for each one but I bought 10 so I got a discount) and I think anything 400LE and 500LE would be a fair price for tourists without a local/who don’t speak Arabic.
Stop 1- Breakfast at Crimson Club
For our last day we didn’t have much energy to do anything beyond breakfast. We treated ourselves to breakfast overlooking the Nile at a very pretty restaurant which I recommend if you’re in the Zamalek area! At the bottom is an art gallery which is worth a walk through if you have the time.
Stop 2- Cairo International Airport
Cairo International Airport has various terminals so please make sure you check your ticket to see which terminal you fly out of. We used Uber to take us to and from the airport. Budget extra time to get there as it takes 45 minutes from downtown Cairo, longer if you’re staying in Giza.
Last tips & advice:
-Bargaining is a huge part of Egyptian culture and while you need to understand that you will always pay more than the locals, you can still find some great deals. Bargain for EVERYTHING.
-Egypt has so much to offer but a huge part of why people are so drawn to this country is the history. Egypt has an incredible ancient history that has fascinated the world for hundreds of years. But unless you’re a history buff, you may want to choose your historical sites carefully. Seeing all of them makes them blur into one and you don’t get to appreciate each one. Research then select what you really want to see.
-Travelling in Egypt independently is not for the faint hearted or inexperienced travelers. I was lucky to be able to read and converse in basic Arabic and this was my second visit to Egypt. I felt that I could manage the headache of travelling without a guide. But I really do recommend one if you’re not a confident traveller. You can get quotes and bargain prices if you’re on a tight budget.
-The best and the worst part about travelling in Egypt are the people; what do I mean by that? Well, having lived in the gulf for so long, I am lucky to have so many Egyptian friends. Egyptians are genuine people who welcome foreign visitors- they want you to enjoy their country and will go out of their way to help you. Tourism is an essential source of income in Egypt and its people value the importance of this. But on the flipside, Covid and political instability has led to a decline in tourism which has made people desperate for business. It’s not uncommon for tourists to be ripped off, harassed or followed. Not with the intention of hurting anyone- but simply so you give them money. Just something to be mindful of.
Egypt is one of the oldest civilizations on earth, making it a hot spot for tourists and adventurers. From the colorful and exotic streets of Aswan, to the awe-inspiring structures of Luxor, visitors often find it hard to leave behind these amazing treasures. There’s something for everyone in travelling in Egypt- whether you want to scuba dive in Dahab or enjoy some shisha on the streets of Alexandria, you can find an activity to suit your tastes and budget. Lastly, I have a wealth of information on my Instagram especially in the Egypt highlight. Do have a look. If you enjoyed this post about travelling in Egypt, please pin it using the pin below:
HOW LONG SHOULD I GO FOR?
You could stay in Egypt for years and not visit everything. 10 days is a good amount of time to start with but don’t forget to factor in travel time.
SHOULD I PURCHASE A SIM CARD?
I found wifi in public places and hotels to be strong enough for what I needed.
DID YOU APPLY FOR A VISA?
I applied for and received my visa within 7 days from the Egyptian Embassy here in Doha. The visa is free for South Africans and you can read more about it here.
WERE PEOPLE FRIENDLY AND DID THEY SPEAK ENGLISH?
Most people in tourism sector spoke English really well but we definitely hit some snags. If you’re travelling with a tour operator, you will not have a problem.
DID YOU THINK THIS TRIP WOULD BE SUITABLE FOR KIDS?
I personally have no experience traveling with children so I can’t be sure what they would like. However my itinerary was very relaxed and moved at a leisurely pace. I would advise doing research into family friendly activities if planning to travel with young children.
Have you visited Egypt? Or are you thinking of travelling in Egypt? Let me know in the comments below!