Did you know?
- The scars on the face of the Sphinx are not due solely to erosion – the monument was used for target practice by conquering Ottoman soldiers, French troops or both – depending on whose story you believe!
- Egypt’s best-kept secret is janzabil, the hot, spicy ginger drink that the Quran calls ‘the promise of paradise.’ It’s the perfect lung and food tract cleanser for murky urban air and unfamiliar food. All the sidewalk coffee and shisha (tobacco) shops have it and you will be surprised and delighted when you order it.
- Expect to see security checks at government buildings and museums. You will often be asked to leave your camera at the security desk.
- Bluish crosses tattooed on the hands or wrists of Egyptians indicate that they are Christians.
- Friday is the day of worship, when most things are closed at least in the morning (shops in tourist areas may be open). Many stores are closed during prayer hours or all day on Friday, and most Coptic stores are closed on Sunday.
- The cat was a symbol of fertility and sexuality, which is why Ancient Egyptians painted their eyes to mimic those of cats.
- The Ancient Egyptians were the first to invent paper, using papyrus which once grew wild in the Nile Valley.
Visas & Passports
Australian passport holders travelling to Egypt need a visa at this time. The visa can be issued on arrival and costs approximately USD25. The visa must be paid for in USD cash only, no change will be given.
We require that your passport is valid for travel for at least six months from the date you are planning to return to Australia. Your passport must be valid to travel internationally and must be machine-readable. You also need to carry a valid return ticket on you.
Whether travelling on an Australian passport or the passport of another country, all travellers require visas for a number of countries, and it is your responsibility to secure what may be required before departing Australia. You can consult with your travel agent, but it is also recommended that you check the foreign embassy website for your respective destination as it can also provide you with useful information.
Australian Embassy in Egypt:
World Trade Centre, 11th Floor
1191 Corniche el Nil
Ph. +20 2 2770 6600
Fax. +20 2 2770 6650
The official currency of Egypt is the Egyptian Pound. Notes are in denominations of £200, 100, 50, 20, 10, 5 and 1.
The recommended currency to take to Egypt is the Egyptian Pound or US Dollars. Ensure you change a small amount into small denominations.
Advise your bank of your travel plans so that they can make a note of it, otherwise they may cancel your credit card as a safety measure due to the overseas transactions. Also make a note of the 24-hour emergency contact number of the bank or building society which issued your credit card in the unlikely event that your card is lost or stolen.
Whenever possible use ATMs when the banks are open (Mon – Fri) so that if a machine ‘eats’ your card you can then deal with it straight away. It is always advisable to carry a supply of cash in addition to your credit card.
If you don’t have Egyptian Pounds with you on arrival, we advise you to exchange some money into the local currency at the airport even if the exchange rate is not the best, this way you’ll have money to get a drink, snack or give a tip during those first few hours of arrival. Your guide will be able to advise you on the best places to exchange money.
Small change is also useful for paying for toilets while on tour which is customary in many places outside of Australia.
- The price of a cappuccino in Cairo is approximately £25 - £30
- The price of an inexpensive lunch is approximately £55
- The price dinner in a moderate restaurant is approximately £250
- The price of a beer in a local pub is approximately £30 - £35
Arab food is quite tasty and most dishes are very well-seasoned. Egypt’s history includes occupations by the French, British and Turks, and its cuisine was influenced by all of them, as well as by regional neighbours such as Lebanon and Greece. Pita bread is common, but differs in taste from that in nearby countries. Shwarma, a sandwich similar to a yiros, is good fast food, but make sure the meat hasn’t been sitting out for too long. Also try fateer, an oven-baked pancake with either sweet or savoury combinations; mulokhaya, a soup with chard and lots of garlic; and koshari, a blend of rice, lentils, pasta and chickpeas, accompanied by a spicy tomato sauce and fried onions. Eating at local restaurants is generally fine and it can be a great, fun experience. Choose restaurants that are busy as the turnover of food is likely to be higher. Take care with seafood and avoid undercooked meat. Only eat fruit you have peeled yourself and give salads a miss. Eating or feasting, a popular pastime in this part of the world remains at the centre of cultural celebrations, and the daily cycle of life. Water should be drunk from bottles only, however please ensure that bottle top seals are not broken. Soft drinks and alcohol are not a problem but ice should be avoided.
Important: When dining at buffets (i.e. breakfast) please refrain from taking food away with you to ‘save’ for later! If you feel that you’ll need snacks between meals, pack some dried fruit, nuts, muesli bars etc.
If you have specific food allergies and/or preferences, we highly recommend you take every precaution before your tour, including carrying a small card with your food allergy listed in each language of every country you are travelling to show to table staff when ordering. Whilst we take all dietary requirements seriously, due to the serious nature of potential allergic reactions, it is your responsibility to be as prepared as possible.
There are basically two seasons in Egypt: a relatively cool season that lasts November-April and a hot season of May-October. In the spring (especially late March to early April), sand and dust storms called khamsin blow in and can reduce visibility (sometimes even in Cairo) to less than 30 metres.
Want to get out and explore on your own?
In Egypt, traffic is chaotic at best – taxis are definitely the best way to get around. They are usually white and black and are metered taxis. Cairo also has an efficient public transport system, including a bus network and a local train network that has Africa’s first underground railway called the Metro.
When catching taxis, have small change on you and choose one with a meter, if it doesn’t have one then negotiate the price before getting in. Also, ask your guide or hotel staff the names of reputable taxi companies
So, you’d love to bring home a special souvenir from Egypt…
Among the interesting souvenirs that Egypt offers are mother-of-pearl inlaid wood, jewellery, brassware and leather. Other items include carpets, shisha water pipes, alabaster and soapstone carvings, paintings on papyrus, gold, silver and copper ware, perfumes and reproductions of antiquities. For the reproductions, the Egyptian Antiquities Museum is a good source. Elsewhere, if an item is presented to you as an antique, it’s probably a fake (and if it is genuine, it can’t be legally exported). In fact, be very careful when buying something that may appear to authorities to be of historical importance – the police have detained tourists for days while determining that well-made reproductions were not authentic.
The Khan el-Khalili Bazaar in Cairo is a good spot to shop for many of these items, and it’s fun just to walk through - even if you’re not very interested in shopping. Bargaining is acceptable almost everywhere, even fine shops will consider bids on big-ticket items. The bargaining process may seem to be a waste of time to people used to just taking items to a cash register, but try to enjoy the process – the key is to try to keep the price low without being arrogant or insulting. Learn to fake astonishment at a suggested price or walk slowly out of a shop if necessary. But don’t bargain if you’re not truly interested in buying.
In tourist areas you may be offered tea or a soft drink in larger shops, which is customary, and doesn’t oblige you to buy anything. Above all, keep smiling and remember the aim of the game is to obtain a good deal for yourself as well as the shopkeeper.
- Avoid public displays of affection.
- Be respectful if you're visiting a mosque or other religious sites. Take off your shoes, and cover your head if you're a woman, before going into a mosque. Don't enter during prayers.
- Learn the frequently used expression Insha'allah, which means ‘God willing’. It is used in connection with any event (or desired outcome) in the future. A request for a task to be performed will often be met with this response, rather than a definite yes or no.
- Do not interrupt or pass in front of a Muslim praying in a public place.
- Being drunk or intoxicated in public is illegal and you could end up being arrested.
- Don’t take photos indiscriminately. Many people object to having their pictures taken, so ask permission first. Use discretion, especially if taking photos of women or scenes that could be interpreted as showing poverty. Military installations, airports and bridges should never be photographed.
- At various places on tour you will come across street hawkers – people selling things such as trinkets, postcards, drinks etc. If you are not interested in purchasing anything simply keep walking. If you do show an interest, be prepared for a lengthy negotiation! At the end of the day these people are trying to make a living and it’s just another aspect of visiting a developing country. If you do find yourself surrounded by people trying to sell you things, remember to be aware of your bag and valuables.
- Don't eat, drink or smoke in public during the day while travelling within the holy month of Ramadan. Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. It is a time of fasting for the Islamic people. Each day during this month, Muslims all over the world abstain from eating, drinking, smoking, as well as participating in anything that is ill-natured or excessive; from dawn until the sun sets. Fasting is intended to educate the Muslim in spirituality, humility and patience. The precise time of Ramadan will at times vary from place to place because some depend a great deal on moon sightings, while others rely on science.
Celebrations & Public Holidays
Egypt has a wonderful variety of festivals and celebrations running throughout the year. The most important for Muslims (in fact, Muslims all over the world) is the holy month of Ramadan. Dates vary each year depending on the cycles of the moon. During this month, Muslims avoid food and drinking from sunrise to sunset, but after this time, the streets come alive with people celebrating with family and friends. Other festivals include the celebrations of Coptic Christmas; the Sun Festival, when the rays of the sun touch the inner sanctums of Abu Simbel in February and October; and Sham Al Naseem, or the ‘Sniffing of the Breeze’ festival to celebrate the arrival of spring.
Other national public holidays to be aware of include:
- Coptic Christmas (January 7th)
- Revolution Day (January 25th)
- Coptic Easter Sunday & Monday
- Labour Day (May 1st)
- End of Ramadan (4 days – every year different)
- Revolution Day (June 30th)
- Revolution Day (July 23rd)
- Eid Al Adha (Feast of the Sacrifice – 3 days July 31 to August 2nd)
- El Hijra (August 20th)
- Armed Forces Day (October 6th)
- Al-Mouled Al-Nabawy (October 29th)
Visitors will find it to be a fascinating and often bewildering mixture of old and new. Business people in suits and locals in traditional robes can both be found at sidewalk coffee shops, while minarets and domes share the skyline with high-rise office buildings and hotel towers. Traditional music competes with jazz or Egyptian pop, as well as with the incessant honking of horns. With its layers of ancient, medieval and modern, Cairo can be a bit overwhelming and patience is a virtue here: the expression Ma’alesh (which translates loosely as “don’t worry about it”) seems to be on everyone’s lips. If you set reasonable goals, take frequent breaks and drink plenty of water, you’ll have a memorable time in Cairo. Photo by Dennis Bunnik.
Alexandria, is the second-largest city in Egypt, and home to its largest seaport. The city is home to the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, the New Library of Alexandria, and is an important industrial centre because of its natural gas and oil pipelines from Suez. It was founded around 331 BC by Alexander the Great, and remained Egypt’s capital for nearly a thousand years, until the Arabs conquered Egypt in 641 AD and set up a capital at Fustat (later absorbed into Cairo). Alexandria was known for the Lighthouse of Alexandria (one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World), the Library of Alexandria (the largest library in the ancient world) and the Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa (one of the Seven Wonders of the Middle Ages). Alexandria is considered a main summer resort in the Middle East, with beaches full of umbrellas and families.
Luxor is a very important destination for any visitor interested in Ancient Egypt. The main attractions are not in the city itself, but across the Nile. The funerary complexes in the Valley of the Kings, Valley of the Queens and the Tombs of the Nobles are the final resting places of ancient Egyptian royalty. Though the treasures that once filled them are long gone, the tombs themselves are very impressive works of art, and each is different. The sculpted bas-relief figures are still intact, and, in many tombs, the amazing array of colours on the walls have barely faded.
Fortunately discovered by J. L. Burckhardt in 1813, when he saw just the facade of the great temple as he was preparing to leave via the Nile. The two temples, that of Ramses II, became a must see for Victorians, and were often covered in sand, as they were when Burckhardt found them. Not only are the two temples at Abu Simbel among the world’s most magnificent monuments but their removal and reconstruction was a historic event. When threatened by submersion in Lake Nasser, due to the construction of the High Dam, the Egyptian Government secured the support of UNESCO and launched a worldwide appeal. From 1964 until 1968, the two temples were dismantled and raised up the sandstone cliff where they'd been built over 3,000 years before. Here, they were reassembled in the exact same relationship to each other and the sun and covered with an artificial mountain. Photo by Dennis Bunnik
Small Group Tours
Take an in-depth journey back in time to the ageless and ancient worlds of Egypt & Jordan.
Founded by Alexander the Great in 331 BC, Alexandria thrived as the capital of Greco-Roman Egypt and is now the second-largest city in Egypt.