Travel Tips for Egypt Trips

Here are a few tips from a former resident of Egypt to help you enjoy your trip to Egypt. These tips are not usually found in guidebooks. Egyptians are friendly and helpful when in doubt just ask. Break away from the tour group and enjoy some experiences on your own. Keep a good sense of humor and keep these tips with your guidebook. Have a good trip.

TRANSPORTATION
The Metro in Cairo:

The Metro is useful to avoid Cairo traffic. At times the Metro can be as crowded as the streets but at least it moves!

Be sure to keep the Metro ticket throughout your ride. You often need the ticket to exit the arrival station.

The first two cars on Metro trains are for women only. Men stay off or you will be ejected, I have seen this happen. If you are a woman traveling alone or a group of women you may feel more comfortable in these cars. I have found these cars to be incredibly crowded during school commute times and have often moved to the unisex cars for breathing space.

Taxis:

Many taxi drivers speak some English. Many do not. It is acceptable to ask a driver if he speaks English before you agree to use his services. You may feel more comfortable with an English speaker when you are not sure where you are going in a new city.

There are MANY taxis in Egypt. If for any reason you do not feel comfortable about a car or driver, wave him on. Just like fish in the sea, there are many more taxis in Egypt. Some drivers will not like you after talking with you and pull away themselves.

It is very common to hire a taxi driver for a day. The accepted fee is 20LE an hour whether he is driving or parked, waiting for you. If you find a driver you like, this is a great way to get around during your stay; especially a shopping day and you do not want to lug purchases in your arms all day.

Always decide on the fee before you get in the taxi. If while driving the driver tries to change the fee, do NOT agree. When you arrive at the destination get out of the car and go to the driver’s window to pay. Hand the driver a rolled or wadded up stack of very small denomination bills. It takes the driver a little time to count all of it while you walk away. Do not cheat the driver the fare you had earlier agreed to before you entered the car even if he tries to increase it during the drive. (This does not happen often so do not be afraid to take taxis.)

Many drivers will offer to take you to their brother or cousin’s shop. Unless you are really interested in alabaster, perfume, rugs or whatever type of store it is; just say no, not today. The “not today” is important, a flat out refusal sounds rude to an Egyptian. But do NOT agree to tomorrow or he will hold you to it.

Taxi prices in Luxor and Aswan are posted at most hotels. Check with the concierge or front desk at your hotel for typical taxi prices from one place to another in the city before going out to negotiate prices on your own. A foreigner will pay more than an Egyptian for a ride. If you can afford a trip to Egypt the taxi driver rightly assumes you have more money than the typical Egyptian and can afford a little more. Other than to the airport, nothing within the cities of Cairo and Giza should cost more than 20 LE one way.

It is not uncommon to take a taxi for a long road trip. People have taken taxis from Luxor or Cairo to the Red Sea. This is an optional way to travel while in Egypt. (By the way there is some fantastic snorkeling in the Red Sea!!!) Air flights are expensive for non-residents and the train can only get you to Alexandria, Luxor and Aswan. There are buses to the Red Sea from Cairo.

SHOPPING at tourist markets:

If you are shopping during prayer time your salesman may have to leave for a few minutes and trust you in his shop alone. He will be back soon, be polite and wait.

Bargaining on the price is the expected procedure in the markets. Before seriously starting your shopping walk away from your first encounters JUST to see how low they will go in price as you depart. This will give you an idea of the serious prices. The prices first quoted to tourists can be ridiculously high, do not trust the first quotes.

Have fun with the bargaining. A merchant will not agree to a price lower than he can afford, so go ahead and offer your lowest price. Offer very low prices to see what they will counter with and it may be a sarcastic laugh. Be creative. Once shopping with friends a deal was struck for a very low price and a song. The friend is an opera singer and for singing an aria there in the shop she purchased an item at rock bottom prices. Egyptians are known for a sense of humor and jovial nature. The loud song brought more people to the shop to buy. He benefited from the deal. Have fun, it is okay to respectfully tease and joke with the shopkeepers.

Never offer a price if you are not willing to pay. It is extremely rude to offer a price, have it accepted by the merchant and then not buy it. Have fun bargaining but always remember this is the merchant’s livelihood, not a game.

Do not feel cheated if you bought an item for one price and a fellow traveler bought the same item for a much lower price. The price is considered an agreement. If you agreed to 50 LE and a fellow traveler bought the same item for 20 LE it is seen as a separate transaction. If you agreed to the price the shopkeeper does not understand how you can feel cheated.

WALKING around the cities and towns:

While walking keep an eye on the sidewalk ahead of you, if there is a sidewalk. There are many holes, breaks, and obstacles. Or do as the locals do and walk in the street. Just watch out for cars, bikes, and donkey carts. Pedestrians do not have the right-of-way in Egypt!

Crossing streets in downtown Cairo is crazy at first! Use any available under or overpass. Do NOT trust the lights, drivers do not consider them mandatory to obey. Cross with a local but stay alert and keep an eye in all directions! Crossing a street at Tahir Square in the center of downtown during rush hour traffic a young man took pity on me and told me to cross with him. We crossed the street one lane at a time, as the cars buzzed inches passed us. He told me I would have to learn to cross the streets like a local: close my eyes, pray to Allah, and “Walk like an Egyptian.”

It is common near downtown metro stations for people to stand around just to help you with directions as you come out of the metro station. After they have pointed you in the right direction they may offer to take you there and, “Oh by the way, my brother’s perfume shop is on the way there, let’s stop in.” If you want to stop, stop. If you do not want to shop just be polite and firm, no. Then find your own way to your destination. But be polite. Even if you have just returned from the hellish gauntlet of pesky vendors at the Giza pyramids where even saints have snapped at the incessant hawking still be polite. They are simply trying to make a living.

Egyptians know tourism is a major source of revenue. They are welcoming and helpful with tourists. Since the start of the Iraqi war there has been more tension with Americans, a markedly cooler reception has been noted by ex-pats who lived there before and after the start of the war. Women tourists and ex-pats have encountered more rudeness: sexual comments, pinches, or grabbing from men. It is better to be in a group than on your own as a woman if you are walking around town. It is still perfectly safe to walk around the markets alone.

EATING:

Try koshari, a typical Egyptian lunch dish of rice, pasta and lentils covered in a garlicky tomato sauce. It is a tasty, starchy, stick to your ribs lunch!

Be sure to try lemon juice at different restaurants. Best lemon juice in the world can be found at many Egyptian restaurants.

Stay away from lettuce! Most people who eat the salads their first few weeks in Egypt end up with a souvenir colony of amoebas. Even if the lettuce has been washed in bleach water, some amoebas are absorbed into the plant and live inside the veins of the lettuce. Try other types of salads.

Use typical common sense cautious traveler eating habits while in Egypt, nothing like food poisoning to ruin a trip.

Have a great trip!!

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