Egypt travel guide
A complicated but fascinating country with some of the most enduring historical monuments on Earth, Egypt stands as an unforgettable travel destination. It’s had to deal with its fair share of turmoil in recent times, but this North African nation remains proud, welcoming and accessible. And with treasures as timeless as the temples and pyramids of the Nile to shout about, it’s not somewhere that’s going to slip from public consciousness any time soon. A trip here still very much has the potential to thrill.
In many ways, there are two Egypts. The first is the Egypt of Cairo and the Nile, of bustling medieval bazaars, noseless Sphinxes, river cruises and Agatha Christie-era exoticism. The second, and just as integral to many visitors, is the Egypt of the Red Sea, where a spread of large-scale modern resorts caters to sun-seekers and scuba divers. Sharm el Sheikh, with its world-class diving, high-end hotels and desert adventures, is the best known of them.
Most of the country’s ancient treasures were built during the time of the pharaohs. The Pyramids of Giza (the sole survivors of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World); the lotus-columned temples of Luxor and Karnak; the Valley of the Kings; Aswan and the temples of Abu Simbel: strung along the Nile, these monuments have drawn visitors for centuries. They represent a lasting legacy of one of the most fabled periods of human history.
Of course, the country is best understood not so much for its great monuments or its coral reefs, splendid though they are, but through its people. Bartering for a bargain in Cairo’s ancient Khan al-Khalili bazaar, taking tea and falling into long conversation with a local, or simply stopping awhile in a remote village, silent but for the chatter of hooves on tarmac, will give a glimpse of a country full of character, colour and fortitude.
1,001,450 sq km (386,662 sq miles).
94,137,816 (UN estimate 2016).
88.4 per sq km.
Cairo (El Qahira).
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi since 2014.
Prime Minister Sherif Ismail since 2015.
220 volts AC, 50Hz. Sockets take the continental European-style plugs with two round pins.
Last updated: 13 March 2017
The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. ‘We’ refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
Political and security situation
Since January 2011 Egypt has experienced significant political turmoil, sometimes involving violent protests and disturbances, which have resulted in a number of deaths.
Follow the news on television and radio closely, and take advice from the authorities, hotels and tour operators. Stay away from demonstrations and large gatherings of people. If you become aware of any nearby protests, leave the area immediately.
The crime rate in Egypt is generally low, but over the years expatriates have sometimes suffered armed robberies, muggings, sexual assaults, rapes, break-ins to accommodation and cars, and car-jackings at gun and knife-point have taken place in areas popular with expatriates, including during the daytime. Car-jackings generally target four-wheel drive vehicles. Muggings have occurred in taxis.
In 2015, the British Embassy responded to 22 cases of rape and sexual assault against British nationals in Egypt. Some assaults were against children. Many occurred in what were considered to be safe places, like hotels. Assaults have occurred in taxis and on microbuses. If you are travelling on a microbus, avoid being the last passenger left on the bus. Take extra care when travelling alone, particularly in taxis and microbuses.
Take care of your passport and valuables. Use hotel safes and beware of pickpockets and bag snatchers.
If you are the victim of any crime you must report it to the tourist police immediately. Failure to report crimes before you leave Egypt will make it impossible to seek a prosecution at a later date.
The FCO advise against all travel to the Governorate of North Sinai. The Egyptian armed forces are conducting military operations against extremist groups in this area.
There are regular bomb attacks against government buildings, security forces and energy infrastructure. The al-Arish area has seen many attacks, but the whole of the North Sinai region is at risk.
A state of emergency has been declared and a curfew is in place between 7pm and 6am along the coast between al-Arish and Rafah extending around 40km inland.
For the latest requirements on crossing from Egypt to Gaza, delivering aid or entering for humanitarian purposes, you should contact the Egyptian Embassy in London. However, the Egyptian authorities have stated that all aid going into Gaza from Egypt must be channelled through the Egyptian Red Crescent (telephone: + 20 226 703 979, + 20 226 703 983, fax: + 20 226 703 967). Short notice requests for humanitarian access and those made in Egypt are unlikely to be considered. The Egyptian authorities can ask for a letter from the British Embassy in Cairo as part of their entry requirements. The British Embassy considers each request carefully and is only able to provide letters in certain circumstances and against strict criteria when entry is for humanitarian aid purposes. Contact the British Embassy directly for details. You should also read the FCO Travel Advice for Israel and the Occupied Territories.
Foreign workers have been taken hostage by Bedouin tribesmen.
Security authorities often close the Suez-Taba road.
South Sinai and Hurghada
The FCO advise against all but essential travel to the Governorate of South Sinai, with the exception of the area within the Sharm el Sheikh perimeter barrier, which includes the airport and the areas of Sharm el Maya, Hadaba, Naama Bay, Sharks Bay and Nabq. However, the FCO advise against all but essential travel by air to or from Sharm el Sheikh.
Security measures are in place in the Sharm el Sheikh and Hurghada resort areas. Security forces are situated at airports, at checkpoints around the perimeter of the towns and throughout the South Sinai and Red Sea Governorates. Routine security checks are being performed on entry into the airports and police are carrying out vehicle checks in towns.
There’s a risk that tourists at high profile sites like the Giza Pyramids may be confronted aggressively for money or business, even while travelling by car, or taxi. Visitors using a pre-booked guide, or taking an organised tour to visit the Giza Pyramids are likely to face fewer difficulties.
There have been a number of attacks in Cairo mainly targeting government and security targets.
Political protests are common in many Delta towns and many Delta towns have also seen attacks against security forces buildings and personnel. These attacks often happen at security checkpoints.
Exercise extreme caution in all border areas.
The FCO advise against all but essential travel to the area west of the Nile Valley and Nile Delta regions, excluding the coastal areas between the Nile Delta and Marsa Matruh (as shown on the map). The tourist areas along the Nile river (including Luxor, Qina, Aswan, Abu Simbel and the Valley of the Kings) and the Red Sea resorts of Sharm el Sheikh and Hurghada aren’t included in the areas to which the FCO advise against all but essential travel.
You’ll need a permit from the Travel Permits Department of the Egyptian Ministry of the Interior if you travel to the south west corner of Egypt near the border with Sudan or Libya. You should carefully consider your security arrangements; the border areas are porous, and bandits and armed groups operate. In July 2014, an armed group attacked a security checkpoint along the Farafra-Bawati road in the New Valley Governorate, killing 22 border guards. In September 2015 Egyptian security forces mistakenly killed 12 Egyptian and Mexican members of a tour group in the western desert area of Al-Wahat.
Accidents are common, mainly due to poor road conditions, dangerous driving and non-enforcement of traffic laws. The UN estimates that road accidents killed almost 16,000 people in Egypt in 2011. This is more than eight times the number in the UK. Observe the speed limit and if possible avoid independent road travel outside main cities and resorts at night. Make sure you have adequate insurance.
You can drive in Egypt on an International driving permit for up to six months. If you intend to remain in Egypt for a longer period you must apply for an Egyptian driving licence.
By law, seatbelts must be worn when travelling in the front of a vehicle.
If you are travelling off road, employ a qualified guide and obtain appropriate permits from the Ministry of Interior.
Only certain categories of foreign residents may import vehicles. Vehicles of visitors should be temporarily imported with a valid “carnet de passage” available from the Automobile Association.
There have been a number of serious bus crashes in recent years with large numbers of fatalities, including tourists.
There have been a number of fatal accidents in recent years. Suspect devices have been found at train stations and on the rail network. Although several of these have been hoaxes or false alarms, you should remain vigilant, and take into account the possibility of delay or disruption to rail services, especially on the Cairo-Alexandria line.
River and sea travel
In the past, overcrowding and poor safety standards have led to several accidents on Red Sea ferries and Nile cruisers. There were four significant fires on Nile cruisers between September 2006 and November 2012.
Before undertaking any adventure activity, make sure you are covered by your travel insurance.
Nineteen people, including two British nationals, died in a hot air balloon accident in Luxor in February 2013. Some UK tour operators have not been able to verify independently safety procedures for balloon flights and are not selling balloon flights to their customers. Speak to your tour company before booking a balloon flight.
If you are considering diving or snorkelling in any of the Red Sea resorts be aware that safety standards of diving operators can vary considerably. Never dive or snorkel unaccompanied. Where possible make bookings through your tour representative. Very cheap operators may not provide adequate safety and insurance standards. Diving beyond the depth limit of your insurance policy will invalidate your cover.
Shark attacks of any kind are very unusual in the Red Sea. There were a series of attacks in Sharm el Sheikh in late 2010 and in March 2015, a German tourist was killed by a shark attack in al-Qusair. You should monitor updates issued by the local authorities and your tour operator.
Make sure your travel insurance, or that of your tour or dive company, provides adequate cover for the costs involved in any air/sea rescue. The current fee can exceed US$4,000 per hour. The Egyptian authorities will only undertake air/sea rescue operations on receipt of a guarantee of payment.
There have been several serious quad bike accidents involving British nationals in resort areas. Take the same precautions as you would in the UK and note that safety standards can vary considerably. Always wear a crash helmet.
There remains a small risk from unexploded landmines in certain desert areas in the north west of Egypt near to Alamein, and on some limited stretches of the Mediterranean coast near Marsa Matrouh and on the Red Sea coast south of Suez. Danger areas are usually well marked with signs and barbed wire fencing. Take care and follow local advice, especially if planning trips off marked roads.