The Ultimate Backpacking Guide to Egypt
Egypt is one of the most sought-after destinations in the world for travellers. The country attracts millions of visitors each year, all wanting to visit the Pyramids of Giza, but there’s so much more to Egypt waiting to be discovered. If you’re wondering if backpacking in Egypt is a thing… hell yeah it is! Egypt has hostels, cheap food, ancient sites and very welcoming locals – everything a budget-conscious backpacker wants!
But where do you even start when you’re backpacking Egypt? And how do you get around? Is Egypt safe? How much will it cost? Don’t worry, we’ve got all your questions covered in this ULTIMATE guide to backpacking Egypt. Everything from what to pack, where to stay and the best time of year to go. Read on to discover everything you need to know about backpacking Egypt.
Jump straight to:
- Best time to visit Egypt
- Getting around Egypt
- Egypt travel costs
- Best places to visit in Egypt
- Where to stay in Egypt
- Egypt backpacking itineraries
- Food in Egypt
- Egyptian culture
- Egypt travel tips
Best time to visit Egypt
Sun-worshippers rejoice, Egypt is known for its scorching weather. While the sun is usually shining in Egypt, temperatures can range from sizzling hot during the day to extremely cold at night. We’re in the subtropical desert, after all. In general, the best time to visit Egypt is from October to April, as the heat won’t be unbearable and you’ll avoid the crowds of major religious holidays.
Weather in Egypt
The weather in Egypt is consistently warm year-round. It hardly ever rains, but is susceptible to sand storms, which the locals call “khamsin winds.” These are more common during the spring months, from March to June.
Temperatures during the winter months in Egypt (December to February) drop to about 19 degrees during the day and down to an average of 10 degrees at night. During the summer months (May to October), temperatures reach up to 35 degrees during the day and the sun can be brutal!
Egypt’s high season runs from December to February and the cost of accommodation and transport will be more expensive during these months. Although Egypt will be crowded during peak season, the weather will be more forgiving when exploring tombs and temples (as opposed to the extreme heat of Egyptian summers). So choosing which time of year to visit Egypt is kind of a toss-up between your budget versus your tolerance for scorching heat.
Best time to visit Cairo
The best time to visit Cairo and the Pyramids at Giza is from December to February, when temperatures average about 20 to 25 degrees during the day. This is an ideal temperature for walking around the pyramids or even going inside them. And yes, the sun should be shining!
If you visit Cairo during the less crowded months of the summer (May to October), visit the sites and explore early in the day as the rising sun can make sightseeing extremely uncomfortable. You can practically see the Sphinx sweating! The upsides to visiting Cairo in the summer are that it will be less crowded and accommodation/transport will be cheaper.
But Egypt isn’t all about the pyramids! It’s also home to the very important Suez Canal in the north, Western Desert oasis, coral reefs in the Red Sea and the longest river in the world.
Best time to visit Alexandria
The Mediterranean coast of Egypt is where you’ll find the lively town of Alexandria. This part of Egypt is where you’ll get some rain (if any) during the winter months. The busiest time to visit Alexandria is during the summer as it’s where locals flock to cool off from the desert heat.
I’d suggest visiting Alexandria during the spring months of March to June or the autumn months of September to December to avoid the crowds and high prices (while still enjoying decent weather).
h3>Best time to visit the Red Sea
The east coast of Egypt borders the Red Sea and is known for its beach resorts and awesome scuba diving. Peak season to visit east coast cities like Hurghada is during the summer. Temperatures average a welcoming 25 degrees in this beach town… not too bad!
Don’t worry, there are awesome hostels in Hurghada. To beat the crowds and the high prices, visit Hurghada during the winter months of December to February. It will still be warm enough for swimming, snorkeling or laying on the beach, but will be way cheaper and less crowded.
Best time to visit the Nile
Most of Egypt’s main attractions sit along the Nile, south of Cairo. The cities of Luxor, Edfu and Aswan are where you’ll find most of Egypt’s ancient temples and tombs. But be warned: it gets HOT in these cities during the summer months. We’re talking 40 degrees in some areas (and let’s not forget the humidity).
Sorry to break it to you, but these enclosed tombs and temples don’t have air-con. Although it would be less crowded to visit these ancient sites and cities during the summer, avoid a possible heat stroke and visit Luxor, Edfu and Aswan during the winter months of December to February. It will make your time visiting the Nile more enjoyable.
Best time to visit the Sahara
If you head into one of Egypt’s Western Desert towns such as Siwa Oasis, I highly recommend avoiding this area during the peaks of summer and winter. Summer temperatures in the Sahara Desert can reach over 38 degrees, while winter nights can dip to -17… yikes!
The best time to visit the Sahara (aka the Western Desert oases) is either spring or autumn. Keep in mind that this area is susceptible to those khamsin winds we talked about earlier, which like to create sandstorms during the spring.
Holidays celebrated in Egypt
Most Egyptians are Muslim, with the rest of the population being Christian. This is important to keep in mind as certain religious and public holidays take place over the year. The dates for Ramadan, the holy month of fasting, change each year, though it generally takes place in May/June.
During Ramadan, most businesses close during the day or have limited opening hours. This includes banks, restaurants and shops. Muslims fast from sunrise to sundown during Ramadan, so Egypt generally becomes more lively after dark when fasting is over. The day after Ramadan ends a three to four day festival called Eid al-Fitr begins, which includes open-air markets and small fairs in certain cities of Egypt.
More holidays and events to keep in mind when planning a trip to Egypt include Coptic Christmas, which is when Coptic Christians celebrate Christmas on January 7th. You’ll find Christmas decorations well into January. It’s very festive!
The Abu Simbel Sun Festival is held on February 22nd each year. This is when the rays of the rising sun align perfectly with the temple of the same name, and the light bursts through the entrance to illuminate the inner sanctuary. This festival celebrates the magnificent ancient Abu Simbel temples at sunrise, with Nubian dances, street food and live music.
Egyptians also celebrate a holiday called Sham al-Naseem which means “sniffing the breeze.” This marks the beginning of spring, the day after Easter.
Wafaa an-Nil means “fidelity of the Nile.” It’s a celebration of the Nile, and the importance it plays in the daily life of Egyptians. This event occurs each year in August.
Keep in mind that travel over any of these dates will take some extra planning. These festivities and religious holidays mean that public transport may be affected and hostel rooms will book up more quickly than usual. Prices will be higher and everything will be a lot busier, so consider these events when planning a trip to Egypt.
Getting around Egypt
Depending on your mode of transportation, travelling around Egypt probably won’t be as reliable or as comfortable as travelling in, say, Europe. Luckily it’s not a huge country, so getting around shouldn’t cause you too many problems.
Flying in Egypt
The most convenient (and the most expensive) way to get around is by flying domestically with Egypt Air. Depending on how much time you have or your how big your wallet is, domestic flights between cities like Alexandria, Cairo, Aswan and Hurghada are the easiest option. Be warned that a domestic flight in Egypt will set you back a couple of hundred pounds.
Buses in Egypt
If you have time and want to limit your spending, buses and trains are the most backpacker-friendly option. Long-haul coaches exist between major cities and they’re usually cheap. Check out West & Mid Delta Bus Company if you’re traveling through the Western Desert (to areas such as Siwa Oasis) or along the Mediterranean coast. You can purchase tickets online or at the bus station in one of their destinations.
Go Bus is a convenient option that travels through the northern routes of Egypt, taking you to cities on the Sinai Peninsula. It also includes routes along the Red Sea coast. Ticket prices for Go Bus depend on the service you choose (VIP or standard), but all seats have air-con, so that’s a plus! You can easily book tickets online with Go Bus.
Trains in Egypt
If taking a long-haul bus isn’t your thing, there’s a huge rail network throughout Egypt with a comfortable overnight train that runs from Cairo to Aswan. If you’re heading to Aswan, I recommend this option as the 12-hour journey can be gruelling on a basic train. It is pricey though – €70 to €96, depending on if you book a single or double bed cabin. On the plus side, dinner and breakfast is included in the price.
Pro tip: bring your own toilet paper and be careful which button you press when you flush the toilet on the train. I may or may not have pressed something that squirted water in my face. Oops…
If you know you want to book a sleeper train, be sure to do so in advance as they tend to sell out. The train offers fast and slow services, so double check which one you need before purchasing a ticket.
Nile cruise in Egypt
Taking the overnight train from Cairo to Aswan means you’ll skip everything in between, but a lot of travellers do it this way with the intention of working their way back up the Nile on a cruise.
A three-night Nile cruise from Aswan to Luxor will hit all the hotspots, including Edfu and Kom Ombo. Plus, it’s incredibly beautiful! The Nile was, and still is, very important to Egyptians as a source of life. Ancient Egyptians relied on it for food, water and transportation as far back as 5,000 years ago! Just beware of the Nile crocodiles…
A Nile cruise in Egypt might drain that wallet though. Prices range from €350 to €530, depending on the season and the cruise you go on. But you will get a nice air-conditioned room! Some cruises offer a buffet for every meal, help with booking excursions and even a rooftop pool and gym! #fancy
On some boats, you can arrange for a guide to take you to the major sites. This can be a great way to gain valuable insights from a local. The Nile cruise means travelling at a slower pace, but you’ll see some incredible things along the way. Buy tickets in advance as they tend to fill up with big tour groups.
When the cruise drops you off in Luxor, you can catch a bus to Hurghada. Keen to explore the Sinai peninsula? Take a two-hour ferry ride across the Red Sea to Sharm El Sheikh. Make sure to stop along the way to go snorkeling!
Inner-city transportation in Egypt
I’ll be totally honest with you and let you know that inner-city transportation is not glamorous in Egypt. There are tuk-tuks (which Egyptians call tok-toks) and microbuses (which sounds like meekrobas).
A microbus is similar to South America’s collectivos. It’s a van that seats about 10-14 people and zooms around cities with no set schedule. If the driver sees you waiting on the street, he’ll call out to ask if you need a ride. You should just yell back where you’re trying to go. If the driver is going in that direction, he’ll tell you the price and you just hop in.
You can also hop on microbuses at bus or train stations. Keep in mind that it won’t leave until it’s full. It will be very cheap and you pay the driver directly when you’re on your way.
Tok-toks, like tuk-tuks in Thailand, are a cheap option and a little more chaotic. They blast super loud music and are often driven by someone too young to drive. Make sure to negotiate the price before you get in.
Cabs and Ubers are not recommended as this is a common way to get scammed in Egypt. If you’re insistent on taking a taxi, have your hostel call one for you and set a price before you get in, as most taxis in Egypt don’t use meters. We also don’t recommend renting a car and driving on your own in Egypt. The roads can get pretty messy – picture lanes, but no one using them.
Egypt Travel Costs
It’s totally possible to backpack Egypt on a budget. Keep costs down by staying in hostels, avoiding tourist trap restaurants and being smart about transportation. When in Egypt, it also helps if you’re good at haggling.
Keep in mind that there might be different prices for foreigners and Egyptians. For example, if you’re catching the train from Cairo to Aswan, there are two separate prices, same with visiting the ancient sites. Don’t be alarmed if you see a price and get charged something higher. It’s probably just the foreigner’s cost, but it’s always good to double check.
Egypt’s currency is the Egyptian Pound (LE). Most places accept credit card, but it’s best to keep cash on hand just in case. ATMs are widely available.
Be aware that small change is hard to come by in Egypt, so when you take money out of an ATM, go for an odd number that will give you lower change. A LE200 is the highest note you can get and the most difficult to break. The other Egyptian notes are LE5, LE10, LE20, LE50 and LE100.
It’s going to be tricky, but try to pay with exact change at restaurants, markets and local transport. If you’re trying to break a high bill, chances are the person won’t be able to give back change.
Coins are also hard to come by. If you do happen to snag one, keep it as a souvenir because they’re pretty rad! The one pound coin has King Tut’s image on it, and the 50 piastre coin (as in 50 cents) shows Queen Cleopatra’s profile. As a general backpacking tip, keep some of your own country’s currency hidden in your backpack in case you get into trouble. Some restaurants and hostels accept USD or euros.
Food costs in Egypt
Food costs in Egypt are generally low. A falafel sandwich or shawarma might cost about LE3 at a grill or kebab shop. As a general warning, be careful about street food in Egypt. I know it’s usually a backpacker rite of passage when travelling, but in Egypt street food can make you really sick (AKA Mummy’s Tummy).
If you’re getting a sit-down meal, it might cost between 100 and 150 Egyptian pounds (€4 to €8). The cost of two-litre bottle of water is about LE20 (less than €1) and the cost of a beer is about LE30 (€1.50).
Tipping (aka baksheesh) is customary everywhere in Egypt, usually 10%. Tip the staff at restaurants, taxi or tuk-tuk drivers and sometimes guards at tourist sites. Be mindful that if the establishment or restaurant doesn’t have change for a high bill, they’ll keep the change as a tip (no matter how much). That also goes for buying tickets at a museum, temple or tomb.
Living costs in Egypt
Living costs in Egypt are fair for a budget traveller. You can find dorm beds for about €7 in Cairo, €4 in Luxor and €6 in Hurghada. Alexandria is the costliest city to stay in, with the average dorm bed at €12.
The average price of a tok-tok or microbus is about LE15, depending on where you’re going (and your bargaining skills).
A backpacker should budget about LE600 (€30) a day for food, room and transportation. Budget a little more if you’re shopping at markets or heading to an ancient Egyptian site. Major tourist site admission ranges from LE100 to LE250 (€4 to €13).
For instance, it costs about LE160 (€8) to see the pyramids (honestly, not bad) and LE200 (€10.50) to enter the Valley of the Kings (that’s the most basic ticket that allows you to enter four tombs). There’s also an extra cost if you want to take pictures of temples, tombs or mummies, which is worth paying because you risk getting your phone or camera confiscated or escorted out of the area if you try and be sneaky.
Shopping in Egypt
Bargaining is part of the fun when shopping at markets or when negotiating a price for local transportation, so get your game face on.
If a salesman gives you a price, offer half as much. The salesman knows you’re a tourist and automatically jacks up the price when they see you shopping around. Bargaining is tricky, but shop around and get a feel for what things cost. In the end, remember that the difference between LE5 and LE10 really isn’t that much.
Egypt is one of the most visited countries in the world and relies on its tourism to keep the country on its feet. The most popular spots will be a bit pricey for the average budget traveller, but hey, these are some seriously ancient sites you’re seeing! Expect each site to have its own souvenir shop, so if you want to buy something for the fam (or yourself), wait until the end of your trip so the items don’t weigh your bag down. I can assure you that there isn’t a shortage of shops or markets in Egypt.
There are about 20 unmissable ancient sites to see in this country. If you’re travelling to Egypt to learn, discover and immerse yourself in its history, remember that the cost of visiting each place will add up. But it’s so worth it.
Best places to visit in Egypt
Most people who visit Egypt go with the intention of exploring the ancient sites, and let me tell ya, these sites are worth the trip. If you’re a morning person, this will work your favour. If you’re not… try to be a morning person for this backpacking trip. The earlier you get to the sites, the less crowded and more enjoyable they are.
Egypt is filled with so much history that you’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time when exploring the country. You’ll be surrounded by tall obelisks, impressive pyramids, temples dedicated to Egyptian gods and royalty, hieroglyphics intricately carved onto walls and columns that have been standing for over 4,500 years, burial tombs and friendly looking mummies (okay, maybe not friendly, but they’re just trying to enjoy the afterlife.) Get that camera roll ready!
Best places to visit in Cairo
The best places to visit in Cairo are the Egyptian Museum, the Pyramids of Giza, Khan el-Khalili, downtown Cairo, Al-Azhar Mosque and Old Cairo.
The Egyptian Museum should be your first stop in Cairo for a history refresher of all things Ancient Egypt. It’s an enormous museum, so give yourself time to work through it. Don’t miss the Tutankhamun Galleries, where you’ll find the intricate mask of King Tut weighing 11 kilos, plus some of the sparkly treasures that were found in his massive tomb.
Pay extra to see the Royal Mummies Collection in the museum, literally a room full of mummies who were once kings and queens of ancient Egypt. It’s crazy how well preserved they are. Security guards are pretty strict about no photos in this room so don’t try to take a sneaky pic. The new Egyptian Museum is set to open in 2020 and will be a lot bigger, holding more than 100,000 artefacts and located right near the pyramids. The current museum is located in downtown Cairo, so after your history lesson you should explore the neighborhood. Notice that the city is cloaked with a layer of sand – desert life!
Just south of downtown is Old Cairo (also known as Coptic Cairo). Here you can walk through the walls of Fort Babylon and explore the Coptic Museum. Old Cairo is where you can get a peek inside the country’s early Christian period with its many churches.
Khan el-Khalili is a shopping experience you need to have once in your life. It’s a maze of shops and workshops in the Islamic Centre that’s great for finding souvenirs and testing your bargaining skills. While you’re at Khan el-Khalili, check out Al-Azhar Mosque. It’s a beautiful building with intricate architecture and history, completed in AD 970. Remember to take off your shoes and dress appropriately when visiting the mosque.
Of course, when you’re in Cairo you should make your way to the Giza Plateau. You can actually see the pyramids from the city itself, but obviously you’ll want to get up close and personal to discover these 4,500-year-old ancient buildings. The pyramids that you’ll see are the Pyramid of Khufu (the Great Pyramid), Pyramid of Khafre and Pyramid of Menkaure. And of course, snap a pic of the iconic Sphinx who’s guarding the structures. They’re open to visit from 8am to 5pm. While these three icons might be the only pyramids you’ll visit, there’s actually over a hundred pyramids in Egypt.
Once you’ve purchased a ticket for the pyramids, take your time exploring and soaking up their history and beauty. There will be heaps of tourists, so expect large crowds and people photobombing your Insta shot. Prepare to be heckled by locals who are trying to sell souvenirs, give you a camel or chariot ride or take your picture for a small price. This is part and parcel of visiting one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World!
You can pay extra to go inside one of the pyramids, but thanks to tomb robbers over the years you won’t find any buried treasure. But seriously, how many people can say they’ve been inside one of the pyramids?! I won’t give too much away because you need to explore the pyramids for yourself, but I’ll let you know that if you’re claustrophobic, going inside a pyramid might not be the best idea.
Best places to experience ancient Egypt
After you’ve seen all the sights in Cairo, move on to the rest of the country. The best places to experience ancient Egypt include Abu Simbel, Kom Ombo, the Temple of Horus, Valley of the Kings, Temple of Karnak and Temple of Luxor. You’ve got a lot of ground to cover!
You’ll have to travel to Aswan in order to see Ramses II at Abu Simbel. The temple was discovered in 1813 by a Swiss researcher and it sat at the edge of the world’s largest manmade lake, Lake Nasser. This lake threatened to submerge the site, so in the 1960s the temple was taken apart and re-constructed further back from the lake. Imagine that project!
If you can, visit Abu Simbel for sunrise. The morning light hits the massive rock statues of Ramses II and his Queen Nefertari so spectacularly that it will make your jaw drop. Abu Simbel is pure magic.
Head to Kom Ombo to see the Temple of Two Gods. This unique place is where you’ll learn about the Crocodile God (Sobek) and the Falcon God (Horus), and the important role they played in ancient Egyptian life. Kom Ombo is a double temple, meaning the building is split in half, dedicated to each god. You’ll find carved columns and hieroglyphs dating back to the second century BC.
You cannot miss the Temple of Horus in Edfu, Egypt’s best preserved temple. This massive beauty was actually discovered in the mid-nineteenth century after being covered in sand and silt deposits from the Nile. It draws in a huge crowd, so it’s advised to go when it opens in the morning so that you can enjoy the hieroglyphic covered walls and passageways without being shoulder to shoulder with tourists.
Then you have the Temple of Karnak and the Temple of Luxor, in Luxor. The Temple of Karnak is huge – it’s the second largest religious building in the world after Angkor Wat! In ancient times this was a center for Theban worship. The Temple of Luxor marks the beginning of the Avenue of the Sphinxes, which runs all the way to the Temple of Karnak. It’s stunning to visit at night, with lights illuminating the tall obelisks and statues – try to see this one after dark! This is a temple that’s survived a lot, including Greek and Roman rule. It was converted to a church at one point, and then a mosque at another, so it’s got heaps of history!
Don’t forget to visit the Valley of the Queens and the Valley of the Kings. These are the burial sites for ancient Egyptian royalty located on the west bank of the Nile, across from Luxor. It’s not like your typical graveyard with tombstones, but rather deep caves painted with colourful hieroglyphics and art work leading to ancient tombs.
As the name implies, Valley of the Queens is where the queens and their children were buried. The Valley of the Kings includes 62 tombs and is where you can find the mummy of King Tut. Again, security is super strict about taking photos in these tombs. It’s only allowed with a photo ticket, so that’s worth a purchase.
Each of these temples and ancient Egyptian sites sit along the Nile and have stuck around for over 3,000 years. The Nile was crucial to ancient Egypt as it provided food, water and transportation for the people. While you’re exploring the cities along the Nile, hop in a traditional felucca ride, which is how ancient Egyptians used to get around.
The Valley of the Kings Ron Porter
Where to stay in Egypt
With millions of travellers visiting Egypt each year, the country has plenty of places to stay and Egyptians are very hospitable!
You won’t find too many dorms in hostels, you’re more likely to come across single or double private rooms. Either way, you’ll find some unique hostels in Egypt. It’s a great way to save money and meet other backpackers. Rates for private rooms and dorms depend on the time of year you visit.
Hostels in Egypt
Alexandria is the second largest city in Egypt and sits right on the Mediterranean. It’s expensive to stay here during high season, as many travellers and Egyptians like to come here to cool off. But don’t you worry, there are a few budget friendly hostels in Alexandria. Ithaka Hostel is a small but lively hostel in the heart of town, plus it’s right on the beach so you can take a dip in the chilly Mediterranean! Prices for dorms start at €12.
There are so many cool hostels in Cairo that it can be hard to choose which one to stay in! Dahab Hostel is within walking distance to the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square and the Khan El-Khalili Market in the Islamic Center, as well as being close to the train and bus stations. This colorful hostel also has a rooftop with major beach vibes, despite being smack-bang in the middle of a huge city. It’s a great little spot to share shisha (water pipe) with new friends.
Another cool option in Cairo is Tahrir Square Hostel. Each bunk comes with a locker, plus a curtain for your bed to give you some privacy. It’s about €9 for a dorm bed and it includes free breakfast, which is a major score because Egyptians are known for their massive breakfast spreads.
Heading down to Luxor you’ll be looking at spending around €4 for a dorm bed. Check out Nefertiti Hotel, a family owned joint that also runs a restaurant and tour company. It’s a good place to meet locals and learn a little about Egyptian culture while digging into superb local cuisine. Its rooftop lounge also provides a stunning view of Luxor Temple at sunset that you don’t want to miss. Room prices start at €25 for a single private. A cheaper option in Luxor is Bob Marley House Hostel, where single private rooms start at €7 and include breakfast.
Aswan is a chaotic little city. Rather than stay in the centre, head to the Nubian Village on the West Bank of the Nile. Ekadolli Nubian Guesthouse Aswan is a solid option. It has a beautiful view of the Nile, plus they can help arrange for you to see Abu Simbel, which is about four hours away. Guests love the food at this hostel! Rooms start at €25 per night.
If you’d rather stay in downtown Aswan, check out Keylany Hotel which is closer to the train and bus stations. Each room has air-con and the hostel has an onsite restaurant, plus a rooftop garden. Breakfast included = win!
Zoom up to Hurghada, a resort town on the edge of the Red Sea. This town is usually very pricey, especially during high season, but the cosy Sea Waves Hotel has prices starting at €7 for a dorm bed. You’ll most likely be hanging out on the beach with new hostel mates when you’re in Hurghada – total chill.
If you take the two hour ferry ride across the Red Sea to the Sinai Peninsula, stop in Sharm El Sheikh. Hostels here are more like budget friendly resorts. If you want to snorkel or dive in the Red Sea, Oonas Dive Club will take you out for a dip – they’re right on the beach and rates start at €30 for a private room.
Prices for accommodation in Egypt can totally depend on the time of year you visit. Remember, high season is the winter months of December to February. Low season is the summer months from May to October.
If you’re travelling through Egypt in a group, accommodation will be more budget friendly as most hostels offer three or four bed en-suite rooms. Don’t worry though, you’ll still find plenty of cheap dorm beds if you’re travelling solo.Compare more hostels in Egypt
There’s heaps to see and do in Egypt. You’ve got the Western Desert, where you can hang out at different oases in the Sahara. Alexandria is the lively city on the Mediterranean coast. The Suez Canal is an integral part of the economy and growth of the country. The Sinai Peninsula has a lot of biblical history to it, being the place where Moses parted the Red Sea. You could never get bored in the busy metropolis of Cairo, and Aswan, Edfu and Luxor are where you’ll find jaw dropping ancient Egyptian sites.
No matter what you’re trying to see or where you’re trying to go, backpacking Egypt is a big adventure!
Egypt 7-day itinerary
After landing in Cairo, get adjusted to your new surroundings by taking a little walk. Pop into a restaurant and get your first taste of Egyptian cuisine, then stop in Khan el-Khalili market and dust off those haggling skills. Next to the market is Al-Azhar Mosque, which is practically begging you to take its picture. Have a good night’s sleep because tomorrow is a big day!
Day two in Egypt requires you to get up early to be the first in line at the Egyptian Museum. I suggest coming here before the pyramids so that you get a little history refresher. After navigating your way around the museum and learning more than you thought, head to the Giza plateau. The pyramids are waiting for you!
Once at the pyramids, spend three to four hours just walking around and taking it all in. It’s going to be crowded and busy, but hey, these incredible buildings have been around for over 4,500 years – of course you’re not the only one wanting to see them! Pay extra to go inside one of the pyramids or even ride a camel around the site for that perfect Instagram shot. Don’t forget to take a selfie with the mysterious Sphinx!
After you’ve enjoyed this wonder of the world, grab your bags and head to the train station where you’ll hop on a 12 hour sleeper train to Aswan.
On day three, wake up in sunny Aswan. Depending on your budget and what you want to see, this is where you have the option to hop on a three-night Nile cruise which will take you up the longest river in the world, stopping at Edfu and ending in Luxor. It’s a really cool experience! If you’re not looking for a cruise, post up at one of Aswan’s hostels and arrange a traditional felucca ride on the river.
On day four, wake up SUPER early to get to Abu Simbel for sunrise – an incredible sight that you’ll remember forever. Spend time with the huge statues of King Ramses II and his Queen Nefertiti. Did you know that this temple was moved, piece by piece, further back from the edge of the lake it sits on? Who knew you could move a 3,000 year old temple?! You should purchase a photo pass for Abu Simbel, as its interior has many statues and hieroglyphics that you’ll want to show your fam back home.
Once you get back to downtown Aswan, hop on a bus, train or cruise and head back up the Nile to Edfu. Be sure to hop off for a pit stop in Kom Ombo on the way, only an hour and a half before reaching Edfu – if you’re on a Nile cruise, it will stop here anyway. This is where you can visit the Temple of Two Gods, plus see some mummified crocodiles! That’s right, crocs were mummified just like the pharaohs, and yes, the dinosaur-like reptile still looks the same as it did 2,000 years ago. Eeek!
Continue onto Edfu to spend the night.
Explore Edfu on day five of your journey. It’s home to huge markets and the Temple of Horus, a very well preserved temple with heaps of history within its walls. After taking time to navigate your way through this magnificent temple, hop on the bus, train or cruise to Luxor.
Day six is going to be a big one. Wake up early and head into town to visit the Temple of Karnak and the Temple of Luxor. The Temple of Karnak is one of the largest temples ever built by man, so you have a lot of ground to cover. It also includes the impressive, three-kilometer-long Avenue of the Sphinxes which connects to the Temple of Luxor. Both of these temples have been standing for over 3,000 years!
In the afternoon, take a bus to the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens. These are the burial sites for ancient Egyptian royalty, located on the west bank of the Nile across from Luxor. Here you have the opportunity to see King Tut’s tomb and his mummy that’s been resting there peacefully since around 1324 BC. His is one of the only tombs that wasn’t raided by robbers, which is why we have a lot of information on this young king.
After you say hi to King Tut and his friends, hop on another bus that will take you four hours to Hurghada on the coast of the Red Sea. You’ll get there after dark, so catch up on sleep in one of the city’s hostels.
Wake up on day seven and put your bathing suit on, then have your hostel help you arrange a snorkel excursion in the Red Sea! The Red Sea has some of the best snorkeling and diving in the world with its colourful fish and coral reefs. Pack your GoPro for this adventure!
Boat cruises in the Red Sea usually last about four to five hours. From here, you can continue on to the Sinai Peninsula and work your way to Jordan and Israel if you’re still travelling. Or grab your bag and hop on the next five-hour bus to Cairo to end a whirlwind seven days in Egypt.
10 day Egypt itinerary
A 10 day Egypt itinerary gives you time to add one or two more cities into the above seven day itinerary.
Start in Siwa, the desert oasis 50 kilometres from the Libyan border. This beautiful area is unlike anywhere else on earth. Surrounded by the Great Sand Sea and the Qattara Depression, Siwa is an isolated area with its own unique culture and language called Berber. Here you can explore Cleopatra Spring, Fatnas Island and the ruins of Shali Fortress. It’s worth spending a night here; your mind will boggle at how something so beautiful can be so isolated from the rest of the country.
From Siwa, take an eight hour bus to Alexandria. Spend a night on the Mediterranean coast and check out the intricate el-Mursi Abul Abbas mosque or take a stroll through Corniche, a waterfront promenade, before making your way to Stanley Bridge for panoramic views of the city and the sea. Alexandria is where you’ll find the massive Bibliotheca Alexandrina, which was built in 2002 after the original Royal Library of Alexandria burnt down.
On day three, take the bus or train to Cairo and begin the seven-day itinerary taking you through Egypt and the Nile. Once you get to Hurghada on day ten, take a two hour ferry ride across the Red Sea to end in the beach town of Sharm El Sheikh on the Sinai peninsula.
In ten days you’re able to see the Western Desert, the Mediterranean, the ancient sites along the Nile and the Red Sea. This whirlwind backpacking trip is something you’ll be talking about with your friends for a long time!
Food in Egypt
You already know that Egypt is famous for its pyramids, but don’t brush over the fact it also has some insanely good food. Staples include cheese, grape leaves, hummus, falafel, bread and beans. Food is a huge part of Egyptian culture, so let’s get up to speed on what to order when you’re backpacking Egypt.
Traditional food in Egypt
Egyptians love their spices, especially cumin, so you’ll find a lot of flavour in Egyptian cuisine. Hummus, torshi (pickled veggies), cheese and olives are typically served with breakfast, which is usually a big spread of different appetiser-like foods that you load up your plate with, buffet style.
Traditional food in Egypt includes dishes such as mahshi, shawarma, kofta and ta’ameya. Mahshi is Egypt’s version of grape leaves, usually stuffed with rice or meat. Ta’ameya is an Egyptian falafel, and dang is it yummy. In Egypt, falafels are made with dried fava beans rather than chickpeas, which gives them a green colouring as you bite in. The beans are mashed together with onions and herbs, and then baked or fried to give a crispy outer shell. It’s served with pita and tahini or hummus. Be warned: ta’ameya is addictive.
You’ll notice people eating a bright green soup. This is mulukhiya, a bitter stew made with the leaves from a plant known as jute and cooked with chicken. It looks unusual and it’s hard to describe in an appetising way, but if you see it on the menu, order it because it’s a traditional dish around the country. Let us know what you think!
If Egyptians are eating meat, they could be eating rabbit, pigeon, chicken, duck, lamb or beef.
Shawarma, kofta and kebab are all different. Shawarma is thinly sliced cuts of meat (chicken, lamb, beef or goat) rolled into a heated pita and stuffed with vegetables and hummus. Kebab is grilled meat on a stick and served with rice and vegetables. Kofta looks like little sausages, and is minced meat that’s rolled up and grilled, served with pita, vegetables and tahini.
Vegetarian food in Egypt
Many Egyptians have vegetarian diets, so good veggie food isn’t hard to come by.
Koshari is the most widely known Egyptian vegetarian dish and it goes way back. Mix rice, noodles and lentils together, throw in some chickpeas and spicy tomato sauce, add herbs, onion, shallots and garlic and that’s Koshari. You’ll see it on most menus.
Fattoush salad is so refreshing after a long day in the Arabian sun. It’s just cucumber, tomatoes, green onion, parsley and radish tossed in lemon, oil and vinegar. Simple, healthy and delicious.
Besara is fava bean dip (Egyptians love their fava beans). It’s a slightly green, creamy dip made with green pepper, onion, parsley, leek and garlic. Spread it over Egyptian bread for a tasty, veggie-friendly snack.
Aish baladi is a sort of Egyptian bread that goes well with dips like hummus, tahini or besara. It looks like pita, but it’s made with whole wheat flour and baked in extremely hot stone ovens. If you like bread, you’re in luck because aish baladi is served with almost every meal and it’s so yummy!
Egyptian desserts are usually different types of pastries that are as sweet as can be. Baklava is made with layers of flakey pastry, walnuts and an orange syrup called sharbat. Oh man, it’s hard to stop eating baklava. It’s not strictly an Egyptian dessert, but they have their own version of it that’s totally irresistible.
Another tasty Egyptian dessert is kanafeh. It tastes like baklava, but looks like hay (did I sell you on that?) It has a different texture to baklava, a little more crunchy, and it can be filled with cheese, custard, sharbat or nuts, depending on which bakery is serving it.
Basbousa is a cake made with coconut, yogurt and almonds, with the main ingredient being semolina (wheat that’s used for pasta). It’s a sweet and simple Egyptian dessert and goes well with hot tea or coffee.
Of course, you can’t go to Egypt without having a taste of their famous coffee or tea. Coffee in Egypt is made the Turkish way, brewed using a special pot called cezve. It’s served in small cups with the bottom containing a muddy paste made from finely ground coffee beans. It’s VERY strong and usually needs two spoonfuls of sugar. For a flavoursome touch, cardamom is added to the coffee. Careful taking that last sip or you’ll have a mouth full of sludgy coffee grinds.
Egyptian tea is called shai. Try hibiscus tea (karkade) that’s made with loose hibiscus flowers (not tea bags) and sits in the hot water creating a reddish-pink colour. It has a cranberry-like flavour and it’s common to be served hibiscus tea as a welcome drink in restaurants, shops or hotels.
Although the food is delicious in Egypt, it’s very rich and sometimes prepared or made with ingredients you might not be used to. It’s very common to get an upset stomach or food poisoning when in Egypt, nicknamed Pharaoh’s Revenge or Mummy’s Tummy. While street food is a budget friendly option, it’s not always the best choice in Egypt. The food might not be cleaned or prepared properly and can easily give you food poisoning. An upset stomach can really set your plans back.
Try not to drink the tap water in Egypt. Egyptians drink it because their body is used to it, but yours might not be. Be on the safe side and don’t ruin your time in Egypt. Drink heaps of bottled water to stay hydrated in the heat!
Egyptian culture is rooted in tradition. The ancient Egyptians began their civilization around 3,100 BC, leaving behind monuments, tombs, temples, artefacts and hieroglyphics which archaeologists are still studying to this day.
When you’re exploring ancient Egyptian sites, you’ll want to familiarise yourself with the Old Kingdom (the pyramid builders), the Middle Kingdom (12th Dynasty) and the New Kingdom (reign of King Ramses II and King Tut).
Egyptian culture facts
Alexander the Great conquered Egypt in 332 BC, and the last ruler of ancient Egypt was Queen Cleopatra VII in 30 BC. Her death was followed by six centuries of Roman rule, before Egypt was finally conquered by the Arabs in the seventh century AD. A lot of people fought over this country and Egyptians are very proud of their land.
Egyptian culture doesn’t celebrate death as an ending of life, but rather a continuation. You’ll notice this in their detail oriented burial process. The Egyptians weren’t setting up all these tombs and mummies as a symbol of mourning, but rather to help the deceased continue life on the other side. This is why their tombs were filled to the brim with all their belongings and their bodies endured an intense mummification process.
But that’s Egyptian culture way back then… so what’s it like now? Modern Egyptians are very proud of their past and where they came from, and they hold onto these traditions with food, music, dancing and other activities in their daily life.
The official language of Egypt is Arabic, but most Egyptians speak English as well. Egyptians who work in shops, at souvenir markets, in tourism or in hostels might even speak a little French, Spanish or Mandarin.
Egyptians are very helpful and hospitable people. They’re always eager to help, especially to tourists. If you feel that a local genuinely went out of their way to help you out, offer baksheesh (a small tip) for their generosity. It’s how you show gratitude. Baksheesh is also common in the service industry (at least 10% of the bill).
When you’re backpacking Egypt, you’ll notice people lounging in restaurants sharing a hookah type of pipe. That’s called shisha, a water pipe with a mix of tobacco and flavouring that’s typically passed around over drinks and conversation. Grab a few of your hostel mates and see how you like it!
You’ll notice that many women in Egypt are covered from head to toe. That’s because they’re following Islamic principles in which they choose to be conservative and modest. If you’re a man, it’s not a good idea to approach an Egyptian woman if you don’t know her.
Religion in Egypt
As for religion, most Egyptian people practice sunni Islam. The other small portion of the population are Coptic Christians. You might notice that some business hours are affected on Fridays as that’s a Muslim holy day.
If you’re visiting during Ramadan, the holy month of fasting, most businesses close or have limited hours during the day, including banks, restaurants and shops. The date changes every year, but Ramadan usually occurs in May/June. Some big mosques are open to tourists, so if you’re curious, take off your shoes and have a look around their place of worship.
Egyptian dance culture
Music and dance was a big part of religion and daily life during ancient Egyptian times. We know they had moves, because of some of the dances were depicted in paintings and hieroglyphics on the walls of temples. They also played musical instruments such as drums, cymbals and bells.
Ancient Egyptians’ love for music and dance has carried through into contemporary culture. Nowadays, Egyptians are all about moving their hips – belly dancing originated in Egypt! Locals love to dance to upbeat music that’s easy to clap to and uses a lot of percussion instruments. So clap along and enjoy!
Life in Egypt
Something you might notice is people selling papyrus and essential oils. Both are very important to the culture. Papyrus is basically the first form of paper, thanks to the ancient Egyptians. It’s made from the stem of a papyrus plant and then cut into strips that dry out to form a paper-like material. This was their writing and painting material.
Now, modern Egyptian artists create papyrus sheets and paint on them, which makes for great souvenirs! Be careful though, papyrus that’s sold in markets might not be the real deal. You’ll want to go to a gallery to get a taste of authentic papyrus paintings.
Essential oils were a big part of ancient Egyptian daily life – King Tut’s tomb was found with alabaster jars full of them! What are essential oils, you ask? Just some naturally beautiful smelling liquids (made from plants) that you can use as a perfume or air freshener. You’ll find heaps of stores throughout Egypt selling perfumes and essential oils. Pop into one to learn a little about their significance and why Egyptians cherish aromatic oils.
There are thousands of years of history to explore in Egypt, and once you step food into this magnificent country you’ll immediately feel immersed in its culture and traditions.
Egypt travel tips
Everyday customs in Egypt might be completely different to what you’re used to back home. As it’s a Muslim country, you’ll want to be aware of calendar events when planning your trip. Travelling through Egypt during religious holidays can set your plans back. For instance, ancient sites might not be open and public transport might not be running.
Before you leave for your trip it’s important to make sure you have all the correct documents for entering the country. You’ll need a passport, and for most countries a visa may be purchased on arrival at the airport. As of 2019, the visa fee is $25 USD if you’re a British, European, Australian or US citizen.
You’ll want to make sure you’ve packed all the right things before your trip to Egypt. As I mentioned earlier, Egypt is basically warm year-round with very little rainfall. It gets cool during the winter months, but never bundle-up-like-it’s-a-blizzard kind of cold. Bring a jumper and long pants for when the sun goes down.
What to wear in Egypt
As Egypt is a Muslim country, it’s important to dress appropriately when entering holy places. Avoid wearing shorts, mini skirts or tank tops. Loose fitting pants and loose long sleeve tops or t-shirts are perfect for Egypt. You’ll be appropriately dressed and you’ll fit in with the locals.
For the ladies, you’ll want to bring a scarf to wrap around your shoulders. Long skirts or dresses will come in handy for sightseeing, as will a cardigan when it gets chilly at night. A comfortable pair of sandals will be your best friend. You’ll also want to bring your own tampons with you as they’re hard to come by in Egypt.
For men, shorts are okay to wear in Egypt but leave the singlet at home. T-shirts and breathable long sleeves are the way to go. Don’t forget those comfortable sneakers – you’ll be doing heaps of walking.
What to pack for Egypt
For men and women, don’t forget to pack hats, sunglasses and sunscreen. That Arabian sun is unforgiving and you don’t want it to get the best of you. It’s wise to keep a water bottle with you in your day pack at all times. If you’re traveling through Egypt during the height of summer, bring a small battery packed fan to cool you off – you’ll thank me later.
The bugs in Egypt are pests. Bring insect repellent with you as it’s inevitable that you’ll be bitten by mosquitoes. Also pack after-bite in case you do have a bad reaction.
Remember that getting an upset stomach is common in Egypt. You’ll want to consult your doctor about bringing the right medication with you as a precaution.
Don’t forget to pack chargers, converters and adaptors. The power outlets in Egypt are the same as in Europe. Bring a portable charger too for those long-haul bus and train rides.
General tips for Egypt
It’s always nice to learn the language basics before traveling to any country. Although Arabic can be difficult to read, learn to say “thank you” (shukraan), “hello” (marhabaan) and “goodbye” (wadaeaan). Just attempting to speak the language goes a long way with the locals.
Brush up on some ancient Egyptian history before you go. As with any place or major tourist sites, it’s helpful to know a little background information about what you’re looking at. If you’re looking for a book to read, check out “The Egyptian Book of the Dead” by Ogden Goelet, “Queens of Egypt” by Leonard Cottrell or “A History of Egypt” by James Henry Breasted. They’ll help you get up to speed before your trip.
Otherwise, you can always join a tour or hire a local guide to take you around to explain some of the ancient sites and their significance. Just be careful with locals at the sites who invite you to show you around or take you for meals. Be a smart traveller and respectfully decline invitations when you feel uncomfortable.
Keep small change on hand. When you open your wallet at a shop or a market, do so discreetly so you’re not showing the world how much money you’re carrying.
Wi-Fi is hard to come by in Egypt, and even if you buy a data package the signal is still very weak. Be prepared to encounter very slow connections (if you find any), as Egypt’s internet speed is among the slowest in the world. You should see this as a good opportunity to disconnect!
Egypt travel tips for women
As a solo female traveler, you might feel as though the locals are staring at you as you confidently walk through the streets. Don’t let it make you feel uncomfortable or self-conscious. Solo female travel is awesome, but as a woman traveling through Egypt it’s often preferred to travel in a group (but not necessary). You can easily make friends at your hostel!
The best advice is to cover up – long pants, long dresses and long skirts. Keep a scarf with you when visiting mosques, as this will help you blend in.
No matter if you’re a man, woman or local, you will get heckled or hollered at. That’s just the way it is, so keep your guard up.
If you’re getting a bad vibe from a cab driver, restaurant or hostel, don’t brush it off. Simply grab your things and leave. Wearing a ring on your wedding finger might help with unwanted attention, but if this isn’t your first solo female rodeo, you’ll be fine.
Is Egypt safe?
Generally yes, Egypt is safe for tourists. Tourism is a major player in their economy and authorities do what they can to protect tourists. Egypt receives millions of visitors each year.
As a backpacker, the biggest thing you need to worry about is keeping your stuff safe and handling harassment on the street. Be alert and keep your bum bag or backpack close to you when shopping in markets. Don’t engage in the heckling from locals, just keep walking. Be aware of your surroundings if you go out at night, especially if you’re a woman. Travel in a group if you can.
Egypt is a magical place, full of history, tradition and life. Learn as much as you can when you’re there and take it all in. It’s inspiring to walk through temples that have been standing for thousands of years, and to finally be at the pyramids is an indescribable feeling.
Backpacking Egypt on a budget is totally possible. More people are doing it than you think! Treat it as though you’re backpacking any other place in the world: with respect and an open mind, and you’ll have the time of your life. Ready to get planning your Egyptian adventure?
About the Author
Marina Nazario is a food and travel writer from America, currently living in the land Down Under. She’s passionate about meeting people, immersing herself in different cultures, and eating her way around the world. You can follow her misadventures on Twitter and her blog Marina’s Milestones.