Topics include Transportation, Dining Scene, For Foreign Visitors & more!
Egypt is still surprisingly good for budget travelers, if you do your homework! The best time to go, if you are on a budget, is right in the middle of summer (July–September) this is the tourism low season. Sites are less crowded, hotels less full, and there is more room for travelers to haggle on prices. The downside is that it gets seriously hot, especially the further South you go.
Nowadays the only way to enter Egypt is over land or by air; however, at the time of writing there is a May-November passenger ferry from Port Said to Limassol in Cyprus—it is unclear weather the service also operates in the opposite direction. There are currently no other passenger services between Egyptian ports and European ports. There are also regular ferries from Nuweiba to Aqaba in Jordan.
If you book well in advance the average airfare from London to Cairo, with a mainstream carrier, is about £350.00 return—using a fare-finder such as STA. You may also be able to find good deals by scouring the airfare bucket shops.
Egypt shares land borders with Libya, Sudan and Israel & The Palestinian Territories. If you are entering Egypt via Israel, cross the border at Taba as this is the most reliable crossing point. At the time of writing the Palestinian border crossing at Rafah is closed with no sign of re-opening any time soon. The only way to cross the Sudanese border is on the ferry that goes between Aswan and Wadi Halfa. You must be in possession of a valid Sudanese visa to purchase a ticket.
Egypt is well served by trains and buses. The most economical, and practical, way to travel long-distance in Egypt is on the overnight trains that run between Cairo – Luxor – Aswan. The journey between Cairo and Aswan takes about 12 hrs don't travel anything less than first-class unless you are a masochist! Cairo to Luxor takes about 9hrs and is slightly cheaper. If you plan to travel 'off the beaten track' by train, be aware that only the major station platform signs in Egypt have the name written in English (Cairo, Luxor, Esna, Edfu, Aswan etc). At more rural stations, the platform signs are only written in Arabic. Most towns and cities that are not served by rail have good bus links to the next major town or city.
To get around in Cairo, Luxor or Aswan you really need to travel by taxi—unless you speak Arabic proficiently. Taxi travel can still be quite cheap provided you haggle. You can agree a price before you set off or, if you manage to find a taxi with a working meter, you can ask the driver to use it. Don't be surprised if the driver agrees a price with you, only to demand a higher price on arrival. Just pay the original agreed price and walk away—there may be some shouting, just ignore it or shout back! Getting your hotel to book you a taxi is not likely to be any cheaper than picking one up off the street and is no more reliable either. The best option is to find the local taxi rank—usually outside hotels or tourist attractions—and ask a number of drivers for a price to your destination. You will find most taxi drivers in Cairo, Luxor and Aswan speak English well enough.
As an independent budget traveler, most of the accommodation in your price range will be in Downtown cairo—the heart of the action! Don't bother staying anywhere that is not in walking distance of downtown or you will spend a fortune on transport. Check out your preferred brand of guide book or a reliable travel advice website for detailed information on accommodation choices. You can pick up a single room with shared bathroom, in a budget hotel, in Downtown, from £6 to £20 (sterling) per night. Doubles and rooms with private bathrooms and air con will cost a bit more...
Avoid eating in restaurants and cafes in the touristy areas, you will pay over the odds. The cheapest—and often the tastiest—eats are from the street-food sellers, just be aware of the slightly sub-standard hygiene and have your Imodium to hand... Consult your guidebook for details of cheap eateries. Some of the budget hotels have small restaurants that can arrange evening meals if you let them know in advance. Often this is a fairly cheep option and the food will be quintessentially Egyptian.
If you have a student card, take it with you! You can get a reduction in the cost of the entrance fee for many—but not all—of the tourist sites. As a budget traveler, it is not conducive to your aim to tip too generously. Nevertheless , it is expected in many situations; LE5.00 is a perfectly acceptable tip for most occasions. If they have really gone the extra mile, give them LE10.00...
You can hire an independent tour guide to show you around Egypt and pay them a daily rate, you can also hire taxi's by the day. Be aware however, that this is a potential minefield of problems. There are plenty of unscrupulous characters out there masquerading as tour guides. If you choose to explore this option, do your homework and use guides supplied by reputable tour providers. Another option is to spend your first couple of nights frequenting the local bars and try to make friends with the barman or other local person. Normal Egyptians—ones that don't work as tourist touts—are generally extremely friendly and hospitable. Strike up a conversation over tea or Turkish coffee, offer them a cigarette. Ask them about the local area and things to do, they will be more than happy to give you information, some may even offer to show you in person or invite you to their house for dinner.