If you’ve made it here, then you undoubtedly are interested in traveling around Egypt independently. Congrats, it takes a lot of gumption to decide to travel to Egypt without an organized tour group? But do you really want to experience Egypt? Then you need to travel independently.
I’m going to be as blunt and honest as possible. Traveling to Egypt independently is not for everyone. If you’re weak and give in to salespeople or get overwhelmed easily… then I recommend going as part of a tour. I went to Egypt with both of my parents, and among the three of us we have traveled to 150 countries and are not newbies to traveling independently. Even then, Egypt was an exhausting country to visit. Worth it? Yes. Would I go back? Definitely. But if you do decide to tackle Egypt on your own, I’ll try to help you out as much as possible.
During my stint in Egypt, I went to both Luxor and Cairo. Sadly I didn’t have time for more, but you can believe I’m coming back one day. Ultimately, my advice is going to be just for these two cities, but a lot of things are applicable for the rest of Egypt as well.
Before heading to Egypt, I cannot recommend enough that you do research on the ancient Egyptian culture. My tour guide was so impressed that I knew some things about ancient Egypt because he told me that a lot of people just know King Tut had a pretty mask and that’s it. Granted I studied Egyptology some at university but still, read and study ahead of time. Rick Steves once told me at a conference that, “if you know what you’re looking at, it can double your interest value.” Since I knew a lot about what I was looking at while in Egypt, it made my trip that much more worthwhile and memorable.
What’s Luxor? Other than the giant hotel in Las Vegas (which is bigger than the pyramids btw), Luxor is the ancient capital of Egypt and was known as Thebes at the time. If you want to learn more about the history of Luxor, do some research before you go so that way you can get the most out of your time.
What to Wear in Egypt
Luxor is about 313 miles (504 km) south of Cairo. Consequently, it can be considerably hotter in Luxor than it is in Cairo or Alexandria. That being said, when Egypt gets hot, it gets HOT. It was 114° F or 46° C when I first landed and it was like I was standing in an oven. Staying as cool as possible is crucial because you’re in the middle of a desert.
My clothing recommendations are the same throughout Egypt, but be aware that the further south you go (into Upper Egypt), the hotter it gets because you’re getting closer to the Equator. As far as outfits go, this is what worked well for me, but there is no right or wrong way to wear your clothing, just use common sense and whatever makes you feel most comfortable.
Y’all have it easy in the fashion world. Since it’s hot, I recommend light colors and baggier, wide-legged pants. You don’t want denim clinging to you as you’re climbing through a hot pyramid or riding a camel in the heat. I noticed that a lot of Egyptian men were more covered up, likely to prevent sunburn. I don’t think I saw any locals wearing shorts or a tank top, despite the heat. If you’re reading this you’ll still probably stick out as a tourist, but leave your cargo pants, flip flops, and bro tanks at home! Plus you will get sunburned and nobody wants that.
Like normal fashion, this is where it gets interesting. Egypt is roughly 90% Muslim, which means that a solid majority of local women choose to cover their hair. Does that mean that everyone has to? Not at all, and some Egyptian women don’t cover themselves, even if they are Muslim.
The exact same goes for tourists and foreigners. Nearly all Egyptians understand that as a visitor, you do not have to partake in their local customs. That being said, there is nothing wrong with doing so. When I went to Egypt, I made the conscious decision to cover my hair and the rest of my body. It was out of respect for the culture. When in Rome… But while in Egypt, I saw foreigners who didn’t cover their hair and they weren’t treated badly. I also saw locals who didn’t cover their hair and there was no problem with that either.
Ultimately, the choice is yours. Whenever someone asked if I was Muslim (which I got a lot because I have dark features but speak no Arabic), I explained that I just wanted to be respectful to the culture. Every time, I was met with an enthusiastic response and a “thank you for being considerate and thinking of us.” Personally, I thought my mom and I were treated better by locals than foreign women who were not covered, but that’s just my opinion based on what I observed.
If you decide to cover yourself in Egypt (or any Muslim country), make sure that you do so thoroughly. Wear loose pants and a shirt, or at least a top that covers your butt and make sure your arms and legs are covered. Otherwise you will really stick out like a sore thumb and not in a good way. East Essence has great options for clothing, as does Bella Hijabs.
Where to Stay in Luxor
Luxor is a great place to stay because it’s fairly small in comparison to big cities like Cairo. My taxi driver described Luxor as a “quaint, green town.” Okay, so it wasn’t exactly quaint or green, but it is definitely a smaller town. Although the west bank is becoming more urbanized and hipster, it’s not exactly home to a lot of activity. I highly recommend finding a place to stay on the east bank. You’ll be closer to the city, plus the temples are on the east side and so is the airport. Besides, the west bank used to be reserved for the land of the dead and that’s kind of an eerie premonition.
Since the Egyptian Pound is very low, you can get a lot of bang for your buck in a hotel. Why not live the lifestyle of a celebrity? I stayed in a fairly inexpensive hotel called Eatabe right on the banks of the Nile for barely anything. I could literally see the Nile from my bed and there was a balcony too! Eatabe isn’t the only place to stay in Luxor and there are a lot of hotels that line the Nile. Pick whichever one fits your budget, which will likely be a lot of them! You also have the option to stay on a boat on the Nile. Although it’s a cool experience, there are usually other boats docked next to it, so your view may be into another ship’s stateroom!
How to Get to Luxor
Your easiest option is likely going to be to fly to Luxor or take a Nile River cruise that stops in Luxor. But since this article is about how to do it independently, I’m going to talk about the airport.
Luxor’s airport is around 30 minutes outside of the city. It’s fairly small but has air conditioning so what more do you need? The easiest way to get from the airport to your hotel is going to be via taxi. There is a fixed rate of £100 from the airport to the city so you don’t need to haggle and try to get a lower price.
Taxi drivers are usually pretty friendly, although they will be aggressive trying to get you to choose their taxi at the airport. Not all of them speak English, however. My first taxi driver literally stopped the taxi in the middle of a busy thoroughfare, got out, ran to a bus on the other side of the street (presumably his buddy), and then we swapped drivers because the second driver knew English better. And that, my friends, was my first introduction to Egypt.
Can’t Miss Sites in Luxor
So, you’ve made it to Luxor, checked in to your hotel, wiped the sweat off of your brow, and are ready to immerse yourself in Egyptian culture. Now what?
Luxor Temple is a beautiful and majestic complex of ruins smack dab in the middle of the city. It was built thousands of years ago during the 18th Dynasty (1400 BC) and a decent amount of it still remains today. Now, there is a mosque occupying the northwestern corner of the temple. While attempting to find the entrance, I accidentally almost wandered into the mosque right before prayer time. Whoops. The actual entrance is a bit north of the mosque.
If you have enough time and money, I think that you should visit Luxor Temple both during the day and at night, or you can just stay until dark. I was only able to visit the complex at night, but it was such a surreal and cool experience. The temple is all lit up and the ambiance makes you feel as though you stepped back in time to walk alongside Ramses and Neferteri. If you’re lucky you will be there during the call to prayer for the neighboring mosque. The haunting sound drifts through the hieroglyphics and columns and transports you back in time. Plus, there are usually less crowds at nighttime because the day tours have come and gone.
Price for Adults/Students: £120/£60
Hours: Supposed to be from 6:00-22:00 but they shut down an hour early when we were there so take it with a grain of salt
Karnak is the second biggest temple complex in the world, second only to Angor Wat in Cambodia. If you can only go to one temple while in Luxor, go to Karnak. It’s spectacular. The massive hall of columns is the largest one in the world and many of the original columns are still standing. You should get to Karnak as early as you can in the morning to avoid the hoards of tour guides and school children that descend upon it in the daytime. Karnak doesn’t need to be part of a tour and you honestly don’t really need a guide. Download an audio guide on your phone ahead of time, or find a guidebook that gives you a step-by-step walking tour of what you’re looking at.
Orrrrr, if you’re like my family, we can’t get anywhere on time. When we went to Karnak, we still had an hour and a half before closing… except they decided to close it down an hour early so we were denied admission. However, there was a light show at night that piqued our interest. I thought it was going to be a pretty light show that was projected on the face of the temple while the audience sat on benches or on the ground, kind of like at the pyramids (more on that later). I was incredibly surprised when I figured out that this light show took you IN to Karnak. So although I wasn’t able to see Karnak during the daytime, I still was fortunate enough to walk around it at night.
When I was preparing for the trip, I had read a lot of negative reviews about the Karnak light show. Don’t listen to those bad reviews. It doesn’t cost very much and the experience is surreal. Yes, I will admit that some of it is a bit kitschy, but it’s narrated in a very Pharaonic way that resembles the movie The Ten Commandments and Yul Brenner himself may have been walking alongside me. Initially I had thought that Luxor Temple was awe-inspiring but that couldn’t hold a candle to Karnak at night. I’m now convinced that I was actually a pharaoh in another life.
Price for Adults/Students: £120/£60
Hours: 06:00-17:30 but once again, they closed an hour earlier than they were supposed to so who knows.
Price for Karnak Light show: £150
Valley of the Kings
I’m going to (kind of) go back on my word here and recommend that you take a tour to Valley of the Kings. Yes, I know that this is about how to travel independently. But by taking a tour (through a company like Viator, Expedia, etc.) you are going to save yourself so much heartache and stress. Because honestly I don’t know how anyone would visit the Valley of the Kings if you weren’t in some sort of a tour group. My group only had three people, and the other two were my mom and dad. So it was still pretty independent.
Valley of the Kings is where a large amount of Egypt’s pharaohs and nobility are buried. The ancient Egyptians finally got smart and didn’t build huge pyramids to advertise where the tombs were to rob. When the capital of Egypt moved south to Thebes, so did the burials. King Tut was found in Valley of the Kings, and the discovery of his tomb is what prompted officials to open up the Valley to tourists because everyone wants to see the infamous tomb.
Individual tours pick you up at a location of your choosing which is typically your hotel. From there, you drive across the Nile and officially enter the Land of the Dead. Once you arrive at the entrance to Valley of the Kings, you’ll realize how nice it is to have a tour guide. There are dozens of vendors all vying for your attention and telling you that it’s the ‘best price in all of Egypt’. Your tour guide can help get them out of the way or help you get a good price on a souvenir.
Entrance prices to Valley of the Kings vary. There’s a flat entrance fee of £160 that allows you to enter three tombs that you choose. The tombs are constantly being rotated so that one tomb isn’t overly visited and they can be preserved. While I was there, I went inside Merenptah, Ramses the IV’s, and Ramses the IV’s tombs. In typical Egyptian fashion, you are nickel-and-dimed for everything. So naturally, King Tutankhamen’s tomb is an extra fee of £200. It might seem ridiculous to have to pay more but just do it. What’s the extra money to see the MOST FAMOUS MUMMY EVER?! It also costs £1,000 extra if you want to see Seti’s tomb. Our tour guide said it wasn’t worth it to see Seti’s so we didn’t do that and I’m glad I saved my money. The tombs that we did see were incredible and gave us a taste for what the 18th, 19th, and 20th Egyptian Dynasties were like.
Naturally, King Tut’s tomb is the most popular, although it had the fewest amount of visitors inside it when I was there. Photography is strictly prohibited, so naturally I snuck these pictures. King Tut is actually in his tomb, which is pretty cool considering he’s literally the only mummy who still lying in the same tomb. Tut’s golden coffin is also in the tomb, although you’ll have to go to the Egyptian Museum in order to see his infamous death mask. His tomb is honestly pretty small. The hieroglyphics and artwork are beautiful, but not nearly as elaborate as other pharaoh’s tombs. This shows how unpopular and irrelevant King Tut was in real life. If you want to learn more about the controversy surrounding him and his father in a quick Reader’s Digest version, check out the little blurb at the bottom of this article.
Last year, officials decided to start to allow people to take pictures inside of the tombs, probably due to the popularity of social media since they’re trying to encourage more people to visit the country. That means that you can now purchase a photo permit for £300 that allows you to take pictures in the tombs (except for King Tut’s). Spend the money and get it. The tombs are incredible and I’m sure you’ll want to document your experience inside of them. If you choose not to purchase the permit, take photos at your own risk. We purchased one permit but there were three of us in the group. Our tour guide said we should be fine because we have the permit so we can all take pictures. Technically we were fine, but the people ‘monitoring’ the photo situation like to get some baksheesh (tip that usually turns into a bribe) so they make up their own rules as they go. There will be people that don’t have a permit at all and somehow get away with taking pictures. Then there will be people like me, who have a permit (that was being carried by my mom) and are still screamed at. As I was exiting Ramses IV’s tomb, I turned around for one last picture of the long hall because there were no tourists in the way. The monitor came up to me and started grabbing my phone. There was no way in HELL I was going to let someone handle my $800 baby so I told him ‘thank you, I have a permit’ and kept walking out. He kept reaching and grabbing my phone but I kept playing dumb and said that I had a permit, which I did. He continued to yell and try to get me to delete my pictures but since I was close to the exit, I emerged into freedom. When I told my tour guide about it, he became extremely upset and couldn’t believe that that man had treated us that way. He offered to help us report the monitor to his supervisor to ensure that mistreatment never happened again but I didn’t want to get anyone in trouble. But he explained that its foremost their job to be respectful to the tourists because they are guests in the country. So keep that anecdote in mind while visiting Valley of the Kings, but remember to always still be respectful, but it is okay to stand up for yourself.
Entrance Fee for Adults/Students: £160/£80
King Tutankhamun [extra]: £200
Seti II [extra]: £1,000
Photo Permit: £300
It’s more likely than not that your tour to Valley of the Kings will include a stop at Hatshepsut’s Mortuary Temple. Hatshepsut is the coolest pharaoh that you’ve never heard of. She was the most important and powerful woman pharaoh in Egyptian history. At the time, women had no true place in society and it was only the men who ruled. When her husband/brother, Tutmosis II died, his son and her stepson, Tutmosis III was just a child and couldn’t properly rule. Therefore, she acted as a regent for Tutmosis III. Hatshepsut eventually got fed up with her bratty stepson and sent him to join the military, so then she stepped in as ultimate ruler. Hatshepsut had to prove herself as a woman pharaoh so she went above and beyond to build, build, and build. Her rule is often considered to be one of Egypt’s best golden eras.
So, Hatshepsut built this mortuary temple to the god Amun-Ra in the rocky hills of the west bank. It was built in the same style as an earlier temple that had stood in the same place. But Hatshepsut wanted to make Egypt great again so she built her temple bigger and better. And today, it’s one of the leading attractions in the country. I’ve been obsessed with Hatshepsut ever since I first learned about her in 6th grade so visiting here was a must-do for me.
There isn’t a lot of shade here, which is frustrating because most tours stop here in the afternoon. Entrance isn’t too expensive at only £80 and they don’t care at all about photography!
Price for Adults/Students: £80/£40
Hot Air Balloon Ride
One of the most popular things to do in Luxor is to fly in a hot air balloon. The balloon takes off early in the morning and flies over the Nile, Hatshepsut’s Temple, and Valley of the Kings. It makes for beautiful pictures and is definitely a bucket list item. Prices range from around $60-$120 depending on what the tour entails. Most of these will pick you up at your hotel around 3-4 am and then drop you off after the 45-minute ride.
Unfortunately, the hot air balloon rides are contingent upon good weather. The day we were supposed to fly, it was too windy and the company cancelled the flight. I was heartbroken. But if you’re in Luxor overnight, it’s something that you have to do for a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
The Mummification Museum is right along the eastern bank of the Nile and offers an interesting exhibit that teaches you about the mummification process. It was closed when I went, but my tour guide said that it wasn’t that thrilling and not worth wasting money on.
For those of you who are interested, it’s still worth checking out in order to learn more about how the ancient Egyptians were able to preserve the mummies so well. People who already know about ancient Egyptian mummification probably won’t learn anything new, but it’s cool to see it in the original environment.
Price for Adults/Students: £80/£40
Cairo is the current capital of Egypt and is the hub of the country. Most visits to Egypt include a trip to Cairo and I definitely think that you need to include Cairo on your list. Cairo is definitely a big city and unlike the other cities in Egypt. To begin with, the traffic is crazy and crosswalks don’t exist. Also, the air quality is typically poor. But isn’t that like most big cities?
Where to Stay in Cairo
Cairo has a lot of different options. You can find hostels, hotels, and five-star resorts. Personally, I recommend staying in Cairo itself, possibly near downtown if you want. I stayed at City View Hotel, which overlooked Tahrir Square and the Egyptian Museum. I basically had a lunch and dinner date with all of my favorite mummies. The Ritz Carlton and Four Seasons are also popular places because they’re cheaper than in other areas.
A lot of people recommend staying near the pyramids. Keep in mind before booking accommodations that the pyramids are actually in Giza, a pyramidal suburb about 40 minutes away from Cairo. The hotels in Giza have amazing views over the pyramids, but you’d have a 40-minute commute in order to go anywhere.
How to Get to Cairo
Cairo International Airport services airports around the world so it’s fairly easy to find a flight that will take you there. As far as I have found, there aren’t any direct flights from the US to Egypt. At the minimum, expect to have one layover from the US. I was fortunate enough to have four layovers!!!!!!
Speaking of commutes, I just want to inform everyone that Uber is available in Cairo and is THE way to travel! Uber is extremely cheap and the price is fixed so you don’t have to worry about having cash or about being swindled over a price. Plus, if you’re worried about safety, Uber tracks its drivers so that adds an extra level of security. Use my code marisam2567ue for a free Uber ride anywhere in the world that Uber works! For the extremely daring, you can even try Uber Scooter!
Cairo also has an excellent Metro system, although very few foreigners use it. Naturally I had to try it out. The metro costs only £1 per ride and it was very nice and safe. I recommend taking line 1 from Coptic Cairo (Mar Girgis) to the Egyptian Museum (Sadat). There is also a car for just women and children, although women can ride in the non-female cars.
Can’t Miss Sites in Cairo
A trip to Egypt really isn’t complete without visiting the last of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. There’s a reason that the pyramids are the OGs, they are impressive. Not gonna lie I got a little teary when I first saw them. I’m an Egyptology buff and they were number one on my bucket list. Dreams really do come true.
When visiting the pyramids, it’s imperative to arrive as early in the morning as possible. First of all, you will be beating a lot of the crowds and tour groups. Secondly, it gets hot in the daytime so there’s no need to arrive at noon. I saw lots of people arriving later in the day and they looked like they were already regretting their decision.
The best entrance is the main one that is NOT by the Sphinx. There, you can purchase tickets to go inside the pyramids whereas you can’t at the Sphinx entrance. I learned that the hard way. But if you don’t want to go inside a pyramid the Sphinx entrance is a great way to start.
While inside the compound, you will be harassed by people trying to give you a camel ride or a horse ride. Just firmly tell them Shokran and they *should leave you alone. If you choose to ride a horse or camel, just remember the ethics and the treatment that these animals get. My parents and I decided to ride camels, but only after we handpicked the ones we got to ride. We looked for sores and which ones looked malnourished so that we ensured we rode the healthiest ones there. There is a fixed rate for the camel rides of £100 but if you are a good haggler, you can get the price lower.
Did you know that the pyramids are also home to the oldest boat in the world? That’s right, you can see Cheops’s reconstructed boat at the pyramids. It costs an extra £50/25 but it’s definitely worth seeing. Plus there is AC so that’s worth the price too.
Since you’ve already spent a lot of money getting to the pyramids, climbing inside of one is a must. I chose to go inside the Great Pyramid of Khufu because it’s the most famous one. It’s closed from 12:00 – 13:00 so be careful that you don’t try to enter during those times. I went right before it closed and had a ton of people on the climb up but none on the way down. People with claustrophobia shouldn’t try to go inside the pyramid because it’s very cramped and humid. There aren’t any photos allowed inside of the pyramids and guards at the gate will ensure you don’t take your camera in the pyramid. Thankfully, there’s a little invention called the camera phone. When I climbed up into the burial chamber, everyone was taking pictures of each other despite the warning. Take pictures at your own risk but it’s a pretty cool opportunity to go inside the pyramid nonetheless.
You aren’t allowed to climb any of the pyramids, but you can get around 40 feet up on the pyramid by the entrance to Khufu’s entrance. Not gonna lie it’s pretty cool.
By the time you’re done with the pyramids, head across the street from the Sphinx to the Pizza Hut for some of the best views of the pyramids. It’s very ironic to see this modern juxtaposition against the ancient pyramids.
Visitors in the evening can also stay for the Pyramid Light and Sound Show. This one is played on the faces of the pyramids and the Sphinx. Although it’s interesting to see them at night, the show is much more cheesy than the Karnak one and doesn’t have any interactive elements. If you want the best deal, go to the Pizza Hut to watch the show and not spend money on it.
Entrance fee for Adults/Students: £120/£60
Khafre’s Pyramid: £60
Khufu’s Pyramid: £300
Cheop’s Boat: £80/40
Light Show: £150
The Egyptian Museum is another can’t-miss site in Cairo. It’s located on Tahrir Square, which by itself is something worth visiting. It was the site of the Tahrir Square protests in 2011 during the Egyptian Revolution. During the protest, some people broke in to the museum and destroyed some of the artifacts. Many activists joined together to form a human chain around the museum to protect its priceless artifacts. Thankfully, today it is once again safe and the museum sustained only minimal damage.
When you purchase your ticket, you have the option to purchase entrance to the royal mummies room. DO IT! I didn’t know what it would be and expected to see an old mummy or two. Little did I know, but the mummies I was able to see were THE biggest mummies in ancient Egypt. I saw Hatshepsut, Tutmosis II and III, Hatshepsut, Ramses II, Seti I, Nefertiti, and others. Simply standing in the room surrounded by actual pharaohs was eerily surreal but simultaneously so freaking cool! As you stare at them, it’s amazing to think that they once ruled Egypt but are now stuck in a glass case with you staring at them. Crazy.
You also have the option to purchase a photo permit. My mom bought one but was only asked to show it maybe once or twice. Everyone in the museum is taking pictures and the guards know that it’s hard to enforce. Except for the King Tut room where they will not allow you to take any photos. If you want to, you can purchase the permit to be safe but I didn’t really see a need to. Just play dumb if you get caught.
Currently, the Egyptian Museum is in the process of building the Grand Egyptian Museum to provide a better place to house all of the artifacts. In the meantime, the museum is in a bit of disarray. Around half of the artifacts are well labeled but the other half have no description. The main artifacts do, though. Consequently, I wouldn’t hire a guide to show you around the museum. Save your money or invest in a good guidebook.
The highlight of the museum is the King Tut room. It’s a small room at the back of the museum dedicated to things found in his tomb. Most notably, his famous death mask. Pictures aren’t allowed and you will be screamed at if you try to take one. Or, if you’re super sneaky, you can get one like this and not have to deal with any copyright issues when writing a blog.
Entrance Fee for Museum for Adults/Students: £120/60
Royal Mummies: £150
Egypt is a Muslim country, but around 10% of Cairo’s population is Coptic Orthodox, which was the primary religion before Islam. Today, the Coptic region of the city is one of the most beautiful and it shows how two religions can coexist side by side.
Coptic Cairo is at the site of Old Cairo, which includes the Babylon Fortress, and other historical sites. According to Christian tradition, the Holy Family sought refuge in this area when fleeing from King Herod in Israel. Today, Saints Sergius and Bacchus Church stands where they are believed to have been.
Another really interesting sight to see is the Hanging Church. This church was built literally on top of the old Babylonian fortress and is open to the public. You can go inside and see how it’s almost suspended over the old ruins. Entrance is free but it closes at 5:00 pm.
The Coptic Museum provides a deeper explanation to the roots of the Coptic Church in Egypt. It’s located right across from the Mar Girgis metro station and next to the Hanging Church. The entire area of Cairo is very historical and definitely worth spending some time in.
Hours for Hanging Church: 09:00 – 16:00
Entrance Fee for Babylon Fortress: £60/30
Hours for Babylon Fortress: 09:00 – 17:00
Entrance Fee for Coptic Museum: £60/30
Hours for Coptic Museum: 09:00 – 17:00
The Citadel is an iconic part of Cairo. It’s a massive stone fortress that was built by Saladin in the 12th century and has magnificent views out over Cairo. That is, if you can see it on a day without bad air pollution.
Mohammad Ali Mosque is located inside of the citadel and is one of the most common mosques for tourists to visit. In addition to the mosque, there are several museums like the Military and Police Museum that are worth checking out. The citadel is open from 8:00-17:00 daily but the mosque is closed during Friday prayers.
Entrance Fee: £100/£50
Khan El Khalili Souk
If you can only make it to one souk during your time in Egypt, it should be this one The Khan El Khalili Souk is absolutely massive and it offers visitors a glimpse into what Egyptian daily life is like. I took an Uber there directly from Giza to try and find the beautiful famous arch shown below. Except by the time we got there in the afternoon, the streets were so crowded that our driver couldn’t even get close.
So we walked.
But the best part was that we weren’t in the tourist area of the mosque, we were where all of the local Egyptians shopped and there were thousands of locals all doing their everyday shopping. I even purchased a beautiful abbaya there for around $10 as opposed to an expensive dress in the tourist area. After pushing through the crowds for around 30 minutes, I gradually made my way into the touristy area that was chock-full of King Tut souvenirs. Even the tourist parts were extremely interesting and worth it, but I am so thankful I got to see a more authentic side of the souk. The ‘entrance’, or the touristy part opens up to a square surrounded by three mosques. Get there around dusk for the evening call to prayer and you will feel like Lawrence of Arabia. Completely worth the crowds!
When in Egypt, you have to visit at least one mosque. Some of them are open for tourists. When in doubt, ask someone and explain that you want to learn more about the Islamic culture and are curious and they likely won’t have a problem. The Mohammad Ali Mosque in the citadel is one of the most popular mosques among tourists. If you plan to go to a mosque, be sure to have your shoulders covered and try to bring a scarf to cover your hair if you’re a woman.
OTHER THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT EGYPT
Bring Student ID
If you’re a student or have been recently, bring your student ID. It will get you ½ off at a lot of different places. I used my ISIC card, which is an internationally recognized card and didn’t have any problems. I’ve heard about some students who didn’t have an ISIC card having problems getting the discount but I’ve also heard stories about students who were still successful. The ISIC cards are only $25 and I definitely made that money back in entrance fees from just Egypt alone.
Don’t forget Sunscreen
I have an uncanny ability to not get sunburned. I only had my hands and face showing the entire time in Egypt and barely got any darker, whereas my dad turned roughly 72 shades darker. Thank God for melanin. My mom got a little bit burned on her nose and wished that she had brought sunscreen. But we did see dozens of tourists in tank tops and shorts that looked like lobsters. So do yourself a favor and bring some sunscreen so your trip isn’t miserable.
Drink Lots of Water
This one should be a no-brainer but sometimes people forget to drink water. After all, you’re in a desert and it’s usually hot. Tap water in Egypt isn’t safe to drink but bottled water is very cheap and readily available. Keep some water in your hotel room so you always have some and don’t hesitate to purchase some while you’re out touring.
Locals Pay Different Prices
You will likely see many different prices for the same thing when traveling around Egypt. That’s because locals pay different prices than tourists. Even then, the prices for foreigners don’t stay consistent. By the time I finish typing this sentence, entrance prices have probably changed for major Egyptian sites. Many prices are dependent on what they perceieve that you will want to pay. So although the prices that I’ve provided are as recent as possible, it’s still likely than they could fluctuate some.
** So what’s the deal with King Tut?
Despite being the most famous mummy in the world, King Tut was pretty much worthless when he was pharaoh. To begin with, his father, Pharaoh Akhenaten, was the most hated man in Egypt. For millennia, the ancient Egyptians had been polytheistic and worshiped a plethora of gods. But when Akhenaten came into power, he said, and I quote, “to hell with the other gods, we’re just going to have one god called Aten.” Since he was pharaoh, everyone was forced to obey Akhenaten against his or her will. Akhenaten also changed the art style for the first time in centuries and basically turned ancient tradition upside down. So when his son, Tutankhamun, took the throne at only 9 years old, it was understandable why nobody really liked him. However, Tut did reverse a lot of the work of his father and changed his birth name from Tutankhaten to Tutankhamun (as in Amun-Ra, the rightful king of the gods). It gave him back some of the popular vote but he was still the son of the most hated ruler. As was incest tradition, Akhenaten had married his sister, Nefertiti and the entire family was unbelievably inbred. Poor Tutankhamun received the worst of it and spent his entire life crippled and sickly. As if he wasn’t a bad enough example, he married his sister so they could continue the tradition of incest. Surprisingly, King Tut dropped dead at age 18 due to his incestuous heritage and shocked everyone. Since he had died so young, his tomb was nowhere near ‘proper’ completion. It’s only made up of four small rooms and the paint job looks very hasty. Some historians hypothesize that the tomb was actually meant for some rich noble but when Tut died so quickly, the priests kicked another family out of the tomb and threw Tut in there instead. That conspiracy is up to you to decide, but it’s no secret that King Tut had curses in more way than just one.
Hopefully this will help you realize that Egypt isn’t scarier than any other country! Have you been to Egypt or is it somewhere you’d like to go?