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|Introduction to Egypt
In the fifth century BC Herodotus wrote of Egypt that 'nowhere are there so many marvellous things...nor in the world besides are to be seen so many things of unspeakable greatness' - and not too much has changed. The Sphinx, the Nile, ancient Luxor, the pyramids - Egypt's scope is glorious.
It's not just the Pharaonic monuments that have drawn travellers to this country since long before the birth of Christ - it's the legacy of the Greeks, Romans and early Christians, and the profusion of art and architecture accumulated from centuries of successive Islamic dynasties.
Modern Egypt is an amalgam of these legacies and more, juxtaposed with modern influences. Mud-brick villages stand beside millennia-old ruins surrounded by buildings of steel and glass. Some townsfolk dress in long flowing robes, others in Levis and Reeboks, and city traffic competes with donkey-drawn carts and wandering goats. Nowhere are these contrasts played out so colourfully as in Cairo, a massive city thronged with people and ringing to the sound of car horns, ghetto-blasters and muezzins summoning the faithful to prayer. Egypt isn't all chaos and clatter, however. It's also a diver's dream dip, a trek across the sands on a camel or a long lazy punt down the Nile.
A bomb attack behind the Cairo museum followed by an attack on a tourist bus in the city on 30 April resulted in the deaths of three tourists. This attack follows an explosion in the Al-Husain area of Cairo near the al-Azhar mosque on 7 April which killed two people and injured 16. Though Egyptian officials are describing the attacks as exceptions, there is no doubt foreigners were targeted and travellers are warned to keep up to date with further developments coming out of Cairo and to check consular advice before visiting the city.
The vast majority of visitors to Egypt have hassle-free stays, but travellers are warned to keep a modest profile and avoid public political gatherings and demonstrations. There are numerous sources of social tensions within Egypt that occasionally erupt, and they can affect travellers.
Three explosions believed to be targeting Israeli travellers killed more than 20 people along the Sinai Peninsula in October 2004. The region is still sensitive with a higher security presence than usual and travellers should avoid the Rafah crossing if at all possible. Delays travelling around the Sinai peninsula and the border crossings at Rafah and Eilat can be expected.
Israelis have been urged to avoid Egypt while nationals of other countries should maintain a high level of vigilance and avoid large resorts and major hotels. Consult consular travel advisories for further warnings.
Travel in the country's south remains restricted, and unless you use public transport, protected convoy is the only way to get between the major sites.
Full country name: Arab Republic of Egypt
Area: 1 million sq km
Population: 69.5 million
Capital City: Cairo
People: Egyptians, Berbers, Bedouin, Hamitic Arabs and Nubians
Religion: 94% Muslim, 6% Christian
Head of State: President Mohammed Husni Mubarak
Head of Government: Prime Minister Ahmed Mohamed Nazif
GDP: US$247 billion
GDP per capita: US$3,600
Annual Growth: 5%
Major Industries: Oil and gas, metals, tourism, agriculture (especially cotton), Suez Canal revenues
Major Trading Partners: USA, EU, Middle East
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Visas: All visitors to Egypt, except nationals of Malta, South Africa and Zimbabwe are required to have a visa and a passport (which must be valid at least one week beyond period of intended stay). Visas can be arranged through Egyptian embassies worldwide. Visitors from the US, Canada, EU and Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries may be able to purchase a visa stamp upon arrival at many large airports if the visit is for tourist purposes. One-month visitor's visas can be extended.
Health risks: schistosomiasis (bilharzia) (Don't paddle in the Nile!Also known as bilharzia, this disease is carried in freshwater by tiny worms that enter through the skin and attach themselves to the intestines or bladder. The first symptom may be tingling and sometimes a light rash around the area where the worm entered. Weeks later, a high fever may develop. A general unwell feeling may be the first symptom, or there may be no symptoms. Once the disease is established, abdominal pain and blood in the urine are other signs. The infection often causes no symptoms until the disease is well established (several months to years after exposure), and damage to internal organs is irreversible. Avoid swimming or bathing in freshwater where bilharzia is present. Even deep water can be infected. If you do get wet, dry off quickly and dry your clothes as well. A blood test is the most reliable test, but it will not show positive until a number of weeks after exposure), malaria (If you are travelling in endemic areas it is extremely important to avoid mosquito bites and to take tablets to prevent this disease. Symptoms range from fever, chills and sweating, headache, diarrhoea and abdominal pains to a vague feeling of ill-health. Seek medical help immediately if malaria is suspected. Without treatment malaria can rapidly become more serious and can be fatal. If medical care is not available, malaria tablets can be used for treatment. You should seek medical advice, before you travel, on the right medication and dosage for you. If you do contract malaria, be sure to be re-tested for malaria once you return home as you can harbour malaria parasites in your body even if you are symptom free. Travellers are advised to prevent mosquito bites at all times. The main messages are: wear light-coloured clothing; wear long trousers and long-sleeved shirts; use mosquito repellents containing the compound DEET on exposed areas (prolonged overuse of DEET may be harmful, especially to children, but its use is considered preferable to being bitten by disease-transmitting mosquitoes); avoid perfumes and aftershave; use a mosquito net impregnated with mosquito repellent (permethrin) – it may be worth taking your own, and impregnating clothes with permethrin effectively deters mosquitoes and other insects), yellow fever (A yellow fever vaccination certificate is required from travellers over 1 year of age coming from infected areas. The vaccine against yellow fever is effective. Yellow fever is transmitted through the bite of an infected mosquito. Symptoms of yellow fever range from a mild fever which resolves over a few days to more serious forms with fever, headache, muscle pains, abdominal pain and vomiting. This can progress to bleeding, shock and liver and kidney failure. The liver failure causes jaundice, or yellowing of your skin and the whites of your eyes – hence the name. There's no specific treatment but you should seek medical help urgently if you think you have yellow fever)
Time Zone: GMT/UTC +2 (Standard)
Dialling Code: 20
Electricity: 220V ,50Hz
Weights & measures: Metric
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The Islamic (or Hejira) calendar is a full 11 days shorter than the Gregorian (Western) calendar, so public holidays and festivals fall 11 days earlier each year. Ras as-Sana is the celebration of the new Islamic year, and Moulid an-Nabi celebrates the Prophet Mohammed's birthday around May. These celebrations include parades in the city streets, with lights, feasts, drummers and special sweets. Ramadan is celebrated during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. It was during this month that the Quran was revealed to Mohammed, and out of deference the faithful take neither food nor water until after sunset each day. At the end of Ramadan (Eid al-Fitr) the fasting breaks with much celebration and gaiety.
Eid al-Adha is the time of the pilgrimage to Mecca, and each Muslim is expected to make the pilgrimage (haj) at least once in a lifetime. Streets are decorated with coloured lights and children play in their best clothes. The ritual of Mahmal is performed in each village as passing pilgrims are given carpets and shrouds to take on their journey.
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|Best time to Visit
Deciding when to come to Egypt depends a lot on where you want to go. Everywhere south of Cairo is uncomfortably hot in the summer months (June-August), especially Luxor and Aswan, so winter (December-February) is definitely the best time to visit these areas. Summer is also the time when the Mediterranean coast is at its most crowded, but winter in Cairo can get pretty cool. March to May or September to November is the best time to enjoy the warm days without the crush of bodies on the beaches and the midday heat of high summer.
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|Currency / Costs / Approx. Spending
Currency: Egyptian pound
Egypt is terrific value. It is possible to spend as little as USD15.00 a day if you're prepared to stay in the cheapest hotels and hostels, eat local vendors' food, limit yourself to one historic site a day and travel on packed third-class trains. The major expense for the traveller in Egypt is transport and site entry - the latter has taken some severe jumps in recent years. Entry to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo costs around USD10.00, including entry into the must-see Royal Mummy Room.
Be aware that pickpockets operate around tourist sites, so avoid carrying money in your back pocket. Well-known brands of travellers cheques will be honoured everywhere, although having travellers cheques in US dollars or UK pounds will prove the most hassle-free. American Express, Visa, MasterCard, JCB and Eurocards are accepted at various stores and hotels displaying the appropriate signage. Visa and MasterCard can be used to obtain cash advances at Banque Misr and National Bank of Egypt branches.
A service charge of 12% applies in restaurants and hotels, and a sales tax of 5-7% is also levied. Additionally, you might find yourself paying a further 1-4% tax on upper-end accommodation, so it is possible to find that a 23% tax has been added to the price you've been quoted for a mid-range or top-end hotel room.
Bargaining is a part of life in Egypt and virtually everything is open to negotiation. This includes your room for the night, your lunchtime roadside snack and the felucca you ride down the Nile in. The few rules to observe in the bazaars are these: never offer a price that you're not prepared to pay, get a feel for the real price before you begin haggling, take your time and enjoy the friendly sport of it (which might include a cup of tea from the vendor), and remember that you're never obliged to buy anything - you won't offend anyone.
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Cairo isn't a gentle city. Home to more than 16 million Egyptians, Arabs, Africans and sundry others, the 'Mother of the World' is an all-out assault on the senses. Chaotic, noisy, polluted, totally unpredictable and seething with people, the sheer intensity of the city will either seduce or appal.
Cairo has plenty of fine 19th-century buildings, modern art and sculpture, precious green spaces and ancient districts (Islamic Cairo is a Unesco World Heritage site). Then there's the Pharaonic sites that stretch south of the city, not to mention Those Pyramids and That River.
Ruled by Cleopatra and rival to Rome, Alexandria is often said to be the greatest historical city, but with the least to show for it. Founded by Alexander the Great, it bears no trace of him; it’s the site of one of the wonders of the ancient world, but there’s barely a notable monument remaining.
Today it’s a provincial city, overcrowded with people and short on prestige. The arrival of a dynamic new city governor in the late 1990s has seen it undergoing something of a rebirth; money has been spent on the place. Buildings have been spruced up, trees planted and public spaces beautified.
Aswan, Egypt's southernmost city, has long been the country's gateway to Africa. The prosperous market city straddles the crossroads of the ancient caravan routes, at the 'other' end of the Nile. In ancient times it was a garrison town of importance to early Coptic Christians.
The Nile is glorious here as it makes its way down from the massive High Dam and Lake Nasser - watching the feluccas glide by as the sun sets over the Nile is an experience you're unlikely to forget. A visit to the Tombs of the Nobles is worthwhile, a highlight being the Nubian Museum.
Built on the site of the ancient city of Thebes, Luxor is one of Egypt's prime tourist destinations. People have been visiting the magnificent monuments of Luxor, Karnak, Hatshepsut and Ramses III for thousands of years. Feluccas, old barges and luxury hotel ships cruise to and from Cairo and Aswan.
The lonely statues of the Colossi of Memnon are the first things most people see when they arrive on the West bank, though the Valley of the Kings, including the spectactular tombs of Nefertari (closed indefinitely since January 2003) and Tutankhamun, are the big attraction.
Situated on the northern entrance to the Suez Canal on the Mediterranean coast, Port Said is a very young city by Egyptian standards. Founded in 1859 by ruler Said Pasha when excavations began for the Suez Canal, the original settlement was established on land reclaimed from Lake Manzala.
Port Said was bombed in 1956 during the Suez Crisis, and again in the 1967 and 1973 wars with Israel; the damage can still be seen here and there, although the city was extensively rebuilt. Ferries cross Lake Manzala to Al-Matariyya and across the canal to Port Fuad.
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