5 Things Every Girl Should Know About Travel in Egypt
Egypt. Wonderful, mysterious Egypt.
Have you always dreamed of sailing down the Nile or embarking on a camel ride around the Giza Pyramids?
If that sounds like you, here are some tips on how to make the most of it.
1.What to book
Many travel agencies have package deals including flights and accommodation. These are usually top class hotels with meals included, everything taken care of, and the best customer service. It’s inexpensive if you book early. Or book a Nile cruise. You can find the same deal: an inexpensive vacation with everything included: great food, entertainment and facilities. The benefit of a cruise is that you see more, and an included guide shows you the sites.
If you are an adventurer by heart it is possible to wing it and do everything yourself. There are cheaper, more basic accommodations available in all major destinations. It is possible to travel the country by train. The overnight train from Cairo to Luxor can be a bit grotty (book first class!) but I travelled with my friend- just two girls alone, and we had no problems. You can also book internal flights on budget airlines such as www.egyptair.com They offer flights to various destinations within Egypt and international.
2.Where to go
Everyone wants a piece of the pyramids at Giza. While it is definitely worth visiting Cairo, for the pyramids, Cairo Museum that has the Tutankhamun relics, the wonderful Khan el-Khalili markets and the Ibn Tulan- the biggest mosque in Egypt, you will not need more than a few days there.
If you are interested in Ancient Egyptian history the place to be is Luxor, further south. Here are the temples of Luxor and Karnak (the biggest one), the Valley of the Kings (where Tutankhamun’s tomb is), the temple of Hatshepsut (Egypt’s famous female pharaoh), and many other temples, sites and statues. In Luxor there are plenty of markets, restaurants, museums, and activities such as hot air balloon flights and camel rides. Further south of Luxor are amazing temples such as Philae at Aswan and Abel Simbel. You can book a minibus tour, fly there, or take a cruise.
The Red Sea is another major destination for holiday makers. In my opinion Dahab (an hour from Sharm el-Sheikh airport) is the best destination for scuba diving, snorkelling, and relaxing. Sharm el-Sheikh is a popular place, but this has grand hotels with little opportunity to mingle with the locals. Hurghada is another great option.
A little tip for sight-seeing in Egypt: get up early, go and see the temples and sights, be home by 10am and spend the hottest part of the day by the pool. In the evening wander around the markets, go for dinner somewhere, or take a sunset felucca trip (small Egyptian boats).
3.What to wear
Every girl has this problem when visiting Egypt. Arriving at the hotel in Luxor for the first time, I noticed that the guests were wearing what any Westerner would on holiday: as little as possible, because it’s so hot!
After following the crowds and wearing short dresses when out sightseeing, I realised that it wasn’t for me. Myself and my friends got much attention from Egyptian men. Cat calling, whistling, asking the men we were with if they could buy us for camels. At first it may be a bit funny because it’s a novelty, but after a (very short) while it gets tiresome.
They are not mean or nasty people, but being from a Muslim country they are just not used to seeing women uncovered. All the Egyptian women you will see will have covered arms and legs, most have covered hair, some will have a burka too (face covering). The men may stroke your arms or follow you, but as long as you are sensible and do not walk alone, you will have no real problems.
My advice is this: take a lot of long sleeved tops and long pants with you, and cover up as much as possible when walking around the streets. Take linen pants and light floaty tops, so you won’t get too hot (let’s face it, it’s actually better for sun protection). I still found I was getting attention from men (a blonde white girl stands out no matter what she’s wearing), but it was much calmer and I felt better about myself.
I did experiment with covering my hair for a while, and I found people were slightly more friendly towards me. But I didn’t feel comfortable doing that. The trick is to find a balance between being comfortable in what you are wearing AND being respectful to the Muslim community. Some people wear a fake wedding ring and carry a picture of their ‘husband’ in their purses, but I have never done this. One because I don’t feel it’s necessary, and two because I don’t like lying to people!
4.How to deal with hassle
If Egyptian men (or anyone else) are really hassling you remember a simple rule: say NO and walk away. Usually this works. If he still follows you stop- look at him and tell him sternly to go away: don’t be embarrassed about getting angry!
However it is very unnecessary to get truly angry. It is worth being aware that these guys are not there to hurt you. Tourism in Egypt is the mainstay of their economy and they are very unlikely to risk their businesses and industry by harming a tourist.
A quick word about a different type of hassle: in the markets! Male or female, young or old, everyone gets this kind of hassle. It is sometimes difficult to look at something to buy because the shop owners are surrounding you, pushing other things into your face ‘buy this, buy that!’’ It is easy to get overwhelmed by it all.
But the same rule applies: it is not necessary to get flustered or angry, take it as an experience and as part of the culture. If you don’t want it, say ‘la shok-ran’ – meaning ‘no, thank you.’ And learn this phrase: ‘ma fish fell-oose’ meaning ‘I don’t have any money!’
5.Making friends with Egyptians
The best thing about travel is to get to know the local people, exchange words or food with them, and get to know the local culture. As a girl travelling in Egypt, this is not the easiest thing to do. A traveller may start to believe that the men don’t want to be friends, and the women are hard to approach because they do not mingle with tourists and they hardly speak English.
But it’s not all about making firm friends with people, even just the slightest interaction with anybody is worthwhile, and can enrich your experience. So, have a chat with someone every now and then, coo the babies, make up a game with a child, and soon their mothers will be smiling at you.
With this advice in mind, go to Egypt and explore this fascinating country. Make friends, discover a new way of looking at the world, and get out of your comfort zone. Remember, when things do not exactly go according to plan, those things make the best stories!