Before you come
Egypt is a conservative country and visitors should respect this attitude. No topless or nude bathing is permitted.
On the practical side, leave your synthetics at home as they will prove to be too hot in summer and not warm enough in winter - bring materials that breathe. It is advisable to wear cotton in summer as the heat can be like a furnace. In winter wear layers that can be taken off during the heat of the day and put back on for cool evenings.
Wear loose and flowing garments, which are not only modest, but practical in a hot climate. Have you ever wondered why the Bedouin wear layers of flowing robes? Why they cover their heads and the back of their necks? Centuries of living in desert climates have taught them that loose garments keep one cooler and layered garments allow wind to enter and circulate, creating a natural ventilation system. Protecting the head and neck from loss of moisture prevents heat stroke.
Bring comfortable shoes. You will be doing a lot of walking and temple floors are far from even. In summer, wear a hat to protect yourself from the heat of the Egyptian sun.
Above all travel light. Get wheels for your luggage and leave heavy items at home. If you don't bring a camera you will be sorry. Sunglasses are a must as the sun is very strong in Egypt.
It is wise to take travellers cheques for safety and these can be exchanged at any bank. Most of the large hotels have exchange machines which take cash or credit cards. Major credit cards can be used for cash advances in banks and exchanges and now for purchases in many large tourist hotels, stores and restaurants. It may be useful to know that Exchange 'shops' will often be open all day, whereas banks and travel agents may close for part of the afternoon. It is worth checking out banking hours to avoid disappointment! Alternatively you will get a better deal for cash in USD from Hotel staff and small shops, the unofficial market exchange rate is usually 15% higher than the official central bank rate. Be careful not to change large bills of money (more than 500$) in a single transaction.
Generally most goods and services in Egypt seem to be very good value, but there is a system of bargaining for everything you need, from hotel accommodation to taxis and souvenirs. Some of the larger tourist shops have fixed prices, but in the local markets (bazaars or suqs) bargaining is a way of life - so leave plenty of time for shopping. Asking prices will be very high to begin with and drop rapidly depending on how much interest you show and walking away will often be the way to get prices reduced. It is great fun to bargain and I work on the assumption that I can usually get things for around one third or one quarter of the original asking price. It depends on how much something is worth to me. Remember that Egyptian tradesmen need to make a living too. Shopping often means having a cup of tea or cold drink in almost every stall in the market and half an hour of general conversation (or translating letters from foreign friends) before getting down to the business of prices. You are under no obligation to buy, so don't feel guilty if you change your mind. If you do make a purchase it is a good idea to keep plenty of small notes as vendors in smaller shops often don't have change and you may have to wait while they go in search of your change.
Baksheesh or tipping is also a way of life - a kind of unofficial purchase tax on all goods and services and you will need to keep plenty of small notes on you at all times. The level of baksheesh is entirely up to the individual and how much you value the service you have had. As a general rule a tip of EGP 1 to EGP 5 is usually acceptable. This is a small amount to the tourist but is often a large portion of income to an Egyptian, whose monthly wage would not even cover our weekly food bill at home. They usually have large extended families to support on very little money.
Hotel staff, taxi drivers, shopkeepers and guards or guides at the monuments would expect tips, but do not offer baksheesh to policemen (who are not officially allowed to accept money from tourists).
The range of food in Egypt is very wide and cosmopolitan. Mostly you will find dishes are a cross between Middle-Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine. Food is available in large restaurants or from street corner stalls and snack bars. The smaller snack-bars and cafes usually offer a good range of inexpensive lightly-spiced Egyptian food as well as sandwiches, pizzas and French fries. Falafel is a snack made from beans and is available freshly cooked on every street corner. Check out how clean the stall looks, as some of these places don't have running water or refrigeration.
The traditional Egyptian breakfast is 'ful' which is a kind of bean stew and extremely filling, but larger hotels will offer a buffet breakfast with just about anything you could possibly imagine, including a wide range of breads and cakes. Smaller hotels tend to stick to a continental breakfast of croissants or bread rolls with jam or cheese, and sometimes eggs. Yoghurt is also popular.
Egyptian people often eat their main meal at lunchtime and this is usually chicken or beef with rice and vegetables and may be preceded by a soup. Pork is rarely seen in Egypt as it is considered unclean by Muslims. Bread accompanies every meal and there are many types of breads in different regions. The common 'Aysh' or Egyptian bread is an unleavened circle of coarse dough (and sand) a little like pitta bread, or larger loaves or rolls of risen white dough. Bakeries are abundant and the choice of pastries and very sweet cakes makes your mouth water.
A similar but smaller meal is eaten at sunset by Egyptians, but tourists tend to have their main meal in the evening, often quite late. A three course meal in a hotel will cost anything from around EGP 30 upwards, whereas you can get a three course meal in a local cafe for around EGP 10. In Cairo there are many Western-style fast food restaurants, including places like McDonalds and Pizza Hut and there is even a McDonalds in Luxor now. They are inexpensive compared to their branches in Europe.
Egypt is famous for its coffee shops, the traditional place where men go in the evening for a game of dominoes or backgammon. There will usually be a television blasting out a loud football game in Arabic. In these pavement cafes you can have a cup of coffee (Nescafe or Egyptian coffee), tea or a soft drink and watch the world go by. Western women are just about tolerated now in these places but you will rarely see Egyptian women here except maybe in Cairo.
Tea is a traditional drink in Egypt and you will probably drink gallons of it while there, whether you like it or not. It is made by boiling a powdery form of tea leaves in a kettle of water until it is stewed, and then a large quantity of sugar is added. It is served in small glasses without handles. Coffee, unless you ask for Nescafe, will be similar to Turkish coffee, served in tiny cups with a thick residue of coffee grains in the bottom. This will also be very sweet unless you ask for only a little or no sugar.
The more traditional Muslims do not drink alcohol although they are tolerant of visitors drinking in moderation. Alcoholic drinks are usually confined to the bars of larger hotels and restaurants and can be very expensive, but limited stocks are now available in some supermarkets. A local beer called Stella, a fairly weak lager, is available in many places as is Stella Export which is stronger and more expensive. Several types of reasonable Egyptian wines are also available, but expensive.
Naturally, bottled water and soft drinks are available everywhere. Try juice stalls on the street where you can get freshly squeezed fruit juices depending on the season for around EGP 6 per glass. Mango, guava, sugarcane, or strawberry are just a few of the many to tempt you on a hot day.
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