The Nile, pharaohs, and gods. Egypt is a country with an amazing history, unbelievable architecture, and one of the most famous wonders in the world – the Great Pyramid of Giza. What's more, the friendly nature and warm hearts of the people living in this country makes it easy to see why Egypt is such a popular travel destination.
With over 95 million inhabitants, Egypt is densely populated in the cities. Situated in North-East Africa, it is tucked between Libya and Sudan and overlooks the Mediterranean and Red Seas.
It has a recorded history dating back to between the 4th and 6th millennia BCE and offers tourists an opportunity to experience the past in the present.
Here are a few must-know facts about Egypt:
Currency: Egyptian pound (EGP) E£
Official Languages: Egyptian Arabic
Cairo is not only the capital of Egypt, but also the capital of Egyptian history. As the 15th biggest city in the world, Cairo has a lot to offer tourists, from ancient sites to a modern metropolis.
Cairo is the economic hub of the country with many international businesses and industries present. It also has the world's second-oldest surviving university, Al-Azhar.
This megacity has a population of over 9 million and has one of the busiest metros in the world, with over 1 billion annual passengers. So, if you're looking for a vibrant and energetic holiday filled with culture, new faces, and new places, Cairo is certainly the right choice.
Almost everyone has, at some point, heard about Egypt's history and legends, such as the pharaohs, Cleopatra, and the mighty sphinxes.
Rock carvings found along the Nile provide evidence of the hunter-gatherer civilisations that lived there before the grain-grinding culture took over in the 10th millennium BCE. Egyptian hieroglyphic inscriptions on pottery vessels first appeared around 3200 BCE. These showcased the predynastic period, before the unified kingdom of King Menes in 3150 BCE.
During this time, Egyptian culture flourished and brought forth what we see today as ancient Egyptian arts, religion, language, and culture.
Probably the most popular destination for anyone visiting Egypt is the famous pyramids on the outskirts of Cairo. Located in Giza, these monuments are among the largest structures ever built, with the Pyramid of Khufu in Giza standing 146.7 meters tall.
Built as tombs for Egyptian pharaohs, they house artefacts dating back to the time they ruled. The earliest known Egyptian pyramids are situated in the northwest of Memphis in Saqqara (a vast, ancient burial ground). They are thought to date back to between 2630 and 2610 BCE.
Tip: The pyramids are among Instagram and Google's most noted photo hotspots of the world. Snapping a selfie with them in the background is a good idea, as long as you don't mind the crowd of other tourists in your photo!
Some of Egypt's many other attractions include:
If you plan to stay in a metro area like Cairo, you'll easily secure an Airbnb or a hotel room. Due to the high demand for accommodation in Egypt, it is wise to search and book months before you set off.
Hostels are also a popular form of accommodation, with thousands of backpackers travelling the country each year.
Tip: Research your accommodation. Read customer reviews before booking and paying. Due to the continued influx of tourism in Egypt, many opportunistic scammers have started advertising false accommodation.
Considering the climate of Egypt is mostly hot and dry desert, one would be surprised to find snorkelling on the list of adventurous activities. However, diving and snorkelling is immensely popular in Egypt as the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea are home to plenty of marine life.
Tip: Shark attacks are rare in these regions but are not unheard of. Stay updated through local authorities on the levels of danger and where it is best to swim.
Another adventurous activity is quad biking. The desert dunes offer the perfect setting for a fun-filled day, and there are several quad bike rental agencies offering trips and hourly rentals.
If you would rather indulge in the historical side of Egypt, you can find informative tour guide packages online to take you through cities such as Cairo and Luxor.
Tip: There are multiple tour guides for nearly every region in Egypt. Ensure you get a knowledgeable and experienced guide by researching online and opt for those that come highly recommended.
The weather in Egypt is, as you would expect, sunny. Above-average temperatures are common in this hot and dry climate, with the heat reduced slightly by cool winds blowing from the north over the Mediterranean. The nights, however, can be much cooler as temperatures can drop quickly.
There is some rainfall, most notably during the winter months and in the northern regions. Some snowfall can be seen on the Sinai Mountains and the northern coastal cities during winter, but it is rare.
Tip: Pack a jacket and scarf, as well as something to protect your head and face from sand and wind. Although it's one of the warmest places on earth, the temperatures can feel surprisingly cold at night if the wind picks up.
The cuisine in Egypt is typically the traditional food from the Eastern Mediterranean region. Expect dishes made from rice, vegetables, and exotic, flavourful spices. Among the many traditional cuisines is ful medames, a dish of fava beans cooked with vegetable oil, cumin, garlic, lemon juice, and parsley, served with boiled eggs.
Local breads come in the form of thick pitas called eish baladi. This side dish is a common sight among the working class. So too is the amazing selection of cheeses, which, unbeknown to many, are considered to have originated from this region around 3000 BC.
Another unique and delicious treat is Hamam mahshi, rice or green wheat and herb-stuffed pigeon that is first boiled then roasted or grilled. Kofta is also a must-try dish, consisting of spiced mincemeat rolled into finger shapes and grilled over charcoal.
You'll even find other traditional Mediterranean influences in the food. Try macaroni bechamel, a dish consisting of penne pasta made in a bechamel sauce (usually made with a fat, like butter, flour and milk) with onions, tomato paste, and slowly fried ground beef.
If you're in the mood for something less traditional, you will find many international fast food franchises in major cities such as Cairo.
Egypt has a recent history of political unrest and terrorist encounters. The crime rate is low in relation to many other African countries, but crime is still present, so be aware of yourself and your surroundings at all times.
Tip: Avoid using public transport late at night and stay in groups. Make sure you keep your personal belongings like passports and cash safely on your person or locked away at your accommodation.
There are various ways to enter the country – flying, sailing, or driving. Most South Africans enter via plane or boat. South Africans do require a visa before entering Egypt. Known as Easy Visas, you can apply for one online.
Transport information – into, out of, and within Egypt:
Egypt has four international airports, with the biggest being in Cairo. The others are in Hurghada, Borg El Arab, and Luxor. Most major airlines frequently fly to and from Cairo International Airport, and for domestic flights, the country has its own national airline, Egypt Air.
Planning to drive during your stay? There are several car rental agencies in the metros offering daily rental deals. Ensure you have the right driving permit before setting off. The International Driving Permit is a driver's licence, but is also a legal proof of identification when travelling abroad and needing to rent a car.
The public transport in Egypt is quite extensive. The most popular and affordable mode of transport is the micro-bus system. There are also countless cabs, taxis, and Ubers readily available.
Egypt is a popular destination for cruise ships sailing through the Mediterranean Sea. For a quick and affordable trip around the region, the Nile ferry is popular with tourists.