Egypt is a country full of culture, history, and great sights and therefore worth a visit. In early 2018, I backpacked Egypt from Cairo along the Nile to the south, to Luxor and Aswan and to the border with Sudan. In the following, I will give you plenty of good reasons why you should visit Egypt as a backpacker. Further, I will tell you more about some of the greatest sights that I saw on my trip as well as important travel tips for your backpacking trip through Egypt.
Reasons why you should go backpacking Egypt
Egypt has long been a popular destination for visitors and backpackers from around the world. The legacy of the vast Egyptian empire, with incredible sights such as the Great Pyramids of Giza and Abu Simbel, has captivated people for centuries. There are few countries in the world that carry a cultural treasure like Egypt. But then came the Arab Spring, followed by far-reaching political turmoil and terrorist attacks in Egypt. Suddenly, the country was no longer considered a practical destination for Europe, but dangerous and unsafe for tourists. The Egyptian revolution is now several years in the past, but still few people dare to go to Egypt – and those who go travel either in guided tour groups or spend their entire holiday in beach resorts on the Red Sea. However, Egypt is also a great destination for backpackers and individual travelers and I can only recommend a backpacking Egypt trip.
Below I would like to give you 6 good reasons why backpacking in Egypt is worthwhile and a great experience!
Backpacking Egypt is unbelievably cheap
Egypt is probably one of the cheapest travel destinations you can find. Here you can spend the night in nice hotels for little money, take cheap transport through the country and enjoy the delicious Egyptian food. Even admission fees are surprisingly cheap – for example, I only paid 2 € to visit the great pyramids of Giza! If you would like to have a guide while visiting some of Egypt’s attractions, then this is not a problem – you can find them right there and for little money they can tell you more about the history and background of the temple ruins and tombs.
Very important: Always bargain! The locals will often tell you hair-raising prices first, but these can be downsized to a fraction. Sometimes it takes some time and requires patience, but it is worth it. For official entrance fees, a student card will provide additional discounts.
You do not want to miss a certain standard on your Egypt backpacking trip? No problem! Due to the rapid slump in the tourism industry, you can stay even in good hotels for very cheap. For example, in Luxor you can get rooms in well-known 4-5 star hotels from as little as 30€ per night! Alternatively, if you’re on a low budget, you can also find rooms in guesthouses for €6-8. There are also hostels – although you do not necessarily need them to save money, you will have the chance to meet other travelers there.
Why is a backpacking Egypt trip so cheap?
Of course, Egypt is a country with a lower standard of living, which automatically makes food and transportation cheap. The reason why all tourism infrastructure such as hotels, souvenirs and guides are so cheap is the rapid decline of tourism after the revolution. The tourism industry was incredibly important to Egypt and a large part of the population – especially in popular destinations such as Luxor – is / was active in tourism. Until the guests stayed away and the fight for (financial and economical) survival started, which pushed prices down.
Egypt is again (relatively) stable and safe for backpackers
I have already mentioned how tourism in Egypt collapsed and succumbed after the revolution. Security concerns are still the main reason that keeps many travelers from backpacking in Egypt.
Now the question arises – is Egypt safe?
This can not be answered clearly – but I can tell you about my personal impression and sense of security. First of all, it can be said that the political revolution is several years ago and the situation has calmed down again.
Unfortunately, there have been terrorist attacks in Egypt in recent years. Sometimes tourist destinations (for example the temples near Luxor) were in focus, but mostly religious institutions – especially churches. The attacks are of course terrible, but the chance of falling victim to them is, rationally, negligible. In addition, most of the attacks on the Sinai Peninsula were far from the tourist centers along the Nile.
Stamping Egypt as completely unsafe or insecure is certainly wrong. As a rule of thumb, the route along the Nile (Cairo, Luxor, Aswan) – and thus the area with the most attractions in Egypt – is considered safe. The desert area (towards Libya) and the Sinai Peninsula (apart from the tourist metropolises on the Red Sea) might better be avoided.
Attention: This is my subjective experience, and of course, with my 10-day backpacking trip to Egypt, I can not completely judge whether Egypt is safe or not. For me personally, Egypt was no more or less dangerous than many other backpacking destinations in the world. However, Egypt’s situation can also change relatively quickly – for better or worse. Read more about safe and responsible travel in this Egypt travel guide!
The sights of Egypt are unique
Egypt has so much to offer backpackers – if you’re into history and culture, you’ll love it. In addition to the famous pyramids of Giza, you can discover countless temple ruins and tombs, visit museums and mosques and get to know the Egyptian culture. The historical and cultural treasures of Egypt are unique and every backpacker should travel to this country at least once in a lifetime.
The land is well developed touristically
Here is another advantage of an Egypt backpacking trip – the country is very well developed for tourism. While you often spend days in crowded buses in other backpacking countries to get ahead, you can travel the Nile relatively easily. The landscape of Egypt is relatively shallow through the Sahara and the railway connects the north of the country with the south. Even if the trip takes a little longer – the trains in Egypt are cheap and convenient. Tickets can be purchased in advance on the official website. Just do not believe the locals who want to convince you that as foreigners, you would have to take the overpriced tourist night train from Cairo to Luxor. This is a classic scam and costs you a multiple of the normal train during the day! Just buy your ticket online and get on the train – bypassing the annoying discussion and rip-offs that may be waiting for you at the ticket counter.
Alternatively, you can also find cheap domestic flights and even a private driver should not cost you too much. You will also find a wide variety of hotels and accommodation in every city, and most people speak English. You see – backpacking Egypt is not that difficult.
Mass tourism avoids Egypt
With all the archaeological treasures, the reasonable prices and the good infrastructure one should think that Egypt is inundated by tour groups and tourists. But this is no longer the case, often because of security concerns. That’s why you will probably experience Egypt as undisturbed as never before.
Of course you will not have the temples and pyramids for you alone, and the popular sights, are still often overcrowded by tourists. However, this was a lot worse a few years ago.
By the way, most of the tourists you meet in Egypt are locals. For example, I have seen almost no other foreigners at the pyramids of Giza! And when I saw (non-) local tourists on my backpacking trip to Egypt, they were mostly of Asian or American origin and part of an organized tour group. I barely met any travelers from Europe.
Of course, the lack of international tourists also has its disadvantage – if you are traveling alone in Egypt as an individual traveler, you probably will not meet other backpackers as quickly and easily as in Southeast Asia. As a result, it may be a bit lonely for solo backpackers in Egypt.
Backpacking Egypt is full of great, different experiences
I have already mentioned the incredible and famous attractions of Egypt. But Egypt has more to offer than “just” temples and pyramids. Because the country is full of great experiences that make your backpacking trip Egypt unforgettable.
In Luxor, for example, you can fly over the Valley of the Kings and the Nile in a hot-air balloon at sunrise – and all this for very little money. There are various tour providers, I decided to go with “Magic Horizon due to their good reviews and security measures.
You want to sail in Aswan with a felucca towards the sunset on the Nile? No problem – the fun costs you only 3€! You like to dive? Then off to the Red Sea, where you can enjoy the incredible underwater world of Egypt.
Backpacking Egypt – Places to Visit in Cairo
• The Pyramids of Giza (Cairo)
The Great Pyramids of Giza are of course the absolute top attraction of Egypt and my expectations were not disappointed. You can reach the pyramids in the best and cheapest way with an Uber. The entrance to the pyramids is very cheap (about 2 €), but if you want to see the pyramids from the inside you have to buy an extra ticket right at the entrance. Everything is very crowded right by the pyramids, but I was surprised to see only a few foreign tourists, most of the other tourists were from Egypt. Of course you will be addressed continuously as everywhere in Egypt the dealers want to sell camel rides, tours, etc.; however, you can also explore the grounds by foot alone.
Highly recommended is the viewpoint behind the pyramids in the desert, which can be reached by foot in 20-30 minutes and from which you have a great panorama of all the pyramids.
• The Muslim Quarter of Cairo and the Al-Hakim Mosque
The Muslim district in Cairo is probably the most interesting sight of Egypt’s capital for me. There are narrow streets, beautiful mosques, colorful markets – everything, with which one associates Egypt! Especially the beautiful Al-Hakim Mosque which is located near the Muslim district in Cairo and which is definitely worth a visit. The mosque is a place of rest and it’s perfect to recover from the noise and stress of Cairo.
• The Citadel of Saladin
Saladin’s impressive Citadel is higher up in historic Cairo and offers great views over the city. The visit is worthwhile especially at sunset. In the Citadel complex, there is also a large and beautiful mosque.
Backpacking Egypt – Places to Visit in Luxor
• A ride in the hot air balloon in Luxor
The best view of Luxor is from the top! A hot air balloon ride was one of my best experiences backpacking Egypt. The flight will start early in the morning and you will enjoy great views of some of Egypt’s best sites, including the Valley of the Kings and the famous Hatshepsut Temple. From above you can see Luxor along the Nile with the green fields around it, as well as the barren and dry Sahara desert right next to it. There are many different providers for a hot air balloon flight in Luxor, I decided, after some research, for Magic Horizon. This company has a lot of positive reviews, nice and competent pilots and I can only recommend them. While other providers already started landing after half an hour, we were almost twice as long in the air with Magic Horizon!
• The Valley of the Kings and Queens in Luxor
On the west side of the Nile at Luxor are the two famous valleys full of burial chambers, of which unfortunately no photographs are allowed. With the entrance to the Valley of the Kings, you can look at 3 burial chambers from inside. In the Valley of the Queens, the tomb of Nefertiti is considered the most beautiful of all tombs – though you have to pay extra, the paintings are so well preserved that it is difficult to imagine that the tomb is several hundred years old. Very important – if you have a student card, take it with you, you get 50% discount everywhere and your budget for backpacking Egypt will be much lower.
• The temples around Luxor
The various temples in and around Luxor are some of the greatest Egyptian sights and worth a visit. Right in the city’s center is the Luxor Temple, which is especially worth a visit at night because of its lighting. Just north of the city center, visit the Karnak Temple, one of the largest temple complexes in the world! On the other side of the Nile, near the Tale of the Kings, is the Hatshepsut Temple walled in the rock, which I was allowed to admire during my hot air balloon ride from above.
Backpacking Egypt – Places to Visit in Aswan
• The Tombs of Aswan
The tombs of Aswan are much worse preserved than the tombs in Luxor, but they are worth the short boat trip to the other side of the Nile and the climb to the graves thanks to the great view. From the top of the sand dunes, you can enjoy an amazing view of Aswan, the Nile, and the Sahara right next to it.
• The Temple of Philae
The Temple of Philae (ISIS Temple) is located just outside of Aswan on an island. The temple complex is beautifully preserved, but I had a not-so-nice experience – the temple is only accessible by boat and I wanted to share the boat with friendly Egyptians. However, this was forbidden because I was a foreigner – I should not share a boat with my friends, but I have to take my own boat (which of course costs twice as much as usual). This brazen rip-off (especially since I already paid a lot more than Egyptians for the temple ticket) left a bitter aftertaste in my backpacking trip in Egypt.
• Abu Simbel
The temple complex of Abu Simbel is far to the south of Egypt, near the border with Sudan and therefore a bit off the beaten track, but worth the visit all the more. Unfortunately, you are dependent on organized tours from Aswan, the early morning start at 5 o’clock and fortunately quite cheap (about 8 euros). In the minivan, it goes through the desert to the south, so that you arrive in the morning, at 8 o’clock, at the Abu Simbel temple. There you have about 2 hours (more than enough) to explore the two temples of Abu Simbel, before returning to Aswan, where you arrive around noon.
The only problem with the tours is that all the tour operators actually arrive at Abu Simbel at the same time and it is extremely crowded at that hour, which makes beautiful photos in front of the temple almost impossible. The alternative is either a private tour at a different time or to spend one night in the village of Abu Simbel to be able to visit the temple flexibly.
Egypt backpacking tips – important information for your Egypt trip
Egypt is a popular holiday destination as the country has a great culture and a wealth of archaeological and historical treasures to offer. Nevertheless, a trip to Egypt can be a challenge as the North African country differs significantly from Europe. Here you’ll find all 13 Egypt backpacking tips, so that nothing more will go wrong during your Egypt adventure.
Egypt backpacking tips #1: Always be prepared for scams
This Egypt travel tip will unfortunately not present the country in the best light – however, it is the most important tip that I can give any tourist in Egypt. And that’s why I start with this one.
Please keep in mind: In most travel guides, you will probably never be able to read the following so open, and I apologize in advance, if some readers are not happy with the following. Please note that I certainly don’t want to generalize a nation as a whole, and if other people had different experiences, please share them. Nevertheless, I see it as my task to inform interested travellers honestly about my subjective experiences.
Let’s get to the point: In no country in the world have I collected so many negative experiences with the locals as in Egypt. I am used to traveling through Asia, South America and Africa, and the typical tourist scams and rip-offs are certainly no surprise to me anymore. However, Egypt was an experience in itself, and nowhere in the world have I seen such pushy and outrageous behavior as in Egypt. Would you like to read a few examples?
A friendly man in Cairo wanted to show me his brother’s shop after a short talk – the beginning of an incredibly brazen and perfectly performed fraud in which the shopkeepers at the end aggressively pushed us to buy papyrus and a “no” was not accepted. At the café in Giza, we were charged €10 for two black coffees – a look at the menu has shown that the honest price of a coffee is around 70ct. A boy in Luxor tried to convince me for 10 minutes that he was “different” as the cheaters and only wants to practice English – after another 5 minutes, he wants to bring me to a “cheap market just around the corner”, that “only open today “. I could not walk five meters through the streets without several locals aggressively selling me their services. A “no” is rarely accepted. The list of my negative experiences is long – and I could go on forever.
And the bad thing – so many people are so extremely friendly in the beginning. They will offer you tea, and of course, they do have a friend in your country of origin, wrapping you up for small talk – until they cheat you mercilessly, and suddenly no trace of friendliness is left. This eventually led to the fact that I did not trust any person I met in Egypt. That was for me, as well as for the many friendly Egyptians who are stigmatized as a whole for the bad experiences which travellers have, incredibly sad.
I hope I did not discourage your travel plans with this honest review of scams in Egypt. You should visit the country in spite of everything – but keep this Egypt backpacking tip in mind and be prepared for scams anytime.
IMPORTANT: This was my subjective experience that I share here. Of course, I do not want to generalize Egypt or all Egyptians and I am sure that many locals are very nice and hospitable. Let me know in the comments how your experiences with the locals in Egypt were.
Travel tips Egypt #2: Get a sim card for mobile internet
As another backpacking Egypt travel tip, I suggest you buy a sim card for mobile internet. This will make many situations easier: You can read about the current sights online, get orientation with a map or use in Cairo Uber. In addition, the Wi-Fi is often slow and unusable bad, while a SIM card for mobile Internet is cheap and convenient. With this travel tip in Egypt you do not have to deal with bad internet anymore.
Backpacking Egypt tips #3: Inform yourself about the Egypt visa
If you travel to Egypt for holiday, you need a visa. You can buy this directly at the airport or in advance (depending on your nationality). I have written down all the information in detail in my post about the Egypt visa (in German).
Backpacking tips Egypt #4: Travel by train through the country
The train is the best way to travel along the Nile across the country. Alternatively, you can travel by bus or domestic flights in Egypt. However, this might be not very comfortable or expensive.
My tip for your backpacking holiday in Egypt is therefore to use the train if possible. By train, you can easily get from Cairo to Alexandria, Luxor and Aswan. The trains are comfortable, you can buy snacks and even hot food and enjoy the view.
Important travel tips for the Cairo Luxor night train in Egypt
Locals will tell you at the train station when buying tickets that you can not take a day train from Cairo to Luxor – because there is an overpriced night train for tourists on this route. This is one of the typical tourist rip-offs you should be prepared for in Egypt. While you only pay a few euros (even for the best class) for the train from Cairo to Luxor or Aswan during the day, the night train will cost you an outrageous $80 – therefore, ten times of the day price!
You may not be able to buy tickets at the ticket counter for the day train. Nevertheless, you can take this train without any problems. Buy your train tickets either online at the official website, get tickets from your hotel, use a ticket machine at the station or, if necessary, get on the train without a ticket and buy it directly from the conductor (people have done this before without issues). The overpriced Cairo Luxor night train can therefore be avoided.
Egypt travel tips #5: Visit famous sights very early – it can get crowded
Egypt is no longer as popular as a tourist destination as before 2011 – the political revolution and terrorist attacks in recent years keep many people from visiting Egypt. Unfortunately, you still will not have the beautiful attractions in Egypt for you alone – since besides internationals, there are also many local tourists visiting the highlights of their country. As an Egypt holiday travel tip, I recommend you arrive very early at the sights to avoid the tourist crowds.
Travel tips for backpacking Egypt #6: Use local guides
Often you will find only a few information boards and descriptions at the Egyptian sights, such as at the temple ruins of Luxor or in the Egyptian museum in Cairo. The abundance of archaeological treasures can be dazzling and without background information, it will be difficult for you to understand and classify all these attractions. Therefore, it is advisable to take a local guide if you are interested to learn more. The local guides can be found at the entrance of each attraction and will offer you their service here. My travel tip for your backpacking Egypt trip is to take advantage of this offer (at least now and then). With a bit of negotiating skills you can learn a lot about the history and culture of Egypt for little money.
Backpacking Egypt tips #7: Buy a good guidebook
As mentioned above, in Egypt it will sometimes be difficult to find up-to-date information and explanations about the sights and attractions. Here it is worthwhile to have a good Egypt travel guide on your vacation. You will find all the information about the history, the sights, the culture as well as recommended hotels and restaurants in Egypt.
Egypt travel tip #8: Be confident and determined
As already described, you will probably be confronted with some unsightly and stressful situations on your backpacking trip to Egypt. Therefore, an important travel tip for Egypt: Occur self-confidently and determined. Of course, you should always be polite – but if you are too polite and good-natured, you will mercilessly fall victim to the typical scams. Negotiate the price of everything before buying, be direct and determined. What if the guide or taxi driver suddenly wants to have more money? Say confidently “no” and do not engage in any further discussions. Someone want to take you to a store where you have no interest in? Refuse, thankfully, but determined. Never let yourself be persuaded or pushed to anything. The scammers are professionals in their work, they can be incredibly trustworthy and friendly – and have great skills to scam and rip-off unsuspecting tourists.
Backpacking Egypt tip #9: Negotiate every price in Egypt
Egypt is incredibly cheap – but only if you do it right. Many tourists often fall for those rip-offs and happily pay a multiple of the normal price. For your holiday in Egypt, I recommend you always negotiate – for the taxi ride, the souvenir purchase, sometimes the entrance fees and possibly even in restaurants and hotels (if you feel that you got charged too much). Bargaining and haggling may seem strange, exhausting and rude to Europeans – in Egypt (as well as in many other countries) it is completely normal. Therefore, every purchase takes a bit of times and sometimes you need lots of patience if your negotiator is stubborn. But it will be part of backpacking Egypt.
Egypt backpacking tips #10: Use Uber in Cairo
Especially the huge metropolis of Cairo can be overwhelming for visitors – the heat, the noise, the busy streets, the traffic chaos. On foot you will not get around here, and taxi drivers will try to rip you off. I recommend that you get Uber on your mobile phone and order your transport via the app. Like this, the route is accurately documented and the amount to pay is automatically determined – therefore, you pay the fair price and get safely to the destination. This tip will save you a lot of trouble during when backpacking in Egypt.
Backpacking travel tips Egypt #11: Pay attention to hygiene
Since Egypt is still underdeveloped, hygiene is not necessarily a priority here. Personally, I did not have any problems with food in Egypt, but you should be careful. I recommend having a hand sanitizer with you if there is no soap. I enjoyed street food without any problems, but it makes sense to keep your eyes open – do the locals eat there too? Then hygiene and food quality are good. Always look closely at how the locals behave – with this travel tip you may avoid stomach problems in Egypt. By the way, you should not drink tap water – but it is fine to brush your teeth and wash your face.
Egypt holiday tips #12: Respect the culture of Egypt
Egypt is Muslim and therefore very conservative. As a further travel tip for Egypt, I urge you to respect the culture and religion of Egypt as a visitor. As a woman you should therefore not wear short clothes and cover shoulders and legs. It is also worth having a sarong, for example, if you visit a mosque. If you travel to Egypt with your better half, I advice to not show any public affection when visiting Egypt – since this would be very unfamiliar to the locals. Political and religious discussions with locals should better be avoided as well.
Egypt travel tip #13: Get recent information about the current Egypt security situation
Let’s face it – unfortunately, Egypt is not the most stable country in the world. However, it is also wrong to portray the country as completely insecure and inaccessible. Egypt fell into turbulent times in 2011 as a result of the revolution, but the situation has calmed down considerably in the meantime. The risk of falling victim to a terrorist attack is statistically and rationally incredibly low and probably no higher than in Paris or London. Nevertheless, you should avoid certain regions in Egypt – this includes the Sahara towards Libya and the overland journey through the Sinai Peninsula. Before your backpacking holiday in Egypt, I give you the tip to further read current information from travellers to be well prepared.
I hope my Egypt holiday tips could help you prepare for your trip. Egypt is a worth seeing and rewarding destination that you definitely should not miss. And with my Egypt travel tips, nothing should go wrong!
Conclusion for backpacking in Egypt
As you can see, backpacking Egypt is definitely worth it. Have you backpacked around Egypt already? Which attraction impressed you the most? What was your overall experience? Let me know!
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