Egypt’s Mediterranean coast can be cool, but the rest of the country is sizzling hot, especially in the summer. Be prepared to sweat – the desert is hot and arid.
When to fly to Egypt
As the heat of the summer can be unbearable, the peak season for travel to Egypt is between October and May. This time is especially appealing to many European travellers as they can jump on a short flight to Egypt and escape the winter months of their own country. Hotels will often be fully booked and prices rise during this time of year.
The least popular time to visit is during the hottest months – for good reason. However, if you plan on travelling during this time, some real bargains can be found. Avoid the southern parts, however, and stick to the coast, where breezes from the sea keep the thermometer lower. The other advantage of visiting during this time is the increased peace and quiet to be found at major tourist sites.
The month of Ramadan is often less popular with Western visitors. Many restaurants will close down for the month and alcohol is much less widely available. The up-side is that this can be another perfect time to see more of the country and its people, and less of your fellow tourists.
Spring time, between March and April, is one of the best times to visit. The weather is still very warm, but has not yet reached summertime peaks, and the tourists are dwindling off from peak season. The Khamsin wind blows in from the desert between this time, however. It is a spectacularly powerful wind that can reach 150kmph. It normally blows for a few days only, so you can either try to avoid it, or simply bunker down and enjoy the spectacle…
Getting around Egypt
Domestic Egypt flights are readily available and can save a lot of time, though they are certainly not the cheapest means of getting around. Egypt Air, the national carrier, flies domestically.
Public transport is good throughout the country. Trains are reliable and safe and the rail network connects most towns. Surprisingly, however, this can be the slowest method of transport – particularly for short journeys where buses will almost always be quicker. If you are travelling long distances by train, make sure you get the fast non-stop air-conditioned wagons, rather than the slower stopping local trains.
Buses are also reliable and cheaper than trains. The network is excellent – almost anywhere you could want to go will be covered.
Service taxis, known as servees, are popular and common. Often Peugeot saloons, the large taxis will pick up passengers from popular spots, such as train stations and only depart when full – often with a dozen people in. They are an inexpensive way to travel and usually safe, but you will have little control about when you leave or how long it takes to get to your destination.
Egypt insider information
- Egypt brings one thing to mind immediately – the Great Pyramids. It is likely that everyone visiting the country will want to see the Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx. In order to avoid the bulk of the crowds, as well as the heat of the day, try and visit as early as possible in the day: 8am is ideal, but definitely aim to get there before midday. Additionally, tickets for the Great Pyramid are limited to 300 a day, so arriving early should ensure you get one.
- Taking money to any country in Africa can be a dilemma. Is it wiser to carry travellers cheques, local currency or change it when you get there? Facilities for changing money are good in Egypt, and exchange rates are often considerably better than they would be at home, so it is well worth considering changing your currency once you've arrived. However, be aware that banks are not open for the hours as you might expect. Most are closed on Friday and Saturday, though open on Sundays. Working hours are usually 8am-2pm. If you’re stuck at other times, search out a big international hotel, which will often contain money-changing facilities (though for unappealing rates).
- One of the best places for swimming or snorkelling in Egypt is at Marsa Alam, on the Red Sea. Until recently, Marsa Alam was a small fishing village, but it has increasingly become a popular resort with those wanting to avoid the tourists of the North. As it is one of the more recent developments for tourists, it’s easy to find good eco-lodges and camps in which to stay. The Wadi el Gamal coast area is a national park, which means the mangroves, palm trees, coral reef and dolphins are all protected by the preservation area. Holiday here with a clearer conscience.
- Lake Nasser in southern Egypt is the largest man-made lake in the world. Two towns by the lake are especially worth visiting: Abu Simbel and Aswan. It’s easiest to stay in Aswan and take a day-trip (or longer) to Abu Simbel. Connection is easy by plane, or by a very early morning bus. The latter takes longer, but does mean you can see the sun rise over the desert.
- If you're searching for accommodation in Egypt, a popular site for user reviews is Trivago. Take a look at the page on hotels in Aswan.