Travel in Egypt
Egypt is one of the oldest destinations for tourism in the world. People have been visiting the tombs, temples and monuments of Egypt's Pharaohs since ancient times and although tourism has been up and down in the last decade it is slowly returning to full flow. Covering more than one million square kilometres Egypt is huge and with more than 100 million people it counts as the most populous nation in the Middle East too. A regional leader in many fields with a strong cultural influence across the wider region Egypt is a place of the present and similarly one that remains deeply connected to its past. The civilisations of the Pharaohs define what Egypt is for many outsiders and remain central to the identity Egypt projects about itself to the wider world but Egypt is and always has been about more. From early ages to the present day, it has been one of the great meeting grounds of the Middle East for nomadic peoples. The Sinai is one of the great Bedouin homelands of the Middle East, with most of its tribes tracing their origins to the Arabian Peninsula. Egypt's Eastern Desert is home to Bedouin tribes of both Arab descent and those of African origins and on Egypt's western side are tribes of both Arab and Amazigh origins too. Egypt has a uniquely rich nomadic past and present that remains almost entirely overlooked today and walking the Bedouin Trail will show the country through a new lens, giving an insight into both its extraordinary nomadic heritage and the way settled and nomadic peoples have interacted to shape the nation into what it is. Egypt may feel chaotic in a way Jordan and other parts of the Middle East do not but travel is still mostly easy; public transport runs widely, accommodation can be found all over and Egyptians are famously welcoming to guests. Travel here is fun, interesting and never bland.
Getting to Egypt
Getting to Egypt is easy. Direct international flights run to Cairo and airports across Egypt from Europe, the Middle East and most of the wider world. Hurghada and Sharm el Sheikh will be the two most important airports for hikers on the Bedouin Trail, either as points of arrival or departure. Luxor has an airport but it handles mostly domestic flights within Egypt. Daily ferry services run to both Nuweiba and Taba in the Sinai from Jordan, offering an overseas route to Egypt over the Gulf of Aqaba. Egypt also has an international border with Eilat in Israel that operates 24/7, opening an alternative overland route to the country from Aqaba. Mainland Egypt is served by international ferry routes connecting the town of Duba in Saudi Arabia with Hurghada and Safaga.
Visas for Egypt
Most visitors to Egypt will need a tourist visa. Visas can be purchased on arrival and will be sold at foreign exchange bank windows near the passport control points. They cost USD25 and payment must be made in a foreign currency, like USD or EUROS. Tourist visas are valid for 30 days and can be renewed in Sharm el Sheikh, Hurghada or Luxor. Visitors entering the Sinai via Israel at the Eilat-Taba border or through the Taba marina from Aqaba must be aware full Egyptian tourist visas are not issued at either. The Taba borders issue 14 day stamps covering travel only on the Sinai's Gulf of Aqaba coast. These visas can not be used in mainland Egypt. Anybody crossing the Taba border should purchase an Egyptian visa online or at the Egyptian consulate in Aqaba before travel.
Phone & internet
A phone connection and access to the internet makes travel much more easy in Egypt. Egyptian SIM cards can be purchased from Vodafone, Orange, Etisalat and WE. Each company has stalls in the arrival halls of all Egypt's airports, meaning SIM cards can be purchased quickly and easily on arrival. Otherwise, small mobile phone shops selling SIM cards can be found in most villages and towns. Vodafone generally has the best connectivity on the Red Sea Mountain Trail and Sinai Trail. In the bigger towns or the Nile Valley there is little to choose between any service provider. Passports and visas must be shown when purchasing a SIM and phone lines will end on the date a visa finishes. Pay-as-you-go credit is best for short term phone usage and can be recharged easily.
Travel insurance is recommended for all hikers traversing the Bedouin Trail. In the event of emergency hospital treatment being required, medical bills can be ruinously high. The best option is to buy a specialist outdoors insurance policy that covers at a minimum hiking and scrambling and perhaps rock climbing, abseiling, 4x4 travel and camel riding too. Air rescue is unlikely to happen in Egypt but they can be fixed in Jordan so it is worth getting this in the coverage. Get generous medical allowances and read the small print carefully, ensuring activities are covered at altitudes up to 3000m. Hikers will reach a maximum height of 2642m on Jebel Katherina's summit on the Sinai Trail. On the Red Sea Mountain Trail hikers will climb Jebel Shayib el Banat's 2187m peak.
Pharmacies are widespread in Egypt and are generally well-stocked with first aid supplies and most kinds of medication. Medication will be either imported or made in Egypt to the same chemical formula and most can be purchased over the counter, without a prescription. Good medical facilities are found in Egypt's bigger towns. The best hospitals in Hurghada are the Nile Hospital, Red Sea Hospital and Aseel Medical Care Hospital and in Sharm el Sheikh, the Sharm International Hospital, Misr Hospital and Sinai Clinic Hospital. In Luxor, the Luxor International Hospital is the best. Hospitals in smaller villages and towns such as Nuweiba or St Katherine will have much more basic standards of care. Egypt has many excellent dentists, which can be found in every major town.
As with any country, Egypt has its own norms and customs. Egyptians are good humoured and will tolerate misunderstandings but it is nevertheless advisable to be aware of a few key things. Religion is a sensitive spot and should not be joked about. Talk about it in the most respectful way. Women should cover hair inside a mosque and everybody must remove shoes. Ask permission before taking photographs and be aware women should generally not be photographed at all. Use your right hand when eating; the left is considered unclean. Showing the soles of your feet or shoes to someone is a sign of disrespect so kneel or sit cross legged. When entering a home or a tent remove shoes and always stand up to greet new arrivals who enter.
An extensive public transport network covers most parts of Egypt. Trains run the Nile Valley between Cairo and Aswan, giving a beautiful, slow way to travel. Public buses run all over with the East Delta Bus Company operating services between Sharm el Sheikh, Dahab, Nuweiba and Taba in the Sinai. Going between Sharm and Cairo, Cairo and Hurghada, or Luxor and Hurghada, GO BUS is the best option for travel by bus, offering several classes of bus from basic, no-frills options to so-called VIP services with big, reclining chairs, back-of-the-seat TVs and a meal service. Sharm el Sheikh and Hurghada were once linked by a ferry service that is currently suspended but which may soon return. Egypt Air runs flights between different towns and taxis can be used for long-distance travel too.
Renewing a visa
Visitors who want to extend a one month tourist visa can do so for upto six months at visa offices in Sharm el Sheikh, Hurghada and Luxor, known locally as the 'jawazat'. The cost is EGP1710 and the process takes two weeks, involving two separate visits to the office: the first to complete the paperwork and the second to sign off a small plastic ID card, which counts as the visa extension. Egyptian authorities generally allow tourists to overstay one month visas by two weeks without penalty fees, giving six weeks in-country if required so consider if a renewal is necessary or not. To renew, you will need to complete an application form and submit two up-to-date passport photos, plus photocopies of your passport ID page and your most recent entry stamp into Egypt.
Money & payment
Egyptian currency is the Egyptian pound (EGP) or 'ginay'; each pound is divided into 100 'piastres'. Wait until you arrive to exchange money. Exchange rates are better. Foreign exchange counters operate 24/7 in Egyptian airports and most towns have banks. ATMs are widespread in major towns but many restrict travellers to daily withdrawal limits of EGP4000. Card payments are commonly accepted in Jordan but it is different in Egypt, except at high end hotels and cafes. Egypt remains mostly a cash economy, especially in Bedouin areas. There is a chronic shortage of small change too so hoard whatever EGP5, 10, 20 and 50 notes you acquire when you can. Tips or 'baksheesh' are generally expected and if you are happy with a service 10-15% is normal.
Vaccinations for Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Tetanus, Typhoid, Polio and Rabies are recommended for travel in Egypt. Check your vaccinations are up to date, getting any boosters that may be required. If you have not been vaccinated against Rabies be aware it is usually administered as a course of three injections over one month, setting enough time aside before travel. Even then be aware that it will not buy total immunity; it is a pre-exposure vaccine only buying time to get to a hospital. Whilst vaccination is not compulsory hikers visiting remote areas should consider all, especially Rabies. Whilst dogs near Bedouin camps in Egypt are not such a problem as they are in Jordan, Egypt has plenty of stray dogs and cats that might be Rabies carriers too.
Women travellers will face extra pressures in Egypt, especially in urban areas. Sexual harassment is common and comes in many forms, from comments to catcalls and sometimes physical contact. Generally, it is best to dress conservatively, covering arms to the wrists and legs to the ankles. Some women say wearing a headscarf helps, but others report harassment whatever their dress. Women walking desert sections of the Bedouin Trail should not have any concerns. Bedouin in these regions are generally respectful - much more than townfolk - and knowing they will be held accountable by others in the tribe in the event of any incident is a strong, additional safeguard. Only the best, most trusted and respectful Bedouin guides will work on the Bedouin Trail in Egypt.
Safety & security
Some parts of Egypt have seen serious unrest since the Arab Spring of 2011, including small pockets of North Sinai. It is hard to give a definitive answer about how safe Egypt is as things can change quickly. Nevertheless, it can be said with evidence that the unrest peaked a few years ago and for the last few years no attacks have been seen in tourist regions. The rugged, interior parts of the Sinai and Red Sea Mountains have never seen a terrorist attack on tourists. Bedouin tribes control their lands closely and take the leading role in policing who is there and keeping them safe. Anybody travelling with the Bedouin in Egypt has strong protection. Nevertheless, hikers should consult a range of sources and speak to people on the ground to make their own decision.