Mobile phones
Getting around

Part 1: Introduction

25.12: Munich -> Cairo -> Alexandria
26.12: Alexandria
27.12: Alexandria -> El Alamein -> Siwa
28.12: Siwa
29.12: Siwa -> Marsa Matrouh
30.12: Marsa Matrouh -> Luxor via Alexandria and Cairo
31.12: Luxor
01.01: West Bank -> Nile river -> Luxor
02.01: Abydos, Dendera, Luxor
03.01: Luxor -> Edfu -> Kom Ombo -> Assuan
04.01: Assuan
05.01: Assuan -> Abu Simbel
06.01: Abu Simbel -> Cairo
07.01: Cairo, Sakkara, Memphis
08.01: Cairo -> Munich

Overview and overall impression
After visits in 20012003 and a brief one in 2010 to the Sinai this has been our fourth trip to Egypt. This time we have visited some places where we haven't been before such as Siwa, Alexandria, the Mediterranean coast, Dendera and Abydos and again the classical sights of the upper Nile river valley. We have limited our time in Cairo to just a bit over a day, due to the current unrest situation, to minimise the risk of running into problems should anything have happened.
In Alexandria and Siwa the level of hassle was very low, actually almost non-existent, while in the tourist hotspots of Cairo and the upper Nile river valley the hassle was very bad.
We only spent two days in Siwa, and noticed that it's a very scenic place with plenty of things to see and do. The best time for visiting is probably spring or autumn, when it is warm enough to swim in the lakes but still not too hot.
Alexandria was a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand the setting on the Mediterranean is very cool and there is practically no hassle because very few tourists get lost there. On the other hand from an architectural point of view the city is a mess, with that horrible wall of skyscrapers along the waterfront and that impassable corniche road, always congested with traffic and difficult to cross. Alexandria could be a pearl of a city, but right now it is quite messy and dirty.
The Mediterranean coast surprised us with its beautiful white sand beaches and clear turquoise waters. Again here there is the problem that large stretches of this coast have been developed with apartment complexes, hotels and marinas. This must be a busy place in summer.
Concerning the upper Nile river valley, Luxor and Aswan have breathtaking ancient Egypt sights and the Nile river is very scenic, especially in Aswan. However the level of hassle is very high, in some spots almost unbearable, with very persistent and sticky people trying to sell you goods and services and refusing to leave even after multiple 'No's. In Aswan the taxi drivers even started fighting for us among themselves.
Perhaps the fact that we were visiting in a phase of unrest, in which fewer tourists were coming to Egypt played a role. The local people, faced with fewer tourists, were probably fighting more hard to earn some money.
We noticed that things become more relaxed if you don't bargain everything down to the last piastre and allow people to earn some money and give them some tips. It helps if you travel to Egypt on a not very tight budget.

Costs have risen compared to the trips of the last years. This was partly due to us travelling more comfortably in chartered minivans, as opposed to buses and taxis over the past years.
However the entry fees for the various sights have really skyrocketed over the past years. The ticket for the Abu Simbel temple has gone up from 36 EGP in 2003 to 95 EGP in 2011, while at the same time the exchange rate of the Euro to the EGP has stayed constant at around 7.8 EGP/Euro.
Either Egypt has a skyrocketing inflation or Egyptians have take over the very bad habit of squeezing the largest amount of money possible from the tourists.
Reminds me a bit of the situation at the Taj Mahal in India, where local authorities had increased the ticket prices for foreign tourists to astronomical levels before being forced to backpedal in face of complaints.
There is a big disparity on prices in Egypt. A restaurant meal in Egypt can be even more expensive than in Germany, but on the other day you can buy a pack of nuts from a streets seller for almost nothing. In Siwa we had a delicious lunch for five in a restaurant for just 79 EGP, then paid 400 EGP for a dinner for two in a hotel restaurant the other day. You have to compare prices and bargain.

Travelling with two Asian ladies and the kids, we didn't experiment too much, but then we could only find Chinese or Asian restaurants in Cairo and Luxor.
Since we were quite frequently on the move, getting from one place to the next, we ended up eating in a number of Egyptian places, where we found good food.
We enjoyed the Egyptian salads (which probably help if you suffer from constipation - just joking) and these Egyptian soups.
The hotel area in Luxor has a number of good international restaurants (the best we tried was the pizza roma.it Italian restaurant). Aswan does not have nearly as many international restaurants, but some Egyptian restaurants along the Corniche are good.

Travelling as a large group and sometimes arriving late in the evenng, we prebooked all places to avoid having to look for accomodation after a tiring travel day. Prices ranged from 30 to 60 Euro/day for a midrange double room with breakfast, depending on location.
Accomodation in Abu Simbel was overpriced, and we found the best value in Cairo.

Money  / Exchange rate (December 2011)
1 Euro = 7.8  LE (Egyptian pounds)
1 Euro = 1.30 USD
For current exchange rates check the Universal Currency Converter.

ATMs are everywhere, so that you can easily get cash with a Cirrus/Maestro ATM card. You won't need traveller cheques.

We had a problem with an ATM in Cairo airport, where everything went smooth, even the receipt confirming the transaction (2000 EGP) came out, but no cash. Later the amount was charged to our bank account in Germany. After calling our bank the amount was refunded to us. Somehow our bank was able to detect that no money had come out of the ATM.

Mobile phones and prepaid cards
This time we purchased Mobinil SIM cards when we arrived at Cairo airport. The price was 15 EGP for the card + the airtime (we bought 100 EGP of airtime which was more than enough for the entire trip). Local phone calls cost less than 1 EGP/minute, international calls to Europe and Asia were around 2-3 EGP/minute.
We used the SIM cards to access the Internet (see below).
Coverage with Mobinil was good in most places where we stayed. 3G was available everywhere, except in the more remote places.


Internet access
This time we used exclusively mobile networks to access the Internet. Smartphones (Samsung Galaxy Ace and Galaxy S2) made Internet access easy and uncomplicated. To access the Internet with the notebook computer we set up the smartphones as mobile hotspots (tethering mode).

In addition, due to the big screens of these smartphones (the S2 has a 4.3" screen) and good browsers, it was feasible to access the Internet and read emails using the smartphones instead of having to use the computer.

This made travelling easier, because now it was possible to spread the Internet use (news reading, bookings, emails etc.) over the day, instead of having to wait for the evening, as we always did in the past, when we would be in the hotel.
We were therefore able to save a lot of time, because we could spread these 1-2 hours of evening Internet access over the entire day using the idle time when we were travelling in the car to some place.

We purchased data packages from Mobinil (60 EGP for 1 GB of data) which were more than enough for these two weeks. It's also possible to purchase just a 20 EGP package.

We didn't bother looking for WLAN hotspots in hotels this time.


It rained the first day in Alexandria, then was sunny and dry with blue skies all the time. A bit cold in northern Egypt (we had to wear jackets all the time), warmer in the upper Nile valley (at noon you could even walk around with a T-shirt in Luxor).
Definitely too cold to swim in an outdoor pool.

Health / Vaccinations
None required for Egypt.

VISA / Entry requirements
We bought a 15 USD visa stamp upon arrival in Cairo airport. Shirley, having a Malaysian passport didn't need to buy a visa stamp (commonwealth countries regulation).
Nationals of other, less developed countries, might perhaps need to arrange a visa before arriving to Egypt.

That was the key issue of this visit to Egypt, because there was some uncertainty regarding the political situation and the level of unrest we would experience. Given that I was travelling with my wife, her sister and two small kids I could not afford to take big risks.
In fact, in the office people were joking that I'm the one who likes to travel to the problematic areas (with a reference to my trip to Iran last August).
Due to these security concerns we limited our time in Cairo to just above one day.
In practice we didn't experience any problems whatsoever in Egypt. We never were in a critical or unsafe situation. Despite all the news in the press, travelling across Egypt was as safe as ever.
I had a feeling that I could trust the people I met in Egypt. We used to charter taxis to do most of the overland travel and always used new people in different locations. These people were always friendly and professional, and were always trying to please us. Perhaps we were lucky, but in all these randomly chosen taxi drivers we found no bad apples.
The last day in Cairo we even left all our luggage to a taxi driver to guard for us, while we were shopping in a big shopping mall.
Supposedly after the revolution things in Egypt have become more chaotic and there has been an increase in criminality. But we didn't notice anything regarding this and felt safe all the time.

Recommended things
  • Siwa was the positive surprise of this trip. A laid-back place with almost no hassle, beautiful scenery, lots of things to see and do.
  • The Mediterrean coast is amazing, with beautiful white sand beaches and clear, turquoise seawater.
  • Despite all hassle and high ticket prices the tombs of the Valley of the Kings are breathtaking. So is also the temple in Abu Simbel. 
  • We didn't do it, but the desert trip from the Siwa to Bahariya oasis must be an amazing thing.

Things to avoid
We don't have much negative to report, because we carefully planned this trip and selected all places to visit. However here are some things you should be aware of:
  • The desert trip around Siwa was expensive. We only took the offer of the Siwa Safari Gardens hotel because we had no time to shop around in Siwa. In addition, the owner of the Siwa Safari Gardens hotel did not inform us before the trip of a socalled "military permit fee" of 55 EGP/person which made the trip even more expensive. I'm still wondering if he cheated us here.
  • Alexandria was a bit of a mixed bag. Cool setting along the Mediterranean, otherwise the city is pretty much horrible with that endless jungle of ugly skyscrapers along the waterfront. However friendly people and very little hassle, because few tourists get lost there.
  • The temple in Abydos is very interesting, but it takes over three hours of driving to get there from Luxor.
  • The hassle in Luxor and Aswan is very bad, but there is no way to avoid it if you want to visit these places.

Getting around
We chartered minivans with driver for all the overland travelling within Egypt. Prices ranged from 350 EGP to 600 EGP for every 300 km, in a comfortable minivan with a good driver.
We pondered in the planning phase whether to rent a car for the whole trip or not, but gave up on the idea since renting a car in Egypt is very expensive.
For the long transfers between Cairo/Alexandria and Luxor/Abu Simbel we used Egyptair flights.
Egyptair is not a very reliable company. Both flights we took were delayed by three hours.

Copyright 2012 Alfred Molon