Over the last few years no other country has suffered more from a downturn in tourism than Egypt. Due to various issues including the Arab Spring, various foreign Government travel warnings and suicide bombings, many foreign nationals have stayed away, however this is now starting to change.
Although last year visitor numbers were down by 27% last year (Source: The Guardian), indications for this year show tourism is now finally starting to pick up. This will be a huge relief for locals and those involved in the tourism industry, many of who previously lost their jobs as a result of the downturn.
It would now seem like the perfect time to go and enjoy the magic of Egypt.
When I was a child I learned about Ancient Egypt at school, it was often referred to as the magical, mysterious land far, far away. For years I’d dreamed of visiting the temples, tombs and pyramids for myself, but in 2012 I finally booked my dream holiday.
From the moment I stepped off the plane I was inspired and couldn’t wait to explore the ancient landscape.
Egypt on a budget?
Many people from the UK often don’t visit countries outside of Europe; they think it will be beyond their means, however with a bit of careful planning anyone can create a holiday to remember.
These days with the Internet it’s never been easier to book your experience, finding the best deal is now in your hands! However Egypt is still a popular destination and many travel operators such as First Choice offer flights from the UK and hotels deals, the only decision you’ll have to make is when to go!
I visited in November 2012, this was at the height of the troubles but thankfully I experienced no issues and it turned out to be the best time to visit due to very few other tourists being around the main sites.
Egypt is one of the most historical countries in the world, beware there is a lot to see! My advice is to research, find out what you’d like to visit and then create a plan.
With this blog post my aim is to pass on helpful budget information to enable you to have an affordable but amazing experience. Here is what I found when I visited on a budget:
Flying to Egypt is incredibly easy, many full service and budget carriers operate from several UK airports all-year round, due to Egypt’s amazing weather. I flew from London Heathrow direct to Cairo with Egypt Air for my outbound trip and returning via Luxor using an internal then international flight.
One of the ways to reduce costs is to travel how the locals would, this could either mean taking local buses or a more ancient form of transport, such as a felucca.
A felucca, what’s that I hear you say?
Well it’s a traditional wooden sailing boat, it’s how the ancient Egyptian’s would have previously travelled up and down the Nile. The beauty of taking this mode of transport is it’s incredibly relaxing, felucca boats don’t have motors so you simply glide along with the wind, it’s like stepping back in time.
You also have the option to take one of the many huge cruise ships down the Nile, however this option doesn’t allow you to meet local people or even to swim in the Nile (trust me, I survived!). By taking the felucca, not only is it affordable but you are also supporting local people who would have previously earned money by fishing.
Although safety records are a bit hit and miss, I found the local train service in Egypt was pretty decent. I opted to go First Class on the sleeper train from Cairo to Aswan, it isn’t much more than a standard ticket so it’s worth the upgrade. It’s a rickety affair, the tracks haven’t been upgraded for years and you’ll be woken up several times in the night when the train comes to a grinding halt from something or someone crossing the tracks up ahead.
On one side of the train you’ll see the amazing, powerful Nile River, yet on the opposite side you’ll see mostly desert like views with a few houses or settlements dotted around. It’s an incredible contrast, one you won’t see flying in the air!
Like with many other countries, the best advice is to do as the locals do. Never eat in a restaurant that is empty, or that locals aren’t frequenting as this to me starts alarm bells ringing! You’ll find a good mix of restaurants and take aways in Egypt, sadly it features all the usual Western brands such as McDonalds, KFC and Pizza Hut to name only a few, however please don’t eat at these as you can try incredibly tasty local food much cheaper elsewhere.
A delicacy often eaten by the Egyptians for special events is pigeon. Definitely don’t think of those that are in Trafalgar Square either, you might even be lucky…it might not have the head attached!! (You have been warned)
Even in such a dry country, Egypt produces many different types of fruits including dates and pomegranates. I highly recommend you try freshly squeezed pomegranate juice if you can find it (it depends on the time of year), thankfully the place I visited my huge glass cost me £1, an absolute bargain and so tasty!
Where to stay
Although some hotels leave a lot to be desired, you can find good quality 3/4* hotels at reasonable prices across Egypt. Many hotels near tourist resorts will rip you off, so it’s often worthwhile staying slightly further afield. My hotel in Cairo was awesome, it had a rooftop pool, incredible views over the entire city and through the heat haze you could see the Great Pyramids of Giza in the distance.
If you choose to do the train and felucca options then your bed will be included for at least three nights of your trip, this significantly decreases costs and you’ll see “the real Egypt”.
The Egyptian Pound (EGP) has taken a battering in recent years following the numerous turmoil’s the country has gone through. However it is now on the rebound, but you will still be getting three Egyptian pounds more than five years ago and the exchange rate is one of the highest in the last 10 years, therefore it’s an incredible value destination.
If it’s your first time in Egypt, like it was for me, I highly recommend you start with the following sites.
Mention the word Egypt and it’s highly likely the first thing that springs to mind will be the Pyramids. The Great Pyramid of Giza is one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, amazingly it’s still mostly intact, although over the years it has been looted a number of times and is starting to show wear and tear around the lower edges due to locals and tourists climbing on the structure.
As mentioned earlier in the article, the felucca will make you feel like you’ve stepped back in time. Living a simple, traditional way of life sailing up the Nile is an incredible feeling with only the sound of the water gently hitting the side of the boat to disturb you. Many locals will wave along the route, as they are proud to see their traditional ways of life thriving in the 21st Century.
North Africa is home to the biggest desert in the world, so the option of taking a camel safari or trek is widely available. The Egyptian’s respect these animals for being able to withstand the intense heat of the desert. When I visited, the welfare of the animals seemed pretty good, whether this has changed due to the downturn remains to be seen, however your money should help the locals provide for the animals and it’s an incredible opportunity if you’ve never done it before.
Sadly due to being so close to the border with Sudan, tourists are unable to visit this historical site independently. This means you’ll need to find a local guide or bus to take you there and back, this won’t be cheap but is well worth seeing!
No visit to Egypt would be complete without visiting some of the ancient temples, as you can imagine there are many. The most famous is the monster Temple of Karnak, near the modern city of Luxor. Be aware that due to the proximity of the Nile, many cruise ships dock here for tourists to arrive en masse, so it can get very crowded.
Interacting with locals at Bazaars is an amazing experience, it’s something you won’t experience back home and can be a fun way to test your negotiation skills.
A bazaar is a market for locals to buy almost anything, the seller will almost certainly offer you the highest price to start with and it’s your job as the buyer to bargain them down. The seller will never sell for less than what they paid or produced the item for, therefore make sure the offer is fair and remember it’s their livelihood so be respectful. I guarantee that it’ll be one of the best trips you make.
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