Egypt has been one of those countries that has always been in my subconscious, ever since I glanced at a glossy image of the Pyramids and learned about mummies in school. After a few years without it entering my mind again, in 2018, a friend gave me a copy of The Alchemist, one of the books that shifted my entire life. I felt inspired to make my dreams of traveling a reality when reading about the Boy and his quest to find his treasure at the pyramids. This book left a huge impact on my wanderlust. Still, it wasn’t the right time to visit Egypt. My adventures brought me elsewhere and when I finally made it back home to NYC for 3 weeks, a friend randomly messaged me about hippie paradise in the Sinai Peninsula of Egypt.
The call felt right and soon, I was pulling up flights and pulling out my credit card…
Starting off the adventures in the chaos of Cairo…
Chaotic, densely populated and filled with hustle and bustle (emphasis on the hustle). This is where I learned my lessons on Egyptian sales tactics and how to avoid them. Even though I did some research before and assumed that being from New York, I’d be safe from falling for them, I was proven wrong within my first day there. After a 14 hour flight, 4 hour layer in Doha and another 3 hour flight, I landed in Cairo around 11PM. I paid way too much for a cab ride (lesson learned there) and headed to my hostel in downtown.
Although I enjoyed viewing the historic area, I would avoid downtown as much as you can, except for the museums if that’s your thing. I stayed at Holy Sheet Hostel in a private room for $14 USD. Very clean and located within walking distance to the Egyptian Museum.
Go to Orange and buy a local sim card. I recommend them because they have an app that you can reload data and minutes on without having to go to a local store or authorized dealer. Much easier for on the go travelers. I travel with an iPhone 12 Pro Max which has eSim capabilities and use TMobile that has a free international data plan. I was able to keep my US number for messaging friends and family, receiving authentication texts and also use a local SIM so I can use my apps, post content on social media and contact local places. Read my article on travel tips to make your life a lot easier.
Hit up Zamalek for a younger, hipper vibe with great cafes, food options and an expat community.
Walk the 6th of October bridge and chill there for sunset vibes, watching the feluccas sail on the Nile (or if it’s more up to your speed, take one for a sunset cruise).
Explore Khan el Khalili Bazaar, get lost in the mazes, take lots of pictures and get ready to shop for cool souvenirs. After all that walking, head to El Fishawy Cafe, hidden in the middle of the market, for a coffee or mint tea, soak up the atmosphere and listen to the musicians liven up the crowd. It’s especially great at night, around 9PM. That’s when most of the locals come out to play.
As a Millennial and a fan of technology, take Ubers to your destinations. The price is set, cheaper than the on call taxis and I felt much safer.
Get to Giza to witness the Pyramids early. I was there in mid June and the opening hours were 7AM to 7PM. Tour groups tend to arrive at the site around 9AM and 10AM, plus the heat of the desert settles in early. If it’s your thing, ride a horse or a camel around the pyramids. They even have horse drawn carriages for those averse from riding the actual animal or those who have a larger group and you want to stick together. Otherwise, you can walk around the pyramids easily if you don’t mind cardio.
After a visit to the Pyramids, walk outside the complex and down the street to the Marriott Mena House in Giza for a post Pyramid meal and drinks. I ended up there on Friday morning for an all you can eat buffet breakfast for 250 EGP. Excellent service, quality of food was great and tons of options for the gluten free vegetarian. Also beautiful for sunset.
I also suggest if you can snag reservations, check out the 9 Pyramids Lounge for an aesthetic meal and Instagram worthy photo ops. I didn’t get a chance to go this trip but definitely will go in the future.
For those looking to escape the chaos of Cairo, stay in Giza and take day trips to the city for a quieter and more peaceful vibe. I recommend Comfort Inn Pyramids as they have a rooftop that overlooks the Pyramids where you can see the sound and light show from a distance (and for free).
Fly or take an overnight train to Luxor to catch a Nile River Cruise
After meeting a backpacker in Cairo who just got off his cruise, he recommended Here Egypt Tours. I contacted them through text in Whatsapp and found the process extremely smooth and hospitable.
Within an hour, I negotiated a price for a 3 night cruise on the Nile, transfers, a hot air ballon ride (!!!) and a guide (shoutout to Hany Soliman! Request him of you can. Super knowledgable and accommodating. Helped us with pit stops for ATM, food, water and even translated for us to get medicine at the pharmacy) included in the price. I paid $400USD for everything except museum admission and gratuity.
During my entire trip, Here Egypt Tours stayed in communication with me, checked in regularly to see how I was enjoying my tour and answered any and all requests I had.
Day 1: Getting to Luxor and the Karnak Temple Complex
The first day, I landed in Luxor early in the morning (also left my passport on the plane so had to wait for them to find that), got into my transfer that took me directly to the cruise ship. I was on the M/S Concerto in a beautiful room. I settled in, chilled for a bit before having lunch on the boat at 1:30PM. The staff of the M/S Concerto, especially in the dining room, were spectacular. On the first day, I informed the head waiter that I had a gluten allergy and ate only vegetarian. He made sure that the kitchen baked a specialty cornbread for me, made me a unique vegetable dish, in addition to pointing out all of the safe options on the buffet. I felt so grateful to be able to eat well after suffering a few gluten attacks during my attempts to navigate the Egyptian food scene.
After resting, relaxing and enjoying the air conditioned bliss of my room, I met up with the Wallis family (from Florida!) and our tour guide Hany who took us to visit the infamous Karnak Temple.
The Karnak Temple complex comprises of stunning, larger than life pillars, temples, chapels and various buildings that has survived centuries of damage, civilizations and defacing. Construction of the sites began somewhere in the Middle Kingdom ages (2040 to 1782 BC) to the Ptolemaic dynasty (305 to 30 BC). That’s a whole lotta history in this m****f**** (cue Bia’s ‘Whole Lotta Money’ tune). We visited during golden hour, which made for a spectacular scene and backdrop for a series of photos a la self timer.
Back on the boat for dinner and an early night because the next day, we had to wake up at 4AM for…
Day 2: Starting off with a Sunrise Hot Air Balloon Ride over Luxor and visits to Valley of the Kings, Queen Hatshepsut’s Temple and Luxor Temple
It was my first hot air balloon ride and one of my favorite experiences so far on this trip. Watching the balloons inflate, fiery jets streaming into a nylon canvas and feeling the heat in the cool morning air of the desert. We rose up into the air to a bird’s eye view of Luxor, watching the sun rise slowly over the desert. It was a spectacular experience and highly recommend everyone to do this. One of the ladies in our basket was celebrating her 30th wedding anniversary and 50th birthday! I couldn’t think of a more special experience to ring those milestones in with.
Funniest part was when we were landing into the empty corn and sugarcane fields…a farmer came out and startled to shout in Arabic at the hot air balloon employees, pointing ferociously at his fields and us. The captain eventually explained to us that the farmer wanted some money for landing in his empty land, even though they do this about 30 times a day during high season and already have an agreement set up beforehand.
The hustle goes hard here in Egypt…
By 6:30AM, we were back on the boat for breakfast before an action packed day.
We headed out to Queen Hatshepsut’s Temple, Valley of the Kings and a tour of an alabaster factory. They do a hard sell at the alabaster factory but our guide reminded us that the main takeaway was about the craft. Alabaster is such a hardy material and watching the family hand craft it in front of us made for such a special experience. If I wasn’t traveling for a few months out of 2 backpacks (and had a permanent home), I would’ve invested in some of the beautiful glasses and decorative items.
One last stop at Luxor Temple before we finished our day at 2:30PM, which was much needed after the early morning and intense schedule of Day 2.
I spent the rest of this day hanging out on the roof of the cruise ship, soaking in the sunshine, cooling off in the pool and watching the scenery of the Nile pass by, lush green farms and local families and children splashing on the banks.
At one point, some sellers hitched their boats to the cruise ship and were making sales of tablecloths and linens off the side. They did this exchange by tossing the items up to the customers and a plastic bag for the money. Super fun to watch and I totally respect the hustle. Egypt has suffered an economic setback due to the world pandemic and terrorist attacks and you can tell that they’re in need of tourism.
Then, another dinner and sleep to cap off an adventurous day before waking up for…
Day 3: Sailing into Edfu and Kom Ombo
We woke up in the town of Edfu where a horse carriage ride awaited to visit Edfu Temple. At this point, I was feeling temple’d out but enjoyed the rich history and information that Hany provided us. Back on the boat for sailing and lunch before we arrived to the port of Kom Ombo to visit the Kom Ombo Temple. Disclaimer: I skipped this one because I was so tired but everyone else that went enjoyed it thoroughly.
Day 4: Arriving in Aswan and a Staycation in the most LUSH hotel ever
This was a super early morning as we arrived in Aswan, the final destination. 4AM call and a 3.5 hour drive to Abu Simbel temple, reportedly one of the most famous temples in Egypt.
Then back to the boat to check out, load up the van and visit the High Dam in Aswan. Not my favorite excursion but great to learn about the water reserves in Egypt. They collect hydroelectricity and have enough to power the entirety of Egypt AND export it to many other Arabic nations. Lake Nasser has enough water reserves to last 5 years without any rain. The dams control the flow of the Nile and prevent flooding so that settlements and buildings can be built along the Nile.
It was finally time to say goodbye to the cruise ship and hello to my next accommodation.
I wasn’t ready to be on the go so soon again, so I chose to stay 2 nights in Aswan at the Sofitel Legend Old Cataract Hotel, one of the most luxurious stays I have ever been graced with.
Its location is stunning, right on the Nile River, with beautiful grounds to explore and fabulous dining. The staff there do everything they can to make sure you have a memorable experience and I spent most of my time lounging in their fabulous pool, looking right onto the Nile. It was a serene oasis with beautiful manicured grounds, details galore and some of the best dining in Aswan.
You can even take a boat from their jetty across the Nile to the Nubian Village, where there are hand crafted goods and an interesting subculture to explore. The Nubians speak both Arabic and various dialects of the Nubian languages, which is a part of the Eastern Sudanic languages. Makes sense, since Aswan is so close to the border of Sudan.
For those looking for a more intimate and local experience, I definitely recommend staying in the Nubian Village. It’s quieter, right by the Nile and you can dive deeper into the rich culture, history and handcrafted arts of the Nubians. The Wallis family stayed at the Onaty Ka Guest House and enjoyed their time there.
After 2 luxurious nights resting in Aswan after an action packed itinerary, it was time to head back to Luxor to catch a bus to Hurghada. I recommend using Go Bus. They’re inexpensive, offer various classes of buses and have an app for easy and on the go booking (especially for travelers who don’t really plan, like me).
The most Eastern European part of Egypt…Hurghada
The only reason I decided to go to Hurghada was because of it’s proximity across the Red Sea from Sharm el Sheikh, the next jumping off point for my most anticipated destination: Dahab.
Hurghada is known for their beaches, Eastern European tourist demographics, a lovely marina and a fully operating submarine. Take the submarine tour, roam around the Marina and chill on the beaches. I found a 30 minute flight for around 450 EGP to Sharm el Sheikh.
I stayed at Marina Square Hostel, where Midou and his wife run an amazing place. It’s clean, comfortable and located centrally. I enjoyed eating around the area, especially Desi Delight for some gluten free and vegetarian friendly Indian food. Roy, the owner, has been living in Hurghada on and off for 5 years, starting this place as a side business from his regular job in the UAE.
Hurghada is known for diving, snorkeling and chilling on the beaches. Most of the area is condensed with resorts, so you’ll have no shortage of options to choose from. Some of the highlights include resorts with a waterpark that’ll definitely please any kids (and kids at heart). It’s not much of my scene but a great choice for those traveling with a larger group or with families.
From Hurghada, I found an extremely affordable flight to fly over to Sharm el Sheikh to head to Dahab, my next destination. If you’re going to do a resort town, I would pick either Hurghada or Sharm el Sheikh. If resorts are more your thing, make a trip out of both of these spots. Otherwise, save room on your trip for some other amazing spots.
Dahab, Hippie Paradise in the Sinai Peninsula
In a place where, historically, a lot of conflict has happened, Dahab seems to be a peaceful paradise. It is a nice mix of locals and foreigners who come here to just vibe and chill out. Tons of great snorkeling, renowned diving spots, kite surfing and scenic restaurants to relax at. The most popular modes of transportation are by foot, by bicycle (which is inexpensive to rent) and local taxis (which are pretty much just pick up trucks).
- Eat at The Vegan Lab, gluten free friendly!
- Kakao Cafe for homemade food (even the sauces)
- Rent a bicycle for your stayHead over to Lagoona Beach, a more laidback and quieter place to soak up the sun
- Dive or snorkel the Blue Hole
- Get PADI certified
- Relax at one of the many beachfront cafes on the main promenade
- Hit up some of the best parties and nightlife
- Participate in yoga classes and other metaphysical workshops
- Do a sunrise summit to Mt. Sinai, where Moses received the Ten Commandments
Sunrise Hike in Mt. Sinai, St. Catherine’s Monastery
My new friend Joe and I headed from Hurghada to Dahab together, happy to have found a fellow backpacker with the same itinerary. Our second night there, we booked a tour to do a sunrise hike at Mount Sinai, which included a tour of St. Catherine’s Monastery. Our transfer picked us up around 10PM and after loading the other passengers (another solo traveler and a group of Egyptian high school grads), we were on our way to the town of St. Catherine. The journey there involved a few military checkpoints, at which they checked our passports and inspected the car. After about two hours, we arrived in St. Catherine, bleary eyed and a little delirious from the lack of sleep. Our local guide met us after another security checkpoint (they searched our bags and made us pass through a metal detector) before we started our ascent up the mountain.
It was a beautiful hike in the dark, with the stars glittering above us and the moon lighting our path. Sleepy camels laid on the side, turning their heads to watch us make our pilgrimage. Along the three hour hike, there were a few snack shops selling coffee, tea, waters and processed goods. Bring enough water for your hike and if you run out, don’t be worried. They’ll have some for sale. Even though the night air was cool, the hiking got you sweating and out of breath as the elevation increased. By the time we reached the last snack shop, we were all hot and bothered. But after cooling down, you’ll start to feel the chill of the air, so pack layers and something warm for the top. I would recommend a change of shirt as well. We were still an hour away from sunrise, so we took the chance to sneak in a nap and drink in some mint tea before climbing up 700+ steps to the top.
The journey was well worth it, watching the sun slowly wash over the desert. While most of the crowds dissipated, our guide decided we should stay at the top longer. Taking advantage of this, we spread out across the rocks, some of us climbing around and settling in. I enjoyed a brief meditation on the side of the mountain, listening to the pure silence of the morning. There was something absolutely magical about not hearing anything.
Then a leisurely descent down the mountain where we ended up hanging out at St. Catherine’s Monastery, playing with the cats and admiring the pomegranate trees, learning about the history of the place. Apparently this is where Moses saw the burning bush.
Ending the Egyptian Adventure in Cairo
My return to Cairo felt so much better. I was prepared for what the big city offered and felt more at peace here. I noticed it in the way I walked, the way I was able to navigate salespeople and sus out those who were genuinely being helpful and those with ulterior motives. I stayed at Madina Hostel, which I highly recommend. The beds are extremely comfortable, it’s located on the 10th floor with a beautiful skylight in the common area, great breakfast and the furnishings and decorations are more modern. Think ‘hygge’. The bathrooms are also some of the best that I’ve seen in a hostel.
At this point, the July heat of Egypt became uncomfortable and I felt it was time to leave on a good note. I got my PCR test done at the Children’s Cancer Hospital for 800 L.E (~$55) with results in 24 hours. My last few days in Cairo was spent hanging out at my hostel, taking a visit to the Abdeen Palace (not really my thing with all its war weapons, but they’re super cool to see and very intricate and beautifully displayed, and the grounds are magnificent), eating a breakfast at Felfela and wandering through the pandemonium of Egyptian markets, mostly selling goods from China and various items for daily life (like lots of shisha sets).
Zac, a fellow traveler I met in my hostel, said that I didn’t actually visit Egypt if I didn’t go to the Egyptian Museum. Located in this monstrous sized building are most of the artifacts that were found inside the pyramids and tombs. I highly recommend hiring a guide (we bargained and got a 2 hour tour for 400 L.E.) because the amount of items are overwhelming and most of them don’t have any placards with information. The knowledge that we gained was invaluable and really got a lot of information and stories that we wouldn’t just by researching online or looking at the items.
Final Notes on Egypt
As a solo female traveller, Egypt is not the easiest country to travel. You get strange looks, sometimes you get cat calls and sometimes the men are extremely forward. Despite this, I would highly recommend this country to anyone who feels called to travel here. I have met no shortage of kind and generous people. And, in the end, as I travel through the world, I notice that most people are really just here to live, connect and spread love. We are all here to exist in a beautiful world and we start by celebrating both our differences and our similarities. Egypt has so much culture, nuances and pockets of peaceful places that you’ll enjoy yourself. There are a few experiences I didn’t get to check off my list this trip, which just means another visit to Egypt is in store.
Some of the things that I’d like to revisit is:
- A visit to Siwa for the salt lakes
- A trip to Alexandria
- Camping in the White Desert
- Staying in the Bedouin Village in Aswan
- Diving and kite surfing in Dahab (I became a beach bum instead…)
Quick Tips to Travel Egypt
- Get an Orange sim card
- Use Uber in larger cities (Cairo, Hurghada…)
- Use Go Bus (and download the app) to get around Egypt
- Domestic flight travel is also inexpensive, search often for some good deals
- Sail down the Nile on a River Cruise
- There are lots of temples, so unless you’re a history fanatic, space them out so you don’t get overwhelmed
- Work with a tour operator if you have limited time and want a seamless flow to your itinerary
- It’s super hot in June and July. Visit during cooler months if you can
- Dress a little more conservatively if you can. Long flowy pants, tshirts, shawls to cover your shoulders.
- If you need clothes, go shopping at the Khan el Khalili bazaar