For centuries, Egypt has been one of the most fascinating places on Earth. Do you really need a reason to visit? If so, I’ve got five of the best reasons to visit Egypt, so make some room on your bucket list….
Egyptian food is incredibly underrated! It’s a unique cuisine that is reminiscent of nearby Greek, Turkish, Italian and Lebanese foods, but has a style and flavor all its own. You’re unlikely to find Egyptian food in most US cities, so you may be unfamiliar with it, but rest assured, if you enjoy Middle Eastern food in general, you’re likely to love the food in Egypt.
Be sure to try tammeya, Egypt’s unique take on falafel, ideally along with foul, a mashed fava bean dish, for breakfast. You can’t leave without tasting Egypt’s national dish – koshari, a mix of pasta, rice, beans, onions and tomato sauce. Koshari is pure comfort food, and maybe the most affordable way to fill up! Molokhia, a thick, garlicky soup made with a vegetable similar to spinach, is amazing for a chilly evening (and the hefty amount of garlic is super good for you!).
Egypt is truly carb heaven – the government subsidizes the cost of bread, and you can expect to have wheat flatbread – aish baladi – at nearly every meal. Eat with foul, with white cheese, with hummus…with just about everything!
Egyptian people are incredibly warm, friendly, hospitable and funny. I’ve rarely felt so welcomed by locals. Although you will encounter a strong tipping culture and a lot of hard-sell vendors, keep in mind that the Egyptian people are resilient and hard-working, and have been through a great deal of hardship in the last 15 years.
Many Americans may find Egypt’s tipping culture overwhelming; it’s important to be prepared to tip for almost any service, no matter how small. It’s important to keep a clear cultural perspective, though – for most of the world, American tipping culture feels constant and difficult to understand as well! Don’t let culture shock put up a barrier between you and everyday Egyptian people.
Egyptian people are also more diverse than many Americans might imagine. Most Egyptians are Muslim, but about 10% are Coptic Christian and a small minority are Jewish; you’ll learn a lot about their different ways of life simply by chatting with them. You’ll encounter more men than women in public life, but women are very much a vital force in Egyptian life – if you are a woman, definitely make the effort to meet and talk to Egyptian women. Egyptians absolutely love kids, so if you’re traveling with small children, you’re likely to be made very welcome!
English is somewhat well spoken in tourist areas, but be sure to make an effort to speak in Arabic – even a few words will go far in indicating your respect for them. As with any country you visit, remember that you are a guest in their country and it’s your responsibility to be polite and respectful. Traveling with an Arabic-speaking guide will help to break down barriers of culture and language so that you can really get to know people – I recommend Egypt Adventures Travel (I’m not affiliated with them and I don’t make a commission if you book with them).
I mean, do I need to explain this one? Egypt is one of the most important places in human history, and the pride that Egyptians take in their incredible history is apparent everywhere you go. This is one of the top reasons to visit Egypt and why people keep coming back. Immerse yourself in ancient and modern Egyptian history in this unforgettable country.
Egyptian history is nearly inescapable no matter where you go, but Luxor and Cairo are two cities you can’t miss if you want to see the most historical sights and objects in the shortest period of time. Luxor is often referred to as an “open air museum” due to the number and significance of historical sights located in this relatively small city. Here you’ll find the Valley of Kings, Valley of Queens, Temple of Karnak and Luxor Temple, to name a few. Luxor was the burial site for the most important people of the New Kingdom (Ancient Egypt’s most recent era – their final pharoah, Cleopatra, lived closer to our time than the time of the Pyramids, believe it or not! Egypt’s history is almost unfathomably long.)
Cairo (or it’s neighboring town, Giza, to be precise) is the home of the Old Kingdom’s (and maybe the world’s) most famous set of monuments – the Great Pyramids. These are so important that they have their own section on this list! But Cairo is also home to the Egyptian Museum, the Grand Egyptian Museum, the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization….you won’t run out of places to marvel at this incredible civilization.
It might not be the first place that Americans think of when they want a beach vacation (okay it definitely isn’t) but Egypt has some amazing seaside resorts. Resorts like Hurghada and Sharm el-Sheikh are regular destinations for people in the Middle East and Eastern Europe. All-inclusive resorts on the Red Sea are both luxurious and very affordable.
Most of the beach-centric areas are located on the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula. Although at the time of writing the US State Department lists the Sinai Peninsula as a “do not travel” area, they make an exception for travel to Sharm el-Sheikh by air – meaning it’s safe to go there, but don’t plan on driving from Cairo. Once in Sharm, you can stay there or move on to a more laidback area like Dahab.
Sharm el-Sheikh itself is a purpose-built city designed for foreign tourism; some people love it, some people absolutely hate it. You’ll mainly find large all-inclusive beach resorts here, which we found fun for a couple of nights. If you like Cancun or Las Vegas, you’ll probably like Sharm!
If you’re more into the backpacker vibe, you’ll want to take a 1.5 hour bus ride to Dahab, which is a smaller, less commercial – but still highly touristed – town. In both Dahab and Sharm el-Sheikh, you can expect to find some of the best snorkeling and scuba diving in the world. Your hotel or resort can hook you up with some snorkeling gear if you just want to get your feet wet, so to speak.
This is what you came to see.
I’ve been to a places in my life, and seen a lot of famous monuments and sights. Some were underwhelming. Some were impressive. But the Pyramids…however amazing you think the Pyramids will be, they’re even better. Everyone should see them once. Photos simply don’t do them justice. Of all the reasons to visit Egypt, the Pyramids is the one you’ll hear the most.
Built over 4,500 years ago, the Pyramids were massive burial tombs, and monuments to the strength and wealth of the Old Kingdom pharoahs. (They also were essentially giant signs that said “TREASURE BURIED HERE,” which is why pyramid-building went out of fashion, and tombs started to be built underground or in hillsides, as you’ll see in Luxor’s Valley of the Kings.) Keep in mind, too, that there are a LOT of pyramids in the Cairo area alone – what you think of as THE Pyramids are simply the most spectacular.
The Pyramids are located in Giza, which is technically a neighboring town of Cairo, but in practice is simply a continuation of the megacity on the left bank of the Nile. We chose to stay in central Cairo, but if you’d like to wake up each morning with a view of the Pyramids, you can absolutely do that, at hotels ranging from dirt cheap to eye-wateringly expensive (hello, Marriott Mena House). Whatever you do, be sure to read up on how to avoid scams when visiting the Pyramids complex – or better yet, hire a reputable guide to take you around. They’ll keep the scammers at bay.