NEED TO KNOW
Capital City: Cairo
Population: 80 million
Area: 387,000 square miles
Telephone Calling Code(s): 20
Electricity: 220V, 50 Hz
Currency: As of Nov 22, 2011:
1 Egypt Pounds = $0.17 US Calculate Other Amounts
Egypt requires visas for citizens of the United States. Travelers can obtain a renewable 30-day tourist visa on arrival at an Egyptian airport for a $15 fee, payable in U.S. dollars. Visitors arriving overland and/or those previously experiencing difficulty with their visa status in Egypt should obtain a visa prior to arrival. For more information, contact the Egyptian Embassy at 202-895-5400.
GOOD TO KNOW
Books and Movies
One of the earliest travel guides, The Histories by Herodotus, still has the power to captivate and amuse, though advice such as "Horses are the natural enemies of the camel" are somewhat less applicable these days. For a more modern perspective, try the Cairo Trilogy (Palace Walk, Palace of Desire, and Sugar Street) by Nobel Prize winner Naguib Mahfouz. Or, if you really want to learn more about ancient Egypt, skip the scholarly stuff and head to the kiddie section of your local bookstore; those books are informative enough and the pictures are much better—be honest, that's what you really want, anyway.
Cinematic depictions of Egypt can be seen in Agatha Christie's Death on the Nile, Cleopatra starring Elizabeth Taylor, The Spy Who Loved Me, and The Mummy (listed in descending order of accuracy).
Egyptian food is similar to the rest of the Middle East, with lots of hot and cold mezzes. Ful is the de facto national dish, consisting of boiled fava beans mashed with olive oil, lemon, butter, cumin, garlic, onions, and tomatoes; you eat it with pita bread with sides of vegetable pickles, white cheese, green onion stalks, and arugula springs. Falafel (known as ta'miyya in Egypt) and kebabs are popular and cheap, though safer to eat plated in restaurants than from street vendors. Global cuisines are available in major cities. Large luxury hotels, of course, offer the most intricate (and expensive) fare.
Bazaars are a fantastic source of local culture and bargains. Egyptian craftsmen are renowned for works of alabaster, inlaid mother-of-pearl, brass, glass, carved wood, and lapis lazuli. Low-quality reproductions are common, especially in touristy areas, as well as gimcrack made in and imported from China, so be sure to comparison shop and bring along someone with an expert eye. Egyptians expect foreigners to bargain. Start by offering one-half to one-third of the marked price and go from there.
To get the most out of Egypt, keep lots of small denomination Egyptian pounds or US dollars on hand for judiciously applied tips, especially at pharaonic and Islamic monuments. For instance, a few bills can gain you entrance to pristine tombs "usually" barred from tourists.
Most restaurants and hotels will charge a sales tax of 5 to 7 percent and a service charge of 12 percent, but an additional 10 percent is usually expected. Most tour guides will handle these gratuities where it's warranted. If you are on your own, ask advice from your hotel's staff or consult a local guidebook.
No longer the bastion of free-loving hedonist pagans it was in the time of Cleopatra, Egypt is a conservative, Muslim nation. Modesty in dress and behavior is expected. Women should cover their knees and shoulders in public-except at beach clubs, gyms, trendy restaurants, and basically anywhere else expensive enough that the majority of locals don't go. In mosques, both men and women must take off their shoes, and women should cover bare arms and shoulders (non-Muslim women are not expected or required to veil their hair). If you are lucky enough to be invited to someone's home, they'll spare no expense; so return the favor with an excellent gift.
January: 7, Eastern Orthodox Christmas
April: 25, Sinai Liberation
May: 1, Labor Day
June: 18, Evacuation Day
July: 1, bank holiday; 23, Revolution anniversary
October: 6, Armed Forces Day
Winter: Eid ul-Fitr; Arafa; Eid ul-Adha; Islamic New Year
Spring: Eastern Orthodox Easter; Sham El-Nessim
Summer: Prophet's Birthday