Is Egypt even suitable for backpacking?
I get this question quite often. In the past, I also used to think that Egypt was only for package tourists. It's possible that we wouldn't have traveled there at all if it weren't for COVID... (We only travel to countries with reasonable entry requirements and where you can lead a normal life without any hassles.)
In the winter of 2020/2021, we spent four months in Egypt. During that time, we visited Dahab, Sharm el Sheikh, Cairo, Alexandria, Hurghada, and Luxor. And yes, Egypt is a great destination for backpackers, even though very few people do it!
Photo: Hitchhiking through the desert! But don't worry, you don't have to do this if you don't want to. The infrastructure in Egypt is actually quite good!
Do I need visa for Egypt?
Nationals of European countries do not need a visa to enter Egypt. Upon arrival, you will receive a stamp (currently even free, previously - 25 USD) in your passport, allowing you to stay in the country for 30 days. After that, you can (for free and very easily) extend your stay for an additional 30 days. Another extension for 6 months is a bit bureaucratic but also possible.
Photo: That's both of us. We've been traveling together for 7 years!
Accommodations outside of package hotels.
There are many good accommodations at fair prices, at least in touristy places like Hurghada, Cairo, Sharm el Sheikh, and Luxor. Dahab and Alexandria are a bit more expensive in terms of lodging costs.
You should add about 30 percent in taxes on top of the prices you see on booking or similar platforms. These taxes are paid directly at the hotel. Also, be careful not to accidentally book a room with a cleaning fee. I had never seen before that hotels charge a cleaning fee for short stays, but it's quite popular in places like Hurghada. Their explanation is that they do a special anti-corona cleaning. We left immediately!
But generally, the price-performance ratio in Egypt is very good in most cases, better than in countries like India or Malaysia but not as cheap as in Bali or Thailand.
Food. Egyptian Cuisine.
We found the food delicious and diverse, and even as vegetarians, we had plenty of options. There are many markets with fresh fruits and vegetables, most of them local and directly from farmers. Food prices are comparable to Southeast Asia. Here are a few examples.
Shopping hack! 🙂
It's worth learning or jotting down the Arabic numbers. Then, you won't have to haggle for every carrot at the markets.
That's how Anna cooked two local dishes together with the chef: Moussaka (vegetable) and Molokhia (a green soup, reminded us of spinach soup). It was fun!
After watching this cooking video, you might think we didn't make anything decent, right? No, no! Please look at how fine our dishes turned out! How elegantly they were served! And they tasted great too! But the local cuisine is quite heavy! I would say it's a treat for every now and then, but not for every day.
What fun things can you do in Egypt?
The country offers many activities, often at very reasonable prices - diving, freediving, kite-surfing, desert excursions, and more. Both of us are diving enthusiasts, so we took the opportunity to improve our freediving skills to a new level. If you want to learn more about freediving, be sure to check out this report and the accompanying videos!
This 4-day freediving course was a collaboration with Only One Apnea - the oldest freediving school in Sharm el-Sheikh! Here is our report about!
For history lovers, Egypt is a true treasure trove! However, most of the popular archaeological sites and museums are not really budget-friendly. As a foreigner, you'll pay about 20 times more for entry than locals. But you can plan your visit to get the best value for your money, especially if you're already paying. Below is an example of how we did that with the Pyramids!
The Pyramids of Giza are a must-visit, that's for sure, and we had to go! The entrance fee to the site is 10 EUR for adults and 5 EUR for children. But if you want to enter the pyramid itself, it costs an additional 20 EUR for adults and 10 EUR for children with an extra ticket. For a small family like ours, that would be an additional 30 EUR. However, the inside of the Giza Pyramid is not really spectacular! If you want to visit the inside of an Egyptian pyramid, I recommend the Djoser Pyramid in the Saqqara complex, just a few kilometers from Giza. The entrance fee to the site is 7 EUR for adults and 3.5 EUR for kids. The entrance to the pyramid itself (Djoser, the oldest in Egypt and has more to offer!) costs 5 EUR for adults and 2.5 EUR for children. For both of us, that's 18 EUR. We used an Uber taxi for both trips, which cost 8.5 EUR (round trip). Through this approach, we had a better experience, saw twice as much, and saved 3.5 EUR in our case 🙂 Doesn't seem like much, does it? But take a look at the pictures above; those are two complete delicious meals! And if you're traveling as a family of four (2 adults plus 2 children), you'd save 15.5 EUR in this case. With that money, you can have a (decent! private room with a bathroom) for everyone in Giza plus a nice communal meal 😉 So, in that perspective, it's not so little. And don't forget - experiencing the double program is especially valuable!
Photo: You can take a trip on the Nile with a traditional sailing boat called a Felucca. The prices are very affordable. I even arranged with the boat owner that he would teach my daughter the basics of how to steer the boat during the tour. He was happy to do so, and we ended up having a 2-in-1 tour, and everyone involved was highly satisfied.
We spent nearly 2 months in Luxor. We found a great place to stay right on the Nile - a single-family house with two bedrooms! Such accommodations are very rare in Egypt. I paid 300 EUR per month for it, including all utilities. On average, you can easily find lodging in Luxor for around 10 EUR per night, whether in a hotel or a private rental.
The city of Luxor is divided into two districts separated by the Nile. A public ferry can take you from one bank to the other in about 10 minutes. The western bank used to be "the Realm of the Dead," and people didn't settle there. In ancient Egypt, the setting sun in the west symbolized the afterlife. That's why the deceased were buried west of the Nile, and the Nile served as the boundary between the two worlds. The eastern bank is more built up, noisy, and congested. This was "the Realm of the Living." We stayed on the "Bank of the Dead." It's much quieter and, in my opinion, much more beautiful.
I read many scary articles about how dangerous the Nile is. They say you shouldn't swim in it, and it's best not to touch the water at all. There's supposed to be a worm in there that immediately attacks, settles in your body, and does really bad things...
Since I don't have much trust in the press, I immediately called a few locals and asked if this was true. Their answer was NO. Thousands of people swim in the Nile in the summer, and everything is fine!
Why are we constantly told by the press, school, and so on that our world is so dangerous? So that we grow up feeling insecure? Have no trust or confidence? Become paranoid adults?
Everywhere we travel, we somehow make good local connections! In Luxor, we were invited to two weddings, just visiting local families, and Anna even found two girls to learn Arabic with. In return, she taught them some English. It was a sweet friendship!
Egypt is definitely worth a visit! Especially now, when most countries make it difficult for us travelers. For entry, you need a PCR test. Once you've left the airport, you can forget about COVID.
I found the people very friendly and warm. Pushy sellers were there in the Old Town of Hurghada, and people on the eastern bank of Luxor (in the realm of the living ;)) were quite pushy as well. Otherwise, especially where there's no tourism, you are treated normally. Even as a woman! You don't need to haggle; you get the regular price.
My personal highlights are:
- "Normal" life, no societal division due to COVID.
- The Red Sea and everything that lives in it! Absolutely fantastic and the best spot for diving.
- The climate. It was pleasantly warm even in winter. And, most importantly, sunny! Only in February in Luxor, it was a bit cool at night.
- Good value for accommodations, service, and food.
Lots of fruits and vegetables, most of them local and seasonal.
Our Documentary Films
We document our years of travel life in documentary films, which both of us produce independently.
Our travel film "Anna, Asia, and Me: 250 Days on the Road" Part 1 was screened in many cinemas in Germany in 2019. Now, this film is also available for download for your home cinema. Here's the movie trailer!
Saudi Arabia: let's sleep in the desert (Production 2023, duration – 50 Min.)
Our journey to Saudi Arabia was not planned; it simply happened by chance. Saudi Arabia is anything but touristy and was closed to tourists until recently. But after so many years of travel experience, we knew that we could handle it in Saudi Arabia and find it exciting and fun. Anna's idea was to sleep in the desert. Why not? But we travel with only hand luggage and have no camping equipment, and of course, no tent.
In this film, we show you the mysterious country and what Saudi Arabia really looks like. In doing so, our expectations didn't quite align with reality, and some of my prejudices had to be let go! Watch the trailer!