|Currency||Egyptian pound (EGP) (LE / �E)|
|Area||total: 1,001,450 sq km |
land: 995,450 sq km
water: 6,000 sq km
|Language||Arabic (official), English and French widely understood by educated classes|
|Religion||Muslim (mostly Sunni) 94%, Coptic Christian and other 6%|
|Country calling code||20|
|Time Zone||UTC +2|
Egypt is a country located in north-eastern Africa. Bordered by the Mediterranean and Red Seas (to the north and east respectively) and geographically dominated by the mighty Nile river and its valley, Egypt (together with its southern neighbour Sudan) is best known as the home of the ancient Egyptian civilization, with its temples, hieroglyphs, mummies, and - visible above all - its pyramids. Egypt stimulates the imagination of western tourists like few other countries and is probably one of the most popular tourist destinations world-wide.
Egypt can be divided into a number of convenient regions for the traveler:
- Cairo - the capital of Egypt and its surroundings, including Giza, Memphis, Saqqara, Abusir and Dahshur.
- Alexandria, Egypt's city by the Mediterranean Sea
- the Delta region, where the Nile meets the Mediterranean, the extreme north of the country
- Middle Egypt
- Luxor - amazing temples and the Valley of the Kings
- Upper Egypt, a string of amazing temple towns located on the Nile between Luxor and Aswan
- Aswan - the relaxed alternative to Cairo and Luxor
- Lake Nasser and Abu Simbel - two great monuments, one modern, one ancient
- the Red Sea Coast - luxury beach resorts, diving and marine life
- the Sinai Peninsula - rugged and isolated, with fascinating relics of the past
- Cairo - the capital of Egypt, home to the Giza Pyramids, the Egyptian Museum and fabulous Islamic architecture
- Alexandria - Egypt's window on the Mediterranean
- Luxor - gateway to the Valley of the Kings, amongst other fabulous attractions
- Aswan - a more relaxed option, full of amazing sights
- Abu Simbel
- Beni Hasan
- Bubastis (Tel Basta)
The regularity and richness of the annual Nile River flood, coupled with semi-isolation provided by deserts to the east and west, allowed for the the development of one of the world's great civilizations. A unified kingdom arose circa 3200 B.C. and a series of dynasties ruled in Egypt for the next three millennia. The last native dynasty fell to the Persians in 341 B.C., who in turn were replaced by the Greeks, Romans, and Byzantines. It was the Arabs who introduced Islam and the Arabic language in the 7th century and who ruled for the next six centuries. A local military caste, the Mamluks took control about 1250 and continued to govern after the conquest by Egypt by the Ottoman Turks in 1517. Following the completion of the Suez Canal in 1869, Egypt became an important world transportation hub, but also fell heavily into debt. Ostensibly to protect its investments, Britain seized control of Egypt's government in 1882, but nominal allegiance to the Ottoman Empire continued until 1914. Partially independent from the UK in 1922, Egypt acquired full sovereignty following World War II. The completion of the Aswan High Dam in 1971 and the resultant Lake Nasser have altered the time-honored place of the Nile river in the agriculture and ecology of Egypt. A rapidly growing population (the largest in the Arab world), limited arable land, and dependence on the Nile all continue to overtax resources and stress society. The government has struggled to ready the economy for the new millennium through economic reform and massive investment in communications and physical infrastructure.
Egypt is largely desert, an extension of the great Sahara Desert that bands North Africa. But for the thin strip of watered land bordering the river Nile, very little could survive here As the ancient Greek historian stated: "Egypt is the gift of the Nile".
Generally, dry and very hot summers with moderate winters - November through to January are definitely the most comfortable months for travel in Egypt. There is almost no rain in the Nile valley, so you won't be needing wet weather gear! Do bring sunscreen, sunglasses and a sturdy hat however.
Banks, shops and businesses will close for the following Egyptian National Holidays (civil, secular). Public transport may run only limited services:
- 1st January (New Year's Day)
- 25th April (Liberation Day)
- 1st May (Labour Day)
- 23rd July (Revolution Day)
- 6th October (Armed Forces Day)
- 23rd October (Suez Day)
- 23rd December (Victory Day)
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and the most important holiday for Muslims, the majority religion in Egypt. Commemorating the time when God revealed the Qur'an to Mohammed, during this holy month, Muslims abstain from eating, drinking or smoking until after sundown on each day. Although strict adherence to Ramadan is for Muslims only, some Muslims would appreciate that non-Muslims do not take meals or smoke in public places. During Ramadan, many restaurants and cafes won't open until after sundown. Public transport is infrequent, shops close earlier and the pace of life is generally slow.
Vast desert plateau interrupted by Nile valley and delta.
- Land use
- arable land: 2.85%
permanent crops: 0.47%
other: 96.68% (1998 est.)
- Irrigated land
- 33,000 sq km (1998 est.)
- Natural hazards
- periodic droughts; frequent earthquakes, flash floods, landslides; hot, driving windstorm called khamsin occurs in spring; dust storms, sandstorms
- Environment - current issues
- agricultural land being lost to urbanization and windblown sands; increasing soil salination below Aswan High Dam; desertification; oil pollution threatening coral reefs, beaches, and marine habitats; other water pollution from agricultural pesticides, raw sewage, and industrial effluents; very limited natural fresh water resources away from the Nile which is the only perennial water source; rapid growth in population overstraining the Nile and natural resources
- Environment - international agreements
- party to: Biodiversity, Climate Change, Desertification, Endangered Species, Environmental Modification, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine Dumping, Nuclear Test Ban, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Tropical Timber 83, Tropical Timber 94, Wetlands
signed, but not ratified: Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol
- Geography - note
- controls Sinai Peninsula, only land bridge between Africa and remainder of Eastern Hemisphere; controls Suez Canal, shortest sea link between Indian Ocean and Mediterranean Sea; size, and juxtaposition to Israel, establish its major role in Middle Eastern geopolitics; dependence on upstream neighbors; dominance of Nile basin issues; prone to influxes of refugees
Visas and Documentation
There are three types of Egyptian visa:
- Tourist Visa - usually valid for a period not exceeding 3 months and granted on either a single or multiple entry basis
- Entry Visa - required for any foreigner arriving in Egypt for purposes other than tourism, e.g. work, study, etc. The possession of a valid Entry Visa is needed to complete the residence procedure in Egypt.
- Transit Visa
Non-Egyptian travellers are required to be in possession of a valid passport.
Entry visas may be obtained from Egyptian Diplomatic and Consular Missions Abroad or from the Entry Visa Department at the Travel Documents, Immigration and Nationality Administration (TDINA). It is, however, possible for most tourists and visitors to obtain an entry visa at any of the Major Ports of Entry. (Please check with your nearest Egyptian Consular mission for more details concerning visa regulations applying to your citizenship).
Citizens of the following countries are currently required to be in possession of a pre-arrival visa:
Afghanistan, Algeria, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Chechnya, Croatia, Georgia, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Iran, Israel, Kazakhstan, Kirghizia, Lebanon, Macau, Macedonia, Malaysia, Moldavia, Montenegro, Morocco, Pakistan, Palestine, the Philippines, Russia, Serbia, Slovenia, Sri-Lanka, Tadzhikistan, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan and all African countries.
Residents of the countries above may apply for a visa through their nearest Egyptian Consulate or Embassy.
Visitors entering Egypt at the overland border post of Taba to visit Gulf of Aqaba coast and St Catherine can be exempted from visa and granted a free residence permit for fourteen days to visit the area.
Those in possession of a residence permit in Egypt are not required to obtain an entry visa if they leave the country and return to it within the validity of their residence permit or within six months, whichever period is less.
Egypt has several international airports:
- Cairo International Airport (2 terminals)
- Alexandria Nozha
- Luxor International Airport
- Aswan International Airport
- Hurghada International Airport
- Sharm El-Sheikh International Airport
Cairo International Airport [CAI] Hurghada and Sharm el-Sheikh
Egypt can be accessed by bus from a number of neighbouring countries, such as Israel (from the bus stations in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv) and Jordan.
A car runs between Aqaba in Jordan and Nuweiba in the Sinai, tickets $50. A weekly ferry also runs between Wadi Halfa in Sudan, and Aswan in Egypt.
The trains in Egypt are all run by Egyptian National Railways, a state-owned and -run company (no website available as yet).
Train tickets can be bought at most major railway stations' booking offices once you are in Egypt, (although, as this is Egypt, a great deal of patience is often required...)
Ramses Sattion in Cairo has several booking windows, for example, one for each class and group of destinations, so be sure to check with locals (usually very helpful) that you are joining the right queue. Train tickets can be paid for in Egyptian currency, except for the deluxe Abela Egypt sleeper which must be paid in foreign currency (dollars, euros or pounds sterling). An alternative to self-booking, if you don't mind paying a little commission to avoid the inevitable hassle and frustration, is to a local travel agent to buy tickets on your behalf (preferably at least the day before you intend to travel).
Busy holiday periods excepted, it's not normally difficult to get 1st class tickets on the day of travel or the day before. To avoid complications, however, book as far ahead as possible.
Always go for First Class tickets (ridiculously cheap in any case) - travellers probably won't want to experience anything below Second Class (the condition and provision of toilets, for example, drops away quickly after this level). If you must travel at a lower class than desirable, look for the first opportunity to "upgrade" yourself into an empty seat - you may pay a small supplement when your ticket is checked, but it's worth it. Seat 61
In the cities taxis are a very safe, cheap and convenient way of getting around. It has to be noted that while they are mostly safe there are sometimes fake taxis going around so make sure they have official markings on the dashboard or elsewhere. They are also always painted in special colors, in Cairo they are black and white and in Luxor they are blue and white. In Cairo and Luxor it is often much more interesting to use the taxis and a good guidebook instead of traveling around in a tour bus.
All the taxis have meters but they are calibrated using a law from the 1970s before the oil crisis and are never used. Instead you have to tell the driver where to go and not mention a price. At the end of the journey you step out of the car and make sure you have everything with you and then hand out reasonable money. If the driver shouts, it's probably OK, but if he steps out of the car you almost certainly paid too little. The definition of reasonable seems to be variable but examples are 30 LE from central Cairo to Giza, 10 LE for a trip inside central Cairo and 5 LE for a short hop inside the city. Do not be tempted to give them too much except for exceptional service, otherwise ripping off foreigners will become more common and such practice generally tends to add to the inflation.
Taxis can also be hired for whole days for between 100-200 LE if going on longer excursions, for example to Saqqara and Dashur from Cairo. Inside the town they are also more than happy to wait for you (often for a small extra charge but normally they say it's free), even if you will be wandering around for a few hours.
English is often spoken by taxi drivers and they will double as guides, announcing important places when you drive by them. Of course they expect to be paid a little extra for that. This is not always the case and if you get your hands on a good english speaking driver it is wise to ask him for a card or a phone number, they can often be available at any time.
The domestic air network is fairly extensive and covers most major towns in Egypt. The national carrier, EgyptAir has the most regular services and is the easiest place to start looking before you go. From Cairo there are services to quite a few towns and places of interest around the country, the most important are the following:
- Abu Simbel
- Sharm el Seikh
- Mersa Matruh
- Dakhla oasis
There are other places but these are the most common. Due to a two-tier pricing structure fares can be more than four times more expensive for foreigners than locals but still relatively cheap, for example a return day trip to Luxor is about $150. It is wise to book early, flights fill up quickly in the peak season. Local travel agencies have internet web pages and can sometimes squeeze you in last minute but booking in advance is recommended.
The official language of Egypt is the Egyptian dialect of Modern Arabic. Egyptian Arabic differs in that the letter jim is pronounced g instead of j. Few travellers will have difficulty finding someone with whom to communicate. English is widely spoken, especially in tourist centres, followed by such other languages as French, German, Spanish, Italian and Japanese. The pressure to cater for tourists has driven language acquisition in all the main cities and tourist areas - you will find many Egyptians keen to practice their English with you! Make an effort to share some new words or gentle corrections, and be a good ambassador for the West.
Following usual rules of politeness, instead of simply starting a conversation with someone in English, ask "Do you speak English?". All the more better if you can do it in Arabic.
The local currency is the Egyptian Pound (EGP), often written as LE. In Arabic it's called "gnieh" (????).
As of January 2006:
- $1 US Dollar = LE 5.75, LE 1 = $0.17
- £1 Pound Sterling = LE 10.15, LE 1 = £0.10
- €1 Euro = LE 6.95; LE 1 = €0.14
- $1 Australian = LE 4.32, LE 1 = AUD$0.23
- $1 Canadian = LE 4.92; LE 1 = CAD$0.20
Egypt is a shopper's paradise - especially if you're interested in Egyptian-themed souvenirs and kitsch, of course. That said, a number of high quality goods are to be had, often at bargain prices. Some of the most popular purchases include:
- Antiques (NB: not antiquities, the trade of which is rightly illegal in Egypt)
- Carpets and rugs
- Cotton goods and clothing
- Inlaid goods, such as backgammon boards
- Leather goods
- Sheeshas (water-pipes)
- Spices - can be bought at colourful stalls in most Egyptian markets. Dried herbs and spices are generally of a higher quality than that available in Western supermarkets and are, of course, much, much cheaper (up to 4 or 5 times cheaper, though the final price will depend of bargaining and local conditions).
Egypt can be a fantastic place to sample a unique range of food: not too spicy and well-flavoured with herbs. For a convenient selection of Egyptian cuisine and staple foods try the Felfela chain of restaurants in Cairo. Some visitors complain, however, that these have become almost too tourist-friendly and have abandoned some elements of authenticity.
One contributor recalls: "The best meal I ever had in Egypt was in the backstreets of Hurghada, a fish shop near the port which also cooked the catch. I went with wife and kids and just said make us happy. We were, the freshest fish, old benches to sit on with a communal table and company who were more interested in us and the kids than their meals, but a meal we still remember!"
Bottled water is available everywhere, the most common brand being Baraka - drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration in Egypt's dry climate.
Egypt is a predominately Muslim nation and alcoholic drinks are, of course, forbidden (haram) for strictly observant Muslims. That said, Egyptians tend to adopt a relaxed and pragmatic view towards alcohol for non-Muslims and foreigners L it is tolerated by the vast majority of Egyptians and consumed by a sizable number of them (including less strict Muslims - you may even be asked to "procure" drink for someone!) Alcoholic beverages and bottled drinks are readily available throughout the country (especially in larger towns and cities, as well as tourist centres). Please note, however, that public drunkeness (especially the loud and obnoxious variety) is definitely not appreciated - without caution, you may end up drying out in a police cell. Try to be a good ambassador: if you must get "tipsy", confine it to the hotel or very nearby! (It's actually quite rare to see drunken tourists, even in the most intense tourist areas...)
Stella Beer, it's great! Ptolemy Wine - don't! (Seriously, Egyptian wines don't compare to vintages elsewhere - you may develop a taste for it though!)
It should be noted that many hotels and bars in Egypt will stop serving alcohol during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan - phone ahead to make sure alcohol is still being served in order to avoid disappointment.
American University in Cairo
The American University in Cairo Middle East, offers degree, non-degree and summer-school study options. Popular courses include Arabic Language and Literature, Islamic Art and Architecture, Arab History and Culture, and (of course) Egyptology  (http://www.aucegypt.edu/academic/sape/Egy/Egyptology.htm).
There exist a number of viable options for acquiring Arabic as a language in Egypt (other than picking it up from the locals):
- the Arabic Language Institute  (http://www.aucegypt.edu/academic/ali/), a branch of AUC, offers intensive courses at a variety of levels.
- Unfortunately the British Council  (http://www.britishcouncil.org.eg) in Cairo no longer offers Arabic courses. The Arabic teachers who worked there have set up a school of their own called Kalimat Ancient Near East .net - Ancient Egypt (http://www.ancientneareast.net/egypt.html) - provides a convenient listing of online guides to archaeological sites in Egypt
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