Sunday, May 16, 2021

How to get around in Egypt

AfricaEgyptHow to get around in Egypt

With train

The state-owned Egyptian National Railways operates almost all trains in Egypt. The Cairo-Alexandria line is a busy train line with frequent daily services. For journeys from Cairo to Luxor and Aswan in Upper Egypt, there are night trains operated by a separate private company called Abela Egypt. On ENR trains, a first-class ticket costs only a few dollars more than a second-class ticket and you will find it much more pleasant and comfortable.

Train tickets can be purchased at the reservation desks at most major stations once you are in Egypt, although you will often need to be patient. It is also advisable to buy tickets in advance, as trains may be full during peak hours. Except during rush hours, it’s usually not difficult to buy first-class tickets on the day of travel or the day before. To avoid complications, book as far in advance as possible.

The entry of foreigners is subject to security restrictions. Several websites report that foreigners are only allowed to buy tickets for certain trains. Some websites indicate that you can buy tickets directly from a conductor. This may still change.

You can buy train tickets through a travel agency in Egypt, preferably at least one day before your departure, but you will have to pay a commission to avoid the inevitable hassles at the station. Some travel agencies can make advance bookings by email, fax or telephone. There are several reservation desks ( for instance, one for each class and each destination group) available if you are planning to purchase a ticket at Cairo’s Ramses station. Check with the locals (who are usually very helpful) to make sure you are in the right queue. The station sells tickets in Egyptian pounds, with the exception of the Abela Egypt luxury berth, which must be paid for in foreign currency (dollars, euros or pounds sterling).

First class tickets are relatively cheap and are a good choice, although second class is more than sufficient for many. Travellers are unlikely to want to know anything below second class (the condition and equipment of toilets, for example, diminishes rapidly after this level). If you have to travel in a lower class because of overbooking, look for the first opportunity to ‘upgrade’ yourself to a free seat – you may pay a small surcharge when you check your ticket, but it’s worth it. Note that sanitary facilities on Egyptian trains are rudimentary at best, even in first class. It is therefore advisable to prepare toiletries for long journeys: wet wipes and hand disinfectant are far from being a must.

With bus

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Egypt has an extensive network of long distance buses, mostly operated by public companies. Their names are Pullman, West Delta, Golden Arrow, Super Jet, East Delta, El Gouna, Upper Egypt Bus Co and Bedouin Bus. The popular routes are operated by more than one company. Some bus companies allow you to book seats in advance, while others sell seats based on availability.

Be wary of buying tickets from bus vendors on the street or in front of your hotel. Smaller companies are sometimes unlicensed and can save money on security. Since January 2006, there have been eight serious bus accidents involving foreign nationals, resulting in more than 100 deaths. If you are a passenger in a vehicle travelling at an unsafe speed, you should encourage the driver to slow down.

Road accidents are very frequent in Egypt, mainly due to poor road conditions, dangerous driving and failure to enforce the highway code. The police estimate that more than 6 000 people are killed in road accidents in Egypt every year. Other estimates suggest the figure is much higher.

With taxi

It’s important to know that in major cities, especially Cairo, the main roads are often congested during rush hours and this can double the time it takes to reach your destination.

In cities, taxis are a convenient and inexpensive means of transport. Although they are generally safe, taxis are just as unpredictable as other drivers, especially in Cairo, and you should be aware that fake taxis sometimes run. Make sure they have official markings on the dashboard or elsewhere; taxis are always painted in special colours to identify them, as is the taxi badge on the roof of the car. In Cairo, taxis are all white (rarely with advertisements on the sides), they are to be preferred as they have a digital meter that tells you how much you have to pay and you do not have to pay more than the meter tells you, you can tell the driver in advance that you will only pay what the meter indicates. Other older taxis are black and white, there are also the rarer Cairo taxis, all yellow, also with meters. In Luxor they are blue and white, in Alexandria they are yellow and black. It is usually more interesting to use a taxi or one of the good guides in Cairo and Luxor instead of travelling in a sightseeing bus.

Apparently, Cairo is the only place in Egypt where there is a large stock of modern metered taxis. Since January 2009, all taxis at Sharm El Sheikh airport are equipped with taximeters and must be used. In general, it is best to ask your hotel or an Egyptian acquaintance for point-to-point prices. You can also ask a pedestrian or police officer for the exact fare. The best way to hire a taxi is to stand by the roadside and reach out. You won’t have any trouble attracting a taxi, especially if you are obviously a Westerner. In general, it is advisable to take white taxis that use the meter, as black and white taxis usually haggle at the end of the trip. Some white taxi drivers will not turn on the meter until you ask them to, and if they say the meter is broken, it is best to ask the driver to drop you off before you go far. It is important to have some change with you (a few 5 and 10 notes), as some drivers say they don’t have change to leave with the rest of your money.

If you are in a black-and-white taxi, negotiate a price and destination before you get in the car. Get out of the car at the end of the journey and make sure you have everything you need before handing over payment to the driver. If the driver yells, that’s probably okay, but if he or she gets out of the car, you are almost certainly underpaid. Prices can vary widely, but examples include 20 EGP for a trip from central Cairo to Giza, 10 EGP for a trip in central Cairo and 5 EGP for a short trip around the city. Note that locals pay less of these prices for unmetered taxis; the local price in a taxi from Giza or central Cairo to the airport is 25-30 EGP. Don’t be tempted to give them more because of the economic situation; otherwise swindling foreigners becomes more common, which usually contributes to inflation. Be aware that some of the prices listed here have already been slightly inflated to the expected level for tourists, which is not usually the level that Egyptians will have to pay. You can also hire taxis for whole days, for between 100 and 200 EGP, if you make longer journeys from Cairo to Saqqara and Dashur, for example. In the city, they are also happy to wait for you (often for a small extra charge, but ask the driver), even if you have to walk around for a few hours.

Most taxi drivers can speak enough English to be able to bargain about prices and where you are going, but rarely more than that. Some are more or less fluent, and they will act as guides, telling you important places as you go along, but they can be hard to find. Drivers often expect to be paid a little more for this, but do not feel that they are paying for services you have not requested. If you find a good English-speaking driver, don’t forget to ask for a card or a phone number, as they are often available at all times, making your journey more reliable.

In 2007, a new line of privately owned taxis was introduced in Cairo as a pilot project. They are all clean and air-conditioned. Chauffeurs have formal uniforms and are able to communicate in at least one foreign language, which is usually English. These taxis are distinguished by their bright yellow colour. They can be picked up in the street if they are free, or hired at one of their stops (including one on Tahrir Square in the city centre). These new taxis use electricity meters that count per kilometre, starting at 2.50 EGP. They are usually a little more expensive than ordinary taxis; you can call 16516 in Cairo two hours in advance to hire a taxi if you can’t find them where you’re looking.

With metro

In 2013, there are two complete metro lines, one of which is not yet completed, serving only parts of Greater Cairo. Their tickets cost one Egyptian pound. They are the fastest means of transport, but are always crowded during rush hours and only operate from 6am to around 11.30pm. During the month of Ramadan, they operate from about 7am until after midnight until about 1am. Since the end of 2013, the Tahrir station (called Sadat) has been closed until further notice, and the metros no longer stop there.

With boat

A ferry connects the seaside resort of Hurghada with Sharm el Sheikh on the Red Sea. The journey takes 90 minutes for the EGP400, although in rough seas it can take much longer.

With plane

The domestic air network is quite extensive and covers most of Egypt’s major cities. The national carrier EgyptAir offers most scheduled flights and is the easiest place to check before leaving. It offers flights from Cairo to a range of cities and attractions throughout the country, the most common being Luxor, Aswan, Abu Simbel, Hurghada, Sharm el Sheikh, Alexandria, Marsa Matruh, Marsa Alam and the Kharga oasis.

Airlines used to have a two-tier fare structure that made fares more than four times more expensive for foreigners than for locals. Since early 2007, they have moved to a system where everyone pays the same fare, regardless of nationality. Fares are still relatively cheap – for example, a one-day round trip to Luxor costs around USD 170. It is advisable to book early, as flights are booked quickly in high season. Local travel agencies have websites and can sometimes welcome you at the last minute, but it is safer to book in advance. Travellers can also check prices and book flights on the EgyptAir website, but only with a Visa or MasterCard. Online ticket sales close 72 hours in advance. Travel agents can still make reservations. The national call centre cannot sell tickets over the phone, but they will direct you to a local travel agency; you can also ask your hotel staff to direct you to travel agencies in your area. EgyptAir has an extensive network of offices strategically located around the country that can sell you tickets.