I have dreamed of my visit to Egypt since I was a little girl. I spent hours drawing pages and pages of hieroglyphs, and read stories of ancient Egyptian myths and legends. I read about the amazing stories of their ancient gods and goddesses, and marveled at the beautiful illustrations that were carved with care onto their temples. I read about the mummification process, their burial process, and stories of the afterlife with great curiosity. The ancient Egyptian culture was so rich, and I studied the history of the pharaohs, the kings and queens, never imagining that one day, I will get to see these temples and carvings in real life. Having finally seen Cairo, Luxor, Aswan, and flowed down the River Nile on a ship, as beautiful as everything was, my experience was hardly a dream come true. Here are some of the harsh realities and encounters to better prepare you for your visit to Egypt.
1. You will be ripped off
In my research for my visit to Egypt, I had already heard this one a couple times, but nothing could prepare me for the ingenious ways that the Egyptian people will prey on your emotions and your trusting nature. There is no way around this. The visit to Egypt cannot be considered a vacation, but rather a war zone, where you have to constantly have your guard up the whole time to not be conned. It wasn’t just the inflated prices on all their goods. It was the countless scams, the constant hassling for tips, the charge for arbitrary things like wanting to take pictures with your own camera. Everywhere I went on my visit to Egypt, it felt like an endless reach into my pocket for more and more money.
Related post: 6 Top tourist traps in Egypt to watch out for
2. You will have to pay to take photographs inside a museum
On my visit to Egypt, I was expecting to see marvelous historical sites and artifacts, and document every part of my travels, like I do normally. I take care to not take flash photography, and to be fast to not take up too much time when taking pictures. To my dismay, and see my point above, visitors are required to purchase a “photo pass” for your camera or your cellphone to take photographs. There are guards that will do their rounds to make sure that you’re not sneaking pictures without the photo pass. If they catch you, they will go through all your photographs and force you to delete them, and also likely issue you a fine. Having already paid the admission to see the temples or the museum, it is absurd to have to pay another admission for my camera, so I opted not to. Once you get into a museum, there will be special exhibits were you will have to purchase additional admission just to view. In contrast, when I went to New York just a week later after my visit to Egypt, I was able to see more of the Egyptian culture and artifacts at the Metropolitan Museum of Art without the hassling and having to sneak any pictures. They had exhibits that featured very clearly all the great masterpieces that Egypt had to offer.
3. The inside of the Great Pyramid of Giza is not an wide-open space
In my visit to Egypt, I did not know what to expect before entering the Great Pyramid of Giza. I had seen blueprints of what it would look like inside, and the structure of how people got around inside it. I was under the impression that it was a wide open space, where people could easily move about, and that there would be museum type exhibits that featured or highlighted important parts of the pyramid. Upon entering this pyramid to get to the end, it was quite a big shock. It was like crawling through an underground city, much like the ones in Cappadocia, Turkey. The space was just enough for you to go one direction, so you had to wait if there were people going or coming the opposite way. It was a stuffy, dusty, small-tunneled space to get through to the other side, and the space for the tomb at the end of that walk was less than impressive. I suppose it’s important to note that many impressive artifacts have been stolen from Egypt, so it really felt like just an empty, dusty void. It was more beautiful and majestic on the outside.
4. The Nubian people
Seeing some of the Nubian culture in my visit to Egypt was quite a delight. It has been said that “Nubia was home to some of Africa’s earliest kingdoms,” yet I have heard so little about it. I learned that they, like the Native Americans, have lost so much of their collective identity when their land was taken over by the Egyptians. They had darker skin, and were easy to identify. They didn’t use high pressure sales tactics like the Egyptians, and they were beyond reasonable when it came to negotiations. I mainly interacted with the Nubians selling handmade crafts and jewelry by the Nile River. Their necklaces were made of simple materials, but were such treasures to me.
5. Take the hot air balloon ride
Before my visit to Egypt, I was contemplating on this, going back and forth, not really knowing if I should go through with it. I had already booked it without thought, but not knowing the safety protocols these hot air balloons took was the root of my fear. Hot air balloons crash or catch fire all the time. Everything seemed rushed and unexplained, but I am glad to say that I survived it. The center of the hot air balloon was the hottest, where the flames felt like it could burn the hairs off your neck. Being on the edges of the balloon was nice to be able to see the view properly. They seemed to cram as many people as they could into the hot air balloon basket, so it could get really uncomfortable. We all felt like sardines, and it was hard to even move around. It starts at a god-awful time in the earliest of mornings, with the cold-air chill and sleep still in your eyes. It slowly ascends, and woot, you’re flying across Luxor. When the hot air balloon descends, it’s a rough descend as half a dozen people on ground level crowd around to jump onto and grab the basket to make sure the hot air balloon stays grounded after it lands. We were instructed to prepare, squat down, and brace for impact, as it skids across the dirt a little before coming to a complete stop.
6. Prepare lots of spare change
Upon my visit to Egypt, I was immediately briefed on the “tipping culture” of Egypt by my tour guide. This wasn’t the usual tip that you give if someone does an outstanding job, or tip after a meal in appreciation. This was practically a fee for Every. Single. Interaction. If you want to use a public restroom. If you want toilet paper from a toilet roll that they held hostage so you can give them money for it. (Bring your own toilet roll.) If you want to take a picture. If God forbid you want them to take your picture. If you ride a horse carriage and already paid the fare. If you ride a camel and already paid for that ride. Everyone has their hand held out, sometimes pressed against you, and it can get old very fast. The Egyptian economy suffered severe inflation, where the exchange rate of Egyptian pounds became 17 to 1 US dollar, so they prefer US dollars.
7. Drink their sugarcane juice
Before my visit to Egypt, I had no idea that sugarcane existed in Egypt. The sugarcane juice here is unlike any other I’ve had before my visit to Egypt. It tasted characteristically sweet, with just a hint of milkiness to the juice. It feels so refreshing in the dry and polluted air of Egypt. On the third day of my visit to Egypt, I felt my throat getting so irritated from the pollution that filled the air. The air had a constant shade of yellow, and held the color throughout my week there. The sugarcane juice was not always easy to find, but definitely worth the search.
8. Keep an eye for the Original Phallus Drawing
My mom reads this, so I will use the Latin word for it. The phallus was the symbol of fertility, so drawings and carvings of the human body in ancient Egypt would depict anatomical body parts to properly show gods and goddesses associated with fertility. Being fertile was important within the ancient Egyptian community, to be able to be of higher ranking within their society. Being fertile was an essential part of their lives, from birth to death and rebirth. Try to spot these deities of fertility on your visit to Egypt.
9. You are not allowed to climb the Great Pyramid of Giza
Dating over 4500 years old, a visit to the pyramids in Giza is a must-do on a visit to Egypt. It is the great symbol of Egypt, and the last of the ancient Seven Wonders of the World. Naturally, the Egyptian government does its best to protect both this ancient wonder, and also the climber. It is actually illegal to climb the ancient pyramid, and there are guards that will shoot if they catch you. Scaling this pyramid is no easy feat, as it is over 470 feet feet, with stones that are larger than me. However, I have known people to have scaled this massive pyramid late in the night.
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