Photo Cred: Haythem Refaai
My time in Egypt is finished, and boy did I have a blast! In four weeks' time, I met many wonderful people, saw some spectacular desert and mountain landscapes, and explored the local cuisine. I went snorkeling in the bright blue Red Sea, bummed it in the coastal towns of Nuweiba and Dahab, and went camping in the desert near Faiyum. After spending way too long in Cairo, I had an extraordinarily memorable time in the oasis of Siwa. So all in all, time well spent.
Although I was unable to make time for the popular tourist destinations of Luxor and Aswan (hopefully I will return to Egypt!), I feel like I had an authentic, complete trip. Four weeks is quite a while to spend in one location, yet at the same time, not much time at all, No amount of time is enough to fully experience a culture, though a month tends to fall just shy of one getting bored of a country.
What did these four weeks in Egypt cost? Here is a breakdown by category:
*Note - This doesn't include expenses such as flights in and out of the country (which will be covered at the end of my trip, in a separate retrospective). It also doesn't include the costs of my film photography, which I paid quite a lot to ship and develop overseas. Fingers crossed that the photos turn out ok!
Food - $295.89
By far, the most money I spent in Egypt was on food. After all, how could I not try every single new dish I could get my hands on? Highlights were hamam mahshi (stuffed pigeon) and koshari (a common street food consisting of rice, macaroni, lentils, and numerous other ingredients). Meals tended to cost in the range of $3-6 dollars.
Transportation - $101.13
Thank heavens for Uber in Cairo and Alexandria. Sure, the drivers are crazy, but they're dependably cheap and require no haggling. Buses between cities in Egypt usually cost no more than $5-15, though I didn't take too many of them on this trip.
Accomodation - $74.16
Thanks to my very generous host in Cairo (where I was for nearly two weeks), I paid very little for accomodation. During the rest of my trip, I never paid more than $9 for a hotel room, and saved money by taking overnight buses.
Activities - $62.24
This includes things such as entry fees, snorkeling, and the like. There are so many activities to do in Egypt, and none of them cost too much. Just stay away from tourist traps like Sharm El Sheikh, and you should be fine!
Miscellaneous - $53.29
Random little costs crop up here and there, such as laundry service and bakeesh (little tips for bathroom attendants and the like).
Average cost of $20.23 per day. Because I was lucky enough to stay with a host in Cairo, this trip ended up costing much less than I expected. Egypt is the kind of country you can spend a bit amount more in, or a bit less in. I think a solid budget for one month in Egypt should work out fine at $25 per day.
There you have it. Time and money well spent!
"Have you been to Sinai?"
This question was asked to me by pretty much every Egyptian I met. A destination I had originally written off my itinerary due to safety concerns, it seemed that Southern Sinai was deemed the hippest, most relaxing region in all of Egypt. I could not turn down an opportunity for some peace and quiet, so after multiple reassurances that it was only Northern Sinai which was dangerous, and constant reminders that I would regret not visiting the Red Sea coast, I relented.
After my lovely excursion to Siwa, I arrived in Alexandria, tired and sweaty. I could have opted to stay the night in Alexandria; after all, it would have been cozy to get a nice hotel room and shower, but I decided instead to head back to Cairo. The trains were all sold out for the southern Egyptian cities of Luxor and Aswan, which had originally been on my itinerary. Time in Egypt was running short, and I thought: "I guess I'm spending the rest of my trip in Sinai." I booked a bus that day.
I arrived in the lazy coastal town of Nuweiba and rented a hut at Soft Beach Camp. It was an extremely basic accomodation set at the foot of a beautiful stretch of beach. The water was pure blue, and you could see Saudi Arabia in the distance. For several days, I was at peace. Every day I would swim once or twice, lay in the sand, listen to music, and eat delicious fish (cooked by the camp). On the third day, I took a side excursion to go snorkeling in a coral reef. It was a truly eye-opening experience.
The pickup truck took us at 10 in the morning, and we began our ride to Ras Abu Galum, a coral reserve. It was an extremely bumpy ride, through rough desert and mountain terrain. The sight was spectacular: miles upon miles of brownish-red mountains. When we finally reached the body of water, it seemed to burst forth, a sea of bright blue against the rock of the desert.
The snorkeling was something else. Hundreds of fish, in different sizes, shapes and colors darted around the mountains of white coral. The variety was astonishing, and the water was clear enough to see every little detail. It was like being dropped in the middle of Finding Nemo, only there were no animators needed. This was real life. This was a real place, an entire ecosystem hidden from us land dwellers. I felt like an unwelcome visitor on an alien planet, peering into a neighborhood in which I didn't belong. Throughout the day, I went back into the water a second, third, and fourth time, never being able to get enough of it.
As the sun set, we took the bouncy truck back to Soft Beach. This is what I came traveling for.
I hate Cairo. I hate this city.
Sure, I had a great time at the Giza pyramids (on my first day of the trip). Sure, Coptic Cairo has beautiful narrow alleys, a cool Hanging Church and ancient synagogue, and feels like you're walking through a piece of history. Sure, there's the Saladin Citadel, with its gorgeous mosques and sweet panorama view of the city. Sure, it's fun riding a boat down the Nile, while blasting music and having a drink with some friends. Sure, Khan el-Khalili souk is bustling with energy and soul, and huge crowds of people. Sure, there's a ton of incredible food everywhere you go.
"Yonah," you might be asking, "if there is all this cool stuff in Cairo, why do you hate it?"
I hate Cairo because it's loud, polluted and dirty, and has some of the worst traffic I've ever seen in my life. The noxious fumes on the roads are tearing my lungs apart. Having been to many developing countries in Asia, I'm used to chaotic roads. However, what really sets the driving in Cairo apart from these places is the aggression. It often feels like drivers are trying to prove something by how reckless they are, and they often let little things get to them. One Uber driver got so angry at another driver that he lost his cool, and kept swerving more and more erratically. Eventually, he got his left side mirror knocked off by another car (he finally calmed down after that).
I also hate (and this is more of a qualm with the country than the city) that I have to return to Cairo every time I want to switch destinations within Egypt, as most trains and buses depart from the capital city. To be fair though, this has been made much more pleasant by my generous host in Ma'adi, a quiet, cozy suburban district. I often forget I am in Cairo until I have to venture outside to do anything.
I hate Cairo, but it's ok! It's alright, because I've taken some incredible trips to other parts of the country, and have more on the horizon.
I went camping in the desert, near the ancient city of Faiyum. We climbed up a small mountain to watch the most beautiful sunset I'd ever seen in my life. Then, we pitched tents and watched a meteor shower under clear starry skies.
A day later, I began what was easily the highlight of my trip thus far. I ventured ten hours away to a place called Siwa, a large desert oasis near the Libyan border. It was out-of-this-world beautiful. The desert landscape clashed with that of thousands of date palm trees (which you can simply pick and consume fresh dates from). It is one of Egypt's most isolated settlements, so it's also a very interesting place culturally. The people of Siwa are ethnically Berber, and even speak their own language (Siwi). Siwa contains many ancient structures, such as the Temple of the Oracle of Amun, famously visited by Alexander the Great, and the Mountain of the Dead, which contains several tombs.
On the outskirts of the city, is a large salt lake, which is probably the prettiest thing in all of Siwa. The water is a stunning shade of turquoise, and it looks extremely aesthetic next to the salt formations and desert sand. Some local Beduins have set up saltwater swimming in nearby areas of the desert, where you can float on your back, just like in the Dead Sea! The desert also contains several hot springs (most notably Cleopatra's Bath), some with nearby cafes if you want to spend the afternoon swimming. Finally, there are a couple of great spots for sunset watching; they serve fruit juices and hot drinks and are perfect for winding down after a long day of sightseeing.
At the moment, I am back in Cairo for a short period of time. However, I plan on soon departing for a different region of the country for some more backpacking. I'm extremely happy I decided to go to Siwa, and cannot wait to see what else Egypt has in store for me!
My name is Yonah Paley. I quit my job in the United States to travel. I also write music and do photography. As I backpack across the world, I share stories, philosophy, and travel tips.