Difference between revisions of "Egypt"
Revision as of 05:18, 29 June 2006
Egypt (Arabic: مصر Misr / Másr; more fully, the Arab Republic of Egypt, Arabic: جمهوريّة مصر العربيّة Gomhuriat Masr Al-Arabiah) is a large country located in north-eastern Africa with its capital located in its largest city, Cairo. Egypt also extends into Asia by virtue of holding the Sinai Peninsula. Egypt is bordered by Israel to the north-east, by Jordan and Saudi Arabia to the east (across the Red Sea), by Sudan to the south and by Libya to the west. The country is bounded by the Mediterranean and Red Seas (to the north and east respectively) and geographically dominated both by the River Nile and its fertile well-watered valley, and by the Eastern and Western deserts.
Egypt (together with its southern neighbour Sudan) is perhaps best known as the home of the ancient Egyptian civilization, with its temples, hieroglyphs, mummies, and - visible above all - its pyramids. Less well-known is Egypt's medieval heritage, courtesy of Coptic Christianity and Islam - ancient churches, monasteries and mosques punctuate the Egyptian landscape. 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:
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:
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and the most important month in the Islamic Calendar 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 less frequent, shops close earlier before sunset and the pace of life (specially business) is generally slow.
As expected, exactly at sunset minute, the entire country queits down and busy itself with the main meal of the day (iftar or breaking-fast) that are almost always done as social events in large groups of friends. Many richer people offer (Tables of the Gracious God موائد الرحمن ) in Cairo's streets that cater full-meals for free for the passers-by, the poorer ones or workers who couldn't leave their shifts at the time. Prayers become popular 'social' events that some like to enrich with special food treats before and after. An hour or two later, an astonishing springing to life of the cities takes place. Streets sometimes richly decorated for the whole month have continuous rush hours till very early in the morning. Some Shops and Cafes make the biggest chunk of their annual profit at this time of year. Costs of advertising on TV and Radio soars for this period and entertainment performances are at their peak.
Egypt consists of vast desert plateau interrupted by the Nile valley and delta.
Visas and Documentation
There are three types of Egyptian 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).
Citizens of many countries may obtain a visa on arrival at major points of entry. The fees for a single-entry visa are as follows:
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 or at Sharm el Sheikh airport can be exempted from a visa and granted a free fourteen day residence permit to visit the Aqaba coast of the Sinai peninsular, including Sharm el Sheikh, Dahab and St. Catherine's Monastery.
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 [CAI]  forms the primary entry point and the hub of the national carrier, Egyptair. An increasing number of international scheduled flights are being sent direct to Luxor, however, in addition to the large number of charter flights that already run there.
No need to worry, according the the CNN/Money Global Gas Prices in March 2005, the Price in USD Regular/Gallon is $0.65. So if you decide to rent a car, you will not be digging through your pockets looking for a lot of money to fill your cars tank!
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. There are also ferry boats available to and from Red Sea to ports in Saudi Arabia and Jordan
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 Station 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
Egyptian Railways.com - Unofficial site with downloadable timetables, maps and information on the egyptian railway system.
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 20 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. Note that the prices listed here are already slightly inflated to the level expected from tourists, not what Egyptians would normally pay.
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.
Very recently, a new line of taxis owned by private companies has been introduced to Cairo as a pilot project. They are all clean and air-conditioned. The drivers are formally dressed and can converse in at least one foreign language, usually English. These cabs stand out in their NYC-yellow. They can be hailed on the street if they are free or hired from one of their stops (including one in Tahrir square, downtown, across from the Museum). These new cabs use current meters which count by the kilometer. In general, they are not more expensive than the normal taxis and you can guarantee not being over-charged.
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:
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.
Highlights of any visit to Egypt would include:
Ancient Near East .net - Ancient Egypt - provides a convenient listing of online guides to archaeological sites in Egypt
When you're done with the historical touring don't miss:
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 some