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  • Writer's pictureDaniel

Navigating the land of the pyramids

Updated: Nov 14, 2023

The iconic land of ancient Pharaohs, this country needs no introduction, but there is much that is unknown...

The view over the iconic pyramids

The Pyramids of Giza

The “Black Land” or Kemet as it was once called, is a cacophony of noise, sound and light. From the diverse culture, seemingly non-existent road rules, and incredible historical sights, you’d be forgiven if you were overcome at first glance. As such, below are some quick things to know before going. This is not a must-do guide or a history lesson, but more of an education — hopefully — to prepare you before going to one of my new favourite countries.

Loving life amongst the Karnak, Philae, and Kom Ombo Temples

Firstly: Use a tour provider

I can’t stress enough how useful a tour was in Egypt. We used On The Go Tours and had a blast. They organised everything from return airport transfers to simplifying tipping while breaking down the extensive Egyptian history into digestible chunks. On The Go guides are all Egyptologists and support the tour with local guides and activity providers, all screened for safety and ethical practices.

On The Go Tours before the pyramids

An incredible group for our first tour

Tipping is a way of life in Egypt, something confusing to an Aussie, and nothing comes for free, not even toilet paper. So, On The Go helps remove this from the equation by using a tipping kitty to cover porters, drivers and staff. Our guide also conversed with locals to ensure deals were fair, encouraged us to barter, and even joined in for sundowners on the felucca and in our hotels.

Felucca paradise on the Nile

If that wasn’t enough, in retrospect, just the convenient transport alone would have justified joining the tour. Egypt is vying for the lead of countries I would not want to drive in. For a foreigner, there seems no logic or rules, yet it works against the odds. We saw people walking across highways as if the cars zipping by were merely people in a shopping mall. Taxis and buses sometimes had no doors, and you could forget helmets or seatbelts. The locals use their horns for everything except the purposes I believe they were designed for and manage to squeeze their vehicles into gaps that look nonexistent, all the while maintaining a conversation on a handheld phone. While the roads don't have painted lanes, Egyptians take this to the nth degree, making pathways that defy logic or reason. Thankfully, we were cushioned from most of this with door-to-door transfers (including seatbelts). Living like a local is one thing, but I firmly believe you can and should, skip the experience of self-driving in Egypt.

Karnak Temple

Karnak Temple

Secondly: Get a good camera

Egypt’s landscape is unique. From the Great Pyramids to Abu Simbel, it is a country that lives on in memory. It has such a rich history and despite efforts from various looters and defacers, local and foreign, the ancient sites are remarkably well preserved. It is hard to encapsulate the grandeur and longevity of these structures, but with a good camera, you can try.

A snapshot in time

We use a combination of a mirrorless camera (smaller, lighter, and more travel-friendly than traditional bulky options) with an iPhone. Gross I know and hypocritical, but a good pocket camera is sometimes the best option. While having your camera around your neck or strapped to your wrist might seem possible, it isn’t necessarily practical or safe. A good phone is more readily available than taking your good camera out of the bag, and nowadays, a nice phone has capable video performance. Having multiple options also helps, as in a tour, you are restricted on timing, so it helps to be able to snap and go or share the duties with your family/partner or a trusted friend in your tour.

For anyone interested, we use a Sony Alpha a6300. It is very portable (being mirrorless as mentioned), the lens is interchangeable and it comes with 4K video. There are myriads of options out there, just make sure to research what features you want, and for your first time, buy yourself a versatile lens with a good range (our main one is 18-135mm).

The nile on a felucca

You only regret the photo you didn't take

Thirdly: Support local

As mentioned, Egypt has a strong tipping culture. I struggled with this cultural shift, but I understood that it comes from a very low minimum wage by Western standards, around USD 90 per month. While I don’t recommend tipping willy-nilly, it is a way of life that I can support. That being said, this comes with guidelines.

Inside temples, around the pyramids and even in museums, guards, locals and even staff will try to take advantage. They will say that they work here, show you their ID, or try to show you ‘secret treasures.’ This all ends the same way. And not with any treasure. It is best to thank them and move on. Even inside museums, right next to a no-tipping sign, toilet staff ask for handouts.

A camel before the pyramids of Giza

A lonely camel taking a brief respite

Around the pyramids, there are also camel rides offered. This is something we do not endorse, similarly with any horse rides as the animals are very poorly treated, but staff will take your photo before asking for an additional tip for this apparently, not-included service.

Again, this all leads back to having a competent, trusted tour guide to navigate these situations and elucidate these matters. I fully supported the local restaurants and activities we tried, particularly with a strong tip to our local guide at On The Go, but just be careful about where your money is going.

Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut

Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut

We loved Egypt. It was eye-opening and confronting at times, but lived up to the hype. From the hectic city life in Cairo to the majestic Abu Simbel, Egypt has a lot more to offer than a quick pyramid visit. Even through a tour, we couldn’t see everything, which is just another reason to keep travelling.


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