I took the Kuwait airways flight from New Delhi to Cairo. The flight was delayed by couple of hours and landed by 2:30pm instead of the original 11:30am. Kuwait airways offers the best possible connectivity to Cairo from India and at a reasonable price. There was a 1.5 hour layover at Kuwait. The Kuwait airport involves a terminal change so keep that in mind if you are trying to book a multiple airline flight. Even if you book Kuwait airways throughout, its good to confirm with them beforehand, on whether the layover time is enough. At Cairo I stayed at Tahrir Square hostel which is located in the heart of the city. The area itself is called Tahrir Square. It is close to the Cairo museum, the Ramses train station, the Nile river and the Go-Bus station. The pyramids are located in the Giza governorate which is across the Nile from Cairo. This is a good area to stay in and the hostels here are great. The owner at Tahrir Square hostel was Medu and he was extremely welcoming and accommodating. He let me stay at the hostel for a full day even after I had checked out. Cairo is an awesome place to experience the hustle and bustle of Egyptian city life. There are numerous eateries and shisha lounges close-by. There is a big smoking culture in Egypt. You can smoke at any of the big tourist sites like the Pyramids and the Karnak temple in Luxor.
Today, I just strolled on the streets of Cairo, absorbing the vibe of the city. For food, the hostel staff suggested a place called Kazaz restaurant which is walking distance from the hostel. The place was amazing and I ended up eating there three times after that. Some good Egyptian food to try is shawarma, felafel, kofta and grilled chicken or lamb. A famous Egyptian vegetarian dish is Koshary which is a mixture of beans, rice and sauces.
For today, I had booked a tour through my hostel for the visit to Giza. This trip included a private car ride to Saqqara, Memphis and Giza pyramid field for 25 USD. The tickets at places and tours/camel rides are extra. To be honest, everything in Egypt is quoted at a much higher price than it should be. People are always trying to con you for stuff. All the tour taxi drivers will take you to random souvenir outlets where you will end up overpaying for stuff. First of all, if you get an Uber to each of the three places, you will end up paying much less than the 25 USD. On the other hand, wait times could be high and it is possible that you will find it difficult to get an onwards Uber from there. All the three places are pretty far from each other. I thought the 25 USD was a good deal for the taxi.
At Saqqara I paid 120egp for the ticket and then inside you can hire a guide. I negotiated and got one for 150egp and a horse ride to the tombs close-by for another 100egp (the horse ride was a scam, you can easily walk it to these tombs). You can see the pyramids and a number of tombs and actually go inside one of the pyramids for free. The people are pushy towards selling their stuff everywhere in Egypt and "there is no free help" here, even if its something as simple as asking someone to click a photograph for you.
At memphis I went and saw a massive statue of King Ramses-the second and a lot of other statues. All these statues had been converted to an open air museum. The overall experience here was rather disappointing as Memphis was supposed to be where the kings once lived. None of that remains anymore. Again salesmen and people are extremely pushy. Don't buy souvenirs here; they are very over priced.
At the pyramids of Giza, after heavy negotiation, I took a large tour camel ride for 35 USD. It was a complete rip off. The people will try to sell you three different tours ( small, medium and large) and will start with ridiculous prices. Honestly, I hated this tour. The guide had no information on the pyramids itself and all he did was click great pictures. If that is what you want, then go for it. I would suggest not taking the camel ride unless you aren't okay with walking 3-4 kilometers. Walking is better and much cheaper. The entry is just 150egp and then you don't have to pay anything else unless you want to go inside one of the pyramids. Just be careful of people inside the pyramid complex. There are some major scams here. Don't buy anything and don't let people click pictures for you, they will ask for money later. Just go and do your own thing. I did not go inside the pyramid here because it was 350egp and there is nothing major to see inside.
Regarding tipping in Egypt, everyone will want a tip and they will never be happy. Stick to a standard 10-15 percent tip. You really don't have to tip everywhere unless you're happy with the service.
I got back to the hostel by 5pm and then ate a late lunch at Filfela which was also very close-by. They have great cheap shawarmas.
Later at night, I went to Khan el Khalili market to check out the vibe. Its open till midnight and night time is a good time to visit. Its a taxi ride away from Tahrir Square. Just Uber it everywhere in Cairo or at least know the Uber pricing before hiring a local taxi. Khan El Khalili has a complete bazaar feeling to it, with numerous shops displaying souvenirs, carpets and perfumes. Its good to just go and get lost in the market and enjoy the vibe. I did not try to buy anything from here. Things are always over priced at all these touristy places.
I took the night train at 12:15am the next day to Luxor. The train was a Spanish style seater train and was supposed to reach by about 10:30 am in the morning. I was the only Non-Egyptian on the train. Foreigners usually take the sleeper trains which are much more expensive. The ticket cost me 114egp as I had pre booked it online through the Egyptian railways portal. If you try and get the ticket at the station, they will probably try and sell you the sleeper train ticket. I think it was a very good decision, on my behalf, to pre-book the trains.
The Train reached Luxor at 11:30am. The train journey from Cairo to Luxor is a long one and the trains aren't in the best of conditions. Also be sure to carry a thin blanket and a warm jacket on board because it can get really cold at night. I would also suggest reaching the station an hour in advance, so that you can figure stuff out. Very few people speak English and all the train number and other information is in Arabic. So it can take some time to figure out the platform number and stuff like "which train is yours."
I was staying at a hostel called Happy Land. It was good, basic, cheap and close to the action. The hostel was located in a narrow alley in the heart of the city. I had originally booked a dorm room but upon reaching the hostel, I was given a single room for the same cost. The only sticking point about this hostel was the size of the bathroom which was extremely tiny. I guess price wise it was justified. The hostel cost me about 350egp for three nights. It does not get cheaper than that. The hostel also had great food and an amazing chill rooftop.
Today, I Saw the Luxor temple after dusk. It was walking distance from the hostel. I would suggest going to the temple at just about sunset because then you can enjoy photography as well. At night, even though the temple is very well lit, it is hard to get good pictures. Try going before or around sunset, so you can photograph and see the lights as well. Entry into the temple is 140egp for a foreigner but if you are a student and can produce a student identification then it is halved to 70egp. This is true for all Egyptian sites. So try and take a student ID, it really helps.
Another thing to do in the evening is to just walk along the Nile and enjoy the views. I got an early dinner at a McDonald's across from the temple.
Today I went to Karnak temple at 10am in the morning. I took a horse carriage ride from the hostel to the temple and back for 100egp. The entry to the temple itself is 150egp (with a student ID, this is halved). I got a guide at the temple for 100egp but it was a waste. These guides have minimum information and just click pictures for you. Just explore the temple by yourself or do it through the Happy Land tour (highly recommended. More on this later). The Karnak temple is a huge temple complex devoted to the god Amun Re and many Pharaohs had a hand in building this complex. Over the centuries, different kings kept adding monuments to this complex, making it even bigger. This temple has three different areas but as a tourist you can only visit one - The precinct of Amun Re. If you really want to explore the temple properly, you should spend a good 2-3 hours here. Another good way to do Luxor is to do it as a tour from the hostel. Luxor, like any other Egyptian city is divided by the Nile into a west and an east bank. The East bank has the Luxor and the Karnak Temples while the West bank has the valley of the kings, valley of the queens, the mortuary temple of Hatshepsut and numerous other sites. You can do both East Bank and West Bank with the hostel tour. They have a guide who is very good and explains stuff in detail. I did the West Bank tour with them and loved it.
For dinner today, I tried the food at the hostel rooftop and it was great. The hostel does not have a full fledged menu. They only have three dishes which include fish, chicken or beef cooked Egyptian style. I tried the chicken and it came with rice and Okra.
Alcohol in mainland Egypt is a touchy subject. In the coastal towns of the Sinai peninsula, it is very open. But in the mainland areas of Cairo and Luxor, it can be restrictive. Its not like you cannot get alcohol, it's just not so easily visible. There was a bar close to the hostel at Luxor called pub 2000 where you can go get beers for 30egp each. The local beers here are Stella (not the Belgian one) and Sakara.
Today I went to the west bank which includes a lot of sites like the valley of the kings and temple of Hasthephut. It was an early start to the day at 8am. I had booked the tour through the hostel itself. The cost for the transport (in a minivan) with a guide was 80egp, which is very nominal. The main cost of going to these sites was from the tickets which totalled to 360egp for three sites. The tour goes to the valley of the Kings where you can go into the tombs of three kings (Ramses 9, Ramses 4 and one more). These tombs are beautifully covered with wall carvings and hieroglyphs. There is also an option of going inside Tutenkhamun's tomb but for that you have to pay a ridiculous fee (300egp or something). We also went to the mortuary temple of Hatshepsut which is unique in its own way with column structures carved into the mountain itself. The guide was very informative and I highly recommend doing the west bank with him. We also had a nice discussion about the Egyptian revolution and politics. Also, you can do the East Bank tour with this guide. This would include Luxor temple and Karnak Temple (150egp total for both East and West plus entrance fee for all the places are extra as specified above). I did the East Bank on my own and hired a local guide at the Karnak temple. Not only did I pay much more, but the guide I hired at the temple had zero information. The tour from Happy Land is the best way to do it.
The tour will also stop for lunch at a place called Crocodile Cafe. It is a buffet and costs 80egp. I did not eat here and the tour guide was kind enough to drop me back to the East Bank area whilst the others ate. Knowing that I did not have money and needed to exchange it, he even offered to pay for the food which was a kind gesture. This is unlike Egyptian people in the tourism industry, where everyone is just trying to rip you off. So all in all the experience of the Happy Land tour was very good.
Some advise on buying souvenirs from places. Always check prices from different places and wait till the latter part of you trip before you buy stuff. You will find them cheaper the more south or remote you go.
For lunch, I went to this hotel called Nefertiti hotel. The restaurant here is called Al Sahaby Lane restaurant and is highly recommended on TripAdvisor. The food was great and so is the view from their rooftop. You can see the alley of the Sphinx, the Nile and the Luxor temple. It's a great place to relax and enjoy the sunset.
For dinner, I went to this place called Sofra Restaurant. It was a really chill place. The food here was priced a bit higher than other places (about 120egp per person). I tried the Fatta Bil Moza and it was exquisite. Well worth it!!
Today in the morning I took the onwards train to Aswan. Aswan is a city in the South of Egypt, close to the Sudanese border. The train was scheduled to depart at 6:45am but was delayed by 4 hours. All trains from Luxor to Aswan leave from platform 2. Egyptian trains have got nothing written in English so it is very hard to understand which train is which. After nearly catching numerous wrong trains, eventually I caught the right one and reached Aswan by 12:30pm. Here, I was staying at David hostel. This was the only budget place I could find online. This hostel was a little far away from the main town. It cost me about 140egp per night in a dorm room. Whilst I was there, the entire dorm was empty so I essentially had the whole room to myself. The toilets and rooms were nice and clean. After getting some lunch, I took the cab to town which cost me 20egp. From there, I took the ferry to Elephantine island. There is a public ferry which runs to and fro between the East Bank and the island. Elephantine is an elevated island on the Nile. This island has a Movenpick resort and the Aswan museum with its surrounding ruins. The entry to the museum was 70egp. The museum contains artefacts from ancient Elephantine civilisation. Also adjacent to the museum is an archeological site which contains ruins of ancient settlements and a few temples.
After returning, I got a quick meal at KFC which is located on the Nile corniche. You can get a meal here while enjoying the sunset.
Today, I had pre-booked an early morning tour (4am) to visit Abu Simbel temple at the Sudanese border. It is a UNESCO world heritage site. Abu Simbel temple is three hours drive from Aswan so the tour returns by 1pm. The total transport cost is 300egp in a minivan and the temple entry fee is 215egp. There are two temples here: one is of Ramses 2 and one for his wife Nefertari. In this temple Ramses shows himself as equal to the gods. So everything here shows signs of that. Back in the 1900's, the entire temple was moved as part of a UNESCO project to save it from drowning by the creation of a dam. It was cut in pieces and reassembled at a higher location. This was an engineering/archeological marvel and makes this temple even more interesting.
After returning from Abu Simbel, I went to visit the Temple of Philae. This temple originally stood on the island Philae but had to be moved for the same reason as Abu Simbel. Currently it is situated on an island called Angilika. It is a temple dedicated to the Egyptian goddess Isis. In order to reach this island you have to get a taxi to the ferry point and then a ferry to the island. This ferry is very expensive and costs about 180egp for a return journey. The best way to save money is to wait for other people to come and then get a ferry together and split this cost. The entry to the temple was 140egp making it quite expensive to visit. I thought I could have skipped it. I did not find it was worth the money or hassle.
Later that night, I took the 8:30 Pm train back to Cairo. Do remember to carry a blanket onboard because the trains here get super cold.
I reached Cairo by 1pm. This time I was staying for just the full day as I had an onwards night bus to Dahab. I checked into a hosel called My hotel hostel at Tahrir square. It was 165egp for the night in a dorm room, which was reasonable. The hostel was nice and clean and very much comparable to my older Cairo hostel (though I did have a bad experience when I stayed with them for a second time. More on this later.) The owner Saeed was also nice and helpful. The Egyptian museum and the Go-Bus station are right across from the hostel.
I went to the Egyptian museum of antiquities at 2:30pm. This museum is one of the richest in the world, in terms of the kind of stuff they have. The museum is open till 5 pm almost everyday and the ticket price including the mummy room visit is 300egp (except on Thursdays and Sundays when it is more expensive). There is an additional photo ticket for 50egp but any and everyone was clicking photos inside the museum with no one enforcing the photo ticket. So getting the photo ticket is a waste of money. The museum itself is huge. They have stuff in there from all eras, from before the Old Kingdom to the Byzantine Kingdom. It is very interesting. The only thing is that it is extremely disorganised. Furthermore, the museum is shifting to a location in New Cairo soon, so a lot of the stuff is packed and ready to move. That being said, the museum is still worth a visit. It is one of the most important museums in the world. The mummy room in itself is an experience and so are the treasures of Tutenkhamun's tomb (including his mask). You would need about four hours to seriously explore the entire museum.
I ate dinner at Kazaz with a friend and then later that night, I got the Go Bus to Dahab. The ticket prices were 225egp for the deluxe bus. There are plenty of buses to Dahab and Sharm El Sheikh. You can just check the timings online and go and get the ticket at the time of departure. Their office is very close to Tahrir square (walkable). The journey is ideally about 9-10 hours. The Go Buses in Egypt are a comfortable and reliable way to travel to the Sinai Region.
I reached Dahab by 2:30pm. It ended up being a long fourteen hour journey from Cairo. It was actually supposed to be around nine hours but because of so many long stoppages it ended up being much more. Our Bus had to stop for three hours at the Suez canal and then after we entered Sinai, there were at least 10 police stoppages. This is because of the recent tension in the North Sinai region. Apart from the excessive security, everything in the South Sinai region is relaxed and chilled out.
Dahab is the gem of Sinai. It is a relaxed, quiet, chill place in the South Sinai region. It is a nice getaway from the hustle of city life. All you do is relax and unwind. Also it is not yet a proper tourist destination for Egyptians who still prefer Sharm El Sheikh over it. So the crowds are much less and mostly backpackers. The people are nicer and don't push you to buy stuff.
I stayed at the Deep Blue Divers Hostel. The accommodation was cheap and very basic and cost me 75egp per night. This was a Japanese hostel so most people here were from Japan. I stayed in the 10 persons mixed dorm. The hostel was located bang in the centre of the action. You step out and the vibrant town of Dahab charms you with its vibe. The food was also amazing. Upon recommendation from a friend, I ate lunch at King's chicken which was walking distance from the hostel. The meals there are about 75egp but they are massive sized and definitely worth it.
In the evening, two Japanese friends from the hostel and I, headed to one of the numerous shisha lounges. We took our own beer, sat at a beach side cafe and smoked shisha. It was an amazing experience. In Dahab, unlike the rest of Egypt, you can get alcohol very openly and easily. You can even drink on the roads. Life in the Sinai is so different to mainland Egypt.
For today, I had signed up with deep blue divers for three dives. The driving at Dahab was good and cheap. Each dive cost me 25 USD with an additional check dive which was 35 USD. I had to do the check dive because it had been about 8 months since I last dove. The check dive was 10 USD extra on top of the usual 25. So in total I paid 85 USD for three dives which is much cheaper to the prices in Sharm El Sheikh.
The diving started at 11am and we did our first dive at a local divesite called Mashraba which was a stone beach one minute's walk from the hostel. This is usually where all dive shops do their check dives. This was a very shallow dive but we still saw a lot of lion fish and moray eels.
After the check dive we changed our tanks at the dive shop and headed to the world famous Blue Hole dive site. The Blue Hole is a sink hole which is known for claiming the lives of more than 200 divers. It is situated right on the beach and goes down to 155 meters. As advanced divers, we can only access the first 30 meters. This is one of the tick of the bucket list dives because there is not much fish to see here. Its just the thrill aspect. The most confusing bit about this dive is the fact that you don't have a bottom to gauge your depth, so you can easily go very deep if you don't keep a check on your depth gauge.
The third dive was at El Bells. This was the best dive site of the three. It starts some way off the blue hole and eventually enters it and thats where you finish your dive. You see a lot of cool stuff on this dive. I thought I saw some sharks in the blue at the start of the dive. It was probably me imagining stuff. Overall the dives were good and the visibility was great. We finished our third dive by 3:30pm.
I ate an early dinner at Mom's Kitchen which was right next to the dive shop. It was good but not as great as the King's Chicken place.
I took the bus to Sharm El Sheikh at 7pm and reached Sharm by 8:30pm. I was staying at the Falcon Star Naama Hotel. The bus stop is 7km away from the main Naama Bay area so i had to take a taxi which was about 70egp. The hotel looked lavish from the outside but the room that I got was very average. There were problems with Air Conditioning. The cost of the room was about 16.9 USD per night without any breakfast. This was by far my worst hotel experience in Egypt.
At Sharm El Sheikh, from the second day onwards, I was staying at Oonas dive club and I was diving with Camel divers. Camel divers have a fantastic setup with great guides. They also offered me the cheapest option at Sharm. It cost me about 215 dollars for 3 days diving (6 dives with equipment). The diving wasn't as cheap as Dahab but the dive sites here were so much better. Also, at Dahab all the dives were shore dives while at Sharm they were all boat dives.
Sharm El Sheikh is a proper tourist beach town with vibrant nightlife and night clubs. It is starkly different to the chilled out and relaxed vibe at Dahab. As a solo traveler, I would have not enjoyed this place had I not been diving. There are no hostels here, only hotels and resorts. There is no way to interact with other travellers. It is more like a holiday destination for European families. Through diving, I made quite a lot of friends from different parts of the world.
Today I did two dives from the beach itself. The dive site was called Eagle Ray Bay. This was a very easy dive with no currents. On the first day, all dive operators at Sharm will take you on a shallow and easy dive where they will check your skills, no matter the amount of diving experience you have. On this dive, I saw some cool things like about nine lion fishes and a sea turtle .
Post diving I ate lunch at El Masrein restaurant which was next to mina mall in the Naama Bay area itself. It was recommended by my dive instructor. The food here was expensive but great. Everything in Sharm is overpriced and expensive when compared to Dahab or even Cairo. Sadly, that's just how it is.
Later that night, I got shisha and drinks at the camel rooftop bar.
Today was one of the best diving days. I went for two dives to Tiran island. The dive sites were called Woodhouse reef and jackson's reef. The straits of Tiran are world famous dive sites. They are usually drift dives with very strong currents. During the season (from July-September), there is a high chance of seeing something really cool here.
Both these dive sites were really nice with more than 30 meter visibility and relatively mild currents. Jackson's was better than the first in terms of the abundance of fish. We got back to the dive centre by 4:30Pm.
I ate a late lunch at Oonas Dive Club cafe. A shawarma sandwich cost about 55egp. Probably the cheapest in all of Sharm.
Later that evening, I hung out from 6:30 onwards at the camel bar. There was a divers get-together there. You can go and chat with fellow divers over a few beers (40 egp per beer). For dinner, I got a Margarita pizza for 60egp from Oonas dive club cafe.
I was not so sure if I wanted to dive today. I really wanted to do the world famous Thistlegorm wreck dive but unfortunately it wasn't available that day with Camel divers. Furthermore, this was my last day at Sharm and no other dive operator was willing to take me to the wreck without me having dived with them for at least one day beforehand. It is a deep and difficult dive with choppy seas. My other option was to do a day trip to Saint Catherine Monastery. I decided against doing that because I had already done a lot of cultural places as part of my trip and did not feel like doing any more. If I had one more day I would have definitely done Saint Catherine's as well. It is a UNESCO world heritage site. Also, it is supposed to be the place where Moses saw the burning bush and received the ten commandments from god himself.
In the end, I decided on diving at Ras Muhammad national park. Today I did a total of three dives (had to pay extra 27 euros for the third). The second dive at Shark and Yolanda reef was the best one I did in Egypt. I ended up seeing a giant Napoleon Wrasse, a Turtle and plenty of other fish. Overall, I did 7 dives with camel divers and the experience was exceptional. It costed me a total of 270 USD (all inclusive with the extra dive).
Later that evening at 5:30pm, I took the Go-Bus to Cairo. All buses from Sharm actually leave from Watania station half hour earlier, and this information is not available online. Online it will only show that there is only one station at Sharm called Rosayyat station. This station is quite far away, so it is better to get the bus and the ticket from Watania. Just reach Watania half an hour before the scheduled departure time from Rosayyat (which you can find on the Go-Bus website). The ticket cost was 190egp. There are plenty of buses leaving for Cairo. I got this one because the timing suited me for my onwards flight to India.
The bus reached by 2am. Much sooner than my prior bus journey from Cairo to Dahab. I think there was some Youth Conference happening at Sharm El Sheikh around this time. The security was really tightened up due to that. The normal time to get from cairo to sharm is about 8-9hours.
I stayed at My hostel hotel again. I thought I would get a good price (as I was staying for only 4-5 hours) there but they really over charged me and on top of that made me change rooms at 5am. My second time experience with them was terrible. I paid about 300egp for the night.
I took the Uber to the airport at 9:30am. Cost me 122egp which is about the right price. My Flight to Kuwait was at 1pm. I reached Delhi at 3am the next day.
All in all, Egypt is a wonderful place with so much history and culture. The food is amazing and the people are nice. It offers amazing diving opportunities in the Red sea and some of the best wreck dives in the wold. Its a perfect combination of rich culture and a relaxed vibe.