Can you visit Egypt on your own? Is it safe to travel down the Nile valley without a guide? What are the advantages and drawbacks of group tours? The rewards and downsides of a private trip across Egypt? Here’s what I learned from our month-long independent journey through Egypt in November 2022.
Egypt is an attractive destination. A cultural paradise. A country with seven thousand years of history and hundreds of well-preserved tombs, temples, and pyramids. But Egypt is also a developing nation in an unstable region. Remember the Arab spring? While Islamists and secularists continue to debate the country’s future, Egypt is struck by poverty and inflation. Before my husband and I visited the country in the fall of 2022, many concerned people asked us: Is Egypt safe for tourists?
I won’t give you a direct answer. According to Egypt’s official numbers, a total of 11.7 million tourists visited the country in 2022—a huge rise since the COVID-years. In that year, no major incidents involving tourists occurred.
Risks do exist, however. Terrorists have targeted and killed tourists in Egypt in the past, and there is no guarantee they won’t succeed in the future. Then again, attacks or kidnappings can occur anywhere in the world. And Egypt has taken serious measures to protect its visitors.
Secured Areas and No-Go Zones
Armed security forces are present throughout the country. Although this may feel intimidating when you first encounter them, they are there to ensure the safety of foreigners. When my husband and I hired a private driver to take us from Hurghada to Luxor, the driver had to request a permit from the local authority a day in advance. He then showed this permit at all the checkpoints along the way. Guards notified one other of our arrival and departure times and kept track of our whereabouts. This is how they try to keep the roads safe.
Violent attacks still occur in the Western desert, the Libyan border area, and on most of the Sinai Peninsula. Western governments advise their citizens to avoid these high-risk areas completely. Unless you research it well and know what you’re doing, I don’t recommend traveling off the beaten track in Egypt.
Fortunately, you can easily visit Egypt’s highlights without entering these no-go zones. Ninety-five per cent of Egypt is desert, and the majority of what you want to see in this country is contained in the Nile valley. The floodplain of the Nile, the narrow strip of green that runs through Egypt from south to north, is the best guarded and therefore the most secure area for your journey.
Advantages and Drawbacks of Group Tours
Some people believe it’s best to see Egypt on a group tour. They feel safest if they only leave their cruise ship to visit a tourist attraction when accompanied by peers and guides. I must admit that I more or less believed this until I did the research on this incredible country and discovered that many do-it-yourself travelers have explored Egypt on their own: solo travelers, couples, friends, even families with young children.
A group tour is great for inexperienced travelers who don’t have much time and only come to Egypt to see the tombs, temples, and pyramids. A package deal has its advantages: The tour company takes care of all your reservations, tickets, and meals—no hassles! Guides that speak your language escort you to the sites and offer information. Being surrounded by other tourists at all times may make you feel safe. All you need to do is show up on time.
But there are drawbacks, too. You are always on the group’s schedule and cannot decide your own pace. You cannot reschedule an outing when you missed one. Some tours include souvenir shops, which I consider a waste of time. You never get to explore a place, discover a restaurant, mix with locals, or accept a spontaneous dinner invitation. There is little chance of adventure. And although the group may function as a buffer zone, it would make me feel more like a target. A crowded tourist bus is an easy mark.
Rewards of Visiting Egypt on Your Own
A big reward of seeing Egypt on your own is that you’re in charge of your own agenda. No need to get up early if you’re a night owl. You can take a day off from sightseeing when you’re tired or suffer from a migraine: The temple will still be there for you the next day. You can skip outings you find too touristic and plan more unique and adventurous experiences, such as renting a bicycle to explore the Valley of the Kings on your own. Your travel plans can stay flexible throughout your trip. There’s room for spontaneous deviations.
The greatest reward, in my opinion, is that you can see most sites without the tourist hordes. That’s right. You can find out on what days and at what hours most group tours are hitting a certain temple, and you can arrive before they do or after they leave. We were virtually alone for hours in the Temple of Kom Ombo, and when we stayed around the Giza pyramids as sunset loomed, we shared the huge site only with other independent travelers like us.
Downsides of Visiting Egypt on Your Own
Of course, it’s time consuming to research and plan your own journey. That is a downside of traveling on your own. Everywhere you go, you must find appropriate accommodation, good restaurants, reliable transportation, and sometimes local guides. You must also negotiate your own prices for these services. And avoid getting scammed. But for us the planning is part of the traveling. It’s about finding a balance between feeling challenged and feeling in charge.
The biggest downside of traveling on your own is that you’re a target for hawkers. People who travel within a group are less bothered by men trying to sell you a boat trip or carriage ride, want to lure you into their restaurant or shop. As soon as you leave your accommodation or vehicle, you will be approached by vendors of goods and services. You will be asked to look at cheap jewelry, souvenirs, and scarves. People will even hand you things, or try to hand you things, claiming its free or a gift, but if you hold on to it, they will follow you down the street and talk you into giving them money.
Still, during our month in Egypt, I was never harassed in a way that made me feel unsafe. I just repeated the same phrase over and over again: La’ Shukran! Meaning: No, thank you. A little Arabic goes a long way (and also shows you didn’t arrive in the country totally clueless). Even as I walked the streets without my husband, men left me alone when I stayed resolved not to engage. I think it helped that I avoided eye contact and dressed modestly.
So How Difficult is it to Visit Egypt on Your Own?
Well, it was far easier than I thought. Here’s why:
- You can get by in English. If the person in charge of the ticket office or reception doesn’t understand you, some helpful young person is usually nearby and happy to translate.
- Tourism in Egypt is far from being at 100% capacity. There is last minute availability. It’s easy to find lodging and change your reservations on the go. We booked flights and private drivers mere days in advance and always found good deals.
- Prices are very reasonable. It’s relatively inexpensive to hire a private driver, so you’re not beholden to bus schedules or known routes. It’s easy to book an itinerary catered to your needs.
- The average Egyptian is friendly and accommodating. Locals do not dislike foreigners; they consider the Unites States an ally and show hospitality to travelers of all stripes. Children will wave at you from the side of the road or river bank, screaming, Welcome! Welcome! All you need to do is wave back.
Group tour or independence?
I don’t know what will be the right choice for you. It depends on how much time you have, where in Egypt you want to go, and how experienced you are in organizing your own travels. My husband and I have enjoyed a life of constant travel since 2019. We dislike planning all our days in advance and prefer to discover a country as we go. For us it made sense to avoid group tours and only occasionally hire a guide.
If you’re a well-informed person who wants to truly experience a country and can use common sense to minimize risks, I recommend traveling to Egypt on your own.
My husband and I went to see the ancient treasures, walk through the temples, and gape at the Sphinx. I’ll never forget how it felt to climb down into my first tomb or do a crazy dance in the pyramid’s shadow. But the real joys, the experiences that changed me and created the deepest memories, were the encounters we had with the Egyptians. From our driver in Luxor to the Nubian captain of our small river boat: We met some extraordinary people in this diverse land.
It will take some grit to visit Egypt as an independent traveler. But if you’re a globetrotter like us, you will later feel proud of having accomplished what for many will stay a dream: You will have made a journey through Egypt on your own.
Before you plan and book your journey to Egypt, please check your country’s travel advisory page for more details and recent security updates:
- For US citizens: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/traveladvisories/traveladvisories/egypt-travel-advisory.html
- For UK citizens: https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/egypt
- For Canadian citizens: https://travel.gc.ca/destinations/egypt.html
- For Dutch citizens: https://www.nederlandwereldwijd.nl/reisadvies/egypte
For all other nationalities: please find the appropriate website or trust one of the above.