Egypt: Travel Tips - Getting Acquainted

Getting Acquainted

The Government Egypt is officially known as the Arab Republic of Egypt (ARE). Its capital city is Cairo. Some of the major cities are Alexandria, Giza, Port Said, Asyut, Suez, Minya, and Aswan. It is a republic. Hosni Mubarak is President, Commander in Chief of the Army, the leader of the National Defense Council. The Prime Minister and cabinet are appointed by the President.

There is one legislature body: the National Assembly, composed of representatives from all districts of the country, 50 percent of whom must be from the working class or farmers. The Shura Council is an advisory body with 140 elected members and another 70 appointed members.

The Economy

Since 1973 there has been a massive influx of foreign aid into Egypt. As a result there are new roads linking all areas of the country, villages up and down the Nile and in the deserts have been electrified, new schools, hospitals, and other services have sprung up by the dozen, telephone systems have undergone massive renovation and expansion, and the private sector has been encouraged to invest heavily in Egypts future. The change in Egypt has been dramatic. Everything has improved.

For the tourists there are dozens of new hotels and restaurants, monuments have been restored and their environments spruced up, tour guides are licensed, and retail shops are bursting with good quality products.

Hard currency revenue is of major importance to the government. To that end visitors are encouraged to spend freely. The major source of income for the country as a whole has been the Suez Canal, oil and remittances from Egyptians working abroad. Domestically, tourism has become vitally important.

Time Zones

When it is noon in Cairo it is:
2 a.m. in San Francisco.
5 a.m. in New York.
10 a.m. in London.
10 a.m. in Paris.
11 a.m. in Rome.
3:30 p.m. in New Delhi.
4:30 p.m. in Bangkok.
7 p.m. in Tokyo.
8 p.m. in Sydney.

Geography & Population

Egypt links two continents, stretching across the northeastern corner of Africa and the southwestern edge of Asia. The country is approximately 626,000 square miles (1,00,000 square km) in size. Its longest distance north-south is 640 miles (1,025 km) and widest distance east-west is about 775 miles (1,240 km). The northern border is the Mediterranean Sea and the southern boundary is with Sudan.

On the northeastern border is Israel, Jordan, Palestine and Saudi Arabia. The Red Sea flanks the eastern border, while the whole of the western border is with Lybia. Egypts 60 million people live primarily in the Nile Valley, leaving the rest of the land sparsely populated. Cairo, the largest city in Egypt, is estimated to have a population of over 15 million people which is growing at an alarming rate.


The deserts of Egypt comprise over 90 percent of the land surface but are inhabited by around 5 percent of the population. The deserts are part of an arid region that stretches from the Atlantic coast in the west to Central Asia in the east.

The Eastern or Arabian Desert is east of the Nile Valley and extends to the Red Sea. It is far higher than the Western Desert, rising to a series of ranges, parallel to the sea, called the Red Sea Mountains. It is approximately 86,101 square miles (223,000 square km), or 21 percent of the land mass of Egypt. The Arabian Desert has two distinct areas, the northern Al Maaza Plateau, composed primarily of limestone, and the southern Al Ababda Plateau. Water is very scarce in these areas.

The Western or Libyan Desert is much larger than the Arabian Desert, covering 332,434 square miles (681,000 square km) and comprises two thirds of Egypt. It is separated from the North African or Great Sahara by highlands and is composed primarily of Nubian sandstone and limestone. South of the Qattarah depression there is a band of north-south sand dunes that continue as far south as the Kharga Depression, where they flatten out. The Western Desert is the most arid region of Egypt.


There are six inhabited depressions in the deserts of Egypt. The Al-Kharga Oasis Depression is west of the Nile Valley town of Asyut and joined to it by a roadway. Evidence of tectonic plate movement can be seen in the escarpment walls. North to south the depression is 115 miles (185 km), east to west 9-18 miles (15-30 km). Only 1 percent of the total area is cultivated. One of the most distinctive features of the Kharga Oasis Depression is the escarpment that one must descend before arriving at the town of Kharga.

Dakhla Oasis Depression is 75 miles (120 km) west of Kharga. Unlike all of the other depressions, 45 percent of its land is cultivable. Its primary water source is furnished by the deep artesian wells. This water is from rainfall in Equatorial Africa and is believed to take 500 years to reach the oasis.

Farafrah Oasis Depression is connected to Dakhla by a road that crosses the chalk escarpment at Bab al Qasmand Pass. There is one major village in the depression, Qasr el Farafrah, supported by 20 freshwater springs. There is a large area of sand dunes in the eastern and south-eastern section of the depression which extends for some 93 miles (150 km).

Bahariya Oasis Depression differs from the other depressions in the Western Desert in that it is surrounded by an escarpment. The depression is 26 miles (42 km) long and 8 miles (14 km) wide. Dolorite and quartzite rock hills are scattered along the depression floor.

Siwa Oasis Depression has the saltiest water of all oases. Although this water also comes from Equatorial Africa, the water passes through salty strata on its long journey north to Siwah. The entire floor of the depression is below sea level. The area is 680 square miles (1,088 square km). The southern part of the depression is covered by a 312-mile (500-km) sea of sand.

Fayyum Oasis Depression. Because it is joined to the Nile by the Bahr Youssef, a man-made canal, one does not think of the Fayyum as a depression. Even the soil is composed of Nile silt brought in since the Middle Kingdom when it was first used as a catchment basin for the Nile overflow.

Sinai & the Red Sea


The Sinai peninsula juts into the Red Sea creating the Gulf of Aqaba on the east and the Gulf of Suez on the west. It is 38,125 square miles (61,000 square km) in area ( 6 percent of Egypt) with the desert in the north and granite mountains in the south. Its highest mountain peak is Gebel Katrina at 8,715 feet (2,641 metres). The central part of Sinai is the Tie Plateau.

The Red Sea:

The Red Sea is 7,785 feet (2,359 meters) deep, 1,207 miles (1,932 km) long from north to south and 191 miles (306 km) from east to west. Cutting through the Gulf of Aqaba from the Dead Sea and continuing south through the Red Sea and on into East Africa is the Great Rift Valley, the juncture of the African and Arabian Tectonic plates. The Red Sea is highly saline with small tides and exquisite coral shelves and reefs.


The two seas that border Egypt in the north and east have left a string of five saltwater lakes across the northern border of Sinai and the Nile delta basin; Lake Bardawil in Sinai; Lake Manzalah, the largest of the northern lakes; Lake Burullus; Lake Idku, west of Alexandria; and Lake Maryut, the only lake of the five not directly connected to the sea by a natural channel.

Three saltwater lakes connect with the Suez Canal, the Great Bitter Lake, Little Bitter Lake and Lake Timsah. Saltwater lakes also exist in Siwah oasis and the Fayyum (Lake Qarun). Today, Lake Nasser is the only freshwater lake in Egypt. Truly a reservoir, it was created by the construction of the High Dam Aswan backing up the Nile waters in the land of Nubia.


Egyptian summers are hot and dry in most of the country and humid in the Delta and along the Mediterranean Coast. In recent years the humidity has spread to Cairo and the city swelters in August. Winters are mild with some rain, but usually there are bright, sunny days and cold nights.

There is a short spring and autumn and during the 50 days (khamseen) between the end of March and mid-May, dust storms can occur sporadically. Average Year-round Temperatures
(max/min., in Fahrenheit)

Winter Summer
Alexandria 69/51 86/89
Cairo 69/51 96/68
Luxor 79/42 102/72
Aswan 79/49 108/77


Power supply in Egypt is 220 volt.

Business Hours


8:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. daily, closed Friday, Saturday, and most holidays.


8 a.m. to 4-5 p.m., closed Friday, some on Saturday, and most holidays. Many grocery stores and gas stations are open 24-hours a day, 7 days a week.

Government offices:

8 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily, closed Friday and most holidays.


10 a.m. to 9 p.m. in winter and 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. in summer. Many shops are closed on Sunday. Khan al-Khalili bazaar is open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily and closed Sunday.

Visiting Antiquities

Egypt's monuments have become increasingly damaged by the hordes of tourists who visit them every day. Allow your grandchildren to someday follow in your footsteps by avoiding adding to the problem. Never lean against or even touch in any way walls with decorations, for you can crumble the plaster or flake away the stone. Stay within the railings set up, and don't touch the carvings or paintings. Flash photography is categorically prohibited, for it fades the paintings, but you can photograph tomb interiors in available light (use fast film) with a special permit.

Do not climb on monuments such as the pyramids, which is illegal, and leave your rubbish in containers, not in tombs. Simply put, the monuments of Egypt are a real and valuable part of all mankind's history and they deserve

your utmost respect. Most of Egypt's monuments, museums, and other cultural sites adhere to hours set by the Egyptian Antiquities Office (EAO). Museums are generally open daily 9 am - 5 pm, Friday 9 am - 4 pm; other sites are usually open the same hours as the museums. You may need permission to visit the sites north of Birket Qarun and in Bahariya.

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Last Updated: June 12th, 2011