Transport and getting around Egypt
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Egypt has approximately 8600 km (about 5300 Mile) of railroads. The principal railway line links Aswan and points north in the Nile Valley to Alexandria on the Mediterranean coast. The inland waterways of Egypt including the Nile, navigable throughout its course in the country, the approximately 1600 km (about 1000 mi) of shipping canals, and the more than 17,700 km (more than 11,000 mi) of irrigation canals in the Nile delta—are used extensively for transportation. Camel caravans are employed to a limited extent in the desert.

Two highways connect Cairo with Alexandria. Other highways connect Cairo to Port Said, Suez and Al Fayoum. The total length of highways and roads is about 38,000 km (about 23,600 mi), of which about 18,000 km (about 11,200 mi) are highways. International airlines provide regular services between Cairo and Alexandria and major world centres. Egypt-Air, the government-owned airline, also provides domestic and foreign services; the country has about 80 airfields. The major port is Alexandria, followed by Port Said and Suez, all of which are served by numerous shipping companies. The Suez Canal, which was closed from 1967 until mid 1975, produces substantial annual toll revenues. In the early 1990s about 16,600 vessels used the canal each year.


If you enter the country via Cairo International Airport, there are a few formalities. After walking past the dusty-looking duty-free shops, you’ll come to a row of exchange booths. If you haven’t organised a visa in advance, you’ll need to pay US$25 to receive a visa stamp. You then fill in one of the pink immigration forms available on the benches in front of the immigration officials before queuing to be processed. The whole procedure usually takes about 20 minutes, but this being Egypt, it’s probably best to expect delays.

Entering overland or by ferry is more arduous as baggage checks are routine, and there are departure and entry taxes to be paid. Although formalities vary depending on which border you’re crossing, generally speaking it’s fairly straightforward to enter Egypt by land or sea.

Regardless of the means by which you enter Egypt, be sure that you have a passport that is valid for at least six months from the date of entry into the country.

If you’re leaving Egypt by air, your departure tax will usually have been prepaid with your airfare. If you’re departing by land, you’ll need to pay E£2 (travellers who entered Egypt on a Sinai-only visa are exempt). Also note that Egyptian international ferries charge E£50 port tax per person on top of the ticket price.


EgyptAir is the main domestic carrier, and flights – however dodgy they may be – are a surprisingly cheap and convenient means of bypassing countless hours on buses or trains. Fares vary considerably depending on season and availability, but sometimes it’s possible to snag domestic one-way fares for as low as US$35. Keep in mind, however, that prices can increase dramatically during the high season (October to April), and high-demand means that it’s wise to book as far in advance as possible.


No trip to Egypt is complete without a trip down the Nile River. Egyptians have been plying these muddy waters for countless generations, and you can still take the trip on a felucca (a traditional sailing vessel) or opt for a modern steamer or cruise ship.

Travellers heading to the Sinai can bypass hours of bumpy roads and frustrating police checkpoints by taking the speedboat from Hurghada to Sharm el-Sheikh. Although you may have to deal with a bit of sea sickness on this route, the journey is safe and reasonably affordable. It’s also one of the few chances you have to boat from Africa to Asia!


Buses service just about every city, town and village in Egypt. Ticket prices are generally comparable with the cost of 2nd-class train tickets. Intercity buses, especially on shorter runs and in Upper Egypt, tend to become crowded, and even if you’re lucky enough to get a seat in the first place, you’ll probably end up with something or somebody on your lap. The prices of tickets for buses on the same route will usually vary according to whether or not they have air-con and video, how old the bus is and how long it takes to make the journey – the more you pay, the more comfortable you travel and the quicker you get to your destination.

Relatively comfortable, air-con ‘deluxe’ buses travel between Cairo, Alexandria, Ismailia, Port Said, Suez, St Katherine’s Monastery, Sharm el-Sheikh, Hurghada and Luxor. Tickets cost a bit more than those for standard buses but they’re still cheap. The best of the deluxe bus companies is Superjet – try to travel with them whenever possible.

Tickets can be bought at bus stations or often on the bus. Hang on to your ticket until you get off, as inspectors almost always board to check fares. You should also always carry your passport, as buses are often stopped at military checkpoints for random identity checks. This is particularly common on the bus between Aswan and Abu Simbel, and on all Sinai buses.

It is advisable to book tickets in advance, at least on very popular routes (such as from Cairo to Sinai) and those with few buses running (from Cairo to the Western Desert). An International Student Identification Card (ISIC) now enables passengers to get discounts on some bus routes, so always remember to ask. Where you are allowed to buy tickets on the bus, you generally end up standing if you don’t have an assigned seat with a booked ticket. On short runs there are no bookings and it’s a case of first on, best seated.

Cairo and Alexandria are the only cities with their own bus systems. Taking a bus in either place is an experience far beyond simply getting from A to B. Firstly there’s getting on board. Egyptians stampede buses, charging the entrance before the thing has even slowed. Hand-to-hand combat ensues as they run alongside trying to leap aboard. If you wait for the bus to stop, the pushing and shoving to get on is worse. Often several passengers don’t quite manage to get on and they make their journey hanging off the back doorway, clinging perilously to the frame or to someone with a firmer hold. Taking a minibus is an easier option. Passengers are not allowed to stand (although this rule is frequently overlooked), and each minibus leaves as soon as every seat is taken.

Privately owned and usually unmarked microbuses shuttle around all the larger cities. For the average traveller they can be difficult to use, as it is unclear where most of them go. However, quite often there’s a small boy hanging out of the doorway yelling the destination. In Cairo, you might have occasion to use a microbus to get out to the Pyramids, while in Alexandria they shuttle the length of Tariq al-Horreyya and the Corniche to Montazah, and in Sharm el-Sheikh they carry passengers between Old Sharm, Na’ama Bay and Shark’s Bay. Most of the smaller cities and towns have similar microbuses doing set runs around town.

Pick-up: As well as servicing routes between smaller towns, covered pick-up trucks are sometimes used within towns as local taxis. This is especially so in some of the oases towns, on Luxor’s West Bank and in smaller places along the Nile. Should you end up in one of these, there are a couple of ways you can indicate to the driver that you want to get out: if you are lucky enough to have a seat, pound on the floor with your foot; alternatively, ask one of the front passengers to hammer on the window behind the driver; or, lastly, use the buzzer that you’ll occasionally find rigged up.


Driving in Cairo is a crazy affair, so think seriously before you decide to hire a car there. Driving in other parts of the country, at least in daylight, isn’t so bad, though you should avoid intercity driving at night. And having a car – or better still a 4WD – opens up entire areas of the country where public transport is nonexistent.

Driving in Cairo is a crazy affair, so think seriously before you decide to hire a car there. Driving in other parts of the country, at least in daylight, isn’t so bad, though you should avoid intercity driving at night. And having a car – or better still a 4WD – opens up entire areas of the country where public transport is nonexistent.

A motorcycle would be an ideal way to travel around Egypt. The only snag is that you have to bring your own, and the red tape involved is extensive. Ask your country’s ­automobile association and Egyptian embassy about regulations.

Petrol and diesel are readily available and very cheap, though unleaded petrol is only available at a handful of pumps in Cairo (mainly in Mohandiseen, Zamalek and Maadi) and Alexandria. When travelling out of Cairo, remember that petrol stations are not always that plentiful – as a rule, when you see one, fill up.


If you’re bringing a car or motorcycle into the country, you’ll need the vehicle’s registration papers, liability insurance and an International Driving Permit in addition to your domestic driving licence. You will also need multiple copies of a carnet de passage en douane, which is effectively a passport for the vehicle, and acts as a temporary waiver of import duty. The carnet may also need to list any expensive spare parts that you’re planning to carry with you, such as a gearbox. If you’re driving a car, you’ll also need a fire extinguisher. Contact your local automobile association for details about all documentation.

At the Egyptian border, you’ll be issued with a licence valid for three months (less if your visa is valid for less time). You can renew the licence every three months for a maximum of two years, but you’ll have to pay a varying fee each time. There is a customs charge of approximately US$200, and you must pay another US$50 for number-plate insurance.

If you plan to take your own vehicle, check in advance which spares are likely to be available. You may have trouble finding some parts for your car.


Several international car-hire agencies have offices in Egypt, including Avis, Hertz, Thrifty, Europcar and Budget. Their rates match international charges and finding a cheap deal with local agencies is virtually impossible. No matter which company you go with, make sure you read the fine print. If you choose to hire a car, rates are around US$50 to US$100 a day for a small Toyota to US$100 to US$200 a day for a 4WD.

An International Driving Permit is required and you can be hit with a heavy fine if you’re caught hiring a car without one. Drivers should be over the age of 25.


Although trains travel along more than 5000km of track to almost every major city and town in Egypt, the system is badly in need of modernisation (it’s a relic of the British occupation). Most services are grimy and battered and are a poor second option to the deluxe bus. The exceptions are the Turbini and Espani services from Cairo to Alexandria and the tourist and sleeping trains from Cairo down to Luxor and Aswan – on these routes the train is the preferred option over the bus.

If you have an International Student Identification Card (ISIC), discounts are granted on all fares, except those for the sleeping-car services.

Classes & services: Trains with sleeping cars are the most comfortable and among the fastest in Egypt. The cars, which are run by Abela Egypt, are the same as those used by trains in Europe. At least one sleeping train travels between Alexandria, Cairo, Luxor and Aswan daily.

The Abela sleeping trains are 1st class only and reservations must be made in advance. Compartments come with a seat that converts into a bed, a fold-down bunk (with clean linen, pillows and blankets) and a small basin with running water. Beds are quite short, and tall people may spend an uncomfortable night as a result. It is worth requesting a middle compartment, as those at the ends of the carriages are located near the toilets and can sometimes be noisy. Shared toilets are generally clean and have toilet paper. Aircraft-style dinners and breakfasts are served in the compartments, but you should not expect a gourmet eating experience. Drinks (including alcohol) are served by the steward.

Regular night trains with and without sleeper compartments and meals included leave for Luxor and Aswan daily and cost much less than the sleeping trains. Reservations must be made in advance at Ramses Station in Cairo. Unless you specify otherwise, you’ll be issued with a ticket that includes meals on board. You may want to flout the rules and bring your own food. Both 1st- and 2nd-class compartments have air-con and they can get chilly at night; bring something warm to wear.

Trains without air-conditioning are next down the scale. Classes are divided into 2nd-class ordinary, which generally has padded seats, and 3rd class, where seating is of the wooden bench variety. These trains are generally filthy, tend to spend a lot of time at a lot of stations and can be subject to interminable delays.

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