Another topic that I’m often asked about is how long one should plan to stay in Egypt when you visit, and part of that depends on how you get there. If you’re tacking a visit to Egypt on to a trip to somewhere else in the region, you can get away with a shorter stay and be ok. If you’re flying all the way from North America just to go to Egypt, then you won’t want to fly all that way and turn around a few days later and fly back. You’ll want to stay a bit longer.
Ok so let’s start with the short trips and work our way along to the longer itineraries. If you’re already visiting Turkey or Jordan or the Emirates or Israel and you want to hop over to Egypt while you’re in the region, you’ll only be flying a few hours at most so you won’t be worn out when you get there and in need of recovery time. If you just want to do one stop in Egypt, then obviously you have to do Cairo because that’s where most of the stuff to see is, including the Pyramids. They’re just outside of the city on the western edge of its urban sprawl.
So if you just fly to Cairo, you can spend a day doing the Pyramids and Egyptian Museum, another day exploring the city, then skeedatle. That’s a 2-day trip, meaning two full days on the ground in Egypt, and that’s about the shortest you can see anything, but that’s only if you’re already in the region. If you want to do a short trip and see Luxor too, then add on an extra day or two to fly down there.
Luxor is about an hour flight south. There’s an overnight train that you can take too, but please only take that if you’re under about 27, are ok with not getting much sleep, and are still into the backpacker lifestyle. I’ve done it several times, but I was all of those things and it still sucked. It’s not the worst train in Egypt by far (I’ve taken that through the desert for days complete with a goat riding in the bathroom with us) but still it’s just not really worth it when flying to Luxor and back is so cheap (about $150-250 round trip). Also, flying gives you so much more time to see things and be rested rather than being exhausted because you’ve been up all night on a bumpy, uncomfortable, 10-hour train ride, and you still have to do it all over again to get back. So please just take my advice and fly to Luxor and back from Cairo.
If you want to do Luxor in one day it IS possible. You can take one of the first flights out of Cairo in the morning and get there mid-morning, then hustle around and see the major stuff all day, then take one of the later flights back in the evening. If you don’t want to be rushed and you have more time, spending one night in Luxor is totally worth it. You’ll be exhausted after hoofing it around the Valley of the Kings and down into the tombs and up again and then all around the large temple complexes all day, and after all that it’s really nice to be able to just go back to your hotel there locally and relax. You can spread the sites out over two days instead of one and get to see more at a leisurely pace.
So bottom line is give Cairo at least 2 days and Luxor at least one additional day if not 2. So that’s 2-4 days total for doing Egypt as an add-on when you’re already in the region. Now, for those who are flying across the ocean to visit Egypt, you’ll want to stay a little longer. Coming all that way for 2 or 3 days is crazy. You’ll want at the very least 4 and preferably 5 or 6 days on the ground there. If you have 5 or 6, I’d recommend spending 2 in Cairo, an overnight in Luxor, and taking a day trip up to Alexandria from Cairo. If you have longer you can stay overnight in Alex too. But I’ve done it as a day trip dozens of times. I think the only time I ever stayed there more than one day was the very first time I visited, and I was living there so I did it as a weekend trip.
If you have more than 5 or 6 days, you can also add on the Red Sea or the Sinai. I’d recommend to most people that they avoid the Sinai now because it’s become a little harder for the government to police. If you’re a really adventurous traveler and you really want to see St. Catherine’s Monastery and Mount Sinai you can risk it, but I would not recommend it for most people right now. I’ve been a lot and it’s neat to experience when it’s totally secure, but they’ve had some issues over the past few years so I’d stick to Egypt proper where there’s more than enough to still see and do.
If you wanted to fly to the Red Sea town of Sharm el Sheikh at the southern tip of the Sinai, that would be totally safe to visit. Or you can fly or drive to Hurghada on the African side of the Red Sea. Most of Egypt is in Africa, except for the Sinai which is in Asia, but the African side of the Red Sea in Egypt is in what I call “Egypt proper.” You don’t have to cross into the Sinai to visit this part of the Red Sea, and it’s just as beautiful.
While Hurghada is the main Red Sea town in Egypt Proper, my absolute favorite place to visit on Egypt’s Red Sea coast is a little resort town about 15 miles north of Hurghada called El Gouna. It’s way less touristy here, much less crowded, the resorts are much nicer, and the town itself is way nicer and super cute.
If you make the trek out to the Red Sea, plan to spend at least 2 full days there in order to get the most out of the journey. So if you tack on the Red Sea, that means you’ll be in Egypt for about 7-8 days total at least.
Anywhere from 5-8 days is pretty typical for trips to Egypt, even all the way from North America. I wouldn’t yell at you for coming over and just spending 5 days here, as long as they were 5 full days on the ground. But you’ll want to make sure you hit Cairo and Luxor at a minimum. If you stay longer, you can do Alexandria, the Red Sea, and/or even an oasis. There’s a small oasis about 2 hours outside of Cairo called Fayoum. But if you want a real oasis experience you’re going to have to go farther out into the desert (Dakhla, Kharga, Farafra, or even the famous Siwa Oasis way out there near the Libyan border), but you’ll have to tack on a few extra days to accommodate the addition.
One other major region of the country we haven’t covered yet that sees a lot of tourism is the far south of Egypt around the city of Aswan, Lake Nasser, and even Abu Simel really far south down by the Sudanese border. Aswan is another place you can tack on to your itinerary if you have an extra day. Aswan’s a pleasant little riverside town with a lot of Nubian influence, but the main thing people go visit there is the Aswan High Dam, which finally allowed Egypt after thousands of years to control the flow of the Nile further north because remember the Nile flows from south to north.
There’s also the Temple of Philae near Aswan. But I think the main reason people go all the way down to Aswan is because it’s the launch pad for going to see the Abu Simbel, which is about 200 miles south of Aswan and you have to go through Aswan to get there, either by military convoy or by air.
It’s really far out of the way, but a lot of tourists still make time to go there because it’s such an incredible ancient temple built by Ramses the Great as one of the many monuments to himself he built during his 66-year reign. So if you want to do Aswan and Abu Simbel both, that’s got to be at least an additional 2 days on your itinerary because of the logistics of getting to Abu Simbel.
So there you have it. Egypt is totally worth the time getting there and the money it takes to make an amazing trip once you’re there. But planning appropriately is the key to making sure your trip is truly the trip of a lifetime. And if you read thoroughly here and follow even half of my advice, it will be. Yalla!