Six best Egypt tips for female solo travelers

Egypt’s reputation predates it – here the history stretches back not just centuries, but to the dawn of civilization itself, with an impressive horde of in-situ ancient monuments to prove it. But the country’s reputation as a tough place for solo women to visit can be as prominent as the pyramids in tales traded by travelers.

Earlier this year I spent six weeks in Egypt on my own, traversing the country from top to bottom, from Alexandria to Aswan and beyond. While I’m not going to pretend it was easy, traveling in Egypt alone was hugely rewarding and eye-opening.

Curious about traveling to Egypt alone? Here are six hard-earned lessons gleaned from my own recent experiences.

1: Go on a small group trip

Hear me out: I know signing up for a tour may seem like the opposite of traveling alone, but in Egypt that decision pays dividends. Joining a small group or even just getting a guide to yourself will greatly enhance your time exploring.

The country is not well equipped for independent travel. Signage at Egypt’s ancient sites is almost non-existent, so if you hope to understand the hidden meanings behind the hieroglyphs and learn about the pantheon of pharaohs and gods, you’ll need an expert Egyptologist in tow. Few prices are fixed, so you’ll spend more of your precious vacation time haggling over transportation to this temple or that, rather than standing in awe of the ancient treasures. Any guides hang at the entrances to tourist spots, but when you bring your own, you save the hassle of their prayers. Going with a guide or group lets you focus fully on enjoying your trip instead of figuring out the logistics of making it happen.

Remember that traveling alone does not necessarily mean you are traveling alone. If you go on a tour, you will definitely meet other like-minded adventurers, maybe even other solo travelers who decided to strike out on their own, so you can exchange stories and experience the joy of traveling alone.

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2: Dress the part

Egypt is a conservative Muslim country and it is important for travelers to respect the local culture. It’s best for women – and men! – to dress modestly, covering from upper arms to knees. Swimsuits and shorts are fine on Nile cruises and at Sharm el-Sheikh and Red Sea resorts, but it is prudent to cover up more in the cities and especially in rural villages.

While you certainly don’t need to wear an abaya (a full-length dress worn by women that covers from wrists to feet) or a headscarf (unless you’re visiting a mosque), long and loose-fitting clothing will ensure you stay cool and comfortable in both climate and culture. Go for long skirts, relaxed athletic pants, t-shirts, flowy tops and cardigans in cooler weather.

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3: Bring your sense of humor

Egypt’s economy is heavily dependent on tourism and is still recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic and political instability from the fallout of the Arab Spring in 2011. More than two million Egyptians are employed in tourism, and competition to make a sale can be tough. Although it is exhausting to be interrogated and called for cats everywhere, it is rarely malicious.

The path that leads to almost every historical site is lined with tourist-tat-filled markets and makeshift stalls, which one of my guides jokingly referred to as “the valley of the sellers”. If you are not interested in making a purchase, just keep walking and ignore the barrage of questions and pleas for you to enter their stores. Going through like you’re covered in Teflon and letting the hassle repel you is the best strategy, but it’s not always the easiest if you come from a culture where it’s considered rude.

Egyptians love to joke, so if you’re inclined to engage, bring out your sense of humor. Bring up where you’re from (usually the first question asked), or if the sales pitch gets too boring, laugh and say you already have a set of canopy pots at home and don’t need any more.

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4: Pack your accessories

Egypt’s unrelenting desert sun means sunglasses are essential for a visit whatever the season, but they can also help you avoid eye contact and more easily deflect the hawking vendors.

Some women say that wearing a fake wedding ring helps ward off unwanted advances from flirtatious men, although I’m not entirely convinced it’s worth the trouble. Even if your ring gets noticed, expect to be peppered with questions—from men and women alike—about why you’re traveling alone, whether you’re married, and how you can leave your family behind.

You’ll get fewer extra stares in Cairo and Alexandria, cities where tourism is less important (although the urban chaos is another element to contend with). Cairo Metro also has women-only cars.

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5: Get a local SIM card

Solo travelers determined to navigate Egypt on their own should pick up a local SIM card or ensure their data plan from home is working when they arrive in the country. It’s important to have a data connection to use map apps to find your way around, especially in the ruined labyrinth of Islamic Cairo and the famous Khan el-Khalili bazaar (but don’t forget to put your phone away too – some of the joy here is about to be lost).

Uber operates in Cairo, Alexandria, Hurghada and a few other less touristy cities, and its flat rates are a godsend for those tired of haggling with taxi drivers. With phone data, you can stay connected to friends back home and those you meet in Egypt, and many accommodation and tour operators use WhatsApp to make reservations and confirm details.

Buy a SIM card at the airport on arrival – you’ll find phone shops around Egyptian cities, but staff are less likely to speak English.

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6: Be flexible and have fun

Egypt isn’t the easiest place on the planet for solo female travelers – or for independent travelers at all – but if you’ve got an appetite for adventure, Egypt is issuing an open invitation to dive in head first. While in other countries it often pays to have a well-planned itinerary, some of the best stories in Egypt come from seeing where the trip takes you. You never know who you might meet on a trip, in a hostel, in a café or on the night train.

Every day in Egypt is an adventure. Embrace it.

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On the way

Ready to explore Egypt on your own terms with a small group of like-minded travelers? Here are a few solid tours full of support and free time for self-guided exploration:

The best of Egypt
Highlights of Egypt
Egypt: Boats and bazaars
Egypt upgraded
The best of Egypt, Jordan and Israel
Egypt and Jordan adventure

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