Overland journeys between cities in Egypt are often long, hot, bumpy, dusty, and not altogether safe. There is a good domestic air network, and advance fares are not expensive, so flying internally is often a good option. Obvious exceptions are Cairo – Alexandria and Luxor – Aswan, both only 220 km apart so ground transport will be quicker, and you’d only fly between them to connect onto another domestic or international flight.
Cairo has direct flights to every other major city, including Luxor, Aswan, Abu Simbel, Hurghada, Sharm el-Sheikh, Alexandria, Marsa Matruh, Marsa Alam and Kharga oasis. These run at least daily, and the main cities have several flights a day. There are also daily flights directly between Alexandria, Aswan, Luxor, Hurghada and Sharm el-Sheikh.
Most flights are operated by the national carrier, EgyptAir. This is the first place to go looking. Some internet booking sites (e.g. Expedia) don’t offer their flights – it’ll appear as if you need to fly via Istanbul or similar nonsense. If you don’t have internet access, Egyptair doesn’t do phone sales, but they have lots of downtown booking offices – your hotel can point these out.
There are rival airlines such as Nile Air and Al Masria. Nile Air has flights from Cairo and Alexandria. Al Masria flies to Cairo from Hurghada, and Sharm El Sheikh. Foreign package airlines (e.g. TUI) sometimes fly an internal route, but that’s to move their clients around on multi-centre holidays, and they’re not available to book as point-to-point domestic flights.
Egypt’s mainline railway follows the Nile: from Aswan north through Luxor to Cairo and Alexandria. Branch lines fan out across the Nile delta, as far east as Suez and Port Said, and west along the coast through El Alamein as far as Mersa Matruh. Train is an excellent way to travel between Cairo and Alexandria, and between Luxor and Aswan, with frequent daytime services taking 2–3 hrs. Trains also run between Cairo and Luxor and Aswan, both daytime and overnight. There are no trains to the Red Sea resorts or to Siwa oasis.
Almost all trains are run by the state-owned company Egyptian National Railways (ENR) (the exception is the Cairo-Luxor-Aswan sleeper run by Watania, described below). Express trains have air-conditioned classes called AC1 and AC2 (1st and 2nd class). They are clean and comfortable. For ordinary trains the classes AC1 and AC2 are likewise available, with A/C sometimes in AC1, but never in AC2. Fares are very cheap by Western standards, even the priciest Cairo-Alexandria single ticket is only about LE51 (Oct 2018). It is half that for slower trains, and half again for AC2, respectively. Punctuality could be described as “not bad for Egypt”: trains generally start out from their first station on time but pick up delays along the way. Delays of up to an hour are not uncommon, especially between Cairo and Luxor. So, if your train is coming from somewhere else, do not expect it to be on time.
In addition, local 3rd class trains are a great way to explore attractions in the surrounding area. They can also be used for longer distances if you want to connect with the locals and are on a tight budget. 3rd class sounds worse than it actually is—the chairs are wooden but the interior is sometimes painted well. They are dirt cheap, LE1.50-4 for 50 km, but make sure you have small notes or coins available—even a LE5 note can be a problem. The local train schedule is not available online, so you need to make enquiries at the station. Be insistent, they might just tell you the regular train schedule that you already know from the ENR website, expecting that you would not want to use anything beyond AC2 or even beyond AC1. Also, information can sometimes be very hard to confirm; which time, which platform, which stops. It is best to ask several people/officers and find out what they say. Or have a look at the station departure board a day or so before your intended travel, chances are trains run same time every day. Some local trains can get quite full, but mostly only the ones that travel far.
Travel by foreigners can be subject to security restrictions, but (in early 2018) there were no genuine restrictions. If you get told that a train is not running, it might simple be due to the expectation, e.g. by station personal, or that it cannot be booked online, e.g. by a travel clerk.
The best way to buy tickets for express trains is online, in advance, from ENR. This incurs no add-on charges, guarantees your seat and will save much hassle at stations or booking offices. The site content is in English and Arabic. First register with the site, then purchase is clunky but straightforward. Tickets go on sale 2 weeks ahead of departure – they are usually still available on the day of departure, but trains can book out at busy times. The site will only book expresses, i.e. 1st and 2nd class, and only for the main cities. You will need to file passport details for all the travellers in your group. The ENR site accepts payment from most major credit and debit cards. If you cannot print your ticket immediately, be sure to record the confirmation number so you can retrieve it later – ENR does not send you email confirmation. (Landscape printing is best, as portrait may crop the confirmation number.) The main details of the confirmation are in English, amid a welter of Arabic small print. Other websites, and travel agents offices, will simply sell you what is available on ENR or Watania and will charge extra for doing so.
Otherwise, you can queue at the station—make sure you are aiming for the correct window, and sort your money first to avoid exposing wallet and passport. Or you can board without a ticket and pay the conductor on the train. There is a surcharge of LE6 for this, and platform security do not seem to mind if you do not have a ticket, even for expresses that are supposedly reservation-only.
The self-service ticket machines at the main stations offer service in Arabic and English. If the machine tells you that the “Journey [is] unavailable”, try at the ticket window – you may still get tickets there (Oct 2018).
Buy tickets in advance, since at peak travel times, trains may be fully booked, especially the inexpensive ones. Except during busy holiday periods, it’s not normally difficult to purchase tickets on the day of travel or the day before. To avoid complications, book as far ahead as possible.
The sleeper service Cairo-Luxor-Aswan is run by Watania, a private company. Buy tickets online from them, as ENR do not show those services on their timetable and do not sell tickets.
Egypt has an extensive long-distance bus network, operated mostly by government-owned companies. Among the largest companies are Bedouin Bus, Pullman, West Delta, Golden Arrow, Super Jet, East Delta, El Gouna, Go Bus and Upper Egypt Bus Co. Popular routes are operated by more than one company. Some bus companies allow you to book seats in advance; some sell spots based upon availability of seats. Online ticketing are available via some companies too.
Beware buying tickets from bus touts on the street or outside your hotel. The smaller companies are sometimes unlicensed and can cut corners with safety. There have been eight serious bus crashes involving foreign nationals since January 2006, in which over 100 people have been killed. If you are a passenger in a vehicle that is travelling at an unsafe speed you should firmly instruct the driver to slow down.
Road accidents are very common in Egypt, mainly due to poor roads, dangerous driving and non-enforcement of traffic laws. Police estimate that road accidents kill over 6,000 people in Egypt each year. This is twice the UK figure. Other estimates put the figure far higher.
In bigger cities, especially in Cairo, main streets often become congested at peak times and that may double the time needed to reach where you want to go.
In the cities, taxis are a cheap and convenient way of getting around. Although generally safe, taxis drive as erratically as all the other drivers, especially in Cairo, and there are sometimes fake taxis travel around. Make sure they have official markings on the dashboard or elsewhere; the taxis are always painted in special colours to identify them, as the taxi mark on top of the car. In Cairo the taxis are all white (rarely with advertisement on sides), those ones are preferable as they have a digital counter to tell you how much to pay and you shouldn’t pay more than what the meter tells you, you can tell the driver in advance that you would only pay what the meter displays. Other older taxis are black and white, there are also the rarer Cairo cabs, all in yellow, also with the meter. In Luxor they are blue and white, and in Alexandria yellow and black. In Cairo and Luxor it is often much more interesting to use the taxis and a good guidebook instead of travelling around in a tour bus.
Seemingly, Cairo is alone in Egypt with having a sizeable population of modern metered cabs. Since Jan 2009, in Sharm El Sheikh all airport taxis have meters fitted and they must be used. Generally the best way is to ask at your hotel or someone you know from Egypt for the prices from point-to-point. You could also ask a pedestrian or policemen for the correct price. The best way to hire a taxi is to stand on the side of the road and put out a hand. You will have no trouble attracting a taxi, especially if you are obviously a Westerner. It is generally advisable to take white taxis that use the meter because the black and white taxis usually involve haggling at the end of the ride, some white taxi drivers don’t start the meter unless you ask them to, if they say the meter is broken it’s better to ask the driver to drop you off before you get far. It’s important to have some change with you (a couple of fives and a ten) because some drivers say that they don’t have change to drive off with the rest of your money.
If riding a black and white taxi negotiate a price and destination before getting into the car. At the end of the journey, step out of the car and make sure you have everything with you before giving the driver the payment. If the driver shouts, it’s probably OK, but if he steps out of the car you almost certainly paid too little. Prices can be highly variable but examples are LE20 from central Cairo to Giza, LE10 for a trip inside central Cairo and LE5 for a short hop inside the city. Locals pay less than these prices for taxis which don’t have the meters; the local price in a taxi from Giza or Central Cairo to the airport is LE25-30. Do not be tempted to give them more because of the economic situation; otherwise, ripping off foreigners will become more common and doing so generally tends to add to inflation. The prices listed here are already slightly inflated to the level expected from tourists, not what Egyptians would normally pay. You can also hire taxis for whole days, for LE100-200 if going on longer excursions such as to Saqqara and Dashur from Cairo. Inside the city they are also more than happy to wait for you (often for a small extra charge, but ask the driver), even if you will be wandering around for a few hours.
Taxi drivers often speak enough English to negotiate price and destination, but only rarely more. Some speak more or less fluently and they will double as guides, announcing important places when you drive by them, but they can be hard to find. The drivers often expect to be paid a little extra for that; however, do not feel the need to pay for services that you have not asked for. If you find a good English-speaking driver, you may want to ask him for a card or a phone number, because they can often be available at any time and you will have a more reliable travel experience.
A new line of taxis owned by private companies has been introduced in Cairo. They are all clean and air-conditioned. The drivers are formally dressed and can converse in at least one foreign language, usually English. These taxis stand out because of their bright yellow colour. They can be hailed on the street if they are free or hired from one of their stops (including one in Tahrir square in the city centre). These new taxis use current meters which count by the kilometre, which starts from LE2.50. In general, they are marginally more expensive than the normal taxis; you can call 16516, two hours in advance, in Cairo to hire a taxi.
If you do not want to be bothered by police convoys, tell the police at check points that you work in Egypt. They will demand your passport but actually most cannot read Roman letters and identify anything. Police convoys are more a psychological sooth for tourists instead of real protection—it draws more attention than when you use a local taxi.
Ride-hailing services — Careem and Uber — are available in Cairo, Alexandria and Hurghada, and expanding elsewhere. These provide travellers an easy alternative to taxis as the app translates destinations from English to Arabic, and fares are fixed. They are widely used by Egyptians.
Gas is inexpensive in Egypt, prices are heavily subsidized: LE6.25 per litre in March 2017. If you decide to rent a car, you will not add significantly to the cost through gas. Car rental sites require you to be at least 21 years old. Driving in Egypt is very different than in a Western country and is not for the faint of heart; unless you really need this option it is just as easy and probably cheaper to travel by taxis and around the country by air, train or bus. As you will see shortly after arrival, obedience of traffic laws is low and there are very few signs indicating road rules. You might also become a target for Egyptian police seeking a bribe, who will pick some trivial offence you have committed and which in reality you could not have avoided.
Also read the note at the end of the last taxi chapter on pretending to be working in Egypt to avoid travelling in convoys.
Three metro lines serve Greater Cairo, see Cairo#Get around.
The ferry across the Red Sea between Hurghada and Sharm el-Sheikh was suspended in 2010, and no re-start is in sight.