Travel to Egypt
Tourism in Egypt is not what it was 15 or even 5 years ago. Due to a tumultuous political situation, what was once among the most popular tourist destinations in the world has become more of an off-the-beaten-track destination for alternative travelers.
However, for the adventurous and not-so-faint-of-heart, the short trip to Israel’s southern neighbor offers you the chance to see a very unique side of the Middle East, so different than Israel and Jordan. From the Pyramids of Giza and the open-air museum of Luxor to the picturesque beaches and coral reefs of the Red Sea, Egypt is rife with once-in-a-lifetime experiences.
Special note: Many governments have issued travel warning for Sinai and Egypt. While many areas are largely safe, it is important to research the situation and make an informed decision before you travel.
Getting to and from Egypt
Flights to Egypt
Currently, there are no direct flights between Israel and Egypt. However, if you are in Jordan, there are flights between Amman and most major Egyptian cities.
Tours to Egypt
It’s not hard to find Israeli companies that do organized tours to Egypt, but before you book any Egypt tour, you should check what their policies are for canceling trips due to security reasons.
There is no ferry between Israel and Sinai, but from Jordan there is a regular ferry that runs between Aqaba and Nuweiba. Check the prices before you plan to travel this way because it is not the cheapest option.
The most practical way to travel between Israel and Egypt is overland via the Taba border crossing just south of Eilat. However at this time (November 2013), it will only provide convenient access to the southern part of the Sinai Peninsula. There is an exit tax of 100 NIS plus 5 NIS surcharge when you exit Israel and a border tax of 75 EGP when you enter Sinai.
If you are just traveling in Sinai, you will get a free 2-week visa at the border that will allow you to travel in Sinai as far south as Sharm El Sheikh. If you plan to go farther south to Ras Mohamed National Park or to mainland Egypt, you must get a visa beforehand at the Egyptian consulate in Tel Aviv or Eilat. Allow at least 1 day for processing.
Taba by bus
The border crossing is about 10 km south of downtown Eilat, Israel’s most southern city. You can take a bus run by Egged from any of the major cities in Israel to Eilat. From Jerusalem, Egged bus 444 goes to Eilat (78 NIS). It is best to buy your ticket online – and save 15% – if you are planning to travel Thursday, Friday or on the eve of a festival.
From Eilat, you can either take Egged bus 15 (5 NIS) or a private taxi for 50 NIS or less (subject to your negotiating skills).
While Israel is notorious for its long waits at its borders, Taba is one of the exceptions. The terminal is quite modern with air-conditioning, bathrooms and a great duty-free shop.
Traveling in Egypt
Public transportation in Egypt is quite cheap, but it is hard to find reliable, up-to-date bus schedules for Sinai on the internet, and even the times listed at the bus station have been known to be out of date.
If you’d like to get an idea of the frequency of buses in Sinai, these timetables for Nuweiba, Sharm El Sheikh and Dahab are helpful. If you can make solid plans, the Bedouin Bus (bedouinbus.com) is also a good option at a fixed price.
Buses between Sharm El Sheik and Cairo run frequently throughout the day until late at night. If you are traveling in mainland Egypt, the train is a reliable and affordable option, but it’s a good idea to check beforehand if it is operating.
Due to the security situation in northern Sinai, the government does not allow tourists to ride the bus from Taba to Cairo, and the route between the two cities can be problematic even for private vehicles. The alternative route through Sharm El Sheikh takes about 12 hours and costs around 120 EGP.
Shared taxis (10 passengers) are a popular mode of transportation and affordable if you know what you are doing. If you can have 5 or more passengers, then the price is 50-65 EGP per person, perhaps more if you are going to Sharm and perhaps less if everybody negotiates. If you want to take a taxi on your own, expect a heavy round of negotiations before you get a reasonable offer.
A shared taxi to Cairo from the border will be quite expensive if there aren’t other travelers (at least 500 EGP). You may have better luck at the bus station finding a taxi that already has passengers (80-100 EGP).
Tip: Get to the Egyptian side before the bus leaves. You can use the threat of taking the bus to your advantage in negotiations. Keep in mind that there is usually a time change between Israel and Egypt.
From Sharm El Sheikh, you can also book organized tours to mainland Egypt, including Cairo tours, pyramid tours and Luxor tours.
In the mainland, you can also hire a driver to be your tour guide to just about anywhere. The prices vary significantly and are subject to negotiation. Most hotels and hostels can connect you to trusted driver.
Renting a car
It is possible to rent a car in Egypt and gas is quite cheap, but the driving conditions are not very inviting for tourists. Traffic signs are sporadic, city roads are confusing and local drivers tend to ignore the laws and speed limits.