JULY / AUGUST 2020:
COVID-19 delayed my travels and altered my plans. I was stuck in lockdown in Thailand for 4 months. My Visa Amnesty in Thailand came to an end and I was forced to move on.
Egypt had just opened its borders (albeit with restrictions and a 14 day self-isolation period).
… we go to Hurghada, Red Sea, Egypt …
The currency in Egypt is the Egyptian Pound (or the ‘EGP’). I will refer to them as E$s. At the time of writing, the exchange rates were:
|Published Wholesale Rate||E$15.96||E$18.50||E$20.30|
|Effective (Actual) Exchange Rate||E$15.57||E$18.05||E$19.80|
You will NOT get these wholesale rates (read the ‘Money’ section, below); expect to lose 3%. I lost 2.43%.
Over time, these exchange rates will change. Please check the current rates.
I flew from Bangkok to Hurghada on Etihad via Abu Dhabi and Cairo. The journey took 20 hours.
To enter Egypt, you need a Tourist Visa and proof of Travel / Medical Insurance.
I applied for my Egypt eVisa in advance using their official website. Make sure that you use the official site … there are other sites that over-charge.
The price was US$25. It arrived in 4 days. But, it started on the day of application (not my stated date of arrival). This cut my available time in Egypt down to 2.5 months.
I insure myself with World Nomads.
My existing World Nomads policy did not list Egypt. On reading the ‘small print’, I discovered that this meant that I was NOT covered. I got online and bought a 1-year WorldNomads Backpacker Policy for US$660. I don’t need all of the ‘bells and whistles’ that go with the more expensive policies so I buy their (cheapest) Standard Policy. I, fundamentally, just need Medical and Personal Indemnity Insurance. Read more here.
PLEASE NOTE: When you apply for a World Nomads policy, enter your main target country and get a quote. THEN, go back and add as many other countries as possible … ones that you MAY visit that same year. You usually find that the price remains the same. If not, find out which country is increasing the price and delete it (e.g. the USA is always a problem). In this way, you will have maximum country coverage.
CAIRO INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT:
On the flight, we were given an Entry Form to complete. In addition to the normal flight number details etc, we had to provide our address in Egypt and ‘declare’ that we had Travel / Medical Insurance. As we entered the Customs Area, our Entry Forms were collected and hardly looked at.
For those who do not have a Visa, there is a ‘National Bank Of Egypt’ just before Immigration where you can buy a 1 Month Visa On Arrival for US$25 each. If you have an eVisa you can proceed directly to the Immigration Kiosks.
I had to collect my bags and clear customs before transferring to my domestic flight from Cairo to Hurghada. Ignore the taxi touts that want to charge you US$5 to transfer you from Terminal 2 to Terminal 3 … it is literally across the road.
In the International Terminal, I visited a few ATMs to get some E$s. Half of the ATMs were not working. The most that I could withdraw from the ones that were working was E$5,000. Some Bank ATMs allow withdrawals of E$10,000. To keep my cost of Travel Money to a minimum, I wanted to withdraw E$10,000 … so I did not take out any money … BIG MISTAKE! … the ATMs in Terminal 3 didn’t work either! … read on …
In the International Terminal you will find several Mobile Internet Service Providers. You are advised to choose between the 3 biggest: We, Vodafone and Orange. Because I had no E$s, I did not buy a Mobile Data Plan. Again, this was a BIG MISTAKE! … read on …
MY ADVICE: If you need E$s, get money out of an ATM at Cairo Airport International Arrivals. Also get your Mobile SIMcard and Plan there.
At Hurghada Airport I went looking for an ATM … 2 out of the 3 Terminal Buildings were closed. The information found on the internet is out-dated and inaccurate. All shops were empty and closed. There are no ATMs at the airport. There are no Mobile Service Provider kiosks at the airport.
Most major airlines in Europe and the Middle East can fly you straight to Hurghada International Airport (HRG) without having to stop in Cairo. This means that you cannot get E$s on arrival. Bring Euros or US$s in cash. If you DO NOT have your eVisa, you will be ushered towards a stand where you must buy the visa for EUR25 (over USD30). You can easily avoid this by going to the ‘National Bank Of Egypt’ stand in the same hall and presenting your passport, along with exactly US$25 (each), to the attendant. He will give you the visa and you will be done in half the time, for half the price. This ‘Visa On Arrival’ only lasts 30 days, so you are best to get an eVisa in advance if you want to stay longer.
From the airport to the town and vice-versa, cab drivers will likely quote prices in Euros. Note that the price they will ask is high and significantly above the proper meter price (which is about E$40 for the 5km ride to the city). Many will start at EURO10 / E$200 PLUS a E$50 ‘airport fee’. Negotiate hard! To go down town, you should only be paying 2-3 Euros for the whole cab (not per person).
I negotiated a taxi price of E$100 / EURO5 to go the 19kms from the Airport to my Apart Hotel and the driver agreed to stop at an ATM on the way. He was a bit ‘grumpy’ about the price 🙂 The first ATM had a limit of only E$2,000. The second E$3,000. I had no choice but to take out E$3,000 from the second ATM.
Hurghada was founded in the early 20th century, and until recently it was a small fishing village. But since the 1980s, it has been continually enlarged to become the leading coastal resort on the Red Sea.
Hurghada hugs the shore of the Red Sea and stretches for about 36 kilometres (22 miles). It is a destination for Egyptians as well as package holiday tourists from Europe. Today Hurghada counts 248,000 permanent inhabitants.
Along the ‘El Mamsha’ you find many of Hurghada’s new hotels, restaurants, and shops. Most of the newest and biggest hotel resorts are located in the area between El Mamsha to Sahl Hasheesh (Village road).
Dahar is the oldest part of the town, where the town’s traditional bazaar, the post office and the long-distance bus stations (Go Bus and Upper Egypt Bus) are situated. The busiest area is its ‘city centre’ Sakala, which is spread along Sheraton Road.
Hurghada boasts a number of superb beaches. Today, the resort of Hurghada is almost unrecognizable from its past life and has grown to more than 100 different hotels … many of which line the beachfront.
Famous for its superb diving opportunities, Hurghada is especially appealing to those with little experience of SCUBA diving, who come to marvel at the underwater reefs and awesome marine life. Hurgada’s waters are clear and calm for most of the year.
Tourism is now a huge part of Hurghada’s economy and, each year, many tourists choose to combine their holiday here with visits to other prominent locations along the Nile Valley (including the relatively nearby city of Luxor).
In a 2016 attack and again in a 2017 attack foreign tourists at Hurghada’s beach resorts were targeted by terrorists.
Unfortunately, rampant construction has left the coast blighted by half-finished shells of pleasure palaces never realised, while the coral reefs closest to the shore have been degraded by illegal landfill operations and irresponsible reef use. Hurghada is losing it’s lustre with package holiday-makers. Independent travellers prefer to press on to Dahab, El Gouna or further south to Marsa Alam.
Just because you find a hotel on the beachfront, it doesn’t mean that you will get a good beach.
Many of the sprawling hotels on the beachfront have ‘average’ beaches. Many have stones underfoot when you enter the water and you may have to wade out 100m to get into water deep enough to swim.
WHERE TO STAY:
I chose a remote location on purpose. I had to self isolate for 14 days anyway. With COVID around, I had no intention of socialising in bars etc. It suited me to go to an Apart Hotel out of town.
The reality is that Hurghada Town is not very picturesque anyway. If you like town-life then fine, but until COVID is resolved, you won’t be able to enjoy restaurants, bars, and the nightlife anyway. Until then, I suggest that you just find a hotel with a good beachfront and a big swimming pool. Anywhere along the 36km stretch of beachfront will do.
If you want a bit of beach-time, make sure that you are within 100m of a Public Beach (many parts of the beachfront are Private Beaches with no or paid public access) or, even better, get a beachfront hotel. If you don’t care about beach-time, make sure that you get a hotel with a big pool.
PLEASE NOTE: Normally, I advise you to book into something reasonable for 2 nights in advance. Then, once here, walk around and negotiate direct monthly deals with the hotel(s) that you like. At the moment, this is NOT necessary … right now, you can excellent discounts up-front before arrival.
This is what GRANDPAckers can expect to find near / on a beach at short notice for August 2020 at CORVID-19 discounted prices:
PLEASE NOTE: HOTELS usually display prices INCLUSIVE of TAXES. But many search sites (like HOTELS) don’t provide a ‘private bathroom’ filter, so be careful with some of the cheap hotels and make sure that you read the room details. HOTELS competes with BOOKING by selling their hotel allocations well in advance. They do so by offering discounts. At short notice, they tend to have few options left.
AIRBnB / HOLIDAY RENTALS:
PLEASE NOTE: Other sites (such as Homeaway, FlipKey and VRBO) are also worth a look. I, personally, am finding AirBnB to be a good option in Egypt. HOWEVER, be careful … the prices displayed are NOT the final prices: ‘service fees’ and ‘cleaning fees’ can significantly increase the final price. ALSO, read the reviews carefully … in most cases the exact location of the property is hard to identify (which is intentional on AirBnB’s part) … looking at the pictures and reviews sometimes helps you identify the name (and, therefore, the exact location) of the property. If you can do the latter, you can check the reviews on the internet more carefully. LASTLY, you pay in advance … so, if you book 1 month and get it wrong, you are stuck there.
Make sure that you get aircon. GRANDPAckers will easily find accommodation within our price range of upto US$30 / E$480 per night. Right now, because of CORVID-19, this is even easier … and good places can be found for under US$20 and for as low as US$10.
As aforementioned, I was going to be in self-isolation for 14 days … so, I wanted somewhere on the beachfront … I didn’t care where.
ROYAL BEACH HURGHADA:
I used AirBnB to book 1 month in a Studio Apartment at the Royal Beach Hurghada Resort.
It was located on the beachfront with its own Private Beach. I paid a fantastic last minute / COVID discounted rate of E$90 per night including Breakfast. It was discounted down from US$620 per month to US$174 per month. That works out to be under US$6 per night.
I was on the 3rd floor (the building has a lift) with no balcony. The room was in good condition. It came with ‘average’ AC (I had to leave it on all day at the lowest setting to keep the room reasonably cool), cable TV (some English speaking channels in a selection of 100s), minibar, kettle, hot water shower, and weekly housekeeping.
It advertised in-room WiFi … it did not have it. Decent wifi throughout the resort was only available in the Reception Area. Wifi was available in the public areas but it was weak, slow, and unreliable.
The resort exceeded GRANDPAcking Standard. I benefited from the COVID-19 price impacts. Under normal circumstances, you will not get rooms at these low rates. My Studio Apartment was NOT worth US$620 / month … you can get better at a cheaper price elsewhere. But, at $US$174 it was excellent value for money.
Have a look yourself:
EAT & DRINK:
With COVID impacts, and my avoidance of restaurants and bars, it is hard to give a good indication of prices.
LONG DISTANCE BUSES:
Buses arrive and leave to many destinations from the Hurghada Old Town bus station. 80% of them run on schedule; the others may have long delays. Be there at least one hour before the scheduled departure. Having a local fix your ticket might be a good way to avoid a lot of frustration, whilst saving money.
From Cairo: Hurghada is a 7 hour bus ride from Cairo (depending on the operator). Good operators are Super Jet and Go Bus (avoid MCV Co). Buses leave about every hour. From E$190.
From Luxor: 4-5 hours. Three bus companies service routes to Luxor. Each is located along El-Nasr. Go Bus has two departures daily at 08:15 and 15:30 (E$135). Blue Bus has one departure daily at 15:00 (E$150). Upper Egypt Bus Co. has six departures daily at 01:00, 03:00, 10:00, 13:00, 19:30, and 22:30 (E$40).
Go Bus Egypt is a reliable company with nice buses.
Buses leave for Quseer and Marsa Alam (3 times a day). There are no direct buses to Sharm El Sheikh; you must go to Cairo or Suez with the GOV buses. From Hurghada to Sharm El Sheikh you can catch a ferry (if it is running).
Transport in Hurghada is a white mini van (Toyota Hiace) called a ‘micro bus’. Micro buses have established routes. Locals are the main users, but it’s easy for foreigners to use them too. It costs about E$2 on regular route destinations around town. It cost me E$3 to get from town centre to / from my hotel 10km up the coast. They stop wherever people need them to along the route. Ask the driver for your destination before getting in to be certain it’s going where you want to go.
- Young western women traveling alone on the microbus should always try and sit towards the front of the bus and never in between two men.
- The Dahar bus station has a new location in a paved parking lot about 2-5km from the original one which used to be at Dahar square. The signs for the bus routes are in Arabic so just ask someone which bus is going where you want to go and they will direct you accordingly.
Taxi drivers in Hurghada can spot tourists from far, far away; look at the approaching car and it will stop for you – at a price.
Before stepping in, find out if driver speaks any English, and show your destination on a map. There are only few streets with names, so the destination is specified with nearby places, a hotel for example. Discuss and agree the total price (not per person) with the driver: remember the price varies from E$10 to E$25. Do not travel with the meter on, drivers can control it. After the driver agrees on a price, jump in. Get out in front of the hotel.
The method to avoid confrontation with the drivers is to have the correct amount of money you agreed to ready. Pass the money on at the destination, get out and walk away; avoid arguing with drivers. Most taxi drivers are honest people trying to make a living by getting tourists and locals from one place to another. Very few are thieves, targeting tourists to steal money.
If you have only a E$50 or E$100 note, mention this to the driver before you get in. Ask him if he has change, then ask him again. He might have to stop somewhere at a shop to have the note changed. As you hand him the note, say for example ‘I give you 100 pound, you give me 80 pound.’ This will prevent the taxi driver from quickly changing the note and accusing you of giving him only E$10. If this should happen, weigh your chances. You are unlikely to get your money back, and when surrounded by many taxi drivers, you might get yourself into more trouble. Cut your losses and take another taxi.
When you want to drive by night, you should take care, mostly as woman. You should take a reputable taxi service with a driver that speaks English.
UBER operate in Hurghada. Download the app in advance if you can.
They are reasonably priced and convenient … sparing you the incessant haggling required for taxi rides.
You will find that Uber may be a little more expensive, however, you get a more comfortable ride with a better vehicle, clean driver, and air conditioning. However, some locations (e.g. the bus station) within Hurghada have been “blocked” on Uber … no doubt the local taxi drivers have ganged up on them. You will see a message that Uber ‘does not operate in this location’. Simply walk about 2-3 blocks / 5 minutes away from the building (avoiding the taxi touts along the way) and you will be able to use Uber again.
You can rent a scooter but, unless you are confident and experienced in this type of random traffic, it is not advisable. Public transport is cheap.
Egypt is reasonably priced for withdrawing money out of an ATM. Many banks don’t appear to charge a commission fee … but, usually, you home bank will.
My Home Bank charges me US$3 per Foreign ATM Transaction. With the usual 1.5% inter-bank exchange rate fee and no fees at the Egypt end, you can expect to lose about 2.5% when withdrawing money out of an ATM. This is very good compared to other countries.
NOTE: The ATM will, usually, dish out all of your money in an even number of E$200, E$100, and E$50 notes … nothing smaller.
INTERNET / WIFI:
If you need internet from the moment that you arrive, buy your SIMcard at Cairo airport. You will find the 3 biggest providers in International Arrivals. We, Vodafone, and Orange all have kiosks in the arrivals lounge. Vodafone has the biggest market share of about 45% followed by Orange at about 35% followed by We. We is the cheapest.
At the airport, prices are reasonable. You pay about E$80-$100 for a new SIMcard … then your package on top of that. All providers offer a Start-up Bundle of SIM plus package. For about E$250 you can get a SIM and 1 month Plan that includes 500 minutes of call time and 40GB of data. Once you have your SIM, you can top up data for as little as E$60 for 8GB for 1 month.
I went to El Dahar Square in Hurghada Town. Here you will find Vodafone, Orange, and We shops next to each other. I compared prices. We offered me a 1 Month 10GB Data Only Plan with a new SIM for E$135. Vodafone plans were 150% of that price.
Orange had a promotion on their El King 60 Plan. I got a new SIM with 500 call minutes and 16GB of data for 1 month for E$150. Thereafter, I got call minutes and 8GB at a monthly rate of E$60.
RECOMMENDATION: Get either one of the 3 biggest providers … they are all good. Choose the one with the best promo for you.
HEALTH & SAFETY:
I was required to Self-Isolate for 14 days.
All guests were required to wear face masks in all common areas. Half of the staff did … half didn’t. Half of the guests did … half didn’t.
The surrounding shops were open as normal. The local restaurants had recently re-opened but Sheisha Pipes were banned throughout Egypt and many restaurants served food and drink in disposable containers.
WHEN TO GO
Temperatures in the period December–January–February are warm. November, March and April are comfortably warm. May and October are hot. June to September is very hot.
Every day that I have been here, there has been a sea breeze … this has made the daily temperatures (in the upper 30s celsius) pleasant.
Most shops will sell goods at standard Egyptian (not inflated tourist) prices. However, if you go to a bazaar, you will have to negotiate hard. Here are some typical supermarket costs:
- 1kg fresh local cheese E$50-E$60
- 1Kg local Gouda cheese E$120
- 1Kg Olives E$60
- 1 Roti Bread E$5
- 15L bottled water E$24
- 1.5L bottled Water E$5
- Pack 20 local Cigarettes E$24
- Pack 20 cheap international Cigarettes E$35
- Pack 20 top-brand international Cigarettes E$45
- 500ml bottle Stella Beer E$35
- A Snickers or Mars Bar E$10
Most items appear to be less than half the price found in western countries.
I have not provided a cost breakdown for Hurghada … the COVID period is too extra-ordinary … so, a decent comparison with other destinations is not possible.
Hurghada is not a picturesque town. Most of it looks like a half-finished building site stuck in the middle of the desert.
Very few of the beachfront hotels offer a nice beach. Those that do also offer high prices as a result. Most beachfront hotels will only offer an ‘average’ beach … some require you to wade out a long way over small stones to get to deep swimming water. On the PLUS side, a beachfront hotel will normally offer palapas, loungers, and a nice sea view (with a nice sea breeze).
Public Transport is cheap … so getting around is not a problem … just be very careful with the local taxi drivers (almost all will try to significantly over-charge you … sometimes wanting EURO5 / E$100 for a E$30 ride).
MY ADVICE: To get the best out of Hurghada, concentrate on the quality and facilities of your hotel … not it’s location relative to the town centre. For budget-minded travellers, now may be a very good time to visit Hurghada.
Could you afford to retire here on a GRANDPAcking budget? YES. Would you want to? MAYBE.