Egypt Awaits: Local Expert Tips for Exploring Egypt’s Past and Present

by Usama Sokker

August 01, 2023

7 minute read


If you were to survey most peoples’ travel bucket lists, you’ll find that Egypt sits right at the top. And rightfully so. It’s a land steeped in a magical blend of history, natural beauty, and rich culture, with some of the most iconic ancient marvels on Earth. A trip to Egypt isn’t just a vacation, it’s really a passage into the past, where the echoes of the pharaohs still resonate. Imagine exploring the origins of human civilization itself, touching sand-swept stones that have stood the test of time, and sailing along the eternal Nile.

And Egypt is more than a land of the past. It’s also got incredible cuisine, bustling cities full of culture, and some of the most warm and welcoming people you’ll find in all your travels.

To bring this destination to life, we sat down with Usama Sokker, a Global Contracting Manager and part of the team behind Collette’s tours of Egypt. Born and raised in Cairo, Usama offers his authentic and insightful perspective on the joys and practicalities of visiting Egypt and why he thinks Egypt continues to captivate travelers' hearts. Get ready to embark on a journey that will change the way you see the world, because Egypt is not just a destination – it’s an experience.


Life in Egypt

I’m Usama. I was born and raised in Cairo. Now, I live in England, but, you know, you can take the Egyptians out of Egypt, but never Egypt out of the Egyptians.

Egypt really holds a special place in my heart. Where else in the world will you be sailing on a Nile cruise, looking at all the life in Egypt – real life in Egypt – and every now and then stop somewhere to visit a temple or some tomb that is over 4,000 years old? It’s an incredible place. And to me, it is a destination I believe everyone should experience at least once. The Nile is where everything started, and it’s not only for Egyptians to enjoy and to appreciate. It’s for everyone.

One of the most common questions people ask is: Is it safe? To that, I say yes. Egypt is a very safe country. People are very accommodating. You will never feel alone in Egypt. Everybody will be helpful and surrounding you all the time – sometimes too much! But it's a warm country. Life is outdoors, people open their houses for you to see if you are interested, and as long as you treat the people with respect, they will open their doors and hearts for you.


A Glimpse into the Bustling City Life of Cairo

Cairo is a very big city and it’s like any cosmopolitan place on the Earth. Cairo is up to about 70 million people living there. And it has a lot to offer. You will have a real taste of Egyptian food there. They have some amazing museums. (A new museum called the GEM, or Grand Egyptian Museum, opens in late 2023.)

Three days in Cairo will give you a good taste of everything, mainly focused on history – and not only the ancient Egyptian history. There is the history of the Holy Family, their trip to Egypt, and you can see where they were staying which is in downtown Cairo. See the synagogues, the mosques, the museums, all in one place. I call it the “spiritual Cairo,” because there is a cosmopolitan Cairo with a busy, buzzing life. But there is also a spiritual Cairo, with all the major three religions.


Sailing the Nile

When you start your journey on the Nile, you won’t believe it. It’s like you are going back a thousand years. Things are exactly the same. The people you see, you will feel like they are still living in the past. They have everything we have – mobile phones, internet – but the way of life here... it makes you sometimes feel how fortunate you are with everything you have. It also makes you see with this modern life, how much we miss out on – basic family, the connection with a society, the connection with the land. You will not see people putting out chairs to sit on the bank of the river Nile. Everybody's just sitting on the bank, enjoying something to eat together. It’s just a very satisfying way of life. And traveling on the Nile will give you this opportunity to see it.

Then you can go even further down to Abu Simbel where you will see the amazing connection between the past and the present. Abu Simbel is a temple that was built by Ramses II more than 3,500 years ago. But when Egypt built the high dam and the water started rising into what we call now Lake Nasser, the temple was threatened to disappear. The whole international community came together to move an entire mountain and raised it up about 150 meters and took it back about 200 meters. It’s a place where you can see amazing sites – the history, the present, the technology, the past, everything.

Tips for Travelers

Tips for Traveling to Egypt

  1. Essential footwear. The biggest tip I give for anybody traveling to Egypt: closed toe shoes. This is a sandy country. It’s dusty. Flip-flops don’t work.
  2. Best time to visit Egypt. For the climate in Egypt, the best time to travel here is between November and the end of March.
  3. Dressing for the climate in Egypt. From November to March, you will need short sleeves during the day and very light jumper (sweater) at night. From March to the end of September, it's quite hot. We are talking about 80 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit during the day. At night, it goes down to about 65 degrees. The difference is it’s hot, but it's not humid. And everywhere in Egypt is air-conditioned. So, if you're planning to stay indoors for a while, bring some long sleeves, something a little bit warmer with you because we run the air conditioners to quite low temperatures. And I advise people to not just wear long sleeves indoors – but also outside. You may find it very strange to be in Egypt in the summer and see Egyptian ladies dressed all in black, all covered, wearing long sleeves. And people will say, aren't you boiling hot under these clothes? No, it’s actually cooler to have long sleeves than short sleeves because you are protecting your skin.
  4. The culture. Although Egypt is a Middle Eastern country and people think it's a very traditional country (and yes, we still have a lot of traditions), people are really accommodating, and they know you're coming from a different culture. So, whatever you feel comfortable with, you can have it in Egypt.
Useful Arabic Phrases

Useful Arabic Phrases

A lot of people in Egypt speak English because it used to be a British colony – and you will find that English will take you somewhere. But people will love you for trying to speak to them in Arabic. So, it’s worth remembering a few useful phrases.

If you're starting a conversation, you always start with “As-salamu alaykum,” which means “peace upon you.” Or you could also say hello – everybody knows hello. But it will be appreciated when people see you making the effort to speak the Arabic language, especially the traditional way of greeting.

Then if you’ve been served anything, you say “Shuk-ran,” which means thank you. Shuk-ran will take you a long way.

Next, if you want to stop somebody and ask them about anything, or to grab somebody’s attention, you say “law-samaHt,” which means “if you please.”

For goodbye, you can say goodbye or just bye. But, to be traditional, it’s the same as hello. So, you meet people by starting with “peace upon you” – “As-salamu alaykum.” And when you are leaving them, you say – “As-salamu alaykum,” meaning “I leave you in peace” or “peace up on you again.”

Join us for an unforgettable journey and make Egypt the next destination on your bucket list!

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