Egypt is perhaps best known as the home of the ancient Egyptian civilization, with its temples, hieroglyphs, mummies, and – visible above all – its pyramids. Less well-known is Egypt’s medieval heritage, courtesy of Coptic Christianity and Islam – ancient churches, monasteries and mosques punctuate the Egyptian landscape. Egypt stimulates the imagination of western tourists like few other countries and is probably one of the most popular tourist destinations world-wide
The more recent counter-revolution and Military putsch, like many events of its sort, has brought repression, death sentences and imprisonment for many Egyptians (and foreign journalists) but has resulted in lower crime and reduced disruption for well-heeled foreign tourists.
The regularity and richness of the annual Nile River flood, coupled with semi-isolation provided by deserts to the east and west, allowed for the development of one of the world’s great civilizations. A unified kingdom arose around 3200 BC and a series of dynasties ruled in Egypt for the next three millennia. The last native dynasty fell to the Persians in 341 BC, who in turn were replaced by the Greeks, Romans, and Byzantines. It was the Arabs who introduced Islam and the Arabic language in the 7th century and who ruled for the next six centuries. A local military caste, the Mamluks, took control about 1250 and continued to govern after the conquest of Egypt by the Ottoman Turks in 1517. Following the completion of the Suez Canal in 1869, Egypt became an important world transportation hub, but also fell heavily into debt. Ostensibly to protect its investments, Britain seized control of Egypt’s government in 1882, but nominal allegiance to the Ottoman Empire continued until 1914. Partially independent from the UK in 1922, Egypt acquired full sovereignty following World War II. The completion of the Aswan High Dam in 1971 and the resultant Lake Nasser have altered the time-honoured place of the Nile River in agriculture and the ecology of Egypt. A rapidly growing population (the largest in the Arab world), limited arable land, and dependence on the Nile all continue to overtax resources and stress society. The government has struggled to prepare the economy for the new millennium through economic reform and massive investment in communications and physical infrastructure.
Egypt is largely a desert, an extension of the great Sahara that bands North Africa. Save for the thin strip of watered land along the Nile River broadening into the Nile delta, very little could survive here. As the ancient Greek historian Herodotus stated: “Egypt is the gift of the Nile”.
Generally, the summers are hot and dry and the winters, moderate. November through March are definitely the most comfortable months for travel in Egypt. There is almost no rain in the Nile valley, so you won’t need wet weather gear!
The climate, however, does vary a little bit depending on where you are in the country. On the north coast along the Mediterranean Sea, a thin strip of land stretching from the sea to 50km southwards receives some of the most heavy rain in the country during winter months. Thunderstorms along with heavy rain showers that often last several hours are not uncommon here such as in Alexandria, Marsa Matruh and all other coastal areas, and even the Delta. In some years the rainstorms can last for a whole day or so, though the rain tends to be less heavy. Hail is also not uncommon, especially out in the desert where the weather is usually colder and allows for ice to fall and even frost to form on non-rainy days.
In the Sinai Mountains and also the Red Sea mountains, which stretch along the east side of the country along the shore of the Red Sea, there is generally more rain as rain clouds tend to develop when warm air evaporates and rises as it moves across higher terrain. Floods in these areas are a common weather phenomenon as so much rain can fall in a very short amount of time (often a day or two), with thunder and lightning as well. Because of the desert and lack of abundant vegetation, the water from the rain quickly falls down across the hills and mountains and floods local areas. In fact, every year there are stories in the local newspapers about flash floods in areas of the Sinai and also in Upper Egypt (southern Egypt) such as in Assiut, Luxor, Aswan, Sohag, etc. These floods, however, only generally happen two or three times a year, and often do not happen at all in some years, depending on the weather. When they happen though, it is often in early times of the season such as in September, October or late winter such as February or March (often the rainiest season in Egypt). Thus, one should be careful when venturing out into the desert or camping in certain areas as water can suddenly rush down from the nearby mountains and hills. It can sometimes carry a quite strong current that has been known to break down homes of rural people who build their homes from mud, bricks, and other weak materials. It is not surprising to hear that some people drown in the floods, which is strange for a desert country that doesn’t receive much precipitation.
Also, in higher elevations such as on top of the Sinai mountains, temperatures can drop much more than the surrounding areas, allowing for snowfall in winter months, since temperatures can drop down to below freezing, as well as formation of frost even in the low lying desert areas where the temperatures are generally several degrees colder than in the cities.
December and January are usually the coldest months of the year, although it is normally warmer the further south you go and within the bigger cities.
Visitors should be aware that most houses and apartments in Cairo and Egypt do not have central heating like countries with colder climates as the main weather concern in Egypt is the heat. Therefore, even though the weather might not be so cold for the Western traveller, inside the apartment it might be even colder as the temperature inside homes is generally a few or several degrees colder than out in the street.
Banks, shops and businesses close for the following Egyptian National Holidays (civil, secular), and public transport may run only limited services:
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and the most important month in the Islamic Calendar for Muslims, the majority religion in Egypt. Commemorating the time when God revealed the Qur’an to Mohammed, during this holy month, Muslims abstain from eating, drinking or smoking until after sundown on each day. Although strict adherence to Ramadan is for Muslims only, some Muslims appreciate that non-Muslims do not take meals or smoke in public places. During Ramadan, many restaurants and cafés won’t open until after sundown. Public transport is less frequent, shops close earlier before sunset and the pace of life (especially business) is generally slow.
As expected, exactly at sunset minute, the entire country quiets down and busy itself with the main meal of the day (iftar or breaking-fast) that are almost always done as social events in large groups of friends. Many richer people offer (Tables of the Gracious God موائد الرحمن ) in Cairo’s streets that cater full-meals for free for the passers-by, the poorer ones or workers who couldn’t leave their shifts at the time. Prayers become popular ‘social’ events that some like to enrich with special food treats before and after. An hour or two later, an astonishing springing to life of the cities takes place. Streets sometimes richly decorated for the whole month have continuous rush hours till very early in the morning. Some shops and cafés make the biggest chunk of their annual profit at this time of year. Costs of advertising on television and radio soars for this period and entertainment performances are at their peak.
Egypt consists of a vast desert plateau interrupted by the Nile valley and delta, along with the Sinai peninsula.
Portions of the Nile River valley are bounded by steep rocky cliffs, while the banks are relatively flat in other areas, allowing for agricultural production.
As a major tourist destination whose economy is dependent upon tourist money, Egypt is relatively easy to enter and/or obtain visas for if necessary. There are three types of Egyptian visa:
Only obtain a visa through the official Egyptian gov website.
Entry visas may be obtained from Egyptian diplomatic and consular missions abroad or from the Entry Visa Department at the Travel Documents, Immigration and Nationality Administration (TDINA). Non-Egyptian travellers are required to have a valid passport, except nationals of Belgium, France, Germany, Italy and Portugal who can use a national ID card (in this case, except at Sharm-el-Sheik airport, a photo needs to be brought along)
Citizens of many countries may obtain a one month single entry visa on arrival at major points of entry. (Note that you are NOT eligible for this visa if you happen to have an Official or Diplomatic passport, it is only for ordinary passport holders.) A USD25 fee is demanded on arrival. It is advisable to pay the fee in US dollars and in the exact amount as otherwise your currency will be exchanged for Egyptian pounds which will only then be exchanged into US dollars with double conversion fees. Change will be given in Egyptian pounds (EGP). At airports, you must obtain these from a bank office before passport control; however, you will have no problem obtaining one. Check with your nearest Egyptian Consular mission for more details concerning visa regulations applying to your citizenship.
Citizens of the following countries can obtain visa upon arrival at any of the Egyptian ports of entry: Croatia, Georgia, Germany, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Macedonia, Republic of Korea, Russian Federation, Serbia, Ukraine.
Citizens of Bahrain, Guinea, South Korea, Libya, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, United Arab Emirates and Yemen receive a 3 month visa on arrival. Citizens of Kuwait can obtain 6-month Residence Permit upon arrival. China and Malaysian citizens receive a 15 day visa on arrival. Citizens of China (only Hong Kong and Macau SAR) may have a 30 day visit without visa.
Citizens of the following countries are currently required to have a visa before arriving, which must be applied for through an Egyptian consulate or embassy outside of Egypt:
Afghanistan, Algeria, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Bosnia-Herzegovina, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Iran, Israel, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Malaysia (if you intend to stay for more than 15 days), Moldova, Montenegro, Morocco, Pakistan, Palestine, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Tajikistan, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Turkey, Uzbekistan, Vietnam and all African countries (except citizens of Sudan, Guinea, and Libya, who do not require visa).
Visitors entering Egypt at the overland border crossing at Taba or at Sharm el Sheikh airport can be exempted from a visa and granted a free fourteen day entry visa to visit the Aqaba coast of the Sinai peninsula, including Sharm el Sheikh, Dahab and St. Catherine’s Monastery. Visitors wishing to leave the Sinai peninsula and to visit Cairo and other Egyptian cities are required to hold full Egyptian visas, although strictly speaking there is a small possibility no one will check for this unless you attempt to exit the country. These are not issued at the Taba border crossing and must be acquired in advance either in the country of residence, at the Egyptian consulate in Eilat or airport upon arrival. Visitors travelling on organized tours often may be able to have their visas issued at the border, but you should verify in advance with their travel agent or tour operator if this option is available to them. Those in possession of a residence permit in Egypt are not required to obtain an entry visa if they leave the country and return to it within the validity of their residence permit or within six months, whichever period is less.
Tourists visiting Sharm-el-Sheikh who are planning to undertake scuba diving outside local areas (eg Ras Mohammed) will need to obtain the tourist visa, because this technically means leaving the Sharm-el-Sheikh area and leads to the requirement for a visa. Officials on boats may check dive boats whilst on the waters so you are advised to obtain the visa beforehand: there may be fines involved for you and the boat captain if you are caught without the appropriate visa. Most reputable dive centres will ask to see your visa before allowing you on trips.
Egypt has peaceful relations with Israel, and travelers with passport stamps indicative of entry to Israel will not encounter any issues at the border. Direct flights between Tel Aviv and Cairo are available.
Egypt has several international airports:
Ferries run regularly from Aqaba across to Nuweiba on the Sinai peninsula, bypassing Israel and the sometimes complicated border arrangements. Generally there is no visa fee for entering Jordan through Aqaba since it is a part of the free trade zone. The line to Nuweiba is operated by ABMaritime.
A weekly ferry also runs between Wadi Halfa in Sudan and Aswan. Ferry boats also ply between the Red Sea coast to ports in Saudi Arabia and Jordan.
Travellers can easily access Egypt by bus from Israel from the bus stations in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. You will take a bus to Eilat where you can cross over the border into Taba and take a bus to Cairo or into the Sinai. The Jordanian state bus company, JETT, also operates a direct bus between Amman and Cairo which leaves at 03:00 from the JETT terminal in Amman and takes approximately 19 hours to reach Cairo. Generally, only two or three buses leave from Taba to the various destinations each day: one in the morning and one in the afternoon and sometimes one in the early evening. You should plan your arrival by bus in Eilat accordingly, and be prepared to spend the night in either Eilat or Taba if you will arrive in the evening. All foreigners must pay a EGP 129 tax at a small office after the bus leaves the station. Also, be aware that all of the routes by bus must by necessity cross Israel; keep this in mind if you plan on further to travel to Syria, Iran, Libya, or other countries which routinely deny entry to those with evidence of travel to Israel in their passports.
Gas is rather inexpensive in Egypt, prices are heavily subsidized, and they have recently fallen to under USD1.50/gallon. 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. It is just as easy and probably cheaper to travel by taxis and around the country by air, train, and/or bus. As you will see shortly after arrival, obedience of traffic laws is low and there are very few signs indicating road rules. Drivers frequently travel at 65mph(105km/h) on city highways,and as fast as 80mph(130km/h) or more on desert highways. Fridays cause the least amount of traffic,due to most roads in large cities being deserted for Friday prayers.
The state-owned company Egyptian National Railways runs almost all trains in Egypt. The Cairo-Alexandria route is heavily travelled by train, with frequent service daily. Overnight trains are available for travel from Cairo to Luxor and Aswan, in Upper Egypt; these are run by a separate private company called Abela Egypt. On ENR trains, a First Class ticket costs only a few dollars more than a Second class ticket and you will find it much more pleasant and comfortable.
Train tickets can be bought at most major railway stations’ booking offices once you are in Egypt, although a great deal of patience is often required. It also is advisable to purchase tickets in advance, since at peak travel times, trains may be fully booked. Except during busy holiday periods, it’s not normally difficult to purchase 1st class tickets on the day of travel or the day before. To avoid complications, book as far ahead as possible.
Foreigners’ travel is subject to security restrictions. Several websites report that foreigners are allowed to buy tickets only on selected trains. One can hop on the train into the desired class and buy tickets direct from a conductor. Note: this practice does not guarantee you the seat that you have grabbed, so even if it was empty when you occupied it, new passengers may force you out of your seat at a later stop.
You may arrange train ticket purchases through a travel agency in Egypt, preferably at least the day before you intend to travel, but you will pay some commission to avoid the inevitable hassle of going to the rail station. Some travel agencies can arrange bookings ahead of time via e-mail, fax, or phone. If you choose to purchase tickets at the Ramses Station in Cairo, there are several booking windows (for example, one for each class and group of destinations), so check with locals (usually very helpful) that you are joining the right queue. The station sells tickets for Egyptian pounds, except for the deluxe Abela Egypt sleeper which must be paid in foreign currency (dollars, euros or pounds sterling).
First Class tickets are relatively cheap and a good choice, although Second Class will more than suffice for many. The air conditioning tends to be very cold in first and second class, especially during the summer. Travellers probably won’t want to experience anything below Second Class (the condition and provision of toilets, for example, drops away quickly after this level). If you must travel at a lower class due to overbooking, look for the first opportunity to “upgrade” yourself into an empty seat – you may pay a small supplement when your ticket is checked, but it’s worth it. Note that toilet facilities on Egyptian trains are at best rudimentary, even in first class. Therefore, it is advisable to prepare toiletries for long journeys.
Egypt has an extensive long-distance bus network, operated mostly by government-owned companies. Their names are Pullman, West Delta, Golden Arrow, Super Jet, East Delta, El Gouna, Upper Egypt Bus Co and Bedouin Bus. 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.
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 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 you should note that 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. In Cairo the taxis are painted white with block dotted strap around the front and rear fenders, 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.
Some of the taxis have meters, but most were calibrated using a law from the 1970s before the oil crisis and are never used. 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. 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 EGP30 from central Cairo to Giza, EGP55 for a trip inside central Cairo and EGP25 for a short hop inside the city. Note that locals pay a fraction of these prices but rarely less than EGP15; The trip from Cairo to the airport should not increase to more than 80 EGP or about 5 USD. 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. Note that 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 between EGP 200-300 if going on longer excursions such as to Saqqara and Dashur from Cairo. Inside the town 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.
Very recently, a new line of taxis owned by private companies has been introduced in Cairo as a pilot project. They are all clean and air-conditioned. The drivers are formally dressed and can converse in at least one foreign language, usually English. These cabs stand out because of their bright yellow colours. 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 centre of downtown). These new cabs use current meters which count by the kilometre, which starts from 6.50 pounds. In general, they are marginally more expensive than the normal taxis; you can call 16516 in Cairo to hire a cab if you can’t find them where you are looking.
A ferry running between the Red Sea resort of Hurghada and Sharm-El-Sheikh used to be available with a journey time of 90 minutes for EGP400 (although it may take considerably longer in choppy seas); however, this service is not currently running.
The domestic air network is fairly extensive and covers most major towns in Egypt. The national carrier, EgyptAir has the most regular services and is the easiest place to start looking before you go. They provide services from Cairo to quite a few towns and places of interest around the country, the most common being Luxor, Aswan, Abu Simbel, Hurghada, Sharm el-Sheikh, Alexandria, Marsa Matruh and Marsa Alam.
The airlines previously employed two-tier pricing structure, which made fares more than four times more expensive for foreigners than locals. After the beginning of 2007, they changed to a system in which everyone pays the same fare regardless of nationality. Fares are still relatively cheap – for example a return day trip to Luxor is about USD170. It is wise to book early as flights fill up quickly in the peak season. Local travel agencies have internet web pages and can sometimes squeeze you in last minute, but it is safest to book in advance. Travellers can also check prices and book flights on EgyptAir’s website, but only with Visa or Mastercard. Online ticket sales close 72 hours in advance. Travel agencies can still make bookings. The national sales call centre is unable to sell tickets over the phone, but directs you to a local travel agency; you can also ask your hotel staff about travel agencies nearby. EgyptAir has a large network of offices at strategic points around the country, which can sell you tickets.
Egypt’s largest private airline, Nile Air, also offer scheduled flights from Cairo and Red Sea resorts of Hurghada and Sharm el-Sheikh.
Until recently it was unheard of renting car and self drive in Egypt. However now you can rent a car. Though quite expensive, you can rent Dacia (Renault) Logan in good condition and roam freely from the coast to Nile valley. Roads are in quite good condition, but some stretches are bumpy and potholes are frequent.
In some parts gas stations are almost nonexistent, so fill up before heading to the desert. Eastern desert roads from Luxor to Aswan, and from Aswan to Abu Simbel are OK and fast, comparing to driving along Nile with all the traffic.
Major sights (Karnak, Abu Simbel, Valley of Kings) have huge parking lots, however they are not ready for tourists coming independently, and might not let you in the parking lot (despite it being almost empty), probably thinking you are taxi and taxis are not allowed to park there. Elsewhere you will pay small parking fee (2 to 5 LE). Always ask for ticket – otherwise you will be charged again while leaving the lot. No ticket, no money – sometimes locals unrelated with parking lot ask for parking fee.
Alexandria, with several historical sights and the stunning new Bibliotheca Alexandrina, is the country’s main summer attraction for Egyptians escaping the summer heat and looking for a place to spend the summer vacation. Tourist attractions include Roman and Greek monuments, Bibliotheca Alexandria, Qa’edbay’s Castle, and Qasr El Montaza (El Montaza Palace).
A line of mountains and calm beautiful beaches for miles and a range of hotels to satisfy various budgets 90 min drive from Cairo for a relaxing experience with a group of friends or couples to stay there is a must.
Port Said, is one of the country’s main summer resorts for Egyptians escaping the summer heat and looking for a place to spend the summer vacation and to have shopping benefiting its free trade zone, Tourist attractions include the unique buildings of the city which back to the 19th century an the old lighthouse of Port Said which was the first building built in the world using reinforced concrete.
the temples of Luxor and the West Bank across the Nile
In Aswan, you can see even more temples and ancient monuments. You can also see Geziret El Nabatat (The Island of Plants). This is an island in the Nile River of Aswan which was planted by rare species of plants, trees, and flowers.
Perhaps the most popular activity in Luxor and Aswan is to do the Nile Cruise on a ship from Aswan to Luxor. It enables you to stop at each location along the Nile where you can see all the famous ancient monuments as well as experience being in the Nile River inside a five-star hotel boat.
Sharm El Sheikh:
In Sharm El Sheikh, you can make different types of excursions as diving, snorkelling and safari. You can also go from Sharm El Sheikh to visit Ras Mohammed, Cairo, Luxor and St. Catherine Monastery.
There is a lot to do for the foreign traveller in Egypt. Apart from visiting and seeing the ancient temples and artefacts of ancient Egypt, there is also much to see within each city. In fact, each city in Egypt has its own charm of things to see with its own history, culture, activities, and people who often differ in nature from people of other parts of Egypt.
Cairo, for instance has so much to do and see. Besides the ancient Egyptian history, there is the history of Romans, Greeks, Byzantine Empire, Islamic empire, Ottomans, and finally modern Egyptian history.
Jewish and Christian History To see more about Egypt’s Christian and Jewish history, go to a local tourist office and ask them to give you names of local Churches and Jewish Synagogues. There is at least two Jewish synagogues dating back many years ago, when Egypt had a population of a few hundred-thousand Jews in the country, who eventually left during the formation of Israel.
There is a lot of old and interesting Churches to see in different areas of Cairo, including downtown Cairo, Heliopolis, Korba, Shubra, Abbasiya, Zamalek, and Maadi. Some of these churches have been around for several hundred years and their architecture resemble that of Churches in Western countries, often built by Europeans who built much of the city’s architecture in the 19th century as a resemblance to modern buildings of Europe at the time.
Modern Cairo If you want to see modern Cairo, try walking in the streets of Zamalek, Maadi, Mohandiseen, or Heliopolis where you will see some of the more modern buildings and get to experience the way of life in Egypt.
Cairo Tower is the tallest building in Egypt, and you can go up the tower and have a nice dinner with a full view of Cairo from above. There are telescopes which enable you to see magnified sections of city in more detail and allows the traveller to see much of the city in a short amount of time.
Local Cafes/Coffeeshops and Restaurants For social times, try sitting in one of the local cafes restaurants where you can meet and interact with fellow Egyptians. There are numerous coffeeshops/cafes and restaurants all over Cairo all catering for different tastes and backgrounds and range from the very budget to the very expensive.
Local chains include, Coffee Roastery, Cilantro, Grand Cafe, Costa Coffee and many other places. Generally each area of Cairo has its cafes and restaurants.
Sporting and Recreational Clubs: If the heat is too much, you can go to one of the famous sporting clubs such as the Gezira Club located in Zamalek, or the Seid Club (otherwise known in English as the Shooting Club) located in Mohandiseen, where you can have a dip at the swimming pool or otherwise enjoy sitting in the shade and comfort of lush trees and gardens. Entrance for foreigners can be gained by buying a one-day ticket for 150 Egyptian pounds which enables the person to enjoy all the facilities of club including playing any sports. There are of course changing facilities and restaurants inside the club where one can enjoy a meal or a drink after engaging in any activity.
Nightlife: If you enjoy nightlife, there is quite a few nightclubs and discos where you can drink and dance to some of the most modern tunes in the west as well as listen to some Arabic music. The music varies from Dance and Trance to Hip Hop, Rap, Techno, as well as Rock and Pop. These clubs are usually located inside five-star hotels or at areas such as Mohandiseen and Zamalek.
Examples include: The Cairo Jazz Club (mohandiseen) Purple (on a boat in Zamalek) Hard Rock Cafe (inside the grand hay-at Hotel in Garden City) L’Obergine (pub and bar in Zamalek)
Desert Adventures: For other adventures, try going to the Haram District of Cairo. There, you can walk around or hire a vehicle out in the desert by the pyramids and the Sphinx. The best time to do this is at night when you can see all the stars shining together in the sky and capture the magical feeling of the place.
Nile Boat: Try renting out a Feluca boat (small boat that can carry up to 20 individuals) in the Nile of Cairo. There you can experience the beauty of the Nile and the surround scenery, where you can see the city and its buildings and streets from within the water around. Depending on the weather, you can do this either day or night, but you will need to go to the Giza District and walk along the corniche area of the Nile and ask any of the locals for renting this boat.
Islamic Cairo/Fatimid Cairo: For those interested in the Islamic architecture and history, try going to Islamic Cairo, ( el Gamalaya district or Khan El Khalili. There you will see numerous buildings and some mosques and see how buildings and houses were built in the Islamic Era of Egypt. There is also a souk (or bazaar) where you can buy lots of different souvenirs and items.
Diving: Diving in Egypt offers a variety of diving opportunities, from shallow reefs, walls, drift dives, coral gardens and some of the most famous wrecks in the world. Here you will find unlimited options to see tropical marine life in crystal clear waters, many species of sharks, and even whale sharks. Variety is immense, and will be dependent on where you dive. Some of the most popular diving locations include diving in Sharm El Sheikh and Ras Mohammed, diving in The Gubal Strait, the wrecks at the Strait of Tiran, reef diving in Hurghada and Marsa Alam, the Abu Nuhas wreck system, and pelagic encounters at Brother Islands.
However, the native language in most of the country and the national lingua franca is Egyptian Arabic, one of the numerous (mostly mutually unintelligible) local dialects of Arabic. Although each country in the Arab world has its own dialect(s), Egyptian Arabic has the highest number of native speakers and is in fact also known as a second language by many Arabs especially in the neighbouring countries, due to the popularity of Egyptian cinema and media in the Middle East.
As Egypt was a British colony until 1952, most educated locals learn English at school. Travellers are unlikely to encounter difficulties finding someone who speaks English, especially in the cities and tourist centres. In fact, English and French are taught as second languages in all public Egyptian schools, although people who go to these schools might be able to speak the language with varying degrees, depending on their education and socio-economic class (the higher having more language skills).
Among the educated class, older people over 40 will generally be more fluent in French, as French was the dominant language of education in the past before English became dominant. This however, is becoming more exceptional as there are more young people going to French schools than before, so there are a number of young people who speak French as well besides English. There are also a few German schools where students are taught everything in German and following the German curriculum as well.
The most other common languages are Italian, Spanish, and Russian due to the high number of tourists who come from Europe speaking these languages.
Following usual rules of politeness, instead of simply starting a conversation with someone in English, ask “Do you speak English?”. All the better if you can do it in Egyptian Arabic: betek-kal-lem ’engelīzi? (addressing a male) or betek-kal-limi ’engelīzi? (addressing a female). Also “ehh-ill-kallam?” -That’s how Egyptians say “what’s up?”
In the southern parts of the country, such as Luxor and Aswan, the local language is called Sa’idi Arabic, and is different from the standard Egyptian Arabic spoken in the north of the country. There are also people Black Africans in the far south speaking the totally different Nubian language. However, basically all people can speak Egyptian Arabic and in the cities also often standard Arabic and English.
Bedouins of Siwa and the western deserts of Egypt speak a language called Berber, also called Siwi, which is an unwritten language unique to them that only they can speak. These people are bilingual in Egyptian Arabic.
The Bedouin tribes of other areas of Egypt have their own dialect of Arabic, which would not be normally understood by the ordinary urban Egyptian, but again these people will be bilingual in the Egyptian dialect.
Contrary to the belief of some people, nobody speaks or understands Hieroglyphs (the ancient Egyptian language of the Pharaohs ) except those who studied Egyptology or work in the field of archaeology or give museum tour guides.
In Egypt, the pound sterling is called, genē esterlīni (جنيه استرلينى).
The Egyptian pound has been devaluing gradually over the last several decades. In the 1950s and 1960s, the Egyptian pound was rated almost the same as the British pound sterling. Since 2011, the exchange rate has become relatively unstable and inflation sped up. As of 2013, the Egyptian pound is worth about 11 times less than at its peak.
As of late 2016 the Central Bank has attempted to fix the value of the Egyptian Pound to the US dollar at a rate of EGP1:USD17.7. This has led to a shortage of foreign exchange and as of December 2014 a black market in foreign currency is emerging. Dollars attract the greatest premium. Generally high street foreign exchange offices will offer the black market rate – the rates they publish are to a large extent fictional.
Foreign currencies can be exchanged at exchange offices or banks, so there is no need to resort to the dodgy street money changers. Many higher-end hotels price in dollars or euros and will gladly accept them as payment, often at a premium rate over Egyptian pounds. ATMs are ubiquitous in the cities and probably the best option overall; they often offer the best rate and many foreign banks have branches in Egypt. These include Barclay’s Bank, HSBC, CitiBank, NSGB, BNP Paribas, Piraeus Bank, CIB, and other local and Arab Banks. Bank hours are Sunday through Thursday, 08:30-14:00.
American Express, Diners Club, MasterCard and Visa are accepted, but only bigger hotels or restaurants in Cairo and restaurants in tourist areas will readily accept credit cards as payment. Travellers cheques can be exchanged in any bank, but it could take some time.
Because of the economic situation of the country nowadays with an ever-expanding population and depletion of resources, this means that a lot of people may be unemployed (a rate much higher than in more developed countries). Many who are employed in the service or hospitality industry (restaurants, hotels, bars, etc.) are most likely to be on decent salaries.
This means that many people who work in the service/hospitality industry try to make their main source of income from living off of tips.
Bear in mind that these people quite often live hard lives, often responsible for feeding large families and may simply barely doing such because their income from work is not sufficient for them to live easy lives.
Thus, almost everyone at your hotel asks for a tip, even if all they did was a small thing. You don’t have to pay huge tips as often smallest bills are appreciated. However, you do not have to tip if you feel that you haven’t received any service or help at all or if you feel that the service was bad. Nobody will ever take offence or be disrespectful if you did not tip them.Note that the average Egyptian makes about 7500 EGP(405 USD)/per month.
Some general guidelines:
If you ask a stranger for directions, tips are not necessary and may even be considered offensive. Officials in uniform, such as police officers, should not be tipped. Remember that bribery is technically illegal, but it is likely that nothing will happen to you. Last but not least, be aware that as a foreign tourist, you are seen by many as easy money and you should not let yourself be pressured into tipping for unnecessary or unrequested “services” like self-appointed tour guides latching on to you.
A common scam that a handful of vendors, ticket sellers, taxi drivers etc. will try is to claim that you only gave him a 10LE note, when you actually gave him a 100LE note – this can lead to a heated argument – best to treat it as an ‘honest mistake’ so that the vendor does not lose face, then suggest that the police or tourist police can help. As a general rule whenever giving over large bills say out loud their value so both you and the vendor know the value of the notes.
Egypt is a shopper’s paradise, especially if you’re interested in Egyptian-themed souvenirs and kitsch. However, there are also a number of high quality goods for sale, often at bargain prices. Some of the most popular purchases include:
When shopping in markets or dealing with street vendors, remember to haggle. Because of the downturn in tourism since the 2011 revolution, tourism is very low and you’ll find shopkeepers very open to haggling and prices lower than in the past – even in places like Luxor/Aswan and not just in Cairo.
You will also find many western brands all around. There are many malls in Egypt, the most common being Citystars Mall, which is the largest entertainment centre in the Middle East and Africa. You will find common western fast food restaurants such as Mcdonald’s, KFC, Hardees, Pizza Hut, etc. and clothing brands such as Calvin Klein, Levi’s, Michael Kors, Hugo Boss, Lacoste, Tommy Hilfiger, Armani Exchange and more.
In Egypt, prices are often increased for foreigners, so if you see a price on a price tag, it may be wise to learn the local Eastern Arabic numerals.
Shopping in Egypt ranges goods and commodities that represent souvenirs of Egypt’s ancient as well as modern things. These include items such as small pyramids, obelisks, and souvenir statues which can be bought at more touristic areas such as Khan El Khalili and Islamic Cairo.They are written from left to right. For example, the number 15 would be written as ١٥.
You can also do general shopping in Cairo for clothing items and other goods such as in the modern shopping malls of City Stars, City Centre, or Nile City (all of which contain some of the most famous designer brands of the world, including Guess, Calvin Klein, Armani, Hugo Boss, Tommy Hilfiger, etc.
Egypt can be a fantastic place to sample a unique range of food: not too spicy and well-flavoured with herbs. For a convenient selection of Egyptian cuisine and staple foods try the Felfela chain of restaurants in Cairo. Some visitors complain, however, that these have become almost too tourist-friendly and have abandoned some elements of authenticity.
Oddly enough, beware of any restaurant listed in popular guidebooks. Even if the restaurant was once great, after publication, they will likely create a “special” English menu that includes very high prices.
As in many seaside countries, Egypt is full of fish restaurants and markets so fish and seafood are must-try. Frequently, fish markets have some food stalls nearby where you can point at specific fish species to be cooked. Stalls typically have shared table, and locals are as frequent there as tourists.
Be aware that hygiene may not be of the highest standards, depending on the place. The number of tourists that suffer from some kind of parasite or bacterial infection is very high. Despite assurances to the contrary, exercise common sense and bring appropriate medications to deal with problems. “Antinal” (Nifuroxazide) is cheap, effective and available in every pharmacy. “Immodium” or similar products are prescription drugs only.
Although Antinal is very effective, sometimes when nothing else is, the elderly should check the brand name with their doctor before relying on it as it contains a high concentration of active ingredient that is not approved by the US FDA or the British regulatory pharmaceutical body.
Classic Egyptian dishes: The dish Ful Medames is one of the most common egyptian dishes; consists of fava beans (ful) slow-cooked in a copper pot (other types of metal pots don’t produce the right type of flavor) that have been partially or entirely mashed. Olive oil is often an ingredient, and garlic is sometimes added. Ful medames is served with plenty of olive oil, chopped parsley, onion, garlic, and lemon juice, and typically eaten with Egyptian (baladi) bread or occasionally Levantine (shami) pita. Also sometimes seasoned with chili paste and tumeric.
One must try is the classic Falafel (known as Ta’miya in Egypt) which is deep-fried ground fava bean balls (but better known worldwide for the ground chickpea version typically found in other cuisines of the Middle Eastern region) that was believed to be invented by Egyptian bedouins. Usually served as fast food, or a snack.
Koshary is a famous dish, which is usually a mixture of macaroni, lentils, rice, chickpeas and tomato sauce. Very popular amongst the locals and a must try for tourists. The gratinated variation is called Taagin.
Egyptian cuisine is quite similar to the cuisine of the Arabic-speaking countries in the Eastern Mediterranean. Dishes like stuffed vegetables and vine leafs, Shawarma-sandwiches are common in Egypt and the region.
Vegetarian Tourists Options:
Vegetarian tourists although have limited options for them to explore from but Falafel and Koshary are excellent choices for them.
Egypt is one of the most affordable countries for a European to try variety of fresh-grown exotic fruits. Guava, mango, watermelon, small melons, ishta are all widely available from fruit stalls, especially in locals-oriented non-tourist marketplaces.
Bottled water is available everywhere. The local brands (most common being Baraka, Siwa, Hayat) are just as good as expensive imported options which are also available: Nestle Pure Life, Evian, Dasani (bottled by Coca-Cola), and Aquafina (bottled by Pepsi). A note on the local brand Baraka: while it is perfectly safe to drink this brand of bottled water, some may notice a very slight baking soda aftertaste, due to the high mineral content of its deep well water source.
No matter where you buy bottled water from (even hotels are not entirely reliable), before accepting it check that there is a clear plastic seal on it and the neck ring is still attached to the cap by the breakable threads of plastic. It is common to collect empty but ‘new’ bottles and refill them with tap water which drinking a bottle of will make you ill. Not all brands have the clear plastic cover but all the good ones do.
Juices can be widely found in Egypt – kasab (sugar cane); erk soos (licorice); sobiia (white juice); tamr and some fresh fruit juices(almost found at same shop which offer all these kind of juices except erk soos may be which you can find another places).
Karkadae is also famous juice specially at Luxor and it is hibiscus tea which is drunk hot or cold but in Egypt it is preferred to drink it cold.Should mention also that hibiscus tea is known to lower blood pressure so be careful.
Egypt is a predominantly Muslim nation and alcoholic drinks are religiously forbidden (haram) – though not legally – for strictly observant Muslims. That said, Egyptians tend to adopt a relaxed and pragmatic view towards alcohol for non-Muslims and foreigners. It is tolerated by the vast majority of Egyptians and consumed by a sizable number of them. Alcoholic beverages and bottled drinks are readily available throughout the country (especially in larger towns and cities, as well as tourist centers). Please note, however, that public drunkenness (especially the loud and obnoxious variety) is definitely not appreciated – without caution, you may end up drying out in a police cell. Try to be a good ambassador: if you must get “tipsy”, confine it to the hotel or very nearby! (It’s actually quite rare to see drunken tourists, even in the most intense tourist areas…)
Stella (not artois) and Sakkara are common lager beers in Egypt (approx. 4%), both brewed by Heineken’s Egyptian subsidiary, Ahram Beverages Company. Other local brands are available, most a with higher alcohol variant that have claimed levels of 8% or even 10%. Foreign brands made under license in Egypt include Heineken and Meister.
Egyptian laws towards alcohol are officially quite liberal compared to most Islamic countries, except for the month of Ramadan when alcohol is strictly forbidden. During Ramadan only holders of foreign passports are allowed to buy alcohol, by Egyptian law. However, the enforcement of this law is by no means consistent. In tourist areas like Luxor, alcohol is sold even during Ramadan, and those who look like foreigners will not be asked to show passports or other documentation.
During Ramadan alcohol is often sold only in Western-style hotels and pubs/restaurants catering especially to foreigners. A few days of the year, as the day of the full moon the month before Ramadan, alcohol is completely banned. Also some hotels and bars catering to foreigners will stop serving alcohol during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan – phone ahead to make sure alcohol is still being served in order to avoid disappointment.
For undergraduate studies you can also apply to one of the many foreign universities based in Cairo such as:
For public Egyptian universities, try:
After a long period of political stability in a dictatorial climate under President Mubarak, Egypt is now politically unrestful.
Terrorism is a safety concern, but the odds of being affected by terrorism are statistically low and any shady areas may have extra security. There are also many patrolling police officers armed with AK-47s riding on camels in the Giza plateau. They ensure the safety of the tourists since the Pyramids are the crown jewels of all the Egyptian antiquities. Some tourists may want to take pictures with these police officers on camel back, but while on patrol they may verbally warn you not to pose next to them in order to take a picture with them.
Pickpocketing is a problem in Egypt’s bigger cities, particularly Cairo. You should keep your money in a clip in your pocket like the locals do. Violent crime is rare, and it’s highly unlikely that you will be mugged or robbed. If you do find yourself the victim of crime, you may get support of local pedestrians by shouting “Harami” (Criminal) while chasing the person who robbed you. Overall, scams are the main concern in Egypt. Egyptians who starts a conversation with you in Cairo and Luxor may “befriend” you and be a guide for you, even bring you back to their place for dinner, and then they will demand money for it. Basically, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Demand prices for absolutely everything. A scam at amusement parks is they will pretend to be your friend by treating you, then offer to hold your belongings when you go for a ride only to disappear afterwards.
An investigation in Egypt has found horrific abuse of horses and camels forced to haul visitors on their backs or in carriages at the country’s top tourist sites – including Great Pyramid of Giza, Saqqara’s ancient burial site, and Luxor’s royal tombs – in the blistering heat without access to food, water, or shade. Many horses used for rides in Giza and Luxor were seen with painful, bloody wounds yet were forced to continue to cart tourists around. Emaciated horses whose ribs jutted out through their skin were repeatedly yanked and whipped. Animals at these sites are forced to wait for the next paying customer in the scorching sun without shelter or water troughs. They are given no breaks and are beaten and whipped into giving endless rides in the heat, even as their knees buckle and they collapse. Eyewitnesses also observed screaming camels who were viciously beaten with sticks by men and children at the Birqash Camel Market before being sold to the tourism industry. When the camels are no longer able to give rides, they are sold to the meat industry.
Do not photograph people without their permission, and in areas frequented by tourists do not be surprised if a bit of baksheesh is requested. In general, Egyptians are a lot more comfortable with less personal space than are most Westerners; however, pairs of Westerners should be cautious in engaging in same-sex contact. Normal contact is quite acceptable (shaking hands, pats on the shoulder, etc.) but holding hands could be mistaken in Westerners as a sign of homosexuality, which is illegal. Smoking is very common and cigarettes are very cheap in Egypt.
Gamal Abdul Nasser, the second President of the Arab Republic of Egypt, and many others are considered national heroes in Egypt; you should say absolutely nothing that could be perceived as offensive or derogatory regarding him. Tread carefully around such topics and let others guide the openness of the discussion. Many Egyptians have a different interpretation concerning ambiguous expresions such as freedom of speech and democracy. Likewise, don’t bring up politics and other delicate issues impulsively. It is advisable not to discuss Israel even if tempted; do not speak loudly about it as it may attract unwanted attention, even if you are only talking about it as a travel destination.
Never discuss religion from an atheistic or similar point of view. Even highly educated Egyptians who studied abroad won’t appreciate it and doors will close for you. Also be aware that the Islamic “call to prayer” happens five times daily and can be heard loudly almost anywhere you go. Just understand that most Egyptians are used to it and enjoy it as part of the cultural experience.
Take great care if you choose to drink, especially if you’re from countries where heavy drinking is accepted. Even if you are used to it, you can’t estimate the effects of the climate, even at night. The impact drunk people have on Egyptians is quite large and very negative. The best plan is just to abstain or limit yourself to one drink per meal while in Egypt; it will be cheaper too.
Do not elicit any conversations about politics, but don’t be afraid to partake if a local you are speaking with (typically a middle-class and well educated shopkeeper) begins a rant about his hatred for the current administration (for whom they blame, rightly or wrongly, for the drop in tourism and economic loss). This will be a common theme that you’ll find many of the friendly locals go into, but certainly you don’t want to be seen as a foreigner coming in to insult their government with knowledge of only what you hear in the media.
Egyptians are generally a conservative people and many are religious and dress very conservatively. Although they accommodate foreigners being dressed a lot more skimpily, it is prudent not dress provocatively, if only to avoid having people stare at you. It is best to wear pants or jeans instead of shorts as only tourists wear these. In modern nightclubs, restaurants, hotels and bars in Cairo, Alexandria and other tourist destinations you’ll find the dress code to be much less restrictive. Official or social functions and smart restaurants usually require more formal wear.
At the Giza Pyramids and other such places during the hot summer months, short sleeve tops and even sleeveless tops are acceptable for women (especially when traveling with a tour group). Though you should carry a scarf or something to cover up more while traveling to/from the tourist destination. Also, it’s perfectly acceptable for women to wear tall boots during the summer, and you will even see some women with the hijab who have tall beautiful boots on.
Women should cover their arms and legs if travelling alone, and covering your hair may help to keep away unwanted attention. Though as a foreigner, you may get plenty of attention no matter what you wear, mainly including people staring at you along with some verbal harassment which you can try to ignore. Egyptian women, even those who wear the full hijab, are often subjected to sexual harassment, including cat calls. You may find that completely covering up does not make a huge difference, with regards to harassment, versus wearing a top with shorter sleeves. In regards to harassment, it’s also important how you act. Going out with a group of people is also helpful, and the best thing to do is ignore men who give you unwanted attention. They want to get some reaction out of you. Also, one sign of respect is to use the Arabic greeting, “Asalamualaikum” (means “hello, peace be upon you”), and the other person should reply “Walaikumasalam” (“peace be upon you”). That lets the person know you want respect, and nothing else.
Internet access is easy to find and cheap. Most cities, such as Cairo and Luxor, and even smaller tourist sites, such as Edfu, boast a plethora of small internet cafés. The price per hour is usually 2-10 LE depending on the location/speed. In addition, an increasing number of coffee shops, restaurants, hotel lobbies and other locations now provide free wireless internet access. Free wi-fi (Mobilnil) is also available at modern coffee shops such as Cilantro and Costa Coffee, where you obtain access by getting a 2-hour “promotional” card from the waiter, and if you go into almost any McDonald’s, you will have access to a free WiFi connection.
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