Through Travel Agents
Booking tickets for transport inside Egypt is very straightforward. Plane tickets can be booked online, and bus and train tickets can be purchased at the appropriate stations. The downside is that, mainly because of traffic congestion, it's very time consuming. Simply getting to the train station to buy your tickets can set you back 1 or 2 hours, and then you have to fight through the crowds. For this reason, I recommend using a travel agent to make the arrangements. Expect to pay a premium, of course, for this service. In the case of train tickets (which pay no commissions to agents), it will help if you have other business to do with that agent -- book your pyramid tour and your van rental at the same time as you ask for your train tickets.
There are literally thousands of travel agents in Egypt, and the main squares in tourist destinations are crowded with musty offices where papers are piled on top of broken computers. It is very much a caveat emptor market.
The Travco office in Zamalek, 13 Mahmoud Azmi St. (tel. 02/27362042 or 02/27354493; www.travco-eg.com), has an excellent reputation, as does Guardian Travel, 5a Maruteia St., Giza (tel. 02/37404747; www.guardiantravel.com). You can also try Garden City Travel, 20 Maamal Al-Sokar, Garden City (tel. 02/27940663; www.gardencitytravel.net).
Getting around Egypt means covering substantial distances from one tourist center to the next. Though there is reliable bus service between most places and excellent train service to a few, the best way to get around is by air.
EgyptAir has a virtual monopoly on internal flights. (There are a few charters operating inside the country, but standards are low and they offer no advantages over the state carrier.) The planes aren't always the cleanest, and the flying style will make you nostalgic for the international airline that brought you to Cairo, but they're usually reliable. If you plan to read or sleep, bring earplugs; EgyptAir's domestic flights run a constant stream of ads and music videos, and the volume is turned up to maximum for the benefit of the hard of hearing.
Tickets can be booked with any travel agent or at an EgyptAir travel office (where service is friendly but always frustratingly slow), but booking online at www.egyptair.com beats both these options hands down. It's quick, easy, and cheap.
Buses are how the majority of Egyptians get around the country. You can get almost anywhere on the bus, and the service is reliable and relatively safe.
Service is divided up geographically between a number of older companies including West Delta, East Delta, Upper Egypt, and Pullman. High-volume destinations such as Dahab, Sharm el Sheikh, Hurghada, and Luxor are served by Super Jet, which is just slightly more expensive and has newer buses with air-conditioning and toilets.
Two things to check on before setting out on a bus journey are videos and air-conditioning. If there is going to be a video, take earplugs -- there are no earphones, and the sound is played at maximum volume over speakers. Air-conditioning is also usually turned up too high, and even in the height of summer you may find yourself wishing for a jacket.
The newly built Turgoman bus station in the middle of Cairo services all destinations in Egypt.
There are two ways to see Egypt by car: hiring a car with a driver or hiring a car that you drive yourself. I recommend the former, simply because it's the low-hassle option, with the driver taking care of most of the problems associated with driving yourself.
Driving yourself is a viable option if you have quick reflexes and nerves of steel, and it will probably work out to be cheaper and more flexible if you're driving from town to town. On the other hand, for getting around Cairo, I recommend taking taxis or hiring a driver. Between congestion and lack of parking, your own car is more of a burden than anything else.
The most important thing to consider is that the standard of driving in Egypt, particularly on highways, is appallingly bad. Locals think nothing of passing on blind corners or coming up on the crest of a hill. Opposing traffic is simply expected to make room by pulling off the road. Signaling follows a different protocol; for example, a driver on the highway with the left turn signal flashing may be indicating to you that it's safe to pass, or that he plans to turn left, or that he forgot to turn off his indicator. Note that Egyptians drive on the right, in theory at least.
Speed limits vary between 50kmph (31 mph) inside towns to between 90 and 110kmph (56-68 mph) on highways. Congestion means that you'll rarely get over 20kmph (12 mph) in the city, but highway limits are routinely ignored.
Petrol, though getting to be more expensive, is still extremely cheap by Western standards -- between LE1.20 and LE1.50 per liter (22¢-27¢/11p-14p) for regular and premium gas. Expect to tip the attendant LE1 (18¢/9p) for a fill up and the person who cleans your windshield another LE1 (18¢/9p).
Gas stations are not hard to find, though they tend to be widely spaced out in the desert, so it's wise to fill up the tank at every opportunity -- you never know when any particular station is going to run out and leave you wondering whether you can make it to the next one.
There are a few toll roads in Egypt. Going to Ain Sukhna, for example, to Fayum or Alexandria will cost you LE2 (36¢/18p). More of a hassle are the security checkpoints, where you may be asked to hand over your documents and answer a few questions.
Note that foreigners were not being allowed to drive the Nile Valley road between Luxor and Cairo at the time of writing.
The main campus branch of the American University in Cairo Bookstore has a selection of road maps to Egypt.
There is a functional north-south railway backbone in Egypt, so travel by train between Aswan in the south and Alexandria in the north is a pleasant and practical way of seeing the country and getting to where you're going. With the exception of the three-times-a-week service to Marsa Matruh, there is no useful service outside this corridor.
Most trains leave from the main downtown station in Ramsis Square. Tickets are sold here, and they have a useful information office.
Note that tourists are not officially allowed to travel on non-tourist-class trains to Upper Egypt. This only becomes a problem if you accidentally board the wrong train (in which case you're probably looking at an uncomfortable taxi ride back from the first stop to the station to try again).
The difference in cleanliness and comfort level make it worth traveling first class. Note, however, that the air-conditioning is usually cranked to maximum in both first and second class. Bring a sweater or a scarf for train travel, even in the summer.
On shorter trips, there is usually a snack and hot-drink trolley. The system is that you pay at the end of the trip for everything you've had -- if the attendant demands payment on the spot, he's probably trying to scam you.
Reserved seating is the norm in first and second class between major centers, but double booking has been known to happen. When it does, conflict-averse conductors tend to flee, leaving it to the passengers to sort out where to sit.