Basic Arabic Words for Travel to Egypt
Use our quick language guide to learn the key basic Arabic words that we used when travelling through Egypt and the Middle East.
We knew very little about the Egyptian language before we visited earlier this year. All we knew was that they spoke Arabic. And to be honest, to my untrained and ignorant eyes, the written Arabic language looks a lot like squiggly lines.
We are not talking about ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics either, which would make me feel like an idiot if I had to translate them!
Essential Arabic Words To Get By In Egypt
We always pride ourselves on learning a few essential words and phrases to help us communicate when traveling in foreign countries. The locals always seem to appreciate it, and it makes us feel as if we are immersing ourselves in the culture, which is why we love to travel.
So whether you are just visiting the numerous Red Sea all-inclusive vacations or the Great Pyramids of Giza, use our list of essential Arabic words and phrases below to help you out on your next travel adventure through Egypt and the Middle East.
Keep in mind that there are loads of different ways to greet someone or be polite, etc. But by using the essential Arabic words below daily when strolling through the markets or stopping to eat Egyptian street food.
Essential Arabic Words and Phrases
Marhaba = Hello.
Shukran = Thank you (although we usually used “la shukran,” which is no “thank you” when being offered another 100 camels for Adela).
Tatakallam ‘English? = Do you speak English?
Ya-Allah = Let’s go.
Naam = Yes.
Min fad like = Please.
Kam? = How much?
Afwan = Excuse me.
Ilal-liqa = I’ll see you later.
‘Ayna… = Where is…
…al-Hammaam? = …the rest room?
WaaHid = One
‘Ithnayn = Two
Thalaatha = Three
‘Arbaxa = Four
Khamsa = Five
As always practice makes perfect and there is no easier way to learn a language than trying it out in every day situations so don’t be afraid to have a go. Your pronunciation might be a bit off the first few times but like we said above, most locals will appreciate you trying and correct you.
Reader question: Do you have any tips or additional words that we didn’t include that you think we should?
Bwaise Slum Tours in Kampala, Uganda
Find out what it’s like to go on one of the Slum Tours in Kampala, and how it has made a big impact on me.
When our Oasis Overland tour leader offered us a slum tour through Bwaise slums in Uganda, I wasn’t sure how comfortable I felt about it. Not only would we be wandering through the resident’s private villages and homes, but no doubt we would also be snapping away with our cameras at every sign of poverty. It seemed so wrong.
I very nearly decided not to go along.
However, I am so glad that I did decide to visit the slums in Uganda, as it has led to a small change in my life.
Bwaise Slum Tours in Kampala, Uganda
Catching a matatatu (local taxi) through the traffic-choked streets of Kampala, the capital of Uganda, is an experience in itself. Add 12 muzungu’s (white tourists) like myself, and you become the main attraction. As we crawled through the streets, we were reminded that the residents of the slum we were visiting, Bwaise slum, live well below the poverty line, but we had nothing to fear about being robbed as a guard would guide us.
Arriving in Bwaise Slum, we met our AFFCAD (Action for Fundamental Change for Development) tour guides, who explained where we would be going and who we would meet over the next 2 hours.
AFFCAD is a non-profit community-based organization with offices in Bwaise slums in Kampala. It was formed in 2009 by four youths to mitigate the impacts of HIV/AID and Poverty in the slum areas of Kampala, Uganda. They now run tours and offer various volunteering options, from 1 day to several months.
As we learned more about the AFFCAD organization, children’s faces began to peer through the wooden windows at us. Their faces broke into shy grins every time they caught our eyes, or we offered a wave.
Walking out onto the streets of Bwaise slum, I quickly felt a tug at my hand as it dangled at my side. Glancing down, I spotted a grubby little hand clasped around my fingers. The ear-to-ear grin split her face as she looked at me, and my heart melted.
Within seconds everyone had at least one kid grasping both hands as we began our slum tour. And in most cases, two or three kids would be hanging off our fingers.
Visiting the local school where 40 kids crammed into a shoebox of a room with dirt floors was eye-opening. Brightly painted pictures plastered the wooden walls, and wooden desks lined the room. Another of the classes was wholly flooded with a foot of water sloshing between the walls due to the rainy season.
When the floods arrive, several weeks of the year, there is nothing to be done but send the kids back home. It sucks as all they want to do is learn and play.
We were continuing the slum tour. We were taken through a maze of winding streets of dilapidated homes. Each houses several generations of family members with no electricity or running water.
The water they collect often bubbles up from natural springs littered with rubbish.
A queue of tiny kids carries plastic containers waiting to be filled for their once daily (if lucky) meal of plain rice. Education about boiling the water before consuming it is the only way to keep them from getting sick.
Long canals choked with rubbish criss-cross through the slums. The locals stand waist-deep in them, pulling trash out of the water to see if anything has washed down from neighboring communities that is worth keeping or selling.
Nearly everything can be reused, and each item is meticulously poured over to calculate its value.
Wandering more profound into the slum, we are told to switch off our cameras.
The locals are primarily prostitutes in the slum earning little more than $1 an hour, yet this is more than most. It is a lucrative business for someone with no other options. And while AFFCAD is trying to stamp it out, they know they are fighting a losing battle.
Instead, they would educate the sex workers about HIV/AIDS and how to protect themselves over the long term.
As we wrap up the tour, we are invited into a local restaurant to devour a traditional meal of Ugali (a type of rice and maize mixture) with a stew of tender beef. All cost less than $2.
I am waving goodbye to the kids. I make the straightforward decision that as soon as I return to New Zealand, I will be organizing the sponsorship of one of the children. For just $40 a month, I can make a massive impact in their lives with three daily meals, school supplies, and medicine to help them out.
What is ridiculous and weighs on me heavily is that I can quite easily spend that on one night out drinking. It makes me sick just thinking about it.
Reader Questions: Do you sponsor a child or donate to a worthy charity? Do you recommend any for me to research?
To learn more about what AFFCAD is doing in the Bwaise slum or how you might help them, please check out their website.
Review: 10 Day Egypt Explorer Tour with Expat Explore
A comprehensive review of Expat Explores 10 Day Explorer Tour through the stunning country of Egypt.
We have wanted to visit Egypt for a while now, so when the opportunity to get away over the Christmas and New Year period arose, we knew we needed to head there for a break. We joined Expat Explore on their 10 Day Explorer Tour through Egypt, taking in the sights of Cairo, Aswan, Luxor, and Hurghada.
Expat Explore Ten Day Egypt Explorer Tour Review
We chose Expat Explore because they were the cheapest with all the same sights and in the end, we were happy with our choice.
Pre-departure, they emailed us our itinerary with the optional excursions and additional costs for entry fees, including budgeting appropriately. As well as following up with our pre-trip questions regarding flights, insurance, and health and safety advice.
From the start, they were very professional. Landing in Cairo, we were personally greeted the day before our tour and transported to our City center hotel. That drive was an eye-opener to Egypt with crazy lane changes, honking, swerving, and flashing lights with animals, people, and vehicles everywhere.
El Tonsy Hotel is your base for your arrival and last night. Luckily we didn’t expect much as our door didn’t lock, which was a bit dodgy, and the rooms were cold with a broken heater and only one blanket. You wouldn’t think you would need heat in Egypt, but it was the middle of winter, chilly at night. No complaints with the location, though, as we could see the Pyramids in the distance and were only 5 minutes walk from the Nile and 15 minutes to Tahir Square (perfectly safe, by the way). Plus, they have a little bar/restaurant with cheap food and free Wi-Fi. Just buy your snacks and water from the supermarket across the road, and you will get on fine.
It’s pretty hard to break down a whole trip into one post but here goes:
Your tour starts with the best in my opinion by touring some sights of Cairo. The steeply angled Step Pyramid, the mind-blowing Pyramids of Giza, and the smaller than expected Sphinx. This day was the highlight.
That night is spent aboard the train for 10-12 hours to Aswan. I highly recommend the Sleeper train for an extra £50 per person. Others who caught the standard train froze their butts off while we had a toasty sleep with dinner and breakfast. Unfortunately, Expat Explore never told us about the provided food, so we ate before we got on board but what we could fit in was delicious.
Day Two in Egypt
The tour splits in Aswan as one group embarks on a River Cruise aboard a 5-star ship while the others spend time in hotels and on a Felucca. No surprise that we went with the cheaper option aboard the Felucca, so the next few days are from that point of view.
The afternoon is yours at Sara Hotel on the banks above the Nile. We lapped up the beautiful rays of the sun and managed to turn our pasty white bodies a more fitting, slightly white shade. The Hotel was great until the toilet next door erupted, sending a river of smelly waste across our bedroom floor (throw your toilet paper in the bin, not the loo)! Luckily we woke in time to rescue our bags from the watery mess! Not the fault of Expat Explore, and we didn’t blame the Hotel either, as shit happens.
Day Three on the Nile River
Your day begins by visiting the monstrous High Dam for 10 minutes (reasonably boring) and driving past the Unfinished Obelisk. At the same time, the highlight is the Philae Temple. It is pretty magical when the sunsets across the Nile reflect off the stonework.
The evening ended with an optional dinner in a traditional Nubian family’s house. The food was delicious, and you better bring your singing and dancing shoes.
Day Four on the Felucca
The following day and night are spent relaxing aboard the Felucca for a sail up the Nile for several hours. Sleeping no more than eight people, you will be snug if you bring your sleeping bag like us. The rest of our crew was jealous as it did get quite chilly in the evening. However, blankets were provided.
With delicious pita bread and falafel cooked on the boat, you will not be disappointed with the food either.
The day ends with a bonfire on the Nile shoreline as you sing and dance with the crazy fun Nubian crews. This was one of the highlights of the entire trip for us.
Travel Tip: Don’t be put off by doing your “business” amongst the reeds of the Nile. Just enjoy the view and remember to bring your toilet paper (which you need everywhere in Egypt anyway).
By all accounts, from the other tour members, the River Cruise is just as great, with three nights onboard in comfortable accommodation, a pool, and buffets morning, noon, and night.
Day Five Temple Exploring
Waking to a sunrise breaking the morning chill is a glorious way to start a new day. Unfortunately, there is little time for relaxation before you are off the Felucca and on a bus to Kom Ombu and Edfu Temples. The transportation was more than adequate, with toilets on the buses and room enough for everyone. It’s lucky because you spend most of the time being driven around.
The Lotus Hotel in Luxor was probably the pick of them all. It was situated on the Nile bank with a swimming pool and a tasty buffet breakfast.
Day Six at the tombs
One more day, one more busy schedule. Rushing to beat the crowds at the Valley of the Kings, it’s another 8 am start. You are only allowed to visit three tombs, and we recommend the guide picks: Ramses II, IV, and IX.
Travel Tip: You are NOT allowed to take your camera with you off the bus. Please don’t ruin it for everyone by taking photos, as you will be charged by security when caught.
We also squeezed in the crowded rock-carved Hatshepsut Temple but only drove past Luxor Temple as we ran out of time as you need to go 6 hours to reach Hurghada that night.
Day Seven and Eight at the Red Sea
The following two days at the Red Sea are yours to do whatever you like, so use them wisely. We joined most of our group for a spot of snorkeling and diving. The dive and the staff were great, but the whole day seemed a little rushed, which was a shame. Keep an eye out for our post on our diving experience in Hurghada.
So nice being able to relax on a beach and read a book after such a hectic schedule. It’s hard to leave, and the 6 – 8 hour bus ride back to Cairo is challenging.
Travel Tip: If you plan to do the tour over New Year’s Eve, you will have to depart Hurghada half a day early, which sucked as it meant celebrating the New Year at the Hotel in Cairo. Bit of a letdown, but when hasn’t New Year’s Eve been!
Day Nine in Cairo
Your final day of sightseeing is spent around Cairo. Our favorite part of the day was the Cairo Museum with an excellent tour guide. It fits perfectly at the end by seeing all the history close-up after learning about it over the last eight days.
By the time we hit the old area of Cairo and the Coptic Hanging Church, we were spent on history, but our guide made a reasonable effort at keeping us entertained.
The last group activity is free time for an hour or so at the Khan El Khalili souk markets, where the touts try to prise your cash from you for the last time from every nook and cranny.
Day Ten is the end
With the tour over, it’s time to head home. Our flight was late the following night, so we walked around the city and Souks on our own for the day. Expat Explore provides transport back to the airport, which was great.
The Negatives of Egypt Travel
The trip was fantastic, but we think it’s important to note the little things that could make a massive difference to the overall experience:
- It felt like we were always hungry. Maybe it is just Kiwis and Aussies that eat all the time, but it seriously felt like we were constantly starving, with lunches being served usually after 4 pm and dinner at 9 pm onwards. It might be the Egyptian way to eat at those times, but not for us. Travel Tip: Buy lots of snacks for the road which are very cheap at supermarkets.
- There was sometimes a lack of direction in what seemed to be happening. Everything is done in Egyptian time, so be patient.
- We were often delayed or behind schedule with little to no guidance on how long it would take to get from place to place. A little knowledge goes a long way as then we can plan.
- More free time would be great to explore places independently rather than have our hands held everywhere.
The Positives of traveling in Egypt:
As we said above, the trip was excellent, and the little positive things far outweighed the negatives, which helped make it a memorable trip.
- Pre-departure information and care were excellent.
- The tour was exceptional value for money, and it was the cheapest tour we could find even though we still saw all the same sights the other groups did.
- The guides were incredibly knowledgeable and never failed to answer any questions we had. The insight into the daily lives of the people around us was a nice break from all the history. They also ensured you never felt unsafe or uncomfortable.
- The Felucca trip was better than expected, and overall, so were the accommodation and transport options.
We highly recommend you book with Expat Explore if you are considering a trip through Egypt.
Make sure you subscribe now and come back soon so you can enjoy reading our new posts, which will cover everything else in more detail.
Disclaimer: Expat Explore provided us with a discount for our ten-day tour of Egypt; however, our thoughts are always our own.
Why I won’t go back to Marrakech, Morocco (unfortunately)
Getting sick in Marrakech. Why I won’t go back to Marrakech, Morocco (unfortunately).
Why I won’t travel to Morocco Again
|The Spice Stalls in the Souk|
We were set with the mornings and evenings reserved for the souks and sightseeing and the afternoons for lounging by the pool. Coming over from Scotland didn’t help us acclimatize to the weather with 30+ degree days melting us, and the plunge pool at the riad was welcomed with open arms. I, unfortunately, suffered pretty severely, with mild dehydration kicking in after we had toured the souks for the better part of the morning. Adela wanted to buy everything in sight while I was conscious of our severely limited baggage allowances on Ryan Air. She was happy enough with a new handbag, scarves, and knick-knacks. If we were as ingenious with our packing as the locals are with packing people and objects onto scooters from the 70s, then surely we could solve half the congestion issues in every city. It is pretty daunting with no footpaths and blind corners, although they are such experts that they put up with us crowding their roads as we stroll along, craning our necks at every sight.
|Sunsets are not to be missed over the Medina.|
|Jumping for joy at Jardin Majorelle before the incident|
So you must be wondering now why I had such a rough time and, unfortunately, don’t wish to head back to Marrakesh again. Don’t get me wrong. I loved every minute I was there and always loved embracing the cultures that are so radically different from our own. As you can see, we had a fantastic time. However, this is when it all seemed to go wrong. We headed out on our last day for a quick bite to eat and spend the last of our Dirham. I made the mistake of catching the snake charmer’s eyes and knew I was in trouble. Now I’m not too fond of snakes, and he could tell I was not keen to get involved, so we continued on our way. He knew he had lost a chance to make some quick cash, so he offered me his hand, and I gladly shook it to carry on. Unfortunately, as quick as a flash, he had a snake around my neck and strolled away. I was trying to be calm, relaxed, and collected, but I had a freaking snake around my neck! To cut a long story short, we haggled over how much I owed him for “taking his snake for photos,” I left him with a few dirhams in his back pocket. Of course, he made me kiss it for luck before he unwrapped it.
Meet Cole and Adela
We have been wearing out our jandals (Kiwi for flip-flops) on our travel adventures around the world since 2009. We think our blog is thought provoking and a little witty. But we have been proven wrong before. Find out more about us here...
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