The main tourist centres offer a broad spectrum of accommodation, with everything from luxury palaces to homely pensions and flea-ridden dives. Even in high season, in Cairo, Sinai or the Nile Valley, you should be able to find something in your preferred range. Elsewhere, the choice is generally more limited, with only basic lodgings available in some towns and cities. Cairo is generally more expensive for accommodation of all types.
Egyptian hotels are loosely categorized into star ratings, from one-star to five-star deluxe. Below this there are unclassified hotels and pensions, some tailored to foreign backpackers, others mostly used by Egyptians.
Deluxe hotels are almost exclusively modern and chain-owned (Sofitel, Mövenpick, Hilton, etc), with swimming pools, bars, restaurants, air conditioning and all the usual facilities. Four-star hotels can be more characterful, including some famous names like the Old Cataract in Aswan and the Winter Palace in Luxor. There is also the odd gem among three-star hotels, though most are slightly shabby 1970s-style towers, where facilities like plumbing and a/c can be less than reliable. Upmarket hotels, especially at the top of the range, are invariably much cheaper if booked from home through a travel agent or online than if you simply turn up and pay the rack rate.
At two- and one-star level, you rarely get air conditioning, though better places will supply fans, and old-style buildings with balconies, high ceilings and louvred windows are well designed to cope with the heat, but can be chilly in winter, as they rarely have heating.
Some cheaper hotels are classified as pensions, which makes little difference in facilities, but may signify family ownership and a friendlier ambience.
“Fishing” for guests (as Egyptians call it) is common in tourist centres, where new arrivals are approached by touts at train and bus stations, airports and docks. Some work in the hotel they’re touting, but most are hustling for commissions and will use trickery to deliver clients to “their” establishment – swearing that other places are full, or closed, or whatever. Usually it’s grotty and overpriced places that depend on touts. In any case, their commission will be added to your bill – another reason to avoid using them. In Cairo especially, many touts work for hotels that exist purely to hold foreigners and sell them overpriced excursions or souvenirs.
Egypt’s twelve official youth hostels are cheap but have daytime lock-outs, night-time curfews and segregation of men from women and (usually) foreigners from Egyptians (which you might appreciate when noisy groups are in residence). The most salubrious hostels are in Cairo, Sharm el-Sheikh and Ismailiya – but all are far from where the action is.
It seems to be up to individual hostels whether you need a Hostelling International (HI) card, and their rules change constantly. Non-HI members, if admitted, are sometimes charged slightly extra. For more information, contact the Egyptian Youth Hostel Association in Cairo (1 Sharia al-Ibrahimy, Garden City, Cairo t 02 2796 1448, w egyptyha.com). There are also a few YMCA hostels, which admit anyone.
Most campsites are for holidaying Egyptian families on the coast, often shadeless, with few facilities, and not recommended. Rather better are the occasional campsites attached to hotels, which may offer ready-pitched tents with camp beds, plus the use of hotel showers and toilet facilities. As for camping rough, you should always check with the authorities about any coastal site – some beaches are mined, others patrolled by the military. In the oases it’s less of a problem, though any land near water will belong to someone, so again, ask permission.