I ended up spending two nights in Alexandria instead of just one. I could have stayed longer and explored more of the city, but the urge to get all the famous attractions over and done with was stronger. It would make sense to go to Aswan first because it was the farthest. After that I’d make my way back north.
I checked online and there were 2 trips from Alexandria to Aswan running daily. Alexandria is the northernmost stop of the air conditioned express trains while Aswan is the southernmost stop— it was gonna be one extremely long train ride. The cheaper one leaves at 5 PM, while the more expensive and faster one leaves at 8 PM. For the 5 PM train, a first class ticket costs 182 EGP while a second class ticket costs 95 EGP. For the 8 PM train, a first class seat costs 322 EGP, while a second class seat costs 192 EGP. There’s a four hour difference in duration, but as always I went with the cheaper one. Four hours isn’t too long anyway, and I’d be arriving in Aswan at roughly the same time. I was contemplating on buying a second class ticket, but since a first class seat wasn’t expensive at all (182 EGP is only 10 USD) I went ahead and purchased a first class ticket. It turned out to be a great decision. The trip lasted for 18 hours, if seats weren’t comfy it would have been hell. The seats were similar to first class seats on domestic flights and I had good night’s sleep. I was mildly annoyed every time a member of the train crew woke me up to check my ticket— they did this every 2-3 hours. But otherwise, I slept like a baby. The toilets left much to be desired though, they were all dirty even on the first class coaches. Peeing wasn’t a problem, but I would have trouble if I needed to do a number 2. Good thing I didn’t eat much during the train ride so I didn’t have to. For food and drinks there are rolling carts passing every hour or so. Food was cheap but really bland. It would be best to bring your own food if you’re a picky eater.
On the train, I met someone who bought a ticket in person at the train station in Alexandria. It’s cheaper by 5 EGP. That’s not much, so the best option for me is still to buy online as long as you can buy your tickets early enough. Buying online is easy. You just have to register once, input the usual required information, and you can use international credit cards without a hitch. There’s no need to print tickets you bought online. I simply showed a screenshot or a PDF copy of the tickets on my phone and I never encountered any problems with the train crew.
So here’s where you can purchase tickets online:
If you decide to take the train on short notice then you have no choice but to go to the train station to buy a ticket. I noticed that you can’t buy tickets online if there’s less than 24 hours before the journey. This could be a problem if you’ll be departing from Cairo.
For some reason, they would not sell first class or second class tickets to non Egyptians who are planning to go to Luxor or Aswan from Cairo. they would only sell tickets to the luxury sleeper cabins departing at night. Apparently it’s for the security of tourists— it would be easier to secure them if they’re all on one heavily guarded train. I dunno, to me that’s even more risky. Terrorists would just target that one train if they wanted to target visitors. It’s not a big deal if it wasn’t too expensive. For those luxury sleeper cabins, a ticket costs 120 USD for a single cabin and 100 USD for a double cabin. That’s outrageous considering a first class ticket only costs around 10 USD! Sure you’ll be sleeping on a flat bed and you’ll be served meals which are all included in the price— to me that still doesn’t justify the exorbitant cost. Also, for these sleeper cabins they only accept foreign currencies (US Dollars, Euros, or UK Pounds). They don’t even accept credit cards! Even if it were cheap I couldn’t take this option because I never bring foreign currency whenever I travel, I just withdraw money from ATMs using my debit cards.
No need to worry though. If you’re traveling from Cairo and you can no longer buy online, there are still other options. First would be to try buying tickets using one of those self service ticket machines at the train station. When I was there though all machines were broken except for two. And those two weren’t accepting foreign credit cards. It’s worth trying, but if it doesn’t work it’s not the end of the world. I met one guy who told me he asked one local to buy a ticket for him. This would work because the train crew checking tickets don’t really ask for forms of identification when they ask for your ticket. They just ask for you ticket without verifying if you are indeed the person assigned to that ticket. However, I couldn’t really recommend this based on my experience. There’s just so many scammers in Cairo— it’s hard to tell who you can trust. It’s best to err on the side of caution. A safer way would be to ask your hotel or hostel if they can buy tickets for you. If they say no, then you’re left with one other choice. Simply board the train and take any seat! Just wait for the person going around checking tickets. When he asks for your ticket, simply tell him you don’t have one yet and you’d like to purchase one from him. There’s one drawback though. They won’t tell you if your seat is already taken— I guess they have no way of monitoring assigned seats inside the train. I’ve witnessed several passengers who’ve done this and they kept transferring seats because the seats they were occupying were reserved for someone else on certain parts of the journey.
It can get quite tricky looking for your train especially at the massive stations. Most stations don’t have signs in English, while some platforms do not have numbers at all. Good thing you can easily ask for directions. Aside from those selling tickets, everyone else working at the train stations were very helpful and friendly. They would be happy to assist you and all those who i have encountered weren’t expecting any in return. I found this an oddity in Cairo. These were honest workers, they didn’t try to scam me! If only all the locals were like them, then it would be such a pleasure traveling around the country. On several occasions I found specific platforms difficult to find, and all the railway employees I’ve asked were happy to help with directions. One of them even brought me all the way to my assigned seat. I was expecting him to ask for a tip but he never did!
I’d highly recommend traveling by train in Egypt as long as you have the time.The duration of each trip may put off some, but for some people that could actually be a good thing. Yeah the washrooms and toilets could get extremely filthy, but there are ways around that. I found their services efficient, and you’d get to see lots of the countryside that you’d otherwise miss if you’d take a bus or choose to ride a plane. It’s also the cheapest way to travel in Egypt by a wide margin. The advantages definitely outweigh the disadvantages. As long as the destination is along the train route, it’s the mode of transportation I’d recommend to any traveler.