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Thursday, 2 July 2009

Tips for Keeping Cool During Egyptian Summers

Yesterday, someone posted this topic on my Facebook page for discussion. I posted a response and then decided to make it a blog post. If you have any handy tips, either comment here or on the FB page.

If you want some facts and figures about temperatures etc, I have put those at the bottom of the post so as not to be too boring straight off.

Firstly, the health warnings:


If you burn, you will burn here very easily. If you don’t normally burn, you may still find you do here. So, don’t forget your sun factors! This is a case of do as I say, not as I do. I only use sun factors for skin that’s never seen the light of day before – once it goes a bit brown I don’t – having said that, if I am at the pool for a day, I wear a long, light cover up over my swimsuit if I’m not actually in the water so that probably provides a sun factor of around 20-30 on its own.


Forget worrying about looking like a prat, if you are going to be out in the sunshine for more than 30 minutes, wear a hat, preferably one that shades your neck too. Sunstroke is not pleasant.

As you can see in my mugshot, I am seen sporting what I call “The Last Bastion of the British Empire” upon my bonce. With that perched atop my head, there is no doubt in the Egyptian mind as to my country of origin. This does not shade my neck. A friend obligingly left a bigger, floppier hat round mine when she visited from the UK which does shade my neck. This wondrous device is called “The Penultimate Bastion of the British Empire” and I tend to wear that now if I’m out and about.

If you can stay undercover between 11am – 3pm, do so.


Dehydration is a very real risk and I do have friends who have been hospitalised with it. You need to ensure that you drink a couple of litres of water throughout the day. Me, personally, I freeze 1-litre bottles of tap water in the freezer, and then take a couple of frozen bottles out in the morning. It thaws through the day and I sip on it constantly. If I’m going out, I put one in my bag.

When I went on a desert trip last August, we were drinking 3-4 litres of water each day and not even going to the loo much.

I find that I don’t need to wear moisturizer in the summer here because there’s a constant thin layer of sweat.

I have copied the main symptoms of dehydration from BBC Health - Dehydration and I urge you to read this article if you are coming here for the first time.

The main symptom of dehydration is feeling thirsty.

In mild to moderate dehydration, other possible symptoms include:
• Dry mouth, eyes and lips
• Headache
• Tiredness
• Dizziness or light-headedness
• Decreased urine output
• Muscle weakness

When dehydration is more severe, a person may experience:
• Extreme thirst
• Very dry mouth and eyes
• Loss of elasticity in the skin, making it look shrivelled
• Passing small amounts of dark, concentrated urine
• Sunken eyes
• Lack of sweating
• Fast heartbeat

In addition, blood pressure may be low, and delirium and loss of consciousness may occur.


Before I moved here, I observed the male of the species on the buses.

Without exception, they wear cotton vests under their shirts. Now, did anyone EVER know a man do anything to inconvenience himself on a regular basis, let alone a whole country-full? So, me thinks, there might be something in this!

I purchased several cotton vest-tops from the UK to bring with me when I moved, and whenever I go out and about I have cotton vest top and light shorts on under my clothes, and to the particular grief of all who know me, I wear cotton socks with my trainers. (Why women go bare-footed and suffer the pain of blisters in the name of trying to look attractive I shall never in the world understand. Surely a foot full of blisters or covered in elastoplasts is not attractive? Answers on a postcard!)

The cotton undergear doesn't make me hotter, difficult to say whether it makes me cooler (as of course I can’t test the same trip with and without!), though I think it does.

Physiologically it should - the cotton layer holds sweat against the body and as it evaporates, it cools you (so the theory goes anyway!). It also means you don't get horrible, embarrassing sweat patches on your top clothes.

I always have one of my two hats shoved in my bag, so if I find myself out in the open longer than I thought, I can slap it on the top.

I typically wear a long-sleeved shirt or blouse when I’m out which I personally find serves to prevent sunburn, keep me cool with the wind up my sleeves, helps prevent me getting eczema on my arms (which I get when my skin is in contact with varnished wood, plastic or wool), and is culturally a little more acceptable than bare arms (if you’re not in a seaside resort, it’s better to cover your shoulders and upper arms).

Another friend of mine, though, finds long-sleeves make her too hot. I guess it’s a question of try it and see if it helps!


Most of the veils are nylon or polyester and the few women who have mentioned it to me usually say their heads are sweating and hot under them. I stand to be corrected by those who disagree though, I am just commenting on what veiled women have told me and have no personal experience of it.

Most of the clothes worn by Egyptian women do not seem conducive to staying cool with polyester featuring heavily.

I see male tourists wearing the kufiya when they visit the pyramids and the like. I would say men, in particular, need to be sure to cover their heads, even if you do think you look like an idiot! Women have a greater choice of headwear.

How HOT does it get in Egypt:

The first thing to note is that summer temperatures in Egypt vary quite markedly between Upper (Luxor etc) and Lower Egypt.

This link will show you the range of temperatures in major areas of Egypt:

Wunderground - Weather

As I write (around 11am local time), the coolest place is Sallum Plateau 24C (75F), northern (lower Egypt) – Siwa and along the Mediterranean coast – Marsa Matrouh, Alexandria etc is 26-28C (79-82F), Greater Cairo and much of the Delta around 32C (89F), down the Red Sea Coast line varying from 30C (86F) at Suez to 35C (95F)at Sharm El Sheikh, 36C (97F) at Hurghada, and Taba – on the other side of Sinai hitting 37C (99F). Luxor is 34C (95F) and Aswan 37C (99F). Yesterday in Cairo, temperatures reached 42C (108F) and temperatures in Upper Egypt can reach 50C (122F).

(Here’s a handy calculator for converting temperatures temperature converter. I didn’t use this, I use the trusty C=5/9 (F-32) or F=9/5C + 32 that I learnt at school.

Here is another link giving an overview of typical minimum and maximum temperatures in different parts of Egypt for the whole year Annual Weather Egypt.

How HUMID does it get in Egypt?

On the whole humidity is not too bad, though here in Cairo we get the odd very sweaty day. I’m finding this summer more sweaty than last – having said that I have had a very bad cold for the past 2 weeks which may be making me feel more fevery than normal.

How INTENSE is the sun in Egypt?

Egyptian sunshine is much more intense than British sunshine. For example, one day in June 2008 I went swimming for 1 hour with an uncovered back. In May 2009 (the next time I started swimming with an uncovered back) I still had the strap marks from the previous year on my back! Being out in the sunshine for a couple of hours in Egypt is a WHOLE different ballgame than being out in the sunshine for a couple of hours in the UK.

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