There are many sources for maps in Egypt but for the most serious they're not easy to obtain. Many travellers are just happy with streets maps, but for the more serious, it's imperative to get a series of updated maps in good scale. Google Earth is not enough, so many alternatives are placed here and as is the case with all articles here receives updates from the SaharaSafaris Community.
Google Earth has eased the process tremendously now for Navigation exercises but it's neither complete nor accurate. For instance, throughout the middle-east, important geographic names are totally lacking. Contour maps are automatically interpreted into 3D model but which seems to be lacking in good measure of intervals, and of course the resolution although good in many areas (less than a 1meter) it's the same 30meters you find for the oceans and many other areas specially the Sahara.
The images of the Earth from Google in the middle-east remains rich with information and details you find no where else in any map except the most updated and most detailed. Also the community additions of some spots (although sometimes unbelievably wrong) is sometimes helpful specially near the resorts. It's no doubt one of the best sources available now for trips planning specially for desert offroading safaris.
Apart from the Egyptian Military Survey, ESA Egyptian Survey Authority (Arabic: الهيئة العامة للمساحة Al-Hay2a Al-3ama Lel-Mesa7a) is the National Mapping Agency of Egypt with a mission to map all the land in all needed scales for all sectors (except military and geological). If a place (or a bigger scale) is sensitive security-wise, they refer you to military survey that sells to businesses after security clearance (straight procedure but requests could be declined). Even ESA can decline some requests!
Sectors that benefit from their maps are plenty: all sorts of developmental sectors (urban, roads, etc.), environment, heritage conservation, individuals daily needs (seya7eya), etc. Mining sector use their own Geological Survey (EGSMA). Some of ESA's maps are extremely old (reprinted to fill the gap but virtually un-modified) from 20s of last century.
Some of their excellent maps are for Nile Valley and Eastern Desert. Both are covered by as big as 1:50,000 scale dated at the 90s. Western Desert is not as lucky and remains with 1:500,000 dated at the 40s. Some very good scale and date maps are available for hot spots like Wadi elRayan (they don't seem to have fixed price for them but LE 300 has been mentioned to me once) and Toshka, etc. What they call 'seya7eya' are big-scale maps of cities such as 1:15,000 that shows main Cairo's streets and can still fit in one sheet. They have Cairo in much bigger ones (up to the 'cadastral' scale of 1:500 and 1:250 sometimes)
Here's a brief on the normal procedure to buy (must be there before 12noon.) They'll ask for your ID (only at the gate and occasionally at delivery) and will not sell for non-Egyptians (they say security clearance for foreigners is done through them):
- buy a blank form (estimaret shera) for each map with LE 1 (room is right after gate)
- 'name' the map you want for the guy in the main room (left after gate) holding an index (or manager himself Ostaz Hamdy in the other delivery room) will check the code for this map and fill the form for you with your name
- you pay in elKhazina room ('cashier' located beyond the form room) and most maps will be around LE 40 (they change the prices sometimes depending on your 'appearance'!)
- take the stamped 'paid' form to the room of delivery and give it to the guy in the narrow low window and wait till your name is called.
Note: ESA doesn't like strange companies (copyrights issues) so insist that you are into hobby of 'ba7eb arou7 elsa7ara'. If you are wondering... yes!, they have came a long way out of the security cocoon. Me and others are very happy with the trend towards opening up but they sometimes seem not to understand markets' development.
Address: 1 ElRaees Abdel Salaam 3aref Str, Giza. Near Orman Gardens and next to Modereyet Amn elGiza (Giza Police Department) at Morad Str (or Charles de Gaulle Str).
Working Hours: Sat to Thu 9am-1pm (go earlier than 12pm noon!)
All maps sold from ESA are properly gridded in the Egyptian Transverse Mercator with Red, Purple, and Green Belts. They are as following:
If you have a GPS that uses "Users Grid", you may choose to customize it to the ETM coordinates (that appears on all Egyptian maps mostly in red color and in thousands of meters).
For Western parts of Egypt use Purple, for Nile Valley use Red, and for Eastern parts use Green. The PARAMETERS are here:
Central Meridian = 27ºE, Latitude of Origin = 30ºN, Scale Factor at Origin = 1.0, False Easting = 700 km, False Northing = 200 km, Parallel North = 0, Parallel South = 0;
Central Meridian = 31ºE, Latitude of Origin = 30ºN, Scale Factor at Origin = 1.0, False Easting = 615 km, False Northing = 810 km, Parallel North = 0, Parallel South = 0;
Central Meridian = 35ºE, Latitude of Origin = 30ºN, Scale Factor at Origin = 1.0, False Easting = 300 km, False Northing = 100 km, Parallel North = 0, Parallel South = 0.
Not all GPSs can handle this or use the standard names above (eg, Central Meridian is sometimes called Origin Longitude). You have to test all the coordinates first, if there's variance still (usually in few hundreds of meters), then you must align the Datum as well (usually set to WGS1984 but you have to align it with one on the map such as Helmert, etc. for Egypt)
They sell good maps covering the world including area of Egypt. Check out this index map (if you intend to cross the Sahara some day this might be the ones you need to buy):
You can write down the names of the maps you'll order and order them if you have a credit card and somebody to pick them up abroad (not sure about delivery in Egypt so let me know if you have experience):
TPC (Tactical Pilotage Charts) maps belong to the American military (NIMA, previously DMA) and sold for $9 each plus shipping. They're in 1:500,000 and are even better than the ESA maps at the same scale (dates of production and cartographic enhancements). Copyrights cannot forbid you from scanning them for your own use.
Egypt's maps have a dedicated page at Omnimap.com:
The best you'll find there are the Russian ones. Here's a sample from the small scale (1:200,000):
They've an amazing 1:100,000 and are very detailed and the best of all: they're scanned! A bit too expensive though ($50 per map for paper and $75 for scanned). You have to learn the Cyrillic alphabet (Russian) to be able to read towns names like Cairo (but believe me that's not a problem when you have the few letters in a small paper with you). Click their index map below to get a view of it:
They have 1:200,000 too (sampled above). They're still valuable and better than the American TPC and the Egyptian ESA (in the Western Desert). Their index map (click the one below) could be used to order by clicking on the map square you want (unfortunately this is a bad index like the one before because no roads or towns are there to help you know which square, so you'll have to use long and lat for that):
Omnimap.com is a good place to buy maps (actually popular), but their website is a bit messy as you can see, so you need time to know what's there (tried to simplify it for you here). They cover almost everything you could find in a book shop in Cairo too (much more expensive though). Some of what they offered could be found only in EGSMA (Geological Survey of Egypt) but none from ESA.
Other Maps of Egypt
Map books for streets and roads have been attempted by other (private sector) on intermittent basis. Cairo from A-Z and AUC Press Cairo's Streets booklets are famous examples. Shell had a good one for national roads before but it's out of print now. Michelin's regional maps (famous for highways maps) are not bad but too small scale and not sure how much updating it needs for most roads. Mostly are for roads only and no good for any offroad navigation planning.
Why Maps Are Not an Easy Commodity to Get in Most 'developing' Countries?
In the past, almost all countries would look at any body interested in their country's maps with suspicion. They thought that they're all spies (well, many were actually). Now Google Earth and American and Russian military maps made available to public are slowly changing the minds of administrators in almost all countries (balancing it with security and copyrights issues). Egypt is no different. Signs of opening up are like that of India and Pakistan for instance. They'd comply with global standards of small scale maps (so that their maps could fit together perfectly if combined) but would still keep the maps confidential and not available. I have been told by an American friend in our GIS industry how Hungary for example have seen 'big-scale' (detailed) maps of Hungary by the American military, so decided that theirs should not remain secret too and opened up for civilian buyers. But some others who've seen the American big-scale maps (e.g., 1:50,000) for their countries confidential have asked NIMA that they don't make it available commercially either for security or for copyrights like many European countries.
To make a long story short. The deregulation trend (privatizing many developmental agencies) of most industries in many countries will force many governments to make the maps (necessary for national development and planning) available for the public or those agencies will fail to function properly. I know that we'll benefit from that for our recreational navigation purposes. Cross your fingers that it happens fast enough. For now, we'll just share resources to go about our Navigation adventures.
small final note: like most emerging markets, digital (and paper) maps in Egypt are thought by the local industry to be of interest only to businesses since 'local' vacationers maps is still too small a market specially in digital format. In Europe and the States, it's the 'local' tourists that their mapping industry is catering for, and not really international ones. 'Vector' maps (type of digital maps) good for 3D modeling and streets network is available commercially for some Western Parks but like Google-Earth/Google-Maps, we'd better forget about it for this region since they're expensive and copyrighted.