Sadly, tourism in Egypt has suffered significantly over the last years due to political unrest and violence. Though it is starting to increase again, many people still associate Egypt with danger. Let me assure you that the time I spent in the tourist destinations of Cairo and Giza, I never felt unsafe for a moment. Many of those I met expressed to me how much their businesses and livelihoods were negatively impacted by the decline in tourism. They urged me to let my friends know they are good people, eager to share their culture, history, and the beautiful landscape with visitors. Don't let the media stop you from seeing one of the world's great wonders while meeting some of the most genuine, welcoming people. Don't be surprised when strangers invite you in for tea.
before you go
- Check visa requirements based on country. For US citizens, visa on arrival is available for $25.
- The CDC recommends vaccinations for Hepatitis A and Typhoid. Both are transmitted through food or water contaminated with fecal bacteria. Hep A is administered via 2 separate injections. Typhoid is available as a shot or pill, but the pill requires a prescription.
- Primary language spoken is arabic, however many people in Cairo speak multiple languages due to tourism.
- Currency: Egyptian pounds (As of October 2017 $1 USD = 17.66 Egyptian pounds).
- Always carry cash, cards are not always accepted.
- Type C and Type F plugs are used in Egypt so make sure to bring the correct converter with 2 round prongs.
- Weather: Cairo has a dry climate with the months of June - August seeing temperatures around 90F/32C with lots of sun. The most rainfall occurs in January, which is also the coolest month at around 50F/10C.
- Tap water is NOT potable. Because of this you should not eat any fresh fruits or vegetables unless you know they were washed with clean water. I break this rule a lot but Egypt is one place I adhered strictly. If you've ever seen the Nile in person, you get it.
- EAT THE FALAFEL! It's so good, so cheap, and super filling. Remember to say no salad when you order to avoid mud butt!
- Tipping: Add 10% for your server even if there is a service charge. The service charge typically doesn't go to your server but the restaurant instead. You should also tip your guides and hotel staff. Always carry small amounts to tip. Remember the average annual income in Egypt is very low so a small tip from your pocket can be significant for an Egyptian! Don't be an asshole!
- You probably will be approached at some point by children either begging or selling goods and sometimes they will follow you for many blocks. It is best to completely ignore them and keep going if you have said no and they continue to follow.
- Egyptians are crazy ass drivers. Lane lines are mere suggestions. Traffic will make 5 miles take an hour.
- Shukran means thank you in Arabic, pronounced like shoe-krahn.
- Egyptians are so friendly! Don't be alarmed when people invite you in or want to share their culture with you!
- People will probably want to take pictures with you.
- Women should dress modestly. Always have sleeves, a scarf, and sunglasses with you. Wear long loose fitting pants, skirts, or dresses and avoid shorts.
- Egypt is a Muslim country so keep this in mind and refrain from PDA, inappropriate dress, language, or public intoxication.
- Be aware, Egyptian men overall are very flirtatious and eye contact is considered flirting. It is not culturally acceptable for a man to touch you or approach you from behind, but many men will call you beautiful and ask "where are you from princess?" A lot of people referred to me as shakira as I walked through the streets. When I asked a friend what this means in Arabic, I discovered the locals were actually referring to me as the Colombian recording artist, Shakira.
- It is common for Egyptians to joke with each other by acting as if they are fighting. I literally saw this man grab another by the neck in the street, only for both to erupt in laughter seconds into their struggle.
- Pigeon is a common dish and is said to be an aphrodisiac.
- You will see many buildings unfinished at the top with rebar sticking out of the columns. As families marry and expand, relatives build the next floor to live in and the cycle continues as needed to accommodate for family members.
- It's illegal to take photos of military, bridges, canals, or government buildings without permission. If you do, you gotta be slick like me and snap it as you walk by with your camera by your side, not looking.
- For my fellow photography addicts, drones are ILLEGAL. People have smuggled them in, but I went through so many military checkpoints where my bag was searched, I'm glad I didn't try. Its not worth losing the drone or a possible prison sentence.
getting in touch
While the Sprint Global Plan is active in Cairo, I would recommend getting a traveller SIM through carriers Vodafone or Mobinil as the service was very unreliable through Sprint. Beware that the internet still probably won't be super reliable with a local SIM. Wifi is widely available but not always strong and not always free.
When you arrive in Egypt you'll quickly learn that horrible traffic can make a 5 mile journey last an hour and that lane lines are only a suggestion. Chaotic driving is the norm and always remember to provide ample time for important transfers. While you can always opt for horses or camels, you will use the following as your main forms of transportation.
- Uber: This is the cheapest way to get around, particularly because the price is set and you can't be gouged. However, your app may not always work unless you're connected to wifi. Your driver might even ask if he can send a selfie with you to his mom.
- Metro: This is SUPER cheap (like 1 E pound per ride?) but may be intimidating for some. Be aware that there are separate cars for women.
- Minibuses: Also cheap, but difficult to navigate unless you speak Arabic.
- Taxi: While taxis are the most readily available form of transportation, they have the potential to gouge the price. Always ask for the meter to be turned on or agree to a price BEFORE getting in to the car. When you agree to a price clarify if it is the total or per person. Only pay once you have stepped out from the taxi. Always have exact change because your driver likely will not.
- Tuk-tuk: These small, covered motorbike style taxis are actually illegal in Egypt. They began having problems years ago because the drivers are often children and not licensed. However, when they made them illegal, they only seemed to increase, so just be aware it may not be your safest option for transportation.
I stayed at the Pyramids Inn Motel at 219 Mansoureya Road located within walking distance of the Great Pyramids (found on Hostelworld). The hotel has both private rooms and dorm rooms, but it is in no way a party hostel or one where you would go to meet other young travelers. If you want a quiet, cheap, private room this place will provide you with your basic needs. There is an amazing view of the pyramids from the roof (shown below), and the staff was so honest and helpful. At one point I leost my MacBook, and the receptionist came up to me as I was in a state of panic, handed me the laptop, and said "you looked as if you had lost your heart, and I just wanted to return it to you." In a place where your computer my be worth someone's annual income, this was incredibly touching to me. There's also a papyrus shop next door where the people are passionate about sharing the history or their craft with you along with some tea. Aside from the papyrus shop, pyramids, and camel rides, there is not a lot to do in that area of Giza, so if you prefer to be around more action, Cairo is a better fit for you.