With all the news these days it’s common to believe that traveling to Egypt and several other Middle Eastern countries is unsafe as an American or other Western nationality. So, is it safe to travel to Egypt? I’m a firm believer that if you have to ask yourself this question you already have your own answer, but does this mean you absolutely shouldn’t travel to Egypt? No. It can be unsafe anywhere, even in your own home city or town. I was stabbed in my own city but has anything ever happened to me whilst traveling the world solo? No. Egypt is a poor country that used to thrive on the revenue from tourism but since the revolution in 2011 and the plane accident over Sharm el Sheik in October 2015 the country has seen a large decline in tourism and because of that the government takes a lot of precautions to ensure its tourists are safe. You won’t be able to go more than 20 minutes with out seeing police or Army personnel armed with fully automatic weapons or, if you’re driving, without passing through several road blocks.
I traveled to Egypt in December of 2015 for 2 1/2 weeks and absolutely loved it. Well…I loved the sites, that it is (I will discuss that later). I went to the Pyramids of Giza, Cairo, Hurghada, Luxor, Aswan and cruised the Nile River. I thoroughly enjoyed the Pyramids, the Egyptian museum, the Valley of Kings and Queens, the Luxor temples, Philae temple, Kom Ombo temple, Edfu temple, the Red Sea and the Abu Simbel temples in the far south near Sudan.
Cairo, the capital city, is home to over 17 million people and is a crazy and hectic city that has a lot to offer. You could easily spend 4-7 days exploring it. I spent a week there myself and you will need one day alone just to take in the craziness of the city. For example, there are very few traffic lights within the city limits so crossing the street can be an ordeal. The cars won’t stop so you have to move according to the traffic flow. Don’t expect to cross all 3-4 lanes in one go. You will have to stop in between lanes sometimes having cars on either side of you whizzing by you honking their horns to let you know they are there (like you couldn’t see them with your own two eyes unless you’re blind, in which case I wouldn’t recommend crossing without assistance).
.What to see: Coptic crypt, museum and church; the Hanging church, the Islamic part of the city, the Citadel, the Bazaar, Muhammed Ali Mosque, Al- Azhar Mosque, Al-Hakim Mosque, Mosque of Amr ibn al-As, the church where Jesus hid as a child- Abu Serga, Tahir square where the revolution started, Cairo tower, the Nile, and last but not least the Egyptian Museum. Now, you don’t have to see them all but I do have one word of advice: go to the Egyptian Museum last. Everything will make more sense by doing this last and if you go first…well, I think everything else will seem lack luster in comparison.
What to expect:The hagglers will be aggressive and will hound you for business. They will guess where you are from, speak to you in the language they think you speak and even sometimes grab you. Have fun with them and pretend you are from somewhere else like me and say you’re from Iceland. If they can’t speak your language they will go away.
Since tourism has declined prices will be all over the place so don’t pay what they say unless it’s in writing (such as a menu). Generally speaking, pay 10-20% of what they offer you as the first price or have a number in mind before you haggle and stick to it. If they don’t like it walk away and eventually they will come down.
It’s a 3rd world country so don’t expect clean streets, drinkable water or other amenities found in other, more developed places. Quite often you will pass piles of rubbish on the road sides, on top of buildings or even sometimes on fire.
Alcohol is hard to come by since it’s against the law for an Egyptian Muslim to drink it however there are bars, restaurants, stores and other places that cater to the needs of tourists.
Everywhere you go people will ask you to pay for something: using the toilet, taking a picture opening a door, giving you directions to someplace you already know how to get to, giving you recommendations for something you couldn’t care less about, etc. Even when they give you a “gift” and say “It’s free” they will then ask for money.
In North Africa hostels are cheap, $2-6USD a night cheap, but you get what you pay for. I stayed in two hostels in Cairo. One was the most disgusting hostel I’ve ever stayed in. It was called Bedouin Hostel. Stay away at all costs…it maybe highly rated but it’s crap. The other was Miami Cairo Hostel…a much better option and worth the money.
My Recommendations:I chose to see the museum last and I arrived shortly after it opened its doors at 9am. Don’t accept a guided tour from anyone outside claiming they are tour guides working for the government, it’s a SCAM!!! I went straight to room 3 on the second level in the back of the museum where King Tut’s death mask and other artifacts are housed. By doing this you will avoid all the tour groups which will be at the entrance getting a quick overview of the museum from their tour guides allowing you some alone time with the coolest stuff the museum has to offer. After that, I headed to the mummy rooms. They are located on both sides of the museum’s second floor towards the front of the museum for an additional fee but if you have a student card you will get a 50% discount. That’s the case for museum entrance fees in all of Egypt, though some will claim you need a ISIC. Stand your ground and they will eventually give in. I spent another 4 hours just wandering around the small but extremely dark and crowded museum. You will find very little information on most of the artifacts and most of the time the exhibits are not too well lit making hard to see what your exactly looking at, so I recommend buying a book before hand or downloading a free audio tour.
Taking a train south is the cheapest and best way to travel (it’s also a great experience), but if you choose to take the train your options for when you can leave are limited. There is just one option for tourists: a 12-13hr ride on a sleeper train #1086 that leaves at 8:15pm. If you spring for the sleeping cabin it will cost you $125 USD while a seat will only cost $25 USD. Otherwise, you can do what I did and have an Egyptian buy your ticket (which they will charge you to do) to get on another train. Ours was at 6pm, cost $25 USD and had WIFI.
Be sure to take a cruise on the Nile. It’s the only way I know of that allows you to see the Kom Ombo and Edfu Temples located just off the Nile in between Aswan and Luxor. A great experience and a great way to travel…just sitting on the boat enjoying the views of the Nile while sitting on the top deck enjoying a cold beverage or hanging by the pool, basking in the sun.
Tours: everybody offers tours or has a “friend” that offers tours. Now, if you’re into tours then go for it but realize that whomever you book your tour through will parade you through several gift shops and the reason for this is they get a commission on any sale they bring to that shop. Their main focus is not to show you the sites but to show you as many papyrus and Egyptian oil gift shops as they can in order to get more money in their pockets. If you do a tour make sure you know exactly what you’re getting. Is there going to be a guide that will inform you of where you are and what you’re seeing? Where exactly will you be staying (and be sure to check the reviews of said places)? Get an itinerary of exact schedules, meal times, etc. Knowledge is invaluable.
Cairo airport has no public transportation to the city center and as soon as you get through customs taxi drivers will hound you for a fare, so either know what you want to pay beforehand or prearrange a driver to pick you up. It will save time, aggravation and money.
My final thoughts:Would I go back to Egypt? Probably not. Maybe I’d return just for the Sinai Peninsula and to climb Mt Sinai, but for me I’m over Egypt. The hassling and haggling eventually caught up with me and I was ready to leave. Should that stop you from traveling there? No. There is a lot to see and I would recommend that every traveler go and see/experience it for themselves.
So, is it safe to travel there? YES! Get out of your comfort zone and live a little! Life is too short to regret that you didn’t go see something because someone else told you that it’s not safe or that they didn’t like it. Its an amazing country with a lot to offer and it would be a shame to not go. Would you take Paris or Istanbul off your travel list because of recent events? I hope not, because they are also very special in their own ways and are must-see places…just like Egypt.
Traveling to Egypt 2015: Is it safe?