Egypt today: A Guide to Traveling in today’s climate
Egypt. It’s a place that evokes a romantic kind of curiosity in most travellers, or indeed most anyone. It also a place that right now, most people wouldn’t consider traveling to, because of the apparent danger in doing so. I’ve been travelling there for over ten years and with eight trips under my belt (including one this year) I’m perfectly poised to tell you know how you can go about visiting this wonderful place right now. Trust me, it’s a great time to go, with the reduced tourist numbers, it’s the only time you will be able to get that picture-perfect shot of the Pyramids with out another soul in it. How’s that for an Instagram shot!
Let’s be honest and not kid ourselves, there is some danger from terrorism while travelling in Egypt, but lets also not forget that statistically these days your more likely to be injured in a terrorist attack in Paris or some other European city than in Egypt. Even given the above, it is wise to avoid certain places which terrorists have targeted. The Sinai area, unless you are staying in a resort the entire time is a good place to avoid, there have been a fair few attacks in this area. The other area is in Cairo itself – the Coptic Quarter. This is a real shame as Cairo’s Christian quarter is a place of real interest where you would otherwise not see many tourists – but for the moment it probably best to avoid it.
Apart from the terrorists (who seem to be everywhere these days anyway), Egypt is a relatively safe place. The people are lovely and are wonderfully welcoming. However, there are always things you can do to keep yourself just that little bit safer. If you’re considering booking day trips, its not always wise to wait until you get there, otherwise you could end up going off into the desert with some random Bedouins and being left for dead. (Rookie error by me in 2008.) Make sure you always have plenty of water, obviously bottled water, don’t ever and I mean EVER drink out of the tap or even brush your teeth with the local water.
For women traveling alone a little more caution is advisable. The best advice I can give is to cover up. Not necessarily wear a hijab, but cover your arms, don’t wear shorts or anything even remotely skimpy. It isn’t illegal to wear western type clothes, like it is in say Iran, however you will make things a lot easier on yourself if you do somewhat as the local women do. Walking down the street in Cairo you will be the victim of hissing (to get your attention) and various cat calls, this will lessen significantly if you cover up a bit. I also have “the bubble”. The bubble is my space. At all times I maintain 1 meter of space around myself when speaking to local men I don’t know. This has always served me well and kept me out of trouble in the past.
This year I stayed at a few different establishments in Egypt, some which are my usual and others which were new. Traveling in today's Egypt it is important than ever to have a good place to stay, where you can trust people to assist you if necessary. In this regard, I feel no hesitation in recommending The Ramses II hotel in downtown Cairo, which is a great place to stay for the budget traveler
– these guys have welcomed me back year after year. They have treated me like family and helped me plan all my trips in and around Cairo.
Including the spectacular trips I took out to the White Desert. I also made friends this year with the manager at the Novotel Sharm el Sheikh in the Sinai – this was after picking out a right rat’s nest on Expedia and then walking across the street to the Novotel to see if I could afford to change hotels. Mohammed gave me a deal too good to pass up! He also really looked after me the entire time I stayed.
Unfortunately, due to the downturn in tourism the locals who relied on it in the past have become increasingly desperate. Tourism once made up 88% of Egypt’s GDP after all. The hassle factor has always been a part of going to Egypt. It is part of the culture. I’ve always said to people in this regard, if you can handle the hassling in Egypt, you can handle it absolutely anywhere. As bad as it was in previous times, its twice as bad now because there aren’t even half as many tourists and people are twice as desperate. This is especially true around the Pyramids. I don’t know what happened. I went in 2010 and was hassled by no one, Zahi Hawas the minister for antiquities had removed all the hawkers from the Giza Plateau, but now they are back and back with a vengeance, especially the camel drivers! You will really need a thick skin to get through the day at the Pyramids at the moment – but the reward is you will basically have the site all to yourself (apart from the hawkers) and you will be able to get tickets to go into the Great Pyramid with no hassle. Previously this was extremely difficult as they only let 100 people in per day. 50 in the morning and 50 in the afternoon.
In addition to being able to get into the Great Pyramid with no crowding issues, other things in Egypt have been opened up in the hopes of attracting more tourists. The tombs of Seti I, the largest tomb in the Valley of the Kings and Nefertari, the most beautiful of all royal tombs have now been opened to the public, for a price of course – but there is now opportunity where before none existed at all.
The Cairo museum, where once you had to check your camera in before you even entered, now sells a photo ticket at an extra charge allowing you to click away in the amazing museum to your hearts content.
Private tours are also relatively inexpensive and with an amazing guide, you can visit almost anything! My friend Ramez Salama is the best Egyptologist guide in Egypt and provides high end private touring (give him a go – high end private touring in Egypt is not as expensive as you think!) If you would like to see what Ramez can do for you feel free to send me an email and I will pass your contact details onto him.
For suggestions on the lesser known sights in Egypt which you can include in your private tour or independent travels please see – Egypt, the road less traveled.