Read This Before You Travel to Egypt
I’m going to be blunt - I don’t recommend travelling to Egypt unless you’re a very experienced traveller. Even then, it may just be a bit too soon for tourists.
I am a fairly well experienced traveller at this point in my life - I have spent time in 16 different countries, and I try to spend more time in culturally rich spaces, not resorts. That however, could not have prepared me for the very short time I spent in Cairo, Egypt.
There are two fundamental reasons why I discourage you from travelling there.
1. The Cairo airport is not set up for foreign travellers
2. The lack of tourism in the last 7 years has caused merchants and locals to be extra aggressive, specifically targeting Westerners.
Let’s start at the airport. I read multiple testimonies online that the visa process was straightforward a couple of years ago - seems like things have changed. I walked in thinking you can pay $25USD for an on-site visa, use the atm, and be on your way. There is no longer a US ATM machine, and the vendors will tell you they only accept USD. Except they don’t.
You can pay in Euros, USD, or Egyptian Pound. You have to convince the teller to take it if it’s not USD. Don’t get discouraged if they say no the first time - they do accept it. They just make a better return with USD. My biggest piece of advice - come equipped with your $25 USD BEFORE you get to the airport. There are no places to exchange currency, and the ATMS dispensing Egyptian pound we’re slow and finicky (mine ate my card before spitting it out after two minutes).
Next, there are not one, but three points of security for travellers getting into Egypt. If you leave on a layover and come back, you’re in for a really weird trip. Security members that work there will be incredibly disrespectful. There’s no other way to put it. They will shove you, or snap at you, or hiss at you. The reason being - other security members will come up to you and offer to put you through business class to skip the line. You think you’re catching a break, but they actually want you to pay them off. I wish I was joking. Don’t let anyone take your luggage - even if they work at the airport.
We did also have an altercation where an Egyptian security guard simply told us “no, go.” After viewing my passport, and unceremoniously pushing me back out the security entrance while my belongings were behind me, and my phone and passport were in his hand. I’m a pretty relaxed traveler, but even then I felt a little panic when I received no answers and was separated from my things. Another guard did come up and explain that they can’t let us through the first security entrance any sooner than 3 hours to our flights, and to please have a seat. I was able to quickly collect my things. So that was alright.
Moving on to the tourism climate. We booked a tour through tripadvisor and MAN did I think I was going to get murdered. We chose Fay Layover tours, and even with multiple reviews, it was still a gong show. Here’s why.
Our driver came to pick us up, but apparently didn’t speak a word of English. It was clearly his personal vehicle (not a registered taxi) and we should have not get in until we were confident in where we were going. I had google maps pulled up, so I could tell we were going to the pyramids, and I used google translate speech to ask y/n questions from our driver. Eventually he got someone on the phone for us who spoke some English. I asked some important questions - where are we going? Do I need money? The answers were light. Everything is fine and paid for.
When we got out, I was really impressed. The company had rented several camels, and we had a camel ride down to part of the desert where we had a good view of the pyramids. It was frankly amazing. We posed for some photos and started our ride back to where the car was parked. I asked Ali, our tour guide, about himself. He said he did 25 tours a day, and had been a guide for 10 years. I asked him to tell us some facts about the pyramids. Silence. Thinking he hadn’t heard, my friend repeated the question. Silence. He then asked us where we were from again. I replied Canada, and repeated the question. Panicked that a tour guide knew nothing about the pyramids, I persisted. After asking the 6th time, he told us that the middle pyramid is the largest, although it looks the smallest. Alarm bells were going off in my head. In retrospect, we weren’t in danger, but the tour was just a photo op.
When we got back to where the car was parked, our camel guide asked for a tip. Confused, I explained that the rep earlier told me I wouldn’t need cash. He got a bit frustrated, and I remembered I still had about $3 USD in my purse. I turned to get my purse out of the trunk, but a different personal vehicle and driver were in its place. This is where I started feeling I had brought my pal and I into danger.
Ali explained that our belongings were in a different vehicle. I point blank asked why. He said he was our inner city driver, and the other vehicle would just come back to drive us to the airport. Our next stop he instructed the other car to meet us so I could get my purse.
We got out at a bustling art gallery. We had a quick lesson on how papyrus is used to make paper, and then it got weird. Every single person who didn’t work there left. Our guide took us to a room to show us that some of the art pieces glowed in the dark. As soon as the lights were off I heard the door being locked. He wasn’t trying to make me think he was going to murder us, but well, yeah. I later realized it was so someone wouldn’t come in and disturb the light show. At this point I told them to turn it on, and that my friend and I wanted to do some browsing. My pal and I quietly discussed the best way to exit this tour, and started for the door.
The problem was that there was so little income coming in from tourism that local businesses were suffering, as our new guide explained. They were so excited to cater to us that they accidentally scared the shit out of us. I faked a stomach ache and told Ali we needed to go back to the airport because I was unwell. In direct response to this statement, Ali handed me his phone and asked for my Facebook profile. Just no social skills whatsoever. Once my pal and I were alone, we did relax a bit. It is comforting that we weren’t in danger, but I do hope that our experience helps to inform someone else who is about to travel to Egypt for the first time. Be prepared, bring extra cash, and don’t be afraid to be aggressive to get answers. Perhaps avoid travel here until there is better tourism structure set up.