Marhaba! Welcome to Egypt – a land of enchantment. Known for the oldest existing monuments ever created by man. If you are fortunate enough to have a one-day layover in Cairo, what should you do?
In April 2017, I was flying back to Bangkok from Ethiopia, and I had the opportunity to route my flight through Cairo for just a little bit more than the direct flight. Obviously with an opportunity like that I bought the ticket immediately and sorted the details out later.
My flight arrived into Cairo at 2:00 am and after clearing security, I found a nice bench in the arrivals hall, donned my eye mask and ear plugs and took a quick nap before awaking at 7:00 am to meet my tour guide. If you come to Egypt for a short amount of time, the best way to see all the sights is with a private tour, and due to the economic situation and current lack of tourism in Egypt a full-day private tour is surprisingly affordable and well worth the cost.
After a quick Google search I discovered EMO Tours – the top-rated budget tour company on TripAdvisor for day-trips in Cairo. For just $54 my tour guide Mahmoud met me at the arrivals hall and took me to all the major sights around Cairo in a very nice car with a private driver before returning me back to the airport before my flight. The price included snacks, lunch, and admission to all of the locations.
In the morning, we visited the pyramids at Giza, rode camels, and saw the Sphinx. By afternoon we went over to Memphis City and saw the Sakkara Pyramid and Dahshur Pyramids. Finally on the way back to the airport, my guide showed me a little bit of Tahrir Square – the sight of the initial protests that led to the Arab Spring.
I think one of the most shocking parts about visiting the pyramids is the fact that the authorities only needed to use one of nearly a dozen metal detectors to let people into the sight. Tourism has taken a massive hit after the 2011 revolution causing several tour companies to completely go under significantly hurting the local economy. Mahmoud told me about everything that has happened in Egypt following the fall of President Hosni Mubarak. According to Mahmoud, the vast majority of Egyptians have now come to regret the revolution. First they elected Mohammed Morsi, but before he really had a chance to lead the country, the public decided they didn’t like his policies allowing General al-Sisi to takeover. Sisi rose to power on a series of false promises, and now his heavy-handed leadership, poor human rights record, and bad economic policies have left the country worse off than it was before. Mahmoud says that now the Arab Spring has become a joke – a mistake the Egyptians wished they didn’t make. That is not to say that Egyptians are by any means against democracy, its just that their plan to get a democracy didn’t end up working and in fact made things worse. I hope someday for a better future for the Egyptians.
Is it safe?
My friends and family told me I was nuts to go to Egypt, but the reality is the risk of terrorism in Cairo is significantly less than the risk you would take driving a car at home. Yes terrorism is big and scary, and while infrequent, sometimes there are attacks in Cairo. All the main tourist sights are extremely well-secured, and I never once felt unsafe. Of course there are unsafe areas in Egypt like the Sinai Peninsula where you don’t want to travel, but outside of that the country is very safe.
The reason we see terrorism in the news all the time is because news is by definition something that does not happen often. That’s why its news. Its easy to get caught up in the hysteria, but seriously, when was the last time you checked your tire pressure, checked your brake fluid or had your car inspected? I’m being facetious, but the point is you’re far more likely to get into an accident on your way to the airport than face any problems in Cairo.
If I had more time
Egypt is a beautiful country especially during the spring when the sun is always shining and it never gets too hot. All of civilization in Egypt is located along the Nile River, Mediterranean Coast or the Red Sea. The rest of the country is a vast desert. If I had more time, I would have loved to see some of the ancient historical sights in Luxor, traveled to Alexandria on the Mediterranean, or visited some of the resort towns along the Red Sea for world-class scuba diving. Egypt is much more similar to Southern Europe than Africa so if you’re looking for a nice, sunny, inexpensive beach holiday, then Egypt is the ideal destination.
You can easily see all the major sights in Cairo in two days so if you have extra time, try to take a trip outside the capital.
Egypt’s economy has been wrecked by the Arab Spring and General al-Sisi’s leadership has not been helping the situation according to many Egyptians. If you have the chance to visit this beautiful country spread the word that it is SAFE and open for business. And if you can, learn a few words in Arabic before you come. Everyone will be impressed. Happy travels!