Our recent visit to Egypt consisted of three stops. El-Gouna, where our friends were based, Cairo the capital and lastly Luxor. I’m hard pressed to pick which stop was my favorite. They were all excellent for different reasons. El-Gouna, Hurghada was simply paradise. As said on my postcard from Hurghada, it is a haven for the affluent expats and Egyptians who have chosen to settle in Egypt. The prices, even though low by Western standards, were still expensive compared to other parts of the country. We did make time to visit Cairo, and here is how to spend 2 days and one night in the curious capital.
24 Hours Hurghada To Cairo Trip:
More Africa travel has been on the forefront for at least a couple of years, we were therefore excited when we had the chance to visit Egypt. We spent the days lazing about by the pool and sampling Egyptian food while in El-Gouna. Egypt is synonymous with Cairo for us, so it was a given. Who hasn’t dreamt of seeing one of the seven wonders of the world, namely the Pyramids of Giza. Our options from Hurghada to Cairo consisted of flying, taking a public bus or doing a private tour. After much debate, we concluded that the best way for us was to do a private tour. The logistics of going via bus was too annoying (getting to the bus station as El Gouna is sort of a bit secluded). The thought of getting up at about 3AM just to make sure we would be at the bus station didn’t sound great. Flying was also out of the question as it would have also required more effort than we cared to do, but there are many flights from Hurghada to Cairo and vice versa.
Let me do you a favor and have you benefit from my research. Your private transfer from Hurghada to Cairo should be arranged with a great guy by the name of Hany Kamal. I was referred to him by our house sitter friends who were in turn referred by the homeowners who had used his services and had friends who had used him. After talking with several companies prior, I decided to use Hany’s services because his prices were fair and l liked the thought of not having to worry about anything but relaxing on the ride down.
As Hany promised, his driver was there at 6AM sharp, and in a late model, clean, and very comfortable car which made the almost 5 hour long ride extremely pleasant. The driver spoke a little English so we were able to communicate. The scenery was really nice along the way. It started with Red Sea views and slowly shifted towards little cities as we got closer to Cairo.
Cairo immediately reminded me of Lagos. The energy is almost palpable. The best way to experience it in my opinion is to simply give in and let it wash over you. Honking, lanes and lanes of cars, desperate people trying to cross the streets and everything moving in a weird sort of way that works when it seems to you that there should be an accident every second, instead of the “order in chaos”. Some questions we were asked about our Cairo trip include:
Is Egypt safe to visit in 2019?
Easy one. Yes!. There is no denying that Egypt has had its share of danger. The precautions being taken to ensure safety is commendable and you can see it at checkpoints which are numerous during your journey. They take security seriously, and sure it might cost you an extra minute or two while bags are checked or you go through security screening, but you can’t really put a price on how much better it makes you feel. We never felt unsafe at anytime during our trip. Therefore the answer to “Is Cairo safe?” is yes!
A better question might be “is anywhere in the world safe to visit?” because let’s face it, the lines are definitely getting blurrier as we speak. If you remember my fear post about not letting fear grab you by the balls, you know the only way to beat the bad guys is by living your best life despite their attempts to ruin the world for everyone. It seems nowadays, no place is safe as evidenced by the latest attacks in New Zealand, one of the places deemed “safe”. Egyptians are resilient despite the turmoil. The people are friendly, welcoming and need the tourist currency which has declined quite a bit. There is no better time to visit Egypt than now because:
– Fewer crowds. Because of the false notion that it’s dangerous to visit Egypt, a lot of people have taken it out of their bucket list. This means it is easier to visit the amazing historical places. the lines are much shorter and you can see things at your leisure instead of being rushed.
– Prices are very reasonable. Thanks to the exchange rate (currently $1 equals 17.2 Egyptian pounds), you can see that you get a bang for your buck so to speak.
– History of Biblical proportions! It blows my mind to think of stuff you read in the bible as a kid. Living history. I sort of feel like that whenever we are in Rome. You can’t help thinking about the past and the fact that someone, one of “those people” might have taken the same steps as you.
– Food! Wonderful hearty food for everyone. Vegetarian friendly choices galore, and for those of us that love meat, there is plenty of that too.
The best part of doing a private transfer tour was not having to worry about missing the best things in Cairo. Thanks to Hany, we pretty much only had to show up. While it is possible to visit Cairo in a day, we chose to spend the night. It allowed us to relax and refresh ourselves. We felt it was important for the driver as well, no matter how used to driving that route he was. I am not a big fan of driving at night, either as a passenger or driver. His price was all inclusive too, so there was no hunting for money. He is also able to arrange hotels. Each place we went, the driver dropped us off and waited till we were done. While l am a big advocate of living like a local, and experiencing all a city has to offer, this is one instance l think is best left up to the professionals. You can find Hany on Facebook. I have no affiliation with him, I just loved his service and think others should use him as well :-). He has such a wonderful disposition. There are lots of companies offering excursions from Hurghada to Cairo of course, but l can vouch for him :-).
Where to stay in Cairo Egypt:
Because the exchange rate was so favorable, you would assume that we stayed at a 5 star hotel for cheap, well at least for cheaper..and yes we could have. Our friends had recommended a small hotel that had a great view of the pyramids and was close to the downtown and was a reasonable price. Unfortunately, all the rooms were sold out since it was a small boutique hotel. In the end, we decided to stay at a place called the Osiris Hotel. There were a couple of reasons why l preferred to stay here as opposed to a resort. One was the price, and the second might sound silly to you, but made sense to me. The hotel was located on the 12th floor of an apartment building. I figured any terrorists would have to fight through eleven floors of their own people :-). A resort would have made me a sitting duck. I said don’t let fear get the best of you, not think of ways to minimize your risk :-). Our driver deposited us safely at the hotel after our sightseeing for the day and made arrangement to pick us up the following day.
The room at the hotel was big, clean, and the staff very nice. It also had a big terrace with views of the sprawling city. My only negative was a the shower curtain. I loathe those with a passion as they always inevitably touch your skin. The bed was comfy and there was a big screen TV which we didn’t use. There is a buffet breakfast served on the rooftop in the mornings and it was quite nice. I recommend it if you’re looking for an inexpensive place to stay right in the middle of everything. The WiFi was good too.
24 hours in Cairo from Hurghada highlights:
Pyramids of Giza:
Easily the top highlight of Cairo for most people. It is stupendous and something l had hoped to see in my lifetime, but never really thought l would see. Giza is only about a half hour drive outside of Cairo and since it was on the top of our list, it was the place we visited first. Hany met up with us and the driver to introduce himself, which was a nice touch. He went and personally delivered us to a tour guide at the pyramids. This was awesome as it saved us haggling and being hassled.
There are tons of guides, and people with carriages and camels etc hoping to talk you into using their services and they can be quite pushy. Hany’s guy guided us through and we were soon settled in the horse carriage which was what we decided on after some back and forth. Mr bleeding heart Federico preferred to walk because he didn’t feel animals should be made to work etc..etc. I understand his point, but l was not about to walk that much in the blustery weather. l do feel that horses, donkeys, camels etc are working animals. Not to be abused, but are meant to work. At one point, I thought we were destined for jail as we almost came to blows with some asshole guy whipping his scared horse who was refusing to go up a slight incline because of all the fatty bum bums weighing him down. Usually, I’m the cool headed one holding Federico back, but this time l was right behind screaming at the guy while our guide ran up and started yelling at him too, holding Fede back. Luckily he stopped, but l had never felt like killing like l did at that second.
It was interesting hearing the history of the three pyramids namely Menkaure, Khafre and Khufu from our knowledgeable guide and we enjoyed it. These tombs are simply magnificent. There is one pyramid (the middle one) that you can enter for free because it’s included in the price of entry. We did and it was pretty boring. Empty inside as every discovered item had been moved to the Egyptian museum. I wouldn’t bother going in to the honest. Also included in the price of entry was going down underground of one of the pyramids. It was so scary to look at it from the ground, there were some rickety stairs that went down like forever. I’m 5’ 5’ and would have had to double over just to get down, not to mention having to crouch down further once down there in the dark. Just looking at it made me claustrophobic. Not thanks, we declined :-).
Egyptian Museum (Museum of Cairo):
I think this was my favorite part of our Cairo visit. The antiquities in this ginormous space are just stupendous. I only wished l had allowed more time for the visit. I would suggest at least 5 hours if you plan on visiting the museum. Even with the thin crowds, the two hours flew by and we didn’t get to see as much as we wanted. Something to the rectified on another visit for sure. The King Tut room is an additional fee and definitely something l wanted to visit. There are over 120,000 items on display here so you can just imagine. It was wild to see the mummified people and animals, including Kings, slaves, crocodiles and even birds as they Egyptians considered them family. I could have stayed a whole day in the confines of the Museum of Cairo.
Islamic fortification site located on Mokattam hill close to the center of the city. It became a UNESCO site in 1976 as part of the World Heritage Site of Islamic Cairo. The views are awesome. There are numerous mosques and museums in the historic site.
Tahrir Square: Martyr Square
The main artery of downtown Cairo. This is where the revolution took place in 2011 and ultimately led to the resignation of the then president Mubarak. To say it is busy would be putting it mildly. Once again, I felt right at home in the insanity. At this point, it was useless trying to see anything because visibility was near zero, so we chose to go have dinner and call it a night.
Is 24 hours in Cairo enough?
Not by a long shot! 24 hours is just enough time to see the major highlights of Cairo. In hindsight, I wish we had spent at least one more night. Since it was an unexpected addition to our expensive Rome and Verona trip, we didn’t have a lot of spare cash. The opportunity was too good to pass up. What it does mean is that if another opportunity presents itself, we would definitely return and experience all that Cairo has to offer. Places such as the Coptic Museum, the Khan el-Khalili souk which we knowingly avoided because the only thing we wanted to buy was Egyptian saffron and having experienced the medina in Marrakech and the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, it wasn’t a big deal not seeing it, but l think a place worth exploring if it’s a first for you.
Our time in Cairo went by fast, and before we knew it, we were on our way back to Hurghada with the same driver. One thing that l remember about our days there was the sand storm. Wow! It was a strong and powerful one which severely limited our vision. Sand was everywhere! Hair, jeans, undies, eyes, our room..you name it. Everything had a cream color to it. Our hotel, being on the 12th floor and should have had amazing views, instead had zip! I kept thinking of movies like The Mummy! We used to get a bit of the sand in Malta, being that it is so close to Northern Africa, but this was intense. It lasted all through the afternoon and through the night. Morning brought some relief, but by the time we left, it had started up again. Upon our return to Hurghada, we saw on TV that it got much worse and people were advised to stay home.
Travel Tips For Visiting Cairo:
– Bring a scarf! Mine was a lifesaver. You can cover your head, nose, shoulders etc to shield you from the sand and sun, not to mention as a cover up if you go visit the mosques.
– You’ll be happy to have sunglasses to shield your eyes from the sun and sand.
– Wear loose fitting clothes that breathe since it’s hot. Cotton is always a good choice. I would also avoid white clothes since they will look dirty pretty quickly from the dust and sand.
– Make sure to try Egyptian food and tea which is absolutely delicious and a great digestive aid.
– Do yourself a favor and indulge in a private tour or guided tour. It will save you headaches and make for a more memorable trip.
– Learn to say LA Shukran :-) to the pushy merchants. Shukran is thank you in Arabic and La is no. Say it firmly, and they will leave you alone. I find looking them in the eye when you say it does wonders.
– Keep small change on you for tips. For instance, using a public restroom, a 5 pound note (25 cents) is sufficient per our guide. They will appreciate it.
– Feel free to haggle on prices. I get a kick out of it and it’s part of the whole experience. I always start with at least half off. You can quickly tell if it’s too much from their comeback and go from there.
– Travel Insurance is a must when you travel. Protect yourself from unplanned accidents.
Should you visit Egypt?
A resounding yes! I am so glad we did. We had a fabulous time. We met wonderful people and had the most awesome food. Federico still speaks of Koshari till today and he is ready to go back. This time to the beach areas like Sharm El Sheikh.
As previously said, the prices are really low when compared to westernized countries. Despite my saying l wasn’t going to buy anything, I did purchase some Egyptian cotton tee-shirts and scarves :-). Very happy with the prices paid.
In conclusion, Cairo and indeed Egypt is safe to travel to. Just like any other place, common sense should be utilized. Keep your ears and eyes open. I see people warning against wearing nice jewelry and all that. Most people tend to forget that Islam takes a dim view towards thieves, and punishment is extremely harsh so it’s not very common, even though there will always be the rotten apples in the barrel.
Have you been to Egypt? Which parts did you visit? If not, is Cairo on your travel wish list?