I travelled to the land of the pyramids for the first time last month, visiting Cairo and (briefly) Alexandria. Although much of my travel is to more developed countries, I do relish the opportunity to travel to some more unusual destinations from time to time. I had no idea what to expect before I went to Egypt and I scoured the internet for travel advice before I went. Although the MENA region can be volatile and Egypt is currently suffering from economic problems, the country has such a fascinating ancient history and it’s somewhere I’ve always wanted to visit ever since studying the Ancient Egyptians at primary school and making my very own papier maché Anubis mask! Here are my few cents for any travellers looking to visit this fascinating country:
Egypt is located in Northeast Africa and lies on the Mediterranean Sea. It has an extremely long history, dating from roughly 3000 BC. It is the most populous country in the MENA region with a population of over 90 million. Cairo itself is the 15th largest city in the world, with a population of over 10 million.
How to get there: Direct flight from London to Cairo – 4.5 hours
Currency: Egyptian pound. Most hotels will also accept payment for extras in either US dollars or British pounds.
Culture: Egypt is a Muslim country, and although very westernised, women should still dress fairly modestly so as not to offend or draw unwanted attention.
Getting around: Traffic in Cairo is a whole new experience; be prepared to spend up to two hours getting from one side of the city to the other in traffic and if your driver misses the turning, you will be reversing into oncoming traffic as there are very few U-turn opportunities!
Other: Wifi is hit and miss, even in the big hotels in Cairo. The people in Egypt are very friendly and always happy to sell you something you neither want nor need – it’s OK to say no! Don’t ever drink the tap water and be wary of anything that may have been washed in tap water (such as salads/fruits in small local restaurants).
I stayed in the Fairmont Heliopolis in Cairo, which is located near the airport. As smoking is very prevalent in Egypt (and still indoors), make sure you request a non-smoking room if this is important to you. They also seemed to automatically be giving out twin-bed rooms, so this is one to watch out for if you’re expecting a nice big double bed! There were so many different restaurants to go to, including a lovely Thai restaurant that I went to about 3 times during my stay. They have an Egyptian-themed night in one restaurant, with Lebanese-style food, shisha, live music and a resident belly-dancer to give you an ‘authentic’ experience! Other facilities include a casino and outdoor pools. This hotel was good for business travel as everything was in there, but it was far away from the centre of Cairo, so there wasn’t really any opportunity to look around the city during my stay there; probably not the best location if you’re travelling for leisure.
Not great. It seemed that any time you want a nice meal in Egypt, it’s basically Lebanese cuisine, which is so yummy! As with most countries, Egypt do their own version of chicken and rice; marinated chicken on skewers served with rice flavoured with cinnamon and some kind of sultana-type fruits. Additionally, there was a lot of lamb around and vegetarian food is virtually non-existent.
The main reason to visit Cairo! Take a trip to the Pyramids, which are thousands of years old and the only remaining antiquity out of the original Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. At the site in Giza, you can see three pyramids built by three different pharoahs. You can even stand on the Great Pyramid towards the bottom where the entrance to the burial chamber is (although no climbing any higher!). I didn’t go into the burial chamber as it cost extra on top of the tour and apparently there isn’t a huge amount to see in there anyway. Further along, you can see the Sphinx – our tour guide had an interesting sense of humour and insisted she take a photo of each of us ‘kissing’ the Sphinx (below).
I would recommend arranging a tour guide through your hotel if you are going to visit the Pyramids as it’s a bit of a free-for-all with guides harassing tourists who obviously aren’t part of a group at the site, trying to sell tat and camel rides. Tour guides can also arrange trouble-free camel rides for you if you want to do this; otherwise you run the risk of being fleeced in the middle of the desert. Be warned that the city of Cairo has now expanded up to the Pyramids, so don’t expect to go out into a completely isolated desert area. We also went in the morning when the weather was very foggy/smoggy so couldn’t get a nice panoramic view, but the weather did clear later on.
Another place I would love to visit but didn’t have time to see on my trip is the Egyptian Museum in Cairo to see the Golden Mask of Tutankhamun. I’ve been desperate to see this since I saw the rest of the collection displayed in the British Museum in London years ago, but unfortunately didn’t get chance this time.
Have you been to Cairo? Let me know what you thought and any other advice you have for readers in the comments below!