You’re probably thinking: OH MY GOD. You went to Egypt?!?! That’s in the Middle East…. isn’t that dangerous??
Congratulations, you know your geography! Indeed, Egypt is in the Middle East. Your sixth grade social studies teacher must be so proud.
As for the dangerous part, yes it’s dangerous if you’re a dumb tourist and don’t research the area first. There are safer parts of Cairo, and not as safe parts, just like any big city. Yes, there are risks associated with traveling to Cairo, which is roughly the same size as New York City. Enormous cities like these always have risks; they’re not Disney World.
That being said, the US has issued a travel warning for Egypt which basically says you shouldn’t go out into rural desert areas (not sure why you’d want to anyways), but that tourist sites are generally well protected. It also says that there’s no telling where or when something bad will happen in the world, so always be careful wherever you are. Keep up to date on the political situation, do your research before traveling to any country, and use your discretion to make smart decisions.
If you’re with a tourist group or organization, are staying in a hotel with security, and only go to tourist locations, you should be fine unless the political situation drastically changes. Big tourist attractions like the pyramids and museums all have metal detectors and security checks to keep the visitors and artifacts safe.
As far as security goes, I never once felt unsafe. And that’s saying something because I’m generally a very anxious and paranoid person. I stayed with a friend named Kareem who had studied abroad at my high school and has lived in Egypt his whole life (minus the year he spent in Wisconsin), so he knew exactly where to go and where not to go in the city.
It definitely helped having someone who knew the city, the culture, and especially the language. I didn’t speak a word of Arabic before visiting Egypt, but now I do! Two words to be precise; I’m almost fluent. I know how to say “thank you” and “annoying,” but I’m not even gonna try to type them out cause I know I’ll butcher the spellings.
By far the scariest thing from an American’s point of view was the traffic and Egyptian drivers. Traffic rules are just suggestions, and lanes are a rough outline of where you could put your car if you want to. Somehow it all works and people just know not to hit each other, but I’m glad Kareem was driving the whole time. So if you’re an American, don’t rent a car if you go to Egypt unless you’re a professional drag racer.
The thing that surprised me the most about Cairo was how friendly the people were. I wasn’t expecting them to be mean or anything; I figured they’d be a normal level of niceness. But they were SO nice; probably some of the nicest and most welcoming people I’ve ever met. People would offer to take pictures for me all the time and they were always smiling. The guy I bought souvenirs from even gave me a free one!
Speaking of shopping and spending money, right now the exchange rate for US dollars or Euros to the Egyptian pound is great for tourists. It’s not so great for the Egyptians unfortunately. Everything was super cheap which was perfect for a broke college student like myself. Most of the museums and monuments also have a student price, which was wonderful. I think I paid about $5.00 US dollars to get into the biggest museum in Cairo, the one with all the cool mummies and stuff. That’s a fantastic price if you ask me.
I could probably go on and on and write an entire novel covering what I learned about Egyptian culture and Cairo just from the two days I spent there. But you’re probably wondering what I actually did when I was only there for two days.
First, we went to see the Giza Pyramids. There are three pyramids here and the sphinx, and they really are amazing. I was hardcore geeking out because I was that kid who made my mom tape every single National Geographic special on Ancient Egypt, and seeing it in person was surreal. I went inside The Great Pyramid, the largest of the three, which was interesting to say the least. I’m a wee bit claustrophobic and I tend to not like crowded areas, and the inside was a mix of of both.
I probably could have done without going inside, cause it turns out its just a tunnel which leads to the burial chamber, which is empty and doesn’t have any designs or hieroglyphics in it. It was still really cool though, and now I can say that I’ve been inside of a pyramid! And now, my friend can say the same too. Before visiting the pyramids with me, he had never gone inside one before. He was just as much of a tourist as I was!
There’s an area called “the panorama,” which is a great place to take a picture with all three of the pyramids in the background. I couldn’t resist taking pictures on a camel, even though apparently camels aren’t even native to Egypt. When I learned that I felt like my whole life was a lie, but I still got a cool picture out of it.
We also visited the sphinx, where a nice man took about 100000 pictures of Kareem and I and even told us how to pose for each picture. I felt like a super model. I took a picture with some cute kids who just wanted a picture with me. And once I took one picture with them, everyone and their mother wanted a photo with the American girl.
I was swarmed by Egyptian teenagers wanting to take selfies with me. My friend said that some people who live farther outside of the city generally don’t see tourists, so they may have not seen anyone American or European looking in person before. They were all very nice and friendly, it was just strange being the blonde, pale girl that everyone was so fascinated by.
After the pyramids we stopped by the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization which just opened a couple of weeks ago. Only one section of like seven or eight was open for viewing, but it was beautiful. It was one of the nicest museums I’ve ever been in, and is surely going to be amazing once it’s finished.
The next day we went to the Egyptian Museum, where the majority of the coolest artifacts are held. That museum was enormous. I think I could easily spend a week in there and not see everything. Kareem, his friend, and I hired a tour guide (for a very cheap price) to tell us about some of the monuments on the first floor, which was definitely the right move. This museum is super old (okay not like ancient-old, like 100 some years) and doesn’t have the greatest displays or captions for pieces, so a tour guide is definitely helpful.
I have never seen so many artifacts packed into one museum before. Everything was just crammed in wherever it could fit because there’s so much stuff to show off. There were sarcophagi, tombs, royal jewelry, ancient pots, and real live mummies!!
I mean not live mummies. They’re dead. They’ve been dead for like 4000 years, so they’re super dead. They’re still in such good condition though which amazes me. These kings and queens have been dead for thousands of years, but their bodies still look like they died within the past 50. I thought the mummies were fascinatingly disgusting and cool, all at the same time.
Unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures except one outside of the museum because it costs money to take your camera in and I’m too cheap to pay for that.
Then we went to the Cairo Tower, which is exactly what it sounds like: a giant tower.
The Cairo Tower is the equivalent of 90 floors tall, and you can take the elevator up to the top and look at all of the city. I mean not all of it cause it’s a huge city, but you get a great view of the Nile from up there. Below the viewing deck, there’s a cafeteria where you can get a sandwich or drink. There’s a restaurant that’s one floor under the cafeteria, and the restaurant floor spins gradually. Each hour it makes one rotation, so you can see every view of the city while you’re eating.
At night, I would hang out with Kareem and his friends. Most of them spoke English, so luckily communication wasn’t a problem. We would hang out at a restaurant or at a mall, some of which are open until 2 AM.
Kareem called Cairo “the city that never sleeps,” and at first I was like ehhhh I think that’s New York. But after visiting Cairo, I think it may win that title.
Because it’s so hot during the day, people mostly hang out at night. It’s pretty common for people to be on the streets at 4 or 5 AM, and not just teenagers either. When we were at a restaurant we saw a family with young children just eating dinner at 12:30 AM. So maybe Cairo really should be the city that never sleeps!
I did most of the big tourist attractions in Cairo, but there’s still so much more to do. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to fit it all into two days. I’ve also been told that Luxor has some amazing artifacts, so I’d love to come back and visit Egypt again someday.
While the history and pyramids were all really cool, by far the best part of my trip was getting to see Kareem. It had been 3 years since his study abroad in high school, and it was great to see him again. I’m just lucky that he lives in such a beautiful, history filled country and was willing to share it all with me!