Egypt is a place with a rich history and intrigue that extends far beyond the ancient Pyramids of Giza. I spent two days and nights exploring Cairo with my mom in July of 2015, and I’m glad I went despite the controversy over safety for tourists.
It partially took me so long to sit down and write about the experience because my feelings on Egypt were a bit complex after my visit.
Egypt has always fascinated me as the cradle of civilization, and as a kid, I dreamt of standing amongst the pyramids, touching papyrus, and studying hieroglyphs.
Safety in Cairo
So when I arrived in Cairo a week or so after a terrorist attack on the Italian Consulate, I felt surprisingly safe. Following the ISIS claimed car bombing, the U.S. Department of State issued a warning against Americans traveling in Egypt. The U.S. embassy also highly recommended security details for all U.S. citizens traveling to tourist attractions near Cairo (we politely declined this option, since I think it would have drawn much more attention to us).
This isn’t the first time I had visited a country or region with threats placed on U.S. tourists, and it certainly won’t be the last.
I am of the opinion, that you should not let fear deter you from traveling, and that extends to terrorism. I don’t want to give terror more power than it deserves, by succumbing to the fear that these groups are everywhere, all the time. Not only do I think the news paints a dramatic and exaggerated picture of terrorism, but I have lived safely in places that the U.S. deems unsafe for tourists. The reality is that yes, terrorism exists, but the risk is far less than you may think.
However, I do think it’s worth mentioning that it is important to be smart and that means dressing conservatively, not wandering around aimlessly alone after dark, and avoiding large crowds when possible. Finally, it’s not a bad idea to pretend to be Canadian if you are American…it makes you less of a target in the eyes of some that might wish Americans harm.
Camel Riding: Ethical or not?
Beyond safety, I worried about the ethics of riding camels. I’m still not sure how I feel about this, and I admit that I selfishly did it for the photo opportunity despite being uncertain. I cannot confirm if the camel tours are run ethically, since the camels I rode did not look like they were starving, but I noticed that they had missing patches of fur, and some scarring. It remains unclear whether it was from abuse or natural causes.
That all being said, I am constantly trying to see every angle of tourism that involves animals. I am always torn because there is a fine line between exploiting animals, and simply providing jobs for locals while funding the care of these now domesticated creatures. It’s hard to determine when the fees you pay to ride animals are helping or hurting. In this case, the camels seemed well fed and relatively well taken care of, and I can sleep at night knowing that the cost of a short camel ride contributed to that.
I highly recommend Pyramids View Inn for a safe and comfortable experience. I paid $50/night for a double ensuite balcony room with a view of the Great Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx, and I did not regret it! I also booked my tours which were incredible through the bed and breakfast. The staff was extremely accommodating, protective of our safety, and thankful for our business.
Highly Recommened Tour Guide
Amina with Egypt Queen Private Day Tours was such a breath of fresh air. It was so empowering to have a female tour guide in what felt like a largely male dominated industry in the region. She was knowledgable, friendly, and patient. She went above and beyond to make sure we enjoyed the typical tourist spots, and shared some valuable insight into what it was like to be in Cairo during the Arab Spring Revolution in 2011.
Despite lingering controversy about tourism in Egypt, here are 7 activities I recommend to make a visit to Cairo worthwhile:
1. Visit the Great Pyramids and Sphinx of Giza
2. Visit the Sakkara pyramids in Memphis
3. Eat a traditional Egyptian meal
Egyptian cuisine typically contains Koushari (Lentils, Macaroni, Rice, and Chickpeas).
4. Enjoy the sunset and light show on the Pyramids of Giza
Every night after an enchanting sunset, you can witness a sound and light show echoing off the pyramids of Giza. The theatrics were unexpected but mesmerizing.
5. Glimpse behind the scenes of Egyptian artistry
Visiting a rug and Papyrus shop was such a highlight, as we got to watch and learn the process of how to make the ancient paper and traditional rugs.
6. Relax on a dinner cruise and show on the Nile River
This sunset dinner cruise was such a cool way to soak up Egyptian culture through traditional dance and music.
7. People & animal watching on the streets of Cairo
Cairo is a place full of oddities compared to western city standards. The streets and canals are lined with trash, stray dogs, camel and horse poop, and have a generally dirty feel. But the genuine generosity of the locals, more than cleaned up the aura of the city in my eyes.
The pyramids themselves felt unreal, and floating on the Nile in the fertile crescent was a dream come true.
I look back on my whirlwind Egypt experience fondly. The things that stand out the most are the taxi driver who bought us grapes from a passing car while we were stuck in traffic, the wisdom of our female tour guide and her perspective on politics, and how grateful our hosts were that two females would travel to Egypt in a time when the regional tourism industry was struggling.
Cairo was not necessarily the mystical place I imagined it would be, but it ended up being much more in a way.