Egypt is one of the most fascinating destinations in the world, attracting around 8 million visitors a year, although in the last decade, tourist numbers have been down. And unfortunately, the country has become almost as well known for its political troubles as for its spectacular and historic sites. If you are wondering how to travel safely in Egypt, it is possible to do although you will need to use common sense and take basic safety precautions, especially if traveling off the beaten track or if you are a woman traveling alone.
Most of the main tourist sites are quite safe and have a visible police or security presence, although the US state department advises against visiting certain areas. These include the Sinai Peninsula because of the ongoing terrorism threat, and the country’s border areas because of the military presence.
The resort of Sharm el-Sheikh is considered safe to visit. Traveling alone has its appeals to many people, although if you are a solo traveler, most experts advise not to venture too deeply into the desert. And you are probably more likely to be approached by guides, money changers and those looking to take advantage of you in some way, if you are obviously alone.
Visiting as part of a tour group means safety in numbers, not straying too far from the main tourist areas, and the expertise of a guide who is used to dealing with the unwanted attentions of beggars and salesmen.
Women safety in Egypt
Unfortunately, Egypt remains a sexist society, in which women are often regarded as being second class citizens, despite sexual harassment being classed as a criminal offence in 2014. Women traveling in the country should dress conservatively in long sleeved shirts and long pants as opposed to something more revealing.
If you are a woman visiting Egypt, you should avoid getting into taxis alone if possible, and stay away from isolated or poorly lit places.
Women are advised to stay in reputable hotels and when taking public transport, such as the Cairo Metro, try to sit next to a family or another woman. The Metro also has ‘women only’ cars; these can be a good opportunity to meet other travelers as well as feel safer. Some coffeehouses are for men only, and you’ll probably know as soon as you enter.
The best thing to do if you are a woman and are being yelled or whistled at, or harassed in some way is simply to ignore it; most offenders will quickly give up and focus on someone else.
Many visitors to Egypt start their trip in Cairo, a huge, sprawling city, home to over 9 million people. Cairo is no more dangerous than other large cities, and scams and pickpockets are a bigger threat than more serious crimes. However, there are neighborhoods you shouldn’t venture into, such as the suburb of Imbaba and the more run down parts of Islamic Cairo. Women often feel threatened in Cairo, although most police, shopkeepers and public officials speak some English and will help in a situation.
Of course, you should leave your valuables in your hotel room, or at least wear a money belt or pouch inside your clothing when out and about; not surprisingly, pickpockets frequent the main tourist areas of the city.
Most drivers disregard the traffic lights, and simply crossing the road can be the biggest challenge to your safety here.
Many taxi drivers drive erratically or too fast; if you don’t feel safe in a taxi, simply politely ask the driver to stop and let you out.
Even the Cairo airport can feel somewhat intimidating to first time visitors; you should ignore police or security officials who offer to escort you to a particular part of the airport for a fee, and don’t let a taxi driver take your luggage before you agree to the trip.
Visit to the Pyramids
And no visit to Cairo is complete without a visit to the pyramids at Giza, the one remaining wonder of the ancient world. If you visit, be prepared for an onslaught of people selling souvenirs, offering personal tours, selling hotel rooms and more.
Be firm and refuse, although haggling over items for sale is expected. It’s probably worth visiting the Pyramids on an organized tour, many of which can be booked by your hotel. If you do travel to the pyramids by taxi, it’s a must that you agree on the price in advance and have some idea of the amount you should be paying.
Having a camel ride is an unforgettable experience, although again, many salesmen use high pressure tactics and overcharge tourists, especially those from the US and UK. It’s also a good idea to carry some small denomination banknotes with you, so you don’t have to worry about getting the right change back. Many salesmen in Egypt are reluctant to give you back the right change.
Eating and drinking
Knowing how to travel safely in Egypt also means knowing how to remain healthy when eating and drinking. Egypt is one country where you should never drink tap water, only bottled water.
Green salads should be avoided, even in good hotels, as they have probably been washed in contaminated water, and only eat peeled fruit that you have actually peeled yourself.
And smoking is rife in Cairo and other parts of the country; most restaurants and cafes just don’t have a no smoking rule.
Keeping your hands away from the water is strongly advised if you are taking a Nile cruise or going anywhere near the river, because of the very real possibility of parasitic diseases. In Cairo and other large cities, it isn’t unusual to see piles of trash on the sidewalks, especially in the poorer areas.
Despite improvements, the air quality in Cairo is still extremely poor, and if you have asthma or another respiratory issue, you may want to not spend too much time in the city.
And you may want to take bug repellent and insecticide to use in your hotel room, unless you are staying in a luxury hotel.