Practical Travel Tips: Cairo, Egypt.

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Egypt is on our list of places we would like to visit. We want to go and see one of the last remaining Wonders of the Ancient World. If you happen to catch a good deal, here are some practical travel tips from Varud.

Varud of Bicoastal Cooks, who last wrote about Florence, Lisbon, Machu Picchu, Medellin, Santiago de Chile, Buenos Aires, Lofoten Islands, Norway, Ushuaia, Argentina, and Patagonia, Argentina is back with his practical travel tips for Cairo.

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It isn’t everyday that you stumble upon the last remaining wonder of the Ancient World:

The Pyramids of Giza—seems like my phone’s camera is on the decline and the aging filter look here is all natural. Cairo, Egypt - Photo: (c) 2016 - Varud Gupta of Bicoastal Cooks

The Pyramids of Giza—seems like my phone’s camera is on the decline and the aging filter look here is all natural. Cairo, Egypt – Photo: (c) 2016 – Varud Gupta of Bicoastal Cooks

Before you decide to check this off the bucket list and experience a new culture, here’s a few tips to navigating Cairo.

Safety

Unfortunately, Cairo has recently experienced a decline in international tourism due to safety concerns, most of which stem from the change and uncertainty of the past few years—and the growing unrest currently in this region. Given that this was a country that was not only culturally different than what I am used to, plus a language I didn’t understand, we sided on plans that would be the safest (albeit, more touristy).

Generally, most of the touristy sights and hotels had “Tourism Police,” security, and metal detectors. But harassment and scams are still a major concern, and it was these two things that did make me feel unsafe or uneasy at points:

  • At the pyramids, most people standing around the entrance are tour guides hoping to start a conversation with you in order to become your guide; or will try to offer a bit of advice/insight for a tip. As sad as it sounds, most of the time a stranger is being friendly here, it’s for a tip.
  • Inside the pyramids, this continues and you will be consistently offered camel/carriage rides and individuals will continue to approach you offering advice—it often becomes more than just asking.
  • Taxi drivers usually have a friend that operates some kind of “viewpoint” (i.e. a tall building and will charge you to take pictures from the top floor), art museum (souvenir shop), or tour guide buddy (brings you directly to their friend in hopes of commission and quotes high prices knowing that you are from out of town).

But don’t allow this to ruin your visit. Instead, here are some tactics to help you:

  • Always confirm the price before! As this is a haggling country, prices are absolutely negotiable.
  • Try to tell your taxi driver to go directly to your destination; if he asks whether or not you are interested in a guide or a detour, get as much information about it first or just say no.
  • Being simply a nice and friendly tourist doesn’t work well here. Eye contact and a smile invite them to continue to follow and talk to you. Keep moving along.
  • Carry change and lots of small bills with you so if you need to tip, you don’t have to rely on getting change—as chances are you won’t!
  • Do your research online as much as possible and try to get as many details so that you know what you need to do when you reach the site.
  • Do not even consider guides at the sites themselves! We heard multiple guides giving tours to foreigners in the Antiquities Museum; the facts were either general knowledge, such as, “That’s a mirror,” or a paraphrased repetition of the English writing on the exhibits. If you try asking a question, the answers are usually vague or made up. If you want/need a tour guide, book with a reputable company (even if it means paying a bit more) not only to gain proper knowledge but also you’ll less likely be scammed.
  • If you find a taxi driver you like, it’s worth paying the roughly 10 Egyptian Pound per hour-wait time charge. We took it further and negotiated a driver for a full day of sightseeing.
Koshari – considered by some to be the national dish, this mix of lentils, chickpeas, pasta, onions, and tomato sauce was born from the various culinary influences over time. Cairo, Egypt - Photo: (c) 2016 - Varud Gupta of Bicoastal Cooks

Koshari – considered by some to be the national dish, this mix of lentils, chickpeas, pasta, onions, and tomato sauce was born from the various culinary influences over time. Cairo, Egypt – Photo: (c) 2016 – Varud Gupta of Bicoastal Cooks

Cost & Practicalities

Exchange Rate (11/07/16): 1 USD = 8.88

The exchange rate outside of Egypt is usually much worse. Instead, it is best to just exchange or use an ATM (no debit card problems) at the airport. The rate across the banks was similar and our airport escort recommended Bank Misr.

  • Cost of food at a restaurant or hotel will be around 150-200 Egyptian Pounds (at places like Le Meridian Heliopolis or Naguib Mahfouz in Khan el-Khalili) and street foods will be closer to 20 Egyptian Pounds (such as Abu Tarek Koshari or Shawarma).
  • Tourists are expected to tip for everything—food, service, advice, etc. There aren’t any guidelines for amount so we put it around 10%, but people have no problem coming up to you and letting you know that it isn’t enough.
  • Wi-Fi is not as readily available at tourist locations and around town, but the Google Maps/iPhone offline GPS does still work in case you need to check if your taxi is headed in the right direction.
  • We didn’t take any arranged tours, but were quoted between 400-600 Egyptian pounds for tours offered by the hotel.
  • Taxis from Heliopolis to the market or museum are roughly 40-60 Egyptian pounds one way.
  • Regarding the summer months, there is about a 20 degree fluctuation between the daytime and nighttime temperatures; but since it’s 100+ during the day, the nights are still very warm.

Visa on Entry

The Egyptian Visa can be obtained on arrival for $25 USD, but the process for getting it isn’t as clear cut as you might think. When you reach the Arrivals hall after deplaning, do not immediately stand in the immigration line. Instead, head over to the row of banks (Bank Misr) and pay them to get your visa sticker. After that, you can head over to the line with your form in hand.

I recommend that you have pre-arranged transport when you land. Most hotels will offer an Assist and Transfer (ours was for free), which makes you feel like a VIP. An individual will be waiting for you pre-immigration and will direct you to the banks to get the visa sticker. Then he will take all of your documents for about 5 minutes, disappear, and come back with your visa all ready to go, thereby allowing you to skip the immigration line and head right out to your hotel.

Visiting the Antiquities Museum is like walking through the pages of a history book. Cairo, Egypt - Photo: (c) 2016 - Varud Gupta of Bicoastal Cooks

Visiting the Antiquities Museum is like walking through the pages of a history book. Cairo, Egypt – Photo: (c) 2016 – Varud Gupta of Bicoastal Cooks

Sights

The Pyramids:

Transport – our initial intention was to take a bus (around 20 Egyptian pounds) from Heliopolis to Giza but the warnings of recent harassment led us to reconsider our original plans. The other option was to hop on the metro (1-2 Egyptian pounds). However, we ended up negotiating a day rate with a cab driver to take us around to the Pyramids and all the other sights (listed below) in an air conditioned car for 300 Egyptian pounds.

Tickets – when you get to the main entrance (opposite Pizza Hut), you will notice a lot of people hanging around there. These people are all tour guides looking to offer advice or join you so it’s best to not respond to them. To the left of the entrance is the ticket office (80 for adult ticket, 40 for student). Buy your ticket, walk directly into the entrance, and hand your ticket only to the guy next to the metal detector—no one else. There is an extra ticket to enter the pyramid itself, but most people have recommended against the need for this.

Coptic Cairo:

This is a less frequently visited area of Cairo (small detour between the pyramids and downtown), which is a shame as the St. George’s Church was absolutely gorgeous with its interesting blend of cultures and religions. The Coptic Museum charges entry (50 Egyptian Pounds) but the area itself and the churches are free to explore.

Antiquities Museum

This museum is often compared to a hotbox for the lack of air conditioning, but despite being there during the warmest part of the day in July, it wasn’t a problem at all. Tickets are bought outside (75 for adult, 35 for student) before passing through security into the main hall. As you enter, to the left is a map of the museum, but you can simply walk in a circle exploring the history of this region through the ages.

The other main sights include Khan El-Khalili market, the Nile Corniche area, and the mosques sprinkled around town such as Al-Rifa’i Mosque or Mosque of Muhammad Ali.

About The Author:

Varud’s life is food–eating, reading, exploring, and creating. Voted Forbes 30 Under 30 for ‘Most Clueless Individuals’, he jumped ship from his management consultant lifestyle in October 2015 and embarked on a culinary journey to learn about cuisines around the world. His first book documented an experiment in Recipe Development (how to create and gain inspiration for original recipes) while his most recent novel narrates the journey of leaving the US to travel to Argentina and learn about Asado, or Argentine BBQ. Follow him on his blog, Bicoastal Cooks, instagram or Twitter.

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