There are not that many classical tourists routes in the world like Egypt. I can easily call this country the mother of tourism as this land attracted cultural travellers for at least 2 centuries. We know the heritage of this culture since early school days. Not many ancient cultures recieve so much attention while studying the history of the World. Not many places have this taste of romantic exploration from early “black and white” chronicles. And not that many places are on the top of bucket list of places to visit for most of us.
For the last decades Egypt was associated with cheap coastal getaway and main things i have heard about it wasn’t culture or art, but «all-included» hotels and bad service. I always had an idea of visiting Egypt to explore it’s culture and finally I have done it independently. It was relatively spontaneous decision to go: i simply bought my plane tickets, made a list of places to see and booked my hotels. I knew from the books about history and culture of Egypt and it was probably the only that i knew. Somehow i had a feeling that this huge tourism destination will be an easy place to explore, but i was wrong. It took me by surprise that independent travel to Egypt could be such a husstle and i decided to write this article to share my impressions about it.
I had several serious WOW moments here and visiting main sights was something seriously amazing.
Firstly i want to say the main thing and it’s really important to concentrate on it: Egypt is an ancient land, which once was the land of one of the strongest cultures. It’s a miracle that so many things survived till present days and that it is possible to see it. I had several serious WOW moments here and visiting main sights was something seriously amazing. Abu Simbel and Luxor, Karnak Temple and the Valley of the Kings with the real mummy of Tutanhamon, islamic heritage and christian churches in Cairo, amazing mix of cultures were really insane and absolutely unique. I had some really good days here and they worth all the efforts.
Still it’s important to understand that Egypt is exotic destination. I was a bit naive and thought that huge tourism tradition should bring me just fun and good moments. I thought that all these «all-included» are made to work for really not-that-well-travelled person and it would be an easy journey even though i will travel without guide. But unfortunately it’s way different.
Now the rumours say it became better and some people started to consider visiting.
Tourism in Egypt is currently experiencing it’s worth days and after visiting i have a feeling that if everything will be the same as it is now, soon it will be completely ruined. Actually, now it’s a dance on remains. Revolution several years ago that targeted main tourist places and security issues of the last years made many people to postpone a visit for some time till everything will be better. Now the rumours say it became better and some people started to consider visiting. There are still not that many foreigners and mostly tourists came here with the group tours or cruises. I would say that Nile cruises from an INTERNATIONAL company is probably the only way to make it more or less good now.
But what about independent tourism in Egypt? Is it save and enjoyable to explore Egypt on your own?
First couple of days in Cairo i felt myself pretty good: there was a bit of usual hustle for this part of this world, but usually i was greeted on the streets, welcoming every few minutes and asking for selfies. Ok, you will never be alone here and all eyes are on you! Enjoy, Justin Bieber moment is here! Someone will always have something to ask or give some attention to you, but it was fine.
Visiting piramids in Egypt
Later I left to Giza as i wanted to stay overnight there. I have heard really good advice that staying at the guesthouse facing the pyramids is really a good idea. And it was! But the hotel that i reserved online was something really strange: i’m still not sure if itt was hotel as the place where it was supposed to be located looked like a slum and there was no way i wanted to check what was inside. I left it and simply browsed around to find a place to stay. It was twice more expensive, but was really nice. So definetely don’t rely on “cheap” places to stay in Egypt. The owner of the hotel was on site and told me some stories about his business and it was obvious that he have only one hope: if Egypt will be “opened” to Russians again. The trick that couple of years ago Russian government (UK have done it, too as far as i know) banned tourism to Egypt after big plane crush, which made the country almost empty. People still can go, but no direct flights and all group tours are strictly prohibited till now.
Visiting pyramids itself was also a bit of a hustle, but i was expecting something even worth.
The reason is that there 3000 people around who are making an income fooling tourists there for generations. They nailed scamming so brilliantly, that there is little chance to survive, but for me it happened to be fine because i have read a good blog post with a list of tricks and knew what is going on and what will happened. The main thing is to ignore camel rides, don’t take pics of camel or people if you are not ready to pay and do not give your ticket to anyone (especially on the entrance make sure it’s official). I also liked an advice to take no money with you but to pay for entrance, those will be probably the best protection.
Travelling around Egypt
Train is probably the most convenient way to travel around Egypt, but bying a ticket could be a bit tricky. In some way you can only buy ticket for night tourist train for 100$. The only way to buy ticket to the ordinary day trains (they are 10 times less expensive and not everyone love night trains, this time i don’t want it) is online, which is good to know in advance. I even don’t take it is as a big problem as trains are fine with good comfortable seats, some are more dirty, some are relatively clean, but that’s ok.
Day tours in Egypt
When i came to Aswan i got only one goal – to see Abu Simbel. It is pretty remote place, which is not possible to get to using public transport. I booked a tour from the place where i stayed in advance. The tour cost me 150$, which is really big money for Egypt to expect good service and good guide. BUT! For some reason they forgot about me and i have realised it after no one came. I got no idea how it could happened in the country with almost no tourists and no jobs, but it happens.
Someone stopped our car, put curtains on the windows and asked us to hide when we pass the police guards
It took 5 hours to find another driver and get a permission to drive there (it is the road in the desert and special permission is required). At least they told me so! But in 5 minutes someone have stopped our car, put curtains on the windows and asked us to hide when we pass the police guards. Surely, no permission was granted. The rest was low quality with the guy hardly speaking language, a bit of a mess proving that entrance tickets are included and waiting for him for 40 minutes after agreed time to get back. I still got a question how it could cost 150$, but somehow i saw the place after several hours of stressful time.
Till that point I was really positive and took it all just like a spicy part of my time! You now, exotic destination, another mood etc! That’s OK, while on the road something can be wrong or different, it’s absolutely normal and just part of fun!
But then i came to Luxor and it completely nailed it!
I already knew that hotels are generally bad in Egypt and had a nice one, one of few reliable here. On the entrance of the hotel they asked to check my bag and literally started to dig in my underwear. I mean, WTF! How on Earth security guard at the hotel, where you stay can do anything like this? It was too much and i simply stopped them and walked inside. WTF?!?!
After i started to explore Luxor which was probably the most aggressive tourist scamming place ever! Even India was lighter! I was attacked by everyone offering their services or whatever. All the time, NON Stop, every few minutes!
Polite «no”, ignoring, using another languages – nothing helps.
It really drives crazy! I am really polite person and i love to be nice to others, so it was a fighting with myself to ignore everyone or even being rude. Polite «no”, ignoring, using another languages – nothing helps. To keep calm and at least stopping myself from starting to be aggressive i started to count how many times someone will follow me or suggest something: it was 67 times in around 6 hours with the peak of 14 times during 600 metres and 9 minutes. It wasn’t market or kind of it, it was just a street without any option to take another path! Every 38 seconds, every 43 metres!
They stop me, touch me, cry, don’t give me way, try to start a conversation and if i say no or ignore they followed me for 200-300 metres on foot, by car, taxi, horse, donkey or camel.
Locals are really struggling without any work or income and independent tourism could be a lifesaver for them. Hotels are closing, restaurants are closing. Public transport is really out of date and city taxis are on the edge of comfort zone (don’t expect aircon or kind of it, 100% chance of smoking driver). Independent travellers really could help them as there is a big demand for visiting Egypt, i’m sure. But instead of caring and bringing good experiences they are fooling and hustling those who came till death to get something. It was literally insane! Many times i was probably one of 5 people who came independentlyand passed them during the day and everyone put all the tricks to sell me something or fool me in any way. They stop me, touch me, cry, don’t give me way, try to start a conversation and if i say no or ignore they followed me for 200-300 metres on foot, by car, taxi, horse, donkey or camel.
Literally every step was a pain:
– Every time i pay somewhere including tickets to Cairo museum and Piramids of Giza ALL cashiers tried to fool me with a change usually giving 100EGP (around 6$) less. I was completely shocked that it was even at the entrance of Giza piramids, UNESCO Site
– Every time i want to use a restroom, even if it was free, someone was asking for money to enter
– Leaving shoes at the entrance of the mosque – TIP me (who are you????)
– Taking a taxi: they will definitely find a reason to ask for more than you agreed
– Take this book, it’s free! – obviously a scam
– I tried to use UBER once, but failed because all the numbers are in Arabic and i simply couldn’t find a car (ok, my problem, even fun)
– Internet is super bad in Egypt, i hardly can check my mail or post a pic in Instagram most of the time
– Buying a ticket at the train station is a pain, they don’t understand you and there is a mess around ticket window. I have done it in India and almost failed in Egypt. I had to do it once and it worked only after second try with the help of 2 great well-educated ladies, they helped me with it a lot and saved me. But i never saw anyone who can help me there any more.
– Traffic could be really rough, we even had a small car accident in Cairo. Crossing the road is close to impossible (even if have succed in it before in Vietnam)
– Every beggar is making a stop near me, standing for minutes, throwing tissues they sell or even touching! EVERY!
– Many people tried to touch me or my stuff for whatever reason
I was loved till death and my minimal private space was disturbed non stop!
Many times i was the only foreign tourist without a guide (and it was some pretty touristy areas) and all the energy goes to me! I was loved till death and my minimal private space was disturbed non stop! I felt myself so bad several times!
One of the main questions these days: is it safe to visit Egypt?
Everyone who i talked with tell me it’s fine and completely safe. There are plenty of blog posts from those who have recently visited, telling it is absolutely safe.
I would say, that it’s not super bad, lots of precautions are done, thought some of them looks more like formality. But it’s fine for this part of the world! Nothing bad has happened with me in Egypt and i was OK in terms of general safety.
Still I saw things that doesn’t feel comfortable for me every moment:
– in 30 minutes after i came i saw a man running with a big knife on the street with obviously some family affair, there was a woman crying very loudly and lots of people around
– I saw several ordinary people with the guns on the streets
– Lots of police and traffic police with the guns, even train conductors have a gun (which is probably for good, but still i can’t help feeling that there is a reason why they need them)
– Once on the train there was kind of a scandal few metres from me with very loud voices and it also don’t feel too good in the closed space as it was really emotional and aggressive
I mean, it is fine for this part of the world, but seeing guns around feels a little bit uncomfortable.
No group tour can bring you such a feeling of a pace when you solve all the problems on your own.
Once again i would love to say, that the heritage of Egypt is amazing and exploring it on your own is probably the best way to feel and understand the country. No group tour can bring you such a feeling of a pace when you solve all the problems on your own. Honestly, i wouldn’t trade it and change it if i had an opportunity and it was way more educational than i could ever expect. It was not only checking sites, but trying to figure out what are the people here and how it works, which is usually the main thing in travel. I mean, there is nothing wrong in good photo at the top location, but there are things that couldn’t be photographed.
On the other hand, it is really good to know that visiting Egypt on your own is not easy and take some precautions.
What i can advise:
1. Make sure to book a good place to stay. You will definitely need a sanctuary to rest and recharge and it’s really important.
2. Reserve all your train tickets in advance. FLights are also an option.
3. Unfortunately, most of local businesses in Egypt are thinking only about your wallet and bring much more problems than solutions. Try to use to international businesses and chain hotels. I never would say this as travelling is not only sightseeing, but also helping the local economy, but in this case there are way more troubles most of times.
4. Hire a guide or take a taxi for a day, it really helps to keep away part of the hustle around. But make sure to check very closely who will be with you, instincts helps
5. There are still many locals who are happy to help you, greet you, welcome you and make a good impression. Someone suggested me that contacting someone at Couchserfing can help. Use it as a place to meet friendly local even if you don’t want to stay with them.
6. Learn couple of words on Arabic to say strictly «No» to everyone who come to you. They know many languages, but not used to someone, who can speak arabic.
7. Bring tons of patience! 😃
That was my experience of exploring Egypt independently. I decided to write this article because if there is one piece i would love to read before visiting – it would be something like this one. I mean, i wasn’t realizing that it could be anything like this and it would be good simply to realize what i am doing and whew i am going. Knowing some tricks and troubles here really can help to bring a bit better time in Egypt.
P.S. Egypt need to do something immediately to fix their tourism. There is reason why there are less and less people coming and security is not the only problem. Generally infrastructure and style of travel here looks like it is still 80’s. But it’s not! It will be probably fine for budget travellers, but Egypt is not a cheap place to travel to and mostly backpackers (if they come) just tick couple of main sites and leave! Millennials need something way different than Egypt gives. There are not that many reasons to choose Egypt instead of Bali! The only one who left are explorers who want to see as much as possible, but usually it’s a one time visit.
Hopefully it helps! Explore and enjoy!