Updated: Jun 25, 2018
When my husband and I got married, we knew we wanted to see two things on our honeymoon: pyramids and wild animals. To this end, we planned a trip to visit Egypt and Kenya, with a quick stopover in Rome.
We arrived in Cairo with very few expectations and an overwhelming excitement to delve into the city's history. It was an incredible feeling to look at the city's skyline and see pyramids looming in the distance. The city itself was bustling, frenetic- people rushing across the busy streets, sometimes right in front of oncoming traffic. Cars honked at each other incessantly, but somehow, not at all in an aggressive fashion. After observing the constant traffic and the precarious weaving of motorcycles through traffic, I was grateful that we didn't choose to drive around the city.
One of the best decisions we made for our Cairo trip was choosing a tour company to help us get around and to introduce us to the marvelous history of the city. We went with Egypt Tailor Made Tours. From the time we landed in the airport, they were available to assist us. They sent an employee to help us get through customs and to help us with our bags. They also sent a driver who transported us to our hotel.
Our tour guide's name was Laila who had a background in Egyptology and had received her Masters degree. Her passion for Egypt and the history contained within it was evident as she and our driver, Moustafa, ,took us around for several days. Here is how our time in Egypt went (we left to Kenya and returned to spend more time in Cairo but these are all the activities we did):
1. We slept when we first got to our Cairo hotel room (that flight is no joke).
2. We went on a pyramid tour and made the (very steep) walk up inside the pyramid.
3. We visited one of their papyrus shops, where we learned about how papyrus is made and how surprisingly durable it is.
4. We visited a rug school where they teach people the trade of rug-making.
5. We visited the gorgeous city of Alexandria, which is about 3.5 hours away from Cairo by car. We took a tour of their wonderful library- a place I would strongly recommend visiting.
6. We saw the Roman theater and Pompeii pillar.
7. We visited the Egypt Museum- if you go, check out the statues with the very human-looking eyes. it's unsettling but amazing.
8. We visited a Coptic church and the Ben Ezra Synagogue.
9. It wasn't originally on the tour schedule, but we changed visiting the rug market to visiting a park where we could hear the Muslim call to prayer echoing from several mosques.
One of the things we first noticed- and was pointed out later by our guide- is that there weren't many American tourists around. In fact, there didn't seem to be many European tourists around either. Our guide explained that most of the tourism now comes from China, since other travelers have been put off by media coverage that depicts Egypt as a dangerous destination. There were barely any lines at any of the museums we visited and even the pyramids had relatively few sightseers.
We didn't feel unsafe during our stay in Egypt- there were times of irritation, such as when a vendor wrote our names on his merchandise so we'd have to buy them, even though he said he wanted to give them to us for free. "I can't sell them now because your names are on them!" He'd protested until we grudgingly gave him money for the items. "Nothing is free," our guide had told us- advice that we'd do well to remember, traveling or not. There was a security checkpoint at the gates or entryway of every hotel we stayed in and every site we visited. In the airport, there were two security checkpoints. Egypt takes safety seriously, and it's apparent. When a man got off our transfer bus at the airport and instead of entering the airport with the rest of us, simply stood outside looking around, I counted the seconds until the guard inside accosted him and asked him what he was up to. Three. Still, past terrorism and political instability has done a number on their tourism numbers. It's a shame. I wouldn't put Egypt on my top three places to visit in the world, but I would say that it is a trip that everyone should make at least once or twice in their lifetime. Certainly there are areas to avoid and common sense rules must be followed, just like in any major city, but Egypt didn't feel inherently dangerous.
In fact, I'll share a few tips in case you're thinking about seeing some pyramids yourself:
1. Bring bug spray (like the legit stuff because mosquitoes are pretty bad there)
2. Keep in mind that if you go in June, like we did, it's as hot as...as hot as...well, just really really hot. You think 100 degrees in Texas or some similar state is bad? Try temperatures in the 90's with no A/C in most of the museums. Still, you shouldn't wear booty shorts- dressing pretty modestly seems to be the norm- just make sure you stay hydrated. It's pretty easy to sweat out the water you're drinking. Always have a bottle of water on hand.
3. Nothing is free. Nothing is free. (Remember the pushy vendor I mentioned earlier?) Nothing is free. Repeat it with me and take the mantra to the extreme. The lady handing you a tissue in the bathroom after you wash your hands? Yeah, she's gonna want a tip. The guy directing you to a security checkpoint in the airport? He's going to want a tip. The guy who helps you off the falouka boat? Yep, he wants a tip too. (And yes, all these examples happened to us.) People do not make a high wage in Egypt and they try to supplement it with tips. "Are you American?" Their eyes light up. Relative to much of the population in Cairo, we are rolling in dough. Keep some small bills on hand in a place that's separate from the rest of your money. No one asks for a lot- the equivalent to a couple bucks in American money means a lot to them. I don't mean to make the people out to be money-hungry, they're quite nice for the most part, but just be aware that you will be asked for money on a frequent basis.
4. Please clean up after yourself and put your trash in the proper receptacles. It was alarming to walk into sites that were thousands of years old and see trash littering the area. I'm not sure if that's more the fault of the tourist or the caretakers- one man who offered to take my picture at one of the sites took a piece of plastic out of my hand and threw it on the ground. I waited until he turned around and discretely picked it up and put it in my pocket. Hey, I'm not trying to get a mummy curse or anything.
5. Try having a guide. They made life so much easier and you can let them know what kind of tour you want- whether you want a packed schedule or a more leisurely trip. I recommend Egypt Tailor Made because that's the only one I have experience with, but there are many options. If you do go with Egypt Tailor Made, though, request Laila. She was awesome and very knowledgable.
Like I said, Egypt is a place that everyone should visit at least once or twice. If you decide to go, send me a picture!