Cairo, once a thriving city full of life with a blossoming tourist trade, this middle eastern delight sits south of the Mediterranean Sea and 120 kilometres west of the Gulf of Suez and Suez Canal.
Sadly, what was once a celebrated city is now a shell of its former self. Targeted by terrorists and subjected to devastating events has proved disastrous to Egypt’s struggling economey.
The 2011 revolt that toppled Hosni Mubarak as president, has since seen Cairo left unsettled. Hundreds of unfinished properties stack up the motorways waiting for Cairo’s reputation to recover from the devastation it faced. Recent security concerns highlighted by the UK government about traveling to Egypt have caused much upheaval for the country, The concerns continue to threaten arrivals into Egypt as travellers remain hesitant about this harshly looked upon destination.
Cairo had been a bright spot for an industry that has since seen visitors numbers plummet as a result of continued unrest over the past four years.
After my visit to Cairo last weekend and the devastating attack on London Bridge only a couple of days later, I couldn’t help but think, how safe is safe when it comes to travel?
When I opened my work roster on a humid April evening ‘CAI’ was not the destinations I’d planned on seeing. I’d prayed for CPT’s, ORD’s and SAN’s, beach visits, brunches and hazy evenings sat in vin yards. Cairo wasn’t really my thing, dry heat, desert sand and camels had never been on my list of priorities when booking holidays so I’d never really imagined myself flying out for work either. I’d no idea what to pack or what to expect culturally whilst there.
Im totally open to sight seeing visiting new destinations constantly, but taming an unruly camel and fighting not to be thrown to the floor from the saddle are two things I’ve never had the pleasure of experiencing before. Never the less, I slowly became more open minded to the idea after a quick Google search about Cairo. My fear of terrorism and camels was overtaken by the beautiful images I found and eastern delight it promised.
Major airlines like Aegean Airline, Lufthansa, British Airways and Emirates all fly from London Heathrow direct. Expect to pay anywhere between £300- £600 throughout the month of June for the four hour flight. Good hotels are also inexpensive, widely available, safe and very accommodating if staying in and relaxing by the pool is your thing or wanting to go out and explore what the city has to offer. Cairo has all the major hotel chains so my advice for your stay is to use a reputable name for peace of mind and comfort.
So before I knew it, I was firmly strapped into my Boeing 787 Dream Liner seat on the runway at Heathrow, ready to take off into the evening sky. So here’s why Cairo should be on your list of must see places.
What to do?
One of the highlights of this trip is that for a short flight you can see the largest and oldest of the Seven Wonders of the World, The Giza Pyramids. Recent security and safety risks in Cairo meant that I was a little sceptical about whether it would be an option for me, So before setting my heart on it I decided to email the hotel with a couple of questions I had.
I was reassured that journeys requiring transport would be provided by the hotel in our case, If you do travel without this help in and around Cairo, then its better to take a taxi. Id found that there are 3 types of taxi all with different rates, yellow cap,white cap and black/white. The black/white is NOT metered however it is common that yellow and white cap drivers will claim that meter doesnt work to charge you more when they find that you are tourist. If in doubt, ask your hotel to book you one.
Main attractions where heavily protected by armed security and we where also assigned an ‘eygptologist’ who would accompany us for the whole day should we need anything. Needless to say, I felt very safe and at complete ease throughout the day. Masses of security are also visible on the streets of Cairo and Giza, not that their particularly needed. Don’t be put off by this though, it’s a precaution only and maybe an attempt to reassure tourists that Cairo is just as safe as anywhere in the world. Over the 72 hours I spent in Cairo, nothing remotely dangerous or worrying happened and I left wanting to come back for more.
We had started our journey towards Giza and our Egyptologist, Nesmah or ‘ Nes’ met us on the way. Apart from the occasional tout, Egyptian people are very friendly and helpful. Most people graduated from universities and many of them speak good English and will communicate with you, if you need some help. Nes was lovely, professional and always there for whatever we needed on our half day excursion of the Great Pyramids and she even joined us for some shopping after. You could see the excitement on her face when I asked questions about ancient Egyptian civilisation, She delighted in telling me that her culture, still is one of the most intellectual amongst all. The ancient Egyptians invented the Calendar, paper, medicine and even the toothbrush and toothpaste, ‘We are natural Scientists’ she explained.
There are limited or no answers about how The Pyramids were formed and a lot of what we were told that day was based on personal theory derived by Egyptian nationals many years ago. Still very interesting regardless.
For thousands of years, the Great Pyramids of Giza stood as a testament to one of the cleverest civilisations of all time. One of the biggest mysteries and the oldest of the seven wonders of the world, fascinating to be in the presence of, standing at 450 feet tall also.
The pyramids where built as a tomb for kings and Pharos, I’d questioned about the influence of Egyptian women during the Kings reign and was surprised to find out that women in ancient Egyptian were highly regarded. Egypt had seen many successful women rule it’s land. To name but a few, Cleopatra (although not Egyptian, but of Greek origin) Hapshepsut and Sobekneferu.
The pyramids are built on high ground to avoid flooding from the Nile’s banks. A hard rocky surface is used as a base to avoid the heavy structural weight sinking into the earth. Nes had told us that she believed the monuments where built by ship, each stone was carried to the high rocky burial ground over the Nile, While some believe camels where used to drag the heavy stones, others have their reservation about that theory . The realist in me continues to remain open-minded at present as there is still no factual information as to how each 25 ton stone was set in place and remains there today.
I ventured into one of the smaller pyramids belonging to King Khufu’s son, the entrance was about 3ft tall, baring in mind at 5ft5, I’m not exactly a giant and still struggled to fit through the hole.
This leads to a narrow pathway, seen above (which gets smaller and smaller) and slopes towards the bottom of the room. There are no steps, instead it’s a ramp with wooden slats nailed onto it, these will help you crawl inside. There are local’s who work at the Pyramids and they will help you in, if like me you needed help whilst trying to cover your modesty. Bare in mind if you allow them to help, they do expect a tip but don’t feel obliged, just walk off.
Once your in the main room you can see where the body was once laid to rest and for all of 30 seconds I felt like I was in an Indiana Jones movie, I just needed some beige shorts, a calf skin flask of water round my neck and a much younger Harrison Ford by my side.
The room would of once been dressed with gold and jewels enclosed in once the burial was complete.
Where is all the gold and treasure today You might ask?
Well, Egyptians believe that although some was recovered and lives in museums around the world, the majority was stolen by the church at the time, melted down for personal use. Of course this is just a theory and nobody actually knows it’s whereabouts.
The spectacular monuments will remain a mystery to the human race for eternity, people continue to search for some truth but Cairos charm remains in the fact that nobody knows. Each limestone block, almost taller than myself sat on top of each other has remained in place for thousands of years. No cement, no nails or anything sticky holds them together, just sheer force.
For the journey from the pyramid to the sphinx we had decided to ride camels, yes ride camels. Whilst gripping on for dear life with my thighs ( no reigns to hold on to) I managed to form a smile through the fear. Whilst my chosen camel thought it would be fun to try and eat the camel walking in front of it, I managed to remain intact with my seat for about 30 minutes before refusing to get back on and insisting I was better walking.
The Sphinx, which embodies the body of a lion and the head of a pharaoh, is believed to be the head of Khafre and his guardian spirit for his entire burial complex. Carved from the original plateaux the sphinx has disintegrated over the years. I was shocked to find it was relatively tiny in comparison to even the smallest pyramid .
Anyone who fancied spending their time shopping at the local markets for some personal treasures, oils, delicacy (Egyptian dates are a must) cotton goods rather than site see, could.
Egypt is a very safe country with very low crime rates compared to US and Europe, so don’t be put off. It would be better to book an organised tour if this is your first visit to a middle eastern country, this will give you the freedom to enjoy your time more, some locals will still hassle you to buy items and give tips but they know when to stop.
Happy travels x
Some things you need to know
- Ramadan takes place in the month of May and all of June. Don’t be worried, Egypt is not as strict and other country’s. It’s not a necessity to cover up, you can also eat and drink during fasting hours. Just be sensible and be respectful
- Wear sun cream, it was about 30 degrees for our visit. If you visit in the winter however daytime is still sunny which makes perfect weather for traveling. The summer months are considered off-peak, a little less busy due the heat. Much like right now. If you visit during this period try to do your sight seeing before lunch time when the heat becomes unbearable. We left the hotel at 8am!
- Depending on whether your a fan of Egyptian cuisine or not you will be either relieved or appalled to see the familiar logos of McDonalds, Pizza Hut and Dominos. Either way they exist!
- A Visa is required for entry into Cairo and Egypt, this can be obtained once in Cairo airport and costs around $25.00
- Avoid tap water as much as possible and buy bottled water.