From Cairo to Aswan: A detailed guide for western tourists about travel safety in Egypt.
Do you want to see the Pyramids, the valley of the Kings and Abu Simbel? But are you wondering if is safe to visit Egypt? Then read on!
The whole Muslim world isn’t especially popular among western tourists these days (unrightly so, I might add). Terrorist attacks, refugees, and human rights violation didn’t really help to advertise trips to countries in the middle east. But what about Egypt? Is Egypt safe to visit?
The short answer: Yes, Egypt is still safe! But in this travel guide, I tried to incorporate all my first-hand observations and experiences from my last visit to Egypt (read about it here). All in the hope to encourage further generations of travelers to visit the amazing country on the Nile. You can easily visit it independently (check out my 14 days Egypt itinerary for reference).
But let’s dive right into it?
Note: I update this article regularly. Last on Dec 30th, 2019
General safety in Egypt
After the November revolution in 2011 and the ensuing rule of the Muslim Brotherhood (short as it may have been) tourist numbers almost dropped to zero. Even before those abductions and infrequent terror attacks against tourists had always been a problem – especially on the Sinai peninsula.
Luckily, the political situation stabilized in the following years. 2018 was the first year that saw a significant increase in tourism (according to local guides & hotels) and a renewed interest in Egypt.
Now, is it safe for Americans to travel to Egypt in 2020? This is a tough question, as terrorist attacks occurred in the USA itself, or in Paris, London or Berlin.
There were 7 terror attacks in Egypt in 2017, 6 in 2016, 4 in 2018. Sounds like a lot, but in a global context, it isn’t. The most important part: Few of these attacks targeted foreigners. Almost all of them happened in mosques or churches. The locals and their beliefs were the targets (mostly the conflict between the Christian minority and the Muslims, but also the special conflict on in the North Sinai peninsula). On August 2019 a hospital was attacked.
So, what is the current situation in Egypt now?
This trend of no terrorist activities seems to change, though. There was one bomb to hit a tourist bus. In February 2019 a suicide bomber killed a policeman and two civilians which ultimately had several countries issuing partial travel warnings. And in May another bomb attack targeted a bus near the pyramids with at least 17 people injured. While there has been a resurgence of mostly peaceful demonstrations in Cairo and Alexandria 2019 as well.
Now, I don’t mean to downplay these tragic events, but you should also know that Egyptian security forces are aware of the situation. In fact, they are constantly trying to regain control. The military has quite visible checkpoints all over the country (virtually ever 500 meters). Most tourist attractions have a quite high safety standard (and always a visible military presence), and buses usually travel in police-escorted convoys (for reference: read what to expect from a visit to Abu Simbel)
See, in the USA alone there were 15 mass shootings in 2016, yet 37.6 million tourists came to the US at the same time. Is the US safe? Hell yes, but so is Egypt. If you take certain precautions, it will be perfectly safe to travel to Egypt.
Visiting the Sinai Peninsula is currently (2020) probably not a smart idea , and going too deep into the western desert, especially without an escort, might not be smart either.
Is Sharm el Sheikh safe?
As long as you stay in your resort, go snorkling and only visit the actual city, things should Sharm el Sheikh is safe for tourists. Egypt, while slowly being on the way to enduring peace and prosperity, is still a region with lots of internal conflicts, terroist groups, and quite some poverty. So, use your common sense!
But of course, if news like the above mentioned recent incidents scares you for some reason, there is little I can do about it. Contrary to what you might think, it’s probably much safer to visit Egypt alone than in a group, as tourist buses are the prime focus and not the single tourist walking across the market. On a more personal note, I felt safer walking around Cairo alone at night than visiting the pyramids or Luxor (do make sure to read my guide)
Is Cairo safe at night for tourists?
Cairo is an incredible city, but pretty much one big warren (definitely read my guide to the 20 best things to do in the city). It’s quite easy to get lost on the big markets and as a fair-skinned traveler you might get quite some attention. But is it safe to go the markets in Cairo at night? Pretty much.
Now, I wouldn’t bring the expensive watch, maybe leave my credit card in the hotel and only take a reasonably large amount of money along. But other than that, you will be perfectly safe in Cairo. Some locals might be staring at you, but that’s probably your worst problem – apart from local vendors and café owners trying to sell you something. Again, use your common sense.
And remember, there is safety in numbers. So, if you are a small group, your biggest fear is probably getting lost. If you do, just call one of the ubiquitous taxis and tell him to get you to your hotel.
If you are not brave enough to venture out into Cairo, Luxor or Aswan at night (do read my guide to Aswan!) alone, hire a local guide for a couple of pounds. He will be your safety shield, know what to do in each situation and keep you from falling for scams (he might be affiliated with a restaurant or so, though).
Which tour guides are safe in Egypt?
Are you afraid of traveling independently in Egypt? You really shouldn’t, but I totally understand that you might seek the safety of a knowledgable tour company to show you around Cairo and the wonders of the Nile. But the big questions is: Which are safe and which aren’t?
I want to be honest with you: Terror attacks targeted tour buses and travel parties and not solo travelers. So, it is incredibly important to pick a reputable travel agency or tour guide. If you are staying at a top hotel, I’d go through them. If you’d rather like it cheap, stick to reputable western companies.
I can really recommend GetYourGuide.com for safe tour guides in Egypt, their prices are reasonable, they are working together with local experts and, which is really most important, you won’t be scammed. About every taxi driver you meet will give you his card and offer you to show you around. The problem about such tours is often, that you are charged more than you should and sometimes weird additional costs the driver asks of you, even though you already paid the tour (like entrance fees or costs for an additional passenger, etc)
Quite frankly, not all of them are bad, far from it! But it’s somewhat important that you stick to tours that fulfill certain western standards. Not all buses have air-conditions etc. For example, rather pick a good private tour to the Giza Pyramids, Sphinx, etc (like this one) or a tour to Abu Simbel with good reviews (like this one) than trying to save 2 dollars on locals buses where 40 tourists are herded around like cattle.
From experience, most of the tours and hotels that are dead cheap in Egypt, are usually dead crap. Egypt might be a cheap country, but you need to invest some. A friend of mine booked an all-inclusive vacation to Egypt for 600 USD for two weeks. She booked into a different hotel on the second day – it’s the same problem with tour guides.
Note: I get commissions for purchases made through links in this post.
Travel safety for solo female travelers in Egypt
Now, admittedly I am neither a woman nor a solo traveler. But, I’m quite aware that out of necessity or preference some of my female fellow travelers like to go on vacations all by themselves. Generally speaking, Egypt is safe for solo female travelers as well.
Now, as a woman, you really should stick to dressing conservative – but if you have been traveling solo before, you know that this is probably THE golden rule, no matter where you can (do check out my guide on what to wear in Egypt). Same applies to talk with strangers and getting into any situation where you are not in control. Try to avoid flirting at all cost (expect you REALLY want to) and generally stick to official channels. Which means, call your taxi through your hotel, get your guide through the hotel and all the other usual precautions you should take as a solo female traveler in Egypt or anywhere else.
There are a lot of reports of harassment, but that is (sadly) neither uncommon nor unheard of no matter where you go. There are lots of guided tours around the major tourist’s attractions and you can easily arrange for joining one of these groups or get a guide all by yourself.
Note: If you are uncomfortable with men leering at you or talking you up, and already define this as harassment, then Egypt is no place for you because it will happen and it will happen often. They will also touch you occasionally (but touching is a cultural thing and something you have to expect as a man as well). So, probably not the best country for your first solo trip and you will need quite a tough skin and loads of experience!
Your worst problem in Egypt is peddlers and shop owners. Ever since the decline in tourism, sales dropped as well – making some of them desperate. So, is it safe to visit the Pyramids in Egypt? Probably, but stick to one very important golden rule: Don’t ever talk to the locals! And never tell them where you are from. Just say “no thank / la shukran” in a friendly way and move on.
I’m dead serious. It might sound a bit crass, but it’s the only thing that will prevent you from getting scammed – especially around the pyramids (read my guide).
The most popular scam is the “present scam“. Vendors will usually start a conversation by asking your name and where you are from. From there, they will invite you to check out their offers and then they will make you a present. “Take it. Is present.”. Don’t. Walk away. If you told them their name, they will sometimes start writing your name in Hieroglyphs on the present and you are doomed. The present will be free, but incidentally, the vendor’s sister will be marrying tomorrow and she would be mortally offended if you don’t chip in some money for her dowry.
Especially in Cairo, locals will offer you to show you a shortcut or a safe way to cross the street. This is quite a tempting offer, but just another scam. In the best case, they will expect some baksheesh (tip), in the worst case you have to come to their gallery, shop or home where some scam will take place.
Handing your camera to a local, especially around the Pyramids, might not be a good idea either. They will appear to be helpful and then ask a big tip for taking the pictures, and there is that chance they’ll run away with it.
Money changing tricks are also abundant. Mostly, you are asked to change coins (Euros or Quarter Dollars) into bills. Stay away from it, even though they are asking for your help in the most insistent manner. And always change money at a local bank or withdraw it directly from the ATM. Nothing good will ever happen when changing money directly from a local for a “good rate”.
Driving with locals taxis can be a problem as well. New ones will have meters. If they don’t – prearrange a price beforehand, but always leave a small tip. Sometimes they will try to add a fee for extra persons or extra baggage, etc. Don’t fuss around over 5 pounds, but if it’s more, stay strong and walk away.
Last, but certainly not least, children joined into the scamming machinery in the past years. Some of them are truly poor wretches, but always be aware that giving them money, even if they tell you they don’t have anything to eat (which may even be true!), will never help them in the long run.
By supporting that kind of industry you will teach the locals that investing in local businesses, taking up a regular job that supports the economy is less lucrative than scamming foreigners or begging. The problem: The more tourists get scammed, the more children beg, the less effective it will be and the more tourists will come home telling bad stories – quite the vicious circle. If you want to help, go through the usual NGOs.
But please, don’t get the wrong impression. Egypt is by far not the only country where tourists are being scammed. Even in central Europe, it will happen in one way or the other. With a little bit of research and by using your common sense, you will almost certainly be able to avoid them.
Health precautions for Egypt
When it comes to travel safety in Egypt, you should also take common health concerns into consideration. Egypt is a very warm country (read my climate report here) and not all restaurants stick to common western hygiene standards. Diarrhea is your worst enemy and should not be taken lightly at all – you would not be the first European / American to end your vacation hospitalized (which is why having travel insurance is quite important in Egypt – normally I don’t advertise them!)
Always stick to “peel it, cook it, or leave it“. Don’t drink fresh juices, ice cream or unbottled water. Never use ice cubes (I’m talking to you Americans!), don’t try those salads and buffets are, generally speaking, not the best idea either.
You also should never consider bathing in the river Nile, even if you take a cruise (read about my experience here). Schistosomiasis, also known as Bilharzia, is transmitted by parasites found in the river. Especially in the lower regions of the Nile, there is a lot of garbage floating down to the estuary and the currents can be quite dangerous as well. Please, stick to the pool – it’s a lot safer and cleaner.
Apart from that, Malaria isn’t a problem, but Hepatitis A can be, and you are probably already vaccinated against Tetanus, Diptheria, and Poliomyelitis, so there are no major precautions you need to take. If you are traveling in rural areas (99% of tourists don’t), you might consider a rabies vaccination, otherwise, Egypt is safe.
I hope I was able to convince you, that Egypt is safe, but you need to come prepared. In a way, I only wrote this guide because so many of my friends kept on asking me the safety question. I personally never had a single doubt about Egypt, and I really want you to feel the same.
Sure, the culture is different, and sure, Egypt has a history, but that history is more than 4,000 years and it would be quite wrong to reduce it on a scant few happenings in the past decade. Also, I feel it’s quite important to stress that you shouldn’t expect a trip to a foreign country to be as easy as a visit to your aunt’s house. You have to prepare and there will be moments you will feel uncomfortable, but the reward will be the unparalleled sights and highlights.
So, don’t let unfounded predjudices spoil the trip of a lifetime! :)
As you are traveling to Egypt, I’d really like to point you towards my free Egypt itinerary. Just enter your e-mail address and download it from the confirmation e-mail you get!
Egypt travel safety tips
- Ignore anyone who says he is your friend/knowns you – don’t even respond to them. What follows is a scam and you don’t need those on your Egypt trip
- Don’t take pictures of military installations or behave weirdly in front of military.
- Always keep your valuables in the hotel safe and be vigilant at all times, especially in urban areas and around tourist attractions.
- Don’t drink alcohol on the streets. It’s illegal. Don’t do drugs either. both gets you into prison.
- Stay away from any large crowds, especially from demonstrations. Egypt is safe to visit right now, but these places are not meant for tourists!
- Don’t go on cheap scuba diving tours. Any deep water diver should know how important well maintained equipment is on a dive. Don’t run the risk of spoiling your Egypt vacation.
- Always dress appropriately
- Order your taxis through your hotel (uber caaan be okay as well, though a lot of inexperienced drivers).
- Learn a bit of Arabic. Know how to say hello, read the numbers, etc
- Keep copies of your passports with you
- Stay away from religious gatherings and celebrations.
- Have small change to tip people – they expect it.
- Don’t hand any of your belongings to a stranger, especially not a camera.
- Don’t drive yourself or rent a car. Traffic is often quite chaotic, especially in the cities, while overland trips are downright dangerous (landmines, abductions, etc)
- Always take enough water with you. Egypt is hot
- Have a travel insurance – Egypt is one of these countries were you really need it.
- Only book tours from agencies with a good reputation – preferably through your hotel or places like GetYourGuide.
- Never drink the tap water. Or ice cubes.
- Air travel is mostly safer than traveling by train, as some of the trains and tracks are in quite a poor shape.