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 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.
But let’s dive right into it?
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 that 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 2018? 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 and 3 in 2018 so far. Sounds like a lot, but in a global context, it isn’t. The most important part: None 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 the Sinai peninsula).
Now, I don’t mean to downplay these tragic events, but they really shouldn’t hinder you to visit Egypt. 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 (2018) probably not a smart idea (except Sharm El-Sheikh), and going too deep into the desert, especially without an escort, might not be smart either. Egypt, while slowly being on the way to enduring peace and prosperity, is still a region with lots of internal conflicts and quite some poverty. So, use your common sense!
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 at night you might be the only fair-skinned traveler in a radius of one mile. 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 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).
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 perfectly 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 talking 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 some 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.
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 the 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 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 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 a 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, 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.
So, this is my little guide about Egypt travel safety. 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. Don’t let unfounded predjudices spoil the trip of a lifetime! :)