A globetrotter’s resume wouldn’t be completed without a pilgrimage to the land of pyramids and whispering sand dunes – Egypt. We had only two days to get to know Egypt so we did alot of detailed planning on where to go and eat the moment we land at the airport, so as not to waste any time.
Our research online mentioned several articles about the widespread of conmen in Egypt starting from the airport itself, hence we were on our defensive mode. We were expecting our first obstacle at the immigration inside Cairo airport, namely an ‘usher’ forcing us to pay inflated visa fees and a money changer with inferior rates. Research told us to go against the crowd and avoid any guides as it was rather easy to navigate without the distractions. To our surprise, there was no ‘usher’ and we got our Egyptian Pounds at a decent rate and got our visa for USD25 which was the official fee.
Pointers to take note:
1) Avoid any ‘guides’ even if they claim they are an official employee of Cairo Airport
2) Visa costs USD25 for visits up to 30days
3) Best currency to bring to Egypt is USD and you will get better rates in Egypt
compared to your home country. Also the airport gives reasonable rates so it is
justifiable to change all your money at the airport given the convenience
4) Recommended to get your SIM card at the airport. We opted for telco ‘Orange’.
Egypt is not one of the countries recommended to travel by public transport and taxi drivers are known to be terrific conmen. Not wanting to take unnecessary risks, we arranged for an airport transfer beforehand and got a bodybuilder as a driver. We were expecting him to start pushing tours and other kinds of services to part us with our cash but to our surprise, he was so happy talking about Egypt and his married life to an Italian woman that it became one of the most pleasurable conversations we had with a taxi driver throughout our globetrotting experience.
Throughout the journey, I noticed run-down infrastructures, bad roads with massive jams and soldiers guarding streets with barricades. Honestly, it looked like a country recovering from war rather than an ideal dream romantic destination. Even the streets at our hotel looked dodgy. But I learnt not to judge a person and especially a country just by their outlook.
We stayed at Marvel Stone Hotel where our room has unrestricted view of the Great Pyramids. No matter how many times you’ve seen the pyramids on TV, pictures or magazines etc, its grandeur was just too overwhelming to be described with words. The Great Pyramids of Giza is far from overrated!
What made me love the hotel though, was the fact that the windows gave the best view if you look straight, but if you glance downwards you can see ingenuity of how the Egyptians can rear ducks and goats on their rooftops. This was an attraction for us in its own right.
After settling our baggage and having a much needed nap, we proceeded to The Museum Of Egyptian Antiquities (tickets at LE 6O) via Careem (middle east version of Uber). The exterior looks beautiful but the inside was a chaotic mess of people and artifacts. It was worth the long walkabout for USD 3 (2018 exchange rate) but if you’re short for time, there’s nothing to fret if you give it a miss. The additional LE 100 charged to visit the Mummies Room (display of wellpreserved mummies) was worth the experience though.
After we’re done with the museum, we went for a walkabout around the area. We had the most delicious Kushari (Egypt’s version for lasagna) for USD l at a random local eatery. During our random strolls along the busy streets of downtown Cairo, we were indeed approached by a number of ‘concerned gentlemen’ volunteering to guide us to our destination for free. We had the common sense to say no and told them we were waiting for our Careem. We ended Day 1 on our hotel rooftop vaping off shisha while watching the Sound & Light Show from the best vantage point. Our hotel rooftop.
Day 2 started with an arranged tour via EMO Tours (based on positive reviews from Tripadvisor). Our itinerary includes:
1) Pyramids of Giza
Though our hotel was just a 5 minutes walk away, you need your own transport to explore the vast area. Plus it’s nice to have a guide to explain the significance of each individual pyramid.
PRO TIP: You can enter the interior of Queens of Cheops pyramids for free. You’ll need to pay additional fee for the other 2 pyramids but they all look the same inside.
2) Coptic Cairo at Old Cairo
They’ll bring you to a church where Virgin Mary with infant Jesus used to hide in the basement.
3) Khan Khalili Bazaar
Oldest open bazaar in the Middle East. If you’ve been to the Grand Bazaar in Turkey, this pales in comparison but the heritage and story behind this bazaar is too rich to give it a miss.
4) Cairo Citadel of Salah El Din
Very underrated. One of our favourite sites.
5) Papyrus Souvenir Shop
We were on the defensive whenever a tour guide brings us to a souvenir shop but the artwork of the Egyptians are second to none and papyrus is not easily available in
other parts of the world for the price they’re selling. That being said, we still bargained hard and got a relatively good deal.
6) Perfume Souvenir Shop
The most cliche souvenir shop of all and we were even more in the defensive. But we fall charm to the lotus oil which produced a different smell when applied on different people. Also, it is not premixed with alcohol or other solvents like most commercial perfumes hence you’re getting a 100ml bottle which could last you for 10 years costing as much as a 50ml perfume at Duty Free Shops. The seller open with a cheap price but we knew how to bargain hard.
We ended Day 2 of our Cairo tour with a heavy meal of lamb chops for only USD 5 per pax and were quite surprised that what we read on the internet about the widespread of conmen in Egypt was overblown out of proportion. As we prepared ourselves to get back to the airport on Day 3 to Jordan, we analyzed on how Egyptians had unfair reputations attached to them. Truth be told, as long as you practice common sense (if they are persistently helpful, avoid them) and treat everyone with respect and a smile, Egyptians are extremely hospitable and helpful people.
Even when bargaining, we could actually go for a much lower price but we knew when to stop because we knew they rely heavily on tourism which was severely hit from 2016 onwards. The shop sellers knew this as well and as a token of appreciation, they always gave us something small or little extra after the deal is done. This was a unique gesture which gave us lasting positive impressions on Egypt’s charm. We look forward to coming to Egypt again, possibly Luxor in the near future.