Visitor's Guide To Cairo - What You Should Know Before You Go
Feb 1, 2010
Pros: Great historic attractions.
Cons: Everything costs money...nickles and dimes you to death.
The Bottom Line: I would highly recommend a trip to Cairo, Egypt, with all of the rich history and cultural immersion that was phenomenal to experience first-hand.
Before traveling to Egypt, I checked the State Department website to ascertain any travel advisories and to find out any other pertinent information I might to need, such as Visa regulations. There were no advisories. For an entry Visa (coming from the United States) you are required to obtain a fifteen dollar Visa stamp at the airport, which is available from a bank booth inside the airport. You obtain these stamps before proceeding into the line to clear Immigration and Customs. If you have traveled to Israel or are entering from Israel, there are further guidelines that need to be followed.
I also checked the CDC website to see which shots I needed to get. It was recommended that I receive an H1N1 vaccination, the updated tetanus (which includes pertussis), Hepatitis A and B and Rabies (if you plan to be in remote areas). I skipped the Rabies but received the other shots. If you are visiting from a company where yellow fever is currently a problem, you may be required to show proof of a yellow fever vaccination. They warn that anyone showing signs of fever may be quarantined upon arrival at the airport, but it didn't seem to me that they were checking for symptoms all that closely. In addition to the shots, I obtained a Cipro prescription and brought along Immodium AD in case problems arose from the local food and/or sanitation conditions. Although I did not require either preventive medicine, it was reassuring to have it.
When I got out into the airport, I was approached by several people trying to determine my language and hoping to assist me with a ride. I by-passed the vultures to the information desk, where they pursued. The information desk told me to arrange for a ride from one of the men who were trying to get my attention. I ended up negotiating fifteen dollars for a cab ride to my hotel, which was five minutes away (about two dollars on a metered cab, but five dollars would have been a fair price). From the airport to Cairo, fifteen dolllars would still be high, but fair. I would try to get them down to around ten dollars for any visitors heading into the city.
My hotel, the Radisson Blu Cairois actually located in Heliopolis which lies next to the airport. I would highly recommend this hotel, which is close to the airport and about twenty minutes from Cairo. There is also a Sheraton nearby. In downtown Cairo, there are a host of hotels. I went into the Hilton downtown and felt like it was definitely a hotel I would stay at. There are a couple of Sheratons that looked a little bit older and a Four Seasons that appeared to be luxurious. Those hotels are all close to the Nile and Metro stations and would be good alternatives to staying out in Heliopolis.
I had my concierge translate the attractions that I wanted to visit on my own and arranged for a formal tour through the concierge for the Pyramids, which I wanted the tourist treatment for. The concierge went out of his way to accomodate both requests, providing directions that never steered me wrong and a tour through Thomas Cook that was exceptional. In Egypt, you have to trust someone or you are going to get taken. My concierge and tour guide were the two best sources of information to keep me out of trouble...and I tipped them appropriately. Tipping makes the wheels turn in Egypt, so keep plenty of small bills on hand and a pocketful of LE coins (around 18 cents) for tipping in the restrooms which are all attended.
Before heading to Cairo, I purchased a guidebook to get an idea of which attractions I wanted to see. There are plenty of other attractions aside from the ones I found appealing, but here is the rundown on the places I chose to visit:
Egyptian Museum - The Egyptian Museum is located in downtown Cairo very close to the Nile. Admission is 100 LE which works out to about eighteen US Dollars. The price is well worth it to peruse the incredible collection inside the museum. The museum has a warehouse feel and can use a good re-organization with better displays...but that will be coming in the near future. The museum will be moving to a new home near Giza and is bound to be a much more interactive and organized attraction.
Coptic Museum - The Coptic Museum is located in Old Cairo and charges an admission of 50 LE or about nine US Dollars. The museum houses many of the most important examples of early Christian art as well as some rather unique art. The museum is well organized and easy to navigate. I was a little disappointed that the museum did not tie the exhibits to the belief system to help further my understanding of Coptic Christianity, but it was certainly filled with great examples of early Christian art.
The Citadel - The Citadel gives visitors a lot of bang for their buck. For 50 LE, or eighteen US Dollars, you get two mosques, two museums, a palace and some smaller attractions. I especially enjoyed the Police and Military Museums which were worth the admission price on their own. You can take photographs in the Museums but have to pay 1 LE (eighteen cents) to bring your camera into the Military Museum. On a clear day, The Citadel also provides an excellent view of Cairo.
Giza - Giza is the location where visitors will find the Great Pyramid, The Sphinx and plenty of people offering camel rides. There is a site admission of 60 LE and an additional 100 LE for anyone who wants to go inside the Great Pyramid. The admission for the Great Pyramid is limited to the first 250 visitors per day, so you need to get there early to ensure you can get the tickets. I would highly recommend doing this attraction with a tour guide to get the full background on what you are looking at. You will gain insight and appreciation and will be guided away from problems if you decide to take a camel ride!
Saqqarah - Saqqarah is a necropolis where the first Pyramid (Djoser's) is located. It is a step pyramid that was built in a rectangle, before the idea was perfected through further attempts. There are plenty of great hieroglyphics in the tomb of Teti and Ti. The burial site has housed many different dynasties and provides a great glimpse into Egyptian history across the eons. It is less traveled than Giza but gives you more bang for the buck. Admission is 50 LE.
Khan el-Khalili - Before returning home, you should pay a visit to the bazaar at Khan el-Khalili. Located about a mile from The Citadel, this bazaar has many inexpensive Egyptian gifts for you to bring back for friends and family. Everything from perfume, textiles, artwork to jewelry...all can be found for a reasonable price at the bazaar. Don't be afraid to dicker...it is expected.
Getting around Egypt can be tricky. Taxi cabs will take you for a ride (more than just to the destination) and get you for every dollar they can. Taking the white taxi cabs with black checkers (which have meters) are your best bet. There are plenty of other modes of transportation depending on where you are going and what you want to experience. They include carriage, Metro train and, of course, camel.
The food in Egypt is another treat. I enjoyed the local flavors and probably took unnecessary risks. I did not suffer any ill effects, but that doesn't mean you should not be armed with information that might save you gastric distress. Most guides will warm against drinking tap water or eating fresh fruit and vegetables. I ate a limited amount of lettuce, tomatoes and fruit (in the form of juice) and did not have problems. I did NOT drink the water. Egyptian food will stick to your ribs and is very inexpensive.
Visiting Egypt was on my bucket list. I had a great time and did the things I most wanted to do. There are plenty of other sights that I opted not to visit, and therefore cannot rate. The Sinai looks like it has great beaches, as does Alexandria. Luxor and Aswan also have rich history. If I ever make it back, I will have to broaden my horizons to these other areas. In the meantime, I would highly recommend a visit to Cairo, which was money well spent.
Best Suited For: Couples Best Time to Travel Here: Anytime