Five Things I Wish I Knew Before Visiting Egypt

Hi Wanderers,

I’ve been thinking long and hard about how to write this post. After I returned from Egypt I was feeling sad and a little angry. I thought that I was going to get on here and write a ranty post about my experience, fueled by my emotions…. guys, I’m a sensitive person. What I’ve realized now is that this wouldn’t be helpful for anyone. What I want to do is share the things that caught me off guard and I wasn’t prepared for.

Entering Egypt through the Taba Border Crossing

What I wish for myself is that I had done more indepth research as to what to expect when I arrived. Maybe that would have helped, maybe it wouldn’t have… who knows? I’m an open minded person who typically sees the best in things and I had zero expectations going there. I’ve been to countries that are littered with trash, that have pushy people and are a little rough around the edges, and these experiences didn’t impact my enjoyment of those countries, and they certainly didn’t prepare me for this.

Disclaimer: These experiences are based off a full day tour of Cairo, which included a round trip drive that took approximately 22 hours. As with anything, there can be good and bad. I’m sure there are many wonderful people in Egypt and other cities that I would have enjoyed more.

One pit stop during the 11 hour drive

Here is what I wish I knew before travelling to Egypt:

1) An organized tour doesn’t mean you won’t be ripped off

My hubby and I paid $470 USD to take a tour to visit Cairo for one day. The tour claims that the following is included: transportation to and from the Taba Border Crossing with full assistance crossing the border, tour of the Egyptian Museum, visit the Papyrus Institute, authentic Egyptian lunch, world-famous Pyramids of Giza, the Great Sphinx, and a visit to the Khan el-Khalili market all led by an Egyptian guide.

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Entrance to the Egyptian Museum

After reading the above, would you not assume that everything is paid for and all you need is spending money for miscellaneous items? We certainly did. We converted $75 USD to Egyptian Pounds thinking that we might buy a few snacks, a cup of coffee, give a few tips and purchase a small souvenir. What our tour company failed to tell us was that we would be forced to cough up money at every single stop…

Want to take pictures in the museum? Pay money. Want a beverage with your lunch (non-alcoholic)? Pay money. Want to actually go and see the Pyramids? Pay money. We didn’t even go to the Khan el-Khalili market, instead we went to a glass museum and guess what? PAY MONEY!! The only place we visited where we didn’t spend any additional money was the Papyrus Institute, but let me tell you about how hard they tried.

Do you like to be followed around while you’re forced to browse items you aren’t interested in? Well, than the Papyrus institute is for you. When you tell them “No, thank you” they will position the “promotions” in every way possible hoping that one will pique you’re interest.

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Ancient papyrus showcased in the Egyptian Museum

The guide, who does the same tour multiple times a week, does not prepare you for any of the above. I have been on many similar tours where the guide will give you a heads up with a “They will try to sell you something, it is okay to decline.” The guide knew everyone at every stop, so it was certainly not a surprise to him. I should add, that at the pyramids we were also encouraged to purchase a 3 hour tour inside the “park” (as I like to call it) vs. a 1 hour tour, while our guide and the owners of the pyramid tour knew very well that the “park” would be closing in one hour. It really takes away from the day when you are so obviously scammed. Thankfully, the lovely couple we were touring with stood up for us and demanded that we were refunded the difference in price.

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Pyramids of Giza

The last aspect of being ripped off is in regards to tipping. I’m all for tipping when it has been earned – if I’ve been given good service, a special experience, or you are a kind person clearly working your ass off to survive, I’ve got you. We were under the impression that the tour came with one guide who would be with us for the day… not the case. We had 2 guides for the full day tour, 3 or 4 other guides just at the pyramids alone, plus 2 different drivers. You will get passed around to many different people in the hopes that you will provide a tip to everyone. They will all be asking for a tip even if they haven’t earned it, and if they aren’t satisfied with the amount given, they will publicly call you out and ask for more (this happened to us on more than one occasion).

My advice :

  • If you are arranging a tour, make sure you clarify what is included and if any other costs will come up throughout the day
  • Be firm and stand up for yourself or else you will be taken advantage of
  • If someone offers you something, it is not for free
  • Go with your gut – if something doesn’t feel right, don’t do it

For those of you wondering, this is the tour that we took – Cairo Tour From Eilat or Tel Aviv – 1 Day

2) No matter how conservative you dress, the men will stare

If you enjoy constant attention than this won’t bother you as much as it did me. I attracted the attention of any man that passed by and I interacted with. I had heard about this prior to my visit but it was from women who chose to dress against what is deemed appropriate. However, I was dressed pretty conservatively and that didn’t seem to make a difference. I wore loose fitting capri pants, a loose fitting t-shirt with a modest neckline and a scarf around my neck (which I used to occasionally cover my hair, this was not required but a personal preference).

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Sitting in front of the Egyptian Museum

What I will say is that most of the men were trying to be charming, encouraging me to smile, telling me how beautiful I am. I do realize that the men there are probably not use to seeing Western women with fair skin, lighter hair and blue eyes. What made me uncomfortable was the consistency of it, feeling like I was always being watched.

My advice:

  • Ladies, cover as much of your body as possible. Wear long, loose fitting clothes
  • Understand cultural differences and know that you may find yourself in unwanted conversations comparing those cultural differences
  • Try your best to ignore it, eyes ain’t gunna hurt anyone

3) The pyramids are locked within cement walls

Maybe this is a known fact, but I honestly had no idea. In my mind, they were in an open area of the desert where you could walk to at your own leisure. I was disappointed to find that I had to pay for a tour to go and see them, one where it was mandatory to ride horse back or on a camel. If you read #1 in this post above, you will already know that they have opening and closing hours. We visited during Ramadan, which meant an extra early closure. Obviously, the pyramids are a major tourist attraction, but I really had no idea that it would be like that, especially when the tour we took claimed to include access to them in the first place.

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View of the Sphinx, inside the pyramid “park”

My advice:

  • Read up on all the places you want to see before you visit. If you’re required to take a tour, do your research to find a reputable one
  • Make sure you know hours of operation and cost of entrance. Find out if there are any holidays that will impact the hours

4) Be prepared to witness the suffering of animals

I know that nobody wants to see this, but unfortunately, you won’t be able to escape it. You will see many stray cats and dogs in the streets suffering from health conditions/injuries and without food and water. This is a common thing in many countries and is very unfortunate to see.

What impacted me the most was the mistreatment of the horses and camels at the pyramids. These animals are overworked in the extreme heat without food and water, their bodies are frail, and they do not seem to be shown any compassion. What I wish I could erase from my mind the most – the sight of these poor animals being beaten with random objects, the immense sadness in their eyes, and their cries of pain. My heart truly broke for these poor animals.

5) It’s a free-for-all on the roads

Fasten your seat belt and hold on tight because it’s going to be a bumpy ride. I’m not joking when I say that road rules don’t apply. There is no concept of lanes, speed, signaling your intentions, passing at a safe distance, etc. The speed we drove during our 22 hour round trip drive was terrifying, and that is an understatement!!! I was literally on the lookout and holding on for dear life the entire time when I was actually supposed to be sleeping. At times, cars formed five lanes of traffic in a three lane road… efficient. Not to mention that lane changing is like playing frogger, weaving in and out of traffic, hoping that you don’t get hit. It was certainly an experience to say the least.

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Highway into Cairo

My advice:

  • Hire an experienced driver to take you around. You might sprout a few grays driving yourself
  • Actually wear your seat belt if there is one available to you

If you’re thinking about travelling to Egypt, I hope these points give you a better idea of what to expect when you get there. My hubby and I had always dreamed of visiting Egypt, Cairo specifically, and I think we would have always wondered what it was like if we didn’t go. Overall, I am thankful for this experience. As eye opening as it was, I think it has helped me grow as a person and it has really got me thinking about the possibility of helping to make a change one day in the future.

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My hubby and I at the pyramids

If we ever go back, we would probably go to Sharm El Sheikh. We’ve heard that it has some beautiful beaches and the absolute best scuba diving. Have you ever been to Egypt? I’d love to hear what your experiences were like. Let me know in the comments below!

Happy Travels,

Mel

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