Trip Date – July 2015
| 🇪🇬| Cairo is the elegantly chaotic capital city of Egypt and one of the world’s most compelling destinations. Situated at the crossroads of Africa and the Middle East, Cairo is the only city that still has an existing ancient wonder of the world – the Giza Pyramids. Sometimes referred to as the “cradle of mankind,” modern-day Cairo (and wider Egypt) is home to some of the most exciting and deeply-rooted culture found anywhere on Earth. Whether you’re after a first-hand history lesson, a cruise on the world’s longest river or anything in between, I can’t recommend this city enough.
Given Cairo’s bustling environment and all it has to offer, I would suggest exploring Cairo alongside a guide. In most places around the world, I prefer the freedom of traveling without a guide, however, in my experience and opinion, the combination of the sensory overload nature of the city and the number of things to do, see and learn, I think connecting with someone familiar with the area is a good play.
Finding a guide is sometimes a dauting task, especially in a saturated market like Cairo. Fortunately, I’m going to make it easy for you. Contact Walid Fathy from Egypt Tailor Made. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org and phone number is +20 114 4418853. Feel free to tell him Sam sent you. He was recommended to me by a friend and arranged an unforgettable experience. Since my visit, I have referred him to other travelers and they too have received top notch treatment. Of course, I’m not saying that other tour operators in Cairo are bad, but I’m confident you would be in good hands with Walid and his team.
Although I could only spend two days in Cairo due to it being wedged between Jordan and an Eastern European road trip, I was committed to maximizing the short visit. USA passport holders can obtain a 30-day, single-entry tourist visa upon arrival at Cairo International airport. The cost is US$25 paid in USD cash. Be sure to bring new edition notes. Often times, certain countries (Egypt is known to be one) will not accept pre-2006 USD banknotes. No other documentation is necessary.
From the airport, I was met by my guide and went directly to the Giza Plateau, the site of the Great Pyramids located roughly 13 kilometers (8 miles) southwest of the center of Cairo. Built as massive tombs for Fourth Dynasty Egyptian Pharaohs, these iconic structures have dazzled humanity for more than 4,000 years. The latest research and discoveries indicate that the pyramids were not built by slaves but instead by a coordinated workforce of Egyptian farmers. Today, nearly 15 million people pay the nominal EGP80 (< US$5) entrance fee to visit the site each year. Guests can enjoy climbing on the outside (to a certain height), walking inside and up the steps to the center of the Pyramid of Cheops (for an additional fee of EGP200, the equivalent of roughly US$12) and going for a nearby camel ride. The Great Sphinx is also located on the necropolis. I visited Cairo in July and had the privilege of experiencing the Egyptian summer sun firing on all cylinders, a force that catapulted the Giza desert temperature to 50°C (122 °F). If possible, I suggest visiting Egypt at a different time of year. Despite the heat, it’s challenging to put into words how spectacular of an experience this was, one that unquestionably rests among my best in Africa and, quite frankly, the world.
Photos of Giza often give the impression that the Pyramids are isolated in the middle of the desert. However, this is not the case. They are just on the outskirts of Cairo. In fact, it is possible to sit at a nearby Pizza Hut and enjoy a view of the Pyramids. The second picture below is not mine.
Heading back into the city, the next stop was Islamic Cairo, sometimes referred to as Historic or Medieval Cairo, an area that is much different from the modern downtown. Despite the name and being the site of many mosques, this area is no more religiously significant than other districts of the city, it is just more traditional. We stopped and had shawarma (probably my favorite Middle Eastern food) and then walked through the Khan el-Khalili bazaar. I also had the chance to go inside the al-Hakim Mosque.
Another highlight of my visit was taking a felucca ride on the Nile River. A felucca is a traditional wooden sailboat used throughout the Mediterranean. They do not have motors making for a smooth, quiet and relaxing ride. They navigate by wind power by zig-zagging the width of the river. A one-hour ride costs roughly US$20. It’s a memorable way to experience the Nile and I recommended making time for it.
As I often do when traveling, I tracked down a Catholic church, Cordi Jesu, and enjoyed attending Mass. During my time in Cairo I stayed at the Ramses Hilton, which is centrally-located and has great views of the surrounding area. I especially appreciated the view at night from the balcony.
My experience in Cairo was short but sweet and I would welcome an opportunity to return. I would also love the chance to see more of Egypt, particularly Luxor and Alexandria. Sharm el Sheikh is a popular Middle East holiday destination that I’m sure is worth visiting too. Hopefully soon!
If traveling to Egypt is potentially on your radar and you think Walid or myself may be able to help with your plans, don’t hesitate to get in touch. In any case, I’d be shocked if you don’t have a fantastic trip!
What do you think about Cairo? Have you been? Would you visit?