Egypt has been drawing in tourists for thousands of years. The beautiful landscape, collection of pyramids, and distinct culture make this one of the most well-recognized travel destinations in the world. Touring the ancient pyramids, cruising the Nile River, and staying on a resort by the Red Sea are highlights of a visit here. With such incredible sites, why wouldn’t you book your ticket to Egypt immediately? Well, after a series of unsettling political events, tourism took a major hit, with a record low number of visitors coming in 2015. However, things have really turned around over the last few years, as the country tries to clean up its act and make tourists feel safe. In fact, Egypt depends on tourism as it’s a massive part of their economy, so keeping tourists safe and happy is certainly in their best interest. If you’re considering visiting Egypt but you’re just not sure, here are a few things to consider.
Visitors in Egypt shouldn’t have too many concerns when it comes to health. The big cities have excellent medical care while rural areas don’t have as many good options. The typical health issues that travellers experience are either extreme sunburn (which can easily be avoided by using high-SPF sunscreen) and an upset stomach from eating different foods. Make sure to pack a small first aid kit so that you can treat yourself when something arises. It’s a good idea to bring sunscreen, aloe vera gel, anti-diarrhoea medication, and other over-the-counter medications for an upset stomach.
Egypt does not require any vaccinations to enter the country. While vaccines are not compulsory, you may still want to get them. The general vaccinations you may get in your country are typically sufficient. However, it is recommended that travellers vaccinate themselves for Hepatitis A and Typhoid, which can be contracted from food and water. You should be easily able to get these vaccines at travel clinics in your own country. They are good for a few years before you need to get them again. If you are travelling to Egypt from a country that has Yellow Fever, you’ll need to prove that you’ve been vaccinated for it before entering. Also, keep in mind that mosquitos in Egypt can spread disease. While you won’t have to worry about malaria, there are some other mosquito-related illnesses that can occur which don’t currently have vaccinations.
Food and Water
Try to avoid tap water when visiting Egypt. It’s said to be very chlorinated which could also upset your stomach since you’re not used to it. Sticking to bottled water is recommended as is avoiding drinks with ice when possible. The food in Egypt is safe to eat as well. You may hear warnings to stay away from fruits and vegetables, but it’s only a problem if they were not washed correctly. Most of the main restaurants, hotels, and chains will have food that is completely safe. Eating in smaller establishments with the locals isn’t off the itinerary though. If you see lots of locals eating in the same place chances are the food is completely fine. Keep in mind that travellers can get an upset stomach in any country they visit. It’s not that something is wrong with the food and water but simply that your body might not be used to it. Always pay attention to the cleanliness of where you’re eating and make sure to wash your hands and keep a first aid kit with stomach medications nearby.
Egypt has a high poverty level so petty theft is definitely something to be aware of. Make sure to keep track of your belongings, especially in crowded areas like markets, train stations, and crowded tourist attractions. It’s always advised to wear a money belt (a thin fanny pack that you wear under your clothes) to keep your money. There are plenty of things on the market, like scarves with secret pockets, and backpacks that keep your money hidden and safe. Don’t be flashy with your money, phone, or camera either. It’s best to keep them hidden away so you don’t become a target for thieves. Always leave your passport in the hotel safe and carry small bills with you while you’re travelling around. A good rule of thumb is to keep some of your money and one of your credit cards back in the hotel. Keeping your money and cards separate from each other will ensure that you have a backup plan if one of your bags or wallet gets stolen. While violent crimes in Cairo are rare, it’s always a good idea to stick with a group and to avoid walking alone at night.
You’ll especially want to educate yourself on the scams in Egypt. Many petty thefts target tourists and trick them out of their money in a whole variety of ways. If you are privy to the scams, you can avoid them easily.
Here are some scams to watch out for:
- Unofficial guides who come ask you for your tickets to the pyramids, take them and then start showing you around. They’ll eventually ask for money.
- You’ll be offered camel and horse-rides with the promise that you can get into the attractions faster for free. They eventually ask for money.
- Your driver will offer to bring you to a papyrus factory to see how it’s made. You’ll be offered tea and then they’ll write your name on the paper, acting like it’s free but then demanding you pay.
- Camel handlers will pester you to take a photo with their camel. Once they have your camera and snap a shot, they’ll demand money and won’t give you the camera back until you pay.
- A stranger will help you get through some kind of difficult situation. He’ll then take you to a shop where you will be pressured to buy things you don’t want for inflated prices.
- A stranger will ask you to help them write a postcard in English. They’ll bring you back to their shop and pressure you to buy things.
- Taxis will refuse to use a meter, use a rigged meter that charges you more than it should, or take an extremely long route to get more money out of you.
- Someone will tell you that wherever you’re going is closed and they’ll try to take you somewhere else, like a souvenir shop, where they’ll get a commission.
- Someone may ride by on a motorbike and snatch your bag. This can also happen if you leave your bag on a chair at a restaurant.
- You may be charged the ‘airport toll’ which is not real and that you shouldn’t have to pay.
- People on public beaches may come up to you and tell you that the beach is actually private and that you’ll need to pay a fee.
- A tout comes up and gives you a scarf for free, while also offering to show you how to put it on the Egyptian way. They’ll then demand money for this ‘service.’
- A local will approach you and invite you for tea or hang out. Then a fake policeman will stop you both, accuse of you doing something illegal, beat up the local, and then search your bags, stealing everything they can find.
- Touts will jump into your taxi when it’s stopped and try to convince you to go to their shop. Sometimes the taxi driver will take you to their shop even if you don’t want to go.
- If you’re on a boat tour, the operators may insist that you get a professional photo taken. They tell you that these photos need time to develop and that they’ll be sent to your home country, but they’ll never arrive.
- Scammers will pose as guards at famous tourist attractions and tell you that you can take photos even when you can’t. Once you take a photo, your camera will be confiscated and you’ll need to bribe them to get it back.
Most recently, this country experienced civil unrest starting in 2011 when labour strikes and violent protests broke out to overthrow the president. Once that was accomplished, the military took over the country followed by Mohammed Morsi, a Muslim Brotherhood member. In 2012 there were clashes between the military and the Muslim Brotherhood which caused an outbreak of violence in major cities. The army then stepped in, got rid of the president, and put in a temporary leader until Abdel Fattah el-Sisi was elected in 2014. As of now, Egypt is considered on the same level of safety as visiting Italy, France, England, and Spain. There have been terrorist attacks popping up in all of these countries over the years, but in reality, anything can happen anywhere. Just pay attention to travel warnings as you plan your trip as things can always change.
There are currently travel warnings put out by the U.K and U.S governments that say to avoid the Sinai Peninsula. Both also warn to stay away from the Western Desert if it’s not necessary. There are currently no travel warnings for Cairo or the Nile River Delta.
Safe for Kids
Egypt has been said to be a great place for families and safe for kids. You may experience the locals touching the kids (in a playful) way, which is just part of the culture. Don’t be afraid to ask them to stop if it’s making you or the kids uncomfortable. The locals will almost always be happy to see your kids, whether it’s the restaurant servers or the taxi drivers. Teenagers should keep in mind that in Egyptian culture, they keep the sexes mostly separated. Make sure your teen acts appropriately when interacting with the locals. Always make sure to keep the kids close as the tourist attractions can get extremely crowded.
Safe for Women
It’s rare for there to be violent crimes against women in Egypt. However, unwanted attention is another story. Keep in mind that Egypt is a Muslim country so it’s a good idea to dress conservatively. Otherwise, expect lots of stares, remarks, and possibly catcalls. Make an effort to cover your legs above the knee, shoulders, and breasts. It can get very hot in this country so that may not be completely feasible but making an effort is considered polite. Try to sit next to women when on public transportation, avoid walking alone at night, and opt for a well-known reputable hotel.
Tips to Stay Safe
Staying safe in Egypt is easy if you follow some of these safety tips.
- Carry a scarf (especially women) so that you can easily cover up your shoulders, chest, or legs if you’re entering a mosque or other religious sites.
- Women should not sit in the front seat with the taxi driver.
- Women should use the female-only carts when on the metro.
- Get travel insurance before your trip as medical services can be expensive if you do get sick while visiting.
- Stay far away from any areas that have a travel warning in effect.
- Stick with a group of people or a travel buddy, especially at night.
- Don’t flash around your money or expensive belongings.
- Be respectful to the locals.
- Don’t fall for the scams as they could lead to arguments.
- Keep your passport and credit cards locked in a safe in your room.
- Choose reputable hotel rooms so that you have a safe place to stay and resources that can help you if you need it.
- Avoid drinking tap water and eating anywhere that doesn’t appear to be sanitary.
- Keep your kids close in tourist hot spots.
- Watch your bags and pockets when in crowded tourist destinations.
Visiting Egypt is a bucket list experience. Between the Nile River, desert experiences, and the pyramids, there is a lot to see and do. While this country hasn’t always been the most stable, it has certainly redeemed itself over the years. And, while there are travel warnings for some areas of Egypt, the main tourist sites are deemed safe and ready for visitors.