Is Egypt Safe For Travelers? One Solo Female Road Warrior Fills Us In

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Photo courtesy of emifaulk/flickr

While there’s no denying Egypt has much to offer travelers in terms of experiences and natural beauty — it is home to the Great Pyramid of Giza, after all — many have concerns about safety, especially women and solo travelers. While I myself haven’t visited Egypt (yet!), I asked my friend and fellow blogger Katie Foote of Gypsy Soul Itchy Feet to talk about her experiences traveling alone through this mysterious country.

1. What made you go to Egypt? What kind of traveler?

I wanted to go to Egypt for the reasons that most people want to go to Egypt. As a kid, I was fascinated by stories about mummies, pyramids and images from one of history’s most advanced ancient civilizations. As a traveler, I was curious about the political and social situation there since we see so many violent images from the Middle East on the news. I was in Turkey in the summer of 2014 and since the violence of the Egyptian Revolution had mostly settled down, I jumped on the opportunity to go and book flights.

I ended up going in June 2014, which was perfectly safe, from a political point of view, but tourism was noticeably diminished. I had the Valley of Kings, one of Egypt’s top attractions, all to myself.

I think Egypt is a bucket list destination for many who appreciate ancient history and architecture. The Red Sea region attracts a lot of divers and people who like water sports. To travel Egypt on your own, you would need to be pretty adventurous. I traveled there as a challenge, to see what it was like, since many people are too scared to go.

2. What’s one local etiquette rule travelers should keep in mind when visiting Egypt?

Egyptians treat guests well and take hospitality seriously. If you are invited to a local home, come hungry and don’t avoid eating or drinking in their homes. Many locals would be offended if you refuse.

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Katie at the High Dam at Aswan

3. What cities or regions in Egypt would you recommend visitors spend the most time in?

For travelers interested in the pyramids and ancient history, Luxor and Cairo are the most important stops. I really enjoyed Aswan as a cultural experience, since occupied by a different cultural group. It’s a great place to experience Nubian hospitality and gorgeous views of the Nile. I did not have time to visit Dahab but many people recommend it highly, especially for those interested in beaches, scuba diving and water sports.

4. What cities or regions in Egypt would you recommend avoiding?

I don’t know of any regions to avoid, but I’d recommend being careful wherever you go. Since tourism has dramatically decreased since the Egyptian Revolution, travelers stick out. Since many Egyptians were in tourism industry, when I visited, they seemed a bit desperate because their main income source has dwindled over the past few years.

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A miniature view of Cairo. Photo courtesy of Rutger/flickr

5. How can visitors experience local culture in Egypt?

For a relaxing and typical local night out, check out a local shisha bar (flavored tobacco) or koshary place (famous local dish, see below). Since most Egyptians are Muslim, many don’t drink alcohol but love to spend evenings relaxing and playing backgammon at these types of places. You can also check out a cabare, a local casino with a band and a belly dancer. For example, Sarazade in downtown Cairo.

If you happen to be in Egypt during Ramandan like I was, see if you can join locals for iftar, the fast breaking dinner. I was able to experience this elaborate meal several times, both in the homes of Couchsurfers and one that was offered to the public in a tent on the streets of Cairo.

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Koshary, a mix of rice, macaroni and lentils topped with tomato-vinegar sauce and possibly chic peas and fried onions. This dish originates from the mid 19th century. Photo courtesy of Deir el-Medina/flickr

6. For a traditional meal experience in Egypt, what would you recommend?

Fava beans and falafel (ful wa ta’meya) are an Egyptian staple and the most common fast food in the country. The Eygptian falafel is made out of crushed fava beans that is mixed and made into a paste, unlike falafel in Lebanon and other places in the Middle East that use hummus.

Kushari is another famous local dish, especially in Cairo. It’s a mix of lentils, spaghetti, pasta, hummus and onions, tossed together in a tomato and hot sauce with vinaigrette. It’s a little different depending on where you have it, but usually cheap and delicious.

Finally, I loved the local juices sold streetside, especially during Ramandan. I still dream of sobia,  coconut with milk, and karakadey, hibiscus juice, and haven’t had anything like it since.

7. How can travelers have an adventure in Egypt?

I didn’t have time to travel to Dahab, but this area by the Red Sea has an international reputation for scuba diving and water sports.

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Gabr el bint dive site in Dahab, Egypt. Photo courtesy of Malcolm Browne/flickr.

8. What are some things travelers should understand before leaving for Egypt?

First, I would make sure you don’t plan your trip to Egypt during Ramadan. It is a Muslim country so they don’t eat between sunrise or sunset during this time of fasting. In Cairo, it took me two hours to find a café open for coffee. Unless you spend your time in ex-pat areas, it could be very difficult to find food or drink during this time. Also during Ramadan, shops tend to close early so people can nap and save energy while fasting, so in general, it’s harder to find things to do.

Secondly, females should pack appropriate clothing. I traveled there during summer so it was hot, but I attracted so much attention with my fair skin and blond hair that it was important to cover up as much as possible. Wearing loose, long sleeve blouses and pants, sunglasses and a scarf to cover my hair helped.

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Katie taking a selfie at Deir el-Medina

9. Were there any instances during your trip to Egypt you felt unsafe? How did you cope?

There were actually many instances I felt unsafe during my trip to Egypt. Since tourism was significantly reduced, usually I was the only tourist visiting the temples, so a guard would need to unlock it for me. At one of the first temples I visited in Aswan, the guard unlocked the temple for me and began to show me around. I naively assumed this was because I was the only one there and he had nothing better to do. He took me to a “secret place” by the river, told me to shut my eyes and place my hands to feel the energy of a sacred rock. When I opened my eyes, his tongue was about to go in my mouth. I scrambled away but at the end, he still wanted me to pay for the “tour” he gave me.

I also had issues with taxi drivers trying to kiss me and constantly had to deal with catcalls on the streets. Luckily, I was able to say no to their advances and nothing terrible happened, but it could have easily been an extremely bad situation.

I would recommend that females do not travel alone in Egypt unless they stay in Dahab or Zamalek, the fancy ex-pat area of Cairo.

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Exploring Egypt on foot.

10. For solo travelers headed to Egypt, what advise would you give them?

As mentioned previously, I would recommend that females travel in pairs, groups or join tour groups. I also used Couchsurfing to connect with locals in Egypt and had countless amazing experiences. I stayed with a Bedouin man who brought me and two other Couchsurfers to camp outside an 8,500-year-old pyramid mound. We woke up at dawn to meditate and it was truly an extraordinary experience.

In Luxor, I stayed with an ex-pat from Uruguay who stayed in a simple, local village and I was able to sleep on his roof under the desert sky.

Connecting with locals really deepened by appreciation of the incredible individuals in this country, and reversed some of the misconceptions I had based on what I heard on the news.

11. What are misconceptions travelers have about Egypt?

Many travelers are worried about traveling to the Middle East because of political insecurity or danger because of terrorist attacks. There was police and guards around the city so I felt safe from these instances, although the potential for a random terrorist attack can happen anywhere, at any time.

Also, people can be wary of Islamic countries for various reasons, including fearing the people are “backwards” or dangerous, especially toward women. Obviously, I had a few bad experiences but the vast majority of people I met were extremely hospitable, helpful and wonderful.

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Connecting with locals via Couchsurfing in Egypt

12. What’s one local accommodation experience you’d recommend?

I stayed at an AirBnb right on the edge of the Nile on Elefantine Island, which can be accessed from the city of Aswan. Staying on the island was one of the most relaxing and spectacular experiences of my trip because it was so undeveloped and provided an authentic experience of the Nubian village lifestyle. There’s no cars or big buildings so you’re surrounded by simple houses and wake up to the sounds of sheep, the sight of people fishing on the Nile with simple stick poles and maybe some reggae. They claim Bob Marley had Nubian roots, so some of the houses are painted with Rastafarian colors and Bob Marley lyrics.

13. What are your recommendations for those wanting a local tour guide or operator while in Egypt?

I traveled through the country on my own with the help of Couchsurfing, so I can’t personally recommend any tour operators; however, I would recommend researching your company carefully especially if you hire a driver for the day. In Aswan, I just stopped by a gift store and the owner called up a random driver for me. It ended up being a young man who was trying to kiss me so I would not recommend that.

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About Katie Foote

Katie Foote is a doctoral student who travels the world any chance she can get. Physics trips to India, Taiwan, Brazil and Singapore funded her first international travels and since then, she’s been hooked and found ways to travel the world on a graduate student budget (cheap!). She seeks out off-the-beaten-path destinations and tries to authentically experience new places through a local lens. When she’s not doing physics or globe-trotting, she likes to swim, do yoga, experiment with multicultural cuisine and activities, where she currently resides in Raleigh, North Carolina. Check out Katie’s blog to follow her adventures around the world.

10 Comments

    1. @Daniel: Thank you! This was actually written by my friend and intrepid traveler, Katie Foote. I’m still yet to go to Egypt myself (last time I tried to go the trip got cancelled due to conflicts) but wanted to get her valuable knowledge out of all of you 🙂

  1. I was kidnapped on the west bank, luxor, by a gang that target women around 50+. I was imprisoned, beaten up, drugged, raped & lost £16,500 in ransom. When i ran to the police i was handed back. Police corruption endemic. While i was there they drugged & murdered an english paedophile/ homosexual client when he ran out of money. They had killed 6 tourists that i knew of by 2014. They operate arms, sex & looted antiquities. They also force women to marry by green certificate then rip them off. I would advise women to travel with a man they know & trust from home. You paint an idyll that does not exist. I was lucky to escape. I have had no help from the british foreign office or egyptian embassy since my return. I have had 4 men and a woman turned up at my gate to murder me and expect another attempt any day now. The wife of one of the gang (she organises child rapes on the dark web) comes to england every xmas and is never arrested. Go to Egypt again? NEVER!

    1. Wow! I am so sorry to hear your experience and pray that you are healed now. I am planning to go to Egypt this month by myself for only three days. I will stay at a nice hotel. Actually, I am on my way to Israel and felt I was to go there to pray for the country. I will be very careful because of what you have experienced. And, I truly pray you are better now and that you are safe. Thank you for sharing your experience.

  2. I find @Gomer’s experience quite alarming. I’m a female solo traveller and I just got back from a 3wks backpacking trip around EGYPT few days ago. I feel that totally safe in Egypt and except for the catcalls in Cairo which was basically cos I packed for summer and wore summer clothes in winter and some skinny guy who tried to kiss me in Alexandria there was really nothing to worry about.

  3. Hi there I’m from Egypt and I’m christian too , I had to say my religion because as a christian in Egypt I have to deal with many bad situations daily as a tourist has to , I agree with the most of you here except of few of what Gomer said , and I can assure you that most of that can be avoid if you have someone trusted to guide you in Egypt and Actually there is much more fun to have here , you can try Hurgada by the red sea and the countryside is perfect , the safari trips are also nice , if anyone want to ask about anything I’m here to answer

  4. Hi !! I’ve visited Egypt during May (of this year ) with my best friend , Alice . We both live in Luxembourg and love travelling !!!
    Egypt represented the dream land for us … ” the country of pharaons , pyramids , the magic and mystery of East ” . We had heard many news in TV though and some roumors for non safety in this beautiful area … so, we both decided to find a personal local guide to protect and also show us the most interesting monuments there …that’s why I contacted with a travel agency and they suggested us an egyptian guide named Hisham .
    Hisham was very prompt in replying to my questions through whatsapp and email and he became our “protective heavenly angel” in Egypt . He took us from the airport in Cairo and then we had a complete day tour from 8 am until 9 pm .He has finished French Univercity and was extremely polite and knowledgeable about each site we visited : Giza – Memphis – Saqqara – Nile cruise -Luxor – Bazaar and old Cairo and made the day fun. At the same time Hisham was flexible with the schedule.
    I think our entire trip might not be this much enjoyable , if we didn’t use his services.
    We hope to come back to Cairo and would definitely ask for Hisham !!!
    ( note : if anybody wants a reliable, trustful and well-educated guide for Egypt , I can give Hisham’s telephone number or email to contact with him for further details . My email is : cver41210@gmail.com ) .

  5. Nice post, your images are so attractive. Egypt is always a safe country for travelling. Most people want to go to Egypt. Yes the pyramids and ancient history, Luxor and Cairo are the most important and interesting stops for travellers. I liked cursing in Nile River. Coming December our family will go to Egypt for travelling. I already booked tickets for travelling there.

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