From the iconic Pyramids of Giza to the winding Nile River, it’s not hard to understand why Egypt has managed to dominate the tourism industry since before the turn of the century. Unfortunately, tourism has declined significantly in recent years, mainly due to a combination of terrorist attacks and political instability. Recently, there has been a regime change and that, for the most part, has been accepted which means there is a lower risk of civil unrest. Terrorist attacks still remain an unpredictable factor in the region.
But while plenty of our favourite travel destinations will and have fallen prey to unfortunate moments of violence, we as travellers must determine our own threshold for risks before closing our passports to one of the most spectacular countries in the entire world. Let’s put what we’ve seen on the 24-hour news cycles aside for a moment and instead, let us try to answer the question: Is it safe to travel solo in Egypt?
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In short, yes, despite what you may have heard Egypt is a safe place for tourists to keep on their bucket lists. At the time of publication, tour operators have chosen not to cancel any of their tours that travel to or through Egypt. Here are some quick tips for staying safe in Egypt:
1. Consider taking a tour
If I’m travelling on my own to a potentially contentious area where situations can deteriorate without warning I opt to travel on tour. The reason being that I can have my independence and also my peace of mind knowing that there’s an entire company in charge of managing where I go and what I see, with the safety of myself and my fellow travellers considered their top priority.
Should anything unexpected happen, my family has a way to easily reach me and the guides are on hand to provide any emergency responses professionally and with a calm perspective, something I likely wouldn’t be capable of if I was travelling on my own. Many of the main historical sights are without panels so you’ll also benefit from having a guide on hand to help you appreciate the significance of the landmarks you’re visiting.
Egypt is such an exquiste place. From exploring tombs in Luxor to sailing the Nile in Aswan and soaking up the rush of Cairo. One of the highlights of my trip to Egypt was biking through the Eastern Desert with a backdrop of the Red Sea Mountains. We were one of the very first group of travelers to ever traverse long stretches of the Eastern Desert solely by bike. One morning, I had the opportunity to share breakfast with local Bedouin nomads. Our simple meal included gaburi bread, gibna gemeli (camel cheese) and gabana coffee all prepared with nothing more than an open fire, water, and twigs. That moment of breaking bread against the silence of a vast desert with people willing to share the little they had with strangers is one of the reasons why I love slow travel. Slowing down gets you closer and connects you in a way that deepens empathy.
Always travel with respect of local laws and traditions. While Egypt is very tourist-friendly, it is also a deeply religious country so make sure you’re appropriately dressed and you learn the nuances of its customs so you can travel with respect and empathy through the country. – Lola, Lola Akinmade
2. Dress appropriately
As Egypt is a Muslim country you should pack accordingly, meaning modest clothing. Although women aren’t required by law to follow a dress code, it’s still advisable that to pack a lightweight scarf in case you want to visit a mosque. It can get extremely hot during the summer months (May to October) so be sure to pack lightweight, breathable clothing made of fabrics like cotton or linen.
It is so important that you bring with you an open mind and sense of humor. It can be challenging at times to keep your cool, both literally and figuratively, when the heat is so powerful and a local appears to take advantage. Please remember these people are just trying to earn a living and mean you no harm. Simply say “La Shukran” (meaning “no thank you”) and walk on. The more relaxed you are, the better a time you are likely to have. This is Egypt and you can’t change it, but it may well change you.
Snorkeling the Red Sea while visiting Hurghada at the very end of my trip was one of the best moments of my trip. The air was so much cooler out on the water and the breeze felt revitalizing blowing through my hair and over my skin. My cheeks felt tight from the saltwater and my lips were chapped, but I don’t think I’ve ever felt that refreshed. – Allison, The Vintage Postcard
3. Beware of scam artists
The phrase “if it’s too good to be true it probably is” comes to mind. If a stranger approaches you outside the popular tourist sites or along the Nile and offers some insights into the location, or offers to snap a quick photo of you, be wary as everything comes with a price tag in Egypt. You might think that the kind stranger just wants to help you take a nice photo on top of that camel for your parents back home, but once you try to walk away you’ll be asked to pony up some cash for the trouble. Always ask in advance if there’s an expectation of payment or simply and politely decline the opportunity for a conversation.
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4. Buy travel insurance
Everyone always thinks “it won’t happen to me!” but that’s how you end up in a foreign hospital with an upset stomach and no way to pay for the IV that’s stuck in your arm. While we’ve preached about the importance (and in some cases necessity) of having travel insurance, it’s more or less essential when you’re travelling to a place like Egypt.
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Anything can happen when you travel, especially when you’re on your own. Egypt’s major cities have many unmaintained roads and walkways, meaning that a broken ankle is only a misstep away. Their food health standards are also held to a different standard than what you and your stomach may be used to (Delhi belly is not solely reserved to India). Not only will your policy cover you if your bags are lost or your flight is cancelled but a comprehensive insurance plan will protect you against most serious emergencies.
Take a kindred soul to Al-Azhar Park for glorious sunset views over Cairo. If you’re with a special someone, remember that public displays of affection is a big no-no in this country (you can say we found out the hard way).
By far, the best moment was horseback riding alone in the desert as the sun rose over the pyramids while the adhan plays behind me over the city of Cairo.
My horse raced off and so did my heart, and I held on for dear life. The poor bastard I was sitting on was galloping away as if we were trying to outrun a jaguar: we were outrunning fate. From the sound of crackling pavement to that of rustling sand, I slowly caught on that I was in the middle of the Sahara desert: Just my horse and I in the blind.
The darkness also overwhelmed me; I couldn’t see anything but the color black under a cloudy night sky. I’m not sure if I could brag that “I was riding that horse with my eyes closed!” but this was close enough. And I knew in my bones that if I had let go for a second, I’d fall and break something: my camera, my limbs, my head, my dignity. So I held tighter. I channeled prior experience on riding mechanical bulls back home. It seemed as every gallop would be the last thing I would ever hear. I remember there was a little voice in my head telling me that I *really* wasn’t in New York anymore (a little slow, a little late).
Then with a high-pitched whistle in front of me I saw a fire burn in the distance. Shadows in the light of the fire pointed. I turned my head over my shoulder and saw. As if the muezzins were telling me to look alive, the morning adhan was beginning to resonate among the distant city lights of Cairo. The sun was beginning to rise. And there were the pyramids. – Calvin, The Monsoon Diaries
5. Avoid the Sinai Peninsula, the Western Desert and the Libyan border area
While classic sites like Cairo, Giza, and Luxor are still in the clear, you should avoid all travel to within 5 kilometres of the border with Libya, the Siwa Oasis, the Western Desert, including the oases of Bhariya, Bawati, Dakhla and Farafra, and the White and Black deserts, due to terrorist activities, the presence of armed groups, ongoing military operations and smugglers.
While most Western governments are calling on travellers to avoid all travel within the Sinai Peninsula, Sharm el-Sheikh (a popular resort city with stunning beaches and reefs) and everywhere within its perimeter is considered the only exception to these travel warnings. That being said, you should avoid entering the area of Sharm el-Sheikh any other way, but by air to avoid any trouble.
6. If you’re a woman bring your own sanitary products, sunglasses and wear a fake wedding ring
It’s a reality that women need to take extra precautions when travelling abroad, especially to countries with significantly different gender dynamics. That being said, Egypt might be victim to an exaggerated reputation for treating female tourists poorly. While women should expect to receive a lot of attention, it won’t be as terrible as rumours would lead you to believe. Overwhelming? Possibly. Trip-ruining? Most likely no.
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Female travellers should expect attempts at flirtation, with men calling you everything from sukar (sugar) to butta (duck) to worse (though uncommon). Apply the same rules you would at home: avoid unnecessary eye contact, walking alone at night and talking to strangers. You don’t need to fear public transit though because there’s no pattern of location for street harassment.
Remember to bring your own sanitary products because they can be expensive or impossible to find, wear sunglasses to help you avoid making eye contact and consider wearing a fake wedding ring to discourage men from talking to you.
If you are a solo female traveler, Egypt can be a challenge because I faced harassment on the street, “taxi drivers” who had other intentions, even people working in the temples who put me in uncomfortable situations. I would encourage you to try to use travel social media sites to find people to travel with so you can enjoy the wonders of Egypt without having to worry as much about safety.
During my visit, I met a local Bedouin through the Couchsurfing website, so with other travelers, we slept out under the stars near a 8500 year old ancestral mound and woke up at 3 AM to meditate. Since there was an army base nearby, the whole night we were monitored by snipers on a hill protecting the ruins. It was an incredible experience. – Katie, Gypsy Soul Itchy Feet