Cairo: First Impressions and A First-Timer’s Guide

After 14 hours of travelling, being awake for more than 27 hours and seeing the daylight for almost the entire journey, I finally made it to Cairo. For me coming to Cairo was a  lifelong dream come true. I mean, who hasn't dreamt of visiting the Pyramids, Valley of the Kings and the Sphinx? Like most people who hold movies like The Mummy and Stargate accountable, I also believe that the stories of the history's most talked about civilization had a lot to do with my obsession for the country.

Cairo for me was completely different from what I had expected. Residing in the downtown area and having Tahrir square close by, in particular, took some getting used to because compared to Cairo, Islamabad's busiest areas seem like a ghost town.

"They say that New York is the city that never sleeps. Whoever said that clearly has never been to Egypt because Cairo is NYC on steroids". - Liz Carlson

cairo tavel tips

Talaat Harb Street, Downtown Cairo

Despite the sensory overload of the sprawling streets of Tahrir, one simply can't seize themselves from marveling at its beauty. This center of Cairo, also known as Martyr square is steep in meaning. The event that went down here in the Spring of 2011 is not only hard to grasp but it had a huge impact on the lives of Egyptians, which is one of the reasons why, Tahrir square, not only has a sense of equanimity and energy but it is also as momentous as the Sphinx.


Cairo travel tips

Dahab hostel, overlooking Cairo tower

While this sprawling metropolis is chaotic and intense, there is something captivating about it which you only realize after you learn to embrace it for its madness. After two month of being back home, when I sit back and think about whether I should talk about the hospitable Egyptians who upon knowing that I wanted to learn Arabic volunteered to teach me, or the people who would selflessly help me around the metro stations, an endless stream of faces makes its way through my mind and leaves a smile on my face.

So if like me, you have made the decision to visit the land of the Pharaohs, then here are some Cairo travel trips which will help make your journey tenfold better:

Restrict your shopping to Khan El Khalili

While shops are spread throughout Egypt, I chose to get my shopping done from Khan El Khalili. 

Cairo travel tips

Khan El Khalili

Anything from souvenirs to harem pants can be bought at the Khan El Khalili Bazaar and I highly recommend checking it out in order to save yourself from getting ripped off. Albeit, haggling at Khan El Khalili is a must.

Things to know before going to cairo

Khan El Khalil

However, if negotiation isn't your strongest skill then you should visit Jordis, which any vendor in the bazaar would guide you to as it is one of the most popular shops in Khan El Khalili. As an Aiesec intern you can avail special discounts too. In addition to reasonable prices, your overall experience would be quite pleasant too.

Get Familiar with the Metro System

Commuting through the Cairo Metro everyday for 4 months was really an experience of its own. Every Day Was A New Adventure.

During peak hours, the Metro gets really crowded and it is highly unlikely that you will find a seat for yourself. Although, the Metro has its downs, it has its ups too.

Firstly, the Cairo Metro ticket is as cheap as $0.11/12 PKR and the Metro lines are spread throughout the city so you can conveniently get anywhere.

Second, as a women you don't have to worry about men gawking at you because there are separate cabins for men and women. 

 Use Uber/Careem Instead of Taxi

As a foreigner, you not only will get unrealistic quotes from cab drivers but explaining them the directions would also become a problem because most cab drivers don't speak English.

Uber is your best bet to save money on transportation when you are not travelling through the Metro.

However if you do have to get a cab, agree on the price before the ride.

Pack your haggling skills for the trip

Haggling is a form of art, which in Egypt is used copiously. Although, most people believe that everything is negotiable in the country, you have to make sure you restrict this practice to souks, local bazaars or shops.

Be confident while crossing the streets

To get across the road, I used to throw myself in front of the stream of vehicles but since I got hit by a car once, I wouldn't recommend anyone to do that.

It's like Cairo's drivers smell fear because the more you hesitate while crossing the road, the harder they make it for you.

Cairo's traffic is intimidating and it is nothing I have seen before. But once you get used to it, you really don't mind it, at least I didn't. 

Be careful of the vendors on the street

cairo travel tips

Once the street vendors figure out that you are a foreigner, you will be intimidated with tour deals from every direction possible.

You can say 'la shukran' (no thank you) and hope they stop following you.

While I have also heard a few women complain about vendors gawking at them from time to time, thanks to my skin tone, I blended in quite well and didn't receive much attention on the streets. I did, however, used to get stopped and asked about directions in Arabic a lot (a downfall of resembling Arabs).

However, to avoid getting unnecessary attention, you should dress appropriately, especially if you are travelling to local areas like old Cairo or taking the Metro. 

Obey the "no photography" Signs 

The no photography signs at sites should not be avoided because there have been incidents where people got into serious trouble for disobeying them.

Avoid taking pictures without the guide's consent 

Guides at the Museums or temples might seem really friendly but that's because they think the more enthusiastic they come off, the higher you will tip them.

And if you make the mistake of taking a picture of their camel or horse, you will have them immediately asking you for tips. 

So it's always better to ask them for permission first to avoid getting yourself involved in an uncalled for bargaining session.

I was asked to pay 100 Egyptian Pounds for the picture above. 

But you have to keep in mind that these guides are only trying to feed their families. So avoid being rude to them. 🙂 

So, anyway, if you have any feedback or If you have been to Cairo and you have some tips in mind, then share them in the comments section below. ^.^

6 thoughts on “Cairo: First Impressions and A First-Timer’s Guide

  1. It’s really a great and helpful piece of information. I am satisfied that you shared this helpful info with us. Please keep us informed like this. Thanks for sharing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *