Cairo guide for first-time visitors
For anyone with a passion for history or adventure, a visit to Cairo is a definite bucket-list item. Home to one of the seven wonders of the world—the Pyramids of Giza—the Egyptian capital features stunning beaches, vibrant marketplaces, and an entertaining nightlife. But if you’re visiting for the first time, the city can be quite overwhelming, so here are seven things to know before you arrive.
Plan your dates carefully
Visit Cairo in June or July and you’ll spend your entire trip mopping sweat from your brow and yearning for air conditioning. So instead, time your trip for the cooler months between October and April, when the crowds are smaller (bear in mind that January is usually the coldest and wettest time of year). Also pay close attention to when Ramadan falls on the year of your trip, as opening hours are often limited during that time, which can be frustrating if you’re on a tight itinerary.
Get your visa online
Fortunately, the visa application process for Egypt is easier than it used to be—visitors from certain countries can apply online and receive confirmation via email (you can check your eligibility for an eVisa here). Once granted, the visa will be valid for three months.
Pack the right clothes
You’ll need to put some thought into what you pack for a trip to Egypt for reasons relating to both climate and culture. The best way to get by is by layering—not only because the desert can become quite chilly at night, but also because it will help you keep covered from the sting of the sun during the day(light-coloured, breathable fabrics work best). Women will also need long sleeves and scarves to cover their arms and head if they plan to visit mosques. The other thing to pack plenty of? Socks—all Islamic sites forbid the wearing of shoes, and going barefoot is frowned upon (and kind of gross).
Visiting the pyramids
It’s also a good idea to avoid the unofficial guides lingering at the entrance of the Pyramids of Giza, as you’re unlikely to get much value for your money. Plan ahead and ask your hotel to book your tour in advance (many will include a guide, entrance fees and transportation in the price). Make this the day that you get up early so you can get there before the hordes of other tourists—not only to avoid the lines, but also because some pyramids only allow a certain number of people to enter each day. You’ll also be grateful not to be wandering around during the hottest part of the day.
Avoid being taken for a ride (literally)
A jostling pack of independent drivers will likely be waiting for you at the Cairo International Airport, all promising a great price to drive you to your Cairo hotel. Unless you’re a seasoned traveller in the region, politely decline their services, as there’s a good chance they’ll be overcharging you or deliberately taking you on indirect routes. Instead, head to the official limousine station near the arrivals hall or book an Uber to take you to the city centre (which is about 15 miles or 24 kilometres from the airport) for around $20. You can also ask your hotel ahead of time to arrange a driver to meet you.
Be ready to broaden your palate
You’ll likely encounter an array of dishes you’ve never heard of during your trip to Cairo, and that’s all part of the fun. Draw up a list of some of the key Egyptian meals you’d like to try during your trip, from Mahshi (stuffed vine leaves) and Fiteer (the Egyptian equivalent of pizza), to Torshi (pickled vegetables) and Hawawshi (kind of like a cross between an empanada and a pasty). And if you’re feeling brave, ask the locals to order for you!
Locals customs, etiquette
Take a few minutes before you leave to familiarise yourself with the local customs in Egypt, which are similar to those of many other Muslim countries. Key etiquette includes taking your shoes off before entering someone’s home and eating food with your right hand. Use your right hand when greeting people too, but only if they’re members of the same sex as you—people of the opposite sex should not touch upon meeting. If you’re unsure of what to do, follow the lead of a local to determine what is appropriate. As is the case in many countries, avoid discussing religion or politics, and always treat elderly people with great esteem and respect.