Well, as close to perfect as possible…
Yesterday I told you how I found myself wondering whether Cairo was even worth a day. But I also noted that places deserve a second chance. In Luxor I met three international students who were teaching in a village outside of Cairo – how cool would that be for a study abroad experience? They assured me that with the right recommendations and knowledge, a trip to Cairo could be very enjoyable. So here are the insider tips.
1. STAY IN A GOOD YOUTH HOSTEL
They recommend Dahab (26 Mahmoud Bassiouny) because it is centrally located and offers a friendly environment. The important thing is to read a few reviews or find a personal recommendation before committing to any accommodation so you know what to expect. Our hostel, the Freedom Hostel (6 Bank Misr off Sherif) is another option. It was clean and well located but offered minimal services or social environment which is reflected by their price.
2. KNOW TAXI RATES BEFORE YOU GET IN THE CAR
This can be a pain but is well worth the trouble. The other option is to avoid taxis without meters. When you get in a taxi and don’t see a meter, say you are getting out. If the driver starts arguing with you ask them to take you to the police station. According to one of the students, the driver stops messing with you at this point and it worked for him every time.
3. DON’T TIP ANYBODY
The students’ reasoning behind this is that tipping is not customary in this region and once it looks like you have extra money to share to locals, they won’t stop asking. This was particularly tough for us because in the tourism industry many guides live off of tips and deserve compensation for their services. You have to balance this with the fact that some people will press you for more once they know you have money to give. Armed with this knowledge, you have to use your best judgment.
4. IF YOU DON’T HAVE CHANGE, SAY YOU DON’T HAVE CHANGE
Many times you will be expected to leave a little extra (a 100 pound note for two tickets to the pyramids that cost 80 EGP) because they “don’t have change.” Tell them you don’t have change, offer the best amount you can and if they try to rip you off, walk away. If I had a pound for every time they didn’t have change I’d have a whole lot of change in my pocket.
5. VISIT THE CITADEL
According to the students we met, it should cost 15 EGP for a taxi from Giza. If you go to the Citadel from within Cairo it will be less. This rate is much lower than we were ever asked to pay. Once at the Citadel don’t worry about visiting the two museums if time doesn’t permit.
6. NEGOTIATE YOUR TIP BEFORE USING A GUIDE
Going against the former tip not to tip anybody, if you do find yourself in a situation where tipping is expecteded, negotiate the amount up front. There is a lot to learn at the Citadel and locals stand about ready to share their knowledge. If you are interested in hearing what one of the “guides” has to say, start by saying la shukran (no thank you) when they approach you, then negotiate a tip of 20 EGP or so. Otherwise, they will offer all of their insight and more (“let me take that photo of you, I know all the best views, let me find you a taxi, I know a friend who offers camel rides”) and demand a hefty tip afterwards.
7. TAKE THE WALK TO THE MOSQUE OF SULTAN HASSAN
It’s near the Citadel and costs 30 EGP to get in the but the students said it’s well worth the walk and the price. You can find more information here.
8. ENJOY A FELUCCA RIDE
Locate the Four Seasons hotel and then find the jetty across the way for a felucca ride at the best price. These traditional wooden sail boats make for a fun activity at sunset.
9. TRY KOSHARY
While I insisted I didn’t like Egyptian food, the students insisted I needed to try koshary in Cairo. It’s a common dish that includes rice, lentils and pasta topped with tomato-vinegar sauce, chickpeas and onions. Definitely an experience, and as a plus it’s vegetarian.
10. ENJOY A TRADITIONAL SHOW
If you go to El-Ghuri Wakala, you can catch one of the traditional Sufi performances. The show starts at 7:30 PM on Wednesdays and Saturdays and features Sufi music and whirling dervishes’ dance.
11. RIDE A HORSE + A CAMEL IN THE DESERT
Technically this is in Giza, but it’s a short drive from Cairo. You should be able to find a package for a two hour horse ride in the desert followed by a camel ride up to the pyramids. The one thing to note is that there are many animals that are unfortunately malnourished and uncared for. Ask your hotel or look online for reputable stables that practice ethical tourism. The students paid 120 EGP each. I did get a chance to use this tip – more on that experience later!
As an added note, try to approach the experience with a sense of humor. It can get annoying when you feel like your running into a new scam at every turn but here one blogger puts it into perspective with some humor – I was laughing out loud, maybe because the whole time I was thinking, “been there, done that.” I also can’t believe how his story ends! We stayed at the inn right next to that Pizza Hut on our first night!
Have you been to Cairo or another city that made you feel like you had to “survive the scams?”