From Cairo to Aswan: A detailed guide for western tourists about travel safety in Egypt.
Nile River Cruise
Do you want to see the Pyramids, the valley of the Kings and Abu Simbel? But are you wondering if is safe to visit Egypt? Then read on!
The whole Muslim world isn’t especially popular among western tourists these days (unrightly so, I might add). Terrorist attacks, refugees, and human rights violation didn’t really help to advertise trips to countries in the middle east. But what about Egypt? Is Egypt safe to visit?
The short answer: Yes, Egypt is still safe! All in the hope to encourage further generations of travelers to visit the amazing country on the Nile. You can easily visit it independently (check out 14 days Egypt itinerary for reference).
But let’s dive right into it?
General safety in Egypt
After the November revolution in 2011 and the ensuing rule of the Muslim Brotherhood (short as it may have been) tourist numbers almost dropped to zero. Even before those abductions and infrequent terror attacks against tourists had always been a problem – especially on the Sinai peninsula.
Luckily, the political situation stabilized in the following years. 2018 was the first year that saw a significant increase in tourism (according to local guides & hotels) and a renewed interest in Egypt.
Now, is it safe for Americans to travel to Egypt in 2019? This is a tough question, as terrorist attacks occurred in the USA itself, or in Paris, London or Berlin.
There were 7 terror attacks in Egypt in 2017, 6 in 2016, 4 in 2018. Sounds like a lot, but in a global context, it isn’t. The most important part: Few of these attacks targeted foreigners. Almost all of them happened in mosques or churches. The locals and their beliefs were the targets (mostly the conflict between the Christian minority and the Muslims, but also the special conflict on the Sinai peninsula).
This trend seems to change, though. There was one bomb to hit a tourist bus. In February 2019 a suicide bomber killed a policeman and two civilians which ultimately had several countries issuing partial travel warnings. And in May another bomb attack targeted a bus near the pyramids with at least 17 people injured.
Now, I don’t mean to downplay these tragic events, but you should also know that Egyptian security forces are aware of the situation. In fact, they are constantly trying to regain control. The military has quite visible checkpoints all over the country (virtually ever 500 meters). Most tourist attractions have a quite high safety standard (and always a visible military presence), and buses usually travel in police-escorted convoys.
See, in the USA alone there were 15 mass shootings in 2016, yet 37.6 million tourists came to the US at the same time. Is the US safe? Hell yes, but so is Egypt. If you take certain precautions, it will be perfectly safe to travel to Egypt.
Visiting the Sinai Peninsula is currently (2019) probably not a smart idea (except Sharm El-Sheikh), and going too deep into the desert, especially without an escort, might not be smart either. Egypt, while slowly being on the way to enduring peace and prosperity, is still a region with lots of internal conflicts and quite some poverty. So, use your common sense!
But of course, if news like the above mentioned recent incidents scares you for some reason, there is little I can do about it. Contrary to what you might think, it’s probably much safer to visit Egypt alone than in a group, as tourist buses are the prime focus and not the single tourist walking across the market. On a more personal note, I felt safer walking around Cairo alone at night than visiting the pyramids or Luxor.
Is Cairo safe at night for tourists?
Cairo is an incredible city, but pretty much one big warren. It’s quite easy to get lost on the big markets and at night you might be the only fair-skinned traveler within a radius of one mile. But is it safe to go the markets in Cairo at night? Pretty much.
Now, I wouldn’t bring the expensive watch, maybe leave my credit card in the hotel and only take a reasonably large amount of money along. But other than that, you will be perfectly safe in Cairo. Some locals might be staring at you, but that’s probably your worst problem – apart from local vendors and café owners trying to sell you something. Again, use your common sense.
And remember, there is safety in numbers. So, if you are a small group, your biggest fear is probably getting lost. If you do, just call one of the ubiquitous taxis and tell him to get you to your hotel.
If you are not brave enough to venture out into Cairo, Luxor or Aswan at night alone, hire a local guide for a couple of pounds. He will be your safety shield, know what to do in each situation and keep you from falling for scams (he might be affiliated with a restaurant or so, though). check Egypt Day Tours
Are you afraid of traveling independently in Egypt? You really shouldn’t, but I totally understand that you might seek the safety of a knowledgable tour company to show you around Cairo and the wonders of the Nile. But the big questions is: Which are safe and which aren’t?
I want to be honest with you: Terror attacks targeted tour buses and travel parties and not solo travelers. So, it is incredibly important to pick a reputable travel agency or tour guide. If you are staying at a top hotel, I’d go through them. If you’d rather like it cheap, stick to reputable western companies.
I can really recommend Luxor and Aswan Travel for safe tour guides in Egypt, their prices are reasonable, they are working together with local experts and, which is really most important, you won’t be scammed. About every taxi driver you meet will give you his card and offer you to show you around. The problem about such tours is often, that you are charged more than you should and sometimes weird additional costs the driver asks of you, even though you already paid the tour (like entrance fees or costs for an additional passenger, etc)
Quite frankly, not all of them are bad, far from it! But it’s somewhat important that you stick to tours that fulfill certain western standards. Not all buses have air-conditions etc. For example, rather pick a good private tour to the Giza Pyramids, Sphinx, etc or a tour to Abu Simbel with good reviews than trying to save 2 dollars on locals buses where 40 tourists are herded around like cattle.
From experience, most of the tours and hotels that are dead cheap in Egypt, are usually dead crap. Egypt might be a cheap country, but you need to invest some. A friend of mine booked an all-inclusive vacation to Egypt for 600 USD for two weeks. She booked into a different hotel on the second day – it’s the same problem with tour guides.
Note: I get commissions for purchases made through links in this post.
Now, admittedly I am neither a woman nor a solo traveler. But, I’m quite aware that out of necessity or preference some of my female fellow travelers like to go on vacations all by themselves. Generally speaking, Egypt is perfectly safe for solo female travelers as well.
Now, as a woman, you really should stick to dressing conservative – but if you have been traveling solo before, you know that this is probably THE golden rule, no matter where you can. Same applies to talk with strangers and getting into any situation where you are not in control. Try to avoid flirting at all cost (expect you REALLY want to) and generally stick to official channels. Which means, call your taxi through your hotel, get your guide through the hotel and all the other usual precautions you should take as a solo female traveler in Egypt or anywhere else.
There are some reports of harassment, but that is (sadly) neither uncommon nor unheard of no matter where you go. There are lots of guided tours around the major tourist’s attractions and you can easily arrange for joining one of these groups or get a guide all by yourself.
Note: If you are uncomfortable with men leering at you or talking you up, and already define this as harassment, then Egypt is no place for you because it will happen and it will happen often. They will also touch you occasionally (but touching is a cultural thing and something you have to expect as a man as well). So, probably not the best country for your first solo trip and you will need quite a tough skin.
Health precautions for Egypt
When it comes to travel safety in Egypt, you should also take common health concerns into consideration. Egypt is a very warm country and not all restaurants stick to common western hygiene standards. Diarrhea is your worst enemy and should not be taken lightly at all – you would not be the first European / American to end your vacation hospitalized (which is why having travel insurance is quite important in Egypt – normally I don’t advertise them!)
Always stick to “peel it, cook it, or leave it“. Don’t drink fresh juices, ice cream or unbottled water. Never use ice cubes (I’m talking to you Americans!), don’t try those salads and buffets are, generally speaking, not the best idea either.
You also should never consider bathing in the river Nile, even if you take a cruise. Schistosomiasis, also known as Bilharzia, is transmitted by parasites found in the river. Especially in the lower regions of the Nile, there is a lot of garbage floating down to the estuary and the currents can be quite dangerous as well. Please, stick to the pool – it’s a lot safer and cleaner.
Apart from that, Malaria isn’t a problem, but Hepatitis A can be, and you are probably already vaccinated against Tetanus, Diptheria, and Poliomyelitis, so there are no major precautions you need to take. If you are traveling in rural areas (99% of tourists don’t), you might consider a rabies vaccination, otherwise, Egypt is safe.
So, this is my little guide about Egypt travel safety. I hope I was able to convince you, that Egypt is safe, but you need to come prepared. In a way, I only wrote this guide because so many of my friends kept on asking me the safety question. I personally never had a single doubt about Egypt, and I really want you to feel the same.
Sure, the culture is different, and sure, Egypt has a history, but that history is more than 4,000 years and it would be quite wrong to reduce it on a scant few happenings in the past decade. Also, I feel it’s quite important to stress that you shouldn’t expect a trip to a foreign country to be as easy as a visit to your aunt’s house. You have to prepare and there will be moments you will feel uncomfortable, but the reward will be the unparalleled sights and highlights.
So, don’t let unfounded predjudices spoil the trip of a lifetime! :)