[All content and prices updated August 2013]

Why you should add Cairo to your RTW travel list

Cairo is the largest city in the Muslim world and it can be overwhelming upon arrival. With over 16 million people packed into incredibly dense neighborhoods just the view from above on your flight in would make you want to just keep moving, but don’t. Cairo is one of the most amazing places on earth for a visitor and if you research a bit in advance it can be extremely fun and affordable too.

  • You’ll no doubt be going to Cairo to see the Great Pyramids of Giza. Giza, by the way, is the city just across the Nile and the Pyramids are close to central Cairo.
  • Just walking around Cairo can be amusement enough as long as you are able to fight off the touts who never stop trying to book you on a Nile cruise, so once you get the hang of it you’ll find the whole city fascinating.
  • Eat dust at the Pharaohs’ 4WD Rally in October
  • Wander for hours through ancient Egyptian history at the Egyptian Museum
  • Go shopping in Khan al-Khalili, the massive bazaar
  • A base to explore the pyramids and temples at Saqqara
  • Put your money down at the Birqash Camel Market
  • Sail the Nile on a felucca

Indie travel tips for Cairo

  • They are an incredible thing to see, but the trick is to avoid some of the hassles along the way. Touts will approach you from every angle trying to sell you a package or a private tour that includes a stop at the Pyramids.
  • The good news is you can hire a driver and car for the entire day for far less than you’d imagine, but the bad news is they often come with additional sales pitches built in so the driver and tout can make some extra money off you.
    • If you keep your wits about you this can actually be an efficient and cheap way to visit not only the Giza Pyramids, which are somewhat shockingly located right on the edge of town, but also several other historical sites nearby that are interesting unto themselves.
  • But back in Cairo itself, the top attraction is the amazing Egyptian Museum.
    • Security is tight on the way in, but this is the other must-see thing in Cairo.
    • The displays of art and jewelry from well before Christ really put history into a new perspective.
    • There is a separate display inside with another high admission charge of the Royal Mummies, but most people say it’s disappointing and not worth the extra dough.
  • On the south end of Cairo you’ll find the old Islamic part of town with all of its ornate mosques, medieval architecture, and the main Cairo souk (marketplace). This area can seem chaotic, but is well worth a visit.
  • If you’re into markets and bazaars, then head to the Khan al-Khalili bazaar. Bring your bargaining hat.
  • Make sure you take some breaks and get some tea, a bite to eat, or stop to smoke some sheesha, while in the bazzar.
  • Visit Giza Zoo, one of the oldest zoos in the world.
  • Hang out at the Al Orman Gardens to escape hustle and bustle and noise of the city.
  • Go to the Wadi Digla Protected Area for a plethora of outdoor activities – hiking, running, rock climbing, and bike riding among them.

Transportation

You really have no choice to get to Cairo other than to book a flight into Cairo International Airport. There’s a good chance you’ll need a visa to visit Egypt, but the good news is you can cheaply buy one, which is basically just an extra stamp for your passport, in about 5 seconds from a booth upon arrival. The airport is a ways out of town and you can take a bus for next to nothing, but it’s confusing and slow. Taxis are rather cheap in Cairo, but it can be stressful giving directions and negotiating the fee. If you have your destination written out in Arabic script it’s a big help as most drivers speak little English.

Accommodation

Cairo is awash with affordable places to stay. There are many hostels in Cairo from which to choose, but quality isn’t consistent so the better places can sell out early.