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Cairo , capital of Egypt , is called the “city of 1000 minarets”. It is the largest African city, with a population of 6.8 million (metropolitan population of 16.8 million). Built along the Nile River , it plays a major role in the political, administrative, commercial and the industrial activities of Egypt . Cairo , a walled city, was created in the 10th century as the city of Califes with a rich economic and intellectual life. Al-Azhar University was created in the year 978. Many of Cairo old monuments (mosques, fortifications, tombs) reveal Islamic Art influences. Egyptian antiquities and Islamic and Coptic works of art are exhibited in Cairo ’s museums. 
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I'm going Cairo,Egypt in early December for 3 days by myself, any ideas where to stay and what to see (apart from pyramids oibviously)? is it pretty safe for a sensible woman alone? Thanks!
Eygpt, whats it like?
I'm in the US and going to be visiting Egypt soon. I will need a Voltage Converter Kit - any suggestions on brands?
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Travel Tips from people who've been to Cairo

I’ve travelled a lot around the world – my country counter is now over 30.  One thing I’ve noticed throughout my travels is that the quality of driving around the world varies considerably.  I’ve devised my own award for the worst offenders – the Juan Manuel Fangio Award for Outstanding Defensive Driving.  

Let me explain.

 

Case Study Number One: Italian Drivers

I have a theory that the amount of religious paraphernalia on a car’s rear view mirror is a reliable indication of how crap the drivers are.  The more crucifixes, rosary beads, or evil eyes wrapped around the mirror, the more dangerous the driving is.  I first tested this theory in Italy.

By heritage, I am half Sicilian (on my mother’s side) and half Northern Italian (my old man’s side).  A recent visit to Italia was a home-coming of sorts for me, even though I had never been here before in a physical sense.  However, my first encounter with my Italian heritage was to be – the traffic.

The city of Rome was my first exposure to the chaotic Latino driving that was the bane of the Italian stereotype; however, there was no myth to bust – the drivers are completely bonkers.  The roads are an extension of the Monza Formula One race track.  Collisions result from a reckless apathy for general traffic laws and probably from gawking at gorgeous women walking down the street.  Merging is a competition, not a mutual effort; road signs and traffic lights are merely ornamentation.  Moped riders manoeuvre in ways that I would not attempt on a Play Station. 

Drivers will tailgate, wildly waving their hands as if to signify an emergency – as if there is always a pregnant woman about to deliver a baby that would spoil the immaculately-kept interior of the Fiat, that was probably about to fall apart from poor build quality.  I thought maybe Italians were fearful of being late for the latest christening, hot date or lunch at mama and papas.

I concluded that they simply enjoyed dicing with death for kicks. 

Italy’s rating on the Crazy Driver Index (out of 10) – 7.

 

Case Study Number Two: Egyptian Taxis

Here is some great advice – one should refuse to enter a Cairo taxi, even if one really needs to.  I learnt this fact the hard way within a day of arriving in Cairo.  The essential activity of trying to see the city unfortunately necessitated the use of unregistered and barely-roadworthy vehicles to complete this task successfully.  I’m not sure what side of the road these taxis drive on, because they use the ENTIRE road.  From this harrowing experience, I have devised my own facts about Cairo taxis:

  • My previous stated theory that high volumes of religious paraphernalia decorating a rear view mirror directly relates to the driver’s recklessness was indeed confirmed once again – Egyptian taxis seemed to have enough evil eyes and prayer beads to reduce the car’s centre of gravity below the potholed tarmac;
  • A high number of car dents or bent panels is an indication that someone of a higher plane is looking after the taxi driver;
  • It is a lineball decision to leave ones’ nose inside or outside of the taxi – your nose will be wiped out by either a collision with another taxi, or by the drivers’ nose hair-singing body odour;
  • Seat belts are optional, unworkable or not available;
  • Pedestrians must give way to taxis at all times and locations, even at zebra crossings and when the green-man light is on; and
  • The seemingly trance-like and repetitive term of ‘Am-shallah’ (god willing) will suffice as an insurance policy.

Egypt’s rating on the Crazy Driver Index (out of 10) – 9.5.

 

Case Study Number Three: Minibus Taxis in Southern Africa

My favourite!  Ever tried to work out the logic of waiting four hours for a minibus taxi ride until it's full, for it to blast onto a neglected highway system at 140 km/hour for an 11 hour journey to Johannesburg, South Africa, sitting next to a person with the biggest backside in the world?

During a trip to Zimbabwe in 2002, I arrived at Bulawayo Train Station at eight o’clock on a Sunday morning after an overnight trip from Victoria Falls.  I wandered around the grimy streets of Bulawayo asking for the presence of the bus station.  After discovering that none of the bus offices were open that day, it frightfully dawned on me that there was only one option to return to South Africa that day – the dreaded mini-bus taxi.

I had previously seen the mini-bus taxis everywhere in Africa, but never had the privilege of being transported within one.  Mini-bus taxis in Africa seem to work on the principle of not leaving the car park until they are full, to maximise the income gained per seat per trip.  This wait may last from four minutes to four hours, or possibly even four days - which is probably insignificant in African time terms. 

I proceeded to the local car park where the mini-bus taxis were collected, all neatly arranged like a miniature Matchbox collection.  There were about 10 mini-buses herded into the car park, waiting for silly punters like myself willing to risk their lives for the sake of travelling from Point A to Point B, or maybe to Point Gravesite.

I had heard all sorts of horror stories about these taxis in South Africa – the vast majority of them are clapped-out pieces of corrosion that would not pass a roadworthy at a demolition derby.  The best story was one where a driver had replaced the aged and worn steering-wheel by attaching two plumbing wrenches on the steering column to ensure maximum manoeuvrability around the numerous potholes that probably almost matched the area of road.

However, this was my (relatively) lucky day.  After the driver had graciously accepted my money, I only had to wait for a grand total of four hours for the mini-bus to depart the Bulawayo bitumen.  I hung around, taking the mandatory siesta and sometimes chewed on a non-descript snack from the nearby corner store that emblazoned a sign stating crazy Cairo was 3500 miles away from this point.  A steady trickle of people would arrive at the driver’s side of the mini-bus to pay their money and use their luggage as a makeshift bed, like I did, while waiting for the signal to leave.

At midday, the mini-bus had reached its quota (that is, three times the legal carrying capacity of the vehicle) and everyone piled their luggage in the trailer.  The mini-bus left the car park and it was from this point that I was abruptly introduced to the rather absurd four/one forty rule – waiting four hours for the mini-bus to fill up in the car park, only for this lost time to be compensated by screaming along the woefully under-resourced Zimbabwean Highway system at the top speed of 140 kilometres per hour all the way back to South Africa.  How the mini-bus managed this considering the dire fuel shortages and without falling apart, I will never know.  I concluded that Africa does not need a Formula One Grand Prix as there is enough high speed action on its highways.

My brain had selected an obscure Hoodoo Gurus song to play during the attempt to break the land speed record – called I Was a Kamikaze Pilot from one of my favourite Hoodoos albums, Stoneage Romeos.

I was a, was a kamikaze pilot

They gave me a plane – I couldn’t fly it home.

Taught how to take off, I don’t know how to land.

They say it doesn’t matter and I just cannot understand.

I was a kamikaze pilot,

They gave me a plane – I couldn’t fly it home.

 

The mini-bus taxi may as well have been a suicidal Mitsubishi Zero, ready to honourably take out a pylon of a precisely targeted overpass.  What had added to the mini-bus thrill theme ride was that I had miserably lost the dreadful game of mini-bus musical chairs – I had managed to pick the seat next to the person with the largest arse on the mini-bus, and possibly, southern Africa.  

She was a large, dark woman who wore a colourful headscarf and seemed friendly enough.  She did not communicate with me in words – but instead with various facial expressions.  She tried her best to make room for me from her window seat, but when combined with my arse, it was inevitable that one of my butt cheeks would pathetically lose out.  My right butt cheek was not prepared to overhang the seat for the 11 hour trip back to South Africa.  I still have the mental and physical scars of that trip - especially the one dissecting my right butt cheek.

During this doomed trip, I had thought that Johannesburg was probably not the most ideal place to scramble for suitable accommodation at an estimated arrival time of midnight.  At the Zimbabwe/South African border post at Beitbridge, I had arranged beds (note, plural) for myself and another minibus taxi journeyman, a Belgian man called Jan, at a Pretoria backpackers.  This phone call was made after successfully dodging the swarms of aggressive peanut merchants loitering around the phone boxes.

I noticed that my recently purchased South African phone card displayed the helpful advice of ‘Don’t Cut Your Lifeline’ complete with pictures of a public phone handset and a set of open bolt cutters.  Since my lifeline was not yet broken, I received an assurance from the Backpackers that they would wait for us until we arrived.  Once I had finished drinking a gut-rotting Coke out of an ingeniously marketed AfriCAN, it was time to brace myself for another supersonic test ride.

However, after continuing his kamikaze mission for another few hours, the mini-bus driver probably had another mini-bus taxi car park that was more important than mine and had completely bypassed Pretoria and was on the way to Johannesburg.  After informing the death wish pilot, he exited the freeway at the midway suburb of Centurion and we said our humble goodbyes at the nearby service station.  This may have sounded uneventful, but I received an eerie feeling when I spotted the ‘Hijacking Hotspot’ advisory sign at the top of the exit ramp.

In an unconvincingly reassuring voice, I said to Jan ‘It mustn’t be THAT bad – the Hijacking Hotspot sign hasn’t been hijacked yet!’ 

I only received a slight, uneasy smile from this corny joke – we were both tired from too many kilometres and hours on the road.

We called a less suicidal taxi with some Rand shrapnel and managed to reach Pretoria without being hijacked, where we pleaded for the Backpackers to let us in at midnight.  To our delight, a muddled voice answered on the intercom and a buzzer sounded to release the thick steel bar security gates.

We were stuffed and there was only a queen bed available in the entire hostel.  After 12 hours on the Victoria Falls train, four hours lounging on backpacks in a hot Bulawayo mini bus taxi car park, and 11 hours on the supersonic mini-bus, I did not give a rats.  The queen bed was the most comfort I had encountered in days, and it didn’t matter who I shared it with.  I was quite prepared to endure an unconscious man-hug from Jan at three o’clock in the morning if I had to, but I really needed to sleep.   And so did Jan.  After washing off the slimy African grime from the previous two days, we both crashed in an exhausted slump, grateful to still be alive.

The minibus taxi rating on the Crazy Driver Index (out of 10) – 11.

 

In conclusion, crazy drivers are one of the joys of travelling, and are part of the authentic travel experience.  Just make sure your life insurance is up to date and of a considerable amount!

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Major  Public holidays:
Day  Description

 

 

 1st day of Spring

 (2nd Monday after the Coptic Easter day)

 It is called Sham El-Nessim day

 (Just avoid going out on this day to national parks and the zoo) 

 25th April

 Sinai liberation day

 1st May

 Workers day

 23rd July

 1952 revolution day

 6th October

 Armed forces day, victory day 1973

 13th October 

 Suez liberation day

 23rd December

 Victory day

 Eid El-Adha Sacrifice feast

 Comes right after the pilgrimage season, it lasts for four days

 Eid El-Fitr Breakfast feast

 Comes right after the Holy fasting month of Ramadan

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Travelling alone advice:

Egypt as a tourist cannot be compared with other countries. Things are cheaper here. Even entry fees to the sites are cheaper than many other countries. Flying to Egypt is cheaper from many tourist destinations around the world. Nowadays you can even get an organized package trip for $500 with accommodation!

Often I will advice travellers to avoid getting taxis to tour the sites. What do you expect from a local taxi driver, who cares nothing but how much you will pay him at the end of your trip? This is the job of a travel agency, or a local licensed guide to do.

Today there are so many travel agencies in Australia and the UK that offer very cheap trip they are very well organized. You picked up the choice to do it on your own! Then you must be prepared.

You must be aware of the following points:

bullet If you must take a taxi, then it would be best if you asked the reception/ concierge of your hotel to get you one. They have certain assigned taxis that they know very well, and deal with on a daily basis
bullet If you want to tour a site on your own, you have to be aware of where you are going, how much you are going to pay for the ticket, and what is included with the ticket! This is the reason I built my information site: To help first time travellers to Egypt.
bullet If you want to dine out, then you must know where the recommend restaurants are, and where you will find the clean healthy food. Don’t consider the price, even if you dine in a 5 star hotel, it is still cheaper than in your own country!
bullet Independent travel, for your 1st experience, is not advised. I have explained elsewhere about how “Lonely Planet” gives the wrong impression. I have spoken to many people who have tried it this way, and wish they had gone as part of a group (I do not mean a package holiday – groups can be arranged when you get there!).
 
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