Since I was 8 years old I have always wanted to visit Egypt. My parents gave me a Nat Geo VHS tape about Egypt and from that moment it was my dream destination. I have looked at planned a trip a few times to Egypt. I have been collecting Airmiles for 7 years saving points for a flight which at one point I had enough until Airmiles changes the points requirements (I will be using my points soon and dropping the rewards card). Add in my addiction for kitesurfing where Egypt is one of the most sought after kite destinations in the world. So naturally when I found out I was heading to Africa I was really going to try and detour to my dream travel spot if possible.
And it was possible. I’m very fortunate to work a rotational assignment that gives me two week off every two months. I could use this time to go home to Canada, however how could I pass up an opportunity to see the world. When the time came to plan my first trip in August 2015, flights to Cairo were my first search. Obviously there were some safety concerns, but I figured I could spend just enough time in Cairo to see the pyramids and museum, then pop over to the red sea and catch the wind for prime kitesurfing. In theory it was pretty much the perfect trip. In reality, it was one of the best experiences of my life so far…
I booked my flight with Emirates to Cairo via Dubai, and was lucky enough to score a First Class upgrade. I didn’t get to benefit much from the upgrade as it was an overnight flight but it’s much nicer to sleep lying flat. I had it planned out to a T. I arrived in Cairo around 11am, I would get to my hotel by 1. Visit the pyramids in the afternoon, get up early the next morning to hit up the museum when it opened and be back at the airport by noon to fly Hurghada and enjoy the Red Sea for a few days. It was going to be busy but very exciting!
The international airport is quite old. You walk in from a shuttle bus and are immediately faced with currency exchange banks. If you can purchase a visa on entry (like me as a Canadian) you need to buy your visa at one of these exchanges. I found out the hard way after waiting in a very long immigration line only to be sent back to the bank to get a Visa. It’s $25 USD. Also, you should get local currency here as people prefer to be paid in local and not in USD or Euro. Once processing through one of the very long immigration lines you walk through to the baggage area. It’s all open concept and only steps away from each other. At the far wall are two cell phone shops to buy local sims (I used Vodaphone). As you exit the terminal you are face with tons of independent taxi companies trying to grab your bag to take you to their cars. The important thing to note here is that you either need to negotiate first if you have some experience of what a trip will cost, or get a taxi with a meter (harder to find). You should also make sure that the cab you decide has A/C.
I tried to negotiate a rate based on info I found on the net. Basically you need to know this: Egyptains are very nice people, but they will rip you off. Once a tourist haven, places like the Valley of the Kings have gone from 10000 visitors a day to 350 (in a later post youll read how I was the only one in two of the tombs). Visitors have disappeared and tourist money is low. After I managed to haggle a bit, in the end I just wanted to get to my hotel.
Cab ride took about an hour from the airport to the Hilton Ramses downtown on the Nile. I chose this location because on the map it was the closest to the Cairo Museum. I prefer to walk as much as I can rather than have to find cabs so I thought this would be ideal. I got a decent rate off booking.com so I couldn’t really complain. The hotel is in need of updating, but overall I would stay there again if I went back.
I hired a car through the hotel concierge to take me to the pyramids during the afternoon. There was discussion of the rate and he took me outside to find the car. I thought and asked if the rate included the tour which I was told yes, but isn’t true. The rate is only for him to take you to one of the many tour guides outside of the pyramid complex. All the drivers have friends so they take you to their friend. Again, negotiating the rate upfront is key, as the rate can ‘change’ as the tour progresses. An argument to a rate change almost left me jumping off my horse and walking back to the shop…
Take a tour. You don’t want to walk to complex. Its huge, hot and sand. Different tours have different ways to travel. Mine had donkeys, but I saw others with horses or camels. I would opt for the camel one as it looked quite authentic. My guide was nice, he took me to the hill to overlook the complex, and negotiated with security to let me climb part of the Great Pyramid. There were very few visitors so they let me for extra tip I presume. I personally thought the pyramids were amazing. They are massive and from an engineering point of few absolutely incredible. The temperature was about 42, so after about an hour and a half I was ready to go back to the hotel. We passed by the sphinx on the way back to the guide shop which wasn’t as impressive to me as photos, but still cool to see.
I have a Egyptian friend and old coworker who happened to be in Cairo for the summer with her family visiting. I called her up and she and her husband were nice enough to take me for dinner on a Nile Cruise. This used to be very popular with many boats on the Nile, but with the recent drop in tourists there are very few boats that do this. The boat leaves at a certain time and there is a Mediterranean buffet and Egyptian entertainment. I was really happy to have gone with her and her family and I think it was a great way to spend the night in Cairo.
The next morning I woke up earlier excited for my trip to the Cairo Museum across the street. Cairo has nearly 8 million people and Im pretty sure every one of those people has a car. 3 road lanes are 5 lanes of actually traffic. Traffic doesn’t stop, for lights or crosswalks or people. You need to cross the road through traffic; luckily traffic is so dense it doesn’t move overly fast. To get to the museum I had to cross two streets. I learned a technique that I would stand next to an Egyptian and cross when they did. A great tip is when in doubt, do what the locals do!
I made the mistake of touring the museum alone. In hindsight I should have hired a tour guide. However the museum has a ton of fascinating artifacts to see. It’s old, so no A/C. First thing in the morning there were not alot of people but by the time I finished it was getting pretty busy. The Tut chamber was definitely the highlight and worth the trip is that was the only thing I was going to see.
I went back to the hotel to pack my bags and head to the airport. It was now time to depart for Soma Bay on the Red Sea…