City Guide to Cairo, Egypt: Part 1 | Travel Tips & Tourist Information
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This is part one of a multiple part series in our City Guide to Cairo, Egypt.
Set on the Nile River, Cairo has an allure that can’t be denied. We first heard about it in grade school, where we learned about the wonders of the Nile, of papyrus, and of the Giza Pyramids. With history dating back to 2,500 BCE and earlier, it’s hard to even grasp the concept of the age of the artifacts in Cairo. As the capital of Egypt, Cairo has a population of 9.5 million, and the greater area of over 20 million. It’s a huge, ancient city with a culture all its own. We set off on a plane from Milan and anticipated an experience to remember in Cairo. We’re happy to say that an adventure is indeed what we got!
We arrived later in the evening, around 8:30 pm. We knew we’d need a visa to enter the country, but somehow, after a long day of travel, we’d forgotten this small fact. Our plan all along was to get one in the aiport, which you can do for $25. But, for some reason, our minds blanked on this, and we headed straight to passport control. We were glad to not have to stand in a long line, as we seemed to have made it there before most of the other passengers on the plane. However, when we were called up to the counter, we were immediately asked for our visas. We both looked at each other with a look that could best be described as Homer Simpson’s “D’uh!” Naturally, we were sent back to get our visas.
We were a bit puzzled at first, since the desk labeled 'Visas' was unmanned. We doubled back the way we'd just walked and proceeded down the hallway a bit when we overheard a person being directed to the banking windows for his visa. This didn’t make much sense, but we lined up and went with it. Sure enough, the three windows for banks were also the bearers of visas. We approached one of the windows and asked for two visas for two adult US citizens. We then asked if they accepted credit cards for payment. The attendant at the window, who seemed like he’d been through this process thousands of times already and had lost the appreciation for tourists a few hundred ago, informed us that he didn’t accept credit cards. We asked how much it would be and he said $25 US dollars. We asked how much that was in Egyptian Pounds (EGP or E£) and he did the conversation for us on a calculator and showed us that it would be E£450 per visa. He then pointed in the general direction of an ATM in the next room.
We took out E£1,500 for both visas, including extra cash for getting to the hotel and anything else we'd possibly need along the way. We returned to the same bank attendant and again requested the visas for both of us. He obliged, and we handed him E£900 Egyptian Pounds. He looked at us, straight faced, and told us that he didn’t accept Egyptian Pounds, only US dollar or Euros. You can understand our surprise, since he'd just sent us off to the ATM a few minutes prior after giving us a quote in Egyptian Pounds. However, we knew going back and forth wasn’t going to get us closer to our ultimate goal. At this point, we needed to find an ATM that would allow us to withdraw US dollars or Euros. This wasn’t only a challenging task, but one that turned out to be seemingly impossible. No one could direct us to an ATM that would dispense the currency we needed; the single ATM in the lobby only dispensed Egyptian Pounds. We returned to the bank windows, and this time went to a different window, hoping to find someone who would help us out. We were again told that they would only accept US dollar or Euros. However, this time, we were able to explain to him that we didn’t have Euros or US dollars and that there was no way to get any in the terminal. Thankfully, he went ahead and accepted payment in local currency and we received two visas to enter the country.
We went back to the same passport control agent and, dare we say, we noticed a bit of a smile on his face when we returned with visas in hand. He placed the stickers on a blank passport page, did his due diligence of scanning and reviewing our documents, and then stamped the page and sent us on our way. Having only the backpacks on our backs as carry-on luggage, we gladly were able to pass up the crowds waiting to retrieve their checked luggage. We passed into the next area of the terminal and waited in line for customs control. People waiting in line with large bags were asked to step aside and put them through a scanner. Fortunately, since all we had were backpacks, our passports were examined and we were waived through.
Hooray, we were officially in Cairo, Egypt! All-in-all, the process was fairly simple. It must have taken us 40 minutes from the moment we entered the terminal to the moment we exited, including the time it took us to straighten out our visas. We didn’t have to fill out any forms, lines weren’t terribly long (remember, we landed after 8:30 pm), and we passed through passport and customs control relatively quickly. We even met a new friend while waiting in line. A younger guy by the name of, Kazuhiro, or simply ‘Kaz’. He’s from Japan and was embarking on what seemed to be a crazy and amazingly brave journey from Cairo all the way to South Africa, by bus! We were eager to learn more about his journey and to see how it went, so we exchanged information. We’ve emailed him, so we hope to hear all about his journey soon!
Here’s the Visa information as we understand it, along with our tips to make the process smooth:
US citizens need a visa to enter Egypt. They also need a passport that is valid for at least six months with a minimum of one blank page. Check the U.S. Passports & International Travel page for the latest information, including travel warnings. Non-US citizens should check with their country’s state department for information specific to them.
You can buy a visa at ports of entry, including the Cairo International Airport. In our research, we found that you can obtain a visa at land borders when entering the country. However, since, we don’t have firsthand experience on Egyptian land crossings, we can’t speak to it.
At the Cairo Airport, before arriving at passport control, you’ll see three banking windows. Any of these will work for getting a visa. We were told they only accept US dollars or Euros. We’ve heard stories of people not being able to get a visa because they didn’t have the correct currency. They were then, after much negotiation and back-and-forth, allowed to enter the country, but would need to purchase a $50 visa (double the entry cost) when exiting the country. However, we were extremely fortunate and the second person we asked, let us pay in Egyptian Pounds. Do yourself a favor and either have your visa in-hand before you depart for Egypt, or have US dollars or Euros when you land!
ATMs can be found on the far side of the room where people line up for passport control (it’s adjacent to the hall with the banking windows). At the time of our visit, we could only withdraw Egyptian Pounds, no other currencies.
Best practice is to have the exact amount for your visa, which at the time of our visit, was $25 US dollars.
Visas are single entry and valid for 30-days. The U.S. Passport & International Travel page for Egypt states that you can get a multiple entry visa for $35 US dollars.
Entering the Country
Visitors to the airport must pass through two security checkpoints, the first is to get on to the airport premises and the second to get into the airport terminal building. Furthermore, from what we can tell, not just anyone can pass through the security checkpoint, you need to provide documentation that warrants your entry. Therefore, the airport was relatively calm, since everyone had an approved purpose of being there. Still, upon passing through customs, a couple of men trying to get us to take their taxi service approached us. They were persistent and tried to negotiate a price with us. We showed them the price we were quoted with Uber and since they were unwilling to negotiate in that range, we moved on. However, once we passed through the doors of the airport and walked into the warm evening air of Cairo, the sales pitches for taxis became frequent and persistent.
We declined all offers, but were followed and continuously asked. We have Google's Project FI on our phone, so as soon as we disembarked the plane we had data connectivity. This is extremely convenient and removes the need of having to find a SIM in each new place we visit. Having data right away enabled us to use our phone to request an Uber (use our link and get your first ride free). Almost immediately, the Uber driver called us (again, Project Fi to the rescue!) His English, while much better than our non-existent Arabic, was minimal. We conveyed that yes, we needed an Uber, and were outside of Terminal Two and Arrivals. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find each other. The Uber map, that used GPS to tell us where his car was, was incorrect. We walked through the parking lot, trying not to stray too far. Tension was high, as we continued to be approached by people for taxi rides. However, after about 20 minutes, the driver found us. We thanked him, got in the car, and started the nearly hour journey to our hotel.
If you choose to take an Uber, request the ride before leaving the airport terminal. We approached the door, but didn’t exit the terminal, giving our Unlocked iPhone enough time to acquire GPS. Once you exit, trying to request an Uber will be a lot more hectic, since a steady stream of people will approach you about a taxi.
If taking an Uber, you’ll quickly realize that the driver information you’re used to receiving, license plate number and type of car, is somewhat useless in many cases. License plate numbers are in Arabic numbers and some types of cars in Egypt are very different than US cars, so you may not recognize the make and model. A good rule of thumb is to remember that Uber cars have to be newer cars and in good condition. Also, before entering, call the driver by name and pay attention to the driver’s phone; is it displaying the Uber app? Once you start the ride, does your Uber app indicate that your ride has started? If anything is amiss, don’t accept the ride and exit the vehicle.
We highly recommend that you have international calling or international data and VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol, e.g. Google Hangouts) on your phone, we use Google's Project Fi. In our experience, about 3 out 4 Uber drivers called us before they'd begin to make their way to us. Had we not had Project Fi, Uber would have been a lot less useful, forcing us to source a SIM locally.
Know ahead of time what you’re willing to pay for a taxi. We use Taxi Finder. An app that estimates the approximate taxi fare depending on your starting and ending location.
Know the conversion rate. We use the XE Currency Pro app for currency conversion. We also familiarize ourselves ahead of time, so that we can attempt to do quick and dirty conversions in our head. For example, Egyptian Pounds were around 18 to 1 US dollar during our visit. So, for a quick conversion and easy math, we used a 20 to 1 conversation. Obviously, this isn’t correct, but it’s close enough to get a sense of how much money we’re talking about. When we need exact conversion, we pull out the XE Currency app.
Taxis are very inexpensive, relative to US taxis. The trip to our hotel, near the Giza Pyramids (Le Méridien Pyramids Hotel & Spa), was nearly 26 miles and around an hour drive. The Uber was E£150 ($8.30) and private taxis were quoting us E£200 ($11.05). However, we’re pretty sure we could have gotten a taxi for less if we'd persisted.
Stand your ground and be patient with vendors and solicitors. Nearly always, two or three ‘no thank yous’ is all it takes.
Exiting the Country
Most places we’ve visited had airports and procedures that are fairly similar to what we’re used to in the United States. The Cairo International Airport had some procedures that were a bit different. So, in an effort to help you be prepared, here’s what we experienced.
When the Uber we were in arrived at the airport, there was a security checkpoint to proceed onto airport grounds. We’re not sure what was said, but the driver showed his ID and paper work and motioned to us. He was allowed to pass.
Upon exiting our Uber, we walked up to the terminal and, before entering, needed to show our tickets to security. We reached for our phones, but before we’d pulled up the tickets, the security guard let us pass.
Directly after entering the airport terminal, there’s another security checkpoint. It was requested that all bags go through the scanner. Also, pockets had to be emptied and shoes removed. Security requested to see our boarding passes and passports. Since the tickets where on our phones that were passing through the scanner, the security guard physically held onto our passports until we could get our phone from the conveyor belt.
When we went through passport control, the agent scanned and reviewed our passports. We received a stamp on the same passport page as our entry visa. We then proceeded to another passport checkpoint immediately around the corner. This agent refused the stamp and told us to go back and get another stamp. From what we gather, the original stamp was too light. The first agent wrote something in Arabic on the stamps and when we went back to the checkpoint, we were allowed to go through.
We noticed the boarding time on our ticket was about an hour before the flight was scheduled to depart. We soon realized why. To enter the lobby of our gate, we needed to go through another full security checkpoint, but only after our specific flight was called. The checkpoint required the standard showing of boarding passes and passports, as well as removal of shoes, jackets, laptops and liquids bags. Unique to our travels so far, the lines were divided by gender; men in one line and women in the other.
The Airport and Priority Pass Lounge
Before getting to passport control, we needed to print off our boarding passes. There was a long line in front of the Egypt Air desks, so we split up. One of us stood in line and the other went in search of a self service kiosk. We were in luck, Sergio found a kiosk and printed the boarding passes before Shannon had moved forward more than two spots in the line. The kiosks seemed to print boarding passes for not only Egypt Air, but for all of the Star Alliance member airlines.
After passing through the passport control point, we headed to the First Class Lounge in Terminal 3 (thanks to our Priority Pass from Citi Prestige!) The lounge was a bit challenging to find, in that there didn’t seem to be a sign with the name ‘First Class Lounge’ on the doors. We recommend following the directions for the lounge in the Priority Pass app, and when you get to the end of the hall, as indicated in the directions, go into the lounge in front of you and present your pass. It was, unfortunately, one of the least impressive lounges we’d been in so far, so we didn’t stay long. There wasn’t much space for working on laptops that included outlets for charging, the seating was limited considering how many people were there, and the food selection was all breakfast sweets. However, for us, the worst part was the smell of smoke that permeated the air. The lounge had a smoking room with a sliding door, which didn’t do a good job of containing the smoke.
After leaving the lounge, we wandered the terminal to see if we could find something worthwhile purchasing, so that we could spend the last few Egyptian Pounds we had in our pockets. Since we travel with only our backpacks, we have very little extra room, and every item we choose to carry must serve a very specific, functional, and well thought out purpose. So, in reality, we were looking for a food item that was decently priced and healthy. We lucked out and found a salad bar that charged by the bowl. We could fill up one bowl and essentially spend all of the cash we had. The best part about it was that we could fill it with what we wanted. So we put in a bit of lettuce, tuna, bell peppers, hard boiled eggs, carrots, and cucumbers. It was a delicious use of our last Egyptian Pounds!
There are two realistic options of where to stay in Cairo. The airport is so far from downtown and the Giza Pyramids, that we really wouldn’t recommend staying near the airport. With that option off the table, you then have the choice of staying in downtown or in Giza, near the pyramids. The distance between Giza and downtown, is only about 10 miles, but with traffic (which you should count on at almost any hour of the day) it can take 45+ minutes by car.
Whichever side of town you decide to stay in, if you want to see both the pyramids in Giza and the tourist attractions in Cairo, you’ll be commuting one way or the other.
We found that hotels in city center, as would be expected, were a bit more expensive than those near the pyramids in Giza. Ultimately, we reserved a room at the Le Méridien Pyramids Hotel & Spa, a few blocks from the Giza Pyramid Complex. At $45 a night and with views of the pyramids, we couldn’t resist.
Plus, it’s an SPG property, and we were in the middle of the SPG Status Challenge, needing only a few more nights to achieve SPG Platinum Status. Not only are the benefits of being a Platinum member great, but the status can be matched with other hotel reward programs, like Hilton, Marriott, Best Western, and Club Carlson to name a few. If that weren’t enough, when you achieve platinum status with Marriott, you then become eligible to match to United MileagePlus Premier Silver, which in turn gives you its own set of benefits.
When we made our room reservation at the Le Méridien Pyramids Hotel & Spa, we had the option to book a room with a pool view or a pyramids view. We couldn’t resist a room with a view of the pyramids, so we went ahead and paid the extra couple of dollars that the upgraded view required.
It’s the Egyptian Pyramids, how could we not?! Moreover, when we arrived they’d upgraded us to a suite because of our current SPG Gold status. The room was fantastic and the views were unforgettable.
We found the staff at the hotel, from the cleaning person, the concierge, and all the way to the manager, to be extremely helpful and kind. While it might not have the latest designs and it shows a bit of wear if you look closely, the hotel was well staffed, very clean, and quite comfortable. We really enjoyed our stay there!
On the other hand, if you choose to stay in downtown Cairo, Egypt, we recommend exchanging your view of the Pyramids for the Nile River! It’s hard to find a better experience and view than at the Sheraton Cairo Hotel & Casino.
*Note - SPG is now a part of the Marriott portfolio. Therefore, the rewards program and the benefits for each level have changed since our stay in Giza, Egypt.
We recommend taking a screen shot of the hotel address (or have it written on a piece of paper) in both English and in Arabic. If you’re trying to get back to your hotel, whether needing directions or taking a taxi, you may find, that because of the language barrier, it’s extremely helpful to have this in Arabic. For that matter, having other things written in Arabic (attractions, restaurants, instructions, etc.) will help in communicating throughout your time in Cairo.
We reached Le Méridien Pyramids Hotel & Spa, but first had to pass through the hotel's security checkpoint to enter the property. A security guard with a dog made a circle around the car and checked the trunk, presumably checking it for explosives. The driver showed his ID, the guard looked at us, and then waived the car through.
When entering the hotel we were greeted by several well-dressed security guards and were asked to pass our backpacks through a scanner, and ourselves through a metal detector. We then received a friendly and warm greeting by the concierge, Hamdi.
After completing our check-in, Hamdi, who during our entire stay remembered us by name and always greeted us with a kind smile and warm welcome, showed us around the hotel and to our room. We’d reserved a room with a view of the pyramids (how could we not?!), but because of our SPG Gold status, we were upgraded to a suite (the receptionist called it the 'hammer head' suite because of the shape of the room).
Hamdi opened the door to a beautiful suite, although, as soon as he opened the sliding door to the balcony, the room faded away, as we both set eyes on the Giza Pyramids. Although it was dark and only an outline could be seen (they're only lit up on a few nights of the week), they were stunning!
We couldn’t wait to see the Great Pyramids in the morning light. So much so, that when we woke in the morning we left the blinds closed, only opening them when we were both dressed and ready. So, in unison we looked out beyond our balcony to the horizon. It was stunning to see the pyramids, in daylight, right in front of us. They weren’t in pictures from a text book, or in video from a documentary; we were actually seeing them with our own two eyes!
Now, keep in mind that we’ve been exposed to pictures of the pyramids since we were young children. We’ve been told how big and how majestic they are. We’ve heard all of the scientific (and not so scientific) theories on how they could have possibly been built. We heard the stories of the Pharaohs they were built for and the kingdoms they controlled.
So, our expectations were high… and as it turns out, a bit unrealistic. Please don’t think we’re being negative here. The pyramids were the highlight of our time in Egypt, by far! We just think that they’d been built up so much over decades of our lives, that we expected them to be a bit bigger, ‘out of this world’, if you will.
Crazy, we know. We didn’t let that ruin anything though, we just adjusted our expectations and continued to enjoy our time. We still reveled in the idea of being in Egypt and being so close to one of the Ancient Wonders of the World!
At the very beginning of our time in Cairo, we immediately noticed a multitude of horns blaring on the road. Sergio quickly realized that this honking, which could seem random or even aggressive to some, was a way of signifying to nearby drivers where your car was. It made sense, as there seemed to be little use of the painted lane markers on the roadway (if there were any painted in the first place). If there was space on the roadway, cars filled it. So, to successfully get anywhere driving in Cairo, a level of assertiveness and aggressive driving is a must. This is a big reason why we chose to use taxis, Ubers, and walking to get around Cairo.
However, the level of honking we heard the first night, was nothing compared to what we'd hear, midday during regular, hectic Cairo traffic. Being the capital of Egypt and the largest city by population in all of Africa, there are no shortage of cars on the road. Sadly, this means there's significant air pollution, and we never really had a clear day during our stay in Cairo.
The drive to the hotel in Giza was a bit of a trek from the airport. Luckily, since we were traveling in the evening (after 9 pm), we had less traffic and it only took about 50 minutes. The drive was one of excitement, we were in a new place and everything was so different. The honking, the way people drove, the signs that were in Arabic, and the small shops that lined the streets selling goods, were all exhilarating! On the drive we passed through several historic landmarks, however we recognized very few of them since it was dark. Furthermore, as we crossed the bridge over the Nile, it could be noticed that Shannon was simply giddy. (Shannon here! We were seriously crossing over the Nile River!)
Taxis and Uber Tips
Taxis and Uber (use our link and get your first ride free!)are both reasonable ways to get from one place to the next. Just as with any place you visit, be aware of scammers. Of course, not everyone is out to get you, however we did run into a few of these scams during our stay in Cairo. Be friendly, but also be aware. It’s also a personal call if you want to worry about it; a ‘tip’ (commonly referred to locally as 'baksheesh') or extra fare cost, is probably just a dollar or two.
Most vehicles don’t have working or accessible seat belts. We estimate that a mere 10% of the cars we rode in had a seat belt that worked.
Ubers generally have newer, nicer, and well-kept cars. This, of course, is relative. At one point, we were in a white taxi and the seats were covered in sand, there wasn’t air conditioning, and one of the doors didn’t work, so we had to slide across the seat to get to the other side. Many Ubers had air-conditioning (but not all), the seats were fairly clean, and there was a 50-50 shot the car would smell of smoke.
In our experience, most drivers spoke little to no English. Again, that’s why, if using a taxi it’s important to have addresses written down in Arabic or have your hotel provide your destination(s) to the driver for you.
Uber drivers have your destination and route by GPS. Uber drivers will often ask you where you want to go in Arabic when you get in the car, but most understood it when we said “GPS” and they followed the predefined route on the Uber app.
We’d recommend negotiating the price of the taxi upfront and having the exact amount ready. A driver may still ask you for more at the end of the ride; it’s your choice if you want to tip or provide a ‘baksheesh’.
Use your phone to set your destination on a mapping app to make sure the driver isn’t taking you the 'long way' to make a few extra bucks. We had this happen to us a couple of times, even when using Uber. Fortunately, a quick message to Uber resulted in a full refund or the appropriate adjustment to the fare.
When using an Uber, make sure the driver that arrives is the same one, with the same car, as is listed in the Uber App. This can be a bit challenging, since license plates are in Arabic and the western numerals are only written on some of the plates, and those that are, are small and hard to read from afar.
Uber drivers should follow the GPS directions on the Uber app. Unfortunately, roads that should be open, aren’t always open; even major roads. At one point, we had a driver going in circles trying to follow the GPS directions. Finally, we figured out the problem and helped find a different route on our phone. It took a few tries, as one of the major roads was blocked off and another road just didn’t exist. It was an interesting ride as the driver spoke almost no English. Fortunately, with hand motions and showing him our phone, we made it to our destination.
Make sure the Uber driver concludes/ends the ride on his Uber app. We had a driver keep the ride active 2 hours after he'd dropped us off. When we finally realized it on our end, the Uber app claimed we were in Alexandria, Egypt. If this happens, immediately stop the ride on your end and message Uber. After Uber investigates, your ride should be adjusted accordingly after the fact. Thankfully, in our case, it was.
Uber gives an estimated time of arrival when you request a ride within the app. However, likely due to traffic, road conditions, and roadblocks, it can take much longer. On two occasions while in city center, it took noticeably longer than the original estimation for the Uber driver to arrive and pick us up.
Is It Safe to Drink the Tap Water?
Water is a commodity. Not only do we need it to survive, but we use it for so much more, like washing clothes, brushing teeth, taking a shower, etc. In the United States, since tap water is generally safe to drink (with notable exceptions like Flynt, Michigan) we take it for granted. A good habit to get into when traveling is to do a bit of research on the quality of the water before arriving at your new destination. Most of the places we’ve been to have been of little concern, however Egypt was a bit different.
The consensus is that overall, water in Egypt should not be consumed. Most resources we reviewed, including the CDC and IAMAT, advise not consuming the water in any form. However, there’s some advice that says that drinking water in Cairo is okay; that it’s just treated heavily with chlorine (Lonely Planet). Drinking a lot of water with chlorine can be tough on the stomach and cause health problems over time.
It’s up to each individual traveler, on what their tolerance and risk level is. For us, since common illnesses from contaminated water include traveler’s diarrhea, giardia, hepatitis A, typhoid and cholera, we decided that we’d rather stay on the safe side and avoid any chance of getting sick. We were extremely appreciative of the free bottled water at the hotel (a perk of being an SPG member). Because of Cairo's heat, it’s extremely important to stay hydrated. We found we were drinking three to four times more water than we normally would. We erred on the side of caution and filled both of our collapsible water bottles full each day we went sightseeing.
Alternatively, a great way to get clean water without spending money on bottled water (and reducing the use of plastic) is the SteriPEN. It uses ultraviolet light to sterilize the water, which ensures bacteria isn’t able to multiply, making tap water safe to drink. Here’s a great comparison chart that you can use to pick the best SteriPEN product for your needs. Alternatively, you can use a LifeStraw which also purifiers water. It’s great for hikers because it’s rugged, lightweight, and requires no electricity or batteries.
Here are a few world-wide tips to avoiding tummy aches and sickness from contaminated water consumption. Again, how closely you follow our tips (if at all) depends on your personal sense of adventure, where you’re traveling to, and the current quality of the location's water.
Only drink bottled water.
Make sure the bottle is sealed when you get it. It’s possible, that to save money, the establishment may have used tap water to refill it.
Don’t eat fresh vegetables and fruits. They’ve probably been washed with tap water. It’s okay to eat cooked vegies, and fruit that you eat by peeling and discarding the skin.
Keep your mouth closed when swimming in open bodies of water.
Keep your mouth closed in the shower.
Brush your teeth and take your medications with bottled water.
Get your drinks without ice.
It’s never a bad idea to drink your beverage straight from the bottle or can, to avoid the glass that was cleaned with tap water.
For a quick reference on where it’s safe to drink tap water, check out mappingmegan.com. Additionally, find out if what you're eating is safe by downloading the CDC's 'Can I Eat This?' app for your mobile device. The CDC also has an app that, based on your specific destination, will give you a list of vaccination recommendations. It has calendar reminders for vaccine booster shots, travel packing lists, and can store important medical and immunization records.
Before arriving in Cairo, we did a bit of research on what to wear while we were visiting. While there are no laws in Egypt or Cairo about how to dress, recommendations were for both men and women to dress conservatively.
Long skirts or pants, no skirts or shorts
Long or short sleeve tops, no tank tops
Avoid form-fitting clothing
Avoid showing cleavage
Pants, no shorts
Long or short sleeve tops, no tank tops
Additionally, there are a few things you may consider packing. We found, that because of the intense sun, sunglasses were an absolute must. Also, women should consider bringing a scarf, which can be used to cover up when entering a mosque. However, if you don’t want to pack one, there are plenty of places you can buy one while in Cairo. Plus, many of the larger mosques will provide one for visitors.
It was hard to swallow not wearing shorts or a skirt in such hot weather, but we decided we preferred the discomfort of the heat to the discomfort of the attention we’d possibly get by showing our legs. Again, we aren’t your typical ‘tour bus travelers’, we knew that we’d be walking the back streets of Cairo and preferred to, as best as possible, blend in. We both have lightweight, water resistant pants for travel that worked much better at keeping us cool than heavy jeans. When we arrived, we paid attention to what other people were wearing. In the hotel, it was casual and anything (within reason) could be worn. However, on the main streets we saw very few tourists and on the back streets we saw none. Of those tourists we did see, almost all were dressed conservatively. It, of course, is a personal choice, and we decided to do our best to blend in.