The revolution has been great for Egyptian sovereignty, but hard on the economy. Fearful tourists should know that traveling through the country can be safe (and fascinating!)
The cozy Felfela restaurant in downtown Cairo serves up delicious food with plenty of choices for both omnivores and vegetarians. Just one block from Tahrir Square, where hundreds of thousands of citizens assembled to reclaim their country, the restaurant offers weary travelers a welcome reprieve from the city din. But business is slow. On Saturday night I found this haven for foreigners virtually empty.
Since the revolution, tourism traffic has dropped precipitously, causing both citizens and the government to take drastic recovery measures. (One guy thinks he’s going to fight a lion!) Although security for locals is not as rigorous as it was when Egypt was a police state, foreigners who observe a few basic tips will find the country perfectly safe.
Just about everyone who lives in Egypt knows how richly this country relies on tourism for their financial stability, so the likelihood of encountering trouble is incredibly small. More likely, people will bend over backwards to provide excellent service. But that doesn’t mean tourists act less diligently than they would while traveling through Johannesburg, Los Angeles, or Berlin.
1. Avoid known trouble spots:
What was supposed to be the second angry Friday in downtown Cairo turned out to be something no one wrote home about. Even so, it was difficult to know that beforehand. Even though I really, really wanted to experience revolutionary Egypt, since I had no real professional justification to attend the demonstrations, it seemed smart to play it safe and stay away.
When traveling through a politically-charged country, it helps to know when to say when. Also, seedy elements frequently target heavily-populated areas in order maximize damages. Avoid these places, then both you and your family back home will have better peace of mind.
2. Check in with your embassy:
I’m not a big fan of big brothers in any country, but if I feel insecure about traveling because of social unrest, then it seems sensible to register with the embassy just-in-case. That way, if the kaka hits the fan, they will be more likely to help you out. Better yet, the embassies can let you know that the kaka is coming before it actually makes contact with the fan.
3. Know before you go:
Locals can spot a lost tourist from a mile away, so it always pays to know where you are heading. This is particularly true in Egypt, where a very small percentage of the population can communicate in a language other than Arabic. In some countries it is possible to jump in a taxi when lost and let the driver set you right, but in Egypt, that is likely to confuse matters more. It’s a good idea to buy a decent map and plan your route carefully (without becoming closed to spontaneous experience). This includes consulting your favorite guide to get the scoop on the best bus and train routes.
4. Make connections:
I’ve always been the kind of traveler who makes an effort to meet the locals instead of sticking with the comfort of “my own kind.” Even so, I like to know that if something goes wrong (if I lose my passport, my money, or my bus driver falls asleep at the wheel), there is at least one person in the country who cares that I survive the experience. One really great way to make friends on the road is through Couchsurfing. This organization is far better than sliced bread.
5. Pay attention:
It happens that during our travels, we stop paying attention to what is happening in the world around us.
And then suddenly, we wake up from a hangover and realize that we haven’t read a single newspaper in two weeks. This is particularly bad form when traveling through an unstable country, where the situation can change quite quickly. Stay informed, keep your eyes open, exercise sound judgement, and you will have a very interesting time!
5 Eco-Lodges for the Intrepid Traveler (recommended by a local eco-ficionado!):
- El Hammra Eco-Lodge (located in the village of Wadi–El-Natron, midway between Cairo and Alexandria): http://www.elhammraeco-lodge.com
- Basata Ecolodge in Sinai: http://www.basata.com
- Al Karm Ecolodge: (Saint Catherine, South of Sinai): http://saharasafaris.org/ecolodges/alkarm/index.htm
- Fustat Wadi El Gemal (located in the Eastern desert, 850 km from Cairo, 40km South of Marsa Alam): http://www.wadielgemal.com
- Al Tarfa Desert Sanctuary Lodge (located in the Western desert): http://altarfa.net
More environmental/travel news from Egypt: