The number one question I got before, during and after my trip to Egypt was, “Is it safe?”
It’s difficult to answer this as a simple yes or no because there are so many factors around it. On a high level, I would say yes, it’s safe to travel to and I’m so glad I did. However, I took many precautions like traveling with G Adventures, my trusted go-to for small group adventure travel. I’m also very comfortable traveling in developing countries.
This may not be the case for everyone, and I would say Egypt is not for everyone. It’s chaotic, painfully hot, crowded and vendors are in your face all the time. Stepping out in Cairo seemed to suck all the energy out of me, and at the end of my trip, all I wanted to do was stay in my hotel (which I did!)
Despite all these discomforts, Egypt is fascinating and beautiful. From the expected—majestic Pyramids and well-preserved temples, to the unexpected—lush views along the Nile, friendly locals and delicious food, it’s a place that’s difficult to forget.
It reminds me of my trip to India, which is another place many people asked about safety. Similarly, I chose to travel with G Adventures on that trip as well to ensure safety would not be an issue.
What about these aggressive vendors I keep hearing about?
Yes, they’re everywhere and will follow you until you budge. But, they just want you to buy something so they can make a bit of money to feed their family. It’s annoying, yes, but most of the time, they mean no harm. Keep in mind when the 2011 revolution happened in Egypt, this country that largely depends on tourism received no tourists.
That means most people weren’t making much money. I sensed an aggression that came from this sense of desperation. It’s no excuse for anyone being rude or making you feel like you need to buy something, but maybe some empathy will go a long way. Tourism has just started to pick up again the last few years, and may deter this behavior, or maybe it’s just a part of the culture.
Another point to remember is that you can’t assume everyone behaves a certain way in an entire country. It’s like saying America is safe/unsafe based on a few individuals. Or asking me if NYC is safe? Yes, some parts are safer than others. It depends on your comfort level and street savviness.
All that being said, I always promote learning as much about a place before visiting. You can prepare yourself and know what to expect. Here are some tips for staying safe in Egypt. I hope it will encourage you to travel there if you haven’t considered it (because of safety issues) or informs your upcoming trip!
Top tips on how to stay safe in Egypt
Travel with a tour company or guide
I traveled with G Adventures for many reasons and the biggest was for safety. Our CEOs (Chief Experience Officers) Mo and Sherif took care of us the entire time and went beyond to ensure nothing bad ever happened.
Egypt is one of those places I would not recommend traveling alone, especially as a woman. First off, transportation is not easily accessible. Getting from place to place is also more economical with a tour. I would never want to drive in Cairo (it’s insane; there are no rules!) or elsewhere in the country. Our G Adventures’ transport was always there, waiting for us with cold water on board.
Secondly, having a local guide is always beneficial when visiting a foreign country with many local, unspoken customs. Mo and Sherif shared stories about their lives and insight on daily life in Egypt. They guided us on how to behave and not to get ripped off while haggling. Third, there’s safety in numbers and our group helped each other out many times, besides being really fun to travel with. Lastly, we had a security guard ride with us in certain areas. We were told it was an added measure by the government just in case anything were to come up where we needed his assistance.
While it’s not mandatory to cover up in Egypt, it will certainly make you less of a target if you dress conservatively. Keep in mind that Islam is the dominant religion in Egypt with around 90% of the population. Walking around, most women are either completely covered up in a burqa (more so in the south) or have on a hijab (headscarf). As a foreign woman, if you show up in short shorts and a tank top, most men and women are not used to seeing so much skin and will stare. You will feel uncomfortable.
Our CEOs said it’s okay to wear whatever in touristy or in private places (the Pyramids, western hotels, felucca boat ride, etc.), but it’s recommended to cover up in local spots like markets, the train station, mosques (mandatory to cover shoulders and knees or they often give you a burqa to wear).
For this trip, I consciously chose to dress more conservatively than I normally would in 100+ degree weather. I’ve had many people ask me about this. It’s not that you can’t wear whatever you want, but it’s a sign of respect for Egyptians and their culture. I guarantee people will appreciate if you are aware of their local customs and dress. Also, you’ll avoid unwanted (negative) attention.
Don’t go out alone unnecessarily
Like traveling anywhere foreign, there’s safety in numbers. As someone who looks different, you’ll automatically stand out and attract attention.
If it’s a local place, people will stare but not bother you. Or ask for a selfie, which happened to me and my mom so many times! It’s generally harmless, but do err on the side of caution. If it’s a touristy place with many vendors, they’ll want you to buy things and will do whatever they can to get your attention.
Learn a few words in Arabic
It’s always helpful to know the local language wherever you go. People respect that. My go-tos in Egypt were hello (marhaba), thanks (shukran), no thanks (la shukran or just la!) and as-salaam alaikum (formal way of greeting or “peace be upon you).
I went to a very local market in Aswan with our CEO Sherif, and I think I was the only non-local person in the entire bazaar. Most of the vendors called me out and tried to get my attention. When I responded back in Arabic, they were surprised and were caught off guard. It felt like a game, similar to getting cat-called in NYC and responding with something witty. It was a bit exhausting to keep up, but this was a fun moment where I realized the vendors weren’t trying to be annoying. They just do whatever to get your attention, and sometimes it comes across as offensive from our point of view.
Walk with confidence
If you look weak and unsure, you’ll be an easy target. Even if you’re completely lost, walk with confidence and look like you know where you’re going. Then run into a shop and look up actual directions! To avoid vendor attention, don’t make any eye contact and and keep walking in your desired direction.
Summary for staying safe in Egypt
Like I said, I don’t think Egypt is for everyone. It’s very different than what most of us are used to growing up in the west and is not a comfortable place to travel to. However, those that do take the challenge will be pleasantly surprised, especially if you find ways to get off the tourist routes, which I’ll cover in a separate post! I especially loved traveling with my G Adventures group and would highly recommend their itinerary.
Thank you to G Adventures for hosting me and keeping me safe in Egypt. As always, all opinions and photos are my own.