Is Egypt Safe? Home of the ancient Pyramids, Egypt was once one of the most tourist heavy countries in the world. People from all over the world came by the millions to witness the majestic pyramids, ancient temples, and world class scuba diving in the Red Sea. Then the Egyptian revolution happened in 2011 and tourism plummeted. A series of terrorist attacks including the downing of a Russian passenger plane in Sharm El Sheikh has plunged Egyptian tourism further into the abyss. Nowadays, Egypt is largely seen as “unsafe” from Western media. What was once a huge part of the country’s GDP is a mere shadow of its former self.
Is this all warranted however? Is Egypt really as dangerous as everyone says? I spent an incredible two weeks in Egypt and here is my opinion.
Why is Egypt considered so dangerous?
In 2011, following similar revolutions in Libya and Tunisia, Egypt had its own moment in the spotlight. Millions marched in Cairo’s Tahrir Square to force President Hosani Mubarak, who had been in power for 30 years, to resign. The resulting Government that took control lacked leadership and organizational structure. A series of terrorist attacks have since followed.
These include a high-profile plane crash in 2015 – a Russian commercial aircraft flying from Sharm el Sheikh to St Petersburg went down in North Sinai, killing 224 people, most of whom were tourists. In January 2016 a knife attack at the Bella Vista hotel in Hurghada injured three foreign visitors. In Easter 2016, two bombs went off on Palm Sunday, killing 45 Coptic Christians. Most recently, a terrorist attack in the North Sinai claimed over 300 lives at a local Mosque.
Incidents like these are both tragic on an individual and community level, and devastating on a national one, tarnishing the whole country as a less than desirable holiday destination. Potential visitors tend to think it best to stay away entirely – at least, that’s what the data suggests. Before the 2011 uprising, nearly 15 million tourists visited Egypt a year. In 2016, the number totalled just 5.3 million, according to chairman of Egypt’s Tourism Authority, Hicham al-Demairi. This has had a huge knock-on effect on Egypt’s economy, as tourism made up a significant proportion of GDP.
Nowadays, Egypt garners travel advisories on every Western country’s foreign relations. In the US, the specific language is as of 12/2017:
The U.S. Department of State warns U.S. citizens to consider the risks of travel to Egypt due to threats from terrorist and violent political opposition groups. This replaces the Travel Warning issued on December 23, 2016. A number of terrorist groups, including ISIS, have committed multiple deadly attacks in Egypt, targeting government officials and security forces, public venues, tourist sites, civil aviation and other modes of public transportation, and a diplomatic facility. Terrorists continue to threaten Egypt’s religious minorities and have attacked sites and people associated with the Egyptian Coptic Church.
A pretty harsh warning indeed. Pretty much says there is not a square inch of the country that isn’t dangerous, and if you visit Egypt, you WILL die. Okay, maybe it’s not that bad but you get the idea.
Is Egypt really as dangerous as they say?
As you can see from the above, there are terrorist activities that have plagued the country in the years after the revolution, especially in the northern Sinai area.
Nevertheless, what about the areas a tourist would actually care to visit? Cairo, Alexandria, Luxor, Aswan, and the South Sinai? I spent extensive time in all these places in 2014 AND in 2017. I can safely say that at no point, did I feel like I was in danger whatsoever. Not in 2014, and not in 2017. Sure there is probably some petty crimes to worry about, but what country is that not something to be prudent of?
I’m not here to preach about how Egypt is the safest place in the world but I am here to say that only believing what the media is saying about Egypt is not prudent either.
People are friendly, sometimes too much
I traveled solo around Egypt for almost a month in 2014. I visited the pyramids, temples, the Nile, and more temples. I never encountered any problems on my trip except for the over zealous haggler that couldn’t seem to understand that I simply didn’t want his damn papyrus scrolls. In 2017, I did the same thing again and had the same wonderful experience. People are friendly and everyone is seemingly worried about my well being. Perhaps this is the natural Egyptian way, or perhaps they know that all foreigners think Egypt’s this crazy dangerous place and it’s up to the locals to change people’s views. Regardless, I was well taken care of everywhere I went.
The only time I felt like I was in danger was weaving through the insanely chaotic Cairo traffic where lane markers are merely recommendations.
Tourism in Egypt
Tourism is very important to Egypt
Tourism is still one of the largest contributors of the economy. Millions of peoples lives are directly tied to tourism. What does this mean? The Government will go above and beyond to make sure no one messes with tourism on a large scale. Of course there are instances where the Government couldn’t prevent a tragedy (like the Russian plane), but let’s be honest, this is the case in every country in the world in this day and age. Egypt just elicits the worst reactions from people.
Egypt’s Double Standard
When terrorists attacked multiple cities in France, tourism dipped but eventually recovered. When terrorists attacked Egypt, tourism fell off a cliff. There was a mass exodus of visitors from every country. Why is this?
My opinion is people visiting Egypt see countries in Europe as more “familiar”, and therefore more “safe”. Egypt is a Islamic country and for non-Muslims, the familiarity aspect goes out the door. People will unconsciously associate terrorism with Islam even if they don’t mean to and therefore deem the whole country to be unsafe.
Also let’s not forget the media, word of mouth and general unfounded panic from untraveled people!
The thing is, despite all these terrorist attacks, life goes on in Egypt. People are trying to live their lives and get by in whatever way they know how to. Just like people did in France after the Paris shootings, or in Germany after the Berlin Christmas market attacks, or in the USA after the Las Vegas shooting. Egypt isn’t some war zone. Trendy Egyptians still eat at the trendy restaurants in Zamalek, old school guys continue to smoke their shishas on the sidewalk, and blue collar folks continue to eat their koshari after a long day of work.
Avoid the North Sinai
The Sinai peninsula is a huge area of Egypt. The North Sinai bordering the Gaza strip is home to some undesirable activity and I’d probably stay away from that area. There isn’t much to see or do in that area anyways (that I know of) so from a tourist perspective, there’s no chance you’d actually find yourself in that area anyway. The Government has made is all but impossible to travel up there in any capacity with roadblocks every 50km or so.
The South Sinai is perfectly fine
The Sinai peninsula is a huge area. The North Sinai is hundreds of kilometers away from the tourist centric towns along the Gulf of Aqaba in the south. Towns like Dahab (My favorite!), Nuweibaa, and Sharm El Sheikh are perfectly safe to visit. This area of Egypt is probably one of my favorite places in the world. The stunning contrast between desert, mountains, and ocean are highlighted here unlike anywhere else I’ve seen in the world.
Cairo is safe for tourists
Cairo, Egypt’s crazy hectic capital, is home to the pyramids of Giza, the Egyptian museum, Mosques, and a big food scene. It’s not the most aesthetically pleasing of cities I’ve visited; no one will mistake this city for Paris but it is still a great place to be for at least a day or two. The main danger I felt in Cairo was if my Uber driver was going to get into a car accident as he weaved in and out of traffic. Surprisingly, most people follow the traffic lights but the lane markers? Forget about it, they should save the paint and put it towards something else.
For how to spend a perfect day or two in Cairo, read my trip report.
Luxor and Aswan are totally fine
Luxor is home to a vast amount of famous temples including Luxor temple, Karnak, Hatshepsut’s temple, and the Valley of the Kings. Very few incidents have occurred in Luxor and Luxor is not on any travel advisories as of now. Aswan, home to the famous and beautiful Abu Simbel temple, is in the same boat. If you have the time, make sure to take a 2-3 night Nile Cruise in between the two cities.
Why now is actually a good time to visit Egypt
I’m not trying to downplay the atrocities committed against the people of Egypt, but if people can somehow get over their innate fear or what they deem is different from them, Egypt is actually an amazing place to visit at the moment.
The plummet in tourism means a cheap country is even cheaper. Most importantly, it means you can visit some of the most bucket-list worthy and most beautiful sights in the world without thousands of people there with you. That’s how I felt in 2014 when I had the Abu Simbel temples to myself, and again how I felt in 2017 when there were hardly anyone at the Pyramids of Giza.
Because of the lack of tourism, vendors are more likely to negotiate to whatever levels you want, even if you’re not an all star heckler. We wanted to ride camels at the Pyramids and the Government had listed official pricing at 200 LE/hr ($12 USD). After hardly any negotiating, the camel guys gave us discounts.
Uber is the best thing to happen to Egypt
Uber has also made its way to Cairo and Alexandria. It really has changed the game when it comes to getting around the city. In 2014, I would bargain and heckle my brains out just to catch a cab to go down the street. Nowadays, Uber has set the official pricing and is so easy to use. The official pricing is also insanely cheap as a cab from the airport to Giza is only 120-150 LE ($6-8) and is 40km!
Solo female travel to Egypt
I’m not female so in no way am I providing expert judgement on the topic of solo female travel around Egypt. I know Egypt’s not the first place that comes in mind for the solo female traveler. The men (especially older ones) do not have the best reputation when interacting with foreigners. I can attest to this too as I noticed some creepy stares at my girlfriend from guys when I wasn’t by her side.
I would recommend joining a small group tour of some sort just to get a lay of the land. Once you’ve familiarized yourself with the area, then do some exploring on your own. Egypt is a Muslim country but ever so slightly more on the liberal side from my experience. Girls should still try and dress modestly especially when traveling through the main cities (all good when along the Red Sea).
I met many solo female travelers in Egypt that had nothing but positive things to say about their experiences. One girl I met living in Sharm El Sheikh said she’s always felt more safe in Egypt than she did back home in Italy. Obviously everyone has their own experiences and opinions of Egypt, but overall I think it is quite alright for female travelers.