Historically, political instability has had a profound impact on tourism, as seen with Thailand, Fiji, and most recently – Egypt. One of the world’s most ancient civilizations, Egypt has long captivated tourists for its almost magical history, rife with tales of indomitable Pharaoh’s, biblical heroes, and mystical creatures. But the widely publicized Egyptian revolution of 2011 that helped topple the Mubarak regime, understandably put a major damper on its tourism industry. The Middle East Monitor reports that tourism dropped 40 percent, with 4.8 million visitors in 2016 versus 14.7 million in 2010.
But if we’ve learned anything from Thailand and Fiji, it’s that while the impact of political unrest is real, it is also temporary. And Cairo is ready for its big comeback.
Is it Safe to Travel to Cairo?
This question is complicated, since yes, there are areas of Egypt that are not advisable for tourists. These areas include:
- The Sinai Peninsula (with the exception of travel to Sharm El-Sheikh)
- The Western Desert
- Egyptian border areas.
While the entire country of Egypt may not be advisable to visit since the Arab Spring uprising of 2011, Egypt – and Cairo especially, maintains a heavy military presence. Common sense is always advisable when traveling abroad. But because many tourists are taking a beat, 2019 could be one of the best years to visit The Land of the Pharaoh’s – especially since the country is eager to revamp its tourism efforts. And they are pulling out all of the stops.
The leader of the renewed appeal is the new Grand Egyptian Museum. This spectacular, 5.2-million-square-foot center is the world’s largest museum devoted to a single civilization. Opening in phases beginning in 2019, it will feature never-before-seen artifacts, completely restored and remade.
Leading the restoration efforts is a 50,000 piece display of King Tutankhamun’s possessions. This includes his bed, his jewelry, sandals, chariot, and cheetah-skin shield. 30,000 of these pieces have never before been shown to the public. The GEM museum is a mere two kilometers away from the Giza Plateau and the Great Pyramids.
But the GEM is not the only new draw. The Tomb of Mehu, a 4,000-year-old burial chamber has just been opened to the public since its discovery in 1940. The ancient tomb features hieroglyphics and colorful wall decorations, giving insight into how Egyptians lived one thousand years before the pyramids were built. And Mehu’s Tomb is just the beginning. The Saqqara burial ground has numerous other tombs and small pyramids. Egyptian authorities are continuing to open them up, preparing them for visitors.
And of course, there’s the ever iconic Valley of the Kings, Giza Necropolis, and the Great Sphinx of Giza. These ancient Egyptian monuments have been available for thousands of years to tourists. But in recent years, there’s never been a better time to visit.
Because of the plunge in tourism numbers, visitors to the sites are relatively low. While there is always a crowd, they are not overwhelmed as they were in, say, 2009 and 2010. Visitors are free to enjoy the monuments in relative peace, without flocks of tourists encroaching on photographs.
As an added bonus, travel to one of the world’s most visited destinations may be cheaper than ever before. The country has been offering incentives to airlines and tour operators to reduce costs. Security reform has made airport security much safer. And with a military presence throughout, the threat of terrorism is much lower than it was before.
The short answer: Yes, it is safe to travel to Cairo. In fact, there may not be a better time to travel to Cairo. But whenever you travel, especially abroad, you should take some precautions.
How to Travel Safely in Cairo
The U.S. State Department has a list of precautions to take when traveling to Egypt. These include:
- Staying alert in locations frequented by Westerners
- Avoiding demonstrations and/or large crowds
- Obtaining foreign medical insurance
- Enrolling in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), which enrolls you to receive alerts and makes it easier for you to be located in an emergency
- Reviewing the Crime and Safety Report for Egypt
Remember as well, that many sacred sites, especially in the Middle East, require women to dress modestly. Egypt is an Islamic country, and while their dress codes are not as stringent as other countries, it should still be observed. Women should cover their shoulders and knees. If visiting religious sites, a head and neck covering should be worn. Some sites will also require you to take off your shoes. By complying with dress codes, you will also make yourself less of a target, thus keeping you safer.
You also might want to consider taking a tour. Tours are a good way to travel with a group and can prevent you from being put in compromising positions. They also allow you to travel with a guide or someone who speaks the native language.
Based on traveler reviews, here are a few recommended tours:
Abercrombie & Kent’s Sanctuary Sun Boat IV
It definitely takes some preparation to visit Egypt. Precautions should be taken when planning your itinerary and packing your bags. But with the dip in tourism, prices for accommodations and other arrangements have never been lower. Hotels and restaurants took advantage of the lull to make updates and improvements. The people, especially, are eager to have the tourists back since tourism is an important part of their economy.
Cairo is ready for its comeback. All it needs now is you!