Before the Arab Spring, Egypt would host 12 million tourists per year. Now the number is down to less than 2 million. This statistic is not meant to scare, but to offer an opportunity. Prices are cheaper than ever and there’s few tourists to ruin your photos or clog up lines. Post revolution is the time to go see Cairo.
Because the Cairo government isn’t 100% stable yet, it’s best to hire a guide. While hiring a guide isn’t the sexiest thing to do, it makes the most sense. They will be able to tell you when a street vendor is trying to fleece you and where the good bathrooms are. When you’re in a recovering dictatorship, tips like these are invaluable. Any good guide will meet you at the airport, assist with the visa process and scurry you right out.
Visiting Cairo is slightly unsettling. Not because of political unrest or military action, but for something far weirder. Time traveling seems like an all too real possibility in Cairo. You can start your day in Tahrir Square, the center of the
Revolution. Standing in the middle of Tahrir Square, you can gaze at murals of martyrs and abaya-clad women sobbing over their fallen men. Usually seen in the news in flames and an absolute uproar; locals will tell you is usually a great place to people watch or get stuck in a traffic jam. Drive 20 minutes in any direction, and you’re thrown into the time of Pharaohs and Pyramids.
This discrepancy is best seen at the Egyptian Museum. To get to one of the oldest museum in the Middle East, you have to walk by tanks and spirals of barbed wire. Soldiers stand around smoking cigarettes and idly chatting with each other. To the left of the museum, lies the ash colored remnants of Mubarak’s Party Headquarters.
Entering the Egyptian Museum is other worldly. It’s worth getting lost in there, stumbling upon mummified alligators, Tutankhamun’s gold death mask and wooden chariots with hieroglyphs still clearly distinguishable. Because the Museum is so large and lit by large windows, echoes are murmurs and you feel like you’ve dimly stumbled on someone’s insane private collection.
Cultural whiplash is a very real and present danger in Cairo. In short spans of time, you can be back in the Arab Spring, having to go through 7 security checkpoints to get to the airport. Driving to your hotel, you can look at the Nile and watch as you whiz pass the pyramids.You can imagine what colonial Egypt might have looked like in Khan al-Khalili while you bargain for saffron and camel leather wallets.
Cairo itself is around 3,000 years old. Its history is bloody and beautiful. Visiting this city is a real adventure. Is it 100% stable? No. Will it have flare ups? Probably. Sisi is relatively popular, but hasn’t contained the volatility. Make sure to check out travel warnings before booking tickets, and know that the news doesn’t always show the most complete picture. More likely than not, it’s not a protest, it’s just a great place to get stuck in a traffic jam.