I know many people are nervous about traveling to Egypt, especially with kids. I’ve heard from countless readers since our trip that they removed Egypt from their bucket list due to safety concerns, but still really want to visit. We’d been toying with the idea of making a trip to Cairo for some time, but also had concerns about visiting as a family.
After extensive research we decided to make the trip. It is probably the most incredible travel experience we’ve had to date! I mean, how can you not be in awe of seeing the last remaining original seven wonders of the world?! To help other travelers learn what to expect, we’ve put together this ultimate family guide to Egypt including Cairo travel tips and all the information we think you’ll need to have a fantastic trip to Egypt. We answer the big question, “is it safe to travel Egypt right now?”, teach about Egypt visa requirements, discuss Cairo tours and more!
Ultimate Family Guide to Egypt: Cairo Travel Tips and More
Is it safe to travel to Egypt Right Now?
I’m sure the big question on everyones mind is, is it safe to travel to Egypt? Sometimes things can be exaggerated by the media, so we did extensive research on the safety of Egypt before booking our trip. Yes, there have been terrorist attacks in Egypt. Yes, they had a deadly revolution in Cairo about 5 years ago. Yes, tourism to the country took a huge hit but has been coming back over the past year even making the Bloomberg list of where to go in 2017. Yes, we felt completely safe during our trip and believe it is safe to travel Egypt right now.
I’m going to admit that our parents were not happy about our decision to visit. My mom even told me she wouldn’t feel comfortable until we were back in France. However as we have seen, bad things can happen anywhere. Orlando, Paris, and London are popular destinations that have experienced acts of terror. Had we not just left Nice, France for holiday, we likely would have been on the Promenade during the attack in 2016.
Now, there are areas of Egypt you should avoid. North Sinai, which is located near the border of Israel, should be avoided. There is an advisory against all travel in the region. Our tour guide even pointed out the area on a map telling us that tourists and even Egyptians shouldn’t go there.
Travel warnings are also in effect for places like the Giza Pyramids, as attacks could happen at popular tourist spots as well as at the Coptic Churches. In our opinion, this is the same as advisories to the Eiffel Tower, Tower Bridge, Roman Coliseum and the Statue of Liberty. Sadly, we should always exercise more caution when visiting such popular tourist destinations.
Additionally, to put the current threat level of Egypt into more context, Egypt (with the exception of the Sinai Peninsula as mentioned above) is under a “Level 2: Exercise Increased Caution” Advisory. France is also under Level 2 advisory as well as Italy, Germany, Denmark, the UK, the Bahamas, Spain and many more countries.
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I would likely reconsider visiting a country with a level 3 advisory with my kids; however, we have been to Turkey so there can be a reason to pause and think about where in the country you are visiting.
All that said, we felt completely safe in Cairo. There are a lot of police and armed guards throughout the city. I’m used to this in France, so it doesn’t bother me. If you’re not used to this type of security, it can be scary. While I hate they need to be there, I do feel safer knowing there is a presence of police/military nearby.
The police even preformed a lot of checks with bomb dogs around cars before entering certain areas as well as bag checks before entering attractions and churches. I think they are trying to be extra careful with safety. And that’s a good thing. The Egyptians want and need tourism and are striving to keep their country and visitors safe.
Had we wanted, we could have had a police escort through Old Cairo. It is my understanding that this is primarily for residents of the USA, UK and wealthy visitors. We preferred not to have an armed shadow, so we were French for the day 🙂 Again, this doesn’t mean it isn’t safe. They are just trying to be extra cautious with tourists.
The only time I felt unsafe was trying to cross the street. There are no cross walks, you just bob-and-weave between cars. Being in the car driving around also freaked me out. They just do whatever – honking, cutting across multiple lanes, walking across the highway, stop randomly on the side of the road, etc. I wanted to get out and kiss the ground once we reached our destination. I’m exaggerating about the kissing the ground part, but my point is, those are the only times I felt unsafe.
Blending in on your trip to Egypt…
Bad things can happen anywhere, so we can’t let fear dictate our travels. However, we always try to be vigilant and aware of our surroundings while traveling. This is the same even if I’m visiting a small French village or a big city like Rome.
We avoid large crowds, keep a sharper eye on the kids at major attractions and try to adapt to local customs. In Egypt, we decided to avoid large group tours, dressed respectfully and researched local customs and travel tips. While we were obviously tourists, we didn’t want to stick out too much. We did this in Morocco as well. Even in France, Derrick no longer wears a baseball cap, and I don’t wear my yoga pants unless I’m actually going to the gym. We like to blend in as much as possible.
What to Wear in Egypt
Another big aspect of traveling to Egypt, what should you wear? This is particularly important for females as Egypt is a Muslim country. The dress code is more lax in cities such as Cairo where tourism is a big industry. I’m told Egypt in general is more relaxed than other Muslim countries.
According to our female tour guide, Egyptians are not as extreme in following some of the Muslim customs. She, as a Muslim women, choses not to cover her head and wears 3/4 sleeves saying “that’s okay.” While we did notice most women were veiled, we were surprised at the number of Egyptian women who weren’t.
It isn’t necessary for tourists to cover their heads, but you should still be respectful and dress conservatively. Women should cover their cleavage, shoulders and knees. You should avoid tank tops and sleeveless tops/dresses and pack pants, dresses and skirts that cover your knees.
The more of your arms and legs you cover, the better. Short sleeves is fine. 3/4 sleeves is better and a full sleeve is best. Covering your knees is good but covering to your ankle is best. You also want to avoid form fitting, tight clothing and it’s even better if the top covers your rear.
When packing , consider loose clothing as it is hot in Egypt. I borrowed some tops from a friend and they were a lifesaver. While my clothes weren’t perfect, I was dressed conservatively. A couple of the tops had a lower “v” shape that is perfectly acceptable and fairly conservative by US standards. But, I put a tank underneath anyway.
I didn’t have any loose, lightweight pants, so I opted for my capri jeans and a long maxi skirt. I also wore a long calf length dress out to dinner. Again, my attire wasn’t perfect but I still felt comfortable and didn’t draw unwanted attention to myself. You should have seen the looks some women got. Spaghetti strap, mid-thigh dresses are not appropriate. Form fitting, low cut tanks with shorts are not appropriate.
We also attempted to follow this dress code with Lucy. She is only 11, so I wasn’t as worried about her. She wore short sleeve tops that covered her derrier. Her skirts are all on the shorter side, so she wore leggings during our visit. But again, her tops covered her rear. She did not need to cover her head in the mosque.
Men, of course, have less restrictions and are OK in longer shorts, slacks and t-shirts. Men should avoid tank tops as you won’t see Egyptian men wearing such clothing. Boys can follow the same dress code as their fathers.
To take guided Cairo tours or not have a guide?
First, I’ll say that you will be fine traveling around on your own. Many travelers go this route and have perfectly wonderful vacations. We explored some on our own and didn’t have a problem. However, we did decide to book 2 guided Cairo tours – one to see the pyramids and Egyptian Museum and another to explore Coptic Cairo. We also decided to take private tours and avoid big tour groups or buses.
Private Egypt tours are reasonably priced, around $200 for 2 adults and 2 children. These full day tours included admission tickets, a Egyptologist as the guide, a driver, pickup and drop off at our hotel and lunch. I wanted all the extra history and tidbits of information that you can only get from someone who has studied Egyptian history. Plus we learned in Morocco that vendors aren’t quite as annoying when you’re walking with a guide. Again, you could do these things on your own, but we went the easy route.
Just note that your guide will not help while haggling prices when you make purchases. They will advise, if you ask, the appropriate amount to tip.
What to do in Cairo
There are so many amazing things to do in Cairo that you’ll want a minimum of 2 -3 full days to explore. The highlights for us were seeing the Giza pyramids and the Egyptian Museum. We enjoyed wandering Coptic Cairo, exploring the churches and mosques and shopping at the Bazaar. But it was kind of hard to compare the awe of seeing those impressive pyramids!
Our first tour picked us up from the hotel and we received some information on the pyramids and Egyptian history as we drove. Our guide handed us tickets, explained more history, took photos of us then left us to explore. We chose to go into the small pyramid instead of paying extra to visit the interior of the Great Pyramid. Our guide recommended this as we were traveling with kids. It was interesting to see the inside, but I’m glad we opted out of the Great Pyramid. I’m told they are pretty similar just one is way further down.
We also saw the Sphinx which was cool but smaller than I imagined. Afterwards, we headed off to the Papyrus Institute and lunch. The Papyrus Institute is cool for kids as they are given a hands on explanation of how it’s made. Definitely go with a budget in mind. We bought more papyrus than we intended. You must negotiate prices, especially if you’re interested in more than one piece.
The Egyptian Museum is amazing! You could seriously spend days wandering around! The museum will soon be moved to a new home, so we missed some of the displays as they had already been relocated.
You can’t take photos in the Tutankhamun Mask Gallery or the Royal Mummy Rooms. Even though the kids were getting a bit tired from a long day in the heat, they perked right up seeing King Tuk’s mask. Also, the Royal Mummy Rooms are an extra 100 EGP per person and well worth the money. Don’t skip it to save a few bucks!
Day #2 we took the Cairo Citadel, Old Cairo & Khan El Khalili Full-Day Tour. Our first stop of the day was to the Cairo Citadel which was constructed in 1183 AD and has great views over the city. We then toured the alabaster Mosque of Muhammad Ali which was built between 1830 and 1848. Here we also learned the history of Islam in Cairo.
Underneath the Church of St. Serguis is the crypt where Joseph, Mary and the baby Jesus are said to have hidden after fleeing to Egypt to escape persecution from King Herod of Judea. The Hanging Church is also interesting to see and is one of the oldest churches in Egypt. We also made a brief visit to the Ben Ezra Synagogue. We learned there are only 3 jews left in Cairo and all are (I believe) over 70 years old.
Our last stop put our bargaining skills to the test at the Khan el-Khalili Bazaar. I’m not a very good negotiator and know I always end up overpaying, but we do always get a much better deal than first offered.
The tour was supposed to be 8 hours, but ours was only about 5 hours. We didn’t experience any traffic, our lunch was awful so we didn’t eat (the guide said he wouldn’t take people back there again), we’d already been to the Papyrus Institute and I didn’t want to go the Perfumery. Even though it was less time, I think it was a great way to see Coptic Cairo and I highly recommend the tour.
We had planned our 3rd day to relax, enjoy the hotel pool, wander along the Nile and take a Felucca Ride at sunset. Unfortunately, we all ended up ill (except for Lucy) so we missed out on the crusing the Nile.
- 8-Hour Private Tour of the Pyramids, Sphinx, Egyptian Museum and Bazaar including Camel Ride and Lunch from Cairo
- Cairo Citadel, Old Cairo & Khan El Khalili Full-Day Tour
Other suggested tours:
- Full-Day Tour of Historical Alexandria from Cairo
- Cairo: Quad Bike Desert Safari around Giza Pyramids (K wanted to do this)
- Day-Tour to the Red Sea from Cairo
Oh, the expectation of tips
Tipping for everything is pretty much expected and is referred to as the “baksheesh.” While it may seem excessive, keep in mind that tips are usually small, around 5 EGP or $0.25 USD for the bathroom attendant or the women that puts shoe covers on for you at the mosque.
You must get small bills and have them in different pockets to easily grab. We didn’t have enough small bills the first day and it was really tough. We ended up over tipping because we didn’t have enough of the right bills to dole out. You can also bring $1 bills from home or euro coins to use in a pinch. They aren’t picky about accepting those major currencies.
You can ask the front desk to exchange your large 100 and 200 EGP bills for smaller ones. Our hotel had an envelope of small bills. You can also visit a bank and ask to exchange money. However, the problem I discovered with the bank is they only had 20 EGP’s to give me. I had 400 EGP. That’s a fat wad of cash!
Normally, we would hit up stores to exchange our larger bills. We thought we could buy a couple bottles of water, pay with a 100 as we did in Morocco and get change. Even though the drawers were full of cash, people did not want to give up the small bills. It was always no, we need some thing smaller. Save yourself the hassle and make finding an ATM followed by an open bank your priority.
Even at the airport, we wanted to have a bit of cash to tip the Uber driver. We bought 2 bottles of water and they did not want to accept the 100 EGP bill which was the smallest we had. They finally did but it took some convincing.
It’s also common for people to expect more money from tourists. You will get the same look tipping 5 EGP as 50 EGP. It’s never enough. Tourists are walking ATM’s. While the Egyptians do tip each other, they tip in smaller amounts and always seem prepared.
As an example: Our tour guide told us a good tip to give the camel handler after our ride was 100 EGP (around $5.50). The man asked Derrick if that was all. Derrick replied he would take it back after which the man was much more appreciative of his tip.
Nothing is free
You will get hassled by the vendors and need to be prepared to say “no” consistently and keep walking. And remember that nothing is free. “Take a photo with my camel, it’s free.” No, it’s really not. The guys inside the pyramids that want to take photos for you aren’t being nice. You will have to pay them.
Also, don’t ever let anyone put something in your hands. They will want you to buy it. If they drop it, don’t pick it up. A vendor at the pyramids put a trinket on my phone. I let it slip right off and kept walking. It seems rude, but you have to be firm. The kids kept their hands down by their sides to avoid any issues. Yes, kids are targets too.
The vendors can be pushy and annoying but not in a way that you don’t feel safe.
Haggling is the name of the game
You need to be prepared to haggle for everything. Shopping at the Souks? You never take the first price. It’s a back and forth negotiation for everything. I don’t enjoy this type of shopping, but you have to play the game. It’s even necessary to agree on the cost of a taxi ride before getting in.
Eyes wide open
It’s also extremely important to go with certain expectations. Egypt is dirty. Garbage is all over the streets, you’ll see poverty everywhere, and you’ll be hassled by vendors. You have to negotiate for all purchases, everyone has their hand out, driving is insane, and pollution fills the air. It’s all part of the package and experience. The history is incredible. The people are friendly and the country is safe. But it’s important to remember that there are 2 sides to every journey. You’ll experience the good, the bad and the ugly.
Learn about Egypt Visa Requirements and Costs
Visitors will need a tourist visa to enter the country in addition to having a valid passport. Depending on your nationality, you’ll want to research additional requirements. Nationals of the USA, UK, Canada, Australia, and EU countries can get a tourist Visa upon arrival or online in advance.
We purchased our Egypt visa, then waited in line to go through passport control. The immigration officer scanned our passports, put the visa sticker in the passport, took our immigration cards and stamped our visas. Easy peasy. Then we were off to collect our bags and explore Egypt!
The visa can easily be obtained at the airport. The fee is $25 USD per person, including kids. Exact change is needed. I was concerned that we would be required to purchase each visa separately, so I brought $25 per person. All four visa’s were purchased at the same time, so handing over (2) $50 bills was fine. Euros and Pound Stirling are accepted, but I’m told the conversion rate is high.
You can not pay with a credit card! Cash only!
You’ll find bank counters within airport arrival halls to obtain your Egypt visa before heading to passport control. The line was long but moved rather quickly. The man at the kiosk wanted to know how many visa’s I needed and in what currency I was paying. He was asking for the next person in line before I could even pick the visa stickers up off the counter.
Derrick waited in the passport control line with the kids while I purchased the visa’s. The line to get through passport control was only about 20 minutes and the visa line was about 5 minutes. Though I could see where it would take much longer if several planes arrived at the same time.
It’s also possible to get a visa online at Visa2Egypt before you arrive. This is the official visa service and we recommend only using this website. Passport control officers at ports of entry can verify your e-Visa on their system. Assuming you purchase your Visa through the approved website, the cost is the same as if obtaining your Visa upon arrival in Egypt. You’ll need to create an e-Visa application at least 7 days before your departure.
It’s also possible to obtain a visa from the Egyptian Consulate in your country of residence.
Single entry tourist visas are valid for 30 days.
- Single entry visa (Tourism) $25
- Multiple entries visa (Tourism) $60
- Passport is valid for at least six months from the date of issue of the visa.
- A blank page to place visa.
- Hotel or accommodation address. This will be written on your customs form to gain entry.
Supposedly, there are agents that will try to sell you a visa and you will often be charged more than the $25. It’s recommended you report these people to the airport police.
Where to stay – hotels in Cairo
There are a ton of hotels in Cairo to suite all budgets. Be mindful to read all the reviews and be aware of any additional hotel fees before booking. A 3 star hotel in Egypt is not necessarily the same as a 3 star hotel in Europe and the USA.
We opted for the luxurious route and stayed at the Four Seasons Cairo at the First Residence. Our room had a balcony with a view of the pyramids!! Because it’s located right next to the zoo, we had a lovely green area below and could watch birds swooping in and out of the lush trees. The staff is friendly and the hotel is well maintained. I can’t say it’s exactly on par with other Four Seasons hotels around the world, but it’s a lovely experience.
Other highly rated hotels to note:
- Marriott Mena House
- Royal Maxim Palace Kempinski Cairo
- Le Meridien Pyramids Hotel & Spa
- Sofitel Cairo Nile El Gezirah
There are also hundreds of Airbnb rentals listed if you prefer to stay in an apartment.
New to Airbnb? Use THIS LINK to sign up and get a $40 credit on your Airbnb rental!
How to get from the Cairo airport
Flying into Cairo is a cool experience in itself. As the plane dipped and turned, the pyramids came into view. There were oooh’s and ahhh’s from fellow passengers as everyone strained to see our the windows. Once you touch down, you’ll find a wide variety of options getting from Cairo International Airport (CAI) to your destination in Cairo or Giza. We opted to use Uber since a lot of travelers reported it being an inexpensive and easy option. Well, the inexpensive part was true. Our approximately 40 minute ride with the airport fees for 4 people with luggage was 101 EGP (about $6 USD). The easy option can only be explained by not having to negotiate a price with a taxi driver. Finding the driver was horrible. By the time we arrived at the car, we were hot, sweaty, had been harassed by countless people wanting to give us a ride, and were all in a grumpy mood.
Derrick wanted to book one of the Limousine services from the airport and I’m thinking that may have been our best bet. There are set prices based on car class and destination which you can see online here. For about double the cost of our Uber ride, we could have taken the “luxury” class vehicle and not dealt with the hassle of locating our car. There is also an option to the Cairo Airport Shuttle which is an inexpensive option, and may not be best for families once you start adding the cost per person.
Taxi’s are available but will require a price negotiation. I’ve read you can get a taxi for 2 people with luggage (ensure you include this in your negotiation!) for around 80 EGP if you can speak some Arabic. Otherwise around 120 EGP – 150EGP. I can’t use personal experience for these rates, just online research.
Our Uber car was in rather sad condition and didn’t have good A/C, so we opted for a pre-booked transfer to get back to the airport. We booked with SunTransfers for 21€.
Also, do NOT let anyone touch your luggage. Even at our Uber, K put his bag down while Derrick handed his suitcase to the driver to put in the trunk. A man grabbed the bag next to K and loaded it into the trunk. That of course, required a tip. Keep your hands on your luggage at all times and don’t let anyone assist with your baggage! That is unless it’s the cab driver after you have already agreed upon the price or the Uber driver himself.
More Egypt travel advice
- You’ll want to be careful with the food and water just as in destinations such as Mexico. Don’t drink the water or eat uncooked foods. Despite our precautions, we did end up with tummy troubles, to put it mildly, although most travelers report being just fine. We didn’t suffer any food related illnesses in Morocco, so we just happened to get unlucky in Egypt.
- Friday and Saturday are great days to visit since there is less traffic as Egyptians are off work. We lucked out and experienced very little, but I’m told you could sit for hours on other days of the week.
- It’s interesting to visit during Ramadan. There is lots of partying in the evening, the streets are decorated and you may get to try tasty set menus for dinner.
- Smoking is allowed inside. Smoking was allowed in hotels and in the mall. Yep, they just light it up. There were pretty good ventilation systems in the places we were, so it wasn’t too bad just walking past. We did choose a non-smoking hotel room. I found the incense smell to be stronger and more disturbing than the cigarette smoke.
- Overall, it is fairly inexpensive to visit Egypt. One day I walked into a little store and purchased 2 cans of 7-UP for less than $1 USD total! If you want a more luxurious experience for less, this is a good place to do it.
Egyptian historical artifacts are absolutely incredible and well preserved. They look cool in photos, but are so much better in real life. It’s indescribable! I was so surprised to see relics that still had colored paint on them. I even asked if things had been refurbished, they looked so new. Nope, all original condition – amazing! You’ll see what I’m talking about when you get there 🙂
Leave a comment with other Egypt, Cairo travel advice or tips.