Solo travel to Egypt was one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done, but I’m so glad I went. I had incredible life experiences such as riding a camel in view of the pyramids, and climbing down into the tomb of one of the Queen’s pyramids, but I also was greatly challenged by the difference in culture and my first experience in a third world country.
My posts about Egypt are broken into three parts:
While my photos in this post are magical and romantic, what I couldn’t capture were the times of extreme frustration I experienced. Right away, I was faced with my first challenge. If you plan on visiting Egypt, you must obtain a tourist visa which you can only get upon arrival in the country (and note, the rules differ depending on your country of origin). When I landed in Cairo, I had used up all my euros knowing the local currency is the Egyptian pound, and also knowing there are Visa ATMs in the airport that would accept my debit card. This was a mistake, as bizarrely, they didn’t accept their own currency for the visa – they only accepted euros and American dollars. When I did find a visa desk that would begrudgingly accept Egyptian pounds, the one and only ATM before customs and security was broken. Alone and a little scared, I finally convinced an EgpytAir employee to escort me through security to the nearest working ATM. My debit card worked, and I was on my way.
Then, I encountered a second issue. I had arranged for a private pickup from the airport through my hostel so I wouldn’t have to figure out how to barter with an Egyptian taxi driver for a 40 minute trip as soon as I got off the plane. I waited for about a half an hour until I started to worry he wasn’t going to show up. How would I get to Cairo?
40 minutes late. Do I talk to a taxi driver? How do I know how much to pay?
50 minutes late. I’m alone! I don’t have cell service or internet data in Africa! WHAT DO I DO? I’ll give it until an hour before I get a taxi.
Finally, exactly one hour after my scheduled pickup, my driver ran up holding a sign with my name scrawled on it, apologizing profusely. I was so relieved I had a driver that I just smiled my huge American smile and got in his car.
And then his car wouldn’t start. He got out and had mess around with some wiring under the hood, and then we were underway. My driver was very nice, and I got the impression right away that Egyptians are a little more like Americans than Europeans in that, smiling and friendliness is the way we communicate with people we don’t know. On our way into Cairo, the culture shock hit me. The air was extremely thick with exhaust, and if there’s one memorable part of Egypt other than the pyramids, it’s the incessant honking. The driver informed me that car horn honking is Egpyt’s second language. No one uses turn signals, children ride stacked on motorcycles with no helmets, and pedestrians cross the street wherever they want, whenever they want, without regard to what traffic is doing.
I stayed at the Hola Cairo hostel which was lovely, clean and friendly. It was also within walking distance of the main Cairo shopping area and the Nile.
The next day, I was picked up for my tour of the pyramids! The American dollar is worth almost ten times the Egyptian pound, so you can really get a lot for your money. I paid about $50 for my tour, and it included a private tour guide who took me to the pyramids, the sphinx, a camel ride, and lunch, plus a private car and separate driver who picked me up and brought me to all these different locations. So worth it!
It seems so surreal that I was standing there, taking these photos. I saw one of the ancient world wonders! My tour guide took me around the pyramids explaining their history, and snapped a few touristy photos of me.
You can visit the inside one of the smaller Queen’s pyramids for free! To get down to the tomb, you have to bend over and almost crawl down a tunnel. No photos were allowed, so I surrendered my camera. But I did still have my iphone… 🙂 The tomb was completely emptied so its contents can be preserved and displayed, but it was still super cool to get to climb down into a pyramid!
Then it was time to go over to my camel ride! A few touristy photos later, I was up on the camel being led around the desert. It was magical, and it was the best part of my entire trip. It almost felt like an out-of-body experience. Exemplary of my entire Egypt trip, the ride was a bit marred by my anxiety at being pestered for a “baksheesh,” or a tip, by the young man guiding the camel. Tipping is done constantly in Egypt, but as an American, I’m not used to being asked for it, and I also had no idea how much to give. I tried to put it out of my mind and just enjoy the ride. After the camel ride, we drove over to the sphinx, went to a papyrus shop, a gift shop, and ended the day with a lunch of Egyptian hawawshi.
My second tour was $20 (booked ahead, just like the pyramids tour), and included a private car pickup, and a private tour guide, who took me on a felucca boat that I had completely to myself for a sunset cruise on the Nile. It was absolutely beautiful and it was the perfect way to end my amazing day.