June 20, 2024

Contrasts of Cairo

Our new adventure began in the vibrant, chaotic, and fascinating city of Cairo. After spending a day in an all-inclusive hotel in Sharm El Sheikh, we realized that this wasn’t our preferred way to spend a holiday. Ignoring the advice to avoid Cairo without a guide, we decided to explore the largest city in Africa on our own.

First Impressions of Cairo

Cairo, with its population of 22 million, is Africa’s largest city. Initially, we feared that we might not enjoy its size, noise, and hustle. However, we quickly discovered that Cairo has a unique charm, featuring historical landmarks like the pyramids and countless photogenic locations.

Upon arriving by bus in the morning, the city’s sheer size and chaotic energy were overwhelming. Crossing the road felt like a challenge, with traffic lights seemingly ignored. Despite this initial shock, we soon found that the people of Cairo were incredibly welcoming, making us feel comfortable and ready to explore.

The People of Cairo

Caireans are friendly, helpful, and hospitable. We frequently heard phrases like “Welcome to Cairo!” and “Do you need help?” from locals, which made us feel at ease. The city is full of contrasts, from successful businesswomen driving luxury cars to young boys collecting garbage with donkeys, and men in traditional galabeyas walking alongside businessmen in suits.

Navigating the Roads

The streets of Cairo are chaotic, with people, cars, buses, and motorcycles moving in a never-ending flow. Having visited other bustling cities like New Delhi and Mumbai, we quickly adapted by following the locals and trusting our instincts to cross the roads safely.

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Islamic Cairo

Our first destination was Islamic Cairo, known for its beautiful and ancient mosques, including the Mosque of Ibn Tulun and the Al Azhar University, the oldest university in the world. A local man invited us to climb one of the minarets, offering a unique perspective of the city. The view from the top revealed a cityscape filled with rooftops covered in garbage, a stark contrast to the bustling streets below.

Morning in Cairo

The true luxury of Cairo is experiencing the city waking up. Early morning brings the sounds of the morning prayer, the aroma of freshly baked bread, and the sight of street cats and students heading to school. Markets and shops slowly come to life, creating a vibrant atmosphere.

Mena House Hotel

To celebrate Vitaliy’s birthday, I planned a surprise visit to the historic Mena House Hotel. Located at the foot of the pyramids, this former royal lodge offers spectacular views and a rich history. Many notable figures, including Winston Churchill and Agatha Christie, have stayed here. We enjoyed a breakfast on the terrace, overlooking the pyramids as the sun rose above the desert.

The Great Pyramids of Giza

Visiting the Great Pyramids of Giza was a mix of awe and frustration. The constant attention from merchants and camel ride offers made it difficult to enjoy the site peacefully. Despite this, the pyramids are truly fascinating, and exploring the interiors of the pyramids provided a unique experience. However, I found the view from Mena House Hotel to be more enjoyable than the site itself.

Useful Information for Traveling in Egypt

  • Safety: While some areas in Egypt are dangerous, such as the North Sinai, other regions like Cairo and Sharm El Sheikh are relatively safe. Use common sense and avoid high-risk areas.
  • Respect Local Culture: Dress modestly, especially for women. Covering legs, shoulders, and occasionally the head with a shawl shows respect and minimizes unwanted attention.
  • Transportation: Travel around Egypt by plane or bus. We used GoBus for our journey, which is considered one of the safest and most reliable operators.
  • Visa: If traveling from Sinai to Cairo, you need a visa, which will be checked en route.
  • Connectivity: Buy a local Vodafone SIM card and activate a 3G plan. 7GB costs around 8-10 USD (as of March 2017).
  • Currency: In resort areas, USD is widely accepted.
  • Getting Around Cairo: The best way to navigate Cairo is by Uber. I preferred using Uber Select for additional comfort.
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Conclusion

Cairo is a city of contrasts, blending ancient history with modern life. From the chaos of the streets to the serene beauty of the pyramids, Cairo offers an unforgettable experience. Despite initial apprehensions, our adventure in Cairo proved to be safe and enriching, thanks to the warm hospitality of its people and the city’s unique charm. For those willing to explore beyond the usual tourist spots, Cairo is a destination worth visiting.

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