16 Things To Know About Cairo

Perhaps due to the 2011 Arab Spring, or because of the general lack of knowledge we have about the Middle East and Muslim dominant counties, Americans seem to get uneasy when they hear about Egypt.

So, when I made the decision to vacation in Egypt, I received responses ranging from “Oooh you’re such a rebel, I’m jealous!” to “Egypt? Wait, like isn’t that where ISIS is or something?” all the way to “Now why in the world would you risk your life like that!?”

As if 90 million people aren’t living there right now.

However, it’s not just Americans. For a county that once flourished in the realm of tourism, bad press and other issues have led to the decline of Egypt as the historic tourist utopia that it once was.

After having spent 4 wonderful days there, I’m here to tell you: That just ain’t right. It might not be what you expect, but Cairo is fun, cheap, and completely worth a visit, especially given that it’s Hajj season, and Cairo is but a cheap 2 hour flight away from Jeddah.

So to that end, here are 16 things that I learned about Cairo from my recent visit.


1. Only ticketed passengers are allowed inside the Cairo Airport.

Policemen (or maybe they were guards? I’m not entirely sure) stand by the entrances of the airport and check for tickets. This means that people who arrive at the airport are met with a swarm of cheering relatives upon exiting the airport. Obviously, I used this opportunity to  pretend I was being greeted by the paparazzi. An Arabic speaking paparazzi who were completely indifferent to a random American brown girl, but still, the attention was heartwarming.


2. Cairo is a very tan city.

Many of the buildings were built in the 50s/60s (or even earlier), and for reasons related to inefficient city management and lack of funds, have not been repainted in many decades. The result is a city with block after block of mostly tan and brown hued buildings, their faded colors giving Cairo an additional desert-y feel. Most buildings are adorned with  satellite dishes and clothes lines, even in the most affluent neighborhoods. My first world privilege found this to be fascinating.

Tan Ritz Carlton


3. The traffic is another level of insane.

Fact: You seen “Mad Max?” Will, its driving is based on Cairo traffic.* By all accounts, traffic lights are “suggestions,” as are the lines demarcating lanes. Honking incessantly is a must, as is sporting a perpetual you’re-an-idiot face to throw the constant shade needed to survive on the streets of this town.

*Ok so, not actually the truth, but it sure seemed that way


4. The food is especially epic.

Kushari and Kabobs = THE TRUTH

I’ll admit that heading into Cairo, I had zero knowledge of the cuisine. Luckily we stayed with family friends who never once led us astray in the food department. Although, even when we were meandering through the random and narrow corners of the city, we never had a bad meal. But just like any developing nation, be smart about where you get your food to avoid food poisoning.

PicMonkey Collage


5. Its a pretty cheap place to visit as an American.

The current exchange rate gives you 7 Egyptian Pounds for every dollar. Meaning that you can get a righteous meal at a nice restaurant or a ride on a camel at the Pyramids for a couple of bucks.


6. Which is good because everyone wants your money.

Probably because the once bustling tourism industry fell stagnant following the 2011 revolution and other recent events.


7. Pro-tip: If you’re a PoC Westerner, tell people you’re from the land of your ancestors.

When people heard we are American, they became forthright and nearly aggressive regarding getting “tips” for things like taking your photo, giving you toilet paper in the restrooms and in some cases, talking to you. Halfway through the trip we began telling people we were from India, their interest in us dropped spectacularly fast.


8. The people are so friendly.

We had at least two random people ask us if we wanted a bite of the food they were eating. Slightly awkward, but hey, it’s a start!



9. There are armed Tourist Police at every tourist spot.

They are there for the protection of tourists, but one could see why having a uniformed man brandishing an AK-47 in the halls of the museum whilst you’re checking out Mummies could throw people off. In fact, there’s a security check to enter most large buildings, which is again a safeguard for tourist and the general population.


10. It’s not really gender segregated.

Men and women interact without the gender segregation seen in many conservative/Muslim majority nations. This was especially remarkable to me because it seemed like 80-90% of the women there wore hijab. Even in the U.S., one wouldn’t typically see hijabis interact as casually and openly with men the way they do in Egypt. Could this have been a great example of hijab being worn for cultural vs purely religious reasons? Unfortunately, the answers seemed to vary when I asked the locals.


11. Interestingly, there seemed to be a lot of youth dating.

In fact, Egyptian youths act just like American youth: the same screechy voices and complicated haircuts, the same horseplay and tomfoolery that’s pulled off while having a smart phone glued to their hand 24 hours a day. The mild PDA and romantic hand-holding of young folks in public got me thinking about how anything even distantly related to dating among American Muslim circles are the things that dramatic aunties dreams are made of. When I asked Egyptian locals about this dating phenomenon that would have been super scandalous in the U.S., they simply didn’t seem to be phased.

“As long as they are both Muslim, it’s okay,” said our driver who has lived in Cairo his whole life.


12. Speaking of hand holding, men hold hands there. A lot.

Whether they are crossing the crazy traffic-racked street or taking a casual stroll down Tahrir Square, it’s just how they show their bromance.


13. There is a lot of raw history (and I’m not talking about the pyramids).

This prominent building on the Nile was set on fire during the revolution, possibly by Mubarak’s people to destroy certain documents, or by insurgents (nobody in Cairo really knows, apparently). It still stands in its burned out state on the Nile four years later untouched, a stark reminder of the chaos that went down in the not so distant past, in the midst of disputes regarding who will take claim of the building.



14. Women. Can. Drive.

In fact, we saw just as many females as males on the road.


15. There’s so much more to see besides the Pyramids, Mummies, and The Nile.

You could literally spend 18 hours a day for a week checking out the wealth of historic mosques, churches, and markets, and still not have covered them all.

PicMonkey Collage


16. Speaking of the markets, they are so much fun, as long as you are smart about it.

If you’re an obvious foreigner like myself (aside from not speaking Arabic, apparently there’s no way my Indian self could pass for Egyptian), then the vendors will try to charge you 4-5X as much as locals, or even try to charge you for things you didn’t buy or want. So it helps to have a local with you, whether its a helpful taxi driver or a new friend made via Couchsurfing or something of the like.


So put Egypt on your bucket list for the next time you go on vacation. No, ISIS does not roam the streets waiting for fresh blood to recruit. No, people aren’t throwing rocks and bombs about the cities. Yes, the country is as beautiful as ever, as historic as ever, and most definitely worth a visit.

Written by Nishi Fatima