Cairo - Beyond the Pyramids
The first time I traveled to Egypt was in 2007, as a jump-off point for a backpacking trip in Africa. Although intimidating, it wasn't unmanageable as a solo female traveler. My second trip, three years later in 2010, was a completely different experience.
Knowing about the social and political status of a country is crucial to your experience as a traveler, but more importantly your safety. Over the three years between my trips, conflict in Egypt had slowly been brewing. During my time there in 2010, the air was electric. People spoke of change openly, and the streets buzzed with uneasiness.
As I made my way around the city, I saw poverty. Where three years earlier, there had been stability and structure, things were now starting to crumble.
This time, my trip to Egypt was short, as I was just passing through, and this time I was glad for that.
Six months later, the volcano of dissatisfaction erupted as thousands of Egyptians flowed through the streets to protest poverty, unemployment, and government corruption, specifically the rule of president Hosni Mubarak who at that point had been in a position of power for over three decades. After 18 days of protest, violent military reaction, and political frenzy, Mubarak relinquished power to the military.
Over the next few months, Egypt undulated between military power and its first freely elected president, who was eventually overthrown. A year later, in June 2014, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi took office and leads a country still in crisis.
Some tips when traveling to Cairo, especially as a solo female traveler to this part of the world:
-Be hypervigilant. Stay aware of your surroundings. Never walk at night alone if you can help it. Cairo is one of those places that is awake at all times of the night and the streets are always alive. However, after a certain time of night, there is a noticeable lack of females on the streets. If you are a solo traveler, it is wise to make friends with a male companion.
-Cover up. Culturally, women are much more discreet in Egypt. You don't have to cover yourself head to toe, but showing some respect for their customs goes a long way. Leave the short shorts and spaghetti strap tank tops at home. Pants or skirts (past the knee), t-shirts, and long sleeves are appropriate in most places. Pack a scarf to cover your head or shoulders at certain sights. You will attract much less unwanted attention by showing this respect.
-It is sometimes worth paying more, to ensure your safety. Do your research ahead of time and have a backup plan. In Cairo, I showed up at a hostel I had booked online and in real life, it looked nothing like the pictures. I was the only traveler, it was nighttime, and the owner was a male who had all his friends with him in the common area. My initial feeling was one of discomfort and, trusting that feeling, I took my things and spent the money on a room in a nice hotel while I figured out my next step.
-Know the updated social and political situation because it can and will affect your trip. Don't be a self-absorbed tourist. Some of my most memorable moments in Egypt were not at the pyramids or the Egyptian museum, but sitting and talking with the locals about their hopes and dreams for a better Egypt. After all, travel really is so much about the people...don't be afraid to make that a part of your next trip!