Egypt is a land of myths and legends. Does that include traveller safety?
The majestic beauty of Egypt’s four-and-a-half-thousand-year-old pyramids should be pretty high on any self-respecting traveller’s bucket list.
But continuing political instability and fears of terrorism in the country since the Arab Spring swept the region in 2010-2012 have seen visitor numbers plummet.
As the country slowly tempts back travellers, battleface spoke to a veteran tour guide based in Giza – home to the iconic pyramid complex – about safety concerns in Egypt.
“Ahmed” began working as a guide in 2002. He gives his tips on how to stay safe, misconceptions about the country’s security situation, and common missteps he sees from international visitors.
Is the perception of Egypt as unstable or unsafe fair?
In 2010, before the revolution, we had about 14 or 15 million travellers in Egypt. And during the revolution, the media started to show people protesting on the streets and that the security was lost and everything was not in a good condition. And this put the idea in people’s minds that Egypt was not safe.
Now we have some incidents but it is very rare. And the police are controlling the country in a very good way – sometimes too much, maybe.
But it’s the normal things. Try to avoid the places which are not common for travellers. Don’t go to North Sinai, for example, or places on the western border with Libya. But in the centre, it is safe.
What is the number one mistake that you see travellers making?
The majority of travellers these days are on a tight budget. They often go out on the street and spend all their money talking to a hustler. I advise travellers, if they want to do something, do it through places where they can go back and complain if something goes wrong.
Of course, you can get a cheaper ride if you go out on the street. But it may be from a business which is not reputable. So don’t try to save a few dollars when booking tours or transportation.
Are there any scams visitors should be aware of?
I’ve heard many stories where travellers went with camel men and horse men in the desert and they take them far away in the heart of the desert and then tell them ‘Okay, your trip is finished you have to pay more money to go back’.
I think the government is responsible for that. They don’t have arrangements, they do not have procedures for the people with the camels and horses just to earn their living in an honest way.
Is street crime common here?
Pickpocketing and these types of incidents can happen all over the world. But if, for example, you are coming to the pyramid area and you want to follow our advice, try to keep a distance when you are talking to anyone, maybe one metre. Things like that. If you follow tips like these, you will generally be safe.
What do most travellers not realise?
Security in Egypt is very tight now. And they are very worried that people are trying to collect information to attack these places. I had guests in the past who were taking photos of the police checkpoint. When the police officer saw them, he sent two policemen. They took the guy to the police station and they started to investigate him. After a long time – lots of negotiating and phone calls – they let the traveller go after deleting all the pictures of the checkpoint.