Cairo in Egypt
Cairo isn't a gentle city. Home to more than 16 million Egyptians, Arabs, Africans and sundry others, the 'Mother of the World' is an all-out assault on the senses. Chaotic, noisy, polluted, totally unpredictable and seething with people, the sheer intensity of the city will either seduce or appal.Cairo is full of life and movement 24 hours a day. It attracts tourists from all over the world to explore its history. If you plan to tour in Cairo you will... Read more...
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Cairo isn't a gentle city. Home to more than 16 million Egyptians, Arabs, Africans and sundry others, the 'Mother of the World' is an all-out assault on the senses. Chaotic, noisy, polluted, totally unpredictable and seething with people, the sheer intensity of the city will either seduce or appal.
Cairo is full of life and movement 24 hours a day. It attracts tourists from all over the world to explore its history. If you plan to tour in Cairo you will hardly find time to sleep – the Pyramids to the Egyptian museum, the Citadel Salah Aldin and the old bazar Khan Elkhalily will for sure keep you busy.
There are many good options for getting to Egypt, and there are easy connections between Cairo and many European cities. The national airline is EgyptAir, and Air Sinai also has many domestic connections. Cairo is most travellers' first stop, although people are increasingly disembarking in other major cities and later making their way to the capital. First-class train services connect Cairo with Alexandria, Luxor and Aswan, but other domestic services are badly in need of an upgrade. Combined bus and ferry deals will land you safely at Aqaba in Jordan. A bus service is also available to and from Libya.
The American University in Cairo has made a good map of Cairo http://aucpress.com/pc-2310-7-cairo.aspx. It is a must-have when you want to get around on your own. CAIRO A-Z from The Palm Press offers a more detailed city map in 300 pages.
to see the pyramids, although you'll need to complete the trip taking a microbus all the way (change to microbus for al-haram at the end stop, Giza).
Note that there are two cars of each train reserved for women. Recently the women's cars have been moved to the middle section of the train.
The metro stops running at approximately 12midnight and starts up again around 6am. There are no routes as such, but departures are very frequent.
Plans have been made to include new routes, however, little progress seems to be made on this.
The fleet of black-and-white taxis that ply Cairo's streets are convenient but a hassle — communication can be an issue and the meters, which are heirs from antique eras of gas prices, are not normally used. Prices are, however, not erratic, and any Cairene knows how much the driver expects depending on time and distance spent in the car, and perhaps the traffic (relative to normal Cairo levels, of course). Because of a recent 20% raise in gasoline prices, prices could be slightly higher, but still very cheap for most tourists. Additionally, it is highly recommended that you have exact change before you enter a cab; drivers are reluctant if not resistant to giving change, but if you can present them with the exact amount for the journey they will more likely accede without haggling or complaint.
Ordinary Egyptians will never state prices beforehand. Instead the correct sum is payed through the window after leaving the car. Some drivers might protest as they expect tourists to pay more than the standard rates. As a tourist it's probably best to meet these expectations as it only represents a very small increase in hard currency terms. Avoid negotiations-it takes lots of time and you end up at a price you won't like. Instead, use the walk-away-technique if they don't agree to your (reasonable) price. As long the driver does not leave the car, you're all right. If this happens, consult someone nearby.
As a tourist you might prefer to state a price beforehand, which may prevent ripoffs but will require you to quote slightly above the local price to get a quick nod.
Try to get a taxi on the fly instead of those loitering outside 5-star hotels and restaurants to minimize price inflation. Using a big hotel as your destination may also inflate the price. Always choose the taxi, don't let the taxi choose you.
Sample taxi prices Short trips within one area 5 EP Downtown to Midan Hussein 7 EP Downtown to Mohandesin 10 EP Downtown to pyramids 25 EP Downtown or Zamalek to Airport 40 EP Zamalek to downtown 7 EP Zamalek to Midan Hussein 15 EP
Cabbies usually expect more money (2 or 3 LE) for ferrying more people. If you decide not to negotiate the price beforehand (this is the better method) be ready to jump ship and/or bargain hard if the cabby brings up the fare after you are in the car. They rarely accept more than 4 people to a taxi. Also add 5-7 EP driving late at night.
In March 2006 a new fleet of 500 bright yellow taxis hit the road. They run on natural gas, and will soon add up to a total of 1500 cars, all equipped with air-conditioning, meters that actually work, and credit card readers. The meter starts at 3.50 LE, and then 1 LE for every additional kilometre. The drivers are not allowed to smoke in the cars. They are referred to as 'City Cabs' or Cairo Cabs', and can be a bit more expensive (and less of an adventure) than the black-and-white cabs for short hops. However, for longer distances they are the way to go for price and comfort. From within Cairo call 0104343438-19155.
The large red, white and blue public buses cover the entire city and are much cheaper, but are usually crowded. However, there are the similar air-conditioned buses that charge 2 L.E. for the trip and prohibit standing on the bus. They can be found in the main squares in Cairo. Also found in main squares are the smaller mini-buses that are usually orange and white or red, white and blue. Because of problems with sexual harrasment women travellers are advised only to take the small micro-buses and buses which prohibit standing.
Apart from the main bus stations, buses can be hauled down from street-level. Buses are seldom marked with destination, instead passengers shout out their destinations and if the bus goes this place it will stop. On micro-buses, the fare starts at 25 piastre and goes up to 1 EP. Travelers unfamiliar with Cairo can ask bus drivers or passengers to let them know where there stop is. Don't be shy-even if you don't speak Arabic, simply politely blurt out the name of your destination to the bus driver or a friendly looking passenger and they will take care of you.
There are a number of major bus stations (mawqaf) throughout the city. One of the largest is conveniently located behind the Egyptian Museum in Midan Tahrir. Note that there are actually two stations-the main bus station for the city buses, and the micro-bus station behind it. Travelers who want to visit the Pyramids, for example, can catch a seat in a micro-bus for approximately 2 pounds. The micros in the last lane to the right all go to the pyramids-just ask for haram.
There are also bus stations in Midan Ramses, under the overpass. Buses run from Ramses to Heliopolis, City Stars Mall and other destinations not covered by the Tahrir bus station.
Feluccas are great for leisurely ride down the Nile.
From the airport
The airport is located on the north-eastern outskirts of the city at Cairo/Heliopolis Heliopolis. To get into downtown Cairo you can get a fixed-price limousine (60 EP) or negotiate a lower price with one of the small black taxis. You could negotiate down to as little as 40 EP. Back from the city a normal price would be 20-30 EP, depending on the traffic.
When to go
You can walk around the main streets anytime you feel like roaming. It's fairly safe and you will always find lots of people around smiling and offering to help. Women alone can expect to be the target of an excessive amount of catcalling, but it rarely, if ever, goes beyond that. You should bear in mind that around the more touristy locations there is an abundance of 'helpful' people, but be careful who you go with and under no circumstance let anyone push or guide you anywhere you don't want to go! If you get lost look for the security and Police Officers, many speak a little English, and most know their local area very well, as well as the tourist spots.
Cairo is not a Pharaonic city, though the presence of the Pyramids leads many to believe otherwise. At the time the Pyramids were built, Egypt's capital was Memphis, 22km (13.5mi) south of the Giza plateau.
The core foundations of the city of Cairo (then called Al-Qahira) were laid in 969 by the Fatimids, an early Islamic dynasty from North Africa. There had been earlier settlements, notably the Roman fortress of Babylon, and Fustat, which was established by the Arab army that conquered Egypt for Islam in 642. But the Fatimids established the core of Cairo as it is today; their mosque and university of Al-Azhar is still Egypt's main centre of Islamic study, while the three great gates of Bab an-Nasr, Bab al-Futuh and Bab Zuweila continue to straddle two of Old Cairo's main thoroughfares.
Under the rule of subsequent dynasties Cairo swelled and burst its walls, but at heart it remained a medieval city for 900 years. It wasn't until the reign of Ismail, grandson of Mohammed Ali, in the mid-19th century that Cairo started to change in any significant way. Before the 1860s Cairo extended west only as far as what is today Midan Opera. The future site of modern central Cairo was then a swampy plain subject to the annual flooding of the Nile.
In 1863, when the French-educated Ismail came to power, he was determined to upgrade the image of his capital, which he believed could only be done by dismissing what had gone before and starting afresh. For 10 years the former marsh became one vast building site as Ismail invited architects from Belgium, France and Italy to design and build a new European-style Cairo beside the old Islamic city. During his reign the Suez Canal was finished and opened with much fanfare, and the city attracted the attention of the whole world. In the heady times that followed, tourism and business boomed, and Cairo almost had the character of a gold-rush town. European bankers, with the connivance of their governments, bestowed lavish loans at insatiable rates of interest upon Ismail for his grandiose schemes. In 1882 it all came to an end when the British stepped in and announced that until Egypt could repay its debts, they were taking control.
The 70-year British occupation of Cairo came to an abrupt halt with the Revolution of 1952. Since the Revolution, Cairo has grown spectacularly in population and urban planners have struggled to keep pace. In the 1960s and 1970s the west bank of the Nile was concreted over with new suburbs like Medinat Mohandiseen (Engineers' City) and Medinat Sahafayeen (Journalists' City), while expansion continued north, most notably in the hideous form of Medinat Nasr (Nasr City). More recently, population pressure has meant that the rocky Muqattam Hills-which had traditionally halted the city's eastward spread-have been leap-frogged, and the once-barren desert is now a vast and messy construction site for a series of satellite cities.
Cairo has seen significant, if agonisingly slow, improvements during Mubarak's 20 years in power. The changes, however, fall well short of keeping pace with the litany of woes-overcrowding, collapsing infrastructure, poverty, pollution-afflicting the overstretched metropolis.
The city's major sources of revenue, the Pyramids, Egyptian Museum and Islamic monuments, are also under threat from pollutant-accelerated decay, neglect and downright bad management. While Cairo has five millennia worth of glorious and rich history, the future of the city looks far less grand. Nevertheless, in recent times the numbers of tourists in Cairo have been at an all-time high and hotel prices at a similar peak.