Cairo has been on our travel bucket list for years, but the timing was never right. The instability of the 2011 and 2013 revolutions felt too unpredictable and dangerous to take our young children. Egypt received ample negative publicity since 2011, but despite the turbulent past, we were excited to stop in Cairo on our 2018 trip to the Middle East and take in the historical sites and vibrant city life. We based ourselves on the island of Zamalek in the heart of the city, and welcomed 2019 from a rooftop party in Cairo overlooking the River Nile.
We shared this exciting dusty city with 19.5 million of our closest friends. Cairo is incredible!
When we told friends we were spending three weeks visiting five Middle Eastern countries, they thought we were insane. Tourism to Egypt hit an all-time high in 2010, but dropped significantly after the 2011 and 2013 revolutions, and has yet to fully recover. Egypt is perceived as unstable and dangerous, however the political situation has now stabilized and tourists are flocking back to this historic city.
Egyptians are extremely welcoming to tourists. In fact they were grateful we were there and wanted us to spread the word that Cairo was safe and open for business again! We felt extremely safe at all times, and it’s very apparent, by the massive security presence and checkpoints at the historical sites – they do not want a problem with Americans on their watch. Like any large city you have to be aware of your surroundings at all times, negotiate your taxi price BEFORE getting into the car, and leave the flashy jewelry at home. According to Forbes, “Security is number one now in Egypt. All tourist sites are fully secured inside and out.”
The Egyptian Museum is located on Tahrir Square and it’s easy to imagine the chaos of the revolution when you approach this busy location. There’s nowhere in the world where you can see so many Egyptian artifacts in one place.
It’s easy to purchase entrance tickets when you arrive, and there’s an extra charge for the mummy exhibit and also to take pictures inside the museum.
The museum is divided into two floors. The first floor is dedicated to the three dynasties, and the second floor is dedicated to King Tutankhamun.
King Tut was 19 years old when he died and was buried with large amounts of treasure. Viewing the Tutankhamen exhibit artifacts recovered from his tomb was pretty spectacular and we were able to see his famous death mask and throne. Egyptologists differ on what killed King Tut, and recent tests on his mummy show he suffered from malaria.
Our highlight was the Royal Mummy Hall containing the most important Egyptian Kings and Queens. Each mummy lies in a temperature-controlled case, and you can clearly see their toenails, teeth, fingernails and hair. King Ramses II reigned for 67 years, fathered more than 100 children and is very well preserved. It’s a strange feeling looking at the almost perfect remains of a person who lived over 3000 years ago. We only had three hours to spend here, and could have used a full day to truly appreciate this museum.
The Pyramids of Giza are the only surviving standing structure of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World and we were ecstatic to finally visit! We arrived early in the day to avoid the intense heat and crowds, and negotiated for a camel and guide to take us around the pyramids.
The sheer magnitude of these structures is incomprehensible and seeing them in person was incredible. They are massive, and you can’t help but wonder how on earth the Egyptians built them over 4000 years ago!
** Be sure to bring a hat, water, and plenty of sunscreen as there is zero shade.**
Our camels slowly walked around all of the pyramids, stopping for the best pictures. We were able to climb into the inner chamber of the main pyramid. It’s a steep climb into the tomb, and you have to crouch down low pretty much the whole way.
If you are even slightly claustrophobic, this is not for you. It’s hot, stuffy, dark, crowded, and at many points there’s only room for a single person to pass. We climbed to the top room to see the large stone sarcophagus. After we climbed back down and out of the stifling pyramid, we were dusty, hot, and ready for a cool beverage.
The Pyramids and The Great Sphinx go together hand in hand, and can be viewed from the same location. The Great Sphinx is built of limestone and is 240ft long, 66ft from the base to the top of the head, and 62ft across.
A sphinx is a mythical creature with the body of a lion and the head of a human. It’s unknown who built the Sphinx, but it’s widely believed to have been built by ancient Egyptians during the reign of the Pharaoh Khafre. Regardless, The Great Sphinx has stood guard over the three remaining pyramids for over 45oo years, and it’s hard not to soak in the history of this impressive monument we have all grown up reading about in books and watching on TV.
Middle Eastern cuisine is filled with fresh veggies, beans, lentils, delicious spices and loads of olive oil. Meats are typically grilled, and one of our favorite dishes is shawarma. Juicy slices of meat carved from a slowly revolving skewer, and added to a bread pocket with salad and sauce. Amazing!
Aish Baladi is an ancient Egyptian Flatbread similar to pita bread, made with 100% Whole Wheat flour and is Vegan. It looks a lot like pita bread but it’s unique to Egypt, and found everywhere.
Pigeons are a delicacy in Egypt, traditionally served in a rice dish. Our rule is we must sample the local delicacies, and it was actually delicious. I hate to sound corny… but it tasted like chicken! 😉
Khan El Khalili is the oldest flea market in Cairo dating back to 1382, and is located deep in the Islamic area next to a beautiful mosque.
Julian wanted to shop for souvenirs, so we took a taxi to this old market and were dropped outside the beautiful mosque. Hearing the call to prayer in that environment was incredible, and we wandered around the huge market shopping and exploring.
We attracted quite a bit of attention since we were not in a typical tourist section of Cairo, but we felt completely safe as we bartered for our treasures.
Driving in Cairo is crazy! There are no traffic lanes (or people don’t use them), no crosswalks, no speed limits, and only a handful of traffic lights. Over 19 million people live in this dusty city, so you can imagine the roads. They felt comparable to Delhi. Honking is a way of life on the roads of Cairo, it’s comical, and I’d suggest you sit back and enjoy the show.
Because there are no crosswalks in Cairo, it’s quite precarious when you need to cross the road. The four of us linked arms and slowly shuffled across the hectic roads as cars swerved around us. Fortunately drivers are used to people crossing and will stop if they have to. Cairo traffic is not for the faint of heart at all.
In conclusion, visiting Cairo was one of the most memorable cities we have ever visited and we are trying to find time in our schedule to go back and explore more of Egypt. We LOVED it and recommend you move Egypt to the top of your travel bucket list now!
I’m a travel and health writer, digital and brand consultant, breast cancer survivor, and supermom to two active boys! I keep it real and share stories of raising teenage boys, family life after a cancer diagnosis, and family travels around the world! Each story is shared with my dry, and sometimes naughty sense of humor.