I applied for a visa while still in Saudi Arabia, and so it was a pretty straightforward process. It took me 3 working days to get the visa which was allowed single entry valid for up to 30 days. My original plan was to spend 7 days in Morocco and 3 days in Cairo. A delay in receiving the Moroccan visa forced me to change the plan and make it a trip to Egypt only. I had mentioned the expected arrival dates as per the initial plan while applying for the Egyptian visa but there was no issue when I arrived in the country, a week before expected arrival date mentioned in the application. You can find more information about getting a visa, here.
The official currency of Egypt is Egyptian pounds (L.E). There was something that struck me as highly unusual, about the Egyptian currency. As per the ‘law’, foreigners are not allowed to pay for tours or hotel bookings in the local currency. They have to pay the amount in the equivalent foreign currency of their native country. There are no money exchange offices at the airport but the government has authorised black markets for money exchange. There is a huge difference between the official bank exchange rate and the rate you obtain in the black market. I was advised by my local friend to not exchange any money prior to coming to Egypt and to exchange it at the black market instead. My taxi driver turned out to be an exchanger too. He gave me 3000 L.E for 1000 Saudi Riyal which would be actually worth only 2230 L.E. So I made a lucky profit of 770 L.E. by doing nothing. Over time, I learnt that the value of the USD is the highest in the black markets (even more than that of Sterling Pounds!) I would definitely advise everyone visiting Egypt to change their money into USD and then exchange it into L.E. when you get there. At the time of writing this, 1$ was officially 9 L.E and the black market rate was 1$ for 15 L.E.
There are various options available in terms of networks; Vodafone, Orange and Etisalat being the most popular ones. To my great surprise, there weren’t any network shops at the airport and I had to look for them at the local market. Unlike in other countries, sim cards are not sold by retail shops in Egypt. It can only be bought at the official network store and it took me a day to find a proper store to buy a sim card. Etisalat is considered to be the best in terms of coverage. I bought an Orange sim card for 40L.E which had a 1.5 GB data validity. Additional top-ups can be bought at any general store. The stores are usually open until late and the process is pretty complicated so be aware of the same.
The Downtown hotels are pricier but the area is worth it because that’s where the real traditional Cairo exists. I stayed at multiple hotels downtown and was amazed by the area and its old world charm with ancient buildings and an essence of nostalgia. Living in those old buildings sounds like a great idea but they are mostly dingy and uncomfortable. I tried living in hostels and Airbnb in various other areas too. The ones I really liked were the City Plaza Hostel, Hola Cairo Hostel, Arabian Nights hostel and Cairo Paradise Hostel. Mid-range hotels in Downtown cost about 30-50$ whereas hostels usually range between 10-15$.
Egypt has many modes of transport. I tried using as many of them as I could but I still believe that there were more of them. Here are the modes of transport which I tried:
Painted in yellow and white, there are thousands of taxi roaming around on the streets of Cairo. You have to give them a hand signal to stop and jump in. The only issue with taxis is that most of the drivers don’t speak English which may turn out to be a real challenge. Negotiating prices or explaining them your exact destination becomes huge struggles due to the language barrier. I would advise you to stay away from them because they overcharge tourists all the time.
Here comes the saviour! Thankfully, Uber works in Cairo and is considered to be pretty safe and reliable. The drivers are polite and will definitely go an extra mile to help you if needed. So no matter when or where you are in the huge city, just pull out your phone and book an Uber.
Cairo has an efficiently running metro service which turned out to be the cheapest metro service I have ever used. A ticket costs only 1 L.E., no matter which station you get down at. I took the metro a couple of times with local friends and so I didn’t really have to enquire about the directions or the location of the stations. Make sure to be careful with the station names and the line of metro you’ll need to take to reach your particular destination, as the names may often be confusing to foreigners. The language barrier is a major issue in the country and not everyone will be able to help you. Find more information about the Cairo Metro here.
The National Train Service:
The most surprising part of my trip were the trains in Cairo. I definitely hadn’t expected the trains in Egypt to be this good. I took a national train from Cairo to Aswan, Luxor to Cairo, Cairo to Alexandria and back. All this time, the price and the quality of service had me impressed. The best part of the ride was that the train ticket cost the same to locals and tourists alike. So the price for even the first class AC tickets was quite affordable. For example, I paid only 50 L.E (5 pounds) for the 250 km journey in an AC First Class train. It’s the best way to commute between the major cities in Egypt. Find more information about the National Train services here.
Other than the above options, you can also find local transport options in some places. These local transport services tend to be area restricted, especially around the main Islamic areas in Cairo which are almost always flooded with locals. The narrow streets and lanes in such places don’t allow space for big cars. One can also find many other transportation options such as small 6 seater buses and horse carts.