WARNING: The governments of several countries warned against unnecessary travel to Egypt after the army threatened a coup due to ongoing protests against President Mohamed Morsi. (This coup d’état actually took place in 2013; there have been numerous arrests of journalists and the human rights situation remains problematic.)Egypt deals with drug offences with extreme severity. The death penalty is mandatory for those convicted of drug trafficking.
Illegal use can result in up to ten years’ imprisonment or a heavy fine, or both. You can be charged with illicit use as long as traces of illegal drugs are found in your system, even if you can prove they were used outside the country, and you can be charged with trafficking as long as drugs are found in bags in your possession or in your room, even if they are not yours and you are aware of it – so be careful with your possessions.
- Police: 122
- Outpatient clinic: 123
- Fire brigade: 180
- Motorway: 136
- Natural gas: 129
Fraud and hassle
Travellers often complain of harassment and fraud while in Egypt. Although annoying, most of these acts are quite harmless, such as trying to lure you into a local papyrus or perfume shop.
Generally, you will be approached by someone who speaks fluent English and starts a conversation under social pretences. He (and it will always be a “he”) will then try to lure you into his favourite (most expensive) gift shop for a cup of tea or something else. This can also happen outside of museums, etc. where the scammer will try to make you believe that the “museum is closed” or whatever.
Although it is never dangerous, bickering can be annoying, especially in major tourist areas. There is no way to avoid it, but a polite shukran (no thanks) helps a lot. That being said, try to take harassment with a smile. If you allow yourself to be harassed by someone who is trying to sell you something, your holiday will not be very happy.
Even more annoying are taxi drivers or others who get a commission to take you to the hotel of their choice, paying a commission for each guest they receive. Stay firm on this point. If they insist, simply ask to be dropped off in a street or landmark near where you want to go. This scam is particularly common with airport taxi drivers.
Egypt is generally a safe and welcoming country for travellers. Egyptians are, on the whole, very friendly – if you need help, they will generally try to help you as much as they can.
Gay and lesbian travellers should be cautious and refrain from open and public displays. While in pre-revolutionary times a few gay bars in major cities could operate in a semi-open manner, the situation has deteriorated and members of gay baths or gay marriage societies have been specifically prosecuted for “debauchery” in 2014.
Officially, cannabis and other narcotics are prohibited and punishable by heavy penalties; the same applies to the abuse of prescription drugs. Nevertheless, hashish in particular is widely used, even among Egyptians; it is considered part of Egyptian culture to some extent, and is generally considered much less offensive than alcohol, with many Egyptian clerics considering it to be makruh (allowed but disapproved) rather than haraam (prohibited).
Many Egyptians who are reluctant to drink alcohol do not think of consuming hashish; it is commonly used on festive occasions in rural areas in some parts of the country and in many Sufi rituals throughout the country. The police are notorious for using hashish possession as an excuse to arrest and brutalise people, but their targets are usually locals, not tourists, and as long as you do not irritate the security forces or otherwise attract their attention, it is unlikely – and we must stress, unlikely, but not impossible – that foreigners will suffer unduly from private cannabis use in Egypt.
Egyptian men compliment women; do not take offence if they do so to you. Men need not worry either; if they do this to your partner/daughter, it will only be a compliment and hopefully will go no further.
If you are a woman travelling alone or with another woman, be warned that some men will touch you or grab a part of your body, whether you are negotiating with them or just walking down the street. Dressing modestly will not deter them. If you get angry because they have touched you, they and all spectators, male or female, will be amused. The best way to avoid this is to wear a wedding ring and not be too friendly.
Terrorism is a security issue and the country’s terrorist groups have an unpleasant record of targeting Western tourists and the places they visit. Egyptian security forces remain at a very high level of alert.
However, the chances of being affected by terrorism are statistically low, and most of the attacks only killed Egyptians, adding to the disgust of the vast majority of Egyptians for extremists. The government only takes the issue very seriously when it is financially damaging, and tourist sites are heavily guarded, although the level and competence of the Egyptian police leaves much to be desired. For instance, when you take a taxi from Cairo to Alexandria, you will probably be stopped at a checkpoint before leaving Cairo.They will sometimes ask you where you are going and sometimes contact the Alexandria checkpoint to make sure you reach your destination within a certain time.
The same is true for most desert travel, particularly in Upper Egypt, which is probably best avoided because of the growing religious tensions that lurk beneath the surface and which, although seemingly harmless, have the ability to erupt without warning. During the various stages of your journey you may be escorted by the local police who will expect some sort of financial payment. They will accompany you to your destination, wait there until you are finished, and will usually stay behind at one of the next checkpoints, as they often have nothing else to do and because tourists are considered signs of $. The best example of this is when you travel from Aswan to Abu Simbel to visit the temple of Ramses II. An armed tourist policeman gets into your tourist bus and escorts you to Abu Simbel. After your visit, he accompanies you in the same bus to Aswan, again because this is part of his job and without tourists there would be no jobs and there would be no reason to ensure the safety of your own citizens since they are not a financial asset to them.
There are also many tourist policemen armed with AK-47s who patrol the Giza plateau on camels. They are there to ensure the safety of tourists, because the pyramids are the crown jewels of all Egyptian antiquities, although they have been very poorly maintained in recent years, with no investment from the inside, only from the outside, by countries and historical groups who cannot bear to sit back and watch the ruin that the local government allows these wonderful sites to become. Some tourists may find it exciting, even amusing, to take pictures with these policemen on camels. However, as they are all on patrol, it is not uncommon for them to verbally warn you not to pose next to them to take a picture with them, although anything is possible for a fee or financial payment.
Egypt is an Islamic and conservative country. Any manifestation of homosexuality is considered strange, bizarre, disrespectful and can, in most cases, lead to hostile reactions. Depending on the situation, place and time, it can range from strange looks to physical violence. Gays and lesbians should therefore be discreet during their stay in Egypt.
The gay scene in Egypt is not as open and free as in the West. In the past, homosexuals have been arrested and detained by police in Cairo and even tortured for engaging in homosexual activity. Human rights groups have condemned these actions, and the Egyptian government has come under pressure from various quarters, including the United States, to end this degrading treatment of homosexuals. The most notorious arrests took place in 2001 on a boat called the Queen Boat on the Nile in the Zamalek district. Since then there have been further arrests, but the exact situation of homosexuals in recent years is uncertain.
There are no official places for gays to cruise or meet other people.
Pickpocketing is a problem in major Egyptian cities, especially in Greater Cairo. Many residents choose not to carry a wallet at all, but to keep their money in a clip in their pocket, and tourists would be well advised to do the same. On the positive side, violent crime is rare and it is very unlikely that you will be the victim of an assault or robbery. However, if you are the victim of a crime, you can get support from local pedestrians by shouting “Harami” (thief), but do not chase after him as this is the easiest way to get lost and most criminals carry pocket knives.
Overall, scams are the main problem in Egypt. Be aware that many Egyptians who start a conversation with you in Cairo and Luxor want your money. There is a very underhanded tactic of making “friends”, showing you around, showing you things, even taking you to their house for dinner and then asking you for money. So basically, if something sounds just too good to be true, then it probably is.Charge absolutely everything, because if you say afterwards, “I thought it was free,” you’re going to have a nasty fight.
Protests against the Egyptian government have continued since 2011. Caution is advised near protest areas. The demonstration or/and the reaction of security forces to it could become violent. Thugs take advantage of the lack of police security in and around protest areas. Numerous cases of rape, violent robbery and murder of foreigners have been reported.
Make sure you drink plenty of water: Egypt has an extremely dry climate for most of the year – a fact aggravated by high temperatures in late summer – and countless travellers every year experience the discomfort and dangers of dehydration. It is not enough to be thirsty to indicate danger – carry a bottle of water and keep drinking! If you don’t feel the need to urinate for a long time, or if you only urinate very small amounts of dark yellow urine, these are signs of incipient dehydration.
Egyptian tap water is considered safe by most people, but it often makes travellers ill. It is not recommended for regular consumption, mainly because of the very local differences in quality. Bottled mineral water is widely available. Be wary, however, of the old scam whereby vendors resell bottled water after filling it from another (possibly dubious) source. Always make ….sure the seal is intact before you part with your money (or drink it), and inform the tourist police if you catch someone doing so.
Be a little careful with the fruit juice, as some vendors may mix it with water. You should also be careful with milk, as it may not be pasteurised. Try to buy milk only from reputable shops. Hot drinks such as tea and coffee are usually good because the water has been boiled first, but also be careful with ice cubes.
Winter is usually the time when the sun is at its mildest, especially in December, and it is the weakest in northern Egypt. Egypt has a desert climate, which means that there are hardly any clouds during the hottest months. So expect extremely sunny days, especially from June to August, and try to avoid direct sunlight from 9am (10am in summer) to 3pm (4pm in summer). Bring a good pair of sunglasses and wear a good sunscreen, although this is ineffective if exposed skin becomes clammy. In addition, you can wear a baseball cap or something similar if you don’t want to stand out, as this is the most popular headgear for urban Egyptians.
To avoid contracting the dreaded schistosomiasis parasite (also called bilharziasis), a flat worm that pierces the skin, don’t swim in the Nile and don’t venture into other Egyptian waters, even if the country’s inhabitants do. It is also advisable not to walk barefoot on freshly watered lawns for the same reason.
Although it can take weeks or even months for the disease to manifest itself, it is advisable to consult a local doctor if you think you have been exposed, as he or she is familiar with the diagnosis and treatment and it will cost you pennies rather than dollars. Symptoms include fever, diarrhoea, abdominal pain and fatigue, so the disease can easily be mistaken for the flu or food poisoning, but flatworm eggs can be identified by a stool test and the disease can usually be cured with a single dose of praziquantel.
Bird flu outbreaks in Egypt have killed 23 people since 2006. The last death occurred in December 2008.
Vaccinations and malaria
The following vaccinations are generally recommended for Egypt:
- All routine vaccinations, including: measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccination, diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (whooping cough) vaccination, chickenpox (varicella) vaccination, polio vaccination and annual influenza vaccination.
- Hepatitis A and typhoid fever.
- Hepatitis B if sexual contact, tattoo/piercing or medical procedures are planned.
- Rabies if an extended stay is planned, especially for outdoor activities.
There is a low risk of malaria in P. vivax only in the Aswan region of Egypt. While travelling to Aswan, travellers are advised to avoid mosquito bites.