Cairo is a bustling and culturally rich city that attracts millions of foreign travellers each year, and the majority of visits are trouble-free. However, in recent years, large-scale demonstrations, civil unrest, and security threats have battered the tourism sector. Before embarking on a holiday or routine business trip to Cairo, there are a few crucial factors you should keep in mind.
Understand the threats and risks to travellers in Cairo, even if the occurrences are unlikely
Being prepared and understanding the security situation should give you more confidence than fear. It is commonplace throughout Cairo to go through metal detectors and have bags searched before entering some sites, which may cause delays. The crime rate is moderate, although the risk of violent crime is low due to the high police presence. Tourists tend to be the most susceptible target for petty theft, so be sure to take precautions. You should only use automated teller machines (ATMs) with guards, at trusted banks, or at the airport to avoid skimming devices or robberies.
The risk of terrorism is high
There have been a number of explosions, attacks, and bombings in Cairo. Due to these threats, the Egyptian government maintains a heavy security presence at tourist locations and historical archaeological sites. Additionally, Egyptian authorities have taken proactive steps to increase airport security across the country; they have also hired international security consultants to increase confidence in their security measures following two terrorist attacks over the past year.
Make sure you practice good personal security and avoid dangerous areas
You should always be aware of locations that may leave you vulnerable to crime, such as alleyways, isolated parks and buildings, back streets, poorly lit areas, and the sprawling slums and outskirts of the city. Avoid all political demonstrations, many of which are held in Tahrir Square, as they may turn violent. Stay alert and aware of your surroundings and keep your belongings secure, especially in popular tourist locations like historical sites, the pyramids, souks, mosques, and museums. Avoid carrying large amounts of money, and keep your bankcards and cash in multiple locations to reduce the impact of robbery.
Know what to expect and how to react in a variety of situations
Women visiting Cairo should dress conservatively and avoid travelling alone, because verbal harassment (among other types) is common. The tourist police (dial 126) are present at many major tourist destinations in the city and were established specifically to help foreigners in uncomfortable or dangerous situations. You will be much less likely to be targeted aggressively for money or business by local vendors if you pre-book a tour with a reputable company. If you are travelling alone, sit in the back when taking a taxi and act confidently as if you know the area to avoid being ripped off. Never take an unofficial taxi—the official black-and-white taxis maintain a universal presence throughout the city.
Etiquette and respect of local customs goes a long way
Researching local laws and customs before you visit Cairo is important to avoid offending Cairenes. Islam is the most common religion in Cairo and influences the city’s politics, culture, and behaviour. The city is therefore quite conservative and traditional, where respect is of the upmost importance.
Health and food safety standards may be different from what you are used to
Only drink bottled or treated water in Cairo, and avoid foods that haven’t been cooked or that you cannot peel. Private hospitals provide much better care than publicly run hospitals, and some mosques also provide health clinics that have higher standards than state hospitals.
Have an emergency plan even if the event is unlikely
Local police may be approached if you require assistance with security matters. In the event of an emergency, dial 122 to connect to the local police, follow the advice of authorities, and stay alert. Foreign embassies are located in Cairo, so you are also encouraged to utilize their services for assistance. Be sure to have emergency numbers and your assistant provider’s information handy at all times. Also be sure to check your government’s travel advisory website for real-time security updates regarding the country you are travelling to.
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