I heard this greeting more than anything else during my two week trip to Egypt. It’s a small word. A simple word. Yet every time I heard it, it was spoken with warmth, sincerity, and a smile the reached the speaker’s eyes.
But, ‘welcome’ wasn’t just a word; it was a feeling. A feeling that accompanied me from the streets of Cairo to the banks of the Nile, from the markets of Luxor to the temple of Abu Simbel. In fact, I’d go so far to say that out of the 45 countries I have been to so far, Egypt tops my list for destinations that made me feel the most welcome as a traveller. Which is strange when I consider that everyone told me not to go…
Unless you live in a box, you have no doubt heard Egypt touted by the media as a no-go destination. The words ‘dangerous’, and ‘unsafe’ have shrouded this ancient country’s image for the last several years, leaving travellers uncertain and nervous. For a while, I was one of those travellers. However, when the opportunity came to travel there, I grabbed it.
I’m not going to lie; I had second thoughts, fears, and doubts that were strengthened every time somebody questioned my decision. But, I went anyway, and I’m so glad I did because it turns out that Egypt was nothing like I imagined – in the most incredible way possible. Here’s why you should follow in my footsteps, and visit Egypt now.
While seeing the Great Pyramids in real life was a dream come true, and wandering through the towering columns of Karnak temple blew my mind, it was experiences with the local people that left me with the best memories. From welcome drinks everywhere we went to friendly conversations and small gifts, we were showered with hospitality.
When wandering the souk of Luxor, a local man approached us and became our impromptu tour guide. He took us away from the tourist market to where the locals shop so I could get some good quality, affordable tea. He didn’t want money, he didn’t push me to buy from anyone, he just wanted to practice his English and tell us about his country. He even invited us to breakfast the following morning with his family – an invitation we sadly had to turn down because of our cruise, but the offer was genuine.
The Egyptian people were truly appreciative that we had decided to take a chance and come to their country. They did everything in their power to show us their appreciation and quickly won us over with their kindness and warmth.
Being a tourist in Egypt definitely means you will attract attention, but in a good way. The Egyptians are proud of their history and culture, and will happily take the time to show you if you express an interest.
On the Nile cruise, a local woman took me under her wing at the Egyptian buffet table and took the time to patiently explain everything to me. She told me I had to try Koshari, a dish that I was a bit skeptical about until her encouragement. She directed me to the sauces and encouraged me to take a bite. It was good, and her face lit up when I told her so. Not only did a get a little lesson on Egyptian cuisine, but I also made a new friend.
In a Nubian village by Aswan, I was drawn to a vendor who had brightly coloured scarves for sale. The vivid blues, reds, and greens drew me in but it was the vendor and his craftsman uncle that made me stay.
The uncle, who went by the name of Obama, had limited English but patiently took the time to show me how he created each and every scarf on his loom sitting there in the shop. He then took my brother aside, tying a scarf on top of his head as a local would wear it. The interaction encouraged us to purchase two scarves as Christmas presents for family members back home, yet the vendor was so grateful that we left with four scarves; two as gifts for each of us because we took the time to visit, support, and learn about his trade.
There is a big advantage for the travellers who come to explore Egypt: the lack of crowds. From the Great Pyramids and the Sphinx to the Royal Tombs and Luxor Temple – and even in Abu Simbel – the crowds are significantly smaller than what I had imagined. Not only was this great for photos, but it also meant you got to see more and get a real sense of the size and detail of these magnificent structures.
Guides had the space to point out tiny details like touches of original colour in Hatshepsut’s temple and medical instruction carvings in Kom Ombo temple. I had the space to really take in the detail of the massive battle scenes on the walls of Abu Simbel’s main temple and could take the time to examine the intricate details of hieroglyphics. Without the crowds, I was truly able to appreciate just how incredible Egypt’s ancient wonders really are.
Opportunities to support locals
While the lack of crowds at the sights and attractions across Egypt were amazing for our experience, it’s heartbreaking when you consider it from a local perspective. Tourism was such a massive part of the country’s economy, and the abrupt loss of it post-revolution has led to a lot of hardship and suffering. I met a couple of professional Egyptologists and tour guide who worked odd jobs whenever possible to help pay the bills because they were struggling to support their families. A sad situation for a professional in a country with some of the most incredible historical sites in the world.
In a ladies’ washroom at the airport, I tipped the attendant five Egyptian pounds (about 0.30USD) and she kissed the bill in gratitude and thanked me profusely. Knowing that your tourism dollars are making a difference, that the money is helping these people and their families, really does feel good.
The price is right
Egypt is not expensive right now, especially when you consider everything you’re getting. Professional and English-speaking local guides, a cruise down the Nile, transportation, accommodation, meals, and more. Think about it: where else in the world right now can you get this much value at world-renowned historical sites for this price?
I’m not saying that Egypt is perfect, but turn on the news; nowhere is. What I am saying that if you dream of going to Egypt; of standing in front of the Great Pyramids, sailing down the Nile, or walking through the Valley of the Kings, then don’t let the media stop you.
Take a chance on Egypt. Trust me when I tell you, there is no better time than now.
Ready to embark on the trip of a lifetime? Check out Intrepid’s range of small group tours in Egypt.