Travel Advice: Is it Safe to Travel to Egypt?

Travel Advice: Is it Safe to Travel to Egypt?
••• Cairo Skyline, Egypt. Matt Champlin/ Getty Images

Egypt is a beautiful country, and one that has attracted tourists for thousands of years. It is famous for its ancient sights, for the River Nile and its Red Sea resorts. Unfortunately, it has also become synonymous in recent years with political turmoil and increased terrorist activity, and the number of people choosing to visit Egypt on vacation has fallen to an all-time low. In 2015, photos emerged of iconic sights like the Pyramids of Giza and the Great Sphinx - sights that were once crowded with tourists, but now lie deserted.

 

NB: Please note that this article was updated in June 2017, and that the political situation can change suddenly. Make sure to check the latest news reports and government travel warnings before planning your trip. 

Political Background

The country's recent unrest began in 2011, when a series of violent protests and labor strikes eventually led to the removal of President Hosni Mubarak. He was replaced by the Egyptian military, who ruled the country until Mohammed Morsi (a member of the Muslim Brotherhood) won the presidential election in 2012. In November 2012, clashes involving the government and anti-Muslim Brotherhood protesters escalated into violent scenes in Cairo and Alexandria. In July 2013, the army stepped in and ousted President Mursi, replacing him with interim president Adly Mansour. In early 2014, a new constitution was approved, and later in the same year current president Abdel Fattah El-Sisi was elected.

 

Current State of Affairs

Today, Egypt's political and economic stability is on the rise. Travel warnings from the UK and US governments are focused more on the threat of terrorist activity, which has also increased in recent years. Several terrorist groups have an active presence in Egypt - including the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

There have been several terrorist events in the past five years, including attacks against government and security forces, modes of public transport, tourist venues and civil aviation. Particularly, attacks seem to target Egypt's Coptic Christian population. ​​

On May 26th 2017, ISIL claimed responsibility for an attack in which gunmen opened fire on a bus transporting Coptic Christians, killing 30 people. On Palm Sunday, explosions at churches in Tanta and Alexandria claimed another 44 lives. 

Travel Warnings

Despite these tragic events, the UK and US governments have not yet issued a blanket ban on travel to Egypt. Travel warnings from both countries advise against all travel to the Sinai Peninsula, with the exception of iconic Red Sea resort town Sharm el-Sheikh. Travel east of the Nile Delta is also not recommended, unless absolutely necessary. However, there are no specific travel warnings against travel to Cairo and the Nile Delta (although it is important to be aware that despite elevated security measures in these areas, terrorist activity is utterly unpredictable). The key tourist sights (including Abu Simbel, Luxor, the Pyramids of Giza and the Red Sea coast) are all still considered safe.

 

General Rules for Staying Safe

While predicting a terrorist attack is impossible, there are measures that visitors can take to stay safe. Check government travel warnings regularly, and make sure to heed their advice. Vigilance is important, as is following the directions of local security officials. Try to avoid crowded areas (admittedly a difficult task in Cairo), especially on religious or public holidays. Take extra care when visiting places of worship. If you're visiting the resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh, weigh your options on how to get there carefully. The UK government advises against flying to Sharm el-Sheikh, while the US government states that overland travel is more dangerous. 

Petty Theft, Scams and Crime

As in most countries with a high poverty level, petty theft is common in Egypt.

Take basic precautions to avoid becoming a victim - including being especially aware of your valuables in crowded areas like train stations and markets. Carry small amounts of money on your person in a money belt, keeping large bills and other valuables (including your passport) in a locked safe at your hotel. Violent crime is relatively rare even in Cairo, but it's still a good idea not to walk alone at night. Scams are common and usually include ingenious ways to get you to purchase goods you don't want, or to patron a "relative's" shop, hotel or tour company. Most of the time, these are annoying rather than dangerous. 

Health Concerns & Vaccinations

Medical facilities in Egypt's larger cities and towns are very good, but less so in rural areas. The main health issues travelers encounter are routine problems ranging from sunburn to an upset stomach. Make sure to pack a first aid kit, so that you can self-medicate if necessary. Unlike sub-Saharan countries, Egypt does not require endless vaccinations or prophylaxis against malaria. However, it is a good idea to make sure that all of your routine vaccines are up to date. Vaccines for typhoid and hepatitis A are recommended, but not compulsory. 

Women Traveling to Egypt

Violent crime against women is rare, but unwanted attention is not. Egypt is a Muslim country and unless you are looking to offend (or draw uncomfortable stares), it's a good idea to dress conservatively. Opt for long pants, skirts and long-sleeved shirts rather than shorts, mini-skirts or tank tops. This rule is less strict in the tourist towns of the Red Sea coast, but nude sunbathing is also a no-no. On public transport, try and sit next to another woman, or family. Make sure to stay in reputable hotels, and don't walk around at night by yourself.

This article was updated by Jessica Macdonald on June 6th 2017.