How To Stay Safe In Egypt: Everything You Need To Know

Egypt is one of the most incredible and beautiful countries in the world. Everyone should visit at least once in their life! That being said, there are definitely some misconceptions out there about safety, and the question of how to stay safe in Egypt is a topical one.

Table of Contents

Introduction

Personally, we loved Egypt. It easily ranks in the top 3 countries we visited in Africa and we had an amazing time. We truly feel that we experienced it in the best way possible, with the help of some advice from friends and a very lovely local guide. Sadly, when we began to share our experience with others, we realised that this is certainly not the case for everyone. Repeatedly, we encountered the same negative opinions, and disheartening stories.

Over and over again, people told us they fell prey to scams, felt unsafe, got lost, generally didn’t have a good time. This made us so sad, as we honestly found Egypt to be the exact opposite of this! We spent a good amount of time there and definitely felt we understood the culture by the end (with the help of our guide). There are, without question, certain things which take some practice as a tourist. We made this guide to help others enjoy their time there without worry or anxiety.

I’m a firm believer that no country is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ and that your experience there is what you make it. People, in my experience of travelling, are generally good and this was no less true in Egypt. It’s all about going adequately prepared and making sure you have enough information.

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Hot air balloons floating over the desert plains of Valley of the Kings
Hot Air Balloons in Luxor

Disclaimer

We always say that safety is completely subjective. Race, gender, group size, appearance and access needs, as well as many other factors, can play a role in how safe you feel, meaning that one person’s experience can differ vastly from your own when travelling. We fully acknowledge that, but wanted to share our experience to help others.

I’ll cover how safe I felt as a women and measure I took to protect myself, but I cannot speak for demographics outside my own. We always encourage you to take testimonials from other travellers like yourself and if you can’t do this, try and speak to a local guide for more information.

Insurance for travelling through Africa

As with any trip, we always hope nothing will go wrong, but it’s best to be completely covered, just in case it does. We use SafetyWing for our travel insurance and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend them when visiting Africa or any other region. The best thing about them, in our opinion, is how no-nonsense they are. The policy wording is super straightforward, and you can very easily add on anything you need, such as adventure sports (like diving etc) or electronics cover.

Another really good thing about SafetyWing is that you can purchase it at any point, even if you are already on your trip. Check prices for your own cover below.

Areas of Egypt we visited

We started our trip in Cairo, where we spent 5 days. After Cairo we travelled to Siwa, where we spent 3 nights, and then we came back via Alexandria. After Alexandria, we took the train down to Luxor, and following that, Aswan and Abu Simbel. We finished with a little more time in Cairo.

On this map, you can see our route:

What kind of safety concerns might you encounter in Egypt?

There are a few main things you need to look out for, some of which we did encounter ourselves.

Scams in Egypt

Tourist scams are pretty rampant in Egypt. In many tourist sites, like Valley of the Kings, the Pyramids, various temples, there are some people who will wait for tourists and inevitably try to rip them off. Of course, this is fairly common in a lot of countries. In Egypt, we came across a few.

The ‘I’m not a guide’ scam

This was probably the worst scam to affect us. It was so obvious afterwards that we were furious with ourselves, which wasn’t helped by the fact that we had spent a lot of money we didn’t need/couldn’t afford to spend. The basic premise of the scam is someone will come up to you and offer to show you round and they’ll say ‘I’m not a guide, you don’t need to pay me’, or something similar. You’re definitely going to think we’re stupid for falling for this one, but the guy was laughing and joking with us, and offered to show us a nice photo spot. We just got completely duped!

Of course, the unfortunate outcome was that he did in fact turn out to be a guide, who had horses. We had no desire to ride a horse, but after all the help he had given us taking photos, we didn’t have much choice. Follow that up with a very expensive ‘tip’* he talked us into paying, let’s just say it ruined our afternoon.

*Note: asking for backsheesh/tipping is not a scam. It’s a large part of Egyptian culture and completely normal. You can read more in our article here.

Emma is arm in arm with an Egyptian guide, walking towards a step pyramid and some horses. There is a dog walking past looking scared.
Said ‘non-guide’, leading us towards his horses. It was about to become a very expensive trip for us.

The Uber scam

Actually, there are a few of these, and I’d say we got off lightly with them. They have Uber, the taxi app, in most parts of Egypt, as well as Bolt and a local app, Careem. With the other two apps, you can choose to pay by cash, but with Uber you can’t do that yet. At least, you couldn’t when we were there. What this means is that certain Uber drivers are a little frustrated and want the cash in hand option.

The first scam you get with taxi drivers therefore is that they’ll ask you pay cash after picking you up, and then refuse to take you any further if you say no. This leaves you with the cancellation fee, and they get to drive away in search of other business. Of course this isn’t all taxi drivers, but it does happen quite often.

Traffic in Cairo is pretty bad, which means that often taxis can take a really long time to arrive. The second scam we heard about (but didn’t encounter) was taxi drivers taking ages to arrive, then parking just around the corner from you, saying they’d arrived but that you weren’t there. This is super frustrating because, again, you’re left with a cancellation fee and have to wait for a new taxi. They, meanwhile, can pick up new business elsewhere.

The third and final scam is a classic, which is taxi drivers taking the long route. The aim is of course to get you to pay more. Really though, the traffic is so bad in Cairo that sometimes this saves you time!

A very dirty little dog asleep on a wooden bench in Cairo. She is white and brown and has perky ears.
Life in Cairo

The assumption scam

Again, this is a really common scam worldwide, where someone will put something on you (e.g. a bracelet on your wrist etc), and then tell you that you need to buy it and refuse to take it back. It’s seriously very annoying and quite hard to combat, even if you’re aware of it. At the very least, it usually leads to a fight!

This is just a sample of the scams that happen in Egypt. As a country that receives a lot of tourists, the scams are many and I don’t claim to know them all. There are also the usual fake vs real goods, inflated prices etc. You just need to be vigilant and understand ways you could be taken advantage of, and never be afraid to haggle.

Safety in major cities in Egypt

As in any major city in the world, Pick-pocketing is of course a very common issue in Egypt. Actually though we didn’t hear of many other crimes against tourists while we were there. The cities in Egypt are generally considered to be a little ‘unsafe’ in the grand scheme of things. I feel like this is the case in most of the world.

Pick-pocketing/petty theft are probably most prevalent in Cairo, though you should watch out for it in other cities such as Luxor, Aswan, Alexandria and so on. We always advise to take care of your valuables and not flash around expensive equipment like cameras. Inside restaurants, bars, museums, tourist sites, taxis, we didn’t find the cities to be unsafe at all.

Safety at night in Egypt

From our experience, more rural parts of Egypt, like Siwa, are generally quite safe in the evenings. The cities are, of course, a different matter, and as a first time tourist, we’d avoid staying in at night or taking taxis wherever you need to be. Again, I do feel this is the case in most of the world, and it’s best to use common sense.

A sunset view of Cairo's skyline. There are skyscrapers and palm trees.
Cairo at dusk

Road safety in Egypt

Another element of safety in Egypt is on the roads. Traffic in Cairo, Giza and parts of Luxor is wild. It’s to the extent that short 10 minute journeys can sometimes turn into an hour or longer. There are also a lot of motorbikes and many lane roads. With so many frustrated motorists and a hectic traffic system, of course some accidents are inevitable. I would always advise if you’re with a taxi driver or on a bus and feel unsafe, get out of the vehicle. It’s better to protect yourself than take the risk. As a pedestrian also, be extremely vigilant!

Outside of the major cities, we didn’t find the drivers to be especially reckless. We were fine and comfortable on public transport for example.

Safety as a woman in Egypt

As a woman traveller, even with my husband there, I must admit that there were times I felt uneasy. We are experienced travellers and spent 6 months happily travelling around many parts of Africa, where we rarely felt unsafe, so we really thought we wouldn’t feel this.

In Cairo in particular, I experienced a lot of men staring at me openly, even when Murray and I were holding hands or he had his arm around me, and I was appropriately dressed and wearing a headscarf the entire time we were there. Something I will add here is that since Murray and I were together, and Cairo was the one place we were fully without any local friends, it’s hard to know if they were staring at only me, or at me and Murray.

Murray and I are both very pale, we look obviously not Egyptian and we sometimes didn’t know where we were going etc. I’d say it was quite obvious that we were tourists and that could also have been the reason people were staring. Nevertheless, it was mostly men, and I did have the feeling they were staring directly at me.

Once we met up with our guide, this was a completely different story. The staring completely stopped and we were left alone. I wouldn’t necessarily deter women travellers from visiting Egypt (even alone), but I would advise following the safety measures below, particularly taking a guide and wearing a head covering.

The skyline in Cairo from the Mohammad Ali Mosque. Emma is sitting looking up at the mosque (behind the camera) wearing a headscarf
Visiting mosques in Cairo

Safety on public transport in Egypt

We found the public transport in Egypt very easy to use. Buses are generally sturdy and comfortable and the drivers seemed good. We would also recommend the train, though that is more expensive for tourists. In general, we didn’t experience any issues on public transport, even night buses, and found it all to be very reliable.

How to stay safe in Egypt

1. Hire a local guide

This is our absolute number 1 tip for anyone visiting Egypt, especially those who are a little hesitant. We’re not talking about hiring guides for each attraction, as we found guides at individual sights somewhat hit and miss. For our trip, we hired a local guide called Rami. We are normally pretty independent travellers and like to avoid guides unless absolutely necessary, but we would recommend Rami to everyone visiting Egypt without hesitation.

As I said above, as soon as we hired him, our experience in Egypt changed overnight. People were no longer staring at us, we understood the tipping culture (which had previously baffled us!), and overall we were just having a much better time. Of course we also did not need to worry about any scams! Rami’s rates are extremely reasonable and he can suit any budget. We would recommend speaking with him, even if you don’t usually choose a guided tour. His tours are also quite hands-off and he designs them around local life, so it’s not a typical ‘tour’ experience.

We have also heard that Intrepid travel and G Adventures offer great tours. We’ve had friends go to Egypt with them and also have a brilliant time if you want a group tour.

Emma and Murray are standing smiling as their guide in Egypt, Rami, takes a selfie. Rami is wearing a cap and blue sunglasses.
With our lovely guide Rami

2. Wear appropriate clothing

I’d say this goes mainly for women travellers, but actually it’s useful for any gender! Our tour guide told us as we were entering Islamic Cairo that it’s the expectation even for boys to wear long trousers. The clothing expectations for entering a mosque are: covered head (for women), shoulders, knees and midriff. To feel safe in Egypt, I’d advise dressing in a similar way at all times. It’s not mandatory in Cairo and actually there are many local women who don’t cover their head, but personally I felt better with a headscarf on, since I had a lot of people staring at me even with one on. I felt it would have been much worse without.

3. Follow tipping expectations

Tipping is an enormous part of Egyptian culture. You can read more about it here, but it counts as a reward for good service, a token of appreciation and so much more in Egypt. Understandably therefore, not tipping, when you have received good service, can really cause offence. For example, we saw more than one toilet attendant run down the street asking tourists for tips! Following the cultural norms will really help you out here.

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    Written by Emma

    Emma

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