On many travellers’ lists of must-see places in the world must surely be the pyramids of Giza in Cairo, Egypt. It is a place of many facets and visions, and for the solo traveller, especially female, the travel experience can be both fascinating and unfortunately uncomfortable in certain situations.

However, with some basic preparation, visiting Cairo can be an eye-opening and magical experience for the lone female traveller, as long as adequate research is done and you know what to expect.

Find other solo travellers to explore with

In all its flavour, Egypt is still a conservative country, and a single foreign female traveller will attract uncomfortable attention and unwanted assumptions. If you’re female and obviously from a western country, many men will think you’re available. To avoid being harrassed, it’s a good idea to locate other travel buddies to visit tourist spots together. Check out TravBuddy or Couchsurfing to find out who else is travelling alone and meet up for a day of exploration together.

Take the metro

Cairo has a great metro system that services all the main tourist attractions. The trains are cheap, fast and efficient, and the best part is, the middle two carriages are reserved for women only. Contrary to any negative premises, these special carriages are clean, seats are plentiful, and you don’t get hassled by men. For a guide to train travel in Egypt, have a look at Egypt Rail.

Walk the walk of terror

One of the first things you will notice about travelling around in Egypt is the lack of pedestrian crossings in general. Combine that with the abundance of 6-8 lane traffic constantly packed with whizzing vehicles, and you’re stuck. However, the locals seem to have grown immune to this and simply walk in front of or very close to traffic to cross the streets. This may sound crazy and dangerous to the average person, but there is usually no other way. A technique I developed was to discard all fear, and learn to walk alongside an Egyptian, and borrow some of their bravery as they cruise from one side to the other and miraculously survive time after time.

Don’t succumb to ‘baksheesh’

‘Baksheesh’ is the local term for ‘tips’. Unfortunately, although locals might sometimes seem helpful, it’s likely that they will expect you to give them money for their ‘advice’. It ranges from demanding to be paid for taking a picture of a camel, to asking for cash in exchange for road directions. Asking local women for information is worse, as they will just ignore you.

As a solo female traveller, the best way is to be prepared and know exactly where you want to go, and know what to expect at each touristy place you visit. If you do have questions or you’re not sure where to go, hop into a taxi. They are usually very cheap, and will probably cost you the same as ‘baksheesh’. Alternatively, stop at a restaurant for a meal and ask all your questions there.

Visit Maadi

If local flavour gets a tad overwhelming and you yearn for some home comforts, there is a little suburb named Maadi, which houses a large expat community with associated shops, food, and people. It’s not far from central Cairo, with a metro station, and is a haven for pubs, beer, and chips.

From the airport to the pyramids, Cairo can be fun and rewarding, and needs to be experienced with a big pinch of salt. Go on and bask in the glory of one of the wonders of the world. Just watch out for those touts and traffic.

Your thoughts on "Solo female travel in Cairo, Egypt"

  • Hey Stephanie. Great post. And although I'm not female, I spent time in Egypt last year with my girlfriend and can relate to the post. On numerous occasions I was offered camels in exchange for my girlfriend. But they wouldn't go above three camels. If they offerred four, it would have been tempting. I've suggested your post to a woman on our website who is looking to travel to Egypt this year. She's planning to visit during the Sun Festival, so it should be a great trip. You can see the trip here: http://globetrooper.com/egypt-jordan-oct-nov-2010 On that subject, you recommended TravBuddy and Couchsurfing for travel partners. Well (sorry for the shameless plug), our new website, Globetrooper.com, is dedicated to finding people to travel with. Anyone can create a trip for other people to join. Most of them are longer adventure trips around the globe. E.g. one of our users is driving from London to Cape Town, one of them is climbing Aconcagua, etc. Best, Todd

    on May 26, 2010 at 8:54 pm Reply
  • Stephanie -- Great tips! I'll be in Egypt this Oct.-Nov. 2010 (as Todd mentioned) and will be sure to apply your advice. Thank you.

    on May 26, 2010 at 10:07 pm Reply
  • Hi Stephanie.... great topic and wonderful tips. I lived in Egypt for three years and did a fair amount of traveling alone. Here's a tip it took me a while to figure out. As a foreign woman (alone or not), you'll get tons of attention and a lot of women are really annoyed by it. I know I was at first. In fact, one day I made all my coworkers crack up when I told them how rude I thought the police were on the street as I was waiting for a taxi. They always say something like, "mohsa," I told my friends. They let me know that it was a compliment and nothing to be offended by. Soon, I just took all the comments as compliments and my experience changed dramatically. I didn't know slang and my Arabic was not that great, so imagining that everyone was saying things like, "oh, what a nice sweater you have" or "green really suits you," made life much more pleasant. Guys might serenade you as they ride by on a bike, they'll likely stare you down no matter where you are, and kids will probably come over to have their picture taken with you. You're as exotic to them as they are to you. Egyptians are wonderfully friendly. Enjoy them!

    on May 27, 2010 at 4:57 pm Reply
  • Another very cool post on The Indie Travel Podcast! Now, I'm really looking forward to reading the new ebook!

    on May 28, 2010 at 7:46 am Reply
  • @Todd & Tripchick: Your itinerary looks fantastic, I wish I had more time there to do all the things on that list, but after a week of being asked for baksheesh everywhere I went, I got a bit jaded! @Angela: I think that's a good attitude to develop especially when you're there long-term. The men are generally harmless, but it did get annoying, and mostly I felt more self-conscious and couldn't immerse myself 100% compared to other cities. @Sonya: Thanks, we've worked so long and hard for the book, hope you enjoy it!

    on May 28, 2010 at 7:10 pm Reply
  • Hey Stephanie. I can certainly relate to the baksheesh issue. But as the days passed and I didn't shave, I think they started to think I was more in need of baksheesh than they were :) It also helped when I stopped trying to resist it as an annoyance and accepted it as part of the culture and part of the nation. Same with the bazaars; just needed to readjust my preconceptions top really enjoy the buzz. Loved it.

    on May 30, 2010 at 6:38 am Reply
  • Thanks for the tips! I arrived to Cairo alone too, and if you can get used to things quickly, it is not so bad! Of course you need to be careful, but that I think it's everywhere in the world!

    on August 14, 2011 at 4:00 am Reply

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