Egyptian affairs have been international news since the overthrow of President Mubarak in 2011. Egypt has held onto this unfortunate spotlight following the revolution, coup d’etat, and removal of Mohamed Morsi from office in 2013. Despite everything you hear, here’s why there’s no better time to visit the country.
1. It’s never been so affordable, and it probably never will be again.
Egypt’s economy is desperately dependent on tourism and hospitality. It’s full of the world’s most famous antiquities, as well as some of the most unique landscapes and recreational water activities. You can spend a weekend diving the Blue Hole of Dahab, climb the ancient blocks of the Great Pyramid of Giza, and descend through 3,000-year-old tombs of ancient pharaohs at the Valley of the Kings.
Following a terrorist attack in Luxor in 1997, tourism took a brutal blow, and the country still hasn’t recovered from when the 2011 demonstrations in Tahrir Square hit international news outlets. As a result, major price cuts have occurred in all realms of the Egyptian tourism industry. There’s literally not a thing in Egypt that’s nonnegotiable. A budget traveler can easily find a private room in a hostel or hotel for as cheap as $5, an awesome meal for less than $4, and a tour guide desperate for some work for less than $10/day.
2. Egyptians are ecstatic to host foreigners in their country.
I walked past a “Welcome to Egypt” sign moments after clearing customs in Taba, and a sense of uncertainty overcame me. I questioned if I was naïve in putting so much faith in people I’d never met, and so little trust in dramatized international news stories. I walked another 500 meters, and the manager of the bus stop came outside, sat down next to me on the bench, cut into his orange with his pocketknife, and handed me half. “Welcome to Egypt!” he delightfully beamed. His English was great, and he informed me that my bus wouldn’t arrive for four hours — so I should leave my bags with him and enjoy myself across the street at Taba’s newest outdoor lounge.
This incident wasn’t isolated — on the bus, I had three people sitting near me who welcomed me a dozen times. They offered up their smartphones to help me find lodging in Cairo. One man, Ahmed, even got off the bus and negotiated a cheaper taxi fare for me and later sent me an email just to make sure I successfully landed on my feet in Cairo.
With so little tourism these days, any and all tourists stick out like a KFC across the street from the Sphinx. Every single time I left my hostel, I was approached by complete strangers wishing to welcome me. Nine times out of ten, this was my standard greeting, but at least six or seven times, after replying I was from the US, they’d bellow, “Welcome to Alaska!” I still have absolutely no clue why everybody said it, but it was friendly as hell.
3. You won’t have to wait in line for anything.
Every single attraction, from Cairo’s Citadel to the Temple of Karnak in Luxor, can be your own private playground for a day. In February 2014, there were less than a dozen tourists at both when I arrived. You can guarantee yourself an intimate and personal experience at every attraction you’ve had your heart set on traveling to since seeing The Prince of Egypt as a kid.
Travel guides say that considering the crowds and time-restricted viewings in Luxor, it’s best to secure three days at a minimum in order to see everything. In just one day, I was able to go to the Valley of the Kings, Temple of Karnak, and Hatshepsut, take an afternoon stroll down the banks of the Nile, swipe a half dozen sugarcanes to sample from a passing tractor, and soak in the most remarkable view from any McDonald’s on Earth.