“Isn’t Egypt a dangerous country to travel?” Many have asked me when I told them about my travel plan.
Let’s admit it: Egypt does not have a good reputation at the moment. Since the 1997 massacre at Hatschepsut temple in Luxor, a series of attacks and bombings have recurrently taken place. The consequent tourism downturn became a nightmare for Egypt after the 2011 Revolution, and the recent attack on the Russian Metrojet plane over the Sinai has been a death blow to any hopes of regrowth.
But let’s face it: London or Paris do not particularly seem much safer these days, and anyway as a Westerner you are probably more likely to die of obesity or a road accident than in a terrorist attack.
So what do things look like for a traveller in Egypt right now?
Egypt is empty. Can you imagine the experience of crawling in a narrow passage at the heart of a 4-centuries old pyramid and be completely on your own? How about wandering around the ruins of Karnak temple all by yourself?
Also, I have been warned about the terrible scams and hassle that some Egyptians who work in the tourism business offer to their guests, particularly since they are now way too many for way too few tourists. But honestly, I don’t think it was that bad.
I have not allowed myself to really face any issues, for example by using guides as a chaperone when needed. Or by asking a ride from the airport to arranged-tour holiday makers, rather than having to bargain alone with taxi drivers.
But I’ve also had conversations with taxi drivers, felouca sailors, hostel staff, souvenir shopkeepers, and I feel that Egyptians increasingly understand that we, tourists, hate hassle; and that harassing is not the way to convince the unique tourist of the day to spend her little money.
Historically, Egypt has been the country of packaged holiday tours: it is where Thomas Cook created mass tourism in the second half of the nineteenth century. I have never wanted to travel there because I didn’t want to find myself squeezed in the middle of thousands of tourist flocks in shorts and sandals.
But last week, I was in Egypt and apart from a few occasional groups of Chinese, Indians, and maybe a few of Brits or Finns too, the country was empty. Embarrassingly empty at times.
I was told that, in the past, 7000 people on average visited the Great Pyramid every day; they are 500 now. To be honest, 500 was more than enough to me. It must have been horrible back in the days. While Egypt faces the need of reconversion from tourism, it is an opportunity to make travel in Egypt a much better experience.
So why is today the perfect time to visit Egypt? Because it is a beautiful country with the most amazing history, because it is perfectly equipped to cater for travellers while not being full of tourists, because it offers plenty of opportunities to enter in contact with the lovely, friendly Egyptian people. What more reasons would you need to go?