On our trip from Germany to Hurghada, we had a nine hour layover in Cairo. I’d been there before, but Marco hadn’t and so we decided to tour the city a little bit… and of course see the pyramids 😉 So, after having planned and taken the tour, here are my 7 steps to a great layover tour in Cairo:
1. Make sure you have enough time! The nine hours we had were perfect for seeing some of the sights, having dinner, and getting an impression of the city. I think you might be able to do a quick tour of just the pyramids in about 4-5 hours, but I imagine that to be a little stressful. Don’t forget to calculate for immigration, getting your luggage, and being back on time at the airport for your next flight.
2. Don’t do it on your own! While I am not generally one to use tour operators and prefer to organize things myself, I do make an exception for a layover tour. Since time is of the essence it helps to have someone pick you up at the airport, keep your luggage safe in the bus, know where to go and how long it will take to get places and back to the airport in time for your next flight.
3. Choose a tour operator/private guide you trust! When I searched Tripadvisor for suggestions on private guides in Cairo, the same companies kept popping up. I contacted a few with requests for a quote for a private guide for nine hours for two people. Most came back with prices ranging from $50 to $90including at the minimum the guide and the bus and at the most the guide, the bus, the drinks, the food, the entry fees, and the gratuities. So, make sure you compare prices and read the fine print. I ended up emailing back and forth with Hani from Egypt Fun Tours and booked the tour with him. We did not regret that decision for a second! Hani did a great job and I would recommend a layover tour with him to anybody! Another quick suggestion… all tour operators I was in contact with demanded payment when in Cairo. Don’t let anybody talk you into transferring money before you are there.
4. Create your own itinerary!Since you are paying for a private guide, you are not bound by a rigid schedule that is determined by other travellers. Scour the web, flip through some guidebooks, ask friends – in short, find out what interests you most in the short time you have. However, I would also trust the guide. After all, they are the locals, the ones who know what is possible and was isn’t, what is open and what isn’t. I asked Hani for a proposed itinerary and saw that it included a little more time at Khan El-Khalili than we had hoped for. Marco and I both are not big bazaar fans and were glad when Hani came up with another plan (Al-Azhar Mosque and walking through Islamic Cairo with minimal time at Khan El-Khalili). It worked out great and we loved the tour.
5. Be flexible! The one thing we really wanted to see was the Pyramids and the Sphinx. However, our flight into Cairo was delayed, the area around the pyramids closed early for Ramadan, and we didn’t make it. However, Hani knew of the famous rooftop terrace of a KFC facing the pyramids and the sphinx and brought us there instead. It was close enough to get a good idea of how huge everything is and we enjoyed the beautiful view and Hani’s explanations. It also gave us more time for the other sights on our tour. So, it all worked out well in the end!
6. Enjoy the food! Eating local food and trying different things is such a big part of travelling for me. Whenever we are on the road, we want to enjoy what we cannot eat at home. Food is such a big part of the culture no matter where you go, that it would be a shame to miss out on delicious local specialties – even if time is restricted during a layover tour. So, for dinner Hani brought us to Felfela in downtown Cairo. We picked up Shawarma, Falafel, and Koshary, and went back to a coffee shop at Khan El-Khalili, El Fishawy, to dig in 🙂 It was delicious and we enjoyed the food just as much as resting our feet. Marco and I were both so sore from the day in the German mountains that the tour through Cairo pushed our poor muscles too the limit 🙂
7. Don’t resist the souvenirs! I don’t necessarily buy something everywhere I go, but if you see something that you really like… why not?! Even though Marco and I had not even planned on spending time (or money) at Khan El-Khalili, we enjoyed our dinner there a lot. And on the way to the coffee shop, El Fishawy, we both spotted the beautiful brass work offered everywhere. We saw a lamp that we really liked and Hani brought us to a cheaper shop hidden upstairs where we could buy one just like it for half the price. We finally put it up yesterday and it looks beautiful in our living room (picture below)… and it reminds us of our fun day in Cairo. So, if you see something you like, get it and relive moments of your tour when you look at it 🙂
Overall, Marco and I really had a blast in Cairo and enjoyed it more than we had hoped for. In fact, we want to go back for more! And in large parts that is due to Hani from Egypt Fun Tours. It took a lot of stress out of the picture to have someone take care of everything and I don’t think we would have seen nearly as much had we tried to do it on our own. So, if you plan a layover tour in Cairo, I highly suggest you hire a private guide – even if you usually do it on your own. While we only had nine hours, the pace of the tour was just right and we had a beautiful day in Cairo.
More on our Egypt trip is here.
© 2010 – 2011, Country Skipper. All rights reserved.