Did Travelling Through Egypt Feel Safe?

As part of my big trip this year I spent almost two weeks travelling through Egypt. Most of this was by fairly uncomfortable bus rides, as I wrote about recently.

I’ve had several people contact me since then asking about how safe Egypt was, especially as I chose to travel by what they considered to be some relatively unsafe means.

Some people specifically said to me that they would never feel safe travelling by bus if they were to visit Egypt, especially outside the major cities.

So here are some general thoughts of my experience with safety in Egypt as a tourist, if you are considering visiting yourself.

Security is everywhere

I’ve visited a lot of countries but I’ve never seen so much security as I did in Egypt. You can’t even get into the carpark of your hotel without your vehicle being checked by sniffer dogs, and security guards checking the underside with mirrors.

Then to even get into your hotel you need to go through x-ray and metal detector checks. There are also plenty of security checks on roads, especially in rural areas.

These security checks, while sometimes feeling excessive, did not appear to be particularly thorough — we often were waived through metal detectors with our luggage at hotels when it was busy.

I’ve experienced some of these checks in other countries, but until Cairo there was nowhere that did all of them in so many places.

We travelled with an armed guard at all times

It took me several days to realise this but we had a plain clothed armed guard with us on the bus at all times. He wasn’t introduced to us, didn’t speak to us and sat at the front in a plain suit, but after a while I realised he came with us wherever we went.

He was always close by but never in our way — it was very professional how he did this. I imagine this is what having a personal bodyguard would be like.

He never took his suit jacket off and it wasn’t until the last few days that I caught a glimpse under his suit jacket of the impressive looking machine/automatic gun he was carrying (I know very little about guns but it was bigger than a handgun).

I asked our tour guide whether his purpose was simply to give the group peace of mind or whether there was a real danger he was protecting us from. Our guide was cagey with his answer, only indicating it was more peace of mind.

We had military escorts between towns

We travelled up and down the Nile between Cairo and Aswan. There were incredibly long rides, often at night. There were three different groups doing our tour (on three different buses) and we often travelled as a convey together. In between the towns we would have to wait for the other buses after we departed from stops for snacks or to use the bathrooms.

I didn’t initially think much of why we had to wait for them as we were completely separate groups, until at one stop I noticed there was a military jeep with several soldiers with machine guns in full camouflage uniform.

When we left, they followed.

And again at the next stop they waited with us, and then followed us. I asked our guide, who told us it was compulsory for them to accompany us along dark stretches of highway between towns at night.

I wrote about how we decided to skip the bus from Cairo to Dahab and fly into Sharm El Sheik instead. We organised for the Dahab hotel we were staying at (with the rest of the group who took the bus) to collect us from Sharm airport to drive us the rest of the way to Dahab.

We were stopped at a security check point road block just outside Sharm. We were required to show our passports, and the hotel transfer driver argued with the security guard for quite some time (it became quite heated).

Eventually, they let us through. We asked the driver what the argument was about and he explained that he was not supposed to drive tourists between Sharm and Dahab without an armed guard in the car. We nearly weren’t allowed to proceed at all but the driver talked the security checkpoint into letting us through.

I never felt unsafe

The simple answer to the question posed in the title of this post is yes, it felt safe. To be honest I felt more uncomfortable walking the streets of Marrakech in Morocco at night because I would be constantly approached by locals asking for money and they would often follow me if I did not give them any.

I had no problems walking the streets of Egypt at night by myself.

We were definitely approached to purchase things everywhere we went, but a simple no got the answer across and I found the locals to be quite grateful we were visiting their country. Ben and Tiffany had a similar experience when they visited a few years ago too.

If there was a specific security threat there I didn’t feel it, and if the additional security was to keep my mind at ease it worked perfectly.

Bottom line

I had a great time in Egypt and appreciated the lengths the country went to ensure tourists felt safe, even if it did hold us up at times and seem a little excessive. Better to be safe than sorry!

It’s a country that I think many people may only feel the need to visit once (I don’t feel the need to return), but if you haven’t been I would highly recommend visiting.

Just have some patience for the endless security checks!

Have you been to Egypt recently? Did you feel safe?

Comments

  1. I felt safe as in securely safe from terror attacks and the likes at CAI. But the problem is the airport employees who are always engaged in extorting travelers including transit passengers. I was flying FRA-BGW transiting through CAI. They went through my luggage which were supposed to go through to the final destination. But, no, not at this airport! They confiscated all my gifts until I paid them off – they were all on the scam. My sister had the same experience and she was also transiting through to either TLV, BEY, or AMM. They took her to a remote airport building location where many other passengers are stranded (in the hopes of a payout) and she had to pay the airport staff to be taken back to the airport.

    I always advise to totally avoid that airport, or the country altogether!

  2. I was in Egypt earlier this year and felt safe at all times.

    We did rent a car to drive us from Hurghada to Aswan and as I was trying to book the transfer I kept on being told that we needed an armed convoy but I ignored it. Maybe if it was an overnight drive I may have considered it but the ride by day was very uneventful and I think the convoy stuff is more of a economics play than it is a security one.

    Our biggest issue in Egypt was the high school teen girls that were enamoured by my GF’s blonde hair and kept wanting photos.

  3. I felt safe with our private guides in a private vehicle. I was told by one of our guides he wouldnt ride in a bus…. Think about it. A bunch of big targets grouped together with foreigners and money with security vehicles in the front and back announcing them….

  4. Was there in this past February, took mix of plane/train/bus throughout Egypt with my wife. Felt safe at all times, awesome place to visit right now

  5. It’s really okay to not be knowledgeable about something, but still no excuse for using “hand rifle” when things like Wikipedia are at your finger tips. I know this is a blog and not a professional news site, but I used to be a writer too, and no way would I write about an unfamiliar topic without doing some research first.

  6. The dead tourists also felt safe before they went of their trips. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have gone.

  7. I was there this year too and it was great, as always.

    An Uzi is the standard issue for Egypt’s internal security who are typically the escort people for westerners. That’s what he’s calling a hand rifle 🙂 they hide it behind their vest so my gf didnt even notice it for the whole trip until I brought it up to her attention!

  8. “hand rifle” is proof that James does not know much about guns – just like he said. Time to move on…

  9. I went to Egypt by myself (long standing bucket list item) and felt perfectly safe. The locals could not have been nicer. I felt more welcome in Cairo and Luxor than I did visiting New York.

  10. I always figured that if there was amazing security and considerable expense, it was for a reason. We hiked up some volcano in El Salvador and we were not allowed to do it without part of a group with an armed police officer at the front and at the tail of the group.

    Because I was old and slow I was able to chat with the armed officer who was the tail of the group. He told me that they are there because there were frequent armed robberies and kidnappings of foreign hikers.

    Those extraordinary security precautions you witnessed were there for a reason. And not because there is no threat. So, while its great you felt safe, every one of those precautions was in response to some event.

  11. Spent three weeks there with my wife and 7 year old daughter. Took the local train from Cairo to Alexandria from Ramses station. Tourists aren’t supposed to take it. No issues. Took GoBus from hurgadha to Luxor. No issues. And no guards. There’s no need to do an organized tour in Egypt.

  12. @steve normally I agree with you, but when I went to Egypt it was right after the revolution and the only way to get a visa was proof you were doing an organized tour. Pour timing for that, but phenomenal timing for being a tourist – there were no other tourists anywhere we went. It was a bit sad since it is clearly a huge part of their economy and people’s livelihood. But no lines or anything. And yes, felt perfectly safe, even walking at night by ourselves.

  13. I went to Egypt with a tour group in 2010 (before Arab Spring uprisings). We had armed guards and escorts. Our guides said that the US government required it for US tour groups. Not sure if that was correct, but that was the story.

  14. With all respect to the people of Egypt and their spectacular country – I’d still feel 100 times safer in a place where armed guards and added “peace of mind” security are not required at all.

  15. Do you feel that it was worth two weeks in Egypt? Or if you had it to do over again would you have only done some of the highlights in Egypt and then spent time in another country in the region? I want to visit Egypt but I don’t really have a strong desire to spent an entire two week trip just there instead of pairing it with another country like israel or Jordan.

  16. Hmm I wouldn’t feel unsafe in Egypt, I’d feel unsafe getting IN and OUT of it. Airport security is terrible and I’d feel pretty not at ease flying in or out of their right now. How was your experience actually flying to and from there?

  17. hand rifle. handgun. Obviously, its a typo. You’ve all done it before in your emails and documentation so don’t pretend you have perfect spelling and grammar even if you had proof read it 2-3x.

  18. I’d feel safer in Cairo than in DC where I live. I’ve been to Egypt multiple times. Walked around alone at midnight in Heliopolis to get some koshari and roz bil laban, and then shisha with the locals until early morning. It’s more likely to get shot in the head in DC than in Cairo. Life is too short to worry about things. Just enjoy it.

    PS: I can’t stand it when some people say places are dangerous when they only assume or “Hear” from others, while they’ve never even been to those places.

  19. I traveled to Egypt in 1990, as part of a solo six month “around the world” backpacking trip. I feel I was always wise, concious and careful as I traveled and I never felt unsafe until I arrived in Egypt. In Cairo, Along the way, I would meet up with other travelers at times and travel together. I was with an English couple there and it was the first time in four months of traveling that I felt unsafe. We were followed and antagonized by children throwing stones at us; I felt afronted by a young adult reaching out to “rap” on my melon as I walked past carrying it in my arms; I saw aggressive behavior in the airport amongst Egyptian men that concerned me… and more. I would go back but be wary. The aggressive behavior seemed to me to be as “bred-in” as the relaxed and friendly behavior was in Bali.

  20. I went to Egypt 2 months before the Revolution. As Elteetrav mentioned, we also had a guard on our bus. I saw his gun. I was staying at the Marriott by myself and all my taxis had to have the underside of the car checked by dogs and mirrors when arriving. I had uncomfortable incidents with a taxi driver, carriage driver and was pinched in the chest by a solo BOY while walking on the sidewalk. Still an excellent trip! 😉

  21. @elteetrav – I was in Egypt January of this year and was told the same thing. I hired a tour guide with a private car in Luxor. I insisted on seeing sites most tours don’t usually go to, about 4 hours drive from Luxor. Every 2 miles was security check point and every time my driver told them I was American, they added more armed security! I was told they ONLY do this with Americans.

    By the time I was taken back to my hotel later that night, I had EIGHT cars filled with armed security behind me. It was crazy! I felt like a celebrity.

    Only when I asked my guide why so much security did she tell me we drove through ISIS territory to get to the sites. She said apparently they have supporters in Egypt and live in the desert area we drove through.

    Would have been nice if she told me that before we left– but then again, I’m such an explorer I probably would have gone anyway.

  22. Canadian. Went last year for 3 weeks. Took a cruise down to Aswan. Never had any armed guards with us.

    Never felt unsafe.

  23. Maybe James’ “hand rifle” was an Uzi. I’ve seen plenty of them in that part of the world in my past Military days. In any event, there is very heavy security in a lot of major European cities, some of it obvious like uniformed Army but much of it plain clothes. Similarly, I’m not a bit surprised that Egypt has similar measures in place. One incident could severely damage tourism and the economy not to mention the monuments, historical buildings and artifacts.

  24. The security guards on most of our buses in Egypt were quite young and not fluent in English. I suspected they may have been quite inexperienced and maybe even just minimum wage employees and wondered if they had any training at all in the use of those Uzis. I told my wife in the event of any gunplay to watch out as much for where the “guard” was firing — or missing — as from any attacker.

  25. I’d really like facts on this blog and more opinion. James travels like a student, focussing on saving money and taking overly strong opinions on few data points. That is fine, but not what I want on a blog about luxury travel experiences.

  26. I’m with @Chucky. If folks feel safe, then fair-enough that’s how they feel, but with so many interesting places to visit in the world, I can’t imagine why one would want to bus around Egypt with an armed guard, military escort and constant security check-points. To me, that seems like an odd sort of ‘safe’. Egypt obviously has contributed a lot to this world over the centuries and perhaps someday it will once again be a place for a family trip. Nothing in this post suggest to me that the time for that is now.

  27. Was just in Egypt for 12 days last month in an organized tour and felt extremely safe. Tourism is so important to their economy, they’re doing everything they can to protect our safety and increase the chances we’ll tell others to visit.

  28. People working in the WTC in NYC felt very safe on September 11th at 8:30 am. Feelings are subjective.

    The facts are that there is such a risk that there are armed guards on buses. Of course, terrorists know this and will fight the guard with superior firepower or they will find a softer target.

  29. Has anybody heard for survirship bias? And how realistic or relevant is “feeling” safe? Is there anybody that understands the difference between feeling safe due to being oblivious vs. feeling safe because there is actual proof that security is taken care of before it becomes a topic?

    How many of tourists that got killed in various incidents went on trip without feeling safe? (Tip: none, or they would not go)

    How many incidents, how many victims does it take before we deem the area unsafe? 10? 100? 4387? What impact familiarity and distance have to “feeling” safe? Obvious example: if 3 people are kicked in front of your house, would you move? If 3 people are killed in the dark park on opposite side of town, would you think of the park as unsafe?

    Determination of “feeling safe” is so… illusory that is completely useless.

  30. I was there for 10 days last month as a solo, self-organized traveler. In Cairo I walked in the downtown area and took Uber everywhere else. Nary an issue. Flew from Cairo to Aswan (Nile Air) and booked car-driver to Abu Simbel and to the various sites in town. Boat trip to Luxor and hired car to see the sites there. Flew back to Cairo (Egyptair). Not a foodie destination, but the ice cream was first rate.

    Never felt unsafe at any time. Wifi was crap everywhere but at the airport Meridien Hotel on my way home. Did find temporary good wifi sitting in the lobby of the Ritz Carlton.

  31. We went to Egypt a few years ago. Did we feel safe? — No. We had to travel in an armed convoy in the desert, and pass through periodic armed checkpoints, with soldiers pointing guns at us, and checking papers. Such procedures and precautions aren’t exactly reassuring. The touts in Luxor followed us around, and would not take no for an answer. One carriage driver, parked his carriage and continued to follow us on foot. We had to seek sanctuary in a church to lose him.

    At Cairo Airport, we caught the attention of an unstable person who had been a passenger on our flight, who proceeded to follow us around the airport and tell everyone that would listen that we were Mossad.

    Aside from the security issue, there was trash everywhere. Trash and sand on the highways. The canals literally were covered in refuse. There even was a dead horse floating in the canal. In Sharm El Sheik, the trash at the dump was not covered. So, the wind was able to blow the trash all over the desert. Quite scenic.

    Having said all that, would I go back? — Now, yes. Right after our trip, no way. You’re just playing the odds. I believe that terrorist incidents in Egypt are infrequent enough, that one would have to be unfortunate to fall victim to one.

  32. Yes Egypt is perfectly safe. The traffic is crazy but honestly it moves so slowly that even the if you are in an accident it’s unlikely you’ll be injured. Go. Enjoy. You’ll have a wonderful time.

  33. I have been to Egypt and find it fine I am that sort of travel Lebanon is the same ….. but I laugh , Armed guards , Military checks , Military escorts …. wow sounds super safe to me …. its NOT safe thats why they have people with guns watching over you….

  34. By any measure, being around armed security guards and army escort on the road just shows how unsafe Egypt currently is.
    I would never feel safe in such a situation…

  35. @James — That sounds nonsense about the Sharm-to-Dahab trip needing a bodyguard. I did the reverse journey a few months ago and it seems a common run. I never got the idea a bodyguard or escort was expected.

    I have, however, heard that an escort is the norm for Aswan to Abu Simbel.

    Overall I found it a very safe country.

  36. I’ve been to Egypt three times since 2014, stopping in Cairo and Luxor. My wife and I have never once traveled as part of a guided tour. We’ve walked around both Cairo and Luxor alone, including at night. We’ve taken local trains. We’ve taken taxis and hired local guides to take us on day trips. Never once did we feel unsafe or encounter any problems. People were incredibly kind and welcoming. In Luxor, we were routinely invited into people’s homes for tea and snacks. Some of my fondest Egypt memories are of sitting in gardens with Egyptian families, drinking tea and listening to their stories. Visiting Egypt is like visiting anywhere: there is a small risk involved and there are certain places where that risk is higher (like parts of Sinai). Stay conscious of your surroundings and make smart decisions. But in my experience, a vast majority of people there look out for you. It’s one of my favorite places in the world, and I can’t wait to go back.

  37. We visited Egypt more than 10 years ago and the escorts between cities then was the norm. The addition now is the hotel entry checks which of course is due to the 2011-2014 events.
    It is becoming more militant. Have you been next door to Israel or Lebanon. Very similar if not more.
    Unfortunately Egypt has become very poor. Cairo is looking similar to parts of Sao Paulo. Buildings half standing. Its a tough time, but it seems tourism is picking up.

  38. Have visited, and dived in Sharm and surrounding areas, will I ever return, not a bloody chance.
    There is so much potential for killing tourists there, the country is a base for terrorism including ISIS. I’m really happy James got around everything safely and had a good time, but even with Egypt’s government cracking down on terror, it still happens, and with suicide bombers on the loose, even the best deterrents such as armed guards an checkpoints, are useless, terrorists have nothing to lose, while we fear and respect the law.

  39. @Kent, those hotel entry checks already existed in 2008 and 2010 when we visited the country.

    As for those half standing buildings: the moment a building is finished the owner has to pay more tax. (At least that is what our guide told us.)

  40. It’s a difficult choice to visit a place like Egypt. I’ve never been. I’d imagine that you feel safe because there are so many things to protect you but I feel safest in the places where all of that isn’t even necessary.

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