Is it Safe to go to Egypt?

As Tour Leaders we are often asked, 'Is Egypt Safe?' From our own, personal experience we have always found Egypt to be a safe, very friendly and most welcoming country for Western visitors. Our children - Elizabeth (24) and Peter (22) - regularly come to Egypt with us as 'apprentice Tour Leaders'.

We would never dream of placing them, you or ourselves in situations that we felt were unsafe or threatening.

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We cannot guarantee your safety while in Egypt, but we can tell you that we take all possible precautions, are alert to security issues, and would never allow you to enter situations which we ourselves, or our local agents - in all 'good faith'- thought to be dangerous. All our past participants have returned home safe and well.

In late February 2009 a small bomb was set off in the Khan area of Cario, killing one French student and injuring 20 others, mainly locals. The attack appears to have been undertaken by individuals in protest at the recent Israeli attack on Palestine, and the failure of the West to intervene. Four years before a similar attack took place. While of concern, these attacks appear to be the random actions of individuals rather than those of organised groups.

During the late 1980's, up until 1997, some extremists within Egypt tried to overthrow the government by targeting tourists in an attempt to stop tourism, cause financial chaos at the local and national level (as tourism is a major income earner for the State and many Egyptian people), and hence destabilise the central government. The last major act of this type was a terrible massacre at Deir el Bahri. The local people were appalled - some actually hunted down those responsible, and local villagers held spontaneous protest rallies against the terrorists. In response the Egyptian Government tightened security and the terrorist groups involved have renounced violence as a means to secure their agenda.

Between July 2005 and April 2006 there were several bomb attacks in the Sinai at the tourist resorts of Sharm el-Sheikh and Dahab. While no group has claimed responsibility it is thought that radical elements in the local Bedouin tribes of the peninsula may have undertaken these attacks with support from al-Qaeda. Our tours do NOT enter the Sinai Peninsula region.

The international situation is also cause for some concern - especially since the September 11 attacks and the 'War on Terror'. The Egyptian Government has condemned the September 11 attacks and international terrorism.

All the local people we have talked with in Aswan, Luxor and Cairo have similarly deplored such acts. As one local at Giza named Ramadam said to Mike in June, 2002: They killed Moslems, Christians, Jews - everyone - in the World Trade Centre. Islam is for peace - how can this [terrorism] ever be right? And why do some Westerners think we [Egyptians and Moslems generally] hate them? We welcome them! Tell them that we want them to come, and be welcomed here! Do not judge Islam, or the Egyptian people, by the crimes of a few.

There has been some tension between Moslem extremists and their Coptic Christian neighbours in Middle Egypt for several decades. During the height of local violence some 14 years ago Mike visited Sohag in order to undertake research and was treated with the utmost courtesy by all. While our day-trip to Abydos will bring us into Middle Egypt army presence along the road (and at the actual site) is heavy, and to our knowledge no tourist to the Abydos Temples has ever been harmed.

Mike was 'stuck' in Egypt during the bombing of Iraq during the Gulf War in 1991 (due to a lack of flights in the region) - he was welcomed into local Egyptian homes and given all comfort and support - a level of hospitality that would make many of us in the West blush!

Ma'at Tours registers our tours with the Australian Embassy in Cairo. We monitor the advice given by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade with regards to travel in Egypt and ensure that your Travel Insurance is paid immediately so that, should a formal warning against travel in Egypt be issued, other paid monies will be secure (subject to the terms of insurance).

Keep up-to-date on official news from the via the DFAT 'SmartTraveller' website - click on the icon below:

When travelling in some parts of Egypt (eg. Aswan to Abu Simbel) our bus travels as part of a Security Forces' convoy. At such times we must follow the time-table and directives of the Security Forces. On some short journeys (eg. Cairo-Dashur) we may be accompanied by an armed member of the Tourist Police (with two-way communications). At most major sites and museums in Egypt you (and your day-pack/bag) will be electronically screened and sometimes you might be searched - you need to be aware that such systems are in place for the security of all, and to be patient at times when we may be delayed (it is wise not to have a pocket knife in your day-pack!). The Egyptian security forces might sometimes seem to be a little 'laid back' and 'extra-friendly' from a Western point-of-view, but they do their job very well indeed!

Common sense is always advisable! If there is a loud gathering in a street or square, walk the other way (it's probably just some locals arguing about the price of fish anyway!). If you are going somewhere without the group, see if someone will go with you and let someone who is not accompanying you know where you are going and how long you expect to be gone for. Don't accept rides with strangers and be conscious of your own personal security and that of your luggage/money at all times.

Women should expect some unwanted attention at times. While sex outside of marriage is socially and religiously unacceptable in Egypt, this rule seems to apply only to Egyptian women, not men. Western women are known to be 'easy' (hey, just look at what is shown in the Western soap-operas shown on Egyptian tv!). This may seem silly, but this is where many Egyptian men are often coming from in their attitudes. Unwanted attention can vary from looks and comments to 'bum or boob' touching and worse. Ways to avoid such attention include:

*wearing modest clothing (eg. arms, chest and legs suitably covered - keep the swimsuit or short skirt and T-shirts for the hotel);

*avoid direct eye contact with men;

*don't do or say anything that could be taken as being flirtatious or suggestive;

*if in need of help, ask a local woman;

*always try to ensure that another member of the group is with you;

* say that you are married (even if you are not, wearing a 'fake' wedding ring is helpful!); and

*never sit at the front of a horse, donkey or camel if the owner is going to sit behind you!

If comments are made try to pretend that you did not hear them and walk away without looking round. No Egyptian man would ever dream of touching an Egyptian woman who was not a member of their family, so do not accept any touching other than a handshake. Either remove the offending hand or move away. If the message does not get across it might be useful to say something like: 'la' (no); 'halas' (enough); or 'aa til-mas-ni' (do not touch me).

The website JourneyWoman has lots of great information on this issue. Click the icon above to enter the website and type 'Egypt' into their site search engine and follow the links.

Crossing the road: it sounds like child's play, but crossing the road in Egypt does require extra care! From the hotel window in Aswan in 2002 Mike saw an old man run over and killed on the street - and remember that Aswan is a tiny town compared to Cairo! He also witnessed a similar scene in Cairo a few years before. The first issue is that traffic in Egypt runs on the other side of the road to what we in Australia are used to, so double check. Secondly, many kerbs are up to 40 cm high and it is easy to trip moving from the footpath to the road itself. Add to this that Egyptian traffic is very chaotic, and you have the potential for an accident. Always take extreme care - never assume that cars will give way to pedestrians, and hold-hands with others when crossing. If at all possible see if you can place some locals crossing your way between you and the traffic. HINT: Always make eye contact with the drivers before you walk in front of their vehicles!

We ask that our participants complete a form listing two contact people (not on the tour) and return this to us. We collate the information participants provide into a single sheet and lodge a copy of this, along with our itinerary, with the Australian Embassy in Cairo. We shall carry a copy with us in case of an emergency. We also ask one participant to carry one as a back-up to our own.

We provide our participants with copies of our itinerary and hotel bookings/contacts so that they may pass these on to family and friends who might need/wish to contact them while they are away.

The con artists at Giza are arguably the worst (best?) anywhere. Some pretend to be police or Antiquities Inspectors - always ask to see their ID cards (many of which are good fakes anyway) and get Mike or Patricia as soon as possible. Do not part with any money or go anywhere with them. Another 'Giza special' is to be offered gifts ('no money') or have 'gifts' placed on you (eg. a scarf on your head). As you walk away, you are suddenly told to pay! If you do not wish for the goods at the said price, hand them back. If the owner refuses to take them (now that they have been used!) just drop them on the ground and walk away. Do not get into an argument (you won't win it!), just walk! If the hassle is too much, call 'Tourist Police Help!' or something similar and keep going. We have found the worst place on the Giza plateau for this kind of thing is the area between the Solar Boat Museum & the Great Pyramid, as it is out-of sight from security officials.

Take care with your luggage and day-pack. In Egypt it is the norm that large bags are placed in luggage racks on top of taxis and mini-buses. We strongly recommend that you purchase a luggage strap (with 'click-lock' join) so that your large luggage can be quickly secured onto the frame atop the vehicle. While we have never known of a bag flying off, it could happen, so having a strap is a good precaution. It is a good idea to have some form of lock (key or combination) for your bags while they are left in your hotel room. Again, we have never known of any item going missing from any hotel room we have stayed at in Egypt, but taking precautions is always best and we have heard of such incidences from fellow travellers. If using key locks you might consider giving a copy to your 'pack-buddy' should you lose yours. When using taxis, hantours (horse-drawn carriages) etc. always make sure you have all your bags with you and only pay for the ride once you are clear of the vehicle and have double-checked that you have not left anything behind.

There are a confusing number of different police forces in Egypt: regular police; military police; secret police; tourist police; traffic police, water police etc. Tourist Police will be at most sites we visit and have distinctive uniforms and arm labels. While they are supposed to help tourists and protect them from the unwanted attention of con artists, this is oftsen not the case. Indeed one of our 2002 participants was side-tracked away from the group by Tourist Police at Dashur and forced to hand over extra tips. Should anything like this happen to you, please tell them to see the Tour Leaders and say that you have no money. If you feel that you must 'pay up' please let us know as soon as possible so that we can try to take action.

If you are using a taxi, hantour or other service by yourself, always agree on a price prior to getting into the vehicle or agreeing to the service, and make sure that the driver/provider can change any large note you might have if you cannot give correct change (or near to the agreed price).

These suggestions are intended as a general guide only and you are, of course, responsible for your own personal security while on the tour.