Fun ways of getting around in Egypt
The state-owned company Egyptian National Railways runs almost all trains in Egypt. The Cairo-Alexandria route is heavily traveled by train, with frequent service daily. Overnight trains are available for travel from Cairo to Luxor and Aswan, in Upper Egypt; these are run by a separate private company called Abela Egypt. On ENR trains, a First Class ticket costs only a few dollars more than a Second class ticket and you will find it much more pleasant and comfortable.
Train tickets can be bought at most major railway stations’ booking offices once you are in Egypt, although a great deal of patience is often required. It also is advisable to purchase tickets in advance, since at peak travel times, trains may be fully booked. Except during busy holiday periods, it’s not normally difficult to purchase 1st class tickets on the day of travel or the day before. To avoid complications, book as far ahead as possible.
Foreigners’ travel is subject to security restrictions. Several websites report that foreigners are allowed to buy tickets only on selected trains. Some sites report that one can instead buy tickets direct from a conductor. The situation may change again.
You may arrange train ticket purchases through a travel agency in Egypt, preferably at least the day before you intend to travel, but you will pay some commission to avoid the inevitable hassle of going to the rail station. Some travel agencies can arrange bookings ahead of time via e-mail, fax, or phone. If you choose to purchase tickets at the Ramses Station in Cairo, there are several booking windows (for example, one for each class and group of destinations), so check with locals (usually very helpful) that you are joining the right queue. The station sells tickets for Egyptian pounds, except for the deluxe Abela Egypt sleeper which must be paid in foreign currency (dollars, euros or pounds sterling).
First Class tickets are relatively cheap and a good choice, although Second Class will more than suffice for many. Travellers probably won’t want to experience anything below Second Class (the condition and provision of toilets, for example, drops away quickly after this level). If you must travel at a lower class due to overbooking, look for the first opportunity to “upgrade” yourself into an empty seat – you may pay a small supplement when your ticket is checked, but it’s worth it. Note that toilet facilities on Egyptian trains are at best rudimentary, even in first class. Therefore, it is advisable to prepare toiletries for long journeys.
Egypt has an extensive long-distance bus network, operated mostly by government-owned companies. Their names are Pullman, West Delta, Golden Arrow, Super Jet, East Delta, El Gouna, Upper Egypt Bus Co and Bedouin Bus. Popular routes are operated by more than one company. Some bus companies allow you to book seats in advance; some sell spots based upon availability of seats.
Beware buying tickets from bus touts on the street or outside your hotel. The smaller companies are sometimes unlicensed and can cut corners with safety. There have been eight serious bus crashes involving foreign nationals since January 2006, in which over 100 people have been killed. If you are a passenger in a vehicle that is travelling at an unsafe speed you should firmly instruct the driver to slow down.
Road accidents are very common in Egypt, mainly due to poor roads, dangerous driving and non-enforcement of traffic laws. Police estimate that road accidents kill over 6,000 people in Egypt each year. This is twice the UK figure. Other estimates put the figure far higher.
It is important to know that in bigger cities, especially in Cairo, main streets often become congested at peak times and that may double the time needed to reach where you want to go.
In the cities, taxis are a cheap and convenient way of getting around. Although generally safe, taxis drive as erratically as all the other drivers, especially in Cairo, and you should note that sometimes fake taxis travel around. Make sure they have official markings on the dashboard or elsewhere; the taxis are always painted in special colours to identify them, as the taxi mark on top of the car. In Cairo the taxis are all white (rarely with advertisement on sides), those ones are preferable as they have a digital counter to tell you how much to pay and you shouldn’t pay more than what the meter tells you, you can tell the driver in advance that you would only pay what the meter displays. Other older taxis are black and white, there are also the rarer Cairo cabs, all in yellow, also with the meter. In Luxor they are blue and white, and in Alexandria yellow and black. In Cairo and Luxor it is often much more interesting to use the taxis and a good guidebook instead of travelling around in a tour bus.
Seemingly, Cairo is alone in Egypt with having a sizeable population of modern metered cabs. Since Jan 2009, in Sharm El Sheikh all airport taxis have meters fitted and they must be used. Generally the best way is to ask at your hotel or someone you know from Egypt for the prices from point-to-point. You could also ask a pedestrian or policemen for the correct price. The best way to hire a taxi is to stand on the side of the road and put out a hand. You will have no trouble attracting a taxi, especially if you are obviously a Westerner. It is generally advisable to take white taxis that use the meter because the black and white taxis usually involve haggling at the end of the ride, some white taxi drivers don’t start the meter unless you ask them to, if they say the meter is broken it’s better to ask the driver to drop you off before you get far. It’s important to have some change with you (a couple of fives and a ten) because some drivers say that they don’t have change to drive off with the rest of your money.
If riding a black and white taxi Negotiate a price and destination before getting into the car. At the end of the journey, step out of the car and make sure you have everything with you before giving the driver the payment. If the driver shouts, it’s probably OK, but if he steps out of the car you almost certainly paid too little. Prices can be highly variable but examples are EGP20 from central Cairo to Giza, EGP10 for a trip inside central Cairo and EGP5 for a short hop inside the city. Note that locals pay less of these prices for taxis which don’t have the meters; the local price in a taxi from Giza or Central Cairo to the airport is around EGP25-30. Do not be tempted to give them more because of the economic situation; otherwise, ripping off foreigners will become more common and doing so generally tends to add to inflation. Note that the prices listed here are already slightly inflated to the level expected from tourists, not what Egyptians would normally pay. You can also hire taxis for whole days, for between EGP100-200 if going on longer excursions such as to Saqqara and Dashur from Cairo. Inside the town they are also more than happy to wait for you (often for a small extra charge, but ask the driver), even if you will be wandering around for a few hours.
Taxi drivers often speak enough English to negotiate price and destination, but only rarely more. Some speak more or less fluently and they will double as guides, announcing important places when you drive by them, but they can be hard to find. The drivers often expect to be paid a little extra for that; however, do not feel the need to pay for services that you have not asked for. If you find a good English-speaking driver, you may want to ask him for a card or a phone number, because they can often be available at any time and you will have a more reliable travel experience.
In 2007, a new line of taxis owned by private companies has been introduced in Cairo as a pilot project. They are all clean and air-conditioned. The drivers are formally dressed and can converse in at least one foreign language, usually English. These cabs stand out because of their bright yellow colour. They can be hailed on the street if they are free or hired from one of their stops (including one in Tahrir square in the city centre). These new cabs use current meters which count by the kilometre, which starts from EGP2.50. In general, they are marginally more expensive than the normal taxis; you can call 16516, two hours in advance, in Cairo to hire a cab if you can’t find them where you are looking.
As of 2013, there are 2 complete metro lines with one still unfinished, only service parts of Greater Cairo. Their tickets cost one Egyptian pound. They are the fastest means of transportation, but they are always crowded at peak times and they are only operational from around 6am till around 11:30pm. In the month of Ramadan, they are operational from around 7am till around 1am after midnight. As of late 2013, the station of Tahrir (named Sadat) is closed till further notice, the metros do not stop at it.
A ferry running between the Red Sea resort of Hurghada and Sharm el Sheikh is available with a journey time of 90 minutes for EGP400, although it may take considerably longer in choppy seas.
The domestic air network is fairly extensive and covers most major towns in Egypt. The national carrier, EgyptAir, has the most regular services and is the easiest place to start looking before you go. They provide services from Cairo to quite a few towns and places of interest around the country, the most common being Luxor, Aswan Abu Simbel, Hurghada, Sharm el Sheikh, Alexandria, Marsa Matruh, Marsa Alam and Kharga oasis.
The airlines previously employed two-tier pricing structure, which made fares more than four times more expensive for foreigners than locals. After the beginning of 2007, they changed to a system in which everyone pays the same fare regardless of nationality. Fares are still relatively cheap – for example a return day trip to Luxor is about USD170. It is wise to book early as flights fill up quickly in the peak season. Local travel agencies have internet web pages and can sometimes squeeze you in last minute, but it is safest to book in advance. Travellers can also check prices and book flights on EgyptAir’s website, but only with Visa or MasterCard. Online ticket sales close 72 hours in advance. Travel agencies can still make bookings. The national sales call centre is unable to sell tickets over the phone, but directs you to a local travel agency; you can also ask your hotel staff about travel agencies nearby. EgyptAir has a large network of offices at strategic points around the country which can sell you tickets.
Written by The Travel Valet