Thursday, April 23, 2015

Adventures in Egypt: Quiet and Calm in Cairo

Egypt is a country that has always held a certain mystique amongst travelers. In fact, you could make an argument that it was actually the world's first tourist destination. After all, travelers have been coming to this land for centuries just to catch a glimpse of the ancient wonders that exist here. People like Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, and Napoleon Bonaparte, just to name a few. But in recent years the country has been making news for other reasons.

In 2011 the arrival of the Arab Spring proceeded the overthrow of a long standing dictatorial government, and ushered in a period of uncertainty and unrest. With protests in the streets of Cairo being broadcast on the nightly news, it appeared that Egypt had descended into chaos. Those images sent many would-be visitors scrambling to other destinations, as security concerns took hold. For a time, the country's famous monuments – including the Pyramids and Sphinx – were empty, as travelers stayed away amidst the turmoil.

But those days are long gone now. Newly elected President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has brought a sense of calm and stability to Egypt, and it is having a positive effect not only on the people that live here, but the tourism industry as well. While crowds are still at a minimum, there is a strong sense of optimism in the air as foreigners begin to return at last.

I've been in the country for five days, and have already gotten a sense that things are both different, and the same since my last visit back in 2005. There is a heightened sense of security in the major cities, and around the famous tourist sites, but there is also a clear feeling that the instability of the past few years is over, and that Egypt is ready to get back to work. That work includes welcoming thousands of travelers to its shores.


I am traveling with a group of tourists on the Absolute Egypt tour offered by G Adventures. On our second day here we had the privilege of spending some time in Giza at the Great Pyramid and the Sphinx. There was a modest crowd at those sites, far from the mobs that were often found there in the past, but up significantly over recent years. Sharing those sites with a multitude of visitors from across the globe is part of the fun however, and there were easily a half dozen languages being spoken in the small crowd gathered there. That bodes well for the future of Egypt, which had seen a significant downturn in its economy due to the loss of incoming visitors. But now, the guides that I have spoken to say that things have definitely taken a turn for the better, and arrivals are up sharply so far in 2015.

What does all of this mean for travelers hoping to come to Egypt? I would say that now more than ever is the time to go. If you've always wanted to visit this place, there may be no better time. Security is good, crowds are low, and bargains can be had. That might not be the case later in the year, or moving forward. Once travelers deem the country safe enough to return, it is likely to be very busy once again.

For my part, I am enjoying returning to a country that I wasn't sure I'd have the chance to experience a second time. The Pyramids and other monuments are timeless however, and it is a humbling experience to witness them first hand. In a few days I'll head out into the Sahara on a completely different adventure than I had last time I was here. I'm looking forward to getting off the beaten path to a degree, and seeing more of this amazing country. Of course, I'll also be sharing a lot more about the things I've seen and places I've gone in the days ahead, but for now I'll just say that all is well in Egypt, where history continues to unfold.

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