Party poolside back at the hotel

Rick Steves

8:16 PM EDT, April 16, 2013


Touring Egypt’s museums, great mosques, and towering monuments of the pharaohs is a delight. And simply roaming the streets of Cairo day and night is a thrill and a joy for any traveler who likes his culture off the stage and in his face. But the typical American traveler to Cairo will need a refuge. While I like to think I’m a rugged traveler, to be honest, I’m able to thoroughly enjoy Cairo only because I have the refuge of a towering international-class hotel. Waiting a moment while the trained dogs sniff the tires of my taxi as it passes through the hotel gate is my pleasure.

There are plenty of high-rise hotels lining the Nile desperate for business (and offering $150 doubles). These provide the perfect way to toggle from the intensity of the streets to a peaceful poolside drink — chilling with shady diplomats, rich-world tourists, and wily local business tycoons and their favored brood. And there are plenty of excellent, eager-to-work local guides who understand a tourist’s needs and can provide for them.

The extreme contrast is invigorating — like jumping from hot to cold in a sauna. From the streets, we head back through the welcoming security check of our hotel with a soft-spoken, well-dressed “Welcome back, sir.” In the comfortable world of my hotel, the Egyptian money feels sweaty and grimy in my pocket. Immediately upon arrival back at hotel, I peel off the soot of a day on the streets of Cairo with a hotel shower.

I am loving Cairo. But I’ve never loved a hotel as a refuge so much. With my local guide (who loaned me a mobile phone upon arrival), a minivan with a trusty driver a phone call away, and a towering first-world hotel as a home base, touring this city is one of the great travel thrills. While I never drink Coke elsewhere, here I find a can of Coca-Cola provides comfort. On the street, the “tourist-friendly” restaurant and toilet is a rarity. But that’s why I’m here rather than in Copenhagen.

By the way, many of my readers have commented, “No way… Egypt is too dangerous for me!” These people have read about isolated incidents where a woman is raped, a balloon falls out of the sky, a soccer riot ends in 70 deaths, and some Christians are killed. Yes, these are all tragic events. But in the USA, we have tragic events too, such as the recent bombing in Boston–and over a thousand people are killed on our streets every month by gun violence.

Egypt is a poor and struggling country with a baby democracy in a complex and troubled corner of our world. It has about a quarter our population. Particularly for the careful and well-funded American tourist, I suspect it’s no more dangerous than the USA. Besides, even if it is a bit on the dicey side, I’m having the time of my life this month, collecting lessons and experiences I’ll enjoy for the rest of my life.