Want to explore Egypt with me? Nab one of the last two spots on either my Red Sea Dive + Yoga Retreat or my Mainland Egypt Yoga + Ancient Adventure Retreat! Both rescheduled to new dates in 2021!
Landing in Cairo International Airport, I felt a sense of calm wash over me. I’d been restless for a true adventure for ages, and so while the usual new country nerves were buzzing, the sense of relief I felt at having made a dream into a reality was stronger.
Whatever the next three weeks had in store for me — much of which was literally still up in the air as the wheels touched the ground — it was going to be just what I needed.
One thing I did know? Where I was staying for the next three nights.
Egypt’s hostel scene is pretty weak, and while luxury hotel brands can be had for a fraction of what they run elsewhere in the world, their aesthetics just weren’t my style. So I turned to Airbnb, and found the most incredible room in a flat straight out of a home design magazine for a mere $28 per night! (New to Airbnb? Get $40 off your first booking using my discount code.)
It was my first time renting a room on Airbnb and not a full apartment or house, which I was tad apprehensive over, but I shouldn’t have been. While I only met two of the other three women who shared the space, it was a warm, welcoming haven and I often had it to myself. There was a balcony overlooking a bustling little square and I loved starting my mornings there, cup of tea in hand, watching the world wake up while I worked. I can’t imagine a more perfect place to sleep off jetlag and ease into the chaos of a new country. Bonus? Free dog to cuddle!
The flat was in a neighborhood called Maadi, a lush, affluent neighborhood south of Central Cairo. While I started out stressed about the distance between it and Zamalek, where it seemed most tourists stayed, I actually enjoyed the seclusion from the full hustle and bustle.
My first morning venturing out into the world, I braced myself for the full stop pandemonium I’d heard was Cairo… and found myself in a leafy suburb instead. It was a similar “ha ha Alex, you’re an idiot” moment to the one I’d had when I arrived in a super posh neighborhood of São Paulo, Brazil and walked out of my hostel with nothing but a credit card in my bra, preparing to be mugged at the next intersection and found exactly what I found in Maadi… People jogging, tidying their lawns, walking with expensive strollers and iPhones and quietly going about their business. Facepalm! Maadi was no hassle, no stress, and I felt this crazy surge of energy walking through its streets, that familiar rush of being on the road alone again.
As for getting around the rest of Cairo, it was an easy metro ride up to Downtown — more about that in my next post — and Ubers were so cheap it felt criminal. Getting to Giza and the airport were both comparable to if I’d been staying in Zamalek, actually, so the only one really crazy long Uber ride I took was after having dinner with friends there. It was over 45 minutes… and cost less than $4USD. So yeah, it turned out staying down in Maadi was not an issue.
The only thing that gave me pause was the truly staggering amount of trash that would become a sadly familiar sight across Egypt. In Maadi, which otherwise seemed like this posh little pocket of bliss, it seemed so out of place to be kicking garbage out of the way when you walked down the street.
I admit, I loved the expat-oriented food options available in Maadi. I had weeks of authentic, hole-in-the-wall Egyptian food ahead of me (which guys, I was SURPRISINGLY INTO!), so I was more than happy to ease in with treats like avocado toast at Ovio Maadi, juices and salads from Lychee, and modern shakshuka pitas at the hip Zööba.
However, there’s really no contest when it came to the most scenic meal I had in Cairo. Brace yourself for it…
What! When my friends Shannon and Sam from Koh Tao and I realized we’d all be in Cairo at the same time, we of course coordinated a big Thailand reunion at the Pyramids of Giza. And in true expat form, we geeked out when we saw that there was a Pizza Hut with an air-conditioned, A+ view of the pyramids from which to enjoy our loaded breadsticks.
After alarming the Hut staff with our enthusiastic reunion, we over-ordered like whoa, though our new friends very sweetly offered to store our leftovers so we could swing back and pick them up when we were done sightseeing. That kind of lovely hospitality was to become one of my fondest memories of Egypt (that, and the breadsticks… KIDDING!)
If you too are a traveler who doesn’t shudder deep on a soul lever at the mere thought of eating international chain food abroad, Sam researched a pretty neat little hack for those sticking around Giza at night: Pizza Hut has a third floor rooftop that has crazy views over the Sound and Light Show at the Pyramids. Rather than pay to go in and sit in a row of plastic folding chairs to watch, post up on the roof and pound a pizza instead!
While walking into the pyramids (admission 120EGP, or $6.70USD), we decided to just kinda do our own thing. We briefly debated hiring a guide, but Shannon and I had both heavily researched my copy of Lonely Planet Middle East and we knew that we had so much
gossiping catching up to do, there’s no way any guide we’d hire would come out of the experience un-traumatized.
So instead we decided to simply wander around the complex and let the whims of the day lead us. Shannon’s big priority was going inside the Great Pyramid, my big priority was holding hands with Shannon, and Sam’s big priority was surviving the day with us two fools.
Going inside the Grand Pyramid was kind of a crazy experience. It was hilariously chaotic figuring out how the heck to get in there — we actually had to go back out via a different entrance, buy tickets there (300EGP or $17US), and then re-enter the pyramid complex, and then climb up the pyramid a few steps to enter. When we did, the guards saw me putting my water bottle in my bag and said “camera?!” and frantically pawed at my bag, which did, in fact, contain a huge camera. I basically showed them the water bottle, yelled “no camera!” and ran inside. But what the heck was I supposed to do, leave my Canon 6D with them? Um, no. They were literally chilling on plastic chairs on the edge of a pyramid, so there was hardly a formal electronics check system in place. So if you don’t have someone to leave your camera with on the outside of the pyramids, hide it well in your bag to avoid hassles at the entrance.
Once inside, as we started the ascent up the steep, narrow, dark and sweaty interior of the pyramid, I had a momentary flash of, what the HECK am I doing up in this claustrophobia-fest. I had a moment of near-vertigo where I literally had to pretend that I was on a challenging scuba dive so I could reach the same level of practiced zen to carry on. I thought I was the only one on the edge of a freak out, but when we were all back on solid ground Shannon confessed she’d also been staving off a meltdown. So basically, it was an incredibly humbling and memorable experience to walk deep within the belly of a pyramid — but proceed with caution if you think it might send you into a tailspin. This isn’t Disney and there are no emergency exits.
Oh yeah. And I snuck one photo. Everyone was doing it! To which I can practically hear my mom saying, “if everyone was jumping off a cliff, would you do it too?” And my sassy self would probably ask what was at the bottom.
And then, Grand Pyramid tackled, we continued our aimless wandering, fending off enthusiastic offers for camel and carriage rides, tour guiding, and photography assistance at every turn. Shannon’s tactic for the most common offer, the camel ride, was an effective one — she’d shriek, say “I’m afraid of camels!” and everyone would laugh just long enough for us to make an escape. Feel free to adopt for your own travels.
After what felt like a brag-worthy length of wandering through the desert, we reached the famous pyramid viewpoint. Here, we paused to admire the awe-inspiring complex we’d spent the day in — and the step counts on our iPhones.
As much as I love solo travel and was thrilled to be doing so much of it this trip, I seriously couldn’t believe my luck at getting to experience this world wonder with one of my best friends. I cried my eyes out the night this little lady said goodbye to Thailand back in January and missed her something fierce ever since — it was so nice to be back in hugging distance once again.
And we had one more hilarious adventure before we parted ways and I headed back to Maadi to succumb to jetlag for the evening. We needed to get back to our starting point to catch Ubers and pick up our Pizza Hut leftovers (most importantly, of course), but none of us were up for another trek through the sand, and we didn’t feel great about the camel or carriage options, either. I’m not ethically opposed to camel or horse riding the way I am elephant riding — this explains why quite well — but we just weren’t sure if these camels or horses were the healthiest and happiest looking, so we decided to skip it to be safe.
However, when we saw a sweet old green hooptie chock full of locals, Sam asked if we could hitch a ride. After negotiating an extremely reasonable rate — I believe we paid 40EGP — they escorted us straight through the pyramids to the original gate. We have no idea how they had permission to drive inside the complex but hey, this is Egypt.
normally I don’t allow this many chins to see the light of day but hey, look how happy we are
Next up, a day at the Egyptian Museum and Islamic Cairo!
I almost had a panic attack just reading about your near-panic attack! I believe it was the Mummy (or whatever tomb-themed thing) that was the only BTS house I couldn’t go into when we were doing our Halloween Horror Nights tour! Waaaaaay too claustrophobic for that, so perhaps I’ll admire the pyramids from the Pizza Hut if ever I make it that way 😉
Hahaha, which is funny because that’s the only one I DID go in… thanks to Rick kindly allowing me to hide my face in his shirt the whole time. Pizza Hut would definitely be a safe vantage point from which to experience the inside of the pyramids for you. Lol!
I’m pretty sure I have that Airbnb saved under a Cairo folder on my account haha!! I’m glad you enjoyed it I’ll have to look it up if I ever make my way there. As always your photos are beautiful! Can’t wait to see the rest of your Egypt posts ????
It’s basically the one baller Airbnb in Cairo so I’d guess that a LOT of people have their eye on it 😉 It’s the perfect place for women traveling solo!
Would love the link to this airbnb!
Hey Kate, it’s linked to in the post!
I could never go inside a pyramid and admire you for doing it despite the terrifying feeling of being too closed in. I can panic when the covers on my bed are tucked in too tightly!
Yeah, I would definitely recommend admiring from the outside for you 🙂
Such a great post as always! I’m working on my Egypt trip now so timing is perfect!!!
Yay! So glad this worked out so that I could give you some ideas and inspiration 🙂 I am soooo excited to hear about your trip!
You’re the best <3
Did you have an Air Bnb in either Sharm or Dahab?
I have four extra days before I get on my week long liveaboard and am trying to figure out where to stay. They will be non diving days…only recovering from jetlag and R&R
Hey Lisa! In Sharm I highly recommend Sinai Old Spices. I think I may have recommended it to you on Instagram? It’s pretty off the beaten path but we just LOVED it. Totally unique and feels super bohemian. Perfect for some R+R!
Omygosh…seriously..you are my travel fairy godmother.
I didn’t see your recommendation on Instagram so my apologies. I must have missed it.
I already have ‘Sinai Old Spices’ booked! I was a little concerned about being away from the ocean (I know you get that) so thought I’d split my time.
I had just decided to stick with my original plan as the owner is so responsive and seems amazing!!
I only have four free days before my liveaboard so I’ll try to go on a day trip to Dahab and not stress myself out by moving.
Next time you are in the region message me and I can give you some tips about visiting Jordan…it was unreal!!
I am absolutely planning to go to Jordan! I loved it there!
Oh that’s great! With long term travel things can start to run into each other but Jordan and Petra made me weep…I was awestruck.
Gosh – I remember going into that pyramid and quietly freaking out also – I think I stayed a minute before noping the hell out of there! It was so incredibly claustrophobic! The area you stayed in looked amazing!
Once we got to the top I chilled out a bit but that initial climb was like WHAT IS HAPPENING IS THIS SAFE WHERE ARE THE EMERGENCY EXITS?!?!?! Haha. Glad we made it! I wonder how often people need to be carted out of there, catatonic!
Looks incredible! And that neighbourhood looks such a great find and transition into Egypt!
It was just what I needed! I think I’d have a totally different impression of Cairo had I not stayed there.
Cairo has tickled my interest for years after multiple visits to the seaside resorts of Egypt. My idea of Cairo comes from old movies (hello, sassy Brendan Fraser!) and I always pictured the hustle-and-bustle of the town but not stylish and tasty restaurants! Let alone beautiful AirBnB with dreamy balconies! I can’t wait to read more about your trip!
Oh girl you definitely need to tack in a few days in Cairo to your next trip! I really, really loved it there.
Sounds like you had such a great Cairo experience! I stayed in one of those “fancy” tourist hotels, and believe me – you weren’t missing much! Haha. I love the Pizza Hut hack, and how happy you guys look in all your photos!
I, too, was really surprised by going inside the Great Pyramid. I didn’t get particularly claustrophobic, but it was so HOT in there (I went in December, so it was noticeably hotter inside than out), and because there was another group behind us we went straight up without any breaks. My legs were sore the next day!
Oh gosh yeah that thing was like a stairmaster times ten thousand. I was dying at the really narrow part, when people were just squeezing past in each direction. I was like, um, surely there’s a more organized way to do this, ha ha.
“So instead we decided to simply wander around the complex and let the whims of the day lead us. Shannon’s big priority was going inside the Great Pyramid, my big priority was holding hands with Shannon, and Sam’s big priority was surviving the day with us two fools.” Haw! Haw! ‘Love it!
Seriously though, I’ve been to Egypt 4 times, and I absolutely loved it! The first time we went, we were there for 2 weeks, so we did a week of the Pyramids of Kings, and a week “resting” and snorkelling on the Red Sea.
The pyramid thing was crazy. It was so hot that I couldn’t breathe (I’m asthmatic), & actually fainted! Yeah, that was fun. I was with a bunch of Germans, and I was the only one who fainted, and the only one who ended up spending the rest of our holiday in the shade!
You guys look like you had so much fun. Yay!
Wait, you fainted IN the Pyramid?! How did they get you out! I was actually wondering about this exact scenario!
We’d been to many of the pyramids and we were OUTSIDE one of them, when it happened.
We had a guide who was introducing the history, and as much as I love history, he was droning on and on (in German no less too!), and it was about 09:00 and it was burning hot! I tried to stay focused and concentrate, but I just couldn’t, and simply dropped to the floor!
The staff were great & my boyfriend was with me, so everyone rushed around and got me back to our ship (we were on a cruise & thankfully, our ship was privately sourced, so were weren’t more than 50 people, with about 20 staff I believe.) A doctor was sent for, and I had to stay in bed for 2 days!
Oh yeah, and that was where I discovered that I had a heat allergy! Ha! Ha! Go figure!
Dang! A heat allergy definitely does not sound conducive to travel in Egypt 😉
I was so inspired seeing this side of Cairo! Egypt was put on a no-go list by my government a long time ago and after reading this post I went to check if that had been lifted — turns out it has, at least partially. So Cairo is definitely back on my list now.
Hey Jay! There are several areas in Egypt that I think are WELL worth exploration and a dose of adventure. Stay tuned for more 🙂
Those pictures of Cairo look like they could have been taken in any major city suburb in the world! I suppose you have to get good at saying no to all the salespeople, but aside from that the experience you described seems so much calmer than what people make Egypt out to be 😛
For me it really was! There are so many possible reasons why that could be but all I know is — I’m grateful!
Thanks for this post! I’m considering stopping in Egypt next year as part of a bigger trip. A friend of mine who traveled there said she did not feel safe going out alone (and she’s a pretty experienced traveler).
As a result, I’ve been considering booking a tour (which I never do). It seems you have had a different experience. I know you were with a friend, but do you think you would feel OK about traveling in Egypt solo?
Hey Megan! I had overall a very positive experience but there are just SO many factors that can go into that — luck being one of them! I actually just wrote a full post about my decision to take a group tour — curious to hear what you think after reading it!
Hey Alex! I did read that post today, actually. It sounds like I could probably do Cairo solo, and join a group tour for everything else. Thanks for blogging about a budget tour. Other ones I was looking at were way more than I would want to pay.
You’re welcome Megan! I also think, if you wanted to add in some beach and diving time, Dahab is SO easily do-able solo. It’s the one place I went in Egypt that had a true backpacker vibe. I’ll be blogging about it soon!
Hey Megan and Alex,
I’ll be doing Cairo solo later this year and am definitely feeling bit apprehensive – hear that there are a lot of issues with harassment, etc. How were your experiences? Also looking at using Uber there which is apparently safer?
Alex, did you spend much time going around Cairo solo or mostly with your Thailand friends?
Hey Kirsten! I had overall positive experiences across Egypt. In Cairo I met up at the pyramids with a male and female friend and at the market and museum with a female friend, but all my wanderings around Maadi and my transportation and whatnot was solo. I even rode the subway! (There’s a female car, it’s great.)
I have a Egypt roundup post coming up with explanations of my very few uncomfortable moments. But they were very few and far between. There was a LOT of pushy salespeople at the temples and whatnot, but that doesn’t bother me as long as I give myself a little pep talk before I face them, you know? It’s more of an annoyance than a threat, which I personally didn’t experience much of.
What a fun journey! I can’t believe that you were able to get a room that cheap! I’ll have to check it out for myself.
I know! It really was one of my best Airbnb finds ever.
Loved your way of writing. The photos are pretty and the place you stayed looks beautiful. I am sure you had a wonderful time and it was a real adventure going inside the pyramid. Wow! Appreciate it.
Thanks Isha. You’re too kind!
Egypt is a country I’ve been dreaming of visiting for a couple decades now! The pyramids are beyond stunning and I desperately want to see them in person. I’m so extremely claustrophobic I don’t know if I could handle it (even watching the movie The Descent, I forget to breathe). I managed to do the catacombs in Italy but the entire time I had to keep reminding myself to breathe and repeating my mantra of “this is a once in a lifetime opportunity”, so a HUGE kudos to you for doing it! I can only imagine what an unreal experience it was. Beautiful photos!
That is a great mantra, and pretty similar to the one I used when I was freaking out going up in the plane to go skydiving. It works!
Dream trip!! Like you, I was not expecting a neighbourhood like that in Cairo… Just goes to show how conditioned we are to what we see in the media about certain places. And the best views from Pizza Hut! That’s the best tip ever. Saving this post for when I finally, finally get to Egypt. Thanks!
Agreed! I would stay back in Maadi in a heartbeat. Kinda an inconvenient location, but such an oasis to return to.
I’m thinking of going on an Egypt trip in a few months, it looks like your experience was amazing! I’ll bookmark this post for when I go 🙂 Thanks for sharing!
I’ve got more Egypt posts coming up — from Sinai! — soon. Stay tuned!