Egypt does not have the best reputation when it comes to safety. Since 2011, the Egyptian Revolution has made the country unsafe for travelers. That image has stuck in many people’s minds, but the country has been accessible to tourists for years. How safe is it to travel to Egypt now? What is it like to travel in Egypt as a woman? And is it necessary to wear a headscarf and covering clothes? Is Abu Simbel accessible to tourists in the south?
Is Egypt safe for tourists?
In short: yes.
Although Egypt is not known for its safety – especially since the revolution in 2011 – I have not felt unsafe. Millions of tourists travel to this country every year and the government has an interest in the highest safety, certainly for tourist destinations. On the website of the Dutch government most of Egypt is shown as “yellow”, like almost every non-Western country. Only the Sinai desert between Egypt and Israel is shown as “no travel”. That area is not stable and attacks are occurring. As a traveler, that area is not often on your itinerary, so you don’t really have to worry about that.
While in my mind Egypt has remained a ‘risk country’ for all those years since the Revolution, the reality turned out to be so different. Certainly around the famous highlights, such as the pyramids and the Valley of the Kings, it was super crowded with travelers! Egypt is easy to travel and very accessible, even without the safety of an organized group trip.
What is it like to travel in Egypt as a woman?
Just because traveling in Egypt is safe doesn’t mean it’s always pleasant. I traveled to Egypt with a girlfriend and I would not recommend the country to female travelers without a male travel buddy.
We may not have felt unsafe, but we were constantly harassed. In Cairo, Luxor and Aswan, we were constantly called after, young men wanted to be photographed with us and salesmen did not leave us alone. It also happened several times that we were verbally abused if we did not respond. That constant attention and avoiding eye contact was quite tiring. My main tip for female travelers is to simply ignore the call. And memorize the text “la shoukran” (no thank you) to reject people as kindly as possible.
Female solo travelers also come to Egypt, but I would certainly not recommend that. Even for two women, Egyptian culture can be overwhelming.
Is it necessary to wear a headscarf?
No, a headscarf is not mandatory. As a woman you are not obliged to walk around completely veiled and not even to wear covering clothes. I advise you to adapt to the Egyptian standard anyway. Not because you have to, but because you will feel more comfortable there. A headscarf is not necessary – to our surprise not even in mosques – but opt for covering clothing. You save yourself a lot of glances and unwanted attention if you don’t walk down the street with bare shoulders and shorts.
Is it safe to go to Abu Simbel in the far south?
Abu Simbel rock temples are located in southern Egypt. The extreme south to be precise, because the border with Sudan is not far away. That part of the country is not recommended in the safety advice of the Dutch government. Only go there if travel is necessary, the overview says.
However, we did not experience our day trip to Abu Simbel from Aswan as unsafe. Almost all transport leaves around 4:30 AM. Then you are there for the midday heat and if light is the most beautiful. The actual departure time then depends on the police. With us, our van gathered with the other buses on the outskirts of town and the police gave us the green light at 5 am to travel to Abu Simel in a column. We were at Abu Simbel around a quarter to eight. Everyone slept in the van on the way there, so you don’t even notice the trip. The return trip was more difficult for us and therefore took a long time. The trip did not feel unsafe at all.
Reading tip: In my practical guide for Abu Simbel I tell you everything you need to know before visiting Abu Simbel. And you can read how these enormous, ancient temples were dismantled and moved during a rescue operation in the 1960s.
Tips for safe travel in Egypt
# 1 So as a woman, choose covering clothes. Not because you have to, but because you save yourself a lot of unwanted attention there.
# 2 Only accept admission tickets that are new to the book before your eyes. They should not have any cracks or holes, because then the ticket is already used. Old tickets are sometimes sold again to innocent travelers to earn extra pocket money.
# 3 Avoid tap water. Always go for bottled water and check that the bottle is sealed. Also, make sure you don’t get ice in your drink, because it is often made from tap water. In Aswan, travelers drank tap water, if it had first been boiled for their coffee or tea. We have also had no problems with that.
Tip: go for sustainable and avoid all those plastic bottles. We filter tap water ourselves with our LARQ bottle.
# 4 Pay close attention to your things, as you would at home. So always keep an eye on your luggage and bag and don’t leave your phone lying around.
# 5 Don’t take the car yourself. Traffic is known to be unsafe and the quiet roads outside the cities are said to be unsafe.
# 6 Check the travel advice from your government in advance. But also realize that the color yellow (note, safety risks) applies to almost all non-western and well-traveled countries.
# 7 Don’t take to the streets after dark. In the evening and at night you don’t really have a reason to walk on the street, but do not do that.
# 8 Be aware of the usual prices. This way you immediately know whether you are being scammed and what the taxi ride should really cost. In our cost blog I give you a comprehensive overview of many prices in Egypt.
# 9 Learn to say no. Memorize the text “la shoukran” (no thank you) to reject people as kindly as possible.