Guns & Butter: Cairo Travel Guide

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The Cairo Egypt Travel Guide is part of the Trip Report Athens Marathon: The Original Course which includes the following cities:

Click here for the picture preview.


Ahlan and welcome to Egypt. Here is the Cairo Travel Guide using the Guns & Butter methodology:

  • A trip is composed of two factors: Labor And Lazy
  • Anything on the line (Production Possibilities Frontier for my fellow economists) is an efficient use of your time depending on your tastes and preferences.
  • Anything inside the line is inefficient as should be avoided.
  • Anything outside is aspirational but may be impossible to do given the constraints of time and resources.
  • The opportunity cost (what is given up) for relaxing and being Lazy is gained by being adventurous in the form of Labor and vice versa.Capture

Negotiations 

“I come to see Bheramids, “I said in my Iraqi accent hoping to get a good deal on the tour.

That’s the most fitting way to begin my Cairo Travel Guide because everything in Cairo is based on your ability to negotiate. In turn, it will be the most laborious part of your Egypt experience. If you fancy yourself a street hustler or if you deem yourself to be a great attorney, please visit Cairo to get a real lesson in contract law. If each part of contract was assigned to a country then Egyptians would be the fine print. That statement may straddle the line of political correctness but not only do I believe it to be true but also I believe it to be complimentary.

Since I’m from the Middle East, I appreciated fighting and haggling for every Egyptian pound. What was surprising was the level of precision I needed in crafting the deal. In Egypt, you get exactly what you bargain for. More on that when we get to the pyramid tour but for now know that, regardless of how many countries you have visited, you are ill-equipped to negotiate with Egyptians who are some of the best in the business.

Traffic 

The negotiation exercise begins with the taxi driver which is too cumbersome and takes far too long to get a reasonable price. For that reason I recommend that you use Uber Cairo. Even with the ease of Uber, the traffic in Cairo is among the worst in the world. What would constitute a justifiable 5x Uber surge tariff in the US is just another afternoon in this city.

Security 

Security is tight everywhere. There are bomb sniffing dogs, gates, and armed police especially in the tourist areas. I always felt safe.

Pyramids 

This is why people come to Egypt and rightfully so. The pyramids are a sight to behold. They are also conveniently located in your backyard if you stay at Le Meridien. Though some believe that the pyramids were built by aliens or to store grain, they were actually the tombs for the pharaohs of Egypt.

View from Le Meridien
View from Le Meridien

The Price of the Pyramid Tour 

Scour the internet and you’ll see that a tour of the ancient pyramids range from 50-100 EGP. The price should be the same whether you go by horse or by camel. I highly suggest taking a horse because the camel is uncomfortable and unstable, unless you are a camljahky or kameltender. (which were my AIM usernames in high school.) Not true to my name, I went for the horse.

Something very interesting happened when I began negotiating: the tour guide started detailing every tourist trap trick that I had read on the Internet. These included the following:

  • I will not take you halfway then ask for more money.
  • I will not put you up on camel and then ask you to pay double before letting you back down.
  • I will not trick you because I want you to come back with your friends and recommend me.
  • I am not Ali Baba.

An hour later, we agreed that for 100 EGP I would tour the pyramids for 2 hours. Though not the best price, I was running out of time to do the tour and still make it to The Museum of Egyptian Antiquities.

I got on the horse and was ready to see it all. Like a DJ scratching a record, my excitement was immediately cut short. Why wasn’t my tour guide on a horse? He looked at me and said, “Oh you want guide, that’s another 100 EGP. Otherwise, don’t worry the horse knows where he is going.”

100 additional EGP later, we set off on the tour. I was so livid for the first hour, I didn’t even look at the pyramids nor pay attention to the guide. The only time I had anything to say was when he found a piece of limestone on the ground and asked me if I wanted to keep it as a souvenir. I told him I certainly could make use of the heavy rock. Before I go into more detail about my time with the guide, let me do my best to show you the marvel of what you will experience when you visit.

What, I have to pay more?
What, I have to pay more?

The Great Pyramid of Giza

The oldest ancient wonder of the world and the largest of the pyramids is the Great Pyramid of Giza also known as the Pyramid of Khufu, the second king of the 4th dynasty. It’s remarkable up close and stunning from far away.

Note: Do not pay to go inside of it. There’s nothing in it.

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200 EGP for Great Pyramid: I thought this was the cost to enter and found myself trying to get a refund. Beware!
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Up close
After the climb
After the climb

Khafre’s Pyramid: Like Father, Like Son.

Khafre’s Pyramid was built for the son of Khufu. Limestone was taken from it to build the Mosque of Mohammed Ali.Thought it appears to be taller than Khufu’s Pyramid, this is an optical illusion.

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Khafre’s Pyramid
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Starting to smile

Menkaure’s Pyramid 

This is the smallest of the Great Pyramids. It is surrounded by 3 other pyramids which were not completed.

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The Great Sphinx

Body of a lion, face of a pharaoh, the Great Sphinx is something I have always wanted to see not only for its historical significance but also because it reminded me of days on the Pro Putt-Putt Circuit. I had always believed that the nose was shot off by Napoleon but according to my research, it was most likely the Turks who had done so.

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Golf & The Sphinx

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Incidentally, right outside the pyramids there is a beautiful course facing the Great Pyramid.

Tomb of Hemon 

Hemon is believed to be the architect of the Great Pyramid. The artwork on the inside of the tomb is indescribable. Know that pictures are not allowed inside, though the man guarding the tomb will insist on taking your photo and then asking for money after the fact.

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Sorry you’re not taking my EGP.

The Story of My Tour Guide, Ebrahem 

My guide, Ebrahem, had gotten the better of me by commanding an extra 100 EGP. He sensed my frustration and did his best to earn his money. The pictures we took were priceless and the experience of riding a horse charging through the desert at top speed was worth the cost of admission.

Finally happy
Let the postcard pictures begin
How can you beat this pic?
How can you beat this pic?
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Not so sure about this one
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How about this one?
And the best one
And the best one

Ebrahem spent about 30 minutes taking our photo jumping in front of the pyramids and even covered the cost of a Sprite and a Coke after an elder man offered it to me, assured me in Arabic that it was not an issue to drink it. Though I kept refusing, I finally accepted it, drank it, and then he asked for money. “I told you I didn’t want it!” I said in Arabic. “Then why did you drink it” Ebrahem asked.

Grant Hill would be proud
Grant Hill would be proud

Here’s where things got tricky. After we had taken the photos in front of the pyramids, Ebrahem abruptly asked for his money and then took off on the horse. He left us in the care of his brother who was going to take us to the Sphinx then back for a quick photo with the camel. We got back to the entrance and waited for Lufthansa, the camel, to arrive.

“Lean back and steady yourself,” the new guide said as the camel lifted me up and up. I took a photo in front of the Great Pyramid, got off the camel, and was ready to be done with the tour.

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Lufthansa not having a good time
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Finally I could live up to my AIM screen name

“Wait Alex, Michael Schumacher is coming,” the guide said. And there he was, Michael Schumacher, the fastest camel this side of the Nile. Puzzled, I wondered what this legendary camel wanted to do with me. “Lean back and steady yourself,” the guide said as I hopped on another camel. “When you get off, you will be walking like Egyptian,” he added. This, by the way, was everyone’s joke for everything.

Oh Schumacher
Oh Schumacher

Off we went on a camel tour of the pyramids. We went by the Great Pyramid and then we arrived at a scenic lookout of the Sphinx. Pictures here, pictures there, and it was time to return and leave right? Wrong. Halfway to the entrance, we disembarked from Schumacher, and were put into a horse cart and put in the care of Ebrahem’s brother once again. He headed for the entrance but then made a left turn at the Great Pyramid and headed towards Khafre’s Pyramid. Once again, picture here, picture there. Then we got back into the cart and headed towards the entrance. As we were approaching he made a left turn and took us to the Tomb of Hemon. I went in and had a look around. At this point I’m well past the 3 hour mark and had seen the pyramids so many times that I could give a tour of the bheramids myself, but for 250 EGP friend price. Back in the cart, believing that there could be nothing left to see, I hoped that this was the end of this hostage standoff. It wasn’t.

Photo of me having to pose for photos
Photo of me having to pose for photos

Off he went again towards Khafre’s Pyramid only this time he took a left turn around the back of the Great Pyramid. Once again we arrived at the lookout point for the Sphinx. Time for more pictures!

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Clever clever
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The tourists really like this one

After the hundredth photo we just sat there unsure of what was next. I checked my watch and noticed that we were closing in on 4 hours. Anxious, I didn’t know what to do. I started to think what I would do when the inevitable bill came. Could I make a run for it?

Get me out of here!
Get me out of here!

An eternity later, Ebrahem’s brother gets a call and starts taking us around yet again. “Off to your right is the Pyramid of Khafre,” I say to the guy. Suddenly form the corner of my eye, I see a crazy Egyptian man coming in at full speed shouting at the top of his lungs, “Alexxxx!!” It was our fearless tour guide Ebrahem who magically jumped off his horse, onto the horse commanding our cart, and away we went.

Laughing hysterically, Ebrahem said, “How did you enjoy your pyramid tour? Did you get your money’s worth or do you want more? I can give you tour on monkey, on tiger, you name it.”

“Ani khulsaan (I’m finished),” I cried.

Moments later, we were back at the entrance and free to go.

False imprisonment
False imprisonment was over

The Lesson

It took a second for me to realize what had just happened. I was laughing uncontrollably as I walked back to my hotel. Ebrahem had taught me a valuable lesson: arguing for the best price can be a literal waste of time.

Here is a map that shows you the area for the pyramids. I had no idea it was enclosed in such a small area until after my marathon tour was completed. Here is the business card for Ebrahem, the greatest negotiator/pyramid tour guide of all time.

Tell him Iraqi Alex from America sent you.
Tell him Iraqi Alex from America sent you.
Best friends
Best friends

The Pyramid Sound & Light Show 

I can safely say that no Egyptian has ever been to the pyramid sound & light show. Any honest tour guide or competent hotel employee will also advise against going. Unless you’re a nerdy fan of lasers, stay clear of this tourist trap.

The Museum of Egyptian Antiquities 

This gets the nod for tourist trap destination because of my personal experience from visiting the museum. It should not stop you from going to what may be one of the greatest collections of ancient artifacts in the world. But there are a few things you should know before you go:

Identification 

Bring your Iraqi Passport. If you’re a tourist you will pay 75 EGP versus the 10 for locals.

The tourist tax in full effect
The tourist tax in full effect
Come dress like a local to get in cheaper
Come dress like a local to get in cheaper

Hours

Double check the museum hours. The website is incorrect. It says 7PM, it closes at 4PM. The first time I tried to go it was closed.

It's closed
It’s closed

King Tut 

Triple check that King Tut’s Mask is on display. I could not go to the museum the first time so I figured I would catch it on the way back from Sharm el-Sheikh since I had a five-hour layover. My Uber picked me up from the airport, put my stuff in the trunk, and off to the museum we went the. I braved traffic once again and was excited to finally see King Tut.

“King Tut under restoration. He’s not here,” a museum employee said.

Some genius had broken the beard off of King Tut’s Mask and like a complete oaf had glued it back on. Maybe a seasoned museum visitor would’ve known to inquire as to the availability of the main attraction, but I figured that nobody would dare disturb this ancient relic.

Over it and under the influence of food poisoning, I left the museum and went back to the airport.

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No King Tut is like no Mona Lisa at The Louvre

Note: Coincidentally, King Tut’s mask went back on display today, 12/21/2015, the day of this posting.

Tahrir Square 

You must visit Tahrir Square when you are in Cairo. While the square itself is little more than a small area with a large Egyptian flag, the events that took place there have changed the course of history.

It is said that as Cairo goes, so does the Middle East. Though the Arab Spring began in Tunisia the symbolic movement began in Cairo in 2011 with protests that led to the downfall of Hosni Mubarak. Thousands of young Egyptians took to the streets in peaceful protest. Even when government actors tried to use violence to squash the protests, the people stood firm.

After Mubarak was overthrown, the country held its first democratic election. It appeared that change was finally coming to the Arab World. That hope was short-lived as the winner, Mohammed Morsi, was overthrown in 2013 and replaced by the Chief of the Egyptian Armed Forces, Abdul Fattah al-Sisi. While Sisi has consolidated his power, Morsi now sits in an Egyptian prison waiting to find out if his death penalty sentence will be upheld. To be clear, I’m not saying that Morsi was the solution for Egypt’s problems but it is a tragedy that after 30 years under Mubarak, Egypt’s first democratically elected leader only lasted for one year.

For Egyptians, the joy following the removal of Mubarak has been replaced by uncertainty. As someone of Arab descent, I am saddened that what appeared to be a history changing movement has resulted in no meaningful change. Though the Arab Spring brought the fall of dictators including Gaddafi in Libya, the situation in the Middle East has worsened. Libya is in a state of chaos, Syria has been overrun by ISIS, Iraq is plagued by sectarian violence, Iran is up to who knows what. Meanwhile neighboring countries like Saudi Arabia remain complicit choosing to focus their efforts on building the world’s tallest building instead of addressing the issues at their doorstep.

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Tahrir Square
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The Square present day
Tahrir Square: January 25, 2012: Photo courtesy of Wikimedia
Tahrir Square: January 25, 2012: Photo courtesy of Wikimedia

Food 

The slogan of the Egyptian travel board should be Come to Egypt to talk politics, bargain, and eat. We’ve already covered the first two in this guide so let’s move on to the third most enjoyable activity in Cairo- the food.

Indian Food 

I was only in Cairo for 2 nights so I didn’t get to eat as much as I would have liked. The first night, on advice from a friend, we went to the Moghul Room at the Mena House Hotel to have Indian food. Indian food in Egypt, you may be asking? I was told that it was some of the best in the world. I had to go find out for myself.

The food was pretty good but the chicken vindaloo has nothing in terms of price and taste compared to its native home in Goa, India.

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Moghul Room
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The menu
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The yogurt was fantastic
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Biryani was meh, vindaloo was great, naan was overpriced

Abou el-Sid

The second night I went to Abou el-Sid for molokhia, okra, and mezze. (see complete review here.) This is why I came to Egypt!

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Abou el-Sid
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Okra + molokhia
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The rabbit
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The mezze

Addis (Lentils)

Though I didn’t try it this time, be sure to order addis soup, an Egyptian favorite.

Khan el-Khalili 

Where can you eat, talk politics, and bargain simultaneously until the early hours in the morning? The answer is Khan el-Khalili. This souk was my favorite stop in Cairo next to the pyramids. Drinking chai, smoking argheli, and fending off the kids selling useless junk was a perfect way to end my trip.

Take note of the prices before ordering. I can’t be sure because the waiter didn’t provide me with the bill but I think I overpaid for the argheli and nonalcoholic drinks.

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Get your peanuts here!
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I wonder if Lufthansa receives royalties
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Oh look it’s King Tut with super glue
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The best arghelis are made in Qatar. Don’t buy them here.
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The row of argheli bars
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Zoltar from Big
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Should’ve tried the shawerma
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Chai and argheli, the good life
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Packed till the early hours
Capture
An Arab’s favorite pose

Nightlife 

With so much to do in Egypt I wasn’t able to enjoy the nightlife by going to a belly dance show or nightclub. That would be worth doing the next time I’m in Cairo.

Overall 

Cairo was my favorite city in Egypt. It was exhausting yet exhilarating.

The ride of a lifetime
The ride of a lifetime

<==Back to Egypt Food Guide – 

11 COMMENTS

  1. This is fun to follow. I am doing the Athens Marathon next year since it is the year I turn 40 and it will be my last full marathon (hopefully). I had thrown around a lot of ideas for the rest of the trip to my friends who are going with me, and a trip through all the ancient lands was my first thought, something like ancient Greece, to ancient Egypt, the Rome, or maybe Greece, Israel, Egypt. In the end, we are going Athens and Troy and the rest of Greece and part of Turkey to Istanbul (not Constantinople). From there my friends are flying home and I will continue around the world because I can. To HKG and NRT for a couple of days each. But reading your lead up and now trip reports is getting me excited for next November, and making sort of wish I went with the original plan 🙂

    • I’m very glad to know that someone is following the story! And enjoying it for that matter. As I add more posts to a Trip Report I add links to the bottom so it’s easy to transition from one entry to the next.

      The Travel Guides always take so long to write because of the pictures, formatting, and fact checking so I apologize for the delay. Next up is Luxor. Thanks for reading.

      • Will do, but the marathon does not really concern me based on what you wrote so far, plus what I see on the website. The biggest issue will be the fact that it is a full freaking marathon I am a half marathoner who knows, just knows, I can get under a 4 hour full. I have failed twice for 2 different reasons (1 of which was injury) and was never going to do one again. Then I hit age 40 next year and I’ve been running healthy. I have my half PR down to 1:40. All is gong well, so why not try again. The terrain will not be a problem, the distance will be the problem. 🙂 I do not expect to take my half PR and double it, but I DO expect to be under 4 hours. There is a reasonable chance I will tourist too much the day/night before the race. I do that at every race I travel to. Last New Year I ran the midnight half marathon in Zurich to ring in the New Year. I also walked about 20 miles around Zurich all that day. The 3 hour nap in between did not make the walking go away. Self-sabotage I am really good at doing that at travel races.

        • Hahaha very entertaining stuff. Had it been a half, I would’ve been fine but after the halfway point with that humidity I was toast! I’m surprised you found reassurance in my marathon course review. It was such an awful experience compared to my first race. I knew I wasn’t going to finish under 4 but under 5 any other day would’ve been no problem.

          And you’ve inspired me to finish up this trip report. Today I posted the Sheraton Luxor Hotel Review and I’m going to publish the Luxor Travel Guide which is pretty funny if you enjoy stories about me getting hustled.

    • Thank you. Forewarning, the Luxor Travel Guide will not be pleasant! Do you plan on going there? I guess I should ask you that after you read what I wrote. Of course you should go regardless but it wasn’t my favorite.

      • Yes, I read that. I am planning on going there myself and to aswan down to abu simbel.
        I am a little concerned about the bargaining and stuff and being preyed upon in cairo etc. I am generally good at handling people selling me stuff I don’t want, but I am not good at bargaining when it comes to something I do want like a guide to pyramid/temple/museum etc.

        • Put your hands up and enjoy the ride! It was fun in Cairo as I wrote but they got me off my game in Luxor because they were too much.

    • No my final stop was Sharm el-Sheikh, a disaster in its own right. You could try Benghazi…just kidding, that would be bad.

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