[English version of this post originally published on June 19th]
Hi guys! Hope you're having a great day. Today I'm going to translate to English the most read of the latest posts I published: Is Egypt safe for a female traveler?
To contextualize my experience, I'd like to clarify that I didn't travel to Egypt on my own: I met up with my best friend there, and we joined a group tour (we were only on our own during the first and the last days). I am not a big fan of organized trips, but I thought it was the best option for this destination.
Generally speaking, Egypt is considered not-that-safe and we are advised not to leave the touristic areas such as Cairo, Luxor, Aswan, Alexandria and a few other archeological sites. As I was telling you, Ann and I joined an organized trip (you can read more about my experiences with G adventures here) and the group was formed by us and 4 men, 3 of them from the U.S. and the other one from the U.K. Both U.S. and U.K. government request any tours with their citizens in attendance to have a security guard when they travel between cities by car, so an 80's crime film looking guy would join us some times. I felt that it was unnecesary, really. In my opinion, in most places, Egyptcians are very used to tourism, and the only danger they pose is tiring us up by being extra pushy trying to sell us souvenirs. I don't know how common pickpocketing is, as we didn't experience it. Being Argentinian, I was very aware of my personal belongings, but I'm not sure I needed to. The guys didn't mention having any problem either. Ann and I would mind our own business, and would only hang out with the guys during the guided tours: we would go for dinner on our own, and we didn't have any issues (always remaining in touristic areas and not that far from our hotels).
If you know anyone who visited Egypt, they will tell you that is not possible for tourists to walk from one point to another without being followed in hopes we will buy souvenirs from them, and this is absolutely true. They will also offer us horse and camel rides or invite us to visit their shops. This is tiring and annoying, but it doesn't feel dangerous most of the times. Though it made me feel that I could never get to really know the locals, as they only see us as walking wallets. The prices are always marked up for us, the Arabic non-speakers, and we can't avoid that as nothing has a fixed price really; everything is negotiable, from a taxi ride to a dish in a local market.
BEING A FEMALE TRAVELER IN EGYPT
As Ann and I are understanding of the cultural differences, we bought a few long dresses and scarves to cover our hair before visiting. The guide tour kept telling us that it was unnecesary because Egyptians were respectful of women and other cultures, but that was more of a wishful thinking of his than the reality. Even though I felt we had some advantages over local women's restraints and we were allowed some things they weren't (like wearing shorts in places for tourists only), the difference in treatment didn't always play in our favor: muslim men would never harass their own women, while they felt they could take some liberties with the foreigners. When Ann and I would go out (to a museum or a restaurant) we wouldn't necesarily cover our hair (in Cairo many locals didn't) but we would dress very conservative regardless of the heat, partly because we wanted to be respectful, but mostly because Egyptian men would always stare at us. I don't want to sound like a snowflake, but quite often I'd feel very uncomfortable because of drivers checking us up on the rearview mirrors or such. Lots of men would turn their head to look at us when we'd pass by too. As I mentioned on my Instagram, the levels of this would vary according to the different cities and areas, Alexandria being our worst experience. We were constantly approached by men who'd offer to take pictures of us (with professional cameras but also with our cellphones), would look for conversation or would just follow us, which was scary as they were always in small groups. Visiting the local markets was always very challenging, not only because we weren't able to communicate, but also because they would 'accidentally' get handsy, and we couldn't avoid it as the places were super crowded. We would try to go to this places in the company of the guys, which would make it a little bit easier for us, but not completely groping-free.
Right before travelling to Egypt, I went to Morocco and I had realized there that Muslim men behaved differently in front of foreign women. Even though both Morocco and Egypt are very "liberal" for Muslim standards, they would keep their distance with local women, while they would try to have physical contact with us tourists all the time (by small gestures like patting out backs to get our attention or hugging us for pictures) which is totally inapropriate in their culture. They would also compliment our 'beauty' all the time (I got a lot of that, even though I'm not specially attractive). I didn't feel harrassed or in danger or anything by this, but I thought it was out of place. Summarizing: I don't thing we can change the way Arabic men behave, and if we decide to travel there regardless, we'll need to understand the cultural difference and exercise our patience. I really hope some aspects of their behaviour would evolve, but I don't see it happening quite soon to be honest.
CAN WE VISIT EGYPT WITHOUT A GUIDE?
I would love to tell you we can, but in my opinion it is not possible. We were constantly strugling to do very simple things such as taking a taxi or buying some fabric, that felt quite challenging as we didn't know the language nor the cultural codes. Perhaps if we only use flights as means of transportation to the main cities and then we stay at good hotels with bilingual staff that can handle all logistics, while only going to very touristic enviroments (and preferably in company of a man) it could be a little bit more doable, I don't know. For now I'd only advice you to joing an organized trip to visit Egypt.
I don't regret my journey, as it allowed me to visit places I've seen in both school books and adventures movies, but I probably wouldn't come back here.
If you have any question about my experience or any other Egypt-related subject, please leave it in the comments and I will reply as soon as possible.