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One of the questions we get the most about travel to Egypt is whether Egypt is safe: specifically, is it safe for women travelers?
With everything we hear in the media, it’s not surprising this is top of mind. This question of safety in Egypt gets more complicated when talking about safety for women and women traveling solo. Though Dana and I are traveling as a couple, we were living in Egypt for some time, so I’ve had to travel around Cairo regularly by myself. In short, while I have felt uncomfortable at times and irritated at at others, I never felt like I was in danger.
If safety concerns are something that is keeping you from traveling to Egypt, read this post and reconsider!
We’ve written about general Egypt safety here.
Egypt is one of the most unique and lively places I’ve ever visited. I write this post with immense respect for the country. I want as many people to experience it and love their time there.
I went to Egypt with only a vague idea of what to expect, having skimmed only a few articles from female travelers. But I still found my first day in Cairo to be surprisingly uncomfortable. If I could do it again, I would have liked to have a more accurate picture of day-to-day life as a woman beforehand and to mentally prepare myself. I think a lot of people only know the beautiful photos shared on social media, and thus may have a negative impression of Cairo when they get there because they weren’t prepared for the less glamorous aspects.
So here’s the full context of traveling in Egypt — mostly in Cairo — as a woman, and how you can prepare yourself and have an incredible trip!
Note: Most of this post references travel in Cairo. The vibe was much more relaxed when traveling to other parts of Egypt. I didn’t experience the same levels of verbal harassment in other parts of Egypt — Luxor, Aswan and Dahab.
What to expect as a female foreigner in Egypt
Cairo is an experience, so get ready!
In Cairo, if you’re a foreigner, you will be stared at. If you’re a female foreigner, you’ll turn nearly every head on the street. You’ll get cat calls, people will say hello to you in every language they think you might be, and you’ll get beeped at. Yes, there’s a car honk code for cat calling in Egypt! It’s three light beeps which signifies ‘ba-hib-bik’, which means ‘I love you’ in Arabic. (See here for our full guide to the sounds of Cairo!) The harassment is mostly verbal as physical harassment of foreigners is extremely rare. Unfortunately this tends to happen more to local women.
Yes, Cairo has this negative reputation but to put it in context, the environment reminded me of my travels in Latin American countries and Europe that have a macho culture (e.g. Italy, Spain, Cuba, Argentina) . If you’ve been to these types of countries, the attention you get in Egypt won’t be much of a surprise to you.
Harassment in Cairo in general
While Egypt is still very much ahead in terms women’s rights, compared to other countries in the Middle East, Cairo remains one of the worst major cities for the harassment of women. Victim blaming is rampant and both men and women believe that if a woman dresses in revealing clothing, she wants the attention and harassment.
Cairo wasn’t always this way. There was a dramatic turn for the worse after the Arab Spring in 2011. In my conversations with Egyptian women, they told me that while harassment has always existed, it was never at this scale. They recall that prior to the revolution, when a man harassed a woman on the street, other men would come out to protect the woman and rebuke the offending man. Today, harassment is common place and is accepted as a part of life in Cairo.
Fortunately, there are significant efforts pushing to change perceptions and improve the treatment of women. A law was passed to explicitly criminalize sexual harassment for the first time. There is now a website, called HarrassMap, where you can actually report sexual harassment. It was founded by women in the Cairo community and they are continuing their work with universities and other organizations to bringing awareness to the prevalence of sexual harassment in Egypt.
Tips for Women Visiting Egypt
There are a few things you can do as a foreigner in Egypt to fly under the radar.
This means dressing conservatively, especially in bigger cities like Cairo and Alexandria. Cover your shoulders. Skirts should be well past the knees. And avoid shorts and tight fitting clothing. Skinny jeans are fine. Maxi dresses, maxi skirts, cardigans, and scarves are your friend!
While you don’t have to wear a hijab, the country is majority Muslim and most women wear headscarves. So if you do cover your head, it will help you disappear a bit more. I got used to wearing the hood of my jacket when I walked around on my own and I noticed a dramatic difference in the number of stares I would get.
You can dress a bit more freely in certain areas, like the more touristic cities of Aswan and Luxor. You can pretty much wear whatever you want in the major landmarks like Abu Simbel and the many landmarks in Luxor. When walking around town however, you should bring a scarf to cover up our shoulders.
In Sharm El-Sheik, Dahab, and Hurghada you can wear whatever you want. It was common to see women in shorts and crop tops. Essentially, the higher the foreigner to local ratio, the more liberally you can dress.
Don’t look lost — at least obviously
Try to map out where you’re going ahead of time and keep track of your route. Walk with determination. If you ever do get lost and need to reorient yourself, don’t stop in the middle of a busy area. Find to a quiet part of the street where people are less likely to notice you. If you need directions, ask a woman or ask a store keeper instead of a man on the street. Keep in mind that they may not speak English, but they’ll do what they can to help!
Other tips on walking around
- A good resting bitch face will serve you well.
- Don’t make eye contact. This may encourage them to approach you.
- Wear headphones, but don’t actually play anything. You should always be aware of what is happening around you.
- Don’t engage in conversation or accept invitations to visit their store or family’s store.
Take Ubers and the female only metro car if you take the metro
Uber is very affordable works great in Cairo. I have heard issues of harassment in cabs, but all of my rides in Uber were respectful and pleasant. You are also much more likely to pay more and will need to negotiate if you take a cab.
The metro is also great way to get around and escape Cairo traffic. There are usually two cars dedicated for women only. They are usually cars 4 and 5, but they are also labelled on the platform.
Join a tour for the beginning of your trip
This is something I’d consider if you’re traveling alone and aren’t used to traveling to country with this type of culture. If you haven’t travelled to a city like this, it could be a bit of a culture shock initially. Joining a tour for the first couple of days to dip your feet and get context from tour guides could be a great way to get your feel for the city before exploring on your own. I’d recommend checking out Intrepid Travel . They specialize in small group tours, so it doesn’t feel like the typical tour group experience.
Get to know locals!
At this point, you might get the impression that every man in Egypt is a creepy perv. This isn’t the case at all! In fact, most of the locals we’ve made friends with have been men and they have – without a doubt – made our experience in Egypt exceptional. Every truly mind-blowing meal has been a recommendation from a local. Our life changing trip at Habiba Community was thanks to a spontaneous invitation from our Egyptian friends. We were able to hear stories and perspectives of all aspects of Egyptian culture – things that you can’t find in any article online. Egyptians are incredibly social and proud of their country. They’re very enthusiastic about getting to know foreigners and showing them around. Just be sure to use some common sense, trust your gut, have an open mind, and brace yourself for an unforgettable experience!