Hopefully you’ve pre-arranged your transportation from the airport with your fabulous Western-run tour company and someone will be there at arrivals waiting to greet you and get you on your way. If you’re taking responsibility for your own transit from the airport to your hotel, then you’re going to have to gird your loins and be prepared to get ripped off a little in a taxi.
Here’s the deal about the taxis at the airport – it’s impossible NOT to get ripped off here. Just accept it within the bounds of my guidance here. They know that you don’t have small bills on you yet because you probably just ran by the ATM in the airport (or you don’t have local currency at all). And they know you’re foreign and used to paying anywhere from 30-50 dollars for an airport taxi ride in most major global cities.
Now I’m not even going to tell you what it really costs if you’re a local or expat because someone out there will try his best to insist on that rate and will be stuck at the airport for his whole week of vacation trying to find a taxi to take him downtown for that amount. There’s a secret to getting the expat rate, but you’ll never get it as a tourist visitor so don’t waste your time.
If you’re unaccompanied, you’ll be approached by multiple people offering taxis and wanting to size you up by your country of origin and your destination hotel to figure out how much to gouge you. My best advice – based on when I’ve arrived in-country without pre-arranged transit and just wanted to grab a taxi on my own and go – is just to go with the first or second guy who asks as long as they look decent and aren’t annoying. Then I tell them where I’m going and let them quote me something inflated and as long as it’s reasonable for an American airport taxi I just suck it up on arrival and agree in order to just get out of there and get to my hotel.
In a situation like this you’ll probably pay anywhere from 20-30 dollars, but please in the name of sweet baby Jesus don’t get conned into paying any more than that. If anyone quotes you more than that, just smile and say no thanks. They’ll prob still try to snag you by asking you how much you want to pay and then they’ll try to haggle it up a little more. Remember you’re in Egypt now and haggling is a national sport. If you look for another guy or just stay firm, you’ll probably get it for 20 or 25 bucks.
And don’t feel bad if they act sad because you talked them down. You’re still overpaying and they’ll be very happy in the end, so it’s ok. Oh and that price includes the tip, by the way. As I said, you’re already overpaying but it’s ok for the airport runs.
After you agree on a price, you’ll probably be walked out to a parking lot in front of the airport to get in your taxi or car, since they can’t park right outside the airport door and since the dudes doing the soliciting are often the drivers themselves, so they have to park their cars in the parking lot in order to come inside and snag a tourist. So don’t be alarmed if your dude walks you a little ways out into a parking lot. That’s normal when you are getting your own taxi from the airport.
Also don’t be alarmed if the person who negotiated with you in the airport hands you off to someone else to drive you. That also happens sometimes where a friend or middleman will snag the tourists and walk them out to a waiting taxi driver he’s recruiting for and he’ll get a cut from his friend. Just make sure you don’t pay anyone until you get to your destination.
If someone’s doing a hand-off like that, it can be ok to give them 5-10 Egyptian pounds if you really like them and want to tip them, but don’t let them talk you into paying them for the taxi ride because if they do that’s a scam and the driver will demand the same amount or more again when you get to your hotel and they’ll pitch a fit and threaten to tell the police and you’ll get all upset and confused and you’re likely to shell out more money and get mad and your trip will be askew right off the bat.
So bottom line, pay for the taxi after you get to your hotel. Or better yet take my advice and book with an American-run tour operator and you won’t have to deal with or risk any of that type of thing the whole trip. Anyway, I digress.
So as your pre-arranged ride or self-arranged taxi is meandering through Cairo’s freeways and streets en route from the airport to your hotel, you’ll being noticing more about the nature of Egypt. You might smell lots of car exhaust, although this is getting better over the years as the older cars get off the road gradually. You’ll see lots of people on scooters and packed in busses and minibuses. You’ll see cars weaving in and out of lanes, driving in the middle of lanes, honking a ton, and you’ll probably be thinking yet again – what the hell is this place?
But just sit back and take it all in. It’s the beautiful, magical, ordered chaos of Egypt and I promise you’ll grow to love and appreciate it very soon. It can just be a bit overwhelming at first. And don’t be scared if your driver’s driving is a little hectic too. That’s just how they drive in Egypt and it all just works. I’ve ridden well over 15,000 miles on Egypt’s roads over the years and I’ve only ever been in one small accident, and that was in nearly stopped traffic with a taxi driver who just lightly rear ended another taxi in front of us.
Poor guy, he was old as dirt and had coke bottle glasses on and was leaning forward and squinting really hard. He probably shouldn’t have been driving to being with, but I’m sure he needed the money. He had to be pushing 200 years old and likely went to elementary school with Moses. I just felt so bad for him, so I gave him the full fare plus some out of pity and walked the rest of the way.
Ok now unless you’re staying in one of the few hotels out by the Pyramids (in which case your taxi ride may be a little more expensive because that’s really far and few people stay out there), you won’t actually see the Pyramids on your ride, but you’ll see a lot of other neat things that you probably won’t even recognize the significance of yet. As you come into the city center, you’ll probably start to see some mosques and some beautiful old mansions. You may pass the main train station and you’ll see Cairo Tower off in the distance. You’ll pass the Egyptian Museum, whose pink facade is distinctly recognizable in the daylight, and you may drive through Tahir Square, which is the site of Egypt’s major revolutions and mass protests back in 2011 and 2012. And you’ll likely come up on the Nile River, which cuts through the heart of the greater Cairo metropolis.
Most of the major 5-star hotels in Cairo are downtown along the Nile, so this is most likely the area you’ll be taken. In several other articles here I talk in detail about Egypt’s hotels, which ones I’d recommend (since I’ve stayed in nearly all of them), and what the pros and cons are of the various properties. But for now, let’s finish off your arrival in Egypt and your arrival at your downtown hotel by inviting you to mentally continue your journey on inside of your wonderful Nile-front luxury home for the week, check in, kick back, and relax.
You made it. And you’re going to have one hell of an amazing time in Egypt!