My story about the Nile Cruise I took in Egypt a few weeks ago raised quite a few comments on the safety of visiting Egypt at this time. In fact, the most common question was ‘How safe is it to visit Egypt these days?” I’ve taken some time to think about the answer and here are my thoughts on safety in Egypt (and generally) in the current geopolitical climate.
My Experiences with Egyptian Safety
I can only tell you that I felt safe on my Cyplon Holidays organised week that I spent in Egypt. This week comprised of flights on Egypt Air, a Nile Valley cruise on the Oberoi Philae, tours of Cairo that included visits to the Giza Pyramids and the Egyptian Museum and stay at the Cairo Marriott.
The Nile Cruiser featured in Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile seen sailing into the sunset (photo credit: Compass Chasers)
All the hotels, monuments and sights we went to had metal detectors. The army presented a visible armed security presence as well. Behind the scenes at Luxor, we saw the extensive CCTV coverage of the city and surrounding area at their security centre. Although dressed as civilians, you could tell all the staff had military training. Normal people don’t stand to attention in the same way while having a simple conversation. On our Cairo tours, I noticed a man sitting near the front. I assumed he was a spare driver or something. It was only when his jacket fell away that I noticed he was packing a gun.
The view from the Mariott Cairo of the Nile River
What about safety in Egypt for people travelling with families?
I took my family on a trip to Egypt in April of 2015 as well. We stayed at a Sharm el Sheikh resort and did the usual resort activities – hanging out at the beach, boat trips, snorkelling etc. The best part of the trip was our dolphin encounter in the Gulf of Aqaba about which my children still tell their friends. We flew an internal Egyptair flight to Cairo in order to visit the Egyptian Museum and the Pyramids.
I felt safe in the spring of 2015, too, but, of course, you had the Russian plane from Sharm that blew up a few mere months later over the Sinai. Did my family and I miss death by the mere skin of our teeth? No, I don’t believe so. There were thousands of flights that took off from Sharm last year and the percentage chance of our family being on an ill-fated flight was extremely low.
Safety Concerns about Egypt on my 2016 trip
I went to Egypt again in 2016 despite the downing of the Russian plane in 2015. I felt a certain comfort knowing that safety would be of paramount importance to the Oberoi group as well as the Marriott. They have a reputation to maintain and world-wide standards for safety. A company with an international reputation for ultra-luxe holidays doesn’t bounce back easily from an ‘unfortunate’ incident at any of their properties.
Of course, in addition, to the terrorists you have the old-school hijackers like the Egyptian man who recently diverted an internal Egyptian flight to Cyprus to see his ex-wife.
As the official at Egypt’s Office of Foreign Affairs said:
He’s not a terrorist, he’s an idiot. Terrorists are crazy but they aren’t stupid. This guy is,”
The hijacker didn’t really have an explosive belt as he claimed or motives that had nothing to do with religious fundamentalism. These facts though have nothing to do with the fact that the plane was hijacked. It must have been a truly scary experience for the approximately 60 people on board (except possibly for the one Scottish guy who took a selfie with the hijacker). I do believe though that Egypt Air’s safety measures were instrumental in making sure that the hijacker didn’t really have an explosive belt. On the other hand, did you want to call the guy’s bluff when there were 60 passengers at his mercy?
Travel Safety Generally
I think safety while travelling has changed irrevocably since the 9/11 attacks. That terrible day was the first day of work for me after my honeymoon. We had gotten married 2 weeks earlier outside of Paris. Many of our friends and family had travelled from the USA and the UK to France to help us celebrate. Some of the American guests had scheduled holidays post-wedding for themselves in Europe and had only just returned to the USA.
Looking back, I’ve got a fairly unbelievable anecdote about our wedding. My brother, an impoverished student at business school, had bought us a very generous wedding gift. Knowing I liked a particular cutlery set from Williams-Sonoma (an upscale kitchen store in the USA), he brought them to the wedding as a gift. He was worried they would get stolen from the checked-in luggage. I’m pretty sure they were the most expensive thing he’d bought in his life up to that point.
A full formal place setting (at least in the USA) involves 2 knives, 2 forks and a spoon.
So, my brother brought a cutlery set to me as carry-on in his backpack – a five-piece dinner set for 12 people. So that would be 60 salad forks, 60 dinner forks, 120 dinner knives and 60 soup spoons (plus the accompany hostess set of servers, cake slicer etc.). Yes, all that passed through the metal detector scan on his Virgin Atlantic flight without a comment.
Gone are those days, and probably for the best.
I will not deny that there is an element of Russian roulette every time that you travel nowadays. Will it stop me from travelling? No. Will I take unnecessary risks? No. I’m neither stupid nor have a death wish.
Ordinary people carry on with their lives despite the raging geopolitical storm in the area.
On the other hand, I find it less than useful when the American state department issues a blanket travel alert for Europe which lasts for four months. As much as the British hate to admit they are part of Europe, you can’t change geography. At least, not until the next Ice Age.
I live in London which is probably a high alert city considering the world views Britain as America’s Best Little Buddy. In fact, I live about 1-2 miles away from a whole lot of potential targets – the American School in London, the London Central Mosque, the American Ambassador’s residence, the home of the Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom etc. Moving isn’t an option for us because our lives are established here in our neck of the woods in London.
How Safe is it to Visit Egypt?
So back to the question: how safe is it to visit Egypt?
Risk assessment is an individual concept measured by the person involved and the situation at hand at the time the decision is made. My concept of risk is different from that of my brother who lives in the tranquility of the Pennsylvania suburbs.
You should carry on with your lives. The times they are a changing and there’s nothing we can do about it. Hiding from the world certainly isn’t the answer for me.
I found a certain serenity in Egypt, and specifically the Nile River. Did you know that in the last 2500 years, Egypt has been invaded 27 times? Over the years, the country has seen the likes of Alexander the Great, the Romans, the Ottomans and the French. Life along the river though has carried on much the same as it has for hundreds of years. It impressed me so much I wrote a Steller story on it.
A reflection perfectly formed on the stillness of the Nile River.
Egypt and the Nile will survive this round of extremism on their shores. They aren’t going anywhere – are you?
Although I went to Egypt in 2016 as a guest of Cyplon Holidays, this has not influenced my thoughts and opinions in this post.
Everyone seems to be having a love affair with Airbnb. This sharing economy company is a rapidly growing Big Deal in the travel industry. I seem to be swimming against the tide. Given a choice between a hotel stay and an Airbnb home, I will pick a hotel every time. Why do I prefer a hotel stay versus Airbnb accommodation? In a word, services. In a sentence: I am high maintenance.
Our Airbnb Experiences
When Airbnb came out as this global phenomenon, we thought we would try it out.
The first time we stayed at an Airbnb, the apartment in Amsterdam was listed as child-friendly. It simply was not. You got up to the loft area using a concrete, spiral staircase and no banisters. The bathroom was connected to the master bedroom with a walkway which had gaping holes and minimal banisters. Surely, the design could not have met EU building regulations! Although my children slept on a futon on the ground floor, going up to the bathroom at the top of the staircase was a bit of a death trap for young children.
The second time we stayed at an Airbnb was during Carnival in Rio De Janeiro. There were 11 of us – 2 sets of parents, a nanny and a 6 children. Not only would a hotel cost more but also provide limited space for such a large group. We thought an apartment would allow the children a living room to play together as well as a kitchen to make simple kids’ meals.
The fabulous view of the ocean from the Airbnb
The large penthouse apartment we chose had an amazing location one block from the beach in Ipanema. The photos of the listing made it seem nicer than it was. For example, you couldn’t tell there were ants in the kitchen or that there were exposed electrical wires everywhere (even in the bathroom). The photos indicated they were ‘verified’ but clearly that occurred when the furniture was different and the place was sparkling clean and new.
Pretty basic accommodation for $6000/week
The locations of the two Airbnb’s we have stayed in have been fantastic. You can, however, get good hotels with great locations.
Proponents of Airbnb like to say their stays are more authentic to the place being visited than staying at a large hotel chain. Yet, I can also get a similar personal and local stay with a small boutique hotel like Hotel Touring in Bologna where I stayed recently.
In another part of Brasil we stayed at the Caraca Nature Reserve which provided accommodation in a former monastery. The accommodation was pretty spartan and the rooms had lots of religious paraphernalia. Then again, what did you expect from a monastery!? Our expectations were confirmed by Tripadvisor reviews. We had a fabulous time hiking and exploring the area and found the monastery beautiful in its faded glory.
I enjoy the additional amenities that come with a hotel. We did cobble together the amenities we wanted for Rio but it took a lot more effort.
There’s nothing like a good hotel breakfast buffet to start the day when you are travelling. When we stayed at the Airbnb in Rio, we went every morning to the Ceasar Park Hotel for a fabulous breakfast buffet.
A great hotel buffet
I also enjoy using the spa services of a hotel and my children like to splash about in the pool at the end of a day of sightseeing. In Rio, I found a beachside masseuse who gave me a fabulous massage. The children just played and swam in the ocean. Was it fine? Sure. Was it convenient? No.
The pool at the Santa Teresa Hotel in Rio
We also use the concierge at hotels to book our restaurants and give their suggestions. Once again, in Rio we used the Ceasar Park concierge. I guess we were there so much that they must’ve thought we stayed there. When my daughter looked sickly at one dinner, the helpful restaurant manager asked if we wanted him to call a doctor. It helped that my friends had stayed there before when they had visited Rio and knew the hotel well.
The handy list of recommended blocos courtesy of the Ceasar Park concierge.
We also used Marco Bransford, our private tour guide, to book restaurants and taxis on our behalf. Having worked as a head concierge in a top Rio hotel before he became a tour guide, he knew exactly what to do.
I like having my room cleaned everyday at a hotel, especially the bathroom when we share with children. We hired a cleaner to come twice during our Airbnb stay but it was not same clean that you get at a hotel. For example, there was sand everywhere from the kids’ trips to the beach.
I really did not like my whole bathroom experience at the Airbnb in Rio. We found out that you can’t flush toilet paper in Brasilian homes and offices because the sewer system is antiquated. The pipes in the sewers aren’t large enough to accommodate toilet paper. So people put used toilet paper in the trash bin. Ugh. The smell.
I didn’t know this about unique Brasilian problem because I stayed at the fabulous Hotel das Cataratas in Iguassu Falls last time I was in the country. The hotels must use macerators to deal with paper waste because I definitely was not told I couldn’t flush paper down the toilet at the Hotel das Cataratas.
I am too old to live in an apartment that is barely furnished with a futon for a bed. I despise scratchy towels, cheap sheets and lumpy pillows. I like small details like reading lights by the side of the bed and furniture that doesn’t scream IKEA. I am happy to pay extra for a more comfortable accommodation experience.
Restaurants and Bars
Sometimes when the children are tired from sightseeing, we like having the option of just going down to the hotel restaurant for dinner. One day after a long hot day touring with Marco, we went to the Ceasar Park (surprise!) for dinner. Likewise, if we want to sit in the lounge and order drinks from the bar either before or after dinner, we don’t have to take our children out of the hotel. We can enjoy a quiet drink and conversation in a smoke-free environment.
The bar area at the Santa Theresa hotel used to be the old slave quarters of the farmhouse.
The Lack of Quality Control of Airbnb
I don’t actually have anything against staying in private accommodation. I thought our One Fine Stay experience in New York City was great. On the other hand, with companies like One Fine Stay, there is a vetting process of the homes and you know what you are getting.
The grande dame of Rio hotels, the Copacabana Palace
Prior to owning our summer home in Martha’s Vineyard, we use to rent homes on the island. We used a reputable rental agency and, once again, had a great experience because we knew exactly what we were getting. Of course, rental agencies have a vested interest in providing attractive photos. On the other hand, as impartial third parties, any reputable rental agency will provide you with accurate information.
The lack of quality control at Airbnb’s really bothers me. You are relying on the owner to provide accurate information. The only thing you can really check is the Airbnb’s location. Hence, both times the rental locations were the best part of our experience.
We had a fabulous location one block from Ipanema beach.
We have had friends with similar experiences. One friend who was visiting London with her family left her Airbnb because it was so dodgy. She moved into the spare bedroom of one of her friends. In an ideal world, she would have not imposed on anyone else which is why she picked an Airbnb in the first place.
What happens if you don’t have friends in the city with a spare bedroom? Another friend took her family to a hotel in New York City because the Airbnb was not as advertised. Of course, finding a last minute hotel room for a family of 5 proved expensive.
I expect we are part of the small minority that does not think Airbnb is the best thing since sliced bread. Airbnb has spawned a lot of similar sites as competitors. On the other hand, I think Airbnb is good for the industry. It has shaken things up and stopped hotels from becoming complacent. An Airbnb may not be the accommodation option of choice for us, but it will help improve what we can expect from hotels!
What are your preferences in terms of a hotel stay versus Airbnb?
This post is linked up with Travel Photo Thursday and The Weekly Postcard.