Transport in Egypt: How to Get Around Safely

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Egypt has so much to see and do, but distances between sights can be far away. Here's how to get around safely on your trip.

Cars on a street in Alexandria, Egypt Photo © Getty Images/Sylvain Grandadam

If you're too occupied worrying about terrorism or civil unrest, you might forget to think about the simple things, like how you're going to get from A to B in Egypt.

This is especially an issue if budget-conscious travelers want to see a variety of locations such as the Pyramids at Giza, the Temple of Rameses II in Abu Simbel or the stark beauty of the Sahara, dotted with the Western Oases.

For people used to easy airplane, train and bus travel, the learning and experience curve can be quite steep.

Travel risks in Egypt

The long and short of travel throughout Egypt is: you take your life in your hands. Near the end of 2010, two separate incidents made international headlines when buses crashed and scores of tourists were injured or killed.

Of course, these incidents weren't the norm - for every bus crash, there are hundreds of successful trips that don't get mentioned. However, it is important to be aware that when you are traveling from point to point, whether it's by ferry up and down the Nile or along the Red Sea, or whether you're bumping down poorly maintained roads in a poorly maintained bus going upwards of 150 km/h, the trip may not be up to the safety standards that you're used to.

Bus travel in Egypt

Whether you're going to Aswan or points south to see all the famous temple cities, or whether you're taking a bus from Cairo to your resort along the Red Sea, be prepared to have your breath taken away...jolted back into you...and taken away again. If crazy buses aren't for you, perhaps it's best if you stay in one place, as fast-and-loose driving is the norm rather than the exception in Egypt.

The worst thing is, there really isn't a lot you can do once you've gotten on the bus. You can plead with the bus driver to go slower, but that has about a 25% chance of working. You may be able to bribe him to go a bit slower, but you have to keep in mind that he has a busload of other passengers who are expecting him to drive at his breakneck speed, so you should have some serious cash.

Better would be to do your research and select a bus company with a good reputation, especially among other travelers. If you can find a charter bus company catering exclusively to Western travelers, you might want to shell out a few extra bucks for it. Strength in numbers means that your driver will have no choice but to go at more reasonable speeds.

If you can't go with a tourist-centred bus company, the next best thing is to always travel with a friend. When you're stuck on a bus going super fast, it's best if you have someone to commiserate with at the very least. Two people firmly telling the driver to slow down is much more likely to have an impact than if just one person does.

It is not advised to just "get off" the bus at an unknown location. This is just common sense, because you will notice that there isn't much between locations but desert. If you can tell that you made a bad decision within the first few minutes of getting on the bus, then getting off might be a good idea; otherwise, you have to wait until you reach your destination. You may die in a bus wreck, but you certainly will die if you have to walk for miles in the harsh desert sun.

Catching a ferry in Egypt

Boats up and down the Nile, as well as ferries to Sharm al Sheikh and other points along the Red Sea, have deteriorated in quality over the past few years. Poor upkeep and overcrowding have led to several major fires on cruisers and ferries in the past five years.

Ferries are definitely something you don't want to skimp on when it comes to the cost of your trip to Egypt. Sign up with a reputable company and try to pay middle to top dollar for the ride. Don't go with a budget ferry. Not only will the trip be an unpleasant mess of body aroma and a struggling engine, but also in the event of a fire your life will be very much in jeopardy. Better to spend the extra money.

Choose safe transport in Egypt over cheap

In conclusion, when considering transportation on your trip to Egypt, more expensive is always better. Always travel with a friend, and don't go with any sketchy companies. If the bus or ferry seems overcrowded, strongly consider taking a different mode of transportation.

Go with a different company or put that location off your list entirely. Nearly every crash, fire or other vehicle difficulty happened because too many people were crammed onto the vehicle making the trip.

There is so much to see outside of Cairo. From brilliant deserts to stunning temples and monuments to authentic Arabian and Bedouin cultures, you will get an experience of Egypt you couldn't get anywhere else. Just make sure you book transportation that is safe and pleasant to take.

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