Cairo (Arabic: القاهرة,al-Qāhirah) is the capital of Egypt and, with a total population in excess of 16 million people, one of the largest cities in both Africa and the Middle East (which regions it conveniently straddles) - it is also the 13th largest city in the world. Situated on the River Nile, Cairo is famous for its own history - preserved in the fabulous medieval Islamic city and in Old Cairo - and for the ancient, Pharaonic history of the country it represents. No trip to Cairo would be complete, for example, without a visit to the Giza Pyramids, to nearby Saqqara, or to the Egyptian Museum in the center of town. Though firmly attached to the past, Cairo is also home to a vibrant modern society.
NB: While al-Qāhirah is the official name of the city, in local speech it is typically called simply by the name of the country, Mişr (Arabic, مصر) pronounced Maşr in the local dialect.
Cairo is served by Cairo International Airport [CAI] , which is the hub of the Egyptian national airline, Egyptair. Many of the world's popular airlines also fly into Cairo on a regular basis, including British Airways, Air France, Singapore Airlines and Lufthansa.
The airport is located on the north-eastern outskirts of the city at Heliopolis. To get into downtown Cairo you can get a fixed-price limousine or negotiate a lower price with one of the small black taxis. Make it clear to the the taxi driver that you do not want to buy carpets.
For those unfamiliar with Cairo traffic, one shouldn't expect to drive. The traffic is, at the least, overwhelming for the common traveler. Road signs, lanes, right-of-ways, etc. are not adhered to. The driving has a constancy, but not in any official way.
The American University in Cairo has made a good map of Cairo . It is a must-have when you want to get around on your own. CAIRO A-Z from The Palm Press offers a more detailed city map in 300 pages.
Cairo has the only metro system on the African continent. While its two lines are all too limited in scope, they're a major boon in the areas they do go to and the flat fare of 75 piasters per trip is a steal. The key interchanges are Mubarak, at Midan Ramses, and Sadat, below Midan Tahrir. Note that in each train, the first car is reserved for women.
The fleet of black-and-white taxis that ply Cairo's streets are convenient but a hassle: communication can be an issue and, since cabbies systematically refuse to use their meters (understandably, since the official rates are completely unrealistic), prices certainly will be. Try to get a taxi on the fly instead of those loitering outside 5-star hotels and restaurants to minimize price inflation. Using a big hotel as your destination may also inflate the price. Always choose the taxi, don't let the taxi choose you. There are two basic tactics: 1) agree on a price beforehand, which may prevent ripoffs but will mark you as a tourist and probably result in a long negotiation, or 2) get in, state your destination, and pay an approximation of the local fare once you get there. A rule of thumb is 3 LE for short trips, 10 LE for longer ones, where length is measured in distance or time. As an example, the cost from Zamalek to Midan Tahrir should be 3-4 LE, from Zamalek to Midan Hussein (Islamic Cairo) is 8-10 LE. Cabbies usually expect more money (1 or 2 LE) for ferrying more people. If you decide not to negotiate the price beforehand (this is the better method) be ready to jump ship and/or bargain hard if the cabby brings up the fare after you are in the car. They rarely accept more than 4 people to a taxi.
The large red, white and blue public buses cover the entire city and are much cheaper, but are usually crowded. However, there are the similar air-conditioned buses that charge 2 L.E. for the trip and prohibit standing on the bus. They can be found in the main squares in Cairo. Also found in main squares are the smaller mini-buses that are usually orange and white or red, white and blue.
Ride a boat along the Nile river. Negotiate a fair price of no more than 10LE for about a half hour. A great way to relax and enjoy a night under the stars in Cairo.
Have a coffee, mint tea or Cola at El Fishawy's coffee shop in Khan el Khalili. Smoke a Shisha pipe (you simply hire them: try apple tobacco) and watch the world go by. Great cheap entertainment.
Withdrawing cash is relatively easy in Cairo: ATMs are conveniently located in various places throughout downtown. Moreover, the publically accessible foyers of all the five star hotels downtown (the Nile Hilton, the Seimeramis, etc.) all have secure ATMs.
Cairo has a fast-growing number of Western fast food outlets available - these are, incidentally, some of the best places to see young Cairenes relaxing together, as fast food restaurants are apparently considered amongst the hippest places to hang out.
For a convenient experience of Egyptian cuisine, travelers should visit one of the Felfela chain of restaurants throughout Cairo. The original (and probably the best) is located Downtown:
You should try Fakhfakhenna (a kind of fruit salad), and also Karkadeeh, sugarcane juice, mango, kharoob and Tamr hindi. Also available are green tea and red tea, which are popular in café shops.
Hotel El Hussein 5918089, Hussein Square at the Khan El-Khalili bazaar is a clean basic hotel in an interesting area. Prices from EL 45 for single rooms with shared baths on each floor to LE 75 for doubles with en suite bathroom. AC is extra, but the ceiling fans works well. Ask for a room with a balcony.
The main post office of Cairo is located on Midan Ataba (open 7am - 7pm Sa - Th, 7am - 12 noon Fr and holidays). The poste restante office is to be found along the side street to the right of the main entrance to the post office and through the last door (open 8am - 6 pm Sa - Th, 10am - 12 noon Fr and holidays) - mail will be held for 3 weeks.
There are two kind of mail boxes for international and domestic use. They are typically found on the street in pairs, coloured red and blue. It is said that your mail will be delivered no matter which one you use.
The Internet is a rapidly growing concern in Cairo as in many other Egyptian and Middle Eastern cities. There is now a profusion of established internet cafés and venues, with many more opening for business each month. You should have absolutely no difficulty finding a suitable internet outlet for email and other services. A growing number of cafés provide wireless internet service. (Consult district guides for suggested venues).
The normal price for one hour in downtown net cafes is between 3LE and 5LE:
Avoid the City of the Dead after dark. Women should avoid it at all times unless traveling with someone who knows what he's doing there.
You can walk around the main streets anytime you feel like roaming its fairly safe and you always find lots of people around smiling and offering to help (preferabilty for women to walk in a company of someone).