Is it safe to travel to Egypt?

From the Great Pyramids outside Cairo to the ancient sites of Luxor and Aswan on the Nile, and the world-renowned Red Sea resort of Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt holds more treasures for tourists than a mummy’s tomb. But following the upheaval of the Arab Spring, which swept the autocratic leader Hosni Mubarak from power, and a series of deadly terrorist attacks, visitor numbers slumped dramatically and are only now starting to recover.
The Arab Spring, a series of popular revolts that swept the Arab world from 2010 to 2012, resulted in Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood becoming Egypt’s first freely elected president. He didn’t hold the reins of power for long though, deposed just over a year later in a coup involving his armed forces chief, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who now holds the presidency.
Over the last 40 years, Egypt’s reputation has been badly shaken by acts of terrorism, often striking tourists, by several different groups. In 1997, 62 tourists were killed in Luxor by Islamist terrorists, while more recently there have been deadly attacks in the Sinai Peninsula, Sharm El Sheikh, Dahab and Hurghada. Under el-Sisi, who some say fits the strongman mould of previous Egyptian leaders, the security situation has become more stable but travellers are still advised to exercise caution in some areas.

What do our operators say?

Ralph Foulds, from our supplier Encounters Travel:
“Tourism to Egypt has come a long way since the Arab Spring. Classic destinations including Cairo and the Nile between Aswan and Luxor are safe and returning to popularity. Encounters Travel also continue to operate tours that drive up the Nile from Cairo to Luxor, a great route, ideal for repeat visitors to Egypt who want to see a bit more of the country that is little visited by tourists. There are still some security considerations though. In particular the northern half of the Sinai Peninsula should be completely avoided as there are frequent clashes between Egyptian security forces and local armed groups. We always follow government advice and as such do not currently offer any tours in the Sinai Peninsula. The western desert area is also considered unsafe at the moment, heading towards the Libyan border.

One other place to mention that we do not visit at the moment is Wadi Rayan and the Valley of the Whales. This is a spectacular and fascinating World Heritage Site on the edge of the desert only a few hours from Cairo. We love this site as it provides a great contrast to the classic ancient Egyptian sightseeing in an accessible day trip from Cairo. We stay in touch with the Egyptian authorities and hope to offer tours there again soon.

There have been some attacks by local groups in Egypt targeting the Coptic Christian community, including on churches and groups of pilgrims. It is recommended that you take extra care or avoid visiting any churches during religious festival periods such as the Coptic Christmas or Easter dates.”

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What does the UK Foreign Office say?

Current FCO advice is that Egypt’s most popular tourism destinations are largely safe, but the continuing risk of terrorism means people should avoid crowded places, especially during religious celebrations. Only essential travel is advisable to South Sinai or west of the Nile Valley, and North Sinai in particular is considered dangerous. As of November 2018, there are still no direct flights from the UK to Sharm El Sheikh.

Do I need special insurance?

You should always arrange adequate travel insurance before departure. Some providers may not cover you if you plan to visit a country where the FCO advises against ‘non-essential travel’. At the moment, and hopefully into the future, this is not the case with Egypt’s most well known destinations. A specialist insurance provider such as Campbell Irvine Direct will offer specially tailored policies with the standard inclusions for people travelling to countries where there are FCO warnings in place, but note that they may not cover you in the events of rebellion, war or terrorism.

Visiting Sharm El Sheikh

The Red Sea resort of Sharm El Sheikh is among the best places in the world for scuba diving and snorkelling because of its spectacular marine landscapes. Visitor numbers slumped dramatically here after a deadly terrorist attack in 2005, and then again in 2015 when a Russian passenger plane flying from Sharm El Sheikh airport to St Petersburg blew up over the nearby desert, thought to have been brought down by a bomb that was hidden on board at Sharm El Sheikh airport. Sharm El Sheikh itself is considered safe for travel, but extra caution is recommended if reaching it by internal flight and some flight restrictions remain in place. You may want to consider travelling by road instead, as it’s only six hours from Cairo.
Written by Rob Perkins
Photo credits: [Page banner: Marc Veraart] [Egypt: Ali Hegazy]
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