Thursday, July 12, 2007

How to get in Cairo

Cairo train station

Cairo 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.
Cairo International Airport (IATA: CAI), is well served by Egyptair, the national carrier, and others such as British Airways, Air France, [KLM], Singapore Airlines and Lufthansa. Egypt Air now lands and departs from the domestic terminal, even for international flights.
Getting to downtown Cairo can be a pain. 40 LE is a good price by taxi, and refuse to pay the "ticket" (ie, airport toll) for the driver. For the adventurous, catch a public bus to Midan Tah Rir or Midan Ramses. Walk 5 minutes out of the terminal to the big undercover bus station, and ask a local, but don't catch the notorious green buses. Rides are just under 2 LE. It takes around 1 - 1.5 hours to reach downtown.
Cairo's main railway station - Ramses Station (Mahattat Ramses) - is located on Midan Ramses. Trains run to Cairo from most other regions and cities within Egypt.

Alexandria are served by a large number of departures throug the day. Among the best trains are the Espani which has a morning service from Cairo at 9am. The Espani and Turbobin are the best services, driving non-stop to Alexandria and taking 2 hours and 40 min. The next best service is al-fransawi, which stops at the major Delta cities on the road. Buy tickets one day in advance to be
Going to Upper Egypt, Luxor and Aswan, the Sleeping Trainleave Cairo 8 pm and arriving in Luxor 5.05 am and Aswan 8.15 am. Check the website for more departures, including one three days a week from Alexandria. It's relatively expensive at 60 USD for a bed in a double-person cabin one way. Tickets are bought at the office to your left as you enter the train station from the Metro and taxi station. The tickets are payable in US dollars only (there are no exchange offices at the train station itself).
Going to Upper Egypt, the alternative to the expensive sleeper (or flying) is the ordinary trains. One of these departs at 00.30 to Luxor and Aswan and is supposed to take 10 hours to Luxor and 13 hours to Aswan.
Trains also depart to the canal cities, but buses are much faster.
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 consistency, but not in any official way. Parking houses or official parking spots are rare, but many places people work to look after parked cars. A small tip is expected for this service.
Getting in and out of Cairo, the roads to and from Fayoum and the destert cities in the south-west and Alexandria, Delta and Marsa Matrouh in the north-west are through the Giza and pyramids area, the road to Beni Suueif and Upper Egypt (Aswan, Luxor) is in the south, after Maadi and Helwan. North from Heliopolis are the road to the canal cities (Port Said, Ismailiyya, Suez) and Sinai. Ein al-Sukhn and Hurghada is best reached by the tolled road after New Cairo City.
Buses arrive to Cairo from virtually all over the country. The two main destinations are Midan Ramsis and Turgoman, but vechiles also sometimes stop at other destinations, notably abbasiya. From Midan Ramses and Turgoman it's a quick 5 EP taxi cab ride to downtown, 7-10 EP to Zamalek.
The Turgoman has, from 2007, been renovated into a new, modern indoor station, close to the older one
From Turgoman, hourly services run to the canal cities (2 hrs) and Sharm al-Sheikh. To Sharm, the East Delta is taking approximately 8 hrs. The Superjet is faster, driving non-stop without a break in approximately 6 hrs. Three of the East Delta services continue to Dahab. Fares for the East Delta is approximately 80 EP for foreigners.
Services also go to Taba and Nuweiba, leaving three times daily (including one night services) with prices comparable with the services to Sharm. It takes 6 hrs all the way to Nuweiba.
To the canal cities, Port Said, Ismailiya and Suez, buses go all the time from Turgoman station, costing 20-30 EP. The travel to all destinations takes a little bit more than two hours.
Uncomfortable, but cheap, microbuses leave from Cairo to a large number of destinations. The main garages are Midan Ramsis and al-Marg metro station (for the north-east and Sinai). They are faster and might as such be an option for shorter trips, but have a terrible toll of acccidents. There are also other places these buses leave from depending on your destination, ask locals. Be aware that at least for Sinai, foreigners are prohibted to use the microbus system.

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