First impressions of Cairo

posted in: Middle East 2023 | 3

Here are some first impressions of Cairo. I arrived this morning, got a ride from the airport to the Cairo Marriott, where I’m staying for the first three nights in Egypt, and walked to a nearby restaurant for lunch. After lunch I came back to my room and desperately needed a nap after two long travel days. I set the alarm for a one-hour nap, and then set it again for another half hour. Then I met Mohamed (“Mo”), our tour leader, and the other folks on the tour. We took a walk around the neighborhood. And then I went to dinner. 


I flew from Istanbul, almost due south. I know this is desert, but I was really shocked looking down from the plane how utterly stark the terrain around the city is. 

I’ve never had an easier time getting into a new country. I’d already gotten my visa online. There were just a couple of people ahead of me at immigration. I handed the officer my passport and visa and said hello. She said nothing. She looked through my passport, stamped it, and handed it back to me without a word. Then another officer checked my passport to verify that it had been stamped, and at customs I handed my passport to a third officier, who asked me if I had anything to declare I said no, and he said welcome. He didn’t even make me put my luggage through the x‑ray machine. And I was through. The whole thing didn’t take more than two minutes.

I arranged a ride using Viator, and was soon on my way to the Cairo Marriott, where our group is staying for the next three nights. A few things I observed on the way:

  • Lane markers are merely a suggestion. Drivers pretty much drive anywhere on the road they want.
This is a two-lane road.
  • Honking the horn is a national pastime. Later, when I was walking to lunch along a busy street, it was a non-stop chorus of beeps. Just saying “I’m here” or “I’m going over there” or “Want a taxi?” or “I can honk more than you.”


The Cairo Marriott is a huge business-class hotel. It’s not the kind of place I would want to stay to get a feel for life in a new city. It’s jam-packed with tourists, with rooms in two 19-story towers. There are thirteen restaurants, bars, and cafés, a vast array of shops and business services, at least five different ATMs, two banks, a pool, a fitness center, a business center, a spa, a hair salon, and 24-hour room service.

There are also metal detectors at every entrance, though I have repeatedly walked through with my phone in my pocket, setting off the alarm, and have been ignored every time.

When the driver pulled up toward the reception entrance, he stopped at a gate and popped the trunk so a guard could inspect. I have no idea what they are looking for.

The city

I guess Cairo is a lot like other big cities. I’ve seen pretty neighborhoods and derelect housing. But I get the sense that there are a lot of very poor people. I’ve read enough to know that poverty abounds in Cairo, and I saw enough to know much of it is abject. I tried to take some photos out the car window on the drive from the airport.

Apartment buildings from the 1970s. I think there were about 20 or 30 of these all in a row.

The Nile River

I’d liked imagining how the Nile River is surrounded by grassy park land, creating a real urban oasis.

That was only my imagination. See the pic at the top of this post. And this, which is across the street from the hotel.

At least there’s some green. And across the river are some trees. Yay!

Mo and the group

I’m looking forward to getting to know all the people I’ll be spending the next two weeks with. There are six couples and me and one other solo traveler. 

The food

Based on my first two meals, I am pleased to report that the food is very good.

Koshari, which I had for lunch at Zooba, a kind of hole in the wall with a very friendly staff. Koshari is Egypt’s national dish and a popular street food. Pasta, Egyptian fried rice, vermicelli and brown lentils, topped with tomato sauce and garlic vinegar and garnished with chickpeas and crispy fried onions. With a bottle of water and tip, it was under $3 USD.
Veal and pearl onion tagine, which I had at Abou El Sid. Also in there were carrots and cassava. With a giant bottle of water and tip, it came to just over $10 USD.

I am looking forward to seeing more, learning more, and tasting more.

And those are my first impressions of Cairo.

3 Responses

  1. Abby Bergman

    The start of a great adventure!
    When we were in Cairo 10 years ago, it looked pretty much the way your pictures do.
    We stayed at the Hyatt which is on an island in the Nile. We had a “transportation coordinator” who met us at the airport, checked us in, and opened the door to our room! As you will see, a place of many contradictions. We had a tour guide in Luxor who had a PhD in archaeology. I wonder if wages for college graduates are still so low due to oversupply. I look forward to your posts.

    • Lane

      The Marriott is also on and island called Zamalek. I think the Hyatt is on another island just south of Zamalek called Al Manial.

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