Getting around Cairo is a bit of a nightmare. The city is so big and crowded and everywhere is so far apart. It’s also not a very pedestrian friendly city. Chances are you’ll mainly get around by taxi, though there are also a number of useful spots you can reach by Metro. Luckily, taxis are everywhere, and very cheap.
Types of Cairo Taxi
There are three kinds of taxi in Cairo: black, white and yellow.
Black cabs are the most common, and range in age from antediluvian to reasonably new. Note that with older specimens it’s not unusual to find bits falling off or missing, such as door handles, panelling and so on. It’s recommended you choose one that has, at bare minimum, four wheels. Regardless of age, the black cabs are unlikely to have seatbelts or air-con, and will not have a working meter.
White cabs were introduced a few years back, and are becoming more and more common. They are pretty much day to the black cab’s night: new and clean, with working seat belts and meter, and often with air-conditioning.
Yellow cabs are the least common. They are run by private taxi firms, and aimed mainly at tourists. They all have working meters and air-con, and can be booked in advance. Call 27922349, 27922349, 0111139139 or 16516. They are a little more expensive than the white cabs, so I wouldn’t bother taking them.
With white cabs, the meter starts at LE 2.50. After 1 km it will click on to LE 2.75, and thereafter it’s LE 0.25 every 200 metres (so LE 1.25 per km). The meter will display both the fare and the distance covered, and there is also a timer which kicks in any time the taxi is travelling at less than 5 km/h. This is to factor in heavy traffic and waiting times: every minute is another LE 0.25.
Don’t accept any white cab driver who claims their meter is broken, and make sure it starts on the correct amount. Keep an eye on it during the journey to make sure it’s going up at the right speed – some drivers have their meters ‘clocked’.
With black cabs there are no fixed fares, and the price should take into account distance travelled, time/traffic, and number of passengers. In general, I’d advise visitors to Cairo to negotiate the fare in advance. You are going to have to haggle! The more confident and ‘at home’ you appear in Cairo, the better your fare will be.
In general, visitors should expect to pay something along these lines, though it really does vary:
- Khan al-Khalili: 10 – 15 LE
the Pyramids: 25 – 40 LE
Zamalek: 5 – 10 LE
Dokki or Mohandiseen: 10 LE
the Citadel: 15 – 20 LE
Coptic Cairo: 20 – 25 LE
the airport: 50 – 70 LE
Flagging down a cab
You don’t normally have to go looking for a taxi in Cairo – they will come to you! There are loads of them prowling the streets at all times of day and night, so you’ll never have to wait long to find one.
Flag it down by holding your arm out, palm down. The driver will slow down, and you call out the general area you want to go to, such as Zamalek. You can be more specific once you are in the car.
If the driver’s interested, he’ll flick a grunt at you to tell you to get in. This is the point at which to negotiate the fare if it’s a black cab. If you don’t get the price you want, just wait for the next cab. They’re probably circling around you by now anyway.
It’s usual for men to travel in the passenger seat, though it doesn’t really matter. Women, however, should always sit in the back.
Note that your hotel will be able to arrange a cab for you, though it will almost certainly cost more than flagging one down on the street.
During the ride
The driver may stop to pick up other passengers. It doesn’t affect your fare, and it’s fine to ask him not to.
Driving in Cairo is an act of war, so expect a hairy ride. Your driver will probably smoke, and may well bombard you with all sorts of personal questions. It’s all part of the game.
If you’re in a metered cab, keep an eye on the route you’re taking: it’s not unusual to be taken the scenic route… though of course you need an idea of where you’re going to realise if you’re being taken for a ride. (Sorry!)
Also, and this seems crazy, keep an eye on your driver if he seems tired, and make sure he doesn’t fall asleep! Many drivers work such long hours – and may have multiple jobs – that they are exhausted. I’ve had a couple of drivers fall asleep on me in the past. We were on a bridge once, and I had to grab the wheel. You have been warned!
If you’ve already negotiated the fare or are on meter then no worries, just pay up. Bear in mind the driver might not have change, and certainly won’t want to give you any if he does. If needs be you can go break a note at a nearby kiosk or shop.
If you didn’t arrange the fare yet, which is fine as long as you know what it should be, then get out of the cab before paying. Pass a bundle of the dirtiest, skankiest notes you can find back through the window to the driver, and make sure they’re not nicely sorted – so he has to spend a second or two counting them. By the time he realises he’s lost the chance to overcharge you, you’ll be long gone. Note that if you are using this tactic, it’s best to err on the side of generosity.
The Cairo metro is clean and modern and super-easy to use. Unfortunately it doesn’t cover that much of the city – at present there are only two lines, and a third under construction.
You buy tickets at the station – a journey is 1 LE, regardless of how far you go or whether you have to change trains. The map and signs are usually in English as well as Arabic, and you can always ask for help if needs be.
The Metro gets very crowded during peak hours when people are commuting to and from work, and getting on and off can be quite a struggle. People will push and shove, and try to get on as others are getting off. Unfortunately there’s nothing to do but sharpen your elbows and dive in.
Each train has a couple of women only carriages. Although they are clearly marked, it’s easy to miss the sign in the heat of the moment. It’s a good idea for single women to travel in the women’s carriage. It’s a bad idea for men to travel in the women’s carriage!
Some useful Metro stops for tourists:
- Sadat – for Downtown and the Egyptian Museum
Opera – for the Cairo Opera House complex and the Cairo Tower
Giza – for the Pyramids, though it’s a long way from the site, so you will still need to take a cab
Attaba – for al-Azbakiya Book Market and the Attaba market area. You can walk to Khan al-Khalili from here via al-Muski
Mubarak – for Ramses Train Station
Saad Zaghloul – for Makan
Mar Girgis – for Coptic Cairo
El Maadi – if you want to explore the expat suburbia of Maadi
There are plenty of buses and microbuses careering around Cairo. Their routes are identified by number only, so they can be pretty tricky for tourists to use. They also get very crowded and sweaty, and are not comfortable, so it’s probably best to avoid them unless you want a real Cairo transportation adventure.
Note: Feature photo by ff137.