Getting Around in Cairo
by Jimmy Dunn
With special thanks to Cam McGrath for his contributions to this article.
Ah, to be rich. Simply step outside the five star hotel, and take the taxi which awaits me at the doorstep anywhere I want to go in Cairo. Unfortunately, there is perhaps no more expensive way to get about in this great city. Common taxis are much more affordable, and better yet, take the longer trips on the metro and leave the taxis for short hops.
Taxis in Cairo
Black and White Taxi: They're very rundown but are the cheapest taxi for short distances
There are three main types of Taxis in Cairo. The first type is the old black and white taxis. These have no meter, and the price of the trip is usually this known fact by everyone. It depends on the length of the journey and the traffic. Simply stand at the side of the road and at the sight of an approaching taxi point one hand towards the road. The taxi driver will slowly cruise past you. As he does, yell out a district or landmark near your destination (eg. Al-Azhar) and if the driver is inclined to head there he will stop for you.
Solo males should sit in the front seat next to the driver. It is customary for solo females to sit in the back seat. Once inside, name your specific destination. Only tourists discuss price at this point, as to do so ensures that the driver will spend the entire trip haggling for a high fare. If the driver insists on knowing how much you will pay, name your price. If he, or in the rare case, she, doesn't like it you can get out and find another cab.
If you follow these instructions and the driver protests vehemently, he is either exceptionally determined to gouge you, or you have genuinely underpaid him. If you are certain he is trying to gouge you, threaten to take the matter to the tourist police, something all cabbies fear, and he will usually back down. Keep in mind that many factors affect rates such as traffic, number of passengers, luggage, time of day, remoteness of destination. However, please note that the majority of taxi drivers are polite, shy and satisfied with what they get, providing the fair offered is close to reasonable.
Where you hail your cab does make a difference. The myriad of taxi drivers relaxing on their hoods in front of Cairo's five-star hotels can afford to rest. They usually charge double, sometimes triple, the going rate and even Egyptians are made to pay this rate. Walk 100 yards from the hotel and stand by a busy street and the prices plummet. Beware of the black and white big Peugeot 504 service' taxis. While these extra roomy cabs are great if you have a large group or lots of luggage, they also charge twice the going rate and adamantly demand LE10 for short hops.
Heres a list of standard black and white taxi fares (vary according to time and traffic. Note that Tahrir Square is central downtown, location of the Ritz Carlton and the Egyptian Antiquities Museum):
Tahrir Square to the Citadel - 7 to 10 LE
Citadel to the Khan el-Khalili - 5 to 8 LE
Tahrir Square to Al-Hussein (Khan al-Khalili) - 6 to 8 LE
Tahrir Square to Mohandiseen - 8 to 10 LE
Tahrir Square to Ramses Station - 5 to 7 LE
Tahrir Square to Maadi (Grand Mall) - 15 to 20 LE
Tahrir Square to Giza Pyramids - 15 to 20 LE
Tahrir Square to Old (Coptic) Cairo) - 10 to 12 LE
Tahrir Square to Zamalek - 7 to 10 LE
Tahrir Square to Heliopolis - 20 to 30 LE
Tahrir Square to Airport with bag handling - 65 to 75 LE
Dokki to Zamalek - 7 to 10 LE
Dokki to Manyal Palace - 5 to 7 LE
Ramses Station to Nasr City (Ginena Mall) - 20 to 25 LE
Ramses Station to Heliopolis (Horreya Mall) - 20 to 25 LE
Garden City to Giza Zoo - 4 to 6 LE
Garden City to Zamalek - 5 to 7 LE
The second type is the new white taxis. These are the revamped versions of the black ones. They have air conditioning, a meter (make sure the driver sets it when you get in though) and are newer safer cars. However, when you dont know the way they tend to take the longer route to get you to pay more. Its not uncommon to tip the drivers of those taxis. Those two types of taxis you can stop on any main street. Try not to catch taxis right outside of hotels though as they tend to overcharge you.
White Taxi: Newer cars with meters and most of them air conditioned
The last type of Taxis is the yellow ones. These also have a meter but you call them by phone through a company and they come to you wherever you are. These are the most expensive ones of course. You can ask the front desk at your hotel to call them for you; its best to call a couple of hours in advance.
Yellow Taxi: If you find one on the street he might stop for you, but they normally work through reservation.
Basic taxi talk:
I want to go to ... = ana ayiz aruuh ...
Do you know ...? = inta arif ...?
Straight = ala tuul
Turn/go left = khosh shemalak
Turn/go right = khosh yemeenak
Stop here (here is fine) = hena kwayyis
Please = min fadlak
Thank-you = shukran
To the Airport = lil mataar
OK = Mashi
There are two types of buses in Cairo the standard bus and the more expensive air conditioned CTA (Cairo Transport Authority). You can catch either of them in the designated bus stops or at any point on the street you can usually hail a bus (yes, this is true). Also, it isnt really clear which buses go anywhere. People figure it out by having someone on the bus yelling the areas it goes to, or certain hand gestures. If you dont speak Arabic or know the city well though you can always just tell the place you want to go to the driver and they would help you out.
CTA Bus: These buses are easy to spot and go all over the city
Every drivers worst nightmare; they drive horribly so you have to be ready for a wobbly ride. They are faster than regular buses and can go to smaller streets though. Its easier to use these than buses if you dont speak Arabic.
Microbus: These get into smaller streets than the big buses, and you're always guaranteed a seat.
The Cairo Metro
Cairo has two metro lines (and one under construction that will take people from the airport to Lebanon Square. This will change lives). The metro lines extend vertically and horizontally across the city. The metro system runs efficiently. It is without doubt the quickest and cheapest way to transverse the city, costing just 1 L.E. There are also nominal discounts for re-usable tickets for 10 journeys or more. Of course the metro wont get you everywhere but it will get you around. Its very cheap, fast and safe. It is very recommended to use. Note that the first two carts of every train are only for women. That is not for religious reasons, but to encourage women to use the metro since they usually experience some harassment on buses. Also, women can ride on all the carts not just the ones designated for women. So if youre a man try not to get in one of these carts, however if you look foreign most women would probably not comment and just assume you arent aware of the rule. Using the metro in Cairo is the same as anywhere in the world, you go to the station, get a ticket, find the right track, and get on the train. Metro tickets can be purchased at any of the kiosks in the station.. The kiosks are one of the best places in Cairo to make change, once you get a ticket, feed it into the turn style upon entering, and hang onto it until exiting.
The metro operates daily from about 5:30 am to half past midnight. Intervals between trains vary throughout the day, but waits are never more than 15 minutes. Breakdowns are infrequent, but trains sometimes linger at stations for no apparent reason. Delays are also caused by riders holding the doors open for friends behind them, sometimes far far behind them.
The two metro lines vary slightly. The older French-built line running from El-Marg to Helwan has 32 stops, its downtown stations being underground while the rest are on the surface. The underground platforms are comfortably warm in the winter and stuffy, humid and hot in the summer when the only breezes come from passing trains.
The newer Shoubra-Cairo University line is better and it has 18 stops. Consider yourself lucky if your daily commute uses this line.
Key metro stops. Also see map :
Some useful exits:
Ground zero downtown, this station is under Midan Tahrir and just minutes from the Egyptian Museum, Ritz Carlton, American University and Nile Corniche. Its tunnels double as a pedestrian underpass. This is where the two metro lines meet.
This station further south is a useful departure point because it is within walking distance of the ninth century Mosque of Ibn Tulun, one of the oldest Islamic structure preserved in Cairo, and a further walk will take energetic tourists to the Citadel, Al-Refa'i Mosque.
Good for visits to this affluent suburb, but most of the district requires a car. However, the fifth century Church of the Holy Virgin is only a 15 minute walk from the station.
This is the last stop. Once a health resort of some renown with curative sulphur springs the suburb has now become an industrial area.
Japanese built Shoubra
Cairo Railway Station itself is worth a visit. The building is of historical interest being the first terminal in the Middle East; it was built in the reign of Khedive Ismail in 1851. Round the corner is the little-known Railway Museum. It is a two-story building that dates back to 1933 and covers transportation in Egypt from ancient to modern times.
Mohamed Naguib Station
Exit here for Abdeen Palace which was built in the reign of Khedive Ismail between 1863 and 1879, taken over by the government after the 1952 Revolution and recently converted into a national museum.
Opera (Gezira) station
Exit this station for the Opera House. There is an Opera ticket counter in the subway and one exit leads directly into the Opera House garden which is adorned with statues of Egyptian celebrities in the field of culture.
The station to exit for the Mohamed Mahmoud Khalil Museum in Giza Street
For more information on Cam McGrath
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Last Updated: August 21st, 2011