The number of tourists visiting Egypt is down 41 percent from last year, reaching the lowest it’s been since 2005. With smaller crowds, Egypt is more affordable than ever. If you feel comfortable making the trip, this might be the optimal time to experience the land of pharaohs and pyramids, and enjoy the glorious sunshine and extraordinary Nile. A morning at the Pyramids of Giza is de rigueur, and it’s easy to make a day of it, along with visiting the giant statues of Memphis and the pyramids of Saqqara and Dahshur. Within Cairo, the Egyptian Museum (with its treasures of King Tut) is a must-see, and visitors with a little more time can explore the synagogues, Coptic churches, and stunning mosques and madrassas (Islamic schools).
When comparing hotel prices, be sure to check if all taxes are included, as they are a whopping 24 percent. Also be sure to request (and insist upon) a non-smoking room if that is important to you, you may otherwise find a rooms with lingering cigarette odors.
Best Budget Option
Run by a French-Egyptian woman who keeps things impeccably clean, Pension Roma is in the heart of downtown Cairo. Located in a colonial-style building with old-world charm, the most atmospheric of the 39 rooms are the older ones with ceiling fans, but the seven newer rooms have air conditioning for those who require it. Some rooms have ensuite bathrooms, while others do not, but almost all have balconies. The Egyptian Museum is a 20-minute walk away, and budget foodies should be sure to stop at the renowned Koshary Abou Tarek (on the corner of Champollion and Marouf) on the way back, where they can fill up on Egypt’s national dish of rice mixed with macaroni and black lentils, topped with chickpeas, tomato sauce, and fried onions. Doubles with ensuite bathrooms and air conditioning are $32 including taxes; doubles with a ceiling fan are just $22.
Best Mid-Range Option
The centrally located Novotel Cairo el Borg offers great value for the money. Borg means tower in Arabic, and this four-star hotel is located next door to the 90-story Cairo Tower in Zamalek, which encompasses the northern part of Gezira Island in the Nile River. The hotel is a five-minute walk from the famed Cairo Opera House (and the nearby Opera metro station) and a 15-minute walk from the Egyptian Museum. In addition, the Novotel is ISO-14001 certified (an internationally-recognized environmental management system), and has achieved Silver status in the Accor hotel chain’s sustainability rankings. The swimming pool is on the small side and closes at 6 p.m., but the spacious rooms can accommodate up to four guests, making this a good choice for larger groups. Ask for a room with a view of the Nile, and book taxis and tours outside of the hotel to save on cost. Doubles start at $95.
Avoid the hustle and bustle of downtown Cairo, and stay at the Mena House Hotel in Giza, which is surrounded by 40 acres of gardens and — more importantly — directly across the street from the pyramids. The hotel started as a royal lodge for Egyptian Viceroy Isma’il the Magnificent in the mid-1800s. It was expanded over the years, and opened its doors as the Mena House Hotel in 1883. It has since hosted royalty, heads of state, and celebrities (including author Arthur Conan Doyle). The lobby is richly decorated, with carved furniture, arabesque chandeliers and intricate ceiling reliefs. For those looking for a real splurge, the suites in the Palace section feature traditional detailing, murals, screens, paneling, gilding, wooden balustrades, and arched windows — as well as private butler service. Many rooms have a pyramid view, but it’s also possible to enjoy them (and the evening light show) with a shisha or nightcap on the terrace, or while dining at Khan el-Khalili, which serves traditional Egyptian and Middle Eastern dishes. Mena House is also a convenient base for a day trip to the Saqqara and Dahshur pyramids and the Memphis Museum. Rooms can be found for up to half off their standard rates, depending on the season. Doubles start at $230.