How to succeed in Cairo
With nearly Twenty million people crowded into the largest city in Africa and the Middle East, Cairo is chaotic at best. The sprawl can be quite frustrating to those unaccustomed to the city. But with a little help, a business trip to Cairo can be turned into a manageable, if not enjoyable, situation.
At The Airport
There’s no sign posted in the arrivals hall, but you’re probably going to need to purchase a fifteen dollar entry visa. Make a beeline for the Banque Misr kiosks in immigration to get this done – you’ll save a lot of time, and the embarrassment of briefly being turned away by customs officers. Taxis are available outside the arrivals hall, but it can be a pain to negotiate a reasonable fare, not to mention the ride might not be too comfortable in a beat-up old Peugeot. Instead, ask your hotel to arrange transport for you or get an official airport limousine for the trek into town.
Don’t bother with the severely-battered fleet of mostly-black cabs that ply Cairo’s streets – they don’t use meters and will often try to extort first-time (and even veteran) visitors. Instead, be on the lookout for white cabs with black checkers running across their midsection – these cabs are usually newer sedans and all have meters. If you don’t speak Arabic, try to have your destination written down for you, or better yet, somebody on hand to give the cabbie directions over the phone.
At rush hour, the city’s underground metro rail service (Africa’s only one!) becomes essential to beat Cairo’s snarled traffic if you’re in a rush. It’s a hot and crowded option, but it only costs LE1 and can whisk you from one side of the Nile to the other in mere minutes while motorists could idle en route for up to an hour. It’s a rare – and most welcome – example of efficiency in Cairo.
While many make the claim, only a few cities never actually sleep. Cairo is one of them. Although, with the inevitable hassle that getting things done in the city can entail, a nice night of relaxation might be the best bet. Nileside venues such as Sequoia in the upscale neighbourhood of Zamalek are chic and sophisticated – an excellent spot to look at the lights of the city while enjoying a beer or shisha. If you’re still feeling energetic, many of the city’s hotels have 24/7 casinos and belly dancing shows that can edge into the early hours of the morning.
“Many businessmen are young and dynamic and aware of modern ways of doing business, while some may be more comfortable doing things the old-fashioned way,” says Amira Salah-Ahmed, the business editor of Daily News Egypt. “This is relative and varies from one office to another, so try to find out in advance and be prepared to go either way.”
As is often the case in other parts of the Middle East, punctuality cannot always be relied upon and lateness should not be taken as an insult, especially when one looks at Cairo’s daily mess of traffic jams. “It’s a reality people deal with every day and it won’t go away anytime soon,” says Salah-Ahmed.
Bird Cage is one of the most tranquil spots in Cairo. Tucked in the five-star Semiramis Intercontinental, the wood-panelled surroundings and ambient sounds of trickling water make the chaos of Cairo seem far away. Not to mention its Thai food, which is some of the best in the region.
Save at least one lunch to duck into the local neighbourhood koshary shop. It’s not haute cuisine, but the simple-yet-delicious mishmash of pasta, lentils, chickpeas, fried onions and tomato sauce is a must-try Egyptian street delicacy.