A whirlwind layover in Cairo, Egypt

Between arrival into Cairo and leaving for Johannesburg my wife and I had a layover of about nine hours.

While some might view this as a hindrance we preferred to think with an adventurous spirit and booked a layover tour of the city through Egypt Tailor Made tour company. We estimated we really had about six hours of time between exiting the airport and needing to return, so we made sure to explain that through email communication a few weeks in advance. As you will read at the end, the tour company definitely earned their five star rating on TripAdvisor.

Our arrival into Cairo International Airport was hectic to say the least. The customs area is one large room where the mantra “hurry up and wait” is very evident: there were lines everywhere leading in every which way. It took us a few minutes to get our bearings and we realized one of the sets of lines was to get our visa, which we purchased for $25 each. I had read to bring US cash in advance so it was an easy transaction. Afterward, we waited in line for our customs interview, lasting a minute or two. All told it took about 1.5 hours to get through this mess of logistics and people and end up in the arrivals hall where we met our tour guide who recognized me because of a photo I sent in advance.

During our brief time in the city and its surroundings we visited the pyramids at Giza, saw the Sphinx from afar, learned how papyrus is made, sailed down and up the nile for an hour, visited a local market, and ate pigeon, a delicacy in the city. Our Egyptologist tour guide, Seham, was kind, knowledgeable, and conversational throughout the journey. She made sure we were able to get past security and check-in at various sites quickly because we were running behind, she communicated with locals to make sure we knew where to go and what to do, and helped us negotiate prices for a few souvenirs. While I would love to have spent more time in the city and country, it was great to have her with us for the limited time that we had.

After our tour of the city was complete, we headed over to the airport to check in for our last leg to Johannesburg airport and this is where my idea of schemes gets a bit ridiculous.

I had read in advance that there are no showers in any lounges at Cairo International Airport. Despite the fact that this is an airport in the Middle East and so should have showers to make sure any sweat gathered en route could be washed off, it is also a stopover on the way to many other nearby countries where businesspeople would expect to get washed up.

So, in order to make sure we were washed up before our business class EgyptAir flight, we visited the nearby JW Marriott Hotel Cairo and booked a room to take a shower. We didn’t pay for the room in cash – or even points. Instead, I used a free night certificate for a tier 1-5 hotel from my previous Chase Marriott Rewards card that was expiring in August. Before using it I verified that our travel over the next few months would not have taken us to a location where any hotels within that range would have been available (most in NYC or other urban areas are tier 6 and above) and decided to use it for an hour’s luxurious shower purpose.

Our ridiculousness was rewarded with comfortable beds, free slippers, a bathtub and separate shower, fancy creams, lotions, etc and even a welcome message on the TV with my name on it! Even though we only spent one hour there it was a fantastic use of the free night certificate and I’m glad we got to end our stay in Cairo at that hotel – next time we might stay for longer!