The best places in the world: Cairo Returns

After a few years of turmoil, Cairo is back. And honestly, now might be the best time to go, before the crowds (of tourists) return … because trust me, the crowds of locals aren’t going anywhere.

Cairo is a madhouse, but in the best kind of way. There’s not a single stoplight in the city, and yet somehow, it all holds together – chaotically, oftentimes maddeningly, but it does. The pollution is intense, the slums that multiplied during years of instability are disconcerting, and the random burro-drawn cart in the middle of a freeway is amusing, but the city charms you, almost in spite of itself. Wander the shaded streets of the island Zamalek, where diplomats and artists used to (and still) live; if you’re thirsty, pop into one of the many cafes for a coffee. Or take a walk through the charming colonial suburb of Heliopolis, its old administrative buildings now full of shops and cafes, bakeries and eateries. If you search hard enough, you’ll find some truly splendid and atmospheric rooftop bars, like something out of a film noir.

Of course, most people come to Cairo for the history, and there’s plenty of it. The Egyptian museum is a delight, but the real stars, naturally, are the pyramids. There might be no better time to visit than now. As tourists haven’t yet returned – mainly due to events in Sinai, quite a ways from the heart of Cairo – the pyramids are nearly vacant of tourists. If you arrive early enough, it’s possible to feel like an early explorer, standing alone with the extraordinary monoliths at the edge of the desert. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Cairo is a crazy, sprawling mess of a city, but this is its appeal. The people are generous (expect lots of free tea!), the architecture is gorgeous (oftentimes covered in elaborate graffiti), and the food is beyond delicious (kosheri is both an Egyptian and personal favorite). After some uncertain years, Cairo’s back.