In case you haven’t heard, the past several years have been rough for Egypt. For travelers, that means accurate information can be hard to come by. Information about visas, for example, is usually pretty straightforward. Not so for Egypt.
Every website we visited seemed to have different information. This one would say we could get a visa on arrival. That one would say we needed to apply in advance. Another would say we could get a visa on arrival but only at certain arrival points or only for certain areas. With all of that conflicting information we decided to play it safe and get a visa in advance. Unfortunately, there is not an Egyptian embassy or consulate in Jerusalem. We would have to go to Tel Aviv to apply.
We set aside a day, boarded the bus, and made the journey to Tel Aviv. We arrived at the Egyptian embassy just after 11:00AM. It turns out that the embassy is only open from 9:00AM to 11:00AM Sunday through Tuesday. They only accept applications on two of those days, and there is a 24 hour processing time. We would end up making the same journey three days in a row, but we got our visas. We were now ready for the next part of our journey: crossing the border.
Once again, it was difficult to find information. Our plan had been to cross the border at Taba then take a bus or taxi to Cairo. From what we can tell, Taba is the only land crossing currently open to tourists between Israel and Egypt, but the journey between Taba and Cairo is not exactly safe. Everyone we talked with told us that the road between Taba and Cairo was dangerous. There are no tourist buses, and local buses on that route will not take tourists. We talked with one company in Israel that offered a car hire and security detail for the journey. Eventually, we decided to take the long way around. We are not overly cautious travelers, but we are also not looking to put ourselves in harm’s way.
There were no lines at the border crossing. The place was practically deserted. A few Egyptians sat around a plastic table smoking cigarettes. They checked our visas, stamped our passports, and sent us on our way. No lines. No questions. No problems.
A few minutes later we stepped out onto Egyptian soil. Dust blew across the empty highway. I wouldn’t have been surprised to see a tumbleweed. After a short walk along the lonesome road, though, we ran into our old friends the taxi drivers. As we approached they abandoned their lazy posts and quickly swarmed us. There is a bus between Taba and Sharm Al Sheikh, but we were planning to fly out of Sharm and the bus schedule wouldn’t work with our flight. We were at the mercies of the taxi drivers. After about 20 harrowing minutes we managed to talk the price down a little, but not anywhere close to the 200 Egyptian Pounds that it should have cost for a trip to Sharm Al Sheikh. We are always bad at haggling, but in a situations where we don’t have any leverage it’s even worse. It’s not like we could walk away. There was nowhere else to go. So we paid too much, but we made it to Sharm Al Sheikh, boarded our flight to Cairo, and avoided the most dangerous areas of the Sinai Peninsula. And, in the end, it still cost less than a flight from Tel Aviv to Cairo.
If anyone else has made the crossing from Israel to Egypt recently, we’d love to hear about it.