Remember that when you travel abroad, a passport is the most important travel document (apart from flight ticket and visa). So never travel to a foreign land without securing it. Having a Philippine Passport is a bit struggle. Filipinos need to apply for visa before entering Egypt. But in my case, I traveled Cairo, Egypt without passport and visa.
What if the immigration officer allows you to have a short journey but must surrender passport? Would you go for it? I did.
I’m frugal when it comes to booking a flight. The longer the flight the cheaper it cost. As a hardcore traveler, I used to long layovers, transits and sleeping at the airport. Most people don’t know that some airport offers free excursions for layovers above 6 hours. You can also leave the airport in certain countries but always do your research
I was flying out to New York, USA from Kuwait through Egypt Air a member of Star Alliance when I got the chance to visit one of my dream place, Egypt. Take note that Star Alliance is one of the world’s largest global airline alliances so you would expect best services. It was the longest flight I’ve ever had with 19 hours layover in Cairo.
I browsed for people who have experiences with a similar itinerary, found out that most of them arranged complimentary hotel stay by the airline during transit. However, I did not see anything about this when I booked my ticket. I called my FA friend if I could spend my transit time outside the airport but she had no idea about it. I emailed the airline then directed me to Karnak Travel and Tours (subsidiary if Egypt Air) which offers excursion for transit passenger. By chance, I booked a tour as if I can get out of the airport.
At the time of my arrival to Cairo Airport, I was surprised when a person holding a card bearing my misspelled name in the arrival hall is waiting. I was hesitant to approach him because it might not be me. Then, I handed in my passport to confirm my identity. I arrived around 2:00 pm, the guy turns out to be the staff of Karnak Travel and Tours arranged my complimentary hotel with full meals. They also provided me a shuttle service to and from the hotel. Well, the hotel stay is optional. How cool was that, right?
In other words, you can just hang out around the airport if you don’t take the excursion. Here’s the catch, if you choose the hotel stay (outside the airport), the immigration officer at the airport will keep your passport and boarding pass and these will be returned to you once you are brought back from the hotel. I took the chance of course because I don’t have to pay for a visa. Unlike Westerners, they can just easily get a transit visa. Anyways, I brought a copy of my travel documents with me during the trip.
During this visit, EgyptAir brought me to Le Passage Cairo Hotel & Casino. I didn’t waste any time, I left airport around 3 pm and dropped my luggage at the hotel then went straight to see the Pyramids. As you remember, I have arranged a tour. Even though they are selling overpriced tour package, still it is worth it.
If you have a very limited time, I would recommend having a guide with you. They can keep you out of the places you should not be. No trip to Egypt is complete without seeing the pyramids as they say. Because of Cairo’s terrible traffic, we reached Giza late afternoon. Although, I wasn’t able to get in but seeing the pyramids from afar was a dream come true moment. I also witnessed sound and light show at the pyramids. It was magical. I had a quick visit to their grand mosque. Later that night, I had a Nile river cruise. It was a fabulous two hours sailing while enjoying the lights of downtown Cairo. Delighted by the chef’s menu and entertained by a folklore show with belly dancers, it was amazing.
I made my 18-hour layover to Cairo worthwhile. I went back to the hotel late at night and enjoyed their amenities. Morning has come, left the hotel early to catch the flight to my final destination, New York.
Bottom line, you can always make use of your transit time. It is definitely a doable thing even if you only have an 8-hour layover but hire a guide to avoid getting fooled by tourist traps.