Here is the real scoop of Cairo: the place is not very clean, it very busy and never stops, and was a big disappointment. Let me tell you that I traveled on a pretty strict budget so I did not expect 4-5 star American standards - I was very open and wanted to see the "real" Cairo. I did not book myself on a larger tour and chose to do lower end ($55/US) and hostel type accomodations ($25/US) like I did in other parts of Europe. Big mistake.
I arrived at night like most folks (you typically arrive either late at 9 or 10 pm or early at 3 or 4 am) and my hotel was waiting with a sign. Great! We got into the hotel cab and my first view was positive - there were streets with sidewalks, what appeared to be beautiful castle-like structures, and the ride was painless.
I have to say that as a solo female traveler I was a little surprised by all of the mean on the plane. I thought it was odd, but I guess I just wasn't prepared for the culture. I was also a little bothered because in boarding the plane the men just kind of pushed you out of the way to get onboard. My thought "we have assigned seats gentlemen so what's the rush?" While onboard I met a couple from Australia and the husband was originally from Cairo. He explained that in Cairo people are more pushy, and that they aren't as gracious - very little thank yous, or please, etc. He was right. He also said that I could "stick with them" and he would ensure that I got to my hotel. I actually didn't need their help, but I appreciated the offer. He and his wife scheduled a driver for their entire trip - SMART CHOICE.
So, my hotel was right across from the Egyptian Museum and it was pretty cool. The street was one of the main roads and it was pretty busy even at midnight. I was scared to cross the street and describe walking in Cairo as playing Russian Roulette - no one pays attention to stop signs, traffic lights, etc. You literally just have to walk out there and like a game of Frogger just maneuver through the cars as they drive by. SERIOUSLY!
I am a walker and walked for 5-6 hours each day while in Europe, alone and often at night with no problems. In Cairo, I did not feel comfortable walking by myself as a woman even in the day. Why? Because 90% of the people I saw were men, very few spoke English, and the streets were not clean and did not seem safe. Besides, once people found out I was an American you would get swindled and the prices would jump exponentially.
Example: I left my first hotel (they were booked for the rest of the week) and went to my second hotel. I asked the bellman at the hotel to get me a cab. The second hotel told me the rate would be about 5 Egyptian Pounds. The cab drivers kept refusing because the rate was too low. So, we finally found one to take me there for 10 Eyptian Pounds. When I got to the second hotel he tried to charge me 20 Egyptian pounds. I argued with him and had to call the owner of the hotel down to help me. That was just the start of things.
When I decided to go see the Pyramids I was so psyched! But, no one tells you that the streets leading to the Pyramids are dirty, full of trash, and that the people are very, very poor. I saw kids playing in the dirt next to piles of trash, I saw trash lining the bansk of the canals. Now I know why Americans can't drink the water!! I also saw why I didn't see women on the streets of Cairo - most of them stayed close to home and watched the kids. I saw donkeys carrying vegetables for sale, people riding on donkeys, and lots of poverty.
It also helps you understand why the people try to swindle Americans - there doesn't seem to be anything to do except take American tourists' money. So, know your currency. Write down ahead of time 10 Egyptian Pounds = $2 US, 15 Egyptian Pounds = $2.25 US, etc. Then, you know when something is a good deal. For instance, I went on a Nile River cruise and they charged me 35 Egyptian Pounds for an apple juice!!! I think that equals almost $6 US!!!!!
Also, I would recommend that you go as part of a larger tour. The tours probably take you to the highlights and you miss a lot of the other stuff that I saw such as the dirt and filth of the city. I stayed in the Downtown area thinking that I could get out and walk around as I did in other places. Big mistake. Most "convenience stores" (or shacks by the side of the road) don't have prices on the items so people just charge you what they want. You always feel as if you are being taken for a ride. For instance, there are prices for Egyptians and prices for everyone else. I happen to be an African-American woman with light-brown skin and long, curly hair. A lot of people thought I was Egyptian (from lower egypt) and so they would introduce themselves to me in Arabic and quote one price for me. But, when they found out I was American the price ALWAYS jumped.
I met another American traveler who left after being at the Pyramids and paying 50 Egyptian pounds to ride a camel. The owner then started taking pictures of him on the camel and then refused to give him the camera back unless he paid 500 Egyptian pounds! When he refused more camel riders and owners circled around him and he said he was scared because he was in an isolated area away from the crowds (and he's from New York). He remembered a travel guide that said if people in Egypt pull this trick on you start hollering and cussing at them so he did this and then the price lowered to 200 Egyptian pounds. Finally, he threatened to call the police and they gave him the camera back! I know this is true because when I was at the Pyramids I talked a guy down in order to ride the horses at the Pyramids and yet when I got to a certain point he stopped and asked for more money to go further. I guess he felt bad for me, being a woman, because I told him I did not have any more money and he gave me my camera back and let me off the horse. Having to watch your back every minute while on vacation got old very quick!!
The owner at the second hotel said he worked with a "travel agency" to book tours. His prices were good, so I decided to do the Nile River dinner cruise and the Pyramid tour the next day and Old Cairo in the afternoon. My "English speaking tour guide" was his friend who showed up and took me to the dinner cruise in his car. He did not speak good English and it was very bootleg. The cruise was decent and the entertainment was good. The bad: most Americans I met on the cruise felt like me - that Egypt was strange, you had to be suspicious of everyone, and watch your money! It was almost like no one felt or acted like they were on vacation because the environment made you so tense.
The "tour" the next day consisted of another friend driving me in their car to the Pyramids, Old Cairo, and the bazaar. The "tour guide" threw out a few facts and then let me walk around by myself. I did not feel informed, guided, or anything. It was a ripoff. I wish that I had just paid a reputable cab company for a driver and just did it all by myself. I paid $55 for the "tour" and $35 for the dinner cruise. The cruise was ok, but the "tour" also consisted of going to a perfume shop and art shop where they tried to sale me stuff for roughly 350 LE or Egyptian Pounds that I could get at the bazaar for 10 LE. SERIOUSLY!!!