Egypt travel: Is it safe to visit and what are your rights if you have a trip booked?

The popular tourist destination borders Israel and the Red Sea, both of which have seen conflict in recent days and months

Chris Wilson
Tuesday 16 January 2024 10:13 GMT
Egypt approached to act as a mediator between Israel, Hamas militants

Tourists with trips booked to Egypt may be wondering whether it’s safe to travel to the country’s popular cities and resorts amid ongoing conflict in neighbouring Israel and Gaza, as well as recent airstrikes from US and UK forces against Houthi rebels in Yemen.

The main tourist areas in Egypt are still considered to be generally safe. The country has kept its borders open, and airlines and holiday companies are continuing to operate in the country.

Egypt has so far avoided being drawn into the conflicts, despite its proximity to the Red Sea and the Israeli airstrikes that hit the area near the border with Gaza in October.

Houthi rebels have been attacking Red Sea shipping since mid-November, with the UK and US launching retaliatory strikes in the last few days. On 14 January, David Cameron raised the prospect of further UK airstrikes in Yemen.

But what is the current situation, and what are your rights if you have an upcoming trip booked? Here are the key questions and answers.

What is happening in the Red Sea?

Houthi rebels – a Yemen-based group backed by Iran who have been fighting the government since 2014 – have been attacking Red Sea shipping with drones and missiles since 19 November, in what was originally claimed to be targeted action against Israeli interests in support of Palestine.

Once they began to attack ships indiscriminately, the US mobilised a naval coalition to protect shipping. According to the UK Ministry of Defence, 15 per cent of global seaborne trade passes through the Red Sea.

On 11 January, US and UK forces bombed several Houthi sites in Yemen, in the south of the Red Sea. On 15 January, tensions were raised further when Houthi rebels struck a US-owned ship in the Gulf of Aden.

How far is Israel from Egypt?

The nearest major tourist site to the Israeli border is Sharm el Sheikh, over two and a half hours away (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Though Israel directly borders Egypt, most of the country’s major cities and tourists sites are a substantial distance away, and so Egypt has avoided much of the Israel-Gaza conflict.

Sharm el Sheikh is the closest destination, though it is still over two-and-a-half hours’ drive away from the nearest border town and over five hours away by road from the area around the Gaza border. Cairo, Alexandria, Hurghada and Luxor are even further away.

Are flights to Egypt operating as normal?

Flights from the UK to Egypt are still operating as planned, though may be subject to delays from non-related events.

The usual flight path from the UK to Egypt goes down through Italy and across the Mediterranean, and does not enter Israeli airspace.

What if I have booked a package holiday to Egypt?

Package holidays are operating as usual. If you have an upcoming trip booked and want to postpone, get in touch with your tour operator or holiday provider; they may offer some flexibility. However, if not, there is currently no grounds for travellers to expect a refund if they cancel, nor to claim the money back through travel insurance, as the Foreign Office (FCDO) has not issued a blanket “avoid all non-essential travel” advisory for Egypt as it has done for Israel.

If FCDO advice changes to advising against all travel, you can cancel a package holiday without penalty for a full refund.

What is the Foreign Office travel advice for Egypt?

The most recent FCDO advice was published on 12 January. Regarding activity in the Red Sea, it said that “military activity is currently underway in response to attempts by Houthi militants to prevent movement of international shipping in the Red Sea.

“While the area of activity is limited to the Red Sea and Yemen, there is a possibility that Travel Advice for nearby countries could change at short notice. You should continue to monitor Travel Advice and follow any relevant instructions from local authorities.”

Regarding the conflict in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, the Foreign Office states: “The Israeli government has declared a state of emergency across the whole country. International borders in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPTs) could close at short notice. As a result, the land border into Israel from Egypt at Taba could close with little notice. 

“The Rafah border crossing partially opened on 1 November. This is primarily to facilitate the evacuation of seriously wounded Palestinians and some foreign nationals. We understand that the crossing will continue to be open for controlled and time-limited periods to allow specific groups of foreign nationals, including British nationals, to cross.

“It is for the Egyptian and Israeli authorities to determine who is permitted to cross, and when. Movement to the Rafah crossing and beyond is at your own risk. You should only travel if you judge it is safe to do so.”

Anyone travelling to Egypt should carefully check the most up-to-date advice before travelling.

The FCDO does not warn against travel to any of the main tourist destinations in Egypt, including Cairo, Luxor, Aswan, Alexandria and the two Red Sea resorts of Sharm el Sheikh and Hurghada.

The website references the recent attack in Alexandria, stating that “on 8 October 2023, an Egyptian police officer is reported to have shot and killed two Israeli tourists and an Egyptian tour guide in Alexandria. A third tourist was injured”.

It advises travellers to “remain vigilant at all times”.

The FCDO advises against all travel to destinations anywhere within 20km of the Egypt-Libya border (except for the town of El Salloum, where it advises against all but essential travel) and the Governorate of North Sinai.

It advises against all but essential travel to:

  • The northern part of the Governorate of South Sinai, beyond the St Catherine-Nuweibaa road, except for the coastal areas along the west and east of the peninsula
  • The Ismailiyah Governorate east of the Suez Canal
  • The Hala’ib Triangle and the Bir Tawil Trapezoid
  • The area west of the Nile Valley and Nile Delta regions, except for:

    • Luxor, Qina, Aswan, Abu Simbel and the Valley of the Kings
    • The Governorate of Faiyum
    • The coastal areas between the Nile Delta and Marsa Matruh
    • The Marsa Matruh-Siwa Road
    • The oasis town of Siwa
    • The Giza Governorate north-east of the Bahariya Oasis
    • The road between Giza and Farafra (but they advise against all but essential travel on the road between Bahariya and Siwa)
    • Bahariya Oasis, Farafra, the White Desert and Black Desert

It adds that “terrorists are very likely to try to carry out attacks in Egypt”, and there is a particular risk in North Sinai. It lists five recent attacks between 2022 and 2018 that have taken place in Cairo, the Minya province and near the Suez Canal.

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