Accessible Egypt Touring by wheelchair has its ups and downs

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Egypt may seem like an unlikely holiday destination for travelers who use wheelchairs for good reasons. Some of the nations most famous sites have limited access, such as the inside of the Pyramids and tombs. Trying to reach temples and some of the desert oases may also seem intimidating. Intimidating, but not impossible.

The main problem we face in Egypt is that wherever you go, there is always the chance of finding a patch of stairs or sand that is difficult for the disabled to negotiate, says Martin Gaballa, one of the founding members of Egypt for All, a Cairo-based company that specializes in providing accessible tours for the disabled.

courtesy of Egypt For All
High-traffic tourist sites like the Pyramids have pavement and special areas for wheelchair users.

With a lot of planning, patience and a strong sense of adventure, wheelchair users roll through the alleys of the Khan El-Khalili with their companions just like the 6 million other tourists who stroll through each year.

The push for accessible travel opportunities in Egypt has largely come from the outside, led by tour operators overseas who specialize in packages for disabled travelers.

courtesy of Egypt For All
It is easier and cheaper to have a vehicle modified in Egypt than to import a wheelchair-accessible van.

We have thought about the possibility of an accessible tour to your wonderful and fascinating country, says Irv Segal, director of The Guided Tour, USA. If you are able to finalize such a package with all the arrangements working with absolute comfort and precision we would certainly be interested.

Though industry professionals in Egypt are slowly becoming more aware of accessible tourism, the field is still in its infancy.

courtesy of Egypt For All
Lesser-visited spots like Saqqara will have more limited access.

Hotel Hurdles

For instance, Egyptian law stipulates that 5 percent of the rooms in all hotels should be handicapped accessible. In reality, the number of rooms and facilities available can vary. (See box Accessible Hotels in Egypt.)

courtesy of Egypt For All
It is possible to have a van drive on to Citadel grounds for a visit to Mohamed Alis mosque.

Some hotels in Cairo have elevators and rooms that are spacious enough to accommodate a wheelchair, but the rooms may not have wide or automatic doors that open outwards. In some cases, the elevators themselves are not accessible, located a few steps up from the lobby area. Another oft-overlooked detail is whether the poolside and health clubs are accessible, along with the restaurant.

Most international tour operators insist on knowing these details before they put Egypt on the map of accessible destinations as should you if you are trying to arrange for wheelchair accommodations.

courtesy of Egypt For All
When the elevators work, the Egyptian Museum is accessible. In a pinch, however, you can always find help.

There were years in the beginning when promised arrangements did not run smoothly and as expected. As a result, I do not finalize any new trips until I have had the opportunity to experience the trip myself, explains Segal.

A number of Cairo hotels are listed as having wheelchair facilities available. While there may be three- and four-star hotels with accessible rooms, those in the five-star category are recommended for their consistency in services. If you are looking for a wheelchair-accessible room, you should reserve three months in advance to make sure the hotel can accommodate your needs.

courtesy of Egypt For All
You would never know it on a Thursday night, but the Khan El-Khalili alleys are wide and well-paved. During slower periods, there is plenty of room for wheelchair users to maneuver.

Navigating Downtown

Because of the prohibitive costs of importing specialized accessible coaches in Egypt, vans with wheelchair lifts and electric ramps are generally nonexistent. Most accessible tour companies have vans modified in a workshop by removing seats, attaching clamps for securing wheelchairs, and adding portable ramps for getting in and out of the vehicle.

courtesy of Egypt For All
You would never know it on a Thursday night, but the Khan El-Khalili alleys are wide and well-paved. During slower periods, there is plenty of room for wheelchair users to maneuver.

Airplanes are the best way to cover long distances in Egypt, but there are few terminal-side boarding gates for domestic flights. Passengers usually board and deplane via a portable staircase.

With prior and special permission, it may be possible to drive a lift-equipped bus right up to the tarmac, subject of course to the discretion of airport staff on duty that day. These buses can offload wheelchair passengers from the aircraft and drive them to the terminal. This service is available in Cairo, Luxor, Aswan, Hurghada and Sharm El-Sheikh airports but may be reserved for group arrivals. Individual travelers may find their only option is to be carried off the plane flight attendants and airport staff can help coordinate assistance.

Tooling Around

Since the days when Thomas Cook wandered the Nile, Egypt has made some great strides in mainstream tourism. Nevertheless, there are less than a handful of tour operators who organize trips for travelers with special needs.

Memphis Tours has one division catering to accessible tourism; Wings Tours has guides for blind and deaf tourists. Egypt for All, affiliated with Sobek Travel, organizes only accessible tours in Egypt and has extensive experience with wheelchair users. The mission statement on Egypt For Alls website reads, We are determined to make it possible for everyone to enjoy Egypts wonders.

Gaballa points out that each individual is different. No matter what arrangements you have made, you have to be able to improvise on the spot. Apart from spare wheelchairs, a special portable toilet and aluminium ramps, Gaballa also carries a toolkit that is made up of some unlikely objects.

The Egypt For All guide recalls an incident when he was taking a client on a four-night safari across the White Desert. She had told Gaballa that she was wearing prosthetic limbs on both her legs. What he didnt know was that the artificial limbs were powered by a battery. Midway through the safari, the battery ran out and she could no longer move her legs, he recalls, I had to stop and charge the batteries in her legs using a wire that I connected to the battery of the jeep.

Forewarned is Four-wheeled

Travel Today Egypt assessed some of more popular tourist sites in Cairo and Alexandria, and the challenges that a wheelchair user may encounter.

The Pyramids of Giza can be toured from outside on wheels, but theres no rolling access to the chambers inside. The slope leading into the tomb is too narrow and steep and does not have enough head clearance. The nearby solar boat museum, opened in 2001, has been made more accessible with ramps. Likewise, the sound and light show at the pyramids has a special area in the front designated for those in wheelchairs.

The Egyptian Museum has ramps at the entrance, an elevator to the first floor, and wide doors to most of the exhibit areas. The highly popular Tutankhamun exhibit on the first floor is accessible, however, the Mummies room is not. A major drawback is that the museum has no wheelchair-accessible washroom.

There is wheelchair access along most of the cobblestone alleys of Khan El-Khalili bazaar. It is advisable to avoid the evening rush hour when most of the tour buses drop their passengers off for an hour or two of shopping.

Memphis and Saqqara are more or less accessible by wheelchair, though you risk getting stuck in sand. The ride to this site is about 45 minutes from downtown Cairo and may be a little arduous for some. Plan wisely with air-conditioning, loose clothing and ample water.

St. Georges church and the Coptic Museum in Coptic Cairo are partly accessible, while the Hanging Church and other landmarks can only be reached by flights of stairs. If your van is permitted to drive up into the Citadel, you only need to negotiate two big steps to enter the hall of the mosque. The rest of the area may not be accessible.

For a Nile dinner cruise, the Nile Peking boat has its Chinese restaurant four steps below ground level. Once aboard, you can navigate your way through the entire restaurant, including the wheelchair-accessible washroom.

For the open-air experience, try the felucca docks on the Maadi Corniche, where the ground is almost at level with the Nile. Closer to downtown, the docks along the Corniche near the Grand Hyatt hotel are located at the bottom of steep flights of stairs.

Of the 350 Nile Cruise ships sailing between Luxor and Aswan, there is currently only one ship, Amarco I, that has accessible cabins and facilities on board. Getting off and on from the boat for day excursions at the temples along the Nile may present a challenge.

There are usually several boats docked beside each other, and at times you may have to cross over seven boats to get to land, Gaballa explains. The crew and attendants on the boat usually lend a helping hand.

In Alexandria, the Bibliotheca Alexandrina is completely accessible. The ruins of the Roman amphitheater is an enjoyable open-air site, but with limited access for wheelchairs. The site encompassing Pompeys Pillar, Cleopatras bath and the papyrus library may be accessible with assistance as the path to these areas are unpaved and uneven.

In the Graeco-Roman Museum, many of the displays, including the original busts of Alexander, Hercules, Julius Caesar, Cleopatra and some brilliant medieval pottery, are located on the ground level. Montazah Palace, the summer home of King Farouk, is set amidst sprawling gardens, with accessible walkways winding through them.

Gaballa says there are other tour programs that are popular among travelers with special needs, including diving, snorkeling and boat trips on the Red Sea; beach holidays in El Gouna; desert safaris and more.

Most encouraging is the fact that the government has taken some initiatives to assist those with special needs. For example, there is now a separate counter for the elderly and disabled at Passport Control in Cairo airports arrival halls.

There are certainly physical challenges to touring Egypt with a wheelchair. But in the end, the combination of Egyptian hospitality and ingenuity makes this country extremely accessible. 

Related Articles:
Accessible Hotels in Cairo
Accessible Tourism companies

Picture of Accessible Travel in Egypt linking to Photo Gallery
Claudia Ehlers

 Clothing  Requirements vary according to season. During the day summer clothes are sitable. In winter you will need lightweight wool clothes and pullovers, whilst in Clothingthe summer light cotton clothes and comfortable shoes are recommended. It is also advisable to take sun glasses and protective head gear, a hat or a cap and sun cream for protection against the harsh rays of the sun. T.. Read More



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