You'll be lucky if you ever get into a taxi in Cairo that has a working meter. The meters were calibrated years ago when petrol was much cheaper, and so now everyone has to guess the price of a journey.
A good rule of thumb is about 1LE for each minute of your journey. We've been living here for four months now and haven't been shouted at by irate taxi drivers since using this rough rule.
Remember that most taxi drivers who operate on the street, not from the tourist hotels, don't own their cars. They might make 120 Egyptian pounds a day and give half to the car owner. A kind tourist who pays 50 Egyptian pounds instead of 20 for the trip might mean the driver can buy a kilo of meat for the family at home.
Cairo is hard for middle-aged fathers who have to work all hours to pay for tuition for their kids. Remember that the next time you think you are being fleeced and pay extra to the decent ones. They deserve it.
Beware of tourist traps:
Me and a group of friends got goaded into taking a camel and horse ride around the pyramids. It was all very cheesy but the pyramids looked great. After half an hour, we were all getting a bit bored and so the young Egyptian lad at the front of the camel caravan decided to slap the back of the lead camel, we went charging through the desert, the horse that I was on was clearly agitated by all of this and bit the rump of the horse in front. The horse in front responded by kicking back at the horse that I was on and clipped me on the shin. Bloody hell, it hurt! When we got back to the stable I had blood running all down my shin. The owner took me into the toilet (reminiscent of the Trainspotting toilet) and applied purple lotion onto my leg - I limped off and sulked behind the sphinx.
No meters. You're meant to know how much a journey costs, and if you don't, you'll get ripped off. Also, be sure to memorise the numbers in Arabic from 1 to 10, so that you can haggle more effectively.
The rough rule of thumb for knowing how much a certain journey should cost - roughly, a trip from Zamalek to Tahrir would be about 5 Egyptian pounds. This isn't a long journey and takes maybe 10 minutes, depending on traffic. 5 Egyptian pounds is about 50 pence. Longer journeys, especially to tourist destinations, will always give inflated prices, but try to haggle them down. You can also pre-agree the prices for longer journeys, but it's trickier for quicker inner-city taxi rides.
Further, when you get a taxi from the airport, it's very important to disregard the first couple of drivers who offer you their taxi, so that you build some credibility. 50 Egyptian pounds isn't that bad, especially for westerners just arriving, to get a taxi to your hotel in the city, but if you can get it lower, so much the better. The reason it's more expensive from the airport isn't just the distance (it's maybe forty minutes) but also the fact that the taxi driver has to pay a couple of entry fees and bribes in order to be inside the airport area at all.
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