EGYPT – The other side: Cairo Garbage City, Cave Church, Dahab’s Nile Island

In this article I take you to the other side of Cairo. In the morning I set foot on Dahab’s Island in the Nile and after lunch I headed to Cairo Garbage City and the cave church. Two parts of Cairo which are not visited by tourists but do show the local life in Egypt. I like exploring things not done by the average tourist. My son joined me this day and the girls stayed at the hotel. Our Egyptian Sidekicks accompanied us again to these places.

Cairo Garbage City

The Cairo Garbage City is located on Moqattam Hill in Cairo. The neighborhood is also called Nanshiyat Nasser and is full of garbage meant for recycling. It is populated since the end of the sixties by the Zabbaleen Coptic Christian community which were moved there to centralize the garbage collection. Zabbaleen means literarily “garbage people”. The Zabbaleen are responsible for the collection of garbage in Cairo. All the garbage of Cairo is collected for a fee and taken to the settlement for sorting, recycling and finally sold.

 

The area had, before 2009, almost a third of a million pigs which would eat (read: sort) the organic waste from the garbage. They were all killed to prevent an outbreak of swine flu in that year. This had a big impact on the people living in Cairo Garbage City as they used to sell the meat to non-muslim hotels. The income generated from this practice is now gone.

Walking through the area will get you a lot of attention and surprised faces; mainly friendly. You will discover that the way the people live is very efficient but in great poverty. Kids playing with garbage in dirty clothes. Actually everyone is dirty because of the garbage you find on the street, in the houses, on the roofs and every other place you can imagine. I spend an hour or two walking through the area and talked to a few persons who could speak a bit of English. Are you interested in seeing more as a regular tourist would and learn about the life of the Garbage People? Then I recommend you to take a walk through this area and see for yourself how the people live there.

Cave Church of St. Simon

Within the Cairo Garbage City you will find a cave church named the Monastery of St. Simon. With the growing Coptic Christian community in the area this large church was built in the seventies. It can seat more than 20.000 people and each year many Christians from the region make a pilgrimage to this church. Next to the main church there are several other small churches and chapels build into the cliffs of the Mokattam hills. A very interesting place to explore in Cairo and unique in Egypt, maybe even the world.

Dahab’s Nile Island

Within the city of Cairo there are a few islands in the Nile which are not developed. Here you can flee into the countryside and see the rural life of Egyptians. I visited the island named Dahab’s Island which is also called the golden island. You can only reach the island by a private boat from the Maadi Corniche. I took a sailing boat to the island and explored it by foot for just over an hour. Once you arrive at the island it seems you are not in Cairo anymore. You will see green fields, cows, donkeys and farmers working in the fields. There are various plans to develop this and other islands in the Nile to urban areas but the local people are against it. When you walk over the island you will understand why. It is a great getaway from the busy streets of Cairo.

 

If you do not like to see off the beaten track things, then these are not for you. If, however, you do like to see new things, local life and are open for some adventure, then be sure to check out these places in Cairo. I would recommend to visit Cairo Garbage City with the cave church in the morning and Dahab’s Island for a quiet afternoon walk amongst farmers. I did it the other way around but this would be a better itinerary. For me these places were a great day trip after the must-see tourist spots and see the real life in Cairo. If you want to know where to eat check out my 6 hotspots in Cairo article and to learn what I did the other days see my Egypt itinerary in and around Cairo.

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Did you visit Cairo Garbage City too or do you have questions? Please leave a comment at the bottom of the page. Love to hear from you!

Gallery Cairo Garbage City and others

Check the gallery for more photos taken during this trip. If you like to use any photo for commercial, private or editorial use please contact first for permission and/or pricing.

GPS Track Cairo Garbage City and others

During my trips I make GPS tracks (sometimes they do not show, click download to open in Google maps). Feel free to download them and see how we moved around and see the time frames at the various places. Hope these maps are of help for you when planning your trips.

13 Comments

  1. I have to agree with Natasha, when I saw the photo of the doll it kind of freaked me out! But this was an interesting read. BTW, its so funny that this was the first article I came across after just watching the movie “Trash” with Martin Sheen. It was actually a very good movie about a 3 friends who scavenge in a trash dump to survive and find a purse with some mysterious clues to an adventure.

  2. These are interesting places, not well-known to the average tourist. Thanks for introducing me to them. Garbage City is like Smokey Mountain in Manila. But the Cave Church I would love to see!

  3. I had never heard about the Garbage city until about last year. Most travel magazines don’t tell you this but it’s a part of Egypt that, I guess, everyone must know to have a better picture of what the country is like as a whole.

    • Victor, I do not agree on that! MAYBE the borders with Libya and the Sinai desert are not the best place to go alone. But for sure all the places along the Nile and the Red Sea are perfectly safe to visit!

      • An attempted suicide bombing of the Luxor temple in Egypt is a hammer blow for the Egyptian tourism industry which has just begun to get back on its feet and needs foreign investment and tourists, Hugh Miles, Middle East specialist and journalist told RT.
        It was in June 10 this year.

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