Egypt is aiming to put its capital city back on the tourism map with the new Cairo Eye, the largest observation wheel in Africa and the fifth-largest in the world. By Stephanie Vermillion
Cairo Eye riders will climb nearly 400 feet above Zamalek, a posh district on Gezira Island, just a bridge away from downtown Cairo. Like the world’s four tallest observation wheels — found in London, Dubai, Las Vegas, and Singapore — Cairo’s wheel promises bird’s-eye views for up to 31 miles (49.8 kilometres) on clear days. That puts the Great Pyramid of Giza and the Sphinx (under 15 miles or 24.1 kilometres away) well within sight.
The over USD 31 million (INR 2,26,26,74,500) project includes 48 cabins that can hold up to eight individuals. But it’s more than a standalone wheel; it’s a full-on entertainment hub. On-site restaurants, a boat dock, an events hall, and cafes will elevate the Cairo Eye experience. Egypt’s tourism leaders anticipate the wheel will attract up to two and a half million visitors annually.
“Cairo Eye will play a strategic role in sustainable tourism development, in line with Egypt’s vision 2030,” Cairo Governor Khaled Abdel Aal said at a press conference, according to Egypt Today. “The project complements the efforts underway to reshape and upgrade the capital, including Ahl Misr Walkway project, which is currently being constructed on the Nile Corniche in Cairo, as well as other development projects.”
This investment is a big deal for the capital city. In recent years, the adjacent city of Giza, home to the Sphinx and pyramids, has received the lion’s share of tourism projects. From Giza’s long-awaited Grand Egyptian Museum to the new pyramids visitor centre and the recently opened Sphinx International Airport, it’s obvious Egypt is betting big on Giza tourism.
But as Abdel Aal confirmed in the press conference, Egypt is setting its sights on Cairo tourism — and the Cairo Eye and soon-to-open Ahl Misr Walkway, a three-mile (4.8 kilometres) path along the Nile River, just north of Zamalek, are proof of that. The walkway, which will be integrated with the Cairo Eye, boasts everything from theatres and restaurants to over 50 shops with Nile River views. It’s over 90 per cent complete.
The Cairo Eye, on the other hand, is still a ways off. Project representatives announced the idea in January 2021, and suggested 2022 for the observation wheel’s opening. But before they meet that goal — or start building — they have numerous stakeholder concerns to address.
First up is traffic. Cairo is notoriously gridlocked, and many residents and even government officials worry an attraction of this size could only worsen things, Al Jazeera reports. But, according to Egypt Today, project leaders say they studied traffic management and propose solutions like the Cairo Eye Nile Taxi, a hop-on-hop-off bus, and a parking garage for up to 500 cars. Still, many residents aren’t sold.
Another concern is location. The 20,000-square-meter project will likely be erected in Zamalek’s Masalla Gardens, a serene and historic open-air park on the island’s eastern side. According to Al Jazeera, even past government officials like Mounir Fakhry Abdel Nour, the former minister of tourism and investment, say giving this green space to a private company is unconscionable. However, Cairo Eye officials say the project will actually increase total green space by 15 per cent. Even so, some stakeholders, such as billionaire businessman Naguib Sawiris, suggest moving the attraction closer to Cairo’s New Administrative Capital, an under-construction locale designed to alleviate Cairo congestion.