Our first hotel in Egypt was right next to the Sphinx, so aside from getting the most amazing terrace views at breakfast, we could also get to Giza when it opens at 8am.
We went straight to the Great Pyramid of Khufu, the largest of all Egyptian pyramids. You can visit the inside by climbing a steep flight of stairs. The interior is very simple but still impressive.
We continued around the other two main pyramids: Kaffre, with limestone still covering its top, and Menkaure, which was also open to visitation. Giza is a big site, but everything is close together, so you can easily walk to all the monuments (although there are plenty of camels around as an alternative).
Near Khufu’s pyramid is the Boat Museum, displaying Khufu’s boat – it is an impressive display, as the whole boat was excavated in almost perfect condition.
To finish our visit, we joined the other tourists by the Sphinx – another impressive highlight with lots of photo ops.
In the afternoon we took a taxi to Saqqara. About 20km from Giza, this place has its own share of pyramids, temples and tombs.
We only had a couple of hours to visit, so we started at the Step Pyramid in Zozer’s complex and then explored some of the tombs to the south of Saqqara. The Step Pyramid is very ancient, which is why the place is popular, but it isn’t really unmissable.
Nearby Memphis is home to an impressive statue of Ramses II and can be visited quite quickly. We didn’t have time to visit Dashul with its Red and Bent pyramids, but from the distance they looked very impressive.
On our next day in Cairo, we headed to the Egyptian Museum, one of the main highlights of the city. Located right by Tahir Square, this massive museum has a huge collection of Egyptian artefacts.
The first floor has lots of statues and sarcophagi, many incredibly well preserved. But the second floor is the big draw, displaying the haul from Tutankhamun’s tomb and a room full of mummies (including that of Ramses II).
The place is covered with room after room packed with papyrus, sarcophagi, statues, amulets, jewellery and more. We spent about 4h and just about covered everything, but you could easily spend the whole day there. Our guide book mentioned the Egyptian Museum is always full, but as a sign of the times it really wasn’t that busy when we visited. This place really is full of history and definitely worth the visit.
We didn’t have time to see much of Cairo, but it was time to get on a train and continue our Egyptian adventure!
HOW TO DO IT:
- Visiting Giza: Tickets can be bought at the entrance of the site. Tickets to Giza cost E£80, but you need extra tickets to access some of the buildings. Tickets to the Great Pyramid cost E£200, and Menkaure’s pyramid was a bargain at E£40. Tickets for the boat museum can be bought at its entrance for £E60. All of them are worth the visit. You can also pay extra if you wish take photos inside the sites. At the pyramids they will keep your camera at the entrance while you visit.
- When to go: We visited in April, when it was sunny but still bearable. Cairo is less hot than other destinations in Egypt. Giza opens at 8am and closes at 4pm, and it’s good to go early to have the place almost to yourself. Nowadays there are no huge crowds of tourists anyways. The whole site can be visited in 4h at a leisurely pace.
- Hassle: Many websites warn about the many vendors, tour guides and others trying to sell you all sorts of service in Giza. It reality it wasn’t too bad – as long as you’re not interested and make that clear, then people quickly move onto someone else. There are scams to be aware of, but mostly by assuming that people are trying to sell you something rather than wanting to be your friend, then you should be fine.
- Visiting Saqqara: Saqqara, Memphis and Dashul are normally visited in one trip by hiring a taxi to drive you around (the sites are far from each other). We paid E£450 including tip. If you do it with plenty of time, you probably need half a day to cover everything. Tickets can be bought at the entrance of each site. Saqqara tickets cost E£80 per person, plus E£2 for parking. Memphis cost E£40 per person, plus E£2 for parking.
- Visiting the Egyptian Museum: Entrance to the museum costs E£75, plus E£100 to visit the mummies’ room. You can pay an extra E£50 to take photos inside. There’s a room where you can leave large bags next to the ticket office (we tipped E£20 for two backpacks). The collection is organised by date and theme, but other than that there really isn’t any signage, so sometimes it’s hard to understand the relevance of some pieces. It’s also evident that the place has suffered from lack of tourism: the shop had many empty shelves, and the restaurant on site has shut down.
- Cairo: We didn’t really get to see much of Cairo at all, but it’s a massive busy city. The traffic is insane, and crossing the street is a real adventure. It’s clear that the tourist infrastructure has suffered, but on the plus side things are really cheap.
- Stay: We stayed at the Pyramids View Inn (we paid $40 per night), a basic hotel that has the most amazing views from the terrace, with picture perfect sunsets behind the Sphinx and Kaffre’s pyramid. It also gives you free access to the daily Sound and Light show in the evening. Staying in Giza is good in terms of access to the pyramids, but it’s quite far from Cairo (traffic can be painfully slow).
- Transportation: Cairo is a huge city, and going from one place to the next can take a lot of time. Taxis require negotiating in advance; a ride from Cairo to Giza can cost up to E£150. There’s a good metro network, a ticket costs E£2, and it’s a good way of avoiding traffic.