This trip has always been on our bucket list. Have you ever seen something in so many text books and movies and then have that awkward feeling of realisation that you’re actually standing right in front of it?
We did with the Pyramids. As one of Egypt‘s iconic archaeological sites, the Giza Pyramid complex is a must for anyone in this world. They obviously invite one question: ‘How were they built, and why?’
Read more below about our experience travelling to Cairo and seeing the Pyramids on a camel!
Travelling to Cairo & Giza
We decided to book this trip as it did feel a once in a lifetime opportunity. The trip comes in 2 flavours:
Both options entail pros and cons. The itinerary is the same once arrived in Cairo so it’s really down to you to weigh the benefits.
You might want to go by plane if you want to reach Cairo from Sharm in 1 hour vs coach which is 8 hours. However, this comes at a cost, cheapest plane trip was £170pp vs £55pp by coach. So the savings are considerable even more so when looking at a group/family.
EgyptAir recently announced the creation of a new low-cost airline to service Sharm-Cairo for this purpose primarily. So we should see plane ticket prices go down and hence making this trip more cost effective.
We chose the coach option as we didn’t mind the extra travel time. The distance from Sharm to Cairo is of about 500 km.
The trip includes hotel transfers, coach to Cairo, a short tour of Cairo by coach, entrance to the Egyptian Museum, Giza Pyramid Complex entrance and lunch.
On this occasion we stood at Magic World Sharm Hotel where they picked us up from at 00:30. We used the night time to sleep in preparation for the morning arrival in Cairo.
Whilst travelling there isn’t much too see other than the Sinai Dessert. One interesting thing was the crossing of the Suez Canal through a tunnel which was 1km long.
An interesting thing about this trip is that as you cross under the Suez Canal you are crossing from Asia into Africa. There you go, 2 continents for the price of one trip. On either side the complex was heavily guarded by military police.
We noticed that the coach had to check in every 1-2 hours at different police filters. The guide assured us it’s for our safety and actually once we received the clearance to go, we always have a police car escort us to the next police filter.
On the coach we also had an armed police officer. Also at every stop in Cairo we would have a set of police cars and armed patrols gathering around to protect us.
All the above are consequences of the 2009 Khan el-Khalili bombing. Tourism is one of Egypt’s main industries and so they must protect tourists at any cost.
Things to Know About Cairo
Cairo itself has been founded in the 10th century A.D. and hosts around 10 million people with the metro area reaching 20 million. You can easily imagine how it compares with the likes of London and New York in size.
As the city is located near the Nile delta, one thing is notable, it’s definitely cooler than in Sharm El Sheikh. Overall it felt more humid and temperatures were more bearable.
The area around present-day Cairo had long been a focal point of Ancient Egypt due to its strategic location at the junction of the Nile Valley and the Nile Delta regions, which also placed it at the crossing of major routes between North Africa and the Levant.
This can be seen in today’s urban development plans as they expect Cairo to outgrow it’s current population size. As you enter Cairo from the eastern side you will see New Cairo being built with plenty of new housing to tackle the growing population of the city.
As you further progress into the main city, older, sandy looking block of flats emerge. Some seem ok others don’t look particularly good. Many buildings looked unfinished or seemed just partly occupied.
As we drive, one thing becomes apparent: traffic road marks tend to be guidelines rather than the rule. Everyone seems to overtake everyone from either sides.
Stopping on the second lane whilst dropping off passengers and their luggage is perfectly normal. Driving in Egypt doesn’t seem to be for the faint-hearted.
We saw a lot of mosques on the way but also Christian churches in Cairo. Apparently 10% of the population of Egypt is Christian/Copt.
Below we listed our stops during our trip to Cairo en route to the Giza Pyramids.
Things to do in Cairo
On this trip we went to a few landmarks in Cairo however, we didn’t cover much of the city. Having said this, you do need an entire week to say you have visited this capital.
Nested near the Tahrir Square where the 2011 revolution happened, the Egyptian Museum can be accessed through one of the side streets in between the hotels.
The Museum of Egyptian Antiquities, known commonly as the Egyptian Museum or the Cairo Museum, is home to an extensive collection of ancient Egyptian antiquities.
It has 120,000 items, with a representative amount on display and the remainder in storerooms.
The museum showcases many mummies and burial artefacts. It also hosts a detailed exposition with the actual King Tutankhamun’s sarcophagus and belongings including the famous burial golden mask.
What makes this exposition so interesting and why the king boy Tutankhamun has received so much attention is that his belongings showcase Egypt’s fine craftsmanship during those times.
It’s considered the golden years of Egyptian civilisation. The evidence can be seen in the jewellery but also the golden plated sarcophaguses painted skilfully with after life motifs.
Additionally, we think that the British Museum is equally equipped should you be also interested in Egyptology.
On the day we were provided with an English speaking guide. He was a funny character and you could see easily that he knew the museum and each artefact’s explanation by heart. We believe he’s done it once or twice. 😉
Whilst it was enjoyable to listen to his jovial style of explaining it felt at times he rushed some elements but then took too much time with others. Perhaps a reason to come again.
Boat Trip on the Nile
The trip also featured a trip on the Nile on a felucca (a traditional Egyptian wooden boat) on the way to our lunch venue. The boat trip wasn’t included so we had to pay an additional £7.50pp which we haggled for from £10pp.
Overall the trip was ok, nothing spectacular but offering nice views of Cairo and Giza. There are a few islands we passed by that were interesting – one of the palaces for the Pharaohs and another which was a gold mine.
We think it’s a great opportunity to take a few photos and see Cairo and Giza from a different perspective.
Lunch on the Nile
The boat trip brought us to a floating restaurant Fish Boat Abouzeid, our lunch venue. The restaurant was ok and was overlooking the Nile. Some of the food served were a chicken stew, potatoes, rice and salads but you could older other things like seafood from from the menu.
For desserts there were some chocolate cakes and some syrup based pastries. Overall nothing to write home about but it did the job. The experience was more about the location rather than the food.
The Papyrus Institute was our final stop on the itinerary in Cairo before heading to Giza. In all fairness it’s more of a souvenir shop however, we felt there were some notable elements to it as well.
Upon entering you will be provided with guide to show you around the shop but also give you an idea of how papyrus paper is made.
The paper itself it created using a lattice pattern and then pressed for 6 days to preserve its shape. Once done, the paper is very versatile and robust.
One could drop it in water and the paper simply recovers when dry. It also “heals” easily from tearing it. All you have to do it is water the affected area and then attach the torn part.
All very interesting. Although the shop boasts many works of art of papyrus and many specific souvenirs we though prices were far too peppered for what essentially is a piece of paper with some design on it.
Prices start at 300 EGP but are negotiable based on quantity and should we say seller appetite to close the sale.
Additionally, if you really want to buy a papyrus paper with your favourite graphic on them, there are plenty of merchants around the Giza Pyramids selling them for 10 EGP per sheet. They would typically ask you to buy several but we got away with buying just one.
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Giza Pyramid Complex
Some interesting facts about the Giza Pyramids are that they were built during the Fourth Dynasty of the Old Kingdom of Ancient Egypt, between 2600 – 2500 BC.
The reason they actually chose the Giza plateau was because that was an area the Nile never flooded.
We also need to clear the air. Cairo wasn’t ancient Egypt’s capital. Actually Cairo is a much more newer city. And although Giza and Cairo are fused together, the Pyramids are actually in Giza, which is a different city.
The Egyptian capital in ancient times was Memphis located south of the Nile River delta, on the west bank of the river, and about 15 miles (24 km) south of modern Cairo.
Therefore, Cairo and Giza, although important from a geographical point of view, were simply the burial sites for the Egyptian elite.
The Giza pyramid complex consists of the Great Pyramid (also known as the Pyramid of Cheops or Khufu and constructed c. 2580 – c. 2560 BC), the somewhat smaller Pyramid of Khafre (or Chephren) a few hundred metres to the south-west, and the relatively modest-sized Pyramid of Menkaure (or Mykerinos) a few hundred metres farther south-west. In the complex you will also find the Sphinx and the Valley Temple of Khafre.
The Pyramids are also the only Wonder left standing of the Ancient World.
Next to these large pyramids you will find some smaller ones, those are the pyramids for the queens of the Pharaohs.
The purpose for the Pyramids of Giza was to serve as a necropolis for the Pharaohs on their way to the after life.
It wasn’t just the Pharaoh’s body being preserved. For the afterlife, he might’ve requested to have their favourite pet as well embalmed. Or perhaps even have some of his favourite food preserved.
The processes consisted in that after the Pharaohs death they would be sent on a barge from Memphis on the Nile. They would arrive through a series of underground river tunnels to the complex from where a team of embalmers would start the process.
The body was taken near the Sphinx area which had all the tools needed to begin the embalming process.
The general understanding was that once the Pharaoh passed away they would rule from the after life all of Egypt. Hence, the utmost importance was to be exercised throughout the burial process.
When seeing the pyramids they did remind us slightly of Chichen Itza and the excellent mathematical precision used to build them.
The Great Pyramid measures a length of 230 meters and a height of 147 meters. Numbers simply don’t explain the impression we got by staying at the bottom of the pyramid and looking up.
We were told that inside the pyramids are empty as most things were taken to various museums around the world. The guides proposed a few options, walking around the complex or hiring a camel on the way to the Sphinx.
The recommended price posted on a local authorities sign post was 350 EGP for 1 hour. The guides offered for 200 EGP, 30 min.
We went for the latter option as we didn’t have much time left of the allotted schedule but we didn’t feel cheated either. Perhaps there was some room for negotiation but the enthusiasm of riding a camel with the pyramids in the background was too great.
As we were getting to grips with our camels, I still remember the owner telling us in the background “After you finish with the camel, you’ll be walking Egyptian.”. I’m still giggling as I am typing this.
As we rode into the sun by the Queens’ Pyramids we found ourselves enjoying this newly discovered experience. We stopped at different places along the way and the camel guide took photos of us with the pyramids in the background.
As one rides a camel they’ll soon discover it’s more about moving with the animal in a somewhat backwards and forwards motion which soon becomes second nature. Failure to do so? Ehem, you simply get the feeling that you fall with every step the camel takes.
At one of the stops we were also able to see the Sphinx, guarding the complex and allegedly the souls of the Pharaohs.
We get off our camels, thank our guide and head off to the Sphinx with a visible smile of accomplishment on our faces.
Similar to when we saw the Paphos ruins, the Sun was very strong so we do recommend applying plenty of sunscreen lotion and staying well hydrated. You don’t want to fall off those camels now do you?
In this unforgiving Sun you might be tempted to buy some ice cold water from the local merchants, do so at your own risk as we’ve heard not all bottles might be sealed.
Great Sphinx of Giza or simply The Sphinx is a limestone statue of a reclining sphinx, a mythical creature with the head of a human, and the body of a lion.
It measures 73 m long and 20 m high. The Sphinx is the oldest known monumental sculpture in Egypt and one of the most recognisable statues in the world.
The archaeological evidence suggests that it was created by ancient Egyptians of the Old Kingdom during the reign of Khafre (c. 2558–2532 BC).
The statue was carved from the bedrock of the plateau. It’s currently debatable regarding the missing nose however, it’s widely accepted that in the 14th century a local Muslim Sultan decided to chop the nose off as too many peasants were still making offerings to the Sphinx which they thought it was a deity.
Although you can’t get close to the Sphinx itself, there is a viewing deck where we were able to take some good shots. There are plenty of people so perhaps try and go on the second deck where there are less people for a better view and experience.
Overall the trip is definitely a must for anyone. The Pyramids of Giza are a world heritage site and they belong to everyone to see.
Simply seeing them on postcards won’t even bring you close to experiencing them live. The sheer grandeur of these burial sites and remarkable feeling one is left after visiting this place, is simply unexplainable.
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