Egypt is one of the most fascinating places in the world. With a deeply rich history, this is a bucket-list destination for so many travellers. The place where the only Seven Wonders of the Ancient World still surviving through ages, has been my dream wanting to see it up close and personal.
In 2015, with a return air ticket I bought on a cheap deal, a carry-on bag and only US$100 cash in my wallet, I made my way to Cairo on a 2-weeks unknown adventure!
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So, what did I do in Cairo?
My whole 2-weeks in Cairo mostly revolved around Giza, where the Great Pyramids are. Because i worked there.
Yes, you read it correctly! Just a stone’s throw away from the Pyramid Complex, I was helping a hostel’s owner to refurbish his place and hosting his guests. I worked around 5-hours per day in exchange for food, accommodation and free entry to Pyramids Complex anytime! End of the two weeks, I returned back home with US$100 still inside my wallet and a great loads of sweet memories.
This post shares my experiences I had learnt after visiting the Giza of Pyramids and updated information to help ease your planning to one of the most exotic destinations.
Getting in/out of Cairo
Cairo International Airport is the busiest airport in Egypt. Apart from being the mainstay of EgyptAir. There are other international airlines that flew in Cairo but with a stopover in one of the middle eastern countries around.
I flew into Cairo with Qatar Airways from Singapore and back with Emirates. My return flights cost me SGD 895 (US$627).
Luckily for Malaysians, visa to Egypt is exempted for 14-days. However, you do need to apply for your “free-visa” at the Embassy of Egypt in Malaysia, or wherever you’re based at.
Most nationalities are able to get visa-on-arrival or electronic visa.
Where are the Pyramids?
Giza Necropolis is not located in Cairo itself but about 41-kilometres from Cairo Airport; 18-kilometres from downtown. However, Cairo is a heavily congested city, often causing the journey to last between 60-90 minutes.
There are 4 main modes of public transportation available in Cairo downtown to reach Giza:
Taking a taxi to Giza is probably the easiest option. From anywhere in central Cairo, you can flag down a taxi on any main street and ask to go to the “Haram” (هرم). Most Egyptians driver don’t understand the word “Pyramids”, so make sure you learn the Arabic word, or show them a picture from Google.
There are 4 different types of taxi in Cairo:
- Black Taxi – Oldest kind of taxi and most of them do not have air-conditioning and fare meter.
- White Taxi – Modern version of black taxis that come with a fare meter and air-conditioning.
- Yellow Taxi – Most expensive, professionally serviced and can be pre-booked over the phone.
- Uber Taxi – The most convenient and very cheap option haggling for the best price.
The nearest metro station from Pyramids Complex is “Giza” station which is about 10-kilometres away. Exit the station and head towards Al Haram road, you can either i) Take Bus No. 900 or 997 but theses buses can only drop you off 1-kilometres from Pyramid Complex’s entrance; ii) Catch a white minivan and ask to go “Haram”, these minivans stop straight at the complex’s gate.
Yes, it is possible to get to the Giza Pyramids from Downtown Cairo by public buses! The buses are comfortable and some have air-conditioners. The easiest landmark I can point out is behind Egyptian Museum, where there are Bus No. 355 and 357 you can take for 2.50 L.E (US$0.20).
These are actually minivans used by the locals only. If you can’t speak Arabic, don’t try to take this transport anywhere. I tried using this to go to the city, but accompanied by the neighbor’s kids. These mini-vans can only seat 12 passengers but usually overload. The fare varies depending on the distance you need to travel.
Best time to visit
The best time to visit Cairo is late Fall, Winter and early Spring (October – March). These months are cooler and less hazy. Bear in mind that Cairo is a highly polluted city, the hotter the day, the lesser chance of taking a clear picture of the pyramid.
I was there mid-September. It was relatively hot and temperature can reach as high as 33°C. I had experienced mostly good days when i got a great view of Pyramids as well as semi-sandstorm.
The Giza Pyramids Complex opens daily between 8 am and 5 am from October to March, and 7 am to 7 pm between April and September. The tour buses arrive between 9:30 am to 10:30 am every morning. There’s no point getting to the Pyramids as early as 8 am as the sky will not be as clear. Late mornings and noon are actually the best time to visit, but that also mean you’re going to walk around the desert during the hottest time of the day.
The standard ticket will only allow you to walk freely around the whole plateau and entering the three Queen’s Pyramids. An extra ticket is needed to go inside the Pyramids of Khafre, Khufu and Menkaure.
- General ticket price: 200 L.E (US$13)
- Pyramid of Khufu: 400 L.E (US$25)
- Pyramid of Khafre: 100 L.E (US$6)
- Tripod: 20 L.E (US$1.20)
- Khufu Ship: 80 L.E (US$5), additional 50 L.E for camera (US$3)
- Camel ride: Around 50 L.E for 30-minutes ride (US$3)
In April 2019, there’s a package ticket of 500 L.E (US$32) which includes: general entry, entering Pyramids of Khufu and Khafre.
Giza Pyramid Complex
These pyramids: The Great Pyramid of Khufu, Pyramid of Khafre and the Pyramid of Menkaure and the smallest of the three main Pyramids of Giza (Queen’s Pyramids) were built more than 4,000 years ago, over a course of 300 years from approximately 2630 BC – 2325 BC. They were not built by slaves — they were built by paid Egyptian workers! The purpose was to encourage unity in the community by contributing to a common goal and gave the Egyptians pride in contributing to such a grand project.
Great Pyramid of Khufu
Standing at almost 150-metres tall, the Great Pyramid of Giza is the tallest man-made structure in the world for about 3,800 years! It was constructed with 2.3 million stone blocks, with the lightest stone weighing 2,000-kilograms.
Many local guides will try and talk you out of going inside The Great Pyramid of Giza, saying it’s not worth paying 400 L.E (US$25), mainly because they can’t enter and did not want to waste time waiting for you. Honestly speaking, after entering (for free), i would think it is not worth the price. The whole pyramid is basically empty as grave robbers had emptied the place long, long time ago.
If you want to go inside the Great Pyramid of Khufu, there is a few things to take note:
- Only 150 people are allowed inside during the morning shift and another 150 people in the evening.
- The Great Gallery is ultra-narrow, slightly steep and dim. There will a part you might need to crawl on your hands and feet. So, you might want to skip this if you’re claustrophobic.
- You can’t bring camera into the Pyramid. Phones are supposedly fine but I suggest you not let the guard spot it.
- It is extremely stifling and humid inside the chamber.
Pyramid of Khafre
This is the tomb of the pharaoh Khafre, who was the son of Khufu. Out of respect to his father, he did not make his pyramid taller. There are two particular features of the Pyramid of Khafre that makes it special: 1) the top part is still covered by the polished casing stones that would once have given the whole structure a smooth look; 2) the causeway that runs from the pyramid for about 500 metres down to the mortuary temple and the Great Sphinx of Giza. It is likely that all the three main pyramids would have had something like this but Khafre’s is the only one that has survived till now.
The Sphinx is about 73-meters long and 20-meters high remarkable statue with a human head and the body of a lion. Being the oldest known monumental sculpture built by the ancient Egyptians, it is believed to represent the Pharaoh Khafre who built the Pyramid behind it.
Apart from the Pyramids, there are other parts inside the complex where you can wander freely: Workers’ Village. The workers’ village are communal sleeping quarters, bakeries, breweries, and kitchens (with evidence showing that bread, beef, and fish were staples of the diet), a hospital and a cemetery!
Sounds and light show
Right in front of the Sphinx, there is a sound and light show every evening. The English show always starts at 7:30 pm (except in Ramadan month), and there are shows in Italian, German, Spanish and French starting from 8:00 pm. It cost US$5 to watch a show using spotlights to illuminate the Sphinx and pyramids in different colors, while a narrator tells a story about the Pyramids mixing facts and fiction.
I enjoyed the show from the hostel’s rooftop almost every evening.
Travelling to Giza Pyramids Complex is totally safe, even as a female solo traveller. The whole site is under constant surveillance by the military police, plus there are airport-type security checks at the entrance. However, that does not means you will not get hassled by the vendors.
- After you’ve made it past security ignore anyone who asks for your ticket. You will only need to show your ticket later to visit the Sphinx and enter the pyramid. These scammers will take your ticket and not give it back unless you pay them.
- Don’t hand your camera to one of them offering to take a picture of you. As friendly as they can be, they will ask for a tip later.
- There are lots of “guides” around the pyramids who are not official guides. If you want to engage a guide, ask your hotel to arrange for you.
- The closer the entrance, the more expensive is the camel/horse ride. There are now signage with set prices for camel rides (50 L.E for 30 minutes), so be smart to look around.
- Do not believe them if they tell you you can take picture with the camels for free. There’s no such thing as Free in their culture.
- Do not take anything the vendor hand it to you. Once the item is in your hands, it is consider sold and they will only demand money from you.
- If you spot a scammer, don’t make eye contact. In their language, it means that you give them a permission to harassed you. Sunglasses is your best shield.
A firm “no” and a smile are more than enough to drive them away since there will be other typical tourists out there for them to rip off. Make a quick decision because if they have invested more than 10 seconds of their valuable time, they will be very determined to get something from you.
Climbing the Pyramids
Once upon a time you probably could climb the pyramids as security wasn’t as tight. Nowadays, if you want to take a picture, you have to be content with climbing the lower step until you heard a whistle sound blowing towards your direction.
Unfortunately, I don’t always follow the rules. But I didn’t want to get caught either.
Lastly, if you want to keep a track of all my photos and travels, remember to follow @wanderrsaurus on Instagram!