A complete guide to the pyramids of Giza

There’s supposed to be a McDonald’s somewhere right…?

I’m not going to bore you with the details of what you already know here – the pyramids are the last remainders of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and yes they are pretty bloody amazing.

However, here’s a quick backgrounder – and some tips on how to get the most out of your visit.
WHAT IS IT?

A very large, very perfect pyramid, very close to Cairo. The largest of the three big ones in the complex is the actual Great Pyramid of Giza, and was the tallest man-made structure in the world for more than 3,800 years. It’s also said to be the ‘most perfect’ pyramid. Originally, the pyramids were encased in a smooth facade, but these have fallen away over time, so what is seen now is the underlying core structure.The largest Pyramid is the tomb of Pharaoh Khufu, and there are two smaller pyramids for Pharaoh Khufe and Menakaure. Alongside the latter, there are three tiny pyramids.

WHERE ARE THEY?

About 20km from Tahrir Square in Downtown Cairo.

*READ MORE: Why Abu Simbel is the true icon of Egypt
* 48 hours in Luxor
ALL of the pyramids of Cairo

WHY ARE THEY FAMOUS?

Well, aside from being pretty freaking cool, they’re also the oldest of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and the only one to remain largely intact. Also, no one quite knows how they were made. Theories abound – but no-one is 100% confident on the mind-blowing process.

WHAT ELSE IS IN THE COMPLEX?

Two smaller pyramids, three even smaller pyramids for the Queens (natch), a cemetery, the Solar Boat Museum (extra 80 EGP but SO worth it), a number of mastabas, the Sphinx, and probably a whole lot more we don’t even know about.

HOW DO I SEE THE SPHINX?

There’s a separate entrance to the Sphinx further along along the access road.

HOW MUCH DOES IT COST?

120 EGP ($11 NZD).

HOW DO I GET THERE?
BUS: There is a public bus, which seems to be a bit sporadic in how often it runs and its timetable, but the times of which would be easily available from your hotel. When I was there, buses 355 and 357 were the ones to look out for – they’re big, white and modern and say ‘CTA’ on them.
TAXI: Barter with a taxi in Cairo, it shouldn’t cost you more than 50 EGP. Alternatively, ensure they use their metre – it still shouldn’t cost more than 50 EGP. If you want them to wait while you visit and take you back, negotiate a fair price. However, there are plenty of taxis around Giza so you don’t need to.

TOUR: Check below for notes on tours. This is 100% the way to go in my opinion. And this is coming from a complete cheapskate.

HOW TO DO IT:

DO visit in the afternoon. It’s probably the opposite of what everyone tells you about visiting famous monuments, due to crowds and pretty sunrises and whatnot, but this is pretty important if you’re planning on, you know, actually seeing the pyramids. It’s super hazy in Cairo in the mornings, so if you head there at 8am to avoid the throngs, you’ll be gazing out at a thick plume of fog – and not much else. Besides, you won’t really be jostling with throngs at any time of the day.

DO be polite but firm with the touts. Remember, it’s not their fault their livelihoods (tourism) has all but dried up, and they’re just desperate to make some money. If you don’t want the plastic figurine they’re shoving in your face, just politely say ‘No thank you’, and move on. Don’t get angry or rude. Better yet, flick them a pound – it’s about 5 cents to you, but a lot more to them.

DO a camel ride if you want, but make sure you negotiate the price BEFORE you jump on. That old adage ‘It costs $10 to ride a camel, but $100 to get off’ is almost certainly false, but these guys will give you a run for your money if you’re not smart.

DO go to the ‘panoramic view area’ to get an amazing, sweeping view of the pyramids. Up close, the view isn’t actually that great, and you’ll constantly be waiting for tour buses to get out of your shots. Plus, the viewpoint is good enough for Hilary Swank, which means it’s good enough for us mere mortals.

DO go to the solar boat museum. It’ll cost you an extra 80 EGP, but it’ll be the best 80 EGP you ever spent. This museum has just one exhibit: the famed solar boat of Cheops, built possibly about 5000 years ago. The boat was discovered in 1224 pieces near the Great Pyramid in 1954, and was painstakingly put back together, piece by piece. The boat is a whopping 44 metres long and 6 metres wide, and was used to carry King Cheop’s body after he had been mummified, to visit other cities along the Nile before he was entombed. Some scientists estimate the wood used to make the boat is 7000 years old, meaning the boat as a whole could be 12,000 years old. And if I ever get to that age, I hope I’m in just as fantastic condition.

DON’T climb all over random things lying on the ground. you’ll get yelled at by bored security guards.

Solar boat museum

DO IT ALL: You simply can’t go past Egypt Tailor Made Tours for a day exploring the wonders of Cairo and its surrounds. Tell them what you want, and they’ll put together a bespoke tour of exactly what you want to see, with a private taxi and knowledgeable Egyptologist.

If you can, ask for Laila – her English is perfect and she’ll tell you things about this place you absolutely need to know if you’re visiting these sites. She also makes a pretty handy human shield when it comes to fending off touts.


HOW TO GET AROUND:

Cheap: Hire a taxi from Cairo. It will barely cost you more than 200 EGP ($20NZD) to get to most of the sites and back. Expect to pay 400 EGP ish for a full day, but the bartering varies so wildly here (dependent on how good you are at it and how the cabbie is feeling) that it could be a little more or a little less. At the end of the day, you’re probably bartering over the equivalent of $4 so just bite the bullet and let the guy bump up the price a bit. It means a lot more to him than it does to you.

Cheaper: Apparently there’s a bus, and several minibuses, that go out in some of the directions of Dahshur, Memphis and Saqqara – but do so at your own peril. Not only is there likely to be a long slog from the bus stop to the site, but good luck getting the right stop when you’ve got no idea what it looks like and your driver doesn’t speak English. For the sake of a couple of extra dollars – take the car.

Most un-cheap: Do a tour. I can’t recommend Egypt Tailor Made Tours enough, and if I had the chance again I would absolutely do it with an Egyptologist and private taxi. Not only will you not be running around like a crazy person trying to make your bus schedules fit in the 9 hours of sunlight you have, but there will be no getting lost and even better, no being hassled by touts.

EAT
Felfela

Falafel in Egypt is amazing anywhere you go, whether it’s from a vendor on the street for 20 cents or in a restaurant for $20. There’s a point of difference to Egyptian falafel too, being that it’s made from beans instead of chickpeas.

But this place, just down the road from the pyramids, serves falafel sandwiches made with crunchy, fresh falafel and saucy salad. I could have eaten five, and by all means you should.

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