Few landmarks around the world are universally recognized and none can compare to the age and sheer scale of the Giza Pyramid complex. Ever since their construction, the three giant pyramids have attracted people from near and far to gawk at one of the world’s most impressive engineering feats. Over 4,500 years later, these wonders still put visitors into a trance like no other place in the world can match. To put it briefly, a visit to the pyramids is the trip of a lifetime.
While it is hard not to have an unforgettable and enjoyable trip to the Giza complex, there are some tips that will help ensure you have the most optimal visit possible. Here we break down our experience at the park and also provide insight into what you should do in order to prepare for your visit.
The Trip of a Lifetime
Once arriving in Giza after the scariest car ride of our life (see the Getting to the Pyramids section for details), we caught our first glimpses of the pyramids looming over the remaining two blocks of dusty city that stood between us and the complex. When you see images of the pyramids, they appear to be in a vast open desert but in reality, the Cairo metropolitan area literally creeps all the way up to the gateway of the park. For such a sprawl like city, it is really weird how abruptly the city ends and turns into nothing but sand (and pyramids).
After making our way through the chaotic scene of thoroughfare just outside the gate, we had our tickets in hand and walked through the gate catching our first unobstructed glimpses of the Great Pyramids and Sphinx. Our reaction is hard to describe as none other than sheer joy and excitement. To get an idea, imagine seeing the Statue of Liberty or Eiffel Tower for the first time, you’re favorite sports team winning a national championship, and meeting Santa Clause all at the same time. Claire literally let out a scream and started jumping up and down at first sight and I couldn’t pick up my camera due to being so awestruck. Even after being on the road for more than 8 months and traveling abroad for over five years could not prepare us for the sight in front of us.
After settling down, we started to take our pictures, forever cementing our presence in the most iconic place in the world. We slowly made our way around, stopping by the Sphinx to get our kissy photos and circumambulating the base of the massive pyramid of Khufu. Never at any moment, did our excitement level or state of awe diminish as we made our way through the complex over several hours.
We then made our way to the hills at the far end of the park in order to get a view of the three pyramids perfectly aligned. After a few minutes we had the place to ourselves which made us feel like we had the pyramids to ourselves, away from the tourist groups and hawkers down below. Before leaving the park, we checked out the boat museum which has a beautifully restored boat that was found in a tomb offers. It offers visitors a glimpse intoa vivid example of ancient Egyptian life. To celebrate our day, we then left the complex and enjoyed some KFC (yup… there is a pizza hut/KFC with the best view of the pyramids) across the street as we waited for the sun to set behind the pyramids and sphinx.
Our day could not have been anymore perfect and to be honest, was one of our most memorable travel memories despite being one of the most well known and touristy destinations you could ever plan to go to.
Brief History of the Pyramids
While not the oldest pyramids in the world (that title belongs to those found at Saqqara and Dahshur), the pyramids found at Giza represent the height of tomb building. The Pyramid of Khufu stood as the world’s tallest man made structure for 3800 years at 147 meters tall (481 feet). It is no wonder why the pyramid was included in the classic seven wonders of the ancient world and is the only one that is largely intact today. With basic technology and using only manpower, the Egyptians were somehow clever enough to build on such a large and precise scale. So How did they do it?
Contrary to popular belief, it was not slaves that constructed the pyramids but most likely Egyptian farmers during the flood season when raising crops was impossible. During this time, the area around the construction site would become a mini city in itself requiring tens of thousands of workers, thus not only requiring builders, but everything else from cooks to doctors. Working on the pyramids would lessen the taxes due come growing season and provided workers with food during the flood season.
There are many theories about how the pyramids came to be, but the most widely accepted is the idea that ramps were used to move the massive stones in place. It is estimated that it took around twenty years to construct the pyramid of Khufu.
Other than the pyramids, the Great Sphinx is the other most noteworthy site within the complex. It was built sometime around 2500 BC and the face is believed to be carved in the likeness of Pharaoh Khafre. No one knows for sure what its purpose was.
One of the most notable features of the Spinx is that its nose is missing. While legend says it was Napoleon that ordered for the nose to be blown off as a mark of his power when in Egypt, this is not true as we have depictions of the monument without its nose that date back before Napoleon was even born. It is more likely that the Spinx lost its nose somewhere between the 11th and 15th centuries due to iconoclasm that swept across the area during this time period.
Tips for Making Your Visit the Best
Like I said before, you would be hard pressed to have a terrible time at the pyramids but there are a few things that will ensure an enjoyable trip.
Enter through the Southeast Gate
This entrance provides the best first view of the pyramids and sphinx. It will blow you away the first time you see it in person. It is also cool to walk through the edges of the city and see the pyramids looming at the end of the road. You will also avoid the tour buses which unload at the gate closest to the Pyramid of Khufu.
Avoid Weekends and Public Holidays
Like the Egyptian Museum, the pyramids at Giza are very popular with domestic tourists. As of February 2018, there are still not that many foreign tourists but the site still does get crowded due to local tourism. Most locals visit on weekends and holidays so it is best to go on a weekday when the site tends to be quieter.
Visit Red Pyramid at Dahshur and skip going inside the Great Pyramid
Three hundred Egyptian Pounds sound like too much to go inside the Great Pyramid? You arguably get the same experience when visiting the Red Pyramid at Dahshur and unlike at Giza, you do not have to pay extra to go inside. Red Pyramid is by no means less important either, as it was the world’s first true pyramid to be built.
Bring Plenty of Water
You will be in the desert and there is essentially no shade to be found throughout the entire complex.
The Best Viewpoint inside the complex is from the Hills to the Southwest of the Pyramids
While most people concentrate themselves around the pyramids’ immediate surroundings, those who make the effort to get to the not too distant hills will be rewarded with the best views of the pyramids. From this angle, the pyramids align perfectly and give you that iconic shot you are probably looking for. It is an easy walk but for those who do not wish to use their legs can hire a horse and buggy for a few dollars but bargain hard. Try to go here late afternoon as you are more likely to have the hill to yourself.
Go Later in the Day (But not too late!)
By going later in the day, the heat and crowds will become less and less as the day rolls on. This also gives you the chance to catch the sun set over the pyramids. Be sure to not get here too late though as you could easily spend hours inside the complex.
The Best Place to See Sunset is Pizza Hut / KFC
Directly opposite of the gate is a 4 story Pizza Hut and KFC, providing diners with a million dollar view of the pyramids. This is a great place to relax and watch the sun set after a long day in the heat.
Entrance Fees and Other Costs
A visit to the pyramids is really cheap but can get ‘expensive’ quickly. The cheapest way to get there is to use a metro/bus combo that I explain in the next section.
As of 2018, these were the prices of tickets for the Giza pyramids:
Giza Pyramids………………………………………………………………………………………………. 120 EGP ($6.72)
Entry inside Great Pyramid………………………………………………………………………… 300 EGP ($16.81)
Boat Museum……………………………………………………………………………………………….. 80 EGP ($4.48)
Photography Permit for Boat Museum………………………………………………………. 50 EGP ($2.80)
Pyramids Sound and Light Show………………………………………………………………… 150 EGP ($8.40)
Getting to the Pyramids
Despite being so close to Cairo, getting to the pyramids proved to be quite an adventure all unto itself. The cheapest and easiest way to get there is by taking the metro to the Giza station. From here you will have to take a mini bus from the station just outside along the main road. Just mention the pyramids and you will pointed to the minibus headed towards the pyramids. The bus leaves when full. Don’t be worried when the bus heads in the wrong direction, as the bus goes across the Nile first and heads south past the pyramids but circles back around, getting you within two blocks of the ticket office.
The thing you should be worried about is the drive itself. Personally, after traveling to many places with horrific driving habits, it takes a lot for me to be scared in a vehicle anymore. Props to the driver of our mini bus for making me come close to shitting my pants as it was quite possibly the most terrifying ten minutes of my life.
As if the police were hot on our trail, our driver created his own lanes as he zigzagged his way through traffic at uncomfortably high speeds given the rust bucket van we were in. Missing making contact with vehicles by mere centimeters, our driver was playing his own version of Frogger and Mario Kart, seeming to think that if we crashed we would just bounce back onto the road or have another life to spare. Depending on the faith that other drivers would not change speeds or change lanes our driver continued to defy the odds. To make matters worse, we were sitting shotgun and there were no seat belts to be had. Images of myself flying through the windshield kept going through my mind until we arrived at the pyramids with white knuckles from clutching each other’s hands so tightly. I hope it is something I never experience again.
TO get back to the metro station, wait at the major intersection where you initially got off and flag down any mini bus. Just make sure it is heading down Al-Haram Street and you will make it back to the metro station.
Giza: Everything you Dreamed of and More
A visit to the grandest pyramids in the world is guaranteed to make you smile and make lasting memories. No matter how many crowds there are, how loud the hawkers become, no matter how bad the weather is, there is no way that you will leave this legendary complex disappointed.