Touring the Giza Pyramids and the Sphinx outside Cairo, Egypt
I’m out of order (already) with my posts based on how we actually did the trip. In reality, our first day in Egypt (after Paris) was spent in Giza touring the Pyramids, visiting the Sphinx, riding camels, and learning about Egyptian culture in a few local shops. Our second day was the Cairo experience I described in my previous post. (And the third day was spent in Luxor.) Similar to our day in Cairo, we made sure we each brought extra Egyptian pounds so we could buy things along the way and tip when needed. Credit cards were rarely accepted at any tourist attraction. I took 300 Egyptian pounds (about 12USD) with me which was a little on the safe side given most aspects of the tour were covered. But it turned out to be a good idea when we stopped at different shops and had to pay a little extra for additional tours and tips.
The Great Pyramids and the Sphinx are some of the first things that come to mind when people think of Egypt. So naturally, we had to see both up close. Giza is about a 45-50 minute drive from the main touristy portion of Cairo, and once you get there it’s difficult to navigate without a guide. I read many blogs from other travelers that warned about the mass amounts of people trying to sell you things. Everyone seemed to indicate that hiring a guide ahead of time made a better experience. So we opted to book a tour through Viator.com with a group called Let’s Explore Egypt for 30 dollars each. One of the main reasons we chose this tour was for the camel ride around the pyramids that it included! It is possible to buy a camel ride when you get to the pyramids, but they tend to be much more expensive (most ask for 200 Egyptian pounds at a minimum and then add on cost as you go – while this starts as less than 10 USD, after they take your picture, give you “extra time”, and ask for a tip, the total can double or triple). When I booked the tour, I thought we were getting just the camel ride, tours of the Great Pyramid and the small pyramids, and a tour of the Sphinx. As it turned out, our guide, Heba, went above and beyond and took us to a few local shops too (more details later in this post). If you choose to piece it together on your own, do your research about the different types of tickets you will need to buy at the front entrance. Also, a reasonable price for a camel ride is between 100-150 Egyptian pounds, including photos and tips. Try to find healthy looking animals too. For anyone with a soft spot for animals, I’m warning you now that not many of them are well taken care of and it’s heartbreaking to see the conditions of some.
Our first stop was the Giza Pyramids. We got out and walked up the dirt road past camels, donkeys, and tons of people selling everything imaginable. The sellers are bold! They will place their items on you and then try to demand payment. We were dodging scarves, bracelets, and trinkets the entire walk up. The first pyramid you get to is the Great Pyramid of Khufu which is the oldest in Giza and the largest in Egypt. It’s original height when built in 2570 BC was 146m high. Since then, it’s shrunk about 9m according to the Lonely Planet Egypt book (a small plug for Lonely Planet…I love their books! I buy one before every big trip and use it as my primary idea starter and history guide. They cost anywhere from 10-20 USD depending on the amount of content. Lonely Planet does a fantastic job of highlighting the best parts of countries/cities when you’re trying to maximize your time.) After we walked around the Great Pyramid, we decided to pay a little extra to go inside and climb to the top! For 100 Egyptian pounds we were allowed to climb alone. It was a long way up in very narrow passageways. There are no stairs and most of the time you are hunched over so you can fit through the nearly square passageway that ascends to the tip of the pyramid. If you’re claustrophobic at all, I would recommend sitting this one out. There’s no easy way to move in or out and they don’t limit the number of people at a time so it can get a bit crowded. Once you reach the top of the pyramid, you’re in the King’s chamber! The walls are red granite, and the ceiling is made up of large slabs of granite separated in a way that safely suspends the weight of the top of the pyramid.
After exiting the Great Pyramid, we continued passed the Pyramid of Khafre to our camels. All 11 of us had our own camel and once you climb on the camel rocks back and forward to stand up (you feel like you’re going to fall off half the time so don’t skip leg day because that’s really what keeps you from tipping off!). The camels we rode were Dromedary Camels (1 hump) which are native to North Africa and the Middle East. They are an important part of Arab culture with over 160 words for camel in Arabic. They are thought to symbolize endurance and patience. While they are relatively docile creatures, if you approach them with your head uncovered, we noticed that they would quite literally try to eat the top of your head. Thankfully no one got hurt but they did try to take a nibble out of one person in our group and several other people in the groups around us. The guides were great and always happy to help you take all types of pictures.
Our camel train set off into the desert away from the city. We looped back around behind the pyramids in such a way that hid the city entirely, so we felt like we were alone in the desert with our camels and the gorgeous view of the pyramids. All in all, I think we were out for nearly an hour before unloading off the camels and heading to see the Sphinx.
The Sphinx is known as “The Father of Terror” (or in Arabic, Abu Al Hol) and received its current name from the Greeks because it looked like one of their mythical creatures (thank you Lonely Planet for this piece of info!). The material of the Sphinx dates to the same time period as Khafre’s pyramid, therefore it is assumed to look like Khafre. While the Sphinx is smaller than you would expect (especially compared to the monstrous pyramids that rise behind it), it is also less sturdy due to pollution and rising groundwater that cause internal fractures. Our guide explained to us that for preservation reasons they keep tourists at a distance.
After leaving the Sphinx, our guide surprised us with 2 additional stops. The first was to Topaz Bazaar, a small shop in Giza that sold many trinkets, along with custom made cartouches! A cartouche is a part of Egyptian culture and according to our guide, most Egyptians are given one when they are young. They are a thin oval slab (that looks almost like a scroll or tablet) with a person’s name in hieroglyphics on it. This shop offered silver, gold or a combination of both. Each cartouche took 15 minutes to make, so naturally most of our group bought one! They also shared the meaning of each of the hieroglyphs of our names. For example, my name, Jules, has the following meaning by letter: J is Cleverness; U is pure heart & frankly; L is brave heart & powerful; E is justice & happiness; and S is traveler & adventurer. For a look at the full alphabet and each letters’ meaning, see the pictures below. There was a little space leftover to add another symbol, so I chose to include the scarab beetle for good luck! A picture of my cartouche is also below. The pricing was around 35 USD for silver, 85 for silver plate with gold symbols, and 100+ for all gold. For more information about the location of this shop, see below image with address and contact information or follow this link to their site.
Our last stop was to an aromatherapy shop in Giza. The shop had been in the keepers’ family for over 300 years and they shared with us a variety of scents used by some of the most famous and expensive perfumes. You could buy the Chanel N⁰5 scent in concentrated form for far less than an actual bottle would cost. The shopkeeper said that a few drops of the concentrated liquid in rubbing alcohol would create a very similar blend to the existing perfume. If I had enough space in my suitcase, I would have purchased some…
After all was said and done, the complete experience with Let’s Explore Egypt was well worth the 30 USD we each paid (we added about a 20% tip on top of that at the end of the day because our guide was so good)! I would highly recommend checking viator.com anytime you’re curious about booking a tour. They tend to have a variety of options, and even if you don’t find the exact one you’re looking for, you can at the very least get a few ideas and look elsewhere. Over the course of this trip we used viator.com twice and were very content with our experiences
Reach out with any questions about this trip and others! And definitely connect with me on IG if you have trip suggestions, ideas, or asks!