We leave Aswan early in the morning for a flight to Cairo at 8:55 am. Unfortunately, our flight is two hours late and we are bored like dead rats at the airport. The day before, I made a bad manipulation on my phone. My Egyptian line is blocked, we don’t have Internet or phone at all. Fortunately that our guide, who led us to the airport, was aware of the delay and warned our guide in Cairo.
From the plane, sitting on the right, I see the pyramids of Giza for 3 seconds. Magic moment!
Part 1: Travel Diary
Part 2: Practical Tips
Part 1: Travel Diary
Arrived at the airport, we are welcomed by Ossama, the gentleman who accompanied us to Cairo airport to help us buy the visa 10 days ago. This gentleman has to spend all his life at the airport to welcome and say goodbye to the customers. He takes us to see our driver and explains us that instead of going to Saqqarah as planned, because of our 2 hours delay, we will rather visit the museum of Cairo. It is on the way to our hotel anyway. Our guide awaits us there already.
The way from the airport seems smooth, we didn’t have any traffic jams.
After Mick in Aswan, an English speaking guide, this time we have Mohammed, a French speaking guide and Egyptologist. These two guides were sent to us by an Egyptian agency recommended by my mother.
He informs me that the rights to the photos cost 50 pounds (for once it’s accessible, usually it’s 300 pounds) except for the mask of Tutankhamun and the mummies. We asked the agency to show us these paying rooms (Tutankhamun’s treasures and mummies room) and there is a special pass for that (cheaper than if we paid the extras one by one).
This museum is small compared to the huge collection it has. That’s why they are building a new museum 5 minutes drive from the pyramids of Giza. Good because there are so many wonders, it’s a pity not to take care of them and show them at their true value.
I sincerely think that for a beginner, it is necessary to have a guide because it isn’t clearly indicated and everything looks precious and deserves attention. There are a lot of super famous statues for Egypt enthusiasts but they don’t tell us anything at all (oops). If you are ever lost, join a group incognito, there are plenty of them! The museum is less crowded in the afternoon than in the morning (people visit the museum in the morning and then the pyramids in the afternoon), but it isn’t empty in the afternoon either.
Well, I’m not going to comment on the pictures because our guide made the visit at full speed, 3 sentences of explanation per statue so we didn’t retain much except that it’s too pretty, look at the eyes how they shine under the light, how they could have done that 4000 years ago…
To prove to you how neglected this museum is, look at these explanations which still date back to the time when typewriters were used. The wooden display cases are out of date and are locked with old rusty padlocks. There are a lot of objects that have no explanation, just a code. Everybody is crowded to see the golden mask of Tutankhamun while 5 meters away, a perfectly preserved mummy with a nice golden mask interests nobody. In the animal mummies room, there is a mummy of a huge fish but with 1cm of dust.
At one point, they open the windows to take out the objects to put in the new museum. But in front of all the tourists, without any security system. We could almost take an object discreetly, put it in our bag and get out (I spotted the leopard statue there :D).
We are on the second floor, in the Tomb of Tutankhamun’s found objects wing. He is a young pharaoh, reigning for only ten years. His tomb is very small, but it is the only one found intact in the Valley of the Kings, so it is of great value to Egyptologists. In addition, the pharaoh died suddenly, so many objects were probably taken from the palace (gold objects), while for other pharaohs, they have in their tombs a copy, but cheap, of their everyday objects.
Here is the treasure room of Tutankhamun, you can take a picture of the outside but not the inside. There are gold coffins. We attended Tutankhamun’s exhibition in Paris, with copies of his treasures, but it isn’t the same as the real objects exhibited here. The coffins are encrusted with precious stones, and the mask too, I am speechless! It is a masterpiece.
That’s well known, and super nice in real life!
There is a small part that has been transferred to the new museum (this museum isn’t yet open).
We then visit the hall of the mummies of the pharaohs and frankly, it is uneasy. They have removed the bands on the feet, hands and head and we see the poor pharaohs in a frankly not glorious position, we can guess the dried skin, the tight hands…. in addition they are as if they were piled up there, there is a mini corridor between two mummies, and we go around the room as in a line at Disneyland. The horror! I couldn’t stand the vision and ran away at full speed. The poor people, they had to organize for years their funeral, the construction of their grave… put an incredible energy to have eternal rest… to end up exposed in a museum at 10€.
Of course, I criticize, I criticize, but I don’t have solutions to offer either, eh? Except to hide them somewhere, well preserved, out of sight.
Well, I am not saying that our guide was extraordinary, but at the end of the trip we are very tired too and museums have never been our passion.
As it was explained to us, after the revolution, many guides changed their job, and do not want to come back now that tourism is starting again (too unstable for them). It takes time to train a new generation of guides, to make them more professional. We put ourselves in a perspective of coming to help Egypt, and not “I want to get my money’s worth”. I think this isn’t the country for that. This isn’t the Seychelles.
Egypt Pyramids Inn
We are dropped off in front of a hotel that we booked ourselves near the Giza Pyramids. At first, we wanted to go to the famous Mena House but the historical wing is under construction with closed historical parts, which does not justify its rates anymore (200$ per night anyway).
We spotted on booking this new pension, whose all the rooms overlook the pyramids. The price is half the price of the others in the area (70$ + tax) because it is a new pension. And it is also the only one which still has rooms with view on the pyramids. We reserved it 3 weeks before our arrival in Egypt. We highly recommend it! Egypt Pyramids Inn (link Booking), count 80€/night (tax included, shuttle to/from the airport FREE).
We strongly recommend that you book a hotel in the Giza district. This makes it easier for you to visit the pyramids of Giza and Saqqarah and the place is still quieter than the center of Cairo. Besides, waking up with the Sphinx in front of your window is royal.
There are still a few wires (ADSL cable) lying around in the hallway and 3 rooms still to be built above the terrace, but they don’t make any noise, Internet is very good (much faster than the hotels we’ve been to) and we can watch the Sound and Light show… from our bed actually.
They are new and have no opinion yet so they are very nice to us. They offer us everything: drinks, dinner, pins with the flag of Egypt, it’s cute! In exchange, I gave them advices to be more visible on Tripadvisor, Google Business, Google Maps etc.
But we still went to the Son et Lumière show next to the Sphinx (the entrance to this show is 10 meters from our pension). The ticket costs £250/person. The show at 7pm is always in English and always available. The other shows (20h) are broadcast if there are at least 10 people. So everyone goes to the show in English and takes a free audio guide in the language of their choice if needed. Again, like all sound and light in Egypt, the text is slow, theatrical, and the light effect isn’t that great. But I think it’s a great introduction to ancient Egypt for beginners.
In 2 nights, we watched this sound and light 4 times: 1 time with payment, and the other 3 times for free from the terrace of the pension or our bed (2 times in English, 1 time in German, 1 time in Spanish ahhaha).
View on the pyramids
The next day, I wake up with this incredible view from my window. I am really very happy with my choice of hotel because I absolutely wanted to be in front of the Sphinx. I don’t know why, the Sphinx speaks to me a lot. Whereas from Mena House, we do not see the Sphinx, but the Great Pyramid, and it speaks to me less, the Great Pyramid.
The neighborhood is still quite quiet, there are no tourist buses yet. There is like a sail that lands on the Giza district in the morning. I don’t think it’s the pollution because it calms down in the afternoon, and it takes place every day, but because of that, the groups only come in the afternoon.
When you turn your head to the right, you can see that. Pizza Hut looks directly at the sphinx. I think it’s the Pizza Hut with the best view of the planet. You see the neighborhood, there’s nothing special about it, and I’ll spare you the smell. It smells like horse dung as soon as you go out on the street, because a lot of horses and camels “work” around here to take tourists for a walk on the dunes. I break the myth that the pyramids are in the desert, eh. Yes, they were in the desert but the city came to them.
They come to pick us up: our guide from the day before + a driver. We have to make the tour of the district, between traffic jams and pollution, a check point, to pass in front of Mena House and enter by the door reserved for the tourists (the entrance of the Egyptians is just in front of our pension but it is taken by storm by the school groups). School groups come by the hundreds because the government forces them to come here (students pay to visit, some have to go into debt to pay for the trip).
Bim bam bam, we are in front of the Great Pyramid. It’s as big as in my imagination. The mist hides the other pyramids a little bit, but the whole remains incredible.
See the triangle? It’s not where you enter. But we will enter via the hole dug by the grave robbers, a little further down.
Then you can enter the 3 big pyramids (there are 9 in all, 3 big and 6 small) for an optional extra ticket. Some small ones (I don’t know which ones) are open and are free of charge. For access with extra charges, you have to decide before entering the complex and not in front of each pyramid.
For the pyramid complex, the sphinx + entrance to the Great Pyramid + solar boat, there is a pass that costs 500 pounds. It isn’t necessarily marked at the entrance, but ask for the pass.
Were the pyramids really tombs? Was the Great Pyramid really that of Cheops? Many think that it would have disturbed Egyptologists too much and invalidated a lot of theories (Darwin, among others) … if we dated the Great Pyramid between 10,000 and 26,000 years BC and attributed it to a people who had nothing to do with the Egyptians … a people from another civilization. It would have been perhaps too painful to admit that a civilization so advanced and possessing higher knowledge and techniques than we do, could disappear without a trace.
What strikes us is the height of the blocks which are 1-1m50 each. When we see that each block weighs 1 to 2 tons each, and that there are 3 million blocks. And besides that inside, there are corridors in all directions, up, down… and that it is perfectly aligned with the stars, in addition to being in perfect proportions…. We don’t know how to do all this anymore, even with modern machines.
This is the moment to discover the inside of the Great Pyramid. It is 7:45 am and we are almost alone inside the pyramid.
We are advised to visit the interior of the Great Pyramid, and not the other two pyramids, because it is the only one to see both a corridor that goes up and a corridor that goes down (the others all go down).
The down corridor is closed, and we are only allowed to go up, first via a narrow corridor (we have to bend), then a wider corridor (we can stand) but both go up dry. At the end, we bend again to pass through a narrow passage and enter the room they call “King’s Chamber”, made of granite. Contrary to other pyramids, this chamber has a FLAT ceiling (in the other pyramids, it is in a triangle, a succession of stones creating a kind of vault). There is a “sarcophagus” at the bottom of the chamber, there is a hole on the right, on the wall, another hole where there is now a fan. I don’t know if it’s the lack of oxygen but I feel all the weight of the pyramid around me, the heavy air, an overflow of something. It’s a funny feeling, I don’t know how to describe it to you. I feel neither good nor bad.
We have an account of a person from the beginning of the century, who allegedly slept in this room, apparently the experience was quite traumatic (Paul Brunton, “The Secret Egypt”). Napoleon also spent the night here and came out of the pyramid with a pale complexion.
I put here some pictures found on the Internet:
We leave the pyramid, very happy with this unique experience in the world, and go around the Great Pyramid. On this side, there is nobody left. There are 3 small pyramids, one of which we are going to visit.
Here is the small pyramid, almost collapsed, that we are going to visit. This one is a real tomb, it is made of smaller stones, the technique is clearly less advanced (it doesn’t stand upright anymore) and there is only one corridor leading down to the bottom, where they found a sarcophagus, a mummy and furniture (visible in the Cairo museum). A few drawings still remain on the wall.
We continue straight ahead to visit the Solar Boat. It’s only open at 9am so we make a tour before returning. They found 5 boats in the surroundings, out of wood, but only one was reconstituted (it is like a giant puzzle). There are several levels to see this boat from above and below. It makes me think of the Viking ships, in any case it’s very nice, to visit absolutely (ticket in supplement and it is necessary to wear shoe protectors). There is a cat meowing and very hungry next to it, if you have a piece of ham, think of him!
We take again the car to go to the pyramid of Khephren (we could have walked but it is too tiring for our lazy legs). Around the pyramids, there are always ruins like that, temples. Our guide advises us against making the turn of this pyramid, in particular on the side of the desert, he says to us that that can be dangerous. Here also, we can visit the interior, while going down in a long corridor but we did not do it.
This one has a cap (covering) because it has not yet fallen down, but the other two pyramids are supposed to have a covering too.
We have to take the car again to go to a temple just in front of the Sphinx (mummification temple) before arriving at the Sphinx.
I have seen it from my window, but up close, it is even more beautiful. Those who are at his feet are lucky, there is now a ticket that costs 10,000 pounds (500€) to get there. This ticket is issued by the Ministry of Antiquities. We poor people have to stay away like that.
Notice between the feet of the sphinx a stele written by Thutmosis. The sound and light tells us that he had a dream, the sphinx ordered him to unsand it and in exchange, he will become pharaoh… Between the Sphinx and the Great Pyramid, they found a huge mysterious sarcophagus (symbolic tomb of Osiris), surrounded by water, whose interior is empty, but it is closed to tourists. Around the Sphinx, there are hundreds and hundreds of tombs.
The sun lights the face of the Sphinx only in the morning, so this is the best time to visit it. I like this place very much.
In the afternoon (yes, I came back there to admire it again), we are against the light.
I know why I love the Sphinx, he wraps his tail around his body, like my cat Rosalie <3 <3 <3 choupinouuu
And there are many more people in the afternoon, concentrated on 30m²
but hardly anyone on the other side… The great mystery of Egypt!
Our guide suggests a camel ride but the fog hides the view. We prefer to come back (and pay the entrance again) in the afternoon rather than not seeing anything. So, at 10 am, we leave right away for Saqqarah, 30-45 minutes away from there.
The site of Saqqarah is huge and we are happy to go there with a guide (and a driver)
Our guide of the boat (Bassem) had advised us a program in Saqqarah because there are many visits with supplements here.
Then, he first of all advised us to visit the Teti Pyramid
Pyramid of Teti
It doesn’t look like anything anymore but we still have access to the burial chamber via a narrow corridor (which reminds us of the small pyramid visited this morning).
Here we have an inverted V-shaped ceiling, and not flat like the great pyramid and hieroglyphics + stars everywhere.
We then visit the Mastabas. The Mastabas are tombs that look like a mass of brick, divided into cells/rooms. It looks like a royal palace. The body is buried in a very deep grave. Inside the Mastabas, reserved for dignitaries or very rich people, are many colorful and vivid drawings of the daily activities of ancient Egypt.
We visited the Mastaba of Kagemni (included in the ticket), Mérérouka (100 pounds extra) and Tî (extra ??)
The visit is extremely pleasant because there is nobody (the guard opened the doors for us!) and the reliefs are extraordinarily well preserved.
Dug into the rock, it is a strange place where we find gigantic sarcophagi and mummies of sacred cows. How did they get these blocks of several tens of tons of granite down to the bottom? Nobody knows. Respect!
Mastaba de Ti
JB said to me “look” and I almost had a heart attack when I saw this statue behind the hole.
Step Pyramid: Djoser
The complex around the step pyramid is really interesting to see. We first pass by a temple with 40 columns representing the 40 provinces of Egypt.
The pyramid is being renovated, it was Imhotep who had the idea to superimpose the mastabas and make a large and beautiful pyramid, with degrees (6 levels). Before, you could visit the interior. There are several ruins of the temples next to it.
There are mummified beetles.
The ceramics on the walls inside the step pyramid.
Many statues, found not far from the pyramid, in a ditch (containing thousands of statues, objects of all kinds). Here, the museum is small but each object is highlighted as it should be. It is very pleasant to visit.
View point in Giza
We have lunch right next to Saqqarah and then return to Giza to do our camel ride. Luckily for us, the fog is gone. Look at the pyramid, how well you can see the top vs. this morning.
From the “view point”, we can even see the city in the distance, and of course the 6 pyramids (the remaining 3 small ones are hidden behind the Great Pyramid).
Note: This view point is accessible by foot but it’s too far (and too hot to go there). If you are brave, follow the cars in the direction of the small pyramid. You will see a hill in the distance with lots of tourists.
You have to hang on, when the camel gets up, you are shaken in all directions. It is less comfortable than we thought.
Our guide is Hussein, he is a very nice old man, I like him very much. We paid 25€ each for a 30 minutes walk. Everywhere on the site, it is marked 100 pounds for 15 minutes (i.e. 5€/15 minutes), I think we pay a lot, but our guide Mohammed says that prices have increased since November 2018. It doesn’t matter! We are in the desert now, I prefer to pay a little more than to be abandoned there on camel back, or that the guy confiscate my camera (there are so many horror stories on camel rides).
The pyramids are aligned. This alignment isn’t great, because we do not realize the real size of the pyramids. The smallest one (on the front) looks bigger than the Great Pyramid. But it does not matter, see 6 pyramids on a single photo, it’s very nice, we do not see them every day 😀
If we continue like that in the desert, we will cross some oases and then it is Libya.
When entering the Pyramids complex again, we should have paid a ticket again. But in Egypt, a tip has the power to open many doors. So we could enter with the morning ticket.
Note: I do not recommend horseback riding because camels are zen and made for it, but horses aren’t . They suffer too much for the climb, especially in a horse-drawn carriage. I have seen a horse fall (from exhaustion or broke his leg?) and his owner would hit him to get up, without success. A heartbreak
We pass again in front of the Sphinx (photos above) before spending a whole hour watching the sunset from the terrace of our pension.
The last travel diary in Egypt, it’s here
Part 2: Practical Tips
- The inside of the pyramids is best visited in the morning => less crowded (between 7:00 and 7:30 if possible). Organized tours start coming at 8 am and massively in the afternoon.
- The Sphinx is best visited in the morning because you are against the light in the afternoon.
- The Cairo museum is best visited in the afternoon as well.
- The inside of the pyramids is closed between noon and 1pm
So my advice to you is, basically, to do exactly what we do:
- ARRIVES IN CAIRO. Afternoon visit to the Cairo Museum(buy the pass which includes Tutankhamun, Mummies + access to the museum. photos 50 pounds extra)
- sleep in Giza and attend the Son et Lumière show at 7pm
- MORNING: the visit of the inside of the Great Pyramid (Kheops) + Sphinx + solar boat. There will be less people in the morning, but the fog hides a little the pyramids. Buy the pass which includes all these visits
- NOON – BEGINNING AFTERNOON: visit Saqqarah. There is never anyone here
- Late afternoon (before 4am) : come back to the view point to do the camel ride, the fog will already be gone and in the desert dunes, you will be more quiet already
With this, the transportation time is minimal, because you are already very close to the sites. And the transport to the Cairo museum is on the way to the airport => Giza.
Guided tour Pyramids + Saqqarah
If you wish to pay for a guided tour to visit the pyramids and Saqqarah, it is quite possible with an english speaking guide via getyourguide: Guided tour 8h: From Cairo: Pyramids of Giza, the Sphinx, Saqqqarah, Dahshur, for 60€/person