Visiting the Great Pyramids, all you need to know

Visiting the Great Pyramids, all you need to know

Visiting the Great Pyramids
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Visiting the Great Pyramids, all you need to know

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There are few attractions on Earth that can be found on every single travelers bucket list, and visiting the Great Pyramids is one of them. Both Marina and myself have been dreaming of visiting Egypt and the pyramids since we can remember. Who doesn’t remember learning about the Nile and King Tut in elementary school and who doesn’t fantasize about wandering through the desert and coming across these mystical buildings? For Marina, visiting the pyramids was her number one trip on Earth and I was thrilled to be watching her face as we rounded the corner and she got her first glimpse of these amazing structures. So sit back, prepare to get excited, whip out that travel credit card and book a trip to amazing Egypt, you’ll never regret it.

Now, we were very fortunate to be staying with some great Egyptian friends of our in Cairo this time around and had the distinct advantage of visiting the pyramids with them over the course of two days. That said, we still figured out all you need to know to when visiting the great pyramids so hopefully any trip you make to the pyramids will be nothing but filled with great memories. Our friends live about a 40 minute drive from Giza, however there are tons of great hotel options in Giza if you want to be just a stones throw from the pyramids.

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“There are times we simply cannot believe what our eyes are seeing. Sitting at the Sphinx and gazing at the Great Pyramids in Giza is definitely one of those times…”

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First on our list? Camel rides! Riding camels and visiting the great pyramids sort of go hand in hand, that is if you were raised watching the Mummy with a totally westernized and semi warped view of what Egyptian history really was. That said, the Egyptians are happy to offer both camel and horse riding trips through the cast desert surrounding the great pyramids. As soon as you get into Giza and close to the pyramids themselves, you will be surrounded by Egyptian men who, rather boisterously, convince you to follow them for the best visit to the great pyramids. And while we wouldn’t suggest blindly following any man loudly shouting at you as a rule, these guys were nothing but helpful, energetic and ultimately showed us an amazing time. Also, it is worth noting that there is no information center, tourism office ore official tour guiding building. Don’t try and fined official licensed guides, you will just be wasting your time. That being said, the vast majority of those offering camel rides, guided tours, etc are well trained and more than capable of showing you a great time.

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Visiting the Great Pyramids

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Visiting the Great Pyramids

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A two hour camel ride will cost you about 150 Egyptian pounds, which at about $23 is quite a good deal. The number of camels, horses, kids, goats and general livestock running around shouldn’t deter you, and while you might feel as though you are in the wild west, just go with it, jump on a camel and set out on one of the most memorable afternoons of your life. You can, of course, head out in the morning, or mid day, but we highly recommend either a sun rise or sun set trip, for obvious reasons beyond the heat.

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Now, as soon as you jump on the camel you will notice one thing very quickly, besides the fact that camels are super tall and extremely odd looking animals, you are heading AWAY from the pyramids. No you are not heading in the wrong direction, and yes it will all be worth it we promise. You will head through a traditional Egyptian neighborhood and emerge headed out towards the vast desert after about 15 minutes. The pyramids are almost completely hidden at this point but as you slowly ascend the sand dunes all three of the great pyramids become visible and the view is simply breathtaking. 

Once off the camels, you can rest, relax and take unlimited pictures of you, the camels, friends and of course the view. The afternoon light becomes quickly beautiful and the scene only gets better the longer you wait.

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Of note is that while on the camel trips you will be nowhere close to the great pyramids as the trip really focuses on the camel ride in the desert and the pyramids as a dramatic backdrop. You have a couple different options to fully take in the great pyramids while in Cairo. While all can be done in one day, we broke up our visit into two days and were glad we did as both days were exhausting, but they could easily be done in one. A visit to the great pyramids themselves is a completely different experience and totally different from the camel ride.

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Visiting the Great Pyramids

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You can drive up, or take a taxi surprisingly close the main gate to the great pyramids. Once parked, a simple ticket building displays the various ticket options. A ticket to enter the great pyramid complex is 80 Egyptian pounds, about $10. If you want to go all out and buy the all inclusive ticket which grants you access to all 3 of the great pyramids as well as the Sphinx and various other tombs and ruins, it will set you back 200 Egyptian pounds, about $30. If you want to purchase a photo pass it will cost you 20 pounds ($3), but in our experience it is not needed at all, and we are photographers – meaning we had all of our gear and no one ever said anything about needing the pass. That said, there are some odd photo rules which we will go into further in a bit.

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We’d highly recommend just buying the total pass, spending the $30 and exploring all afternoon. Although there is security set in place which you must go through, it seems more of a formality as they didn’t seem to check what we were bringing in at all.

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As you enter the great pyramid complex you will undoubtedly be surrounded by hagglers selling everything from cowboy hats to plastic statues, bottled water and scarves. While a bit annoying to most travelers, we have found the hagglers in Egypt to be mostly pleasant and kind and not too harsh. We ended up buying multiple bottles of water as well as a scarf, all for a total of $5.

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Visiting the Great Pyramids

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Visiting the Great Pyramids

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One thing that we did find very surprising was the sheer lack of any written information about the great pyramids and surrounding structures. This is when hiring a local guide really is a good idea. Not only do they speak English, but they are cheap, very knowledgable and will take you places and tell you things you would never be able to find out about on your own. A guide for the afternoon cost us $8, well worth it I’d say.

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TIP: You will definitely want to bring your cameras as you run up to the great pyramid an pose for a couple pictures, however, if you are entering the great pyramid itself, cameras are strictly forbidden. We promised we wouldn’t take pictures inside the passage ways or tombs but still had to walk our cameras back to the car until we exited. You can of course leave your cameras with a friend, guide, etc if you feel comfortable, but with all of our gear we felt best to place it back in the car.

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I’ve never felt more like Indian Jones than I did as we all, hunched over, ascended the 100meter passageway into the direct center of the great pyramid and emerged in a seemingly basic room, with an empty tomb in the center. While we were both expecting a bit more fanfare, the pyramids were simply a burying place, and while the main chambers were filled with remnants, the pyramids themselves were not where many of the artifacts were recovered from. The few that were, however, now lay a short drive away in the Egyptian Museum. Once inside the main chamber, the Egyptian crypt keeper as it were, offered to take our pictures and even posed us as he snapped away using our iPhones, flash and all. So yea, irony all around about the strict photo policy, so sneak in your smart phone and make sure to tip the crypt keeper. We only visited the biggest of the pyramids, Khufu, which was the largest and first built. The other two pyramids are nearly identical and were built for his son and his grandson.

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Visiting the Great Pyramids

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NOTE: The passageways are small, tight, and hot so if you are the slightest bit claustrophobic consider what you are getting into. The trip into the tomb is not all that long but you will be in a dark passageway, possibly on your knees, crawling and ducking for fair portions, so be prepared for that. The inner room is about 20 feet by 10 feet and has tall ceilings, which feels spacious after the ascent. 

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Visiting the Great PyramidsOnce out of the pyramid, spend the money to hire a guide to take you around. You will learn all about the star ship, a 5,000 year old boat which used to be docked right next to the great pyramids, as the nile was right at the base of the pyramids for three months a year during their construction. You will also explore the tomb of the architect of the great pyramids, which for us, satisfied our excitement to see statues and hieroglyphics, which are not present in the actual pyramids. The architects tomb is shockingly detailed with precisely cut objects and symbols in the walls, some with the paint still visible. 

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The three pyramids were build over the course of 30 years by a force of over 25,000 workers, many of whom are buried in tombs in the complex. Remember, the complex closes at 4pm, so make sure to save time for the 10 minute walk to visit the Sphinx, which is stunning in its own right. Situated slightly below the great pyramids, the Sphinx was built out of a huge stone which was naturally located on the grounds. The pharaoh who had the first pyramid constructed saw the stone and didn’t want its massive size to distract from the pyramids so he ordered his workers to make it a beautiful monument as well. The sphinx bares the face of the pharaoh, the hair of the pharaoh’s wife to symbolize beauty and the body of a lion to represent strength.   

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Visiting the Great Pyramids

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NOTE: Watch out for hagglers who try to give you “gifts”, as, of course, nothing is really free. You will be wearing a full head scarf and a necklace before you realize it, and while told it is simply a gift to you, a “gift” back to them (money) will be expected. There are some nice souvenirs to be purchased if you wish, but just do so on your own time, at your own pace. 

From the complex of the Sphinx you can clearly see all three great pyramids and can sit, relax and be in complete awe at the scene that your eyes are witnessing. As some of the most recognizable, misunderstood, timeless and remarkable works of art on the planet, no visit to the great pyramids will leave you wanting more. The pyramids are such an iconic symbol of Cairo that many Egyptian high school and college graduations are held at the pyramid grounds.

We were very surprised to find such few tourists during our two days around the pyramid grounds. We maybe saw two other western couples, but generally the grounds were very empty with only Middle Eastern and Egyptian visitors. Egypt has taken a huge cut in their tourism numbers since the revolution three years ago and they are simply happy to see visitors and very accommodating to their every need.

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Whether you spend an afternoon or a few days exploring the complex and surrounding areas, and despite the seemingly lack of organization, the hectic hagglers, wild livestock and possible hordes of tourists, nothing will take away the utter stunning beauty of these buildings. 

Marina and I were simply at a lack of words for most of the time we spent at the great pyramids and have witnessed few other natural or man made structures with such affect.  So now you have the tools and all you need to know when visiting the great pyramids. 

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COMPLETE PRICE GUIDE:

Camel/Horse Ride: Approx. $25 US (2 hours)

Great Pyramids Complex Ticket: $11 US

Ticket to go inside all 3 Pyramids: $30 US

Guide for afternoon: $8 US

Bottles of Water: $0.50

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WHAT TO BRING:

Sunscreen & Hat

Camera

Egyptian Pounds

Water

Clothes to get dusty

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Visiting the Great Pyramids

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.H . jeffjohnsheadshotJeff Johns is the co-founder and editor of Latitude 34 Travel Blog. Through 65 countries on 6 continents he has accumulated a seemingly endless stream of odd information, interesting stories and helpful tips and tricks to better travel. Jeff’s goal is to visit all 204 countries on Earth before he is too senile to remember them all. A graduate of the Visual Journalism program at the Brooks Institute, his true passions lay in honest visual storytelling, documentary filmmaking, Thai food and a good laugh. Together with his girlfriend Marina, they run Latitude 34 Travel Blog as a source of helpful information for those who love to travel or those who simply dream of it. If you have a comment or suggestion, send them an email at hello@latitudethirtyfour.com and they’ll respond super fast!

12 COMMENTS

  1. Well, Jeff, after 10 years when I wanted you to join me in Egypt, you finally made it! I’m glad you were as impressed as I was seeing the pyramids and sphinx for the first time. There are few places on earth that give
    such a sense of awe and wonder as Egypt. The photos are exquisite!

    • Thanks pops! I was only missing you standing there with me! We’ll just have to plan a trip back won’t we!?

  2. The pyramids and the valley of the kings are definitely on me and my husbands list of places to visit. There is definitely a magical almost timeless wonder about how these magnificent structures were completed. The tips about photography were helpful and like any tourist hotspot the unavoidable face off with locals selling trinkets requires diplomacy and sometimes a deaf ear.lol.
    Tam@Travelling Book Junkie recently posted…O is for… Oxford, EnglandMy Profile

    • It really was an amazing experience to gaze at the pyramids, it was almost too much to take in. Finally laying eyes on structures that have been around for thousands of years that you have been seeing pictures of your whole life was truly amazing!

  3. […] real Egypt. Needless to say by April we were in Cairo and had an absolutely amazing time. Of course visiting the Great Pyramids in Egypt was a highlight of our adventures so far and we will never forget riding camels into the desert and […]

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