Ready to visit one of the most adventurous and historical places on Earth?! The African country of Egypt is a feast for the senses with its ancient wonders, hearty cuisine, and chaotic streets.
Brad and I started our two-week trip to Egypt with a three-day visit to Cairo and Giza. After a whirlwind night navigating the Cairo International Airport and finding an Uber, our efforts were rewarded when we gazed upon the Great Pyramids from the rooftop terrace of our hotel.
Day 1 - Dahshur, Memphis, and Saqqara
For accommodations we stayed at Pyramids Guest House (permanently closed), which was a short walk to the main entrance of the Giza Pyramid Complex. The friendly hospitality, abundant hot mint tea, and prime location was AMAZING! The terrace was a great place to watch the pyramids light show for free. I highly recommend the low-cost hotel for an authentic experience.
At the hotel, we had a free Egyptian breakfast with ful medames (mashed fava beans), tamiya (fried mashed fava beans with parsley), aish baladi (flatbread), yogurt, hard boiled eggs, and masa'a (a potato and eggplant dish). The wholesome meal was flavorful and delicious.
Dahshur: The Bent and Red Pyramids
We booked a six-hour private excursion with Deluxe Egypt Travel to visit Dahshur, Memphis, and Saqqara. Don't miss out on these unique pyramids, tombs, and impressive stone sculptures!
After about an hour drive, we reached Dahshur to see the Bent Pyramid which was built by Pharaoh Sneferu in 2600 BC. The pyramid has a unique shape due to a hiccup in engineering. Archaeologists theorize the initial 54-degree inclination was changed to 43 degrees after possible signs of instability during construction.
Descending the cramped 262-foot long shaft down into the depths of the pyramid was extraordinary! Going backwards made it a little easier, but the tunnel was claustrophobic and warm. I tried to take steady breaths and relish the experience of being inside a pyramid to settle my mind. Once you reach the bottom you will ascend a few flights of stairs and crawl through another passageway to reach the main chamber. Watch out for bats!
Approximately one kilometer away from the Bent Pyramid is the Red Pyramid; the third largest pyramid in Egypt. The reddish hue of the limestone makes for a unique contrast against the golden sand. The handful of tourists at these pyramids made for an unencumbered experience.
Memphis Outdoor Museum
Our next stop was the ancient city of Memphis; the capital of Egypt during the Old Kingdom, 2686-2181 BC. Now an open-air museum, visitors can see the impressive limestone statue of Ramses II and Alabaster Sphinx.
Saqqara: Djoser Funerary Complex and Mastaba of Ti
Ancient Egyptians placed a high importance on the afterlife and Saqqara functioned as the premier necropolis of Memphis. With an abundance of artifacts and tombs still being discovered today, the funerary complex of Djoser is perhaps the most magnificent. Designed by the architect Imhotep, the six-stepped limestone Pyramid of Djoser with its nearby colonnade entrance and Heb-sed ritual court is awe-inspiring.
The nearby Mastaba of Ti has colorful scenes depicting animals and daily life. The craftsmanship and realistic detail of the reliefs evoke the many facets of Egyptian culture such as family, agriculture, and status. I studied his tomb in my high school AP art history class and standing inside was a touching full circle moment for me.
For dinner we ate at El Dar Darak restaurant and sampled a variety of mezze dishes including tahini (ground sesame seed paste with lemon, garlic, and oil), baba ganoush (grilled eggplant and tahini dip), and bessara (cold fava bean purée). The comforting orzo soup, seafood, and shish kebabs (skewered grilled meats) were filling!
Day 2 - Cairo
With a better understanding of the overwhelming traffic in Egypt, we decided to book a last minute full-day private tour exploring a few attractions in downtown Cairo with Emo Tours Egypt to have a seamless experience.
Initially we planned to grab a taxi and navigate the city on our own, but the streets are not as pedestrian friendly compared to Western countries. We enjoyed the flow and the one-on-one conversation of our first tour so much that we decided to book another one. Each guide had his own style, but allowed for free time to be alone if desired. I found all of our tours on Tripadvisor.
The Egyptian Museum
Our guide took us to The Egyptian Museum and showed us artifacts we never would have found on our own. The museum is a maze and doesn't have the best descriptions, so it helps to have your own personal Egyptologist. Although most of the collection is being moved to the new Grand Egyptian Museum, we were able to see a variety of items including the Palette of Narmer, Colossus of Akhenaten, and Tutankhamun treasure wing.
Next up was a visit to the Khan el-Khalili bazaar. The lively atmosphere was filled with a variety of goods including spices, clothing, housewares, and jewelry. The narrow streets and alleyways were fun to explore!
Bargaining is an Egyptian custom, so it's helpful to research conversion rates and have cash on hand. Vendors will try to entice you at every corner so be prepared for the attention. We picked up a few blue scarabs as souvenirs.
For lunch we tried Egypt's favorite fast food, koshari, at Tom and Basal. The vegetarian dish has layers of lentils, pasta, chickpeas, rice, and fried onions. Mix it all up with a side of tomato sauce and an optional dash of garlic vinegar and hot sauce for a kick. We washed it down with asab, a fresh-pressed sugarcane juice drink. YUM!
Mosque of Muhammad Ali
Egypt is a predominantly Islamic country and mosques with their towering minarets signal the call to prayer multiple times a day. We visited the Mosque of Muhammad Ali located in the Citadel of Cairo. Completed in 1848, the mosque features the architectural style of the Ottomans and an impressive central dome with a diameter of 79 feet. It was a surreal experience to be inside and learn about the Islamic faith.
Day 3 - Giza
After two back-to-back days of busy tours, we caught up on some much needed sleep due to jet lag. We made reservations weeks in advance at 9 Pyramids Lounge, located at the south side of the Giza Pyramid Complex, for a relaxing brunch. The new restaurant offers outdoor dining with a stunning view of the pyramids. After our meal, we enjoyed some tea on the Bedouin lounges.
Great Pyramids of Giza
A trip to Egypt isn't complete without a visit to the Great Pyramids; the last surviving ancient wonder of the world! You won’t be disappointed when you marvel at the sheer grandeur of the pyramids while trekking across the warm sand of the Giza Plateau.
Giddy with excitement, we explored the Menkaure and Khafre pyramids without another tourist in sight! Check out this post to see more information about our experience traveling to Egypt during COVID-19.
Eventually visitors picked up once we reached the Khufu pyramid. To stand before and touch the pyramids was extraordinary. The limestone and granite blocks towered above us and the mind-boggling construction makes you feel like a tiny ant. Paying the extra fee to enter the Khufu pyramid was well worth it!
TIPS: Decide if you want to venture inside a pyramid and purchase the additional ticket before you enter the complex, otherwise you will have to circle back to one of the two ticket booths either east of the Sphinx or north of the Khufu pyramid. Bring enough water and snacks for the day. Bathrooms are available for a small fee near the entrance of the Khufu pyramid. Be sure to wear comfortable shoes and watch your step!
The Great Sphinx
The Sphinx is an impressive monument to behold. Keeping a watchful eye towards the Nile River, the Great Sphinx continues to be a mystery today since archaeologists cannot confirm its origins. The limestone monolith was carved into the bedrock and measures 240 feet long from paw to tail.
If you need a break from walking, consider taking a fun ride around the area on a camel, horse, or carriage. Touts will be eager to offer you a ride with varying prices. We had one follow us for about three hours after Brad said we would be interested later in the day. He never took his eyes off us, which was a bit annoying. I was able to bargain my way down to 200 LE ($12 USD) for the both of us after an initial quote of 700 LE ($45 USD)!
We rode Charlie Brown and Daisy for about 30 minutes just before sunset. It was a magical way to end our time at the pyramids!
Three days in Cairo and Giza is plenty of time to enjoy the sights. Although we visited the Great Pyramids on our own, I highly recommend getting a guide or booking a tour for other points of interest that are a bit more difficult to reach solo. You will not only save time and avoid headaches, but be able to soak up the history without stressing over logistics. Egypt is a destination worthy of your bucket list!