If you’ve been following this blog, you know that Dan and I checked off a big bucket list item earlier this year – visiting the Great Pyramids of Giza in Egypt!! It was truly a 10-year in the making trip (due to safety concerns), and we loved every minute of our holiday! So much, in fact, that we are planning to go back in a couple years when the Great Egyptian Museum finally opens! While everything was fantastic, I was shocked at how difficult it is to find information about visiting the Pyramids, and Egypt generally, online; it was really tough! I put together this guide to help future travelers cut down on the planning stress! Note, this information is as of 2019. Definitely check for updates and more recent information in the future, as Egypt’s tourism industry is only moving forward!
THE GREAT PYRAMIDS OF GIZA – A VERY, VERY BRIEF BACKGROUND
If anyone is unfamiliar with the Great Pyramids of Giza, the Great Pyramids of Giza are the 3 big pyramids commonly associated with Cairo, Egypt. These 3 pyramids are actually located in Giza, Egypt, 21 kilometers west of Cairo, and it takes about 1 hour to get between the two cities by car. All 3 pyramids are conveniently inside what I dub “the pyramid complex.” Contrary to common belief, there are actually 9 pyramids (!) in Giza, and all of the pyramids are located in that 1 large “pyramid complex” in Giza. The oldest of the Great Pyramids is believed to date back to 2500 BC and the Great Pyramid is the only one of the Seven Wonders of the World still standing.
The The Great Pyramids of Giza are believed to have been built as tombs for ancient Egyptian Kings, but they are currently entirely empty of burial treasure. All of that has either been stolen or moved to various museums around the world, including the Egyptian Museum in Cairo! In addition to the main 3 pyramids, there is a lot to see and do when visiting the Great Pyramids. Note, there are other pyramids in Egypt (and elsewhere!), but The Great Pyramids of Egypt are the most well known!
GETTING TO THE GREAT PYRAMIDS
As mentioned, the Great Pyramids are located in Giza, about an hour drive from Cairo. Giza is its own city, with lots of touristy hotels, restaurants, and shops. To visit the pyramids, one can stay in Giza or visit as a day trip from Cairo. The closest airport for both cities is Cairo International.
We visited the Great Pyramids as a day trip from Cairo on a private tour with Emo Tours Egypt (who also organized our Nile River cruise). Visiting as part of a tour from Cairo is a popular option, and this worked our perfectly for Dan and me. If you do not go as part of a tour, you can drive between Cairo and Giza or take an Uber. There is plenty of parking at the pyramids complex in its own, huge parking lot. In any case, I recommend leaving Cairo early to beat the traffic and the heat.
If you prefer to stay in Giza, there are many touristy hotels in Giza, including Western chains, and many tourists immediately go to Giza after flying into Cairo International, skipping Cairo entirely. I think this is a mistake, but its probably more comfortable for nervous travelers, as Giza, a tourist town, is more tourist friendly than Cairo, a real, working city. Another plus of visiting from Giza is that a few hotels have views of the pyramids!
TICKETS TO THE GREAT PYRAMIDS
Upon arrival to the Great Pyramids, tickets are purchased just before entering pyramid complex. This bears repeating – purchase tickets to visit the pyramids, and anything else that you want to do associated with the pyramids at the main ticket booth, before entering the complex – including entrance inside the pyramids (each a separate fee). The one exception to this rule is the Solar Boat Museum, which sells its own entry tickets (to that museum only) on the spot. We purchased a general entry ticket and entrances into both The Great Pyramid and The Pyramid of Khafre. Bring cash for the tickets. After purchasing tickets, pass through the standard security (very minimal) and there they are – the Great Pyramids of Egypt!!!
SITES AT THE GREAT PYRAMIDS
As most people know, the Great Pyramids of Giza consist of 3 main pyramids and six smaller pyramids – for a total of 9! That being said, the main three pyramids are the Great Pyramid of Giza (a/k/a the Pyramid of Khufu a/k/a the Pyramid of Cheops, dating back to 2550 BC), the Pyramid of Khafre (Khufu’s son, dating to 2520 BC), and the Pyramid of Menkaure (the smallest and youngest, dating to 2490 BC). The pyramids are located close enough together, and tourists can walk between the pyramids pretty easily. Surprisingly, tourists can walk right up and touch the pyramids. Literally. Aside from the three main pyramids, the smaller 6 pyramids are located behind the Pyramid of Menkaure, known as the Pyramids of Queens, and beside The Great Pyramid, called the Tombs of Queen Hetepheres. The 3 main pyramids are more impressive than the 6 smaller ones in my opinion.
1. THE GREAT PYRAMID OF GIZA
The first pyramid that you will come across is the The Great Pyramid, which you can enter (discussed below). This pyramid was built as a tomb for the Egyptian Pharaoh Khufu. If you are going to enter only one pyramid, I recommend this one, and if you are planning to enter, read on below. If you are not entering, the Great Pyramid is cool just to walk around. You can touch it and actually climb on the pyramid up to its entrance. This makes for a cool photo opportunity!
2. THE SOLAR BOAT MUSEUM
Just next to the Great Pyramid is the solar boat museum, which entrance is an extra cost and can be purchased at the museum on the spot. The Solar Boat Museum is pretty small aside from its main attraction – Khufu’s Solar Boat! Basically, this boat – which is HUGE – was the boat that was used to carry Pharaoh Khufu’s body to the Great Pyramid to be entombed. The boat was dismantled and buried next to the Great Pyramid. The boat was discovered in the 1900s and has been reassembled and put on display in this museum. I have to say its pretty impressive (reminiscent of the Vasa Museum in Stockholm) and I recommend allowing about 20 – 30 minutes to visit this museum. A bonus to visiting this museum, air conditioning and clean toilets!
3. THE PYRAMID OF KHAFRE
Moving through the complex, the next pyramid is the Pyramid of Khafre. This pyramid was built as a tomb for Pharaoh Khafre and, due to the landscape, looks taller than the Great Pyramid (its not). In my opinion, this pyramid is the “best looking” of the three, as some of the limestone remains on the very top of the pyramid. You can sometimes enter the Pyramid of Khafre for a fee (see below).
4. PYRAMID OF MENKAURE
The Pyramid of Menkaure is the smallest of the pyramids, and the least exciting in my opinion. Its also the furthest from the entrance to the complex. Nevertheless, its still cool to see and if the Pyramid of Khafre is closed, you can enter the Pyramid of Menkaure.
5. VIEWS OF ALL THREE PYRAMIDS
Beyond the Pyramid of Menkaure, there is a great view point of all 3 pyramids, which is super popular for pictures. You can find this spot by looking past the Pyramid of Menkaure and seeing the spot where all of the buses have stopped. To get here, you can technically walk, but I recommend driving. Its free to take pictures from this spot, but its very crowded! Plan to spend 10 minutes taking pictures. If you don’t have a car, you can hire horse or camel transportation. This view is probably best saved for the end of your trip, or the beginning, as its a bit out of the way.
6. THE SPHNIX
The Sphnix is also in the Pyramid complex, a short walk from the pyramids. There is no entering the Sphinx – you can just view the outside and take pictures. There is a little market leading up to the Sphinx, selling all sorts of pyramid/Egypt tourists trinkets. Plan to spend 15 minutes here.
7. CAMEL AND HORSE RIDES AT THE PYRAMIDS
Numerous Egyptians with camels and horses are located in the pyramid complex and hire both rides and photo opportunities for a fee (I have heard rides go for 250 Egyptian Pounds + for 30 minutes, but its all up to bargaining). A lot of people speak poorly of the care of the animals, and we skipped this all together. If you are interested, options definitely around, particularly near the Great Pyramid. Bring cash. A local guide will also be very helpful in arranging such a ride or photo.
8. PYRAMID SOUND AND LIGHT SHOW
Every night, there is a “light show” at the pyramid complex. This is quite a popular activity, and you can easily buy tickets when in Egypt. We did a “sound and light show” at the Temple of Karnak in Luxor and found it to be incredibly boring, so we skipped the show in Giza. Tickets are sold at every hotel and tourist agency.
9. TOMB OF MERESANKH III
You can also visit the inside of the Tomb of Meresankh III,Khufu’s grand-daughter . We skipped this option due to time constraints, but the inside is supposed to be gorgeous and decorated with colorful paintings on the walls. This tomb has only been open to the public since 2012.
ENTERING THE PYRAMIDS
For those wanting to enter the pyramids – we did – my advance research advised that you can enter all 3 main pyramids, and 2 of the 3 are usually open to the public. When we visited, both the Great Pyramid and the Pyramid of Khafre were open to visit, so we purchased tickets for each (separate tickets) before entering the park. AGAIN NOTE – be sure to do buy tickets when you enter the complex to avoid going back and waiting in line….
Our first visit was to The Great Pyramid, and tourists simply climb up the pyramid a bit, show the guard your ticket, and there you are, entering a crazy old and not-at-all well ventilated structure. Claustrophobia commences. And the claustrophobic, and the physically challenged in any way, should be cautious before entering the Great Pyramid. To paint the picture, entry starts out pretty normal, like going into a cave, except immediately upon entry, the temperature creeps up several degrees and you can tell the air is quite thin. You’re standing upright, though. Just a bit into the pyramid though, you have to enter a TINY up-hill passage way that you will need to bend over to scale. And, its 2 ways. Yep, 2 ways. Here is a picture of me and Dan:
Again ,that’s a two way passage.
Once ascending this tiny death chamber, you then climb a small, 3 or 4 pronged ladder and go up another incline, this one shorter and not two-way. At the top, you just need to bend to fit under a couple large stones and then you are there, in the completely empty burial chamber of Khufu. Kind of anti-climatic, but you will be thrilled to catch your breath. After spending some time here (you do not need more than 5 minutes), you ascend back down and exit the Great Pyramid. Was it worth it? Totally. Would I do it again? Unlikely – I felt like I was going to die when I finally exited that pyramid.
Our second visit was to the Khafre Pyramid, which was a bit less claustrophobic (but it could have been because I was used to it at this point). In the Khafre pyramid, you first venture down an incline, again, bent over, have a bit of standing room at the bottom and then climb up an incline (bent over) until you reach the burial chamber. All in all, I found this much easier than the Great Pyramid, but less exciting.
Allow at least 45 minutes – 1 hour to enter the Great Pyramid and 30 – 45 minutes to enter the Pyramid of Khafre. I would also note that pictures are not allowed, but practically speaking, everyone is taking them. The employee in the burial chambers actually took our picture for a little fee… Also, take water with you inside the pyramids. You will need it.
AMENITIES IN THE PYRAMID COMPLEX
There are TONS of hawkers inside the pyramid complex, selling everything from water to scarves to sunglasses to souvenirs. Feel free to haggle, but know that once you show any interest, vendors will chase you down to buy their wares. Literally chase you down. We only purchased a $3 USD set of postcards and stamps for a friend back home. Also, pay in Egyptian Pounds; not USD, not Euros, and not British Pounds.
WHAT TO BRING TO THE PYRAMIDS AND WAHT TO WEAR
First, water. Definitely bring a bottle of water! Second, cash money to buy more water. It is hot at the pyramids and there is hardly any shade! Next, I recommend wearing sunscreen and a hat and/or sunglasses.
In terms of clothing, the pyramid complex is a tourist destination. People wear everything from way-too-short-shorts to long pants and long sleeved shirts. To respect the local culture, I wore cropped light pants and a short sleeved T-shirt. This worked out fine, and I felt comfortable the entire time. Dan wore a polo and shorts and he also felt comfortable. Also, ladies, wear a small purse that goes across your body if you are planning to go inside the pyramids.
For shoes, I cannot recommend closed toed athletic shoes enough, especially if you enter the pyramids! You will be walking around on sand and slippery limestone, and in the pyramids, will be climbing up essentially a ladder.
We used Emo Tours Egypt to organize our trip to the Pyramids of Giza and we were very happy with them. The cost was $97.50 US for one person for a private tour guide, entrance to the complex, and round trip transportation to and from our hotel in Cairo. It also included 2 sites in Cairo upon our return (the Egyptian Museum and the Khan El Khalili Bazar). In addition to the included sites, we added on entrance to both the Great Pyramid and the Pyramid of Kahfre and entrance to the Solar Boat Museum, which were all included in the cost. Also included were a stop at a local perfume factory (at my request) and a buffet lunch that was pretty decent.
A tour guide is very helpful in visiting the pyramids, which can be overwhelming. First, the local guide knows the sites and will help you minimize planning and maximize you sight seeing. Further, a tour guide will take all of the pictures and help you avoid local hawkers. If you do hire a guide, however, I recommend hiring in advance from a reputable company and bring a print out of exactly what is included on your tour to ensure nothing is accidentally missed. Many companies do not allocate time for extras, such as visiting inside the pyramids or the Solar Boat Museum, so be upfront in booking if this is something that you want to do.
STEAL OUR TRIP
Emo Tours Egypt: The tour company that we used to book our tour of the pyramids. Use the code SAVETHISWAY to save 10% off all tours.
Prices April 2019:
Great Pyramids Complex: 160 Egyptian Pounds
Entrance inside The Great Pyramid: 360 Egyptian Pounds
Entrance inside Pyramid of Khafre: 100 Egyptian Pounds
Entrance inside Solar Boat Museum: 100 Egyptian Pounds, plus an extra fee if you want to take pictures (common in Egypt). Open 9:00 – 16:00.
Mers Ankh Tomb: 50 Egyptian Pounds.