Landing in Cairo International Airport, I felt a sense of calm wash over me. I was ready for this crazy adventure for ages, and so while the usual new country nerves were buzzing, the sense of relief I felt at having made a dream into a reality was stronger.
Cairo, the chaotic capital of Egypt, rich in world-famous history, a city that feels stuck between timelines. Donkeys, camels, and horses are walking on a dusty road where on the other side honking cars are polluting the city. It feels like you went back in time due to constantly seeing horses and buggies or just seeing people use the horses, camels, and donkey as their transportation only.
Where to Stay?
We found a magical place to stay for our time in Cairo, it was actually in Giza. We checked into our Airbnb, however our room wasn’t ready so we got to leave our stuff with the front desk. Our hosts took us to see the rooftop patio before our day of adventuring, and OMG those views were just incredible.
I felt so speechless, being so close to the pyramids was just wow.
The pictures on the website didn’t do it justice.
We paid about $30CAD/night The only thing we didn’t like was our walls were super thin, so we could hear all the people outside and the wild dogs kept barking so loud, it felt like they were in the building with you, so it was hard to get a good night’s rest. It is a busy area since it’s located on the road where you enter the pyramids. The room we had included our own balcony, bathroom, and a full kitchen. The building also had a basic gym, which was about $4CAD/PP.
What to Do?
There are so many things to do and see here in Cairo. Our Airbnb host got us a tour guide and a driver for 3 days. I believe you can go out on your own, but it is more valuable having a tour guide to give you all the information and neat facts. It also takes the stress away from having to plan your own activities, calling the cab, going from point A to point B, and waiting in lines. You do skip the line with a guide. We paid around $400CAD for our own guide and driver, they always supplied water in the car, our breakfast & lunch was included, except for our own drinks, and we did have to buy our own tickets. We could have gone cheaper, but it was all organized at our place, so it was stress-free.
Just keep in mind that every location you go to, if you have a camera you will have to pay extra, about $20-25 CAD extra, maybe more or less at certain places. It adds up very quickly! You won’t have to pay extra if you just use your phone.
Saqqara is a large ancient burial complex best-known for the famous Pyramid of Djoser, or Step Pyramid, the first Egyptian pyramid dating back to 2649-2575 BC. Its unique stepped design is very different from a “regular” pyramid but come on! This was the first one and an innovation at the time.
What makes Saqqara a great place to visit is not only the Pyramid of Djoser but also the surrounding complex which consists of other smaller pyramids, several important tombs with magnificent inscriptions on the walls, a colonnaded corridor, among others. There’s definitely plenty to explore.
Good news is that it’s only an hour of a drive from Cairo to Saqqara, and and still not a popular place to visit compared to the Giza Pyramids. Allow a few hours to check out the highlights of the place. It’s still very neat!
Today it’s home to the colossal statue of Ramses II, known as the greatest Egyptian pharaoh, a mini version of the Sphinx and a few other notable monuments. If you make it all the way out to Saqqara, Memphis is well worth the visit. In 1821 this massive statue of Ramses was discovered, it was half-buried, laying face down in marshy ground. In 1887 a British army engineer raised the statue using a pulley and moved it to its current location.
Dahshur is a royal necropolis located in the desert an hour drive from Cairo, a little bit further south from Saqqara, whose pyramids are amongst the oldest, largest, and best-preserved in Egypt. Built between 2613-2589 BC during the reign of the Pharaoh Sneferu (4th dynasty), the Bent and Red pyramids are considered to be very important also due to the fact that they were used as part of the learning process for the construction of the Great Pyramids of Giza.
Due to the off the beaten path location, not a lot of people visit Dahshur. Imagine having two Egyptian pyramids all to yourselves, that’s what happened to us! It was hard to contain our excitement about seeing a pyramid for the first time and minutes later we were preparing to go inside the Red Pyramid, which wasn’t too exciting, since there was nothing inside.
Pyramids Of Giza
The Giza pyramid complex barely needs an introduction. The three main pyramids are world famous and the landscape shot with all of them on the foreground and with Giza and Cairo in the background has been seen countless times. Regardless of how many photos you’ve seen of the pyramids, nothing can prepare you for how small you feel standing at the base and looking up.
Initially standing at 146.5 metres (481 feet), the Great Pyramid was the tallest man-made structure in the world for more than 3,800 years until Lincoln Cathedral was finished in 1311 AD. Originally, the Great Pyramid was covered by limestone casing stones that formed a smooth outer surface; what is seen today is the underlying core structure.
The Giza Pyramid complex is located at the outskirts of Cairo. The Great Pyramid can easily be spotted from the city. Pyramids are royal tombs, and Egypt counts 138 of them! Discoveries, like mummies, are still done in this area.
I’d recommend arriving at the Giza pyramids when they open at 8 a.m. You’ll not only beat the heat, but also the tour buses that arrive around 10 a.m. With having a tour guide as well, you can tell them your preference, so let them know you want to go earlier to beat the crowds. Want to go inside? You’ll need an additional ticket to enter the largest of the Giza pyramids.
Next, head down to the Sphinx. The head of a man and the body of a lion, this epic statue was made from a block of limestone and is the portrait of the pharaoh Khafre, a.k.a. the pharaoh in the second largest pyramid at Giza.
If you want to ride camels, do your research first. We did ride on the camels, however we did research it and talked to our hosts / guides. We were aware of what was around us, no whipping sticks or accessories to hurt the camels. Before going with a company I do HIGHLY recommend researching EVERYTHING when it comes to animals! Camels here in Egypt are transportation for locals. Just like back in the olden days, people still use horse and carriages, donkeys, and camels for a way of getting around.
Alexandria Egypt has a very impressive and storied past, beginning with its founding by Alexander the Great around 331 B.C. Nicknamed the Pearl of the Mediterranean and affectionately referred to as Alex by locals, Alexandria is a Mediterranean port city and the second largest city in Egypt.
Alexandria is located in north central Egypt along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. Alexandria is located 225 km northwest of Cairo, taking about 2.5 to 3.5 hours to drive from one city to the other depending on route and traffic.
We weren’t a huge fan of Alexandria, just because the day before we were at the pyramids and now our guide was bringing us to the library to talk politics and whatnot. The Library is a touristy spot, but to be honest I’m not really sure why.. Unless you like that kind of stuff then sure, maybe it’s for you, but we thought it was a bit boring.
You can also explore the Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa, which is a necropolis of 3 sub-levels dating from the 2nd century AD. You descend via a narrow spiral staircase and you’ll find a series of tombs, statues, and objects that show an interesting merging of the Pharaonic funeral cult with Hellenistic and Roman influences.
Underground passages lead to a pillared lobby, a Roman triclinium which was a banqueting hall where grieving relatives paid their last respects to the dead during a funeral feast, main tomb area, and the Hall of Caracalla. Some of the passages are narrow and the spaces are a bit confined, so probably not the best place for those who are claustrophobic.
Don’t miss the museum! It’s massive! The Egyptian Museum is home to the world’s greatest collection of ancient Egyptian artifacts. You can even see real preserved mummies in the mummy room. It is a highly recommended thing to do in Cairo. Plan about spending 2 – 4 hours in the museum. To visit the mummy rooms, a separate ticket can be purchased.
To this day, they still don’t know how mummies are so well preserved.
If you’re fascinated by Egypt’s ancient history, then you’ve got to explore Old Cairo! Here, you will find many shops, restaurants and historic buildings, which supply some amazing architecture. If you have a local guide with you, ask them about this area. There are so many nooks and crannies to explore. Old Cairo has seen such a complex history over the past 1000+ years, you can barely scrape the surface in a short visit.
The Hanging Church
Built on top of an ancient Roman fortress is the reason why it is named ‘The Hanging Church’. The Roman church with beautiful ornaments and mosaic paintings is still in use. Hanging Church is one of the oldest churches in Egypt and the history of a church on this site dates to the third century.
The Mosque of Muhammad Ali
Located on a hilltop inside the Cairo Citadel is the Mosque of Muhammad Ali. The impressive limestone mosque is a beautiful site to visit for a couple of hours and has a view overlooking the entire city.
The Khan el Khalili Bazaar
Step into Medieval Islamic Cairo for an oriental fantasy trip into the land of spices, luxury fabrics and perfume. Almost anything can be bought here and if one merchant doesn’t have what you’re looking for, he’ll happily find somebody who does. Don’t forget to haggle though.