Either on an independent visit or with a private guide, that first sight of the Pyramids in Cairo will take your breath away
No matter if this is one of these places you simply want to cross off your bucket list or a destination you always dreamt about to explore, the Pyramids in Egypt are one of the most incredible places on earth and a destination everyone should see at least once in a lifetime. Its particular structure is recognized all over the world and this is probably one of the most iconic manmade structures – if not the most.
I wanted to visit Cairo and the Pyramids of Egypt since I was a child. Inspired by movies like The Mummy or Indiana Jones, I had always a fascination for the secrets hidden in these ancient temples and their stories behind. There is a reason why they part of the seven world wonders and from the first step outside Cairo’s international airport, I knew it was going a trip of a lifetime.
Visiting Giza for first time
Located around 18 km southwest from Cairo Downtown, the Giza pyramid complex, is basically right next to the city. This was one of the biggest surprises I had during this visit, as I was used to see these beautiful photos on Instagram, where the pyramids look in the middle of a vast empty desert and far away any civilization.
In fact, the two main entrances of the pyramids are located in one of the busiest junctions of the city. Here, you can barely recognize when the city ends and pyramid complex starts.
Taxi, Uber, metro, buses or a private guided tour. There are so many different options to get there, that you might feel a little overwhelmed while choosing the right one. Each one is completely different and full of pros and cons for you to consider.
My opinion here is very clear. Hiring a private vehicle and having a private guide was by far the best option for any visitor exploring the Pyramids of Egypt for first time. They will not only pick you up straight from your hotel, but they will prepare for you a tailor made itinerary that suits exactly what you want.
Even if you are a budget traveler, this is still and by far the best choice. Prices start at 25 EUR for a full day tour and you will definitely see its advantages if you compare it to travel independently.
NOTE: Cairo is a city that can be quite overwhelming with street vendors and people trying to offer you tour packages. Something I valued a lot during my visit to Giza is how my guide dealt with each one of these vendors pointing out right away that I was not interested in their offers or services.
The Giza plateau and the pyramids are open from 8 am until 4 pm daily (5 pm in summer). This is one of the seven wonders in the world, so expect massive masses of tourists arriving very early in the morning.
Most tour guides will encourage you to wake up early and be one of the first in line. Furthermore, take into consideration that the traffic in Cairo is one of the worst in the world and getting from Downtown Cairo to the Giza Pyramids during rush hour can take up to two hours easily. Even though our guide told us to depart at 6 in the morning, I would suggest to leave even earlier. We arrived a little bit after half past eight and dozens of buses were already in line filled with tourists from all over the world.
Once inside the complex, time flies. The Giza pyramid complex is so labyrinthic, that if you have a tight itinerary planned for the days, your guide might hurry you once or twice.
With that said, don’t rush your time inside the complex. Visiting the pyramids is a lifetime opportunity and each one of the locations offer something new and different.
NOTE: Tickets to the Pyramids and Sphinx area costs 120 LE (60LE for students). To go inside the Great Pyramid, it’s an additional 300 LE (150 LE for students).
Inside the Giza pyramid complex
Once inside, you will see right away the three main pyramids of the complex: The massive Great Pyramid of Giza, the Pyramid of Khafre and the Pyramid of Menkaure. These are the three largest attractions of the complex and usually the first three places travelers tend to visit.
Inside the pyramids, you can get a little glimpse of how the magnificent of these structures. Not only because each section of this area has a story to tell but simply due to the architectonic magnificence of the structure itself.
While you wander around, taste a cup of the local overly sweet coffee sold by vendors at the entrance and ask your guide about the stories in each location.
There are thousands of anecdotes and historical facts about the Pyramids of Giza and you won’t be able to hear them all.
Exploring the Giza complex independently
Having a guide is extremely useful. However, as a traveler who always dreamt about visiting this place, I wanted to have a more personal moment to enjoy the pyramids. Even though the area is extremely busy, there are thousands of people walking next to you and another hundreds vendors trying to sell you a miniature of the pyramids.
If you go to the southern side of the complex, you can explore a more isolated and private time side of the pyramids in Cairo. Before visiting the complex, my guide told me about the timing of his prayers and the importance of it. I though this would be a perfect time to explore alone, find a quiet spot and maybe for a moment simply marvel the structures I had in front of my eyes.
NOTE: Camel and horse rides are very popular among visitors in the pyramids. However, the camels and horses here are treated very bad. I would encourage you to avoid booking one of these tours during your visit and simply explore the complex by foot and with lots of water in the bag.
Best viewpoints inside the pyramid complex.
Once he left for his lunch break and prayers, I decided to wander around and search for some spots to photograph. Although the complex is extremely photogenic, once you get a little bit off the beaten path, you will find way more locations, where it seems the pyramids don’t get any visitors at all.
In the first hours after opening is by far the best time to explore. Most people will be still busy exploring the three main pyramids and the peak of tourists would not be there yet.
It is one of the most iconic spots to photograph in the Pyramids of Giza, but also one of the most crowded. The Sphinx is probably also the first spot you want to photograph after entering the complex. It looks beautiful when its alone, but can be extremely overwhelming and annoying when it gets crowded.
9 Pyramids Viewpoint
This is one of the few places inside the complex where you can get a view of all the pyramids together. Although most locals inside the complex will tell you that you can only get there with a camel tour, this popular photo spot is only 15 minutes away from the Pyramid of Khafre and it’s a nice off the beaten path walk as well an opportunity to escape from tourist masses.
Main Panoramic Viewpoint
Further southeast from Khafre, the main panoramic viewpoint is the most popular spot to take a photo of the Pyramids of Giza. Most tour buses will take you there and if you are traveling with a private guide, they will probably drive you there. However, due to its close location (20 minutes from the center of the complex), walking to the viewpoint is not a bad idea.
While I was exploring the Giza pyramid complex, I told my guide to give me an extra 2 hours to explore by myself. We end up meeting at the main panoramic viewpoint.
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More time to explore?
30 km south of Cairo you will find the Saqqara Necropolis. This is the home of the oldest pyramid in Egypt and the beautiful funerary complex of Djoser. Here, the Djoser’s step pyramid is also one of the key places to explore a less touristic side of the Pyramids in Cairo.
Some tours offer visiting Giza and Saqqara on the same day. However, I find this itinerary a little bit too stressful and if I have an extra day in the city, I would prefer to spend a full day only in this area.
Other pyramids in this part of the city are the Pyramid of Unas and the Pyramid of Userkaf.
Read more: How to pack your bag for a longer journey
White Desert National Park
Although the most popular day trip from Cairo is a visit to the city of Alexandria, I decided to go into a different direction and explore on a 2-day-1-night tour the White Desert National Park. This was by far my favorite experience in whole Egypt and one of the most bizarre places I’ve seen in my life.
Here, travelers will sleep under the stars in a desert that was shaped by the forces of nature. Expect to find weird limestone structures in shapes of camels, mushrooms and chickens.
Read more: How to visit the White Desert in Egypt