When I booked our first trip to Egypt some years ago we skipped the Pyramids at Giza. We were tight on time and I figured we’d probably be back, passing through Cairo eventually, and we could see them then. Plus, I was not really sold on visiting them as a great use of time. They are an incredible marvel of engineering and construction but I was no sure just how “special” they really are. On our most recent trip we had the 11 hour layover in Cairo I assumed would eventually come to pass and scheduled a day at the Pyramids, though it was not at all what I originally expected it to be.
My initial plan was to hire a driver and guide for about 8 hours. They would collect us at the airport, take us to lunch, take us to the Pyramids and then take us to dinner before eventually returning us to the airport for our onward flight. I searched out guides online, explaining my desires through emails and various web booking forms. None of them understood. Each and every one replied with their own set tour for 4 hours (presumably because we were starting late) and was unwilling to switch things up. It was frustrating but not impossible to overcome. Instead we booked a room at the Le Meridian – Pyramids for 2,000 SPG points (even at $65 cash for the night the points were a bargain) and had a driver from the hotel pick us up at the airport.
Read more: Pharaohs, temples and sphinxen, oh my!
The hotel pick up service at the airport includes a meet-and-greet expeditor inside the arrivals hall for a nominal fee or free if you have SPG Gold or Platinum status. My status (I have no idea how I still have it, FWIW) scored us the freebie so I took it. He was fine and did the needful in terms of finding an open booth to get our visas ($25 on arrival) and get us to the car, at which point he went back inside, having handed us over to the driver.
The ride to the hotel was my first reminder of why I really didn’t want to be in Cairo. The driver spent the entire time trying to sell us on tours and up-charges rather than just getting us to the hotel ASAP. We did get there eventually and it was fine in the end, but I was tired, cranky, hungry and frustrated. Not a great start to the pyramids adventure.
The hotel was fine, with insipid, overpriced food at the pool restaurant and good air conditioning in the rooms but no upgrade despite explicitly asking for one and pointing out that we would be leaving in 8 hours. The good news is that it is a 10 minute walk to the Pyramids from the hotel and that’s what really mattered for us.
We walked in to the site, avoiding the touts trying to misdirect us to the “real” entrance or whatever other crap they were selling. The structures are absolutely amazing. The stones are massive and there are a lot of them in each of the pyramids. Walking around the grounds was a great couple hours, though even inside still involved avoiding the touts and dodging the crowds.
We ambled down towards the Sphinx to get the requisite photos and then back up the hill to see some of the smaller structures. Smaller crowds, too.
At this point we had exhausted the site and we, ourselves, were exhausted. We headed back to the hotel and took a much needed nap. Dinner that night was at a small, local restaurant named Felfela between the hotel and the site and it was delicious.
The ride back to the airport via Uber was a near disaster, with the driver being completely clueless and the app on his phone taking us all sorts of the wrong way. Eventually I moved to the front seat and provided navigation myself, getting us there but about 40 minutes slower than expected and raising the blood pressure (and risk of a missed flight) just a wee bit.
So, was it a bucket list item? Probably not for me. Not because the pyramids themselves are boring or unimpressive; they are most definitely impressive. But the overall experience really just was not pleasant. Definitely better than sitting in the airport during the layover, even with the frustrations. I enjoyed our time in Luxor (still crazy touristy) the prior trip much more. But we got it done and had a decent time along the way.
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This is so true. I lived in Cairo for 2 years and the craziness never got any better. I miss many things about the city, but being hassled and up-sold for two years straight is not one of them. Despite all that, I’d still count the pyramids as a Bucket List item for me.
If you ever get a chance to go again, I would send Egypt Tailor Made an email. We booked a full day custom tour for $80 USD (excluding entrance fees). Well worth it to avoid the hassle. We stayed at the airport Le Meridien (4k weedays/3k weekend), and our driver took us to the Egyptian Museum, Pyramids, and a local Koshary place for lunch. Our day was completely stress-free and an incredible experience, and both the museum and the pyramids exceeded our expectations.
Walks did a full day tour with me and I couldn’t have had a better experience. Picked me up and dropped me off at the airport. Never bothered by touts and I got to see some things I don’t think I’d have seen otherwise.
This is what I’m afraid of on my trip and I’m doing my best to find a quieter way to do the tour. For me, I really DO expect them to be amazingly impressive and worth the hassle, but even from that opinion going in, I bet it’ll be a once in a lifetime thing for me.
Next time I’m in Egypt I’ll hire a guide just to keep the other touts away. The historical information they provide is often BS, but they’re useful to run interference. Ideally, they don’t say a word, unless it’s to tell some other tout to go away.
I wen there in mid November last year. Along with my wife we must have been the only Western tourists. It was only days after the bombing of the Russian plane in Sinai. So there was no crowd but way too many touts giving us their complete attention. However, fast forward couple of months to our trip to India and we practically were pining for the Egyptian touts compared to the Indian variety. Yes, it was THAT bad.
this is a common issue in many countries. I run into it myself when visiting “touristy” places in my home country India. The touts and the persistent sales attempts really get on my nerve. I guess everybody needs to make a living, but still…
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