The last surviving Wonder of the Ancient World
This is without exception, the highlight of any trip to Egypt that also includes Cairo. Giza in any case, it is nowadays a suburb of the ever expanding Cairo, where the houses have reached literally the very limit of the fences that separate it with the Giza Plateau. Not a very wise decision, as it’s not any more as impressive as it would have been to arrive to Giza and see the Pyramids in full from far, and not a Pizza Hut for example, right opposite the Sphinx entrance!
The first and most impressive, complete, historical and largest of the ancient Pharaohs necropolis is Giza; then at just few kilometres to the south is Abusir, the next funerary complex which is closed to visitors, at least by the time of our trip here. And immediately south of Abusir is the enormous Saqqara, where the oldest pyramid ever built in humanity is located (the Step Pyramid, or Pyramid of Djoser), with many others from larger to much smaller, many tombs and the Imhotep Museum.
The last necropolis complex, and still within an acceptable radius distance from Cairo is Dahshur, where the first true smooth-sided pyramid was ever built, The Red Pyramid of Sneferu; and one of the very last ever built by the Egyptians, the Bent Pyramid; unique in the way that has two different angles since they did not know anymore how to build pyramids. Completing the funerary complex is the Black Pyramid of Sneferu, nowadays collapsed, but the original maze of corridors still intact underground.
All these three necropolis will make a full day of exploring, from the very early morning when the complexes open until their closure by around 18.00pm. This has been by all means the most magnificent visit to any ancient archaeological site ever in my life.
People tend to forget that aside of Giza, the other ones do exist and are incredible places to visit too. Do not make this mistake by visiting only the Giza Plateau. You will have a truly unique experience by getting to the other complexes, and not just only because each of them offer something unique the other does not have, but because of the extraordinary great level of preservation, the easy way to get into them; and as added value, that you will be almost on your own to explore Dahshur and the possibility to visit inside the Red Pyramid of Sneferu, which is to my personal experience, even a better experience than the Great Pyramid of Cheops.
As an idea of how much a taxi driver for the day would cost to take you everywhere and be with you at least 10 hours, we paid 300LE (this is 30£). Try to aim for a similar quotation but remember every year prices will increase hence I won’t be surprised to see the difference the next time I travel here and do the same. Still, that’s not even a question of money considering what you will get to see and the comfort of having a driver to take you to the best places.
More information about the necropolis complexes can be found in Wikipedia site, very well explained. Egypt’s currency is the Egyptian Pound (LE). Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
Giza Plateau explained
How to get from Cairo
If you are staying at any of the hotels next to the plateau, then you could easily walk to the entrance. The Pyramids entrance gates are next to the big hotels, while the Sphinx entrance is by the hostels and low budget accommodations.
Whichever the case, either if you are next or not, make sure you negotiate a taxi driver for the day. This will be really needed, even if you plan to visit only Giza area. Remember temperatures in the desert with no shadow and plain empty paths from a place to another can be seriously difficult to manage on foot.
Tickets and how to plan the visit
There are 2 ticket offices. The first is near the main entrance of the Great Pyramid and the second near the Sphinx, in the eastern part of the Plateau. It costs LE60 to enter the site, plus LE30 for Menkhaura or LE100 for Cheops Pyramids, should you want to get inside these. A further LE40 is required if you want to go inside the Solar Barge Museum. Students gets 50% discount everywhere.
If you enter the site by the Pyramids gate, then head the first for the Cheops Pyramid to get inside (if you bough the ticket for this). This way you will avoid the many people with the same idea that starts to build up in the queue, and therefore, having a better experience. The corridors inside are really small, and up/down is along the same way, therefore, the less people the better. After this Pyramid, all you have around are the smaller Queen Pyramids (one of them opened for visit and included with your general admission ticket), the Solar Barge Museum, and the great views from each side around the Pyramids and the complex itself. Also there are some tombs in the Northern Cemetery which can be visited.
Once you have seen this area, the best next option is going to the viewing point for the panoramic view. Your taxi driver will take you here. Once again, be aware that if you are not considering in having a taxi driver, the walk will be long and extremely tiring not to mention dangerous, as there is absolutely not even a corner where to hide from the sun and heat. From the viewing point you will get the famous view of the 3 Great Pyramids, and a 4th, this is a Queen’s one. In reality, the site has 9 pyramids, 3 for the Kings and 6 for the Queens. Should you want to have an even better view with 6 pyramids at once, then you will need to move further away, but there is no path nor road. You will see people getting there on camels.
After the panoramic views, all is left is the Sphinx area. Your taxi driver will take you right to the entrance. You will need to show the ticket for re-entry once again. In here you will have plenty of options on how and where to capture the best pictures as you like. You can enter through the side temple, which leads to the main entrance of the Valley Temple of Khafra, and from the main original causeway leading to the Khafra Pyramid, you can admire the Sphinx in full.
Main sights to see
- Sphinx World known, no need for further explanation.
- Great Pyramid of Khufu (Cheops) The only surviving 7th Wonder of the Ancient World
- Solar Barque Museum Alongside the southern face of Great Pyramid.
- Pyramid of Menkaure Which you can get inside, yet smaller that Cheops.
- Pyramid of Khafre The third of the King’s Pyramids.
- Queens’ Pyramids There are 6 in total and in different states of conservation, but generally, very poor.
- Nobles’ Tombs Located in regimented cemeteries surrounding the royal pyramids.
- Tomb of Seshemnufer IV Can be explored from the inside.
Saqqara Complex explained
Hot to get from Giza
It is 25 km from the Giza Plateau towards the south. It will just be around 30 minutes with your taxi driver. Avoid getting into multiple buses, this way it will only make you loose a lot of time, not to mention the almost impossible hassle trying to find the buses and matching the times under the heat.
Tickets and how to plan the visit
The site opens at 8.00am until 17.00pm. Admission is LE£60, student LE30. It is a quite large area, and some tombs are located actually away from the central areas, therefore, you will still your taxi driver to take you closer to some of them.
The main sight with difference is the Step Pyramid of Djoser. This is in fact, the first and oldest pyramid ever built by the Egyptians, at the time when they did not know yet how to construct smooth-sided pyramids; and as you can see, it’s really great preserved although the height is now reduced because of loosing its encasing layers. This pyramid is located at one far end of the enclosing and once fully walled area. The original entrance to the complex has been rebuilt, so it gives you an idea of what the whole site might have looked like.
Outside of the walled complex there are many tombs, some of which you can enter and still admire the paintings and hieroglyphs. Other pyramids can only be guessed from the pile of rubble they are now.
Other important places outside of the main area not to be missed are the Mastaba of Ti, Serapeum and Philosophers circle.
Main sights to see
- Djoser Step Pyramid With difference, the most important building in the whole complex, and ancient Egypt in general, as this is the oldest recorded to date pyramid.
- Funerary complex Containing many tombs open to visitors.
- Mastaba of Ti The best decorated funerary architecture in Egypt.
- Serapeum A big underground network of tunnels.
Dahshur Complex explained
How to get from Saqqara
It is 10 km away from Saqqara. In fact, from Saqqara, you can clearly see this other necropolis in the desert, therefore the little time invested coming here from the other is well worth it. Your taxi driver can enter in the whole complex, therefore there is no need for you to walk from one pyramid to the other, as distances here are much bigger than at the previous sites.
Tickets and how to plan the visit
The site opens from 8.00am to 17.00pm, admission LE20. And the best of it is that you might be all on your own to explore the place! Really few to none tourist come here, mostly as they don’t even know this place exists, or as most of them are in organised tour groups, they do not take them here. Big error. Not because of the site having anything else than 3 pyramids, but because you have the chance to enter one of the best preserved pyramids of the ancient world, the Red Pyramid of Sneferu, at no extra cost.
So basically, once you enter the site, the first sight will be the Red Pyramid. You can clearly see how well preserved this is, and how big. Notice the small stairs going up, and yes, it’s opened! There is a guy at the entrance who will likely provide you with a lantern, and might tell you it’s OK for you to go inside with your camera (as opposed to the Cheops Pyramid in Giza). This was just great! Finally we could manage great pictures and videos, furthermore, this pyramid is even better than the Great Pyramid interiors. By far you will enjoy it more, as it has more rooms and corridors. Again, as opposed to the Cheops one where you climb up all the time, in this one, first you descent 65 meters, navigate through some corridors and chambers, and then you climb up to the last chambers. The lantern is totally irrelevant, there is no need for that, as there are lights inside of course. But the kindliness of the guy at the entrance can the only mean something, he expects a tip upon exit. Well, up to you, at least if he let you in with your camera, 10 LE is nothing to you, and a lot to him for example.
After this pyramid, the driver should take you to the Bend Pyramid. There is another small car park right next to it. Notice how impressive this one is the nearer you get, and what is so important on this one? It’s the best preserved pyramid from all the existing ones, in the sense that you can get the idea of how a fully finished pyramid might have looked like, as most of the polished encasing stones are still intact. Funny-wise, this is the last pyramid built by the Egyptians at the time they did not know how to build them anymore. Fascinating how the civilization that had been the longest ever in the planet lost almost all of its knowledge and had to import it and succumb to the Greeks to even survive. Unfortunately, at the time of our visit it was closed, but see the stairs leading to the entrance. I am unaware if this pyramid is ever opened to the public.
As last, the Black Pyramid.Mostly collapsed, it looks like a mountain of sand, and only the original rock core visible. We did not get closer to it, as you can see it from far, but as I found information on the internet, it appears it is opened (or due to open imminently). The underground maze of corridors is still intact, and they say it will be a totally different experience to any other pyramid.
From here, you are done for the day, having enough time to return to Cairo with day light. Your taxi driver should drop you the same way as he picked you.
Main sights to see
- Sneferu’s Red Pyramid The world’s first smooth sided pyramid built by humans.
- Sneferu’s Bent Pyramid The last pyramid ever built by the Egyptians.
- Sneferu’s Black Pyramid A pile of rubble to the eye, but intact chambers and corridors.