“NO” I said loudly, and firmly to the poor little boy, no more than 13 years old. My finger pointed angrily to drive the point home. The look on his wounded little face broke my heart but obliging the child one picture would send 20 other kids running toward us, cell phones set to selfie mode. They would start tugging at my clothes and my hair, shoving each other out to get closer to me, and shouting “picture? picture?” And the thought of being in the middle of the mob yet again made my guilt subside just a little.
I hate being that asshole Westerner. But spending a Friday at the Pyramids of Giza as an American girl with fair skin, blonde hair, and blue eyes is the equivalent of Justin Bieber showing up at a fifteen-year-old-girl’s birthday party… sheer madness.
Why you ask? Well, tourism in Egypt pretty much dropped off after the revolution in 2011 and even though Egypt is an incredibly enticing destination for most people, the dangers that are portrayed in the media cause most to vacation elsewhere. So a lot of the children in Egypt rarely, if ever, see tourists. Our “exotic” light-toned features alone are enough to elevate us to celebrity status in their eyes.
The effect that the drop in tourism has had on Egypt is rather sad and it’s been especially difficult for cities that rely heavily on tourism. In 2016 the value of the Egyptian Pound dropped considerably and the touts in Giza are desperate to sell their goods and services to the few tourists that still visit. What that means for your trip to the pyramids is that both the aggressiveness of the touts and the curiosity of the locals has increased in recent history.
But those challenges, and all of the other challenges that you’ll face while visiting the pyramids (that we are going to outline for you in detail below) are absolutely, 100% worth enduring in order to visit the oldest of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World – the spectacular, mythical, wondrous Pyramids of Giza!
- 1 Visiting the Pyramids: The Basics
- 2 Preparing For Your Visit to Giza
- 3 Once You’re Inside the Giza Gate
- 4 Our Advice for Visiting Giza
Guide to Visiting the Great Pyramids at Giza
Visiting the Pyramids: The Basics
Getting to Giza
Giza is just a short, 30 minute car ride from Cairo. While the Pyramids of Giza are possible to do as a day trip, we would highly recommend staying for at least one night in Giza. If for no other reason than to gaze on them peacefully while munching on breakfast during sunrise at the Mena House Hotel!
Best Time to Visit the Pyramids
October until April is considered high season in Giza as the weather is more bearable than in the sweltering summer months. Although during the off season you’ll find that sites are less crowded and prices are generally lower.
On Fridays and Saturdays the pyramids are flooded by children who have those days off of school. If you plan on visiting the pyramids on either of those days and you don’t resemble an Egyptian, be prepared to experience my story above firsthand.
Is it Safe?
Absolutely! Will curious people want to take your photo? Yes. Will desperate touts pester you to ride their camel until you finally give in just to keep your sanity? For sure. But actual, physical danger? Not likely.
Preparing For Your Visit to Giza
Where to Stay
The Mena House Hotel is an absolute must when visiting the pyramids! Not only is this lavish hotel immaculate both inside and out, but the views of the pyramids from the perfectly manicured gardens are arguably better than those you’ll see within the Giza Plateau Area! And you can enjoy them without any of the stress or hassle. After a long, hot, dusty day exploring the pyramids, you’ll be dreaming of kicking off your shoes, changing into your bathrobe, and relaxing in your divine room-with-a-view!
Chic, modern furniture, luxurious linens, and unobstructed pyramid views from your own personal balcony await you in the Mena Garden Premier Pyramids View rooms.
Wake before the sun begins to rise, make yourself a hot cup of coffee, and soak in the views of the majestic pyramids right from the comfort of your own room as the sun begins to light up the sky. Then head down to 139 Dining Room & Terrace where you can lounge in their comfortable outdoor seating area directly behind a reflection pool where the Great Pyramid is perfectly reflected in the still waters.
The original Mena House was a royal hunting lodge for the Khedive Ismail during his visits to the pyramids but was significantly smaller than the hotel you see today and held the nickname “mud hut”. The lodge was enlarged in 1869 with the opening of the Suez Canal and the addition of the road between Cairo and the Pyramids as travel became more convenient. Named for an ancient king of Egypt, Mena, the “Constant” who lived around 4400 BC, the Mena House Hotel officially opened as a luxury hotel in 1886 with 80 rooms.
Today the Mena House Hotel offers 5 gourmet restaurants, a grandiose heated swimming pool, a spa and fitness center, a beauty salon and treatment room, guided sightseeing tours, the most amazing staff, and spectacular views of the Pyramids of Giza. A stay in the Mena House Hotel is truly a unique and once-in-a-lifetime experience!
Interesting Facts About The Mena House Hotel:
- The oldest palm tree on the property was given it’s very own small room on the ground floor to preserve it’s 100-year-old roots.
- During World War I, an Australian officer was caught chasing a woman through the corridors of the Mena House while completely naked. In his defense he quoted an army regulation stating that “an officer may wear any costume appropriate to the sport in which he is currently engaging.”
- Before the modern pool was installed, the old marble one was emptied and cleaned by hand every night and then refilled every morning.
- Mena House helped to pioneer the employment of female employees in Egyptian Hotels. Tour operators conducted door-to-door surveys to find out which women had graduated from college but were not putting their degrees to work. Many of them were then offered jobs.
- Hollywood actress, Mena Suvari was named after her aunt who was christened after the Mena House.
Know Before You Go to Giza
- The currency in Egypt is the Egyptian Pound (LE). At the time of writing (November of 2017) the conversion rate was about 17.65 LE to $1 USD. We’ll be referring to costs in Egyptian Pounds so just keep in mind that if we say something costs 100 LE, that’s just about $5.50 USD.
- Each Egyptian Pound is made up of 100 Piastres and the bills look similar so familiarize yourself with both.
- Keep small change on you for a “baksheesh”, or tip. You’ll need to tip for photos with camels, to use the toilet, and other unexpected (and occasionally unwanted) help you may receive while exploring the pyramids.
- Egyptians speak Arabic and you should learn a few key phrases to get around. “Al Salam Alaikum” (pronouned sall-em wall-a-come) is a nice way to say “hello”. “Shukran” (pronounced shoo kran) is “thank you”. “Ma’-Elsalama” (pronounced ma sell lem-a) is “goodbye”.
- Islam is the official religion for 90% of the population and most of those are Sunni Muslims. As with most conservative countries, women are expected to cover their knees and shoulders when venturing out of the house (although this isn’t the case in many upscale neighborhoods in Egypt). However, this is a touristy area so you’ll likely see some foreigners at the pyramids who aren’t covered up.
Entry Fees and Ticket Prices for the Pyramids
- Giza Plateau Area only = 120 LE for adults, 60 LE for students
- Great Pyramid = 300 LE for adults, 150 LE for students
- Workmen Cemetery = 400 LE for adults, 200 LE for students
- Giza Plateau Area + Great Pyramid + Khufu Boat Museum = 400 LE for adults, 200 LE for students
- Khafre Pyramid = 60 LE for adults, 30 LE for students
- Menkaure Pyramid = 60 LE for adults, 30 LE for students
- Mers Ankh Tomb = 50 LE for adults, 25 LE for students
Can you take a tripod into the Pyramids?
Yes! Visitors are allowed to bring a tripod into the Giza plateau for an additional 20 LE.
Cameras are not allowed inside of the tombs so plan on checking it with the security guard that will be checking tickets at the entrance to each (and don’t be surprised if they request a tip).
There is also an additional 50 LE fee to take pictures inside of the Khufu Boat Museum (or you can leave your camera with the guard if you’d prefer).
What time do the Pyramids open and close?
- The Giza Plateau Area is open from 8:00am – 4:00pm all days
- The inside of the Great Pyramid is open from 8:00am-12:00pm and 1:00pm-4:00pm all days
- The pyramids require constant renovation so it is uncommon to find all 3 open to the public at the same time.
Who Built the Pyramids? How? And Why?
The pharaohs of Egypt’s past believed that in order for their dead to reach the afterlife, elaborate accommodations must be made. They went through lengthy and extensive mummification processes, erected temples, built pyramid tombs, and filled the tombs of the dead with jewelry and treasures to guide and sustain them in the next world.
The pyramids were built as tombs to house the bodies of 3 Pharaohs to help guide them to their afterlife. Pharaoh Khufu even had a full-sized boat buried with him to help navigate the rivers of the afterlife (you can view it in the Khufu Boat Museum).
There are three pyramids of Giza and how they were built is one of Egypt’s biggest mysteries to this day. They are known to have been built roughly between 2550 and 2490 BC by the Pharaoh Khufu, Pharaoh Khafre, and Pharaoh Menkaure.
The first to erect a pyramid was Pharaoh Khufu – his is the largest of the three and is some 480 feet tall. It took an estimated 2.3 million stone blocks, each weighing somewhere in the vicinity of 2.5 – 15 tons. This is the largest and tallest of the three and is the famed “Great Pyramid of Egypt”.
Following tradition of the time, Khufu’s son, Pharaoh Khafre, built the second pyramid but made it shorter than the first out of respect for his father – only 447 feet tall. You can easily identify the Pyramid of Khafre by the cap of original limestone still remaining at it’s apex.
Khafre’s necropolis also included the Sphinx which represents Ra-Harakhte, the sun god. The Spinx is 66 feet tall and has the head of a pharaoh (possibly Khafre himself) and the body of a lion and stands guard of the pyramid. Although it has been renovated extensively over the years, the Sphinx has suffered deterioration and sadly lost his nose in 1798 by gunfire.
The third pyramid is, at only 228 feet tall, much smaller than the first two and was built by Pharaoh Menkaure, son of Khafre. While it may be smaller, it was built with more costly materials such as gleaming white limestone and red granite all the way from Aswan.
Contrary to popular belief, it is now known that the hundreds of thousands of laborers were not actually slaves. They were skilled, well-taken-care-of, highly organized Egyptian workers who were provided with a nearby temporary city. They were likely farmers who worked on the pyramids for the 3 months out of the year when farming is impossible – the Nile’s annual flood season.
Once You’re Inside the Giza Gate
What to Expect
There are two entrance gates – one near the Sphinx and one near the Great Pyramid. If you are staying at the Mena House Hotel, you’ll enter by the Great Pyramid which is less than a 5 minute walk from the hotel entrance.
If you follow our recommended instructions and arrive to the Pyramids bright and early at 8:00am, you’ll likely find some peace and solitude for the first 2 hours or so. This is a good time to enter the tomb of the Great Pyramid if you’ve purchased the additional ticket. It’s also a good time to head up to Panorama Point to beat the midday heat.
That blissful time in the early morning will be shortlived as busloads of locals and tourists will begin arriving around 10:00am. The madness will begin. The crowds mainly congregate around the Great Pyramid, the Pyramid of Khafre, and the Sphinx so the further away from those areas that you get, the more likely you are to find some solitude (and fewer touts).
Regardless of whether you avoid going to the pyramids on a Friday or Saturday as we recommend, you’ll still likely be bombarded by requests for selfies by Egyptian children visiting the site. They are completely harmless but once you say yes to one, you’ll have said yes to all of them.
The Pyramids are absolutely magical to behold in-person. The amount of planning and precision that went into their construction is truly remarkable. It will be nearly impossible for you to snap a bad photo.
Plan on spending about 4-5 hours inside which should give you time to explore the highlights and then hit the Mena House Hotel pool once you’ve had enough “hey brother!” “where are you from?” “welcome to Alaska!” “you want to ride a camel?” “I give you good price” “I work for the government, see my badge?” conversations you can muster.
Giza Sites to Explore
- The Tomb of the Great Pyramid of Giza – you’ll climb a set of very steep stairs, half of which are in a tunnel with a low ceiling so you’ll have to crouch to fit. The climb ends in the room that held the tomb of Pharaoh Khufu. It is just an empty stone room with a no-frills stone tomb. Still, it’s a pretty incredible experience to be climbing around inside of an ancient Egyptian pyramid and one of the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World so you absolutely must do it!
- The Khufu Boat (Giza Solar Boat) Museum – the world’s oldest intact ship that was sealed into a pit at the foot of the Great Pyramid is housed in this museum. It was likely one of the grave goods intended to help Pharaoh Khufu navigate the afterlife after his death.
- The Tomb of the Khafre Pyramid – the interior of Khafre Pyramid was closed during our visit so unfortunately we were not able to go inside.
- The Tomb of the Menkaure Pyramid – unlike the Great Pyramid, you’ll be descending a steep staircase which ends in the underground tomb room that once held Pharaoh Menkaure. However the actual tomb is similar to that of the Great Pyramid – no frills. It’s pretty unnecessary to visit if you’ve already been to the Great Pyramid.
- Panorama Point – this spot is on a hill above the plateau and offers views of all three pyramids from one spot. This spot is teaming with vendors and camel men so be prepared to be hassled.
Tip: No photography is allowed inside of the tombs so it may surprise you when the security guard who is standing watch offers to take your photo. He will be expecting a tip.
While the pyramids are reasonably close together and walking to all of the sites is doable, remember that you will be walking through thick sand in the direct sun all day long. And if you want to see all of the highlights of the area you’ll likely cover no less than 7 miles. If that amount of walking is not your cup of tea, don’t fret! You won’t be able to walk more than 20 feet without being offered a ride on a pack animal from a persistent tout.
All rides (camel, horse, and carriage) cost a government-fixed rate of 100 LE per animal (not per person) for a 30-minute ride and 200 LE per animal for a 60-minute ride. Don’t let anyone talk you into more and if anyone tries to charge you less chances are it’s a scam (see below).
You will certainly be asked repeatedly for a tip which is behavior that we hate to condone. Whether or not you choose to concede to their requests is up to your discretion.
There are only a few toilets inside of the gate so plan accordingly. They are located:
- At the top of Panorama Point
- Outside of the Panorama Sphinx Restaurant
- In the Khufu Boat Museum (a ticket will be required and you’ll need to pass through security)
Each bathroom will have a bathroom attendant that will expect a tip for keeping the toilets relatively clean. 2 LE is the current going rate.
Scams to Avoid at the Pyramids
“… you arrive at the end of Pyramid Road, just before the ascent to the Great Pyramid. To the right a building which was originally going to be a hotel, but whose completion the Bedouins have artfully hindered, fearing that this might bring to an end their organised exploitation of travelers. All coaches usually have to stop at this point because of the sand. The Bedouins do nothing to keep the path clear from sand in order to ensure that travelers have to stop at this very point. From here they have to rent camels, donkeys or horses to climb up to the plateau of the pyramids.”
That was written by Karl Baedeker in 1885. Surprisingly, not much has changed in the last 130 years.
There are several scams that are common within the Giza Pyramids area. Once you’re aware of them they’re quite easy to spot and to avoid:
- “Government employees” with a badge (but not in a police uniform) asking to see your ticket. They will be hanging out near the entrances to sites like The Spinx or the Boat Museum. They will yell at you and act really angry if/when you refuse to show them. They’ll say “I work for the government” and they’ll show you their badge (if you look closely it just says “Pyramids” – there is nothing official about it). They are just trying to get you to stop and have a reason to converse with them so they can ask to be your guide. Either ignore them or break out your phone and start videotaping them – they’ll leave you alone fast.
- An agreed upon price not actually being the price you’re expected to pay. For blog research purposes we decided to test this one out. We agreed to take a carriage ride from the Great Pyramid up to Panoramic Point for 100 LE. We couldn’t have been more clear on our expectations – “100 Egyptian pounds correct? This is the price for both of us? To get on AND off the carriage? This is all that we are going to pay you, no more.” He agreed and then the whole way up he talked about his babies and kept saying “I take care of you and you take care of me.” Then he stopped prior to Panoramic Point and asked for his “luck” (tip) early. We said no, take us to the point and we’ll pay you there. When we went to pay him he said that 100 LE was the price per person and we owe him more money and blah blah blah. We just walked away. Prices are clearly posted everywhere. Make sure you agree on a price to get on (and off) of the camel (or to do anything around Giza) in Egyptian Pounds (they may try to claim they meant UK Pounds) before you commit to anything and stand your ground. There’s nothing they can actually do except pester you.
- “Free” gifts. Or essentially forced souvenirs. Nothing in the Pyramids of Giza area is free. Literally nothing. Not even the bathroom. If they take a scarf out of the plastic and put it on your head, they’ll claim you need to buy it because they opened it. You don’t. If they try to place a bead in your hand as a “free gift”, don’t fall for it.
- The entrance gate that isn’t actually the entrance gate. You’ll know the entrance gate when you arrive. There is a parking lot filled with tour buses and a proper ticket booth. And there will NOT be touts yelling at you to turn left to go to the entrance. They are lying, just ignore them.
- People attempting to help you take pictures. “Hey! You want to kiss the Sphinx? Look that way and pretend to kiss – give me your phone, I’ll take your picture.” It’s not so much as scam as just someone pretending to be helpful but are really just after a tip. Unless you are traveling alone, these photos are pretty easy to take on your own, for free, without their help.
Tips for Avoiding Scams: This is going to sound cruel but just don’t make eye contact and ignore them (unless you actually want to ride that camel or purchase that souvenir). Even exchanging what you think are pleasantries (or offering a curt but polite “no thank you”) will give them hope and you’ll end up regretting it.
Food and Drink Options in Giza
- Panorama Sphinx Restaurant is the only restaurant inside of the Pyramid Area. They are overpriced but will be your only option if hunger strikes. They serve a lunch buffet for 150 LE as well as hot and cold drinks.
- Pyramids Restaurant is right outside of the gate near the Sphinx. After several hours spent wandering around in the desert, you’re bound to work up a hefty appetite. Their Mixed Grill plate is hearty and seasoned to perfection.
Our Advice for Visiting Giza
- Try to avoid visiting the pyramids on a Friday or Saturday if possible.
- Arrive to the entrance at 8:00am on-the-dot to beat the tour buses and crowds. You’ll also avoid long lines at the ticket booth.
- Either take a lighthearted approach and have fun with the touts or pretend you don’t speak English and ignore them completely. Getting angry or being mean only makes things worse.
- If you do choose to partake in a ride on a pack animal, be clear on your price and expectations and stand your ground. You may want to videotape them agreeing to your terms so you can play it back if they argue.
- If everything we’ve described about the scams and the selfies sounds like your worst nightmare, hire a guide to show you around. They’ll also act as your personal bodyguard.
- Unfortunately the Giza Plateau is not open for sunrise and sunset but you can still catch spectacular views from Mena House Hotel!
And be sure to check out our recommendations of things to see and do in Captivating Cairo!