Visiting the Great Pyramids of Egypt on a layover on the South of Africa Tour.
With a long layover in Cairo there is an opportunity to visit the ancient world wonder, the Great Pyramids of Egypt. If you have at least 6 hours before your next flight, it’s technically possible to quickly make the visit.
With my Egypt Air flight (MS986) from New York, I arrived around noon and had 11 hours before my next flight (MS839) to Johannesburg. This was more than enough time to explore the Pyramids and the souk, Khan el-Khalili.
From the airport it is easy to hire a car to take you to the Pyramids. Make sure you discuss pricing in advance as my driver decided to raise the price on arrival even though I had a signed voucher. You can also organize for the driver to take you back to the airport if you are limited in time.
I got a taxi for a one way drive on the main highway circling the city which took about an hour with traffic.
When you arrive at the main gate, peddlers will try to redirect your car to the horse carriages with claims that the ticket office is located there. Do not follow their lead and instead go directly through the gates to the main ticket office. Make sure you have Egyptian pounds with you, as they will not accept credit card or other currencies. If you need to change foreign money, the Mena House Hotel down the road has a legitimate currency exchange.
The park entrance is 80 pounds while entrance into each of the pyramids is extra (for example the Great Pyramid is 300 pounds).
Possibly due to the current situation in Egypt, there weren’t many tourists which was great for me. I felt like I had the entire park to myself.
The are is quite large but navigable on foot, depending on how much time you have to spend. If you want to quickly move through it, I suggest organizing a car or bus tour to go through the park. Camels, horses, and horse carts are also options though expect to haggle on the price.
You will be bombarded by vendors who are trying to sell you random souvenirs, headdresses and pyramid sculptures. The typical modus operandi is for a vendor to ask where you are from. Then he will be friendly and tell you why he likes or how he is related somehow to your country. Finally he will give you a free gift because he is so happy to meet you. This gift is usually a headdress that he will put on you and then offer to take pictures of you. After the entire ordeal he will ask for a tip and continue to hound you until you either tip him sufficiently or return the “free gift”. If you want to avoid the hassle, the best way is to ignore the vendors.
There are several viewpoints that offer great views of the pyramids, including one that lines them all up for a panoramic shot.
Make your way through the park and end with the Sphinx which is near an exit of the park. I left the visit to the interior of the Great Pyramid for last and found that it closed at 4 p.m. After involving several security guards, the police, and the employees at the ticket office, one of the guys got the go-ahead after calling someone to let me in for a quick tour! I wouldn’t rely on this method, but it was a great way to have a private tour of the inside of the Great Pyramid of Giza!
After my tour which took less than three hours, I still had a few hours to spare. I found a driver who coincidentally spoke some English and offered to show me around Cairo before my flight. I wanted to check out the Egyptian Museum but unfortunately it was already closed.
We went to the souk Khan el-Khalili which is a popular destination for both tourists and locals. Besides buying my tourist shirt, we stopped for some falafel and then tea and hookah at Fishawi’s a popular cafe dating back to 1773.
Outside of the market is two main mosques that are heavily guarded by police behind concrete barriers. Security throughout the city is very tight with both police and military involved. The heightened security of the area could be a result of the terrorist attacks at the souk in 2005, when a suicide bomber killed 21 people and in 2009, when a bomb exploded killing a French girl and wounding others.
From there we headed to the airport for my flight to South Africa.
The pyramids are a magnificent sight to behold and one that everyone should visit during their lifetime. If you happen to be passing through Cairo, a long layover may be all you need to visit this Ancient World Wonder!