- Middle east
A Backpacking Guide to Cairo and the Giza Pyramid
The topic of getting scammed in Egypt need no introduction from me. In fact, I have written a whole article about it a while back with my greatest passion. It was a problem I was not prepared for and so I paid the price dearly. That said, I still think Egypt is one of the most unique countries you can experience. Walking through the mysterious old city of Cairo and the historic ancient ruins in this country, one could only imagine oneself as Indiana Jones exploring a long-lost civilization. There's no other country like Egypt.
If you want a summary of my trip to Egypt, do check out "Follow me and I'll show you Egypt" post, but if you want a detail look at each location, do stick around and I'll show you what Cairo is like.
Egypt Travel Video
Where to Stay in Cairo
After arriving in Cairo in the evening, I went to a hostel I booked called Arabesque Hotel which I do not recommend. It's very old and there was not many people there. Given, I got upgraded to a single room but the purpose of me staying in a hostel is to meet some people. Ultimately I did not meet anyone there and I would suggest people to go to Freedom Hostel instead (which I stayed on my way out of Egypt). Very modern, clean, fast WiFi and I met lots of people here.
Getting to the Pyramids of Giza
Walking in Cairo in the early morning was a quiet and peaceful experience I did not expect from this place.
I heard a lot of stories about people getting scammed by the taxi on their way to the pyramid so I was determined not to be one of them. It took me only a couple of minutes to find a taxi that are willing to turn on the meter and it costed me less than 40 EGP to go from Downtown Cairo to the Giza Pyramids.
The taxi dropped me off (unknowingly) at the wrong entrance. The front entrance was only for big tour buses and I was refused entry by the security guards. As I was desperate, a guy (who was hanging out with the guards) offered me to show me the right entrance.
I tried my best to reject him, but I also needed him to show me since I had no clue where I was. He walked me through a small village, zig-zagging along the dirt roads for almost 30 minutes. Along the way, he tried to get me on a camel ride for a fee. I rejected firmly and he gave up on that front.
After arriving at 9 sharp, the gate was still closed. At that moment, I was confused. Did this guy bought me to a wrong entrance again. Turned out, that year the government decided not to adjust the day light savig time, and so my clock was one hour early.
I waited for an hour until the gate opened. My little friend here was so anxious to get me the ticket and directed me through the security screening. I was wondering when he would show his true color.
It did not take long. After walking inside the Giza area, he started to guide me through each place. I told him clearly that I wanted to be alone but he won't let me go until I gave him a "tip".
I gave him 100 EGP at first and he refused. He wanted more! He said people gave him 300 USD and I cursed to him and say that "I'll give you 300 EGP and you better get out of my face". He accepted it and tried to butter me up. I just walked away, cursing and never look back at him.
That said, the sight was still pretty phenomenal. The pyramids were not exactly in the middle of no where as people imagined. You can see the vincinity of the crumbling Cairo on the horizon.
There are 3 main pyramids in the area, aligned in a line. The actual scale of the pyramids baffled me. On the left is the pyramid and me for scale.
The camels are not habited in this area by nature. They are brought there by the hawkers to find tourists to carried them around. I refused to get on one when I saw how they treated them.
This is the second largest pyramid, the pyramid of Khafre and here is me for scale. I was not even that close to the pyramid and I was still dwarfed by it.
The scattered rocks at the foot of the great pyramid of Khufu.
I could totally imagine an army marching through this path!
The pyramid of Khafre dwarfing everything else around it.
The Sphinx was a little smaller than I previously thought. It is also fenced off so no fun photos of me with the Sphinx. :(
This is the closest I was able to get to the Sphinx. It was still quite a sight!
Last but not least, the Sphinx's ass to show you how big the acutal monument is. :)
I spent half a day in the area and took a taxi back to the hostel and rested for the rest of the day, exhausted by all the relentless touters and hawkers. At one point, one of them actually threw a scarf at me like it was free and asked for my money later. Although, nothing beats the guy who started off super friendly, shook hands with me and didn't let go until I buy something from him. From that point on my goal each day was to NOT GET SCAM AGAIN.
Visit Coptic Cairo
"Today is going to be different", I told myself and it did. First thing in the morning, I took a metro to the Mar Gergis station near the Coptic Cairo area.
Coptic Cairo is a Coptic Christian region of Cairo. A much more quiet, peaceful and spiritual place than anywhere else in Cairo.
The area consisted of churches. If you are a spiritual christian, you will want to come here. Eventhough, I am not a spiritual person, I still enjoy the peacefulness of sitting without getting touted by people.
The famous Hanging church. I have no idea why it is famous though so if you do, please tell me. :)
A hidden market, way under the ground level of the Old Cairo was a hidden gem I accidentally stumbled upon. There are more churches down here as well.
I walked a bit further north and found a nice flea market. I was trying my best to blend in but my Asian features gave it away pretty quickly.
Visit the Cairo Citadel and the Mosque of Muhhammad Ali
Next up, the Citadel and The Mosque of Muhhammad Ali. This is probably one of the most attractive attraction in Cairo for me.
Some parts of the Citadel are used as a museum to explain the concept of Islam to travelers.
Some are used as a militiary base.
But the majority of structures in the Citadel are mosques.
This is the Mosque of Muhammad Ali, the biggest of them all.
The inside was decorated with scriptures and chandeliers.
People said the Mosque of Muhammad Ali is a disappointment compared to the Blue Mosque in Turkey. I had never seen neither so my mind was still blown away by the sheer size of the place.
The Citadel is also the perfect place to see Cairo from the top. It was quite a sight to behold.
Some people think that the mosque was not well maintained but I like it this way. It looks more interesting and mysterious then if it were cleaned.
Stroll Around the Khan-El Khalili Grand Bazaar
After spending long hours at the citadel, I decided to finish off my day with a stroll in the historic Khan-El Khalili grand bazaar.
This is a good place to buy a souvenir but you will have to bargain quite a bit. Whatever the price they give, half that and walk away if they can't match it.
If the shop owner don't give in, just walk away and some other stores will offer you a lower price. They all sell similar stuff here.
There are also plenty of coffee shop for you to sit, and enjoy a little Shisha. Since I am not a big fan of shopping when I travel, I simply sat in one of the cafe nearby, sipped a cup of Turkish coffee and watched people.
Around 8PM that day, I went to the train station, bought my sleeper train ticket to Aswan, hopped on the train at 9:15PM and slept my way through the ancient land as I awaited my arrival to the remote temple of Abu Simbel. Stay tuned for my journey down to the border of Sudan.
Further Reading for Egypt
I have plenty of articles to help you more with your trip planning in Egypt. Here is a selection of articles about Egypt you might like:
- Looking for a complete itinerary and travel guide for Egypt? 2 weeks itinerary for Egypt.
- There’s art in scamming people, and there’s also art in avoiding them. Here ishow to avoid getting scammed in Egypt.
- Aswan may be quite far to get to but with Abu Simbel, a stunning ancient Nubian tomb at the border between Egypt and Sudan, it makes it worthwhile to get all the way down there. Check out my travel guide on how to spend 2 days in Aswan and Abu Simbel.
- Luxor is the land of palaces with a ton of majestic things to see, you would need at least 3 days to see them all. Here’s a complete travel guide on how to spend 3 days in Luxor.
- My praise of Egypt isn’t convincing? Why not let photos tell the story. Check out 22 photos that will inspire you to visit Egypt.
- You can also watch my travel video here: The Only Egypt We Have.
- To see all articles about Egypt, visit Egypt Travel Guide page.
- Looking for more travel guides for the Middle East? You can find more on my Middle East Travel Guide page.
- For more of my travel guides, visit my Destinations page.
The Solo Traveler’s Journal is a series of posts by Pete Rojwongsuriya, the founder of BucketListly Blog where we will follow his solo journey around the world as he experiences different cultures, people, and historical locations one country at a time.
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