One of my top 10 bucket list items was to visit the oldest of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World- the Pyramids of Giza and the Great Sphinx of Giza. Originally I wanted to spend a few days in Egypt (coming from Dubai) but the day before I went, corona virus was starting to spread throughout Iran. U.A.E started to ban flights from several Middle Eastern countries, and with how quickly things were changing, I became concerned. Therefore, I made the decision to fly in and out in 24 hours.
One may argue it’s a lot of effort and money to head to Egypt just to see the pyramids, but since Cairo is a 3 hour flight from Dubai, and it’s a place filled with so much history, I followed my heart and went for it. I traveled solo, but I will say be cautious as a solo female traveler.
While I appreciate that not everyone will share the same experience, I felt some harassment (notably at the airport but I will add that at no point did I feel unsafe) and dismissive behaviours by some men. It is a more conservative country so you should dress respectfully (not necessary for tourist spots such as the Pyramids) and not act too loud or assertive especially as a female. I respect their culture and once I reminded myself it was not personal, it made it easier to accept the differences. For example, there was a sign at the elevator that showed men and women were not allowed to get in together. I got to one the same time as 2 males, and when I proceeded to go in, they shouted no to me and pointed to the sign (which I hadn’t noticed before). I immediately stood back without a second thought. On the converse, I also had several encounters with super friendly and helpful locals. There were several females cleaners at the airport who noted I was waiting a while for the hotel shuttle bus and offered me use of their cell phone. Also my driver was warm and extremely helpful and in some ways, he reminded me of my dad.
For this trip I focused solely on the pyramids but there is much more to do in Cairo including some of the following:
- Egyptian Museum
- Khan el-Khalili (a major bazaar)
- Mosque of Mohammad Ali
- Cairo Tower
- Coptic Museum
- City of the Dead
- Ben Ezra Synagogue
It is possible to add a few of these activities on top of the pyramids to your itinerary. I chose a flight that got me into Cairo by 7:30am (in Dubai, it is quite common for flights to leave between midnight and 4am) and leave the next day at noon.
It is also very reasonable to do the pyramids on a layover. I would say factor in at least 5 hours, as traffic is quite intense during the week (weekend are Fridays and Saturdays in Egypt, which notably has less traffic).
Where to Stay
For convenience, I chose a hotel near Cairo Airport so I wouldn’t have to worry to much about a long commute the next day. I also wanted a familiar brand as I was travelling alone so I figured I should at least play it safe. I stayed at the Novotel Cairo Airport, which is less than a 10 minute drive to the airport. And as a bonus, they offered a free shuttle from the airport as well as buffet breakfast.
The hotel also has a pool and I was keen to spend some time reading by it, but there was a retreat of a local business happening that occupied the surrounding area and I felt like it would have been disrespectful to lay out in a bikini. I did, however, enjoy working out in the gym, which is open 24 hours (perfect if you have jet lag).
The hotel is approximately an hour away from the pyramids. You can book a driver through the hotel, which is what I did after I checked in. It costed $86 USD round trip, which I am sure is arguably expensive, but safety was my number one priority. I have heard that Uber there is fairly cheap but I didn’t want to take the chance for such a long distance.
The Pyramids of Giza & The Great Sphinx of Giza
The pyramids look just as what you would expect from photos, but it is still incredible to see in person. I paid an entrance fee of 200 Egyptian Pounds ($18 CAD) to enter the pyramids and an additional 20 Egyptian pounds ($1.80) to bring in a tripod. I would recommend changing money at the airport before arriving as it is much easier and less risky to pay in cash than credit card (which is also an option).
Once I paid and passed the security screening at the entrance, I was greeted by a number of tour guides. As I noted there were not many tourists around, I imagined the guides were all eager to make some money. I was looking forward to roaming on my own but then was told that I was not allowed to proceed without a guide. I attempted to do so but then a ton of other male guides came to stop me, and they all refused to let me through. old me. I knew this to be a lie as a friend was there a few months before and distinctly told me she walked around with her brother, but I think it was apparent I was nervous especially as they blocked me from walking forward.
At that point I made a decision that again safety was more important, and to some extent I felt bad that I am in a position I can afford to fly to Egypt, while some where trying to get money for food for their family. Inevitably, I caved and went with a tour guide. It costed 800 Egyptian Pounds ($70 CAD) and in hind site I do not regret it, because a week later the Pyramids shut down as a result of Covid-19 pandemic, so I imagine the money came in useful to my tour guide and his family (he showed me photos of his wife and 3 young daughters).
The other dilemma I faced was that he refused to let me walk to get a view of the pyramids in the background of my photo. Aside from looking forward to getting in some steps, I was gutted that the options were camel ride or horse ride. In large part due to social media, I became less tone deaf about the treatment of animals which included riding them. While I admittedly did it in the past, I would like to say I would avoid it in the future. There was no way I was getting on any of the camels as they looked sad and malnourished (to me anyways). I agreed to the horse but only if he didn’t take it the entire way, and road only on the smooth road, and that we had to go very slow, and that he wasn’t allowed to hit the horse. I know I had a lot of demands and one may argue this won’t make a difference in the grand scheme and was doing only to make me feel better, but I am okay with that. When we got to the bumpy area just before the desert, I asked the guide to wait and I got off and walked to the view. I set up my tripod and voila.
I hope this article helps give you some insight as to what to expect. I am happy I went and would definitely recommend the pyramids, especially if you could do it on a layover.