Egypt gets a bad rap. Sure there are some things you need to be wary of. But this is true for anywhere you travel in the world. We have wanted to go to Egypt for years, and Cairo (its largest and most famous city) was worth the wait. And so we want to share with you our highlights of Cairo.
We saw many things on our Nile cruise that were so ancient it boggled the mind. And then we come to Cairo and see things that are 1500-2000 years older. Construction on the oldest pyramid in Giza started around 2589 BC.
When I was in fifth grade we studied Egypt. It was as early as this, and even earlier, that I knew I had the travel bug. My love for history and cultural studies began early. And finally at age 58 I stood at, touched, climbed and admired these overwhelming structures.
The best known pyramids in Egypt are the three in Giza, a suburb of Cairo. The three Egyptian pyramids known as the Giza Pyramids are Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure. Khufu is one of the largest structures ever built and is the only one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World still in existence. Egyptologists believe the pyramid was built as a tomb for the Fourth Dynasty Egyptian pharaoh Khufu. There are a total of 138 pyramids throughout Egypt, most built as tombs.
There was no city here when the pyramids were built. The city has risen up and is now a congested metropolis of 30 million people (and nearly that many cars). The city spreads far and wide and right up to the gates of the UNESCO site. Most photos don’t show the city because the pyramid site sits up on a hill. But the city and its traffic are within a few hundred meters of the pyramids.
Because the pyramids are such a huge tourism draw, while visiting you are subjected to a lot of people trying to sell you, guide you or take you on a tour. The government should do a better job controlling this – it takes away from the experience. Having our guide from Memphis Tours eliminated much of the hassle of dealing with the nuisance.
However the government is working on some infrastructure to relieve congestion, as well as a brand new $550 million dollar Grand Egyptian Museum scheduled to open in 2019. This spectacular museum will be home to all of the antiquities including the Tutankhamen relics (many of which have never been on
display) and will replace the 100-year-old (and somewhat dowdy, disorganized, and not particularly clean) Museum of Egyptian Antiquities.
This new museum alone is worth a return visit to Cairo.
A Sphinx All To Myself
Our Cairo highlights tour also included the Sphinx of course, a fantastic antiquity in itself. The Great Sphinx built in approximately 2500 BC for the pharaoh Khafra, the builder of the Second Pyramid at Giza. The sphinx was carved into the bedrock of the plateau, which also served as a quarry for the stone for the pyramid. It is 70 meters long and 20 meters high. Luckily we were there early and had the sphinx all to ourselves for our visit. What a special treat that was.
We made a brief stop in the Coptic Cairo neighborhood, an ancient christian stronghold of Cairo before the Islamic era.
A visit to Key of Life Papyrus Institute taught us the ancient Egyptian paper making process from papyrus (a reed-like plant), and gave us an opportunity to purchase a Christmas gift.
We also visited a local market and had a delicious Egyptian lunch at Abu Shakra, a favorite of tour guides because of the remarkable view of he pyramids and the sphinx.
Hire a Tour Guide
I highly recommend you hire a guide and driver if you are coming to Cairo (Memphis Tours was outstanding) to help you maneuver this congested city as well as help you mitigate the numerous people trying to sell to you and guide you. It is well worth booking a guide service.
I would come here again in a heartbeat. In fact I’d love to come back in five years and see the new museum and see if they have been able to make some improvements to the Giza area, which is in much need of some TLC.
Thank you Egypt and Cairo for your outstanding hospitality. We loved it all. Next stop Jordan!
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