We watched as the two brothers rode off on their camels towards the Great Pyramids. Their departing words to us, “Trust no one.”
The brothers were our new found friends at the Great Pyramids of Giza. Here they are together at sunset:
Prior to our visit we had read multiple accounts on how the Great Pyramids can be a horrible experience. One memorable post wrote about how it was “the worst experience of my life.” This is mainly due to crowds of people, lax security measures to protect tourists, and aggressive touts known to harass and con tourists out of their money. Most everyone recommended going with a pre arranged tour, but we wanted to give a try at going on our own and see if we could repeat the success we had in Athens at the Acropolis and in Agra at the Taj Mahal.
We’re happy to report that we had a really enjoyable experience at the Great Pyramids, we even went back for seconds! We have put together this guide for how to survive a visit to the Great Pyramids Experience. The two brother’s words “Trust no one” is a useful mantra to have for your visit.
What to Bring / Wear
Tip: Leave your wallet at the hotel and bring small bills. As a precaution we left our wallets in the hotel. 1 US Dollar at the time of this post (December 2017) was 17.68 Egyptian Pounds. We brought enough cash for the tickets (120 Egyptian Pounds each/$6.78), another 100 Egyptian Pounds/$5.66 in bills of 20 for tips and three 100 pound notes. because we planned to take a camel. Jesse had hiking pants with multiple zippers so we kept them in different pockets and were able to show empty pant pockets aka “no cash” to vendors who harassed us.
We had read that water was hard to find inside the complex so we also brought a liter of water (which we were so grateful for later). Quan brought a small purse which only had a selfie stick and a small IPhone tripod inside. We have read there is a tripod fee inside the Pyramids but ours was so small we didn’t get charged one. We were both also grateful that we had head covering from the Egyptian sun though we found the temperature (in December) was actually quite nice.
Where To Stay & How To Get There
Our research showed that the taxi ride to the Pyramids is one of the most stressful aspects of the trip. We read of accounts where the taxi driver colluded with the local touts and will slow down near the vendors and in some cases aggressive ones getting in the cab to try to convince you to work with them. Negotiating the rate for the ride is also stressful and we’ve also read of drivers taking passengers to a wrong location and essentially demanding more money before taking them to the correct location. We also saw first hand the the taxi queue at the Great Pyramids entrance is much longer than the pedestrian queue as each vehicle is checked by the security guard.
As a result of this we chose to stay in Giza instead of Cairo. We also chose a hotel that was walking distance from the Pyramids. There is a North and East entrance. The East entrance is by the Spinx, the North Entrance is by the Great Pyramid. We entered via the North Entrance because it is closest to our hotel. A useful landmark for the North Entrance is the Mena House hotel which is located just outside of the North Entrance. Directly in front of the East Entrance is a KFC. (Bubble burst, the Pyramids aren’t located on a desolate desert but directly next to a bustling city)
Tip: Don’t ask for directions. We had the google map pre loaded on our phone for the Meena House and trusted no one when directed otherwise. Once you reach Meena House continue on the main road and walk towards the Great Pyramid. There is a clearly marked entrance gate and ticket office directly in front of the Pyramids. We were told multiple times by “helpful” locals that we were going the wrong way and that we needed to turn left or right.
Tip: Walk with purpose. Our hotel was a ten minute walk from the Pyramids and the harassment started as soon as we started down the road to the Pyramids. Cars will honk and stop by you. Individuals will start walking with you, asking where are you from, giving you unneeded advice, and inviting you to their shop/car/home. We always kept walking at a fast paced and both gave a firm “NO!”with each request. Most will walk away once you assert yourself, others will continue coming in your face offering camels, horses, or their guidance. As we got closer to the Pyramids we started filming with our phones and after shouting “NO!” we would point the cameras at the individuals. This seemed to help send the message home.
To a westerner this may seem an incredibly rude thing to do as guests to this country. While it does not feel good to be rude, we found it was the best defense. We consider ourselves well traveled and experienced in handling the various obstacles of a tourist destination. The individuals in the area around the Pyramids are by far the most assertive and stress inducing we have encountered in all our travels.
What Time To Go To The Pyramids
This is a hot topic with different opinions depending on who you ask. As a Wonder of the World, crowds are inevitable here. Here are some strategies for finding the best time slots with the least people.
The Pyramids open at 8am. There is a camp that firmly believes that first thing in the morning is your best time for seeing the Pyramids without crowds. They close at 4pm, and others assert that end of best is the best time.
We were there in December at the height of the season. We also happened to visit on a Friday. There are also different opinions on whether Friday is a good day. With the Arab work week, Friday is a weekend and some believe more crowded as school kids will be on site. We did see a lot of kids but did not find it as bad. It was much more crowded by the Great Pyramid and the Sphinx then anywhere else, here is a late morning picture of the crowds the Great Pyramid:
Here is us on our Camel 10 minutes later by the smaller pyramids with no one else around:
Tip: Know WHEN to Go: Here was our time strategy with the Pyramids. Most of the full day tours go first to the Pyramids and then return to Cairo for the Egyptian museum. Half day tours typically start after lunch around 1. We chose to arrive at 11:30am around the time the morning tours end and before the afternoon tours began. We found upon arrival very few tour buses, short ticket lines, and the area directly after the entrance relatively empty. It was a stark difference from the scene upon our departure around 1:30 pm when the hordes of afternoon half day tour groups arrived. Here we are on a camel shortly after entering the complex at 11:30, this same area was flooded with incoming tour groups when we departed at 1:30.
We had such an enjoyable experience we decided to go again for sunset. We returned at 3:30pm and were able to get another lovely hour and half at a nearly empty Pyramid grounds while enjoying the sunset. Note: The Pyramids officially close at 4pm so they stop entrance shortly before this. However it takes a while to empty the grounds and because of where we were (more on this later) we found ourselves the last two people in the Pyramids grounds running towards the exit around 5pm shortly after the sun had set. Below one of the lovely photos of the sunset sky behind the pyramids.
This was our experience based on the day we wanted, note that we have read of others who had luck arriving first thing in the morning. Our main warning is that there is a morning mist. We could see the Pyramids from our hotel and it was slightly hazy in the morning. When we arrived at 11:30 and again at 3:30 we had very clear skies for our photos. Here we are with our morning coffees at 9am at our hotel where there is a misty morning view of the Pyramids.
Entering the Pyramids
There is a ticket counter directly next to the entrance gate. Do not buy your ticket from anywhere else, do not let anyone take your ticket from you even a security guard. The entrance fee is 120 Egyptian pounds or about $7USD.
Tip: As you enter the Pyramids turn your defenses from HIGH to MEGA HIGH: It starts at the security line to enter. This is located immediately to the left of the ticket office. A security officer will ask for your ticket, show him but don’t give it to him. This is the last person who you will need to show your ticket to.
We had read of individuals getting things stolen out of their bags during the security scan. Even though we left our wallets at the hotel we still had a bag with our phones. Quan walked through first once the security screen was clear and Jesse stayed with the bag so we had an eye on our bag the entire time.
As soon as we passed security someone grabbed our tickets pretending to be a person who checks tickets – we actually caught this on film. Quan immediately grabbed it back from him right after and kept walking. Do not let anyone take your ticket.
Immediately after security is the most aggressive group of vendors/ wanna be guides. They all come at you at once. Some pretend to be security demanding to see your ticket, do not believe them.
Common Tourist Tricks to Avoid
Here is a list of tricks we’ve read that will be used on tourists:
- Someone will offer you a free t shirt / drink / item. Immediately give it back and if they refuse place it on the ground and keep walking. We had someone walk up to us, open a bottle of 7up and try to place it in Jesse’s hand. Refuse any of these offerings as it will usually be followed by a ransom price in exchange for the Good.
- Someone (or a security guard) will give you permission to climb the pyramid. First, don’t try to climb the pyramid. The monument itself is pretty overrun without much investment in preserving this World Wonder. As a guest try to respect how old this landmark is and try to avoid contributing to its deterioration. Secondly, this is a common trick. Immediately after you climb the structure that same security guard will render a large fine on you demanding money because you have broken a rule.
- Someone will “grant” you entry to an area but will ask for your ticket. We heard this has happened at the entrance to the Spinx where you have to go through an underground area. I can’t reiterate enough do not give anyone your ticket. These individuals will take your ticket and upon exiting demand money to return your ticket to you. You will need your ticket to exit the Pyramids.
- The price change tactic is also common. If you plan to hire a horse/ camel on site, use your phone to video the conversation where you agree on the price. Be specific – amount, length of time, expectations. That will leave no room for a price change at the end of the agreed upon service.
How We Managed to Have An Amazing Experience
Our goal for our visit was simple, we wanted to be able to see the Pyramids and the Spinx up close, but did not feel the need to go inside. We tend towards mountains and wide open spaces so the thought of crawling around a small confined space to see ancient ruins just wasn’t for us. We also knew we wanted to travel by camel around the complex. We wanted to get some photos of our visit and also came with a few photos that we found on Instagram of shots we wanted during our visit. Finally we wanted to find our camel and camel driver early so that he would also serve as our protector during our visit. We didn’t want to spend our entire visit shouting “NO!” to every passerby with an offer.
Our research showed that camel rides should be 100 Egyptian Pounds ($5.66) per hour per camel. As mentioned earlier we also taped our negotiation process.
Here is where we really lucked out. Upon entering we saw a few individuals with camels, surprisingly not as many as we imagined. We later saw that further into the complex there are large crowds of camels and their owners especially by the Pyramid of Khufu.
Tip: Choose your camel, don’t let your camel choose you. We did a quick scan and set our sights on a camel and his owner that we wanted to work with. We approached and started negotiating and finally settled on the price of 100 pounds per hour with the camel taking both of us. We made sure he knew we were video recording the conversation and also pulled up the photos we wanted to take during our ride. We also told him that if he helped us have a good experience we would be sure to thank him accordingly (and as you will read later we were very lucky to pick his camel). This was our first meeting with Hassan when our defenses were still high:
We still had our defenses on high especially as we approached the Pyramid of Khufu and he handed us over to his brother Adel riding on a second camel.
Adel assured us that he would make sure we’d have a great experience. As we started riding around the complex we were very glad to be on our camels and above the fray of people surrounding Khufu. We also got to know Adal and learned about his three kids and how he and his brother have been doing this since they were 14. Adal is now 31 and is brother 24.
Tip: The best views are on the sand dunes above the Pyramids. As we circled the complex Adal asked if we trusted him. He said he wanted to show us something amazing. Having gotten to know him during our ride our intuition told us that he was kind so we agreed. He took us on a ride to the sand dunes overlooking the Pyramids, something we hadn’t even thought about doing. There we were by ourselves and got to admire the majesty of the Pyramids in a symmetrical line. Here is also where we got some amazing photos. He immediately took out a scarf and put both of us in headdresses and then posed us in a series of photos.
The camel ride to and from the sand dunes was our favorite part of the trip. We had sweeping views of the complex and were by ourselves for most of the visit.
In total we spent an hour and a half with Adel. He dropped us off to go see the Spinx up close (you have to enter via an underground entrance). We tipped him generously for his time. We also set up a time to meet him in the afternoon to see The Pyramids at sunset. This is where he and his brother gave the departing warning to trust no one and to hang tight to our tickets.
Seeing the Sunset At The Great Pyramids
When we are old and gray, the memory of having the Great Pyramids to ourselves as we rode back from an epic sunset will be one we talk about again and again.
As mentioned earlier the Pyramids close at 4pm and sunset in December is 5. We met the brothers at our agreed upon spot at 3:30 and rode through the complex to the highest sand dune over looking the area.
We will never forget the views we saw on the ride. The sun loomed large and would peak in and out of the Pyramids as we rode towards the dunes.
Once we arrived to the top they took out greens for us to feed the camels Mickey Mouse and Snoopy and we watched the most amazing sunset in the horizon with the Great Pyramids behind us.
The brothers also seemed impressed by the sunset as they also took out their phones to take photos. We learned more about their family which consists of three sisters and one other brother.
Despite all the things we had read about the vendors at the Pyramids who set out to trick you and demand extra money, we were so glad these two prove these stereotypes wrong. They were kind, funny and amazing hosts for our time at the Pyramids. Hassan can be reached via What’s App +20 111 179 8471 we would highly recommend them to anyone planning a visit.
As we finished the sunset we rode back down to the complex to find it empty. For us this was the most powerful moment to experience this epic site in the evening dusk devoid of the crowds. We were stopped once by a security guard on a horse who left us alone after we saw the brothers slip him a bill. They dropped us at the Pyramid of Khufu which is only a short fifteen minute walk from the gate. We were so grateful for the experience we again tipped them generously unprompted by them. We exchanged goodbyes and gave our promise to tell others about them so we hope someone reading this will contact them!
This is where we found ourselves holding hands strolling along the Great Pyramids all by ourselves. It is a moment we will never forget.
After a while a security car drove by. The driver told us to get in and that “the Pyramids are finished.” This is when we pointed towards the exit and started running. He drove off to continue his patrol but we saw another security guard by the gate waving for us. We kept running but not before snapping this photo.
As we exited panting from our run all the guards laughed at us as we were so out of breath and high from the visit.
Never could we have imagined such an enjoyable Great Pyramids Experience!!