How to Visit the Pyramids at Giza Like a Boss



The Great Pyramid at Giza is the last survivor of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient Wold. Built nearly 4,600 years ago, the pyramids are a marvel ancient human achievement. Of the places that I have visited in my lifetime, the pyramids at Giza are one the few monuments that are more spectacular in person than in photographs. It really is hard to understand the majesty of these ancient structures until you have stood at the base of the large pyramids and gazed skywards. A visit to Giza should be near the top of any traveler’s bucket list.

Camels in front of Khafre's Pyramid

Camels in front of Khafre's Pyramid

What You’ll Find at the Pyramid Complex at Giza

The pyramid complex at Giza consists of three large pyramids, 19 smaller pyramids, the Great Sphinx, and scores of smaller temple complexes and archaeological sites, many of which are still being excavated.

The large pyramids found in Giza were built during the Fourth Dynasty of the Old Kingdom of Ancient Egypt. The largest is the Great Pyramid, which was built by pharaoh Khufu, and completed in the year 2560 BC.

Just next to the Great Pyramid is the pyramid of Khufu’s son Khafra. Despite appearing to be the biggest of the three pyramids in Giza, it is substantially smaller in both width and height than the Great Pyramid. The walls of the pyramid are built at a steeper slope, and it is situated on a higher point on the plateau, giving it the illusion of being the largest of the three.

Menkaure's Pyramid is the smallest of the main three pyramids in Giza. Since scholars are unsure about Menkaure’s exact reign, the exact date of construction is unknown.

The Solar Barge is the world's oldest intact boat

The Solar Barge is the world's oldest intact boat

Check Out the Solar Barge

Discovered in a pit at the foot of the Great Pyramid in Giza, the Solar Barge was intended to carry the Pharaoh Khufu in the afterlife. At 4,600 years old, it is the oldest boat in existence. It is unknown if the boat was used by Khufu during his lifetime, or if it was constructed after his death, but it is so well-preserved, that it looks like it would still float if it were put in water.

It is truly a marvel of ancient engineering. There are no nails or screws holding it together, instead a complex system of knots and lashes hold the interlocking wooden planks together with rope.

The boat was powered by 20 oarsmen, and four sterns-men who would steer the 143-foot-long vessel.

It has been given the name "Solar Barge" by Egyptologists because the ancient Egyptians believed that the pharaoh Khufu would travel to the sun in the boat to be reunited with the sun god Ra in the afterlife.

The Solar Barge is kept in a large air-conditioned building at the foot of the great pyramid. There is an additional entrance fee to enter the building to see the boat, but it is well worth the price of admission, even if just to take advantage of the air-conditioning for a few minutes.

The Great Sphinx is one of the world's largest monolithic statues

The Great Sphinx is one of the world's largest monolithic statues

See the Great Sphinx

The first time that I saw the Sphinx, my initial impression was that it was much smaller than I had expected, especially when compared to the pyramids behind it. Despite this, the sphinx is one of the largest monolithic statures ever crated at 240 feet long and nearly 66 feet high. It is believed to date from the reign of Pharaoh Khafra, who built the middle pyramid at Giza. There is some debate of whose face is represented on the sphinx, but most scholars believe that it is that of Pharaoh Khafre. The statue was carved out of the same bedrock as the stone that was used to build the pyramids. It has undergone countless restoration efforts dating all the way back to the ancient Egyptians to present day. It was originally carved from a single piece of rock, but the lower portion has been restored using layers of carved blocks.

The sphinx is infamously missing its nose. There are many theories about how the nose came to be damaged, even false rumors that Napoleon Bonaparte shot it off with a cannon during his African campaign. Truthfully, no one knows when the nose was removed, but there is clear evidence that it was removed intentionally with chisels or metal rods sometime in antiquity.

Tips for Visiting the Pyramids at Giza

Despite what you might have imagined, the pyramids at Giza are actually just outside of Downtown Cairo. Giza is a suburb that can be reached in 30 minutes or so by car. From many vantage points at the pyramids, you can see the modern buildings of Giza and Cairo in the background. It is super easy to visit them on your own, but there are a lot of scams to look out for. Here are some things you should know before you go.

You can see Cairo in the distance from the Giza Plateau

You can see Cairo in the distance from the Giza Plateau

Getting to The Pyramids at Giza

Getting to the Pyramids at Giza could not be easier, you can literally stand on any street corner in downtown Cairo and shout “I want to go to the pyramids”. I strongly suggest that you don’t do this though, unless you enjoy being swarmed by an aggressive mob of taxi drivers competing to see who can rip you off the most. Uber is the best way to get to the pyramids, but you will need a local sim card to use it. Unfortunately, I didn’t learn this until after my first visit. I took a local taxi and haggled with the driver for some time to get what seemed like an okay price at 120 Egyptian Pounds (USD 7.25). Later I discovered that Uber would have gotten me there for only 75 Egyptian Pounds, and a lot less headache.

If you do decide to use a local taxi, get ready for fierce negotiations, and absolutely do not get into the car until you have agreed on an acceptable price. Local taxis may also try to take you to a horse or camel stall, or maybe even a souvenir or perfume shop rather than the main gate, as they get a kick-back if you rent a camel or buy anything. Do not count on the meter. Apparently, every taxi meter in Cairo is “broken” if you are a tourist.

Either way, there is no reason that you need to go by a tour, it will only guarantee that you will be in a crowd when you reach the pyramids. Guides are available inside the gate if you want one, but beware, most of the “Egyptologists” that I overheard talking to guests at the pyramids were only pointing out the obvious and offered little real history or insight. The best thing you can do is read up on the history before you go, so you know what you are looking at when you get there.

The Great Pyramid of Khufu

The Great Pyramid of Khufu

Getting Around the Pyramid Complex

Once you enter the main gate, there are two entrances to the pyramid complex. The one to the left leads to the Great Sphinx and its associated temples, and the longer road to the right goes up the hill to the pyramids. You should ignore anyone who approaches you once you enter the complex. The entire area is swarming with con-artists and fraudsters, many in “official” uniforms, who will ask to see your ticket, sometimes even identifying themselves as the “Tourist Police”. Most of these people are just trying to get backsheesh (Tips) from you, or a commission by selling you horse or camel rides, or souvenirs. If there is an additional fee to enter a temple, there will be a clearly marked sign with prices printed on it. You do not need to show your ticket to anyone or pay additional fees, unless you see a sign.

Some of the best views of the pyramids can be seen if you hire a horse or a camel to take you out into the desert. Beware that these are often scams, involving the tour guide asking for additional money, or threatening to leave you in the desert. Additionally, the treatment of the animals can be truly shameful. If you do ride a horse or a camel, talk to several people, inspect the health and living conditions of the animals, and clearly negotiate the exact details and price before getting on the animal. Some of the operators are honourable and drama-free, so try to use your best judgement to choose a good one. You can get to all the pyramids on foot via the road, so don’t feel pressured when people approach you and try to tell you that you can’t walk to them. In fact, anyone telling you that you must hire a horse or camel is lying and should be avoided.

What to Bring When Visiting the Pyramids

Water. Bring lots of water. I would recommend at least three liters per person when visiting the pyramids at Giza. You will also want sunglasses, sunscreen, a hat, and maybe even an umbrella. The sun in Egypt is no joke, and the white sand of the desert surrounding Giza is like a giant reflector shining the UV rays at you from all directions. There is very little shade to be found at the pyramids at midday. If you don’t bring lots of water, you can buy cold bottled water from vendors throughout the complex, but you should bring lots of money if you are planning to buy water from them.

Going inside the Pyramids

Okay, so here’s the deal. When I went to the pyramids for the first time, everyone warned me that I shouldn’t go inside the pyramids. It’s almost twice the cost of admission to the pyramid complex at Giza just to go into a single pyramid, and there is nothing to see. Did I listen to them? Of course not. I wasn’t going to go all the way to Egypt and not go inside of the pyramids at Giza, right? Well I’m going to tell you the same thing. It is expensive and there is nothing to see. Odds are it will be super crowded, and you will have to bend over to a nearly all-fours position and walk the length of a football field with your face up against the butt of the person in front of you, in extremely hot and stifling conditions, just to enter a small empty room with nothing in it. But if you are stubborn like me, go ahead, see for yourself.

My advice is that if you want to go inside of a pyramid, go into the Red Pyramid in Dahshur. It’s just a short trip from Cairo, there wasn’t a fee to enter when I went, it’s a lot less crowded, and the structure inside is more interesting than the pyramids at Giza. It was still a like million degrees, super steep, and you have to practically crawl forever on all fours, but at least you don’t have to pay for it on top of everything else.

Entrance Fees

Like most of Egypt’s attractions, entrance fees to the pyramids can really add up. Here’s what I paid when I went: Entrance to The Giza Pyramids 160 EGP

Entry to go INSIDE of the Great Pyramid 360 EGP

Entry to go INSIDE of 2nd or 3rd Pyramid 100 EGP

Solar Boat Museum 100EGP

Pyramid Sound and Light Show 250EGP

Photography Permit 50 EGP

If you have a photography permit from other attractions in Cairo, including the Egypt Museum, hang onto it. It’s the same permit everywhere. Also be aware, if you have a really big camera, the security may require you purchase the photography ticket, or make you leave your camera in a really sketchy “safe area”. My advice is either buy a permit and hang onto it, or don’t bring your biggest DSLR Camera.

I found that this site had up-to-date prices for nearly all of Egypt’s archaeological attractions when I was there. It’s worth a look to see if the entrance fees have changes since this article was written.

If you see a temple or structure at the pyramids where the door is open, and it’s not listed above, it is free to enter with basic admission. Don’t let people hanging around the entrance check your ticket or charge extra fees for you to go inside, especially if they are wearing an “official looking” uniform. This is just a common scam.

 The Bent Pyramid in Dahshur is an early failed attempt at building a pyramid

The Bent Pyramid in Dahshur is an early failed attempt at building a pyramid

Know the History of the Pyramids Before You Go

Roughly 10,000 years ago, the ability to grow food from seeds allowed early man to begin settling down in villages, rather than living a nomadic lifestyle of hunting, and harvesting wild plants for food. Early agricultural practices quickly depleted the soil, forcing humans to seek out new farmlands to settle in. There were two places that were settled by these early agriculturalists in ancient times that were an exception, Mesopotamia and Egypt. Thanks to the annual flooding of the Nile, the surrounding soil was replenished with the nutrients required for bountiful harvests. Because of this fertile farmland, early Egyptians were able to stay in one place, rather than constantly move, looking for new fields to plant their seeds in.

In ancient Egypt, the Pharaoh was the supreme ruler. The pharaoh was considered a divine being, who was the bridge between gods and man. Only the pharaoh could convene with the gods, and all lands and property in ancient Egypt belonged to the pharaoh. Ancient Egypt was also surrounded by nearly impenetrable deserts, which sheltered it from hostile raiders, reducing the threat of invasion.

With fertile farmland, strong central rule by the pharaohs, and little threat of invasion, the conditions were perfect for the growth of a civilization unlike any that the world had ever seen. Around 4,700 years ago, the ancient Egyptians began building the first pyramids near Memphis. These enormous structures were constructed as burial monuments to the pharaohs, whose mummified bodies were placed inside, along with many of their possessions and treasures for use in the afterlife.

The pyramids of Egypt evolved from single-layered tombs called a mastabas. The oldest pyramid was erected for the pharaoh Djoser. The Djoser Pyramid consisted of several mastaba-shaped structures stacked on top of each other to form a step-sided pyramid. From the step-sided pyramids, attempts were made to build a pyramid with flat sides. Unfortunately, miscalculations in the stacking and cut of the stones resulted in the sloping walls of the Bent Pyramid which was built by pharaoh Sneferu. Realising the mistakes that were made, Sneferu’s second attempt gave rise to the first flat-sided “true” pyramid, which has come to be known as the Red Pyramid. The precursors of the pyramids at Giza can be found in the nearby sites of Dahshur and Saqqara, which can be reached via a short day-trip from Cairo.

The Red Pyramid was originally totally smooth on the outside. During the roman occupation of Egypt, the finely carved smooth exterior was removed from most of the pyramids to construct other buildings. Be sure to check out the top of the Khafra Pyramid to see the crown that still has the original smooth limestone exterior. It will help you imagine what the pyramids looked like in ancient times.

The largest and most famous pyramids can be found in Giza. These monuments were built during the Fourth Dynasty of the Old Kingdom of Ancient Egypt. The largest pyramid at Giza is the Great Pyramid, which was built by pharaoh Khufu, son of Sneferu who built the Bent Pyramid and the Red Pyramid, and completed in the year 2560 BC.

Just next to the Great Pyramid is the pyramid of Khufu’s son Khafra. Despite appearing to be the biggest of the three pyramids in Giza, it is substantially smaller in both width and height than the Great Pyramid. The walls of the pyramid are built at a steeper slope, and it is situated on a higher point on the plateau, giving it the illusion of being the largest of the three.

Menkaure's Pyramid is the smallest of the main three pyramids in Giza. Since scholars are unsure about Menkaure’s exact reign, the exact date of construction is unknown, but it is the newest of the three main pyramids found at Giza.


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