11 Things You Should know before you visit the Pyramids in 2020
Both Sid and I always wanted to have a tryst with the pyramids ever since we read about them in books, as children. After all, who doesn't like traveling back in time and visiting the only wonder from the ancient world that still exists up to this day!
I really don't think, I can ever explain the extent of our love for this place.
Egypt had been on our bucket lists for the longest time, and the day we booked our tickets, was the red-letter day our entire lives. We were constantly thinking about these giants. About how they got there. About concealed Egyptian History. About the time and effort that went into building these solid massive pyramids. It all seemed like a sweet dream that we never wanted to wake up from!
I remember vividly sticking my head out of our taxi window and constantly vexing our kind driver, asking him, ''how far are we from the pyramids?'', as we headed to Giza from Cairo city! An hour later, I saw something. Yup, it was the tip of one of the pyramids! It felt like I had almost climbed the Everest of my dreams! OHMYGOODNESS! I can't even express the extent of adrenaline and the beautiful surge of emotions that rushed through me. Look, Sid, I just spotted a pyramid, I yawped gleefully! This was the happiest morning of many happy days in this gem of a country!
Did the Pyramids Disappoint Us?
NO. A big no! Visiting the Pyramids was worth it. Oh my God, SO worth it! Having said that, I totally know the feeling of visiting an overhyped place or a monument after seeing the most phenomenal pictures on Instagram, just to realize how ridiculously overcrowded it can get, thereby making the entire experience nasty. No wonder why the travel community is all for Offbeat Travel and you see them raising their brows in disdain when someone talks about Conventional Travel.
But, lets back up a minute here! I can assure you on one thing and trust me it's coming straight from my heart- Please Please Please do yourselves a favor and go see the pyramids in this lifetime, before you die, for all the hype is real. It's bloody real! My eyes thank me to date and given a chance, I would go there again in a heartbeat. No wonder why of all the countries we traveled this year, Egypt stood out for us!
What Are the Best Months to Visit the Pyramids?
It's no surprise that the temperature in Egypt can shoot up considering how the entire country is covered with a wide band of the desert. So, we would advise you to plan your travel during winter months that fall between November and January. Summers months falling between June and August can get unbearably hot and humid, especially if you are planning to spend your day, out in the pyramids where there's absolutely no shade from the sun slapping your bum constantly.
We traveled to Egypt last month in November, and we thought the weather was extremely pleasant during the mornings and at night, but the afternoons were a bit nasty. I can't even think of the soaring temperature and sun-baked summers, so should you!
What Is the Best Time of the Day to Visit the Pyramids?
Ok, so the pyramids open at 8 in the morning and shut at 4 in the evening. Whaaaa? Yes, you read that right! All our sunrise and sunset missions were abandoned at that very moment. But, you gotta do what you gotta do, right? We decided to reach the gates at 8 am sharp, but luckily we didn't have to wake up early for that as we stayed at a beautiful homestay by the name ''Atlantis Pyramids Inn'', located directly across from the Pyramids of Giza, overlooking all the Pyramids and Sphinx. This place is a jackpot and I will be talking more about it later under a separate heading, coz it deserves all the attention!
Coming back to the story, so we reached the entry gates and bought the tickets. We checked in our backpack at the security counter and headed out of the security room. Move fast babe, I exclaimed! Finally, the day had arrived when I could see these babies with my own eyes, feel them around me. I couldn't contain my excitement. But there was a bummer! Due to the misty weather, we couldn't really see the pyramids clearly. That was when we understood the timing concept. This also happens to be a con of visiting the pyramids in winters, but this isn't a big deal as this misty situation gets better as the clock ticks by and also considering how amazing the weather is to just walk around. Plus, all the tour buses arrive by 10. So, you get ample time to explore and soak in the mystical energy and quietude that these pyramids emanate! Also, the entire area is so freaking humungous and the pyramids are SO huge that somehow the entire place never feels crowded (also why I loved the entire experience) and you can always find your picture-perfect spot!
So, to sum it all, be there by 8:30 am in winters and 8 am sharp in summers.
How to Solve the ''BAKSHEESH'' Theorem?
Well, it's funny how you will be introduced to the term BAKSHEESH (tip) soon after you land here. Baksheesh is an inseparable part of their culture and it's quite inevitable. Like for us, it might be rude to get asked for money when we clearly don't intend to tip, but for them, it's considered downright rude to not give them any baksheesh when they expect it, which they will, all the time!
Now, there are two ways of asking for Baksheesh.
The FIRST one, where they will casually ask for baksheesh without any logical reasoning. Here's how-
They say hello- Baksheesh!
They show you the way- Baksheesh!
They help you with a picture- Baksheesh!
They suggest you funny poses with the Sphinx- Baksheesh!
Clean your room- Baksheesh!
Ask for fresh towels- Baksheesh!
And the list goes on and on!
BUT, there's absolutely nothing that a polite yet firm 'No, Thank You' can't do. We heard and read so much about how the tourists felt hassled because of constant nagging, but we not even once faced a circumstance where someone troubled us or kept asking for baksheesh. The idea is to not make eye contact and keep walking. You just have to ignore them if they insist even after a 'No, Thank You'!
We NEVER tipped anyone unless we saw some legit efforts being made, and the others got a 'No, Thank You' from us when they tried to act smart.
The SECOND one, where you will be expected to give baksheesh for the services you take.
For this, we would first advise you to fix the rates beforehand for any service or tour package you take. I know it goes without saying, but when you are in Egypt, confirm the final price twice, or maybe thrice. More the better!
Why, you ask?
So, as we were headed towards a point on the sand dunes, where all the 9 pyramids could be spotted (not the famous panorama viewpoint), we were stopped by someone who claimed to be a policeman. You are not allowed to go there on your own, you can only go there on a camel, he shrieked. Trust me, he wasn't making sense. The distance between that point and where we stood was not more than 100 meters. Moreover, we didn't see any signboards too. We could tell, that they were cooking this story up for everyone present there and we all had no choice other than listening to what he had to say. So, after some meaningless argument, we decided to take a camel cart ride. We agreed upon a price which was around 200 EGP after some haggling. After spending around half an hour there, taking in the most magical vistas, clicking some photos, we headed back to the point where he picked us. Now comes the important part! We were told we owed an extra 100EGP since he had to wait for half an hour (something we were not informed). My blood started to boil at this point. I wouldn't pay him 200 EGP for a distance as small as this, only to touch it and come back! We paid him 200 EGP at last and yes, we did not give him any baksheesh too!
So kids, ALWAYS fix the price in advance and stick to that, no matter what they say. To tip or not to tip, or even the generosity for that matter should purely depend upon the services you get.
TIP- Always keep small change in hand for tips.
Will the Touts Harass Me?
Trust me, 'harass' is a very strong word. Like I said earlier, we read so many articles on how touts tend to ruin the entire experience of tourists at the pyramids. We were a little scared too, I won't lie!
But hey, haven't you dealt with the touts before? Do these touts kill you or harm you, if you don't take the services they offer? Do they steal from you? Do they abuse or misbehave?
Well, there's only one answer to all the above questions, and that's 'NO'! They are human beings like you and me, trying to make a living.
I don't want to generalize, but coming from India, it did feel like a cakewalk, if nothing else.
But yes, they can be cunning and play smart at times. All you gotta do is, be vigilant and never really succumb to any pressure.
Some things I heard from fellow travelers were-
They will show you the way, that you never really asked for.
They will promise to take you to a secret point where you can spot the three major pyramids together, but never really take you there. Instead, they drop you at a point where you can only see the two of them.
But, I don't understand how that can ever turn against you. I will never pay someone or take anybody's services if they are trying to unnecessarily show me the directions, or if I'm not delivered as promised.
Having said that, if you are a solo traveler and you really don't want any hassles whatsoever, then consider hiring a private guide or doing a group tour. Touts will never bother you once if you are with a local guide!
'Hello, where are you from?', will be a usual conversation starter! If you are an Indian, then get used to hearing- Amitabh Bachchan, Shahrukh Khan, Aishwariya Rai, Salman Khan. I guess, these 4 are everyone's favorite there. FYI, Egyptians LOVE Bollywood Movies.
No matter what happens, never let any of this trivial issue (if any) bitter this otherworldly experience for you. It's not every day you get to see the world's most incredible wonder with centuries-old history and culture!
Like I said before, there's no rocket science involved! A firm 'No, I'm Good' did wonders for us. It shall do the same for you too!
Why Do Bloggers/Influencers/Photographers/Models need to be Careful?
So, Sid and I started taking photos as the mist started to clear away. As we were taking photos, we noticed a man staring at us. We moved to a different location to shoot the pyramids from a different angle sometime later, without paying any heed to him. This time instead of observing, a different man intervened and asked us for our phone and camera. 'I want to check your photos now, give me your phone', he said.
We were not sure as to why he desperately wanted to check our phone. Plus, he was not even wearing a uniform nor did he have any id to show, which made us even more adamant and skeptical. Later, an actual guard, who spoke pretty decent English, approached and helped to elucidate the whole sitch. On listening to the entire story, we happily handed over our phone and camera, which he immediately returned after checking.
Now, why these spies keep an eye on you like a hawk?
Sometime back, a Danish photographer and his girlfriend sneaked in at night, while the gates were shut, by bribing a local and illegally climbed to the top of the pyramid. This doesn't end here, a few months later, he posted an offensive, like, real offensive photo of himself and his girlfriend atop the Great Pyramid. This sparked exasperation considering how sacred the pyramids are considered. The whole weight of everyone's wrath finally fell on all employees who worked there. Everyone was chucked out, the security was tripled, and new employees were called in. Ever since then, stern warnings have been sent- stay off or risk being banned from the country for life.
Since then duties have been allocated to these spies, by the government, to avoid any disturbing situation in the future. They are super observant and have an eye for someone carrying high-tech photography gadgets, someone posing in an extremely non-touristy way, someone wearing an inappropriate dress. You get the idea, right?
So, just be careful with your actions. It's definitely not going to be a good sight if you are caught red-handed!
What Should I Wear?
Since Egypt is an Islamic country, it goes without saying that you should dress appropriately, if not conservatively. Even if you are wearing a skirt or a tank top, make sure to cover your shoulders and knee, if possible. Talking about the pyramids, try wearing loose, breathable cotton clothes as it can get really scorching especially during summers. Also, wear sturdy and comfortable shoes/chappals/sandals, since the area around the pyramid complex is sandy and quite uneven.
What Should I Carry?
Carry water, sunglasses and a hat. Try to carry all this in a small backpack and be handsfree cos you are going to be walking for the most part. Also, it is always wise to carry an extra water bottle cos the same water bottle that costs 10 EGP in the market, would cost you around 50 EGP inside the complex. From my experience, the more the merrier. We carried 3 bottles, but somehow, all the water went down like a fat kid on a see-saw ;)
Where Should I Stay?
Giza, hands down. Do not stay in Cairo city, if you plan to cover the pyramids the first thing in the morning. I would rather invest that extra hour of traveling from Cairo to Giza in sleeping!
I highly recommend staying in 'ATLANTIS PYRAMIDS INN'. Located right across the street from the Pyramids and the Great Sphinx Entrance Gate, this hotel is your place to be, if you wish to feel close to the Egyptian culture along with some crazy pyramid view. This hotel had many excellent aspects, the main one being the remarkable vistas of the pyramids from the rooftop terrace. Honestly, this was the closest that you could get to the pyramids without having to enter the site. It felt unreal sleeping and waking up to the most phenomenal view of the pyramids. I almost cried! You also get to witness the light and sound show that happens every night at the Pyramids of Giza from the terrace, without having to pay for it. And, that too, with an impeccable A-V display ;) Gosh, the mystical quality of the voices literally gives you goosebumps!
Also, this is where all the authentic Egyptian meals are served too. Food with a view, anyone? ;)
Second, our hosts, Eisa and Susu were extremely warm and affectionate. We didn't feel like stepping out of the hotel even once, considering how gregarious they were. From offering us Egyptian chai (all the time) to giving a great insight into their culture (Oh, we learned so much!) to helping us get around the area to organizing musical nights every evening for their guests in the coziest hall ever- this place will always have a piece of my heart!
Eisa, who happens to be a brilliant singer, sang some fun Arabic numbers and we couldn't hold ourselves back from dancing to his tunes hehe! It totally felt like a home away from home!
As they say, a hotel can make or break your entire experience. So, give this hotel a shot and thank me later!
Egyptian Pounds or Dollars?
Since Egyptians love 'Dollars', I'll advise changing your money when you come to Egypt, never before! You will definitely get a better rate for your dollars etc in Egypt. Also, dollars, euros and sterling notes are accepted in Egypt, but your money will go much further if you change it to EGP rather than spending foreign currency on purchases.
We exchanged dollars at the Cairo International Airport, but you could also get it done at banks or currency exchange shops. Never at the reception desks in your hotel or from a guy you met at the bazaar.
How much Is the Entry Ticket?
200 EGP per person for the site.
If you wish to enter inside the Great Pyramid, you pay an extra 200 EGP, and 100 EGP extra for entry inside the 2nd or the 3rd pyramid.
Also, an extra 20 EGP for tripods and cameras.
Egypt, you were truly unbelievable. The pyramids, the culture, the fresh Aish bread, the chai, the sheesha, the bazaar, the people, the conversations, the cozy spot of warmth amidst the bitter cold! My heart explodes every time I think of it! I feel so goddamn blessed to have witnessed it all this year.
Until next time then, Egypt! Because there damn well will be :)
That's it for this post. I hope this post helps you in some way or the other. You can drop us an email or leave a comment if you have any other questions or a point that you would like to add to this post.
Until next post