The capital city and entrance to the ancient World. With one of the most famous museums in the world, one of the ancient wonders of the world and over 20 million people calling it home, Cairo has its nickname The Victorious It was the City I flew into to start my 10 day Egyptian Adventure and what a start….
I booked with Travel Talks, known for their bespoke experiences and thorough thoughts into what you see and do to get the most out of your stay, including authentic off the beaten track experiences. Their tours are cost effective, and for a solo woman traveller I felt this would make feel safer, but also more free within the country. I flew to Cairo from Egypt one way for £379 (a return is about £450), I flew Egyptair who were amazing! Snacks a plenty!!
I had an excort met me off the plane in Cairo which is where the tour started. kind, helpful, and informative and for 4am in the morning just what I needed to sort me out with a Visa and get me into a taxi. One thing that I liked was the fact the hotel wasn’t in the heart of Cairo but in Giza the region where the famous Pyramids of the same name are located. There was a pool and a more relaxed vibe. The hotel was called ….. and the rooms was lovely, instead of a high rise hotel with several floors, they were all like small little huts with curved roofs, located 10 minutes from the Pyramids in a car, 5 minutes from the new Egyptian Museum
So tips for arrival!…
Day 1 – Pyramids, Sakkara, Sphinx
What a way to start this dream adventure, like I mentioned guided tours are preferred, they are quick, give you tones of information on what your seeing, buy your tickets for all the attractions and park close by. Travellign htrough Cairo is hard its a very large city with the points of interest not all together like in many cities, so ask your hotel for ideas on taxis for a day to help you out.
Saqqara the oldest Pyramid in the world, 5 tiers high, and what a weird wonderful and w site when we drove up to it. On its own with a little bit of scaffolding on just showing the care that’s taken to preserve it. Saqqara was the perfect starting location, dating back to 2700bc (yes extremely old), it was amazing to hear about the history of the pyramids and pick out what I knew and didn’t know. Guided tour around the areas and a look inside one of the underground tombs was a highlight, seeing the hyrogliphics actually carved into the walls and the tanned painted limestone of art on others was so surreal and an (I AM ACTUAL HERE) moment.
The Saqqara pyramids, were the first evidence of how serious the Egyptians were about life after death, the pyramids are actually tombs for the Kings of Egypt (Pharoahs). The moment they become king they one main area of organisation is the tomb, once started at tiered and developed into the pyramids were no today through time and expertise. This pyramid is an example of a King who didn’t die when his pyramid tomb had been completed so instead of leave it and wait, they kept building, making it larger, wider and taller by adding another tier on the top? Makes sense no? The bigger the pyramid the older and wiser you were as a king.
I wont turn it into a history lesson, so a few things to remember;
The Great Pyramids of Giza , just so you know some people are disappointed when the fantasy in their head of these amazingly deserted monuments in the middle of the desert are actually on the edge of the city… so here it is… I DIDN’T EVEN LOOK … I was to drawn in and mesmerized by the one of the last remaining wonder of the ancient world to notice to be honest. Same rules apply here as at the other places one being not to climb on the pyramids, no food or littering … Myself and a few others decided to actually go in the great pyramid which was amazing, a little expenisve (25 Egyption pounds) for what is was but hey I WENT IN THE PYRAMID! It was hot, you couldn’t breath, I came out dripping, but I went in the Pyramid of Giza!
There are camel rides by the plenty, camels with there beautiful decorative seats on them, there are men trying to sell you postcards and souvenirs, asking if they can be your husbands sometimes? I really recommend ignoring them not because they are over priced but once one comes they all come and it can be overpowering. The tombs along the side of the GP are beautiful to go into as well so don’t miss them with beautiful artwork and murals, and just the detail on the walls with carvings on
What got me about these ancient locations was how uncrowded it was, there was room to move, take pictures, enjoy the views and not feel claustrophobic. I visited midday in Mid may which is hot, very hot so therefore not peak season and even though its hot its worth the fact you have a lot of room to move and explore.
The other stop was the panoramic view of the 6 pyramids all found in this location (3 are tiny and a little crumbly) but amazing views, and you can also opt to go on a Camel ride back to the 2nd pyramid if you so wish which gives you amazing views of the pyramids in a different perspective. The cost is £5 (15 Egyptian pounds) Perfect classic Egyptian moment.
Sphinx – cute but feisty! Don’t forget to get your kiss photo, this is a 15 minute drive from the Pyramids site and is included In the price of the Pyramid ticket. (160EP)
We went to a small restaurant called Gorrginas just next to the Sphinx for some traditional Egyptian food and drinks, don’t forget to try the fresh mango juice , or the houmous its so delicious and fresh. If you want a view of the Pyramids while having lunch I recommend the Marriott Mena House expensive but wow the views… if its out of budget, then there’s a nearby Pizza Hut with equally impressive views. Don’t judge!
Day 2 – Egyptian museum
Visit this historical treasure trove while you can, the Egyptian museum is on the move to the Giza region of Cairo, with a stunning new building and a terrace which looks onto the Pyramids of Giza the upgrade will be an amazing experience for anyone visiting from 2020. I am sooo jealous, because its an amazingly designed building. For now, visiting the original one is just as amazing, it has a impression of an old antiques store, with wooden boxes, glass cases, and shelves full of over 130,000 Egyptian artifacts. From the outside you get a sense of going into your favour amusement park, not knowing what you will see or where you will find the best amusement that excites you. Its busy, full of families, group tours, and tour guides showing them round to get the most out of the visit. You have to pay for a photo pass for 5 EP, after the 25 EP entrance fee but worth it for any pictures you want to take apart from the King Tut area. The best part of the museum is the sense of delicacy as you walk round, not just because of the artefacts but what they are preserved in, from the old traditional glass cabinets to the actually history of the building itself.
The biggest of all the exhibitions is the Tutankhaman exhibit, first siting is the larger than most rooms first coffin compartment, made out of gold, with several other of the compartments in a line after this one, each as beautiful just a little smaller. Then there is the main event, the famous mask in all its glory, so shiney, preserved immaculately, and so big! Next to this are the delicate jewellery items found on him in the tomb, as well as the 3 most decorative coffins (Sarcophagus) I have ever seen.
I didn’t go into the other exhibition Royal mummies, but with the likes of Ramses II and III who wouldnt want to go see dead people! Next to this exhibition are the animal mummies, which still fascinate me how detailed the wrappings area, and just what they mummified – crocodiles, cats, goats, dogs, even monkeys. For me museums sometimes get a little tedious, but with only 2 hours to spare, I would of stayed here all day!
Cairo Tower , The tallest building in the city, this long thin building reaches a height of 187 metres. Consisting of 3 panoramic view levels at the very top, you can see for miles across the Cairo city, even seeing a Pyramid or too as well as the beautiful winding Nile river down below. The first level is for the public and visitors seeing the sites, the 2nd is a restaurant, and the third is a 360 turning restaurant… Great for a special occasion.
The Citadel of Mohammed Ali the tallest part of the city, with amazing views of the entire city. The courtyard is beautifully decorated with hanging lanterns, and stunning mosaic tiles. Once you go inside your completely taken aback by the ceiling, made up of delicate patterns, domed roofs, and a dark green finish, along with the beautiful central chandelier which gave me this sense of calmness. We are allowed in, but shoes must be taken off, and respect must be paid seen as its an amazing experience to be within these precious worship spaces for the culture and religion.
Day 3 – Markets
The famous Khan el-Khalili Bazaar located in Cairo’s Islamic area and dates back all the way to 1382. Is tourist central but a must do with its cheeky shop sellers, pushy restaurant waitors, and the locals who all want to high five you. The main square to the market consists of trees, grass and one of the many Mosques in Cairo. Along the final side there is a line of restaurants for a good rest once you’ve been into the labyrinth of the Market streets. The restaurants will have sheesha, traditionl lime and mint tea, and also snacks, be aware of the men and women selling bracelets, scarves and anything else who are allowed to come to the outside tables to sell things, the further back you go within each the better .
The Markets are a series of very narrow and crammed in streets, however there are a few main streets as well to make sure tourists especially don’t get lost and never found again so stick tp the main Market roads, these start of both sides of the restaurants I just discussed. One is more local stalls, tshirts, clothes, spices and shoes (Gohar Al Kaed) , there’s a street on the right hand side about 5 minutes after walking down this you come to a street with Jewellery shops selling silver, gold and the traditional copper which is still made within the markets Look around for a little bit to get a good idea on costs for things, but I suggest for each pound of silver – 40 EP , I bought a beautiful Ankh, Cross of Life silver ring and so did my friend for 85 EP. It is also a street which isn’t as busy as the 2 main ones, so a perfect rest. Just don’t get lost or you are really in trouble.
The other street on the right (Sekat Al Badstan) is much more about the tourist experience with a lot more carpets, lanterns, plates, scarves and Egyptian souvenirs. You may even come across some of the beautiful archways which you come across as you walk through. The hustle and bustle of such close communities is plain to see with so many of them catching up with stall neighbours, and swapping items from each other. Its great to see the real Souk life.
Tips for the Market;
The local Market – Souq al Goma with over a million people within one street the nicknamed Friday Market is the largest in the world, locals come here for everything food, clothing, household products and leisure related purchases.. A sea of colours and smells… everyone knows each other and to be honest if your not a local you will stick out like a sore thumb, but hey if you dare go for it! You can also see this markets from Beneath al-Tonssy Flyover, between the southern City of the Dead and Khalifa where the market flows through like a sea of carts.
Cairo is the epicenter of chaos and a city full of opposites. The ancient and the modern, the rich and the poor, the tourists and the locals, all crashing together in a sort of harmonious clash that makes up the heartbeat of the city. With the good comes the bad, with a lot of poverty. But the simplicity of life here, the sense of community and family really comes out as you go into more of the local areas, seeing the traditional methods of living still so popular. This is why I see Cairo as the gateway city to the ancient world!