World’s collide in Egypt, a mosaic of old and new civilizations. My family and I spent 3 days in the capital city of Cairo and let me tell you, that was not enough! It really felt like a race against time, trying to fit in what everyone wanted to do.
First of all, I want to say that Egypt has become a safe country to travel to and its quite affordable. A 20 minute taxi ride costs about 20 Egyptian pounds (abbreviated to LE), which is about 2 CAD! And you don’t have to worry about pickpocketing, you’ll be robbed of your money through overpriced tour packages.
Its important to remember that not every country has the same days as their weekends. In Egypt, their weekend occurs on Fridays and Saturdays (this is because Egypt is an Islamic country and Fridays for Muslims is akin to Sundays for Christians). So most banks/currency exchange centres will be closed Fridays and Saturdays. If you fly into Egypt on one of these days be sure to exchange your money at the airport.
Additionally other buildings might have unusual hours during the weekday. Friday morning we were actually on our way to the Egyptian museum when a local stopped us and mentioned that since it was Friday, the museum was open to locals only in the mornings and tourists later in the afternoon. So we ended up going to see the pyramids instead!
The Great Pyramids of Giza
Now if you go to Cairo and you skip the pyramids you’re an idiot. Seeing the Great Pyramids of Giza was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. If I were ever to go to Cairo again, not only would I see the Great Pyramids again but also the older ones in Memphis and Saqqara that I didn’t have time to see (these ones are about 30 minutes away from Giza by car).
Best time to see the pyramids:
- If you go in the morning it will be less crowded! Especially on weekends as most people typically will go in the afternoon.
- You will also avoid a lot of traffic if you go in the morning. It took us 20 minutes to get to the pyramids from downtown Cairo (our driver mentioned it could take up to an hour sometimes if there was a lot of traffic).
Activities to do/not to do at the pyramids:
- Normally I don’t get tour packages as I like to explore on my own. Having said that I do think it is worthwhile to invest in a tour when you’re visiting the pyramids. For our tour package we rode on camels/horses and we entered through the back entrance as opposed to the front. By doing this we first went to a viewpoint where you could see all 3 Great Pyramids and some of the smaller ones. Our tour guide even took some pretty cool pictures for us.
- There is an option to go inside one of the pyramids. However after watching other videos and asking our tour guide its not worth it. You have to pay an additional entrance fee to go inside a pyramid (in addition to the entrance fee to enter the grounds). The entrance fee to the pyramid grounds is 200 LE (unless you show your student ID then its 100 LE), and to enter a pyramid it costs another 180 LE. If you choose to go in, all you do is go through this narrow passageway into an empty dark room. All the artefacts have been removed and put into the museum.
- You must ride an ATV! Now ATVs aren’t allowed to be ridden inside the pyramid grounds (for obvious reasons) so you ride them right outside in the Sahara Desert. We got to ride up and down sand dunes some of which had at least an 80 degree drop (almost fell out of my seat a few times it was amazing).
- Do not buy souvenirs at the pyramids. They’ll overcharge you and the selection isn’t great. There are better places in Cairo to buy some.
The Egyptian Museum
This museum has artefacts found all over Egypt, from Luxor to Alexandria. However, once you see the Pyramids nothing really compares after. Here are my thoughts on the museum:
- At first it was so cool seeing these giant slabs covered in hieroglyphs. But after seeing the 20th one I feel like you become desensitized. The descriptions don’t tell you what it says or what is its significance which would have been cool.
- In general they could have organized the artefacts a little better, like reconstructing the inside of a Pharaoh’s tomb. Something that would have connected the artefacts better instead of displaying each in its own glass case
- Entrance fee into the museum is around 120 LE (equivalent to 10 CAD). However its 60 LE if you show your student card. Go as early as you can as they do increase the price of admission in the evening.
- The cool thing about this museum is you get to see actual mummies! What’s not so great is that there is an additional fee if you want to visit the mummy rooms (It was another 120 LE). There’s two rooms of mummies, each room has about 10 mummies. I still go back and forth as to whether its worth to pay the extra price for the mummy room.
- All in all I wouldn’t say this was the best museum I’ve been to but interesting nonetheless. I know by the end of 2020 a new archeological museum (called the Grand Egyptian Museum) will open up. This one is supposed to be the biggest archeological museum in the world and should be more impressive (hopefully)!
One of Egypt’s oldest bazaars! Get lost wondering narrow passageways all filled with cute shops and restaurants. This is where you want to buy your souvenirs. It’s also a great place to immerse yourself in modern Egyptian culture as you’ll see more locals than tourists here. It was incredibly lively!
One important thing to note is remember to haggle! Nothing is fixed price so always try to strike a bargain. And if one shop owner doesn’t give you a great offer don’t worry, theres plenty of other shops to go to. Try going to shops with less foot traffic as they’re more likely to give you a better offer.
Cairo is filled with beautiful, ancient mosques! We visited and prayed at Al-Ahzar Mosque, one of the oldest in the city. If you’ve never visited a mosque before, they do enforce a strict dress code. You can’t be showing bare arms or legs and women need to cover their hair with a scarf. Al-Ahzar mosque also require women to be wearing a long skirt/dress. As I walked in wearing jeans (which I thought was okay because I was wasn’t exposing bare skin), a guard approached me and said I wasn’t allowed to be wearing jeans. But the mosque provides long skirts for girls to wear while they’re inside the premise, which you can wear over your pants.
There were so many other mosques we wanted to visit! Unfortunately some mosques are only open for a short period of time. We tried visiting the Mosque of Muhammad Ali only to be turned away from the guard as the mosque had just closed (they closed at 5 as do several other of the big mosques). For Al-Ahzar mosque there isn’t an entrance fee but some of the big mosques will charge a fee.
Egypt is one of those places that will take you out of your comfort zone. Unlike most western countries, you won’t always have access to wifi and infrastructure is a little dated. That being said, I implore all of you to go out into the unknown, and seek experiences that will make you a little uncomfortable! You never know what treasures come out of it. Yalla (Egyptian dialect for “let’s go”)!