Visiting the Great Pyramids of Giza is a must for any trip to Egypt. But when doing research for our trip, I was surprised to see how many travelers visit the pyramids as a stop-gap between their arrival in the country and their tours beginning—often jamming this ancient site into a two-hour slot. Considering how massive the pyramid complex is, two hours will give you little time to do anything more than snap a few obligatory photos. So, if you’re planning an Egypt vacation, here are a few tips for making the most out of your visit to the pyramids.
The Best Ways to Visit the Pyramids
Visit in the afternoon
Most of the Cairo tours hit up the necropolis as soon as it opens (8 am), and do a two-hour run through the entire site before heading elsewhere. You can avoid a lot of the crowds by visiting the pyramids in the afternoon. I recommend heading after the intensity of the midday sun, in the early afternoon. By then, we saw way fewer big buses and were able to circle the Great Pyramids without any crowds blocking our views.
Give yourself time
If you’ve got the time and flexibility, give yourself real time at the pyramids. As mentioned, the site is huge; it took about fifteen minutes to walk from the Pyramid of Khufu to the Pyramid of Khafre, and about the same time to walk all the way around the pyramid base. The Pyramid of Menkaure is even further away. Take some time to really marvel at this 4,000+-year-old structure. To appreciate the little details in the crumbling blocks and the faded paint. This is the last wonder of the ancient world—don’t rush it.
A lot of people who visit the pyramids skip going inside. While it does cost extra, the 300LE (16 USD) is definitely worth it. You’ll feel like Indiana Jones as you climb the gangplank through the narrow hallways. The interior is unadorned (Egyptians didn’t start decorating or inscribing their tombs until the later dynasties), which is the reason many people don’t think its worth it to go inside—but for me, really understanding the engineering and planning of these structures couldn’t be missed. After all, why travel halfway around the world to halfway visit the site?
It should be noted that going inside the pyramids is not for anyone who gets claustrophobic, and at least a slight degree of physical fitness is recommended. The passageways are low (I had to bend from the waist to climb them), and the path to the burial chamber is quite steep. It will also be very warm/humid inside—after all, these tombs weren’t designed for the living. When you exit the pyramid, make sure you take a moment to sit, drink some water, and catch your breath again before exploring more.
The sun is punishing out at the Giza complex. There’s no shade (unless you’re in the shadow of the pyramids), and the heat is intense. As with any touring in Egypt, make sure you’ve packed at least one bottle of water per person, and sip it at continuous intervals to make sure you don’t get dehydrated. Carrying them in a canvas string bag is a great solution for keeping heavy straps or thick backpacks off of your sweaty skin.
Wear good shoes
The ground at the site is a mix of loose gravel, stone pathways, and paved concrete. Thin sandals will let a lot of loose (and hot!) stone get between your foot and the sole of your shoe. Better to opt for covered footwear for this expedition.
Do a camel ride
Doing a camel ride was my favorite part of the day. Cairo is already a hectic city, and though the crowds were thin, it was still quite loud around the pyramids. Though we had to negotiate assertively to book our ride, once we got on the camels’ backs, the modern world seemed to fall away, and we finally had the peace and silence to appreciate the magnitude of the site. It was beyond worth the hassle of the haggling to do it. We booked a30-minute ride out to the viewpoint—though I could have easily done an hour. The most important thing is to make sure you check the official costs (mandated by the tourism board) before you go—but I’ve shared more tips for avoiding tourist scams (including negotiating your camel ride) here!
Free yourself from the tours
Our hotel pushed aggressively for us to book a guide, a driver, and our camel ride in advance. But it was far simpler and less intimidating to explore on our own than I was anticipating. We took an Uber from the hotel to the gate, bought our tickets, and then explored as much as possible on foot before negotiating our camel ride.
I didn’t feel a strong need for a guide here, because there’s not a lot to interpret—whenever we did need to reference something, we had our Lonely Planet guidebook. And if we’d booked with the hotel we’d’ve paid about 3x as much for our camel ride. The Uber? Cost us less than 2 USD to and from the hotel. But most importantly, we had the freedom to explore and enjoy this world wonder at our own pace.