In this trip report, we will visit the pyramids of Giza by camel.
Giza Pyramid Complex
After a late-night flight into Cairo and a couple of hours of sleep in my Giza hotel, I found myself waking up to a gorgeous view of the pyramids from my window.
My plan for the day was to explore the pyramids in the morning and to travel to my new hotel downtown Cairo in the afternoon. To visit the pyramids of Giza, half a day is certainly sufficient.
You need to buy a ticket at the entrance gate to the Giza Pyramid Complex, which will set you back 160 EGP (8.5 EUR).
Arranging a camel ride
As the distances between the pyramids are large and the best views are from further afield on a hill in the desert, it does pay off to visit the site on a camel or horse as walking distances can otherwise be fairly long.
Alternatively, you can visit the pyramids by horse-drawn chariot. Some tour groups even visit the pyramid complex at lightning speed by bus – a much more impersonal and rather hasty way to see these great sights if you ask me.
If you do plan to visit the pyramids on camel or horseback, you should be prepared to haggle hard. Officially, the set price for a camel is around 5 euro per hour – although as a foreign tourist you have absolutely zero chance to find anyone agreeing to this.
On the other side of the spectrum, you will find touts, camel owners and tour agencies quoting prices of up to 80 to 100 euro (!) for a half-day tour by camel or horse – a price which is simply outrageous.
You will be approached by dozens of camel owners and touts as you approach the pyramids entry gate – and also immediately after inside Giza Pyramid Complex. Some can even be quite aggressive in their approach as I would find out myself.
It can certainly be overwhelming if it’s your first day in Cairo and you are uninitiated into this aspect of the Egyptian way of life, so be prepared, insistent and simply walk on to another camel guy or tout if the price doesn’t satisfy you.
A half-day ride (3-4 hours) by camel or horse around the Giza pyramids – with plenty of time to take pictures and to stop for a break can be negotiated for 25 to 30 EUR if you invest some time into it and haggle hard. I certainly would not pay more than 40 EUR for it.
Entering the pyramid complex
As my hotel offered a fair price for a half-day tour by camel (30 EUR after some negotiations) I decided to go for it and to spare myself the hassle of facing the onslaught of dozens of touts and camel guides at the entrance gate.
The hotel owner escorted me to the ticket office, but he was not allowed to pass through the entrance barrier himself. He told me to wait inside the building at the other side of the barrier for my camel driver Ramadan to arrive.
Less than a minute later a guy approached me and asked whether I wanted the camel ride. I asked him if his name was Ramadan and whether he was the guy arranged through my hotel, which he answered with “yes”.
Together, we walked towards a nearby area where most of the camels are held to begin the tour of the Giza pyramids.
A small scuffle
Some 10 minutes after we had set off, another man on a camel overtook us and started to shout angrily at my camel guy. At one point it even looked like the two were about to start to fight.
I didn’t fully grasp the situation at first, but one or two minutes after the man had left it suddenly hit me what just happened when my camel guy started to negotiate the price of the camel ride with me, demanding 80 euro.
At that point, I immediately understood that the guy was not Ramadan but someone who just grabbed me away at the ticket office, thinking he had just won a new customer. After all, I had already paid for the camel ride in advance at my hotel.
I figured that the man on the camel who overtook us and started the scuffle must have been Ramadan coming after us!
I immediately demanded to get off and refused to pay any money for the short 10-15 minute ride so far, which the camel guy was really not happy with.
Being quite angry at him lying about his identity and pretending he was the camel guy sent by my hotel to meet me at the ticket office, I however stood my ground and just walked off after arguing with him for five minutes.
I still had a problem however: Where could I find Ramadan? After all, I did want to honour the deal I made with my hotel and their camel guide Ramadan. It being my first day in Egypt, I didn’t have a local sim card in my phone and was not able to call the hotel owner for help.
Fortunately, I managed to make a call on the phone of a friendly shopkeeper at the pyramids complex. My hotel owner told me to stay where I was and that Ramadan would find me at the small souvenir shop.
Indeed, some five minute later Ramadan showed up with his camel, being more than happy that I could join him and that the original agreement was restored. He even started to grin when he heard I refused to pay the first camel guy who pretended to be him.
It shows how aggressive and ruthless some of the touts and camel guides can be at the Giza pyramids. Be firm, be insistent and be watchful – especially when you have made prior arrangements with someone!
Into the desert
Ramadan ended up to be a friendly, delightful guide. He was relatively quiet and somewhat looked like Yoda in his long, blue-grey clothes and headdress, walking around with a stick at all times.
Although purely a camel guy and not an archaeologist with in-depth knowledge about the pyramids. If you want a real guide to explore the pyramids with and to learn more, you should therefore seek out a professional and not trust on a camel or horse owner to do so.
However, Ramadan was able to explain some of the basic details and certainly could give some interesting details about camels and local life.
We first bypassed all of the Giza pyramids as we walked through the desert to a hill at the far other side of the complex, from where we would have the best possible view.
When you pass this way along the eastern and southern side of the complex, there are lots of ruined tombs and temples you can see.
At the viewpoint
All camel and horse guides basically make the same stop on a hill at the western side of the Giza Pyramid Complex from where you have a perfect view over the pyramids.
There are several souvenir stalls here as well, although fortunately the hassle from souvenir sellers was light and a simple ‘la shukran’ (‘no thank you’ in Arabic) was enough to shrug them off and to enjoy the views in all quietness.
Although I was basically already looking at the pyramids for the last three hours since I woke up, it’s a view that doesn’t get old.
From each side, the pyramids and all the colours of the desert and stones look different. And it’s an absolutely fabulous, impressive sight – one that you want to imprint firmly into your memory.
After a 30-minute break at the view point I walked around the area trying to find back Ramadan, who was drinking some coffee with some of his colleagues.
He invited me to stay a bit longer and have some coffee as well, an offer which I gladly accepted.
The Egyptian coffee – slowly made in a kettle on top of a small wood fire – was delicious. It was certainly fun as well to hang out with some of the other camel drivers and to talk a bit with them about local life, tourism, the corona pandemic and the wider world.
Back on the camel
After relaxing for a while and drinking a few cups of coffee, it was time to move on and to find our camel back.
We would now ride down the hill to the foot of the pyramids to look at each of them from up close. As you get closer to the pyramids, you get a whole new perspective of them and start to realise just how big they are.
When you approach the pyramids from the western side, you can see the Giza and Cairo suburbs just behind these remarkable wonders of the ancient world.
Basically, the Giza Pyramid Complex is located where the vast urban sprawl of Cairo ends and where the desert begins – something which is easily noticeable from this side.
Pyramid of Menkaure
The first pyramid which we passed by was the Pyramid of Menkaure, the smallest of the three main pyramids at Giza. It is flanked by the three even smaller Pyramids of the Queens.
Menkaure was a 4th dynasty pharaoh and his pyramid was constructed around the year 2510 BC.
Like the other pyramids, the Pyramid of Menkaure had the function of being his tomb – while the Pyramids of the Queens were likely used as tombs for Menkaure’s wives or half-sisters.
One notable aspect of the Pyramid of Menkaure is the significant gash on its northern face. This damage was done by Sultan Al-Aziz Uthman, Saladin’s son, who in 1169 AD ordered that the pyramids should be destroyed.
His workers and soldiers started with the smallest of the three great pyramids, the one of Menkaure, but quickly found their task to be much harder than expected.
After the sultan realised that it would be extremely time-consuming and thus prohibitively costly to destroy the pyramids, he decided to leave them intact.
Pyramid of Khafre
From the Pyramid of Menkaure, we continued our visit and rode off towards the other two main pyramids. First up was the Pyramid of Khafre, which is instantly recognisable because its casing stones still remain on its top.
At 136.4 metres high (448 ft), it’s an impressive structure and in my opinion the most beautiful of the three to admire from up close.
Just like Menkaure, Khafre (sometimes called Chephren as well) was a 4th dynasty Pharaoh and his pyramid was constructed around the year 2570 BC.
The Great Pyramid
The biggest of all the pyramids is the Great Pyramid of Giza, officially known as the Pyramid of Khufu or the Pyramid of Cheops. It measures 138.5 metres (454 ft) in height.
Although from a distance the Pyramid of Khafre looks higher, this is because it sits on a 10-metre-high bedrock which creates the optical illusion that it is bigger – something which was done on purpose!
The Great Pyramid was the tomb of Pharaoh Khufu (Cheops), another 4th dynasty Pharaoh. This pyramid was built around 2600 BC.
As there is a tarmac road around the Pyramid of Cheops, you can expect quite some more visitors and all kinds of salesmen here. Be prepared to be hassled by quite a lot of Egyptians trying to sell you some souvenirs, horse, camel or carriage rides.
Also be aware of some tricksters who try to give you something for free as a token of ‘friendship’, after which they of course demand some money in a clever way and will make a scene if you try to give back their ‘gift’ as they feign being insulted.
Besides, do not attempt to climb any of the pyramids as this is strictly forbidden and could get you in serious trouble. There is a large police presence at the pyramids, so do not think you will get away with it. Even sitting on the first row of stone blocks will get you a serious reprimand!
Going inside the pyramids
It is possible to visit the pyramids of Giza from the inside, although you need to buy an extra ticket for this in advance at the ticket office. Each pyramid has a passage which leads to a burial chamber inside the massive structure.
Do note that only a limited amount of these tickets are available, so if you want to go onside one of the Giza pyramids you should plan to visit them early in the morning.
I opted not to visit any of the Giza pyramids from inside although I would do so later with one of the Pyramids of Saqqara, another pyramid complex a bit further away to the south of Cairo.
The only sight which I did not really manage to see from up close was the Great Sphinx of Giza.
As they were building up a stage and a couple of stands in front of the Sphinx for some kind of TV concert, I was not able to get close to it and could only admire it from a distance at the main access road.
Like the pyramids, the Sphinx is a 4th dynasty structure and it is believed that the face of the Sphinx depicts Pharaoh Khafre.
The nose of the Sphinx is famously missing, although the tale that this done by Napoleon firing a canon at it is a popular misconception.
According to archaeological research, the nose was deliberately hacked off sometime between the 3rd and 10th Century AD, although it is not known exactly when and why this was done.
My camel tour around the Giza Pyramid Complex ended at the Sphinx, although Ramadan was friendly enough to take me back by camel to the front door of my hotel a couple of streets away from the main ticket office.
Pyramids rooftop view
There are lots of cafés, restaurants and hotels close to the main entrance gate of the pyramid complex with some great rooftop views over the Giza pyramids.
As my hotel had such a rooftop with a view, I therefore lingered for a while longer over some tea and shisha.
Each evening, a popular sound and light show is held at the pyramids for which you need to pay a separate entrance ticket.
Although I heard from many other travellers that the sound and light show is definitely beautiful, it did not fit in my schedule so I missed out on it.
One top tip for those who do want to see the light show is that you can watch it for free from one of the Giza restaurants and hotels with a rooftop – as you only have to pay for drinks and some food instead of the more expensive entrance ticket!
Visiting the pyramids of Giza is certainly a highlight of any trip to Egypt. As the last surviving wonder of the ancient world, there is just so much interesting history here.
Seeing the pyramids from afar is such an impressive sight you will surely never forget. When you slowly get closer towards the pyramids you suddenly get a grasp how massive these structures are.
Although you can walk around the entire complex or visit as part of an organised tour group by bus, it’s easiest and most fun to explore the Giza pyramids by camel.
If you however do so, be prepared to haggle hard and know the going rates as otherwise chances are that you get ripped off.
In general, be prepared for an onslaught of touts, camel drivers and guides as you approach the entrance gate.
Although this is a nuisance, you will certainly enjoy the Giza Pyramid Complex a lot more when you go a bit further away from the chaos at the main ticket office and the Great Pyramid, especially when you reach the great hilltop viewpoint on the western side.
Trip report index
This article is part of the ‘Walk Like an Egyptian: A Grand Tour of Egypt‘ trip report, which consists of the following chapters:
1. Red-Eye Ramblings of a Late Night Flight to Cairo
2. A Visit to the Pyramids of Giza by Camel (current chapter)
3. Review: Sofitel Nile El Gezirah, Zamalek, Cairo
** rest of the chapters to follow soon **