This city is filled with cheap accommodation and lots to do. I had my very first hostel stay at the Australian Hostel Cairo. At a glance, based on the entrance and the run down elevator, this place appeared sketchy. What I found on the inside was anything but that and the staff were really friendly and helpful.
My sister and I arrived in Cairo without finalizing any arrangements with tour operators. We met with the hostel manager Meedo who turned out to also be a tour operator. He took our itinerary of all the sites and made it a reality.
Here’s what we got done in about a day and a half.
This was the first thing that Leila and I did on the trip. Everyone says this is a must see but I didn’t really enjoy it. We didn’t use a guide here. There are certainly a lot of artifacts, but things aren’t well labelled. I found it hard to navigate and understand what I was looking at. The museum visit might have been better at the end of the trip after visiting temple sites and hearing stories from the guides or maybe using a guide on site. On the plus side the mummy room was pretty interesting, some of these guys still have hair!
Entrance Cost Egyptian Museum 12o EGP. Mummies Room at Egyptian Museum 150 EGP.
Getting there: A 15-min walk from the hostel
Exploring the city streets
Crossing the streets in Cairo was one of the most daunting tasks for me. The use of pedestrian traffic lights, cross walks, the pedestrian is always right rule don’t seem to matter at all.
During the day when the streets are filled with honking cars and bumper to bumper (literally) traffic, your best bet as a newbie would be to observe the flow carefully before stepping off that pavement. In the end I found that closely shadowing the locals and crossing when they did worked best.
We came across this charming cafe after a failed attempt of finding another restaurant called Felfela. Founded in 1908 and two blocks from Tahrir square Cafe Riche remains popular with the intellectuals and cultured. It is reasonably priced and has good mix of Egyptian and some western food.
Meal cost: about 65 EGP per person
Psst…Hey you, follow me!
People sometimes stop you and try to lure you into their shops. It’s actually harmless to follow. On the way to the museum one man tried to get us to follow him back to his shop. At this point we didn’t. A few hours later, he stopped us again on the streets again asking “Do you remember me?” we didn’t recognize him and we were a bit alarmed. His name was Akram and he reminded us of the earlier conversation, he invited us to his store again and this time we followed.
It was a quaint little perfume oil shop, where he explained about his grandfather’s land where the flowers are grown and low long this has been his family business. It’s also part of Egyptian hospitality to chat and serve you a beverage usually tea or coffee when you enter their store even if you don’t buy anything.
Tip: If you have the time, shop around, the Khan al Khalili market has a lot of options.
If you make a silly mistake like me and forget to grab your camera’s batteries before you head to the airport then you’ll need to find a replacement. So we spent some time roaming the streets to find electronic shops. After a few stops, we found one. The shopkeeper checked the battery type, made a phone call (no idea who he called), gave me a price to which I agreed. He then picked up my camera and walked out the store with it, leaving Leila and I there unattended for about 20 mins before coming back with the new battery.
Lesson learnt: Trust people.
What do you do on Valentine’s night in Cairo? Visit Cairo tower. Located in the Zamalek district of Cairo, it’s serves as a television tower; it stands at 187m and it’s Egypt’s tallest building. It’s built from granite and modelled after the lotus plant which was an important plant to the ancient Egyptians.
The line to take the elevator up to the observation deck was short, however the line to leave was really long. Rather than wait in line for about 45 mins on a cold night, we decided to get dinner at the revolving tower restaurant. They were completely full, it being Valentine’s night and all. So we went to the Tower’s other restaurant the Sky Garden Cafe for tea and sandwiches instead.
Entrance cost: 70 EGP for Non-Egyptians
Getting there: We took a 10-min taxi ride from the hostel.
Walk along the Nile
After visiting Cairo tower, we took a 30-40 min walk back to the hostel via the Kasr Al Nile Bridge. Walking along the River Nile at night is a must. It’s buzzing with people selling things, walking, jogging, and having wedding shoots or simply just soaking up the views of the city lights surrounding the water.
Felfela – We eventually found it!
It’s located about 2 blocks from Tahrir square and close to Cafe Riche. A casual dining Egyptian restaurant with other options. I had pasta, nothing spectacular in my opinion, the service is a bit slow, but the place is generally a quite nice dine in experience.
Meal cost: about 70 EGP per person
El Abd Pastry Shop
Walking through the streets at night, we kept seeing people walking around with ice cream. The only logical thing to do, being dessert junkies (my sister is one also), was to follow the trail till we found the source. The always crowded El Abd Pastry shop was quite a find. They sell cakes, pastries, breads, chocolates and at nights, they bring out ice cream. We went there every day during our stay in Cairo. The ice cream is delicious. We also picked up some cookies on our last day in Cairo to take home.
Ice cream Cost: 5 EGP for 2 scoops
The Ancient Egyptians believed that the sun set on the west bank of the Nile. The sunset was associated with the realm of the dead, as such all pyramids and burial chambers were built on the Nile’s west bank.
Our guide explained that he starts his pyramid tours in Saqqara because it contains the foundation for the monuments. It’s where the royal architect Imhotep started designing pyramids and implemented his concepts.
The City of Abydos in Upper Egypt was the chosen burial grounds of the first Dynasty pharaohs. Second Dynasty pharaohs started constructing their royal tombs in the complex of Saqqara.
Second Dynasty king Khasekhemwy had a funerary monument Gisr el-Mudir, constructed; it comprised of a mastaba (a large rectangular enclosure) at Saqqara. It is thought to be the inspiration behind the Step Pyramid.
Entrance Cost: 120 EGP
King Djoser (successor of Khasekhemwy) of the Third Dynasty had his funerary complex built by Imhotep. It’s made up of temples, dummy buildings and the famous Step Pyramid. The 63 m high Step Pyramid was built by stacking six mastabas on each other.
Mastaba of Mereruka
The largest and most elaborate of all the non-royal tombs consisting of 33 chambers. Mereruka was a high executive official and the son-in-law of king Teti (sixth Dynasty). Mereruka’s well preserved mastaba tomb is full of decorated scenes on the walls about Egyptian life and false doors to protect against robbers.
Pyramid of Teti
Above ground it isn’t well preserved and looks like a pile of dirt. Below ground there are a lot of elaborate chambers.
Necropolis of Dahshur
Dahshur contains two of Egypt’s best preserved pyramids built under 4th Dynasty King Sneferu (2613-2589 BC). Pyramids at Dahshur show the transition from the step pyramids to the smooth pyramids. The lessons learnt from this would eventually go on to be used in construction of the Great Pyramids of Giza.
Entrance Cost: 60 EGP
The Bent Pyramid (2613 – 2589 BC)
This was the first attempt of building a pyramid with smooth sides. During construction there were several miscalculations on the structural weight placed upon the sands and on the measurements to cut the limestone blocks. To correct weight distribution problems the shape had to be altered in an effort to make it safe and hence giving the pyramid its bent shape.
The Red Pyramid
After learning from all the previous mistakes, the Red Pyramid was the first complete pyramid with a height of 104 m. It was constructed from red limestone and believe to be burial site for King Sneferu.
This Pyramid can be entered through its northern face by climbing up the steps which leads you to a steep and narrow passageway. There will be usually be someone at the entrance regulating the traffic into the chambers as the passage is low and very narrow. There are two chambers connected by a short and low tunnel. The burial chamber is located within the second chamber. Inside the pyramid is also very hot and stuffy so make sure to take water.
Halfway down the tunnel, we realized just how hot and stuffy it was, but our water was all the way in the car. So I climbed back out to go get it but the entrance attendant Ali saved me the trip and shared his with us. So back down the narrow tunnel I went, water in hand. He might be the kindest man we met in Egypt.
Located on the west bank of the river Nile, the city of Memphis served as the capital of the Old Kingdom of ancient Egypt. The city was founded by the pharaoh Menes who also founded the first Dynasty and was responsible for uniting Upper and Lower Egypt.
Temples (now in ruins) dedicated to the god Ptah, Sekhmet (his wife) and their son, Nefertem were constructed here. The city changed hands a few times to the likes of Cambyses II the King of Persia, Alexander the Great and eventually falling during the rise of Christianity in the region.
Entrance Cost: 60 EGP
Giza Pyramid Complex
Located on the outskirts of Cairo, the complex contains the three Great Pyramids, the Great Sphinx, cemeteries, worker villages and an industrial complex.
Our tour operator arranged a camel ride around the Pyramids for us to experience different views. Now, I’m far from a natural on a camel, so I spent a bit of my time focusing on staying on the camel and on nothing else. When I managed to look up, I couldn’t get over how majestic and amazing the Pyramids really are. Most of the time I was thinking, “How on earth did they do that????” Nothing actually compares to seeing them in person.
Entrance Costs: 120 EGP. Entry inside first pyramid: 300 EGP, second or third pyramids: 60 EGP.
The Great Pyramid
After the success of the Red Pyramid, the son of King Sneferu, Pharaoh Khufu commissioned the construction of the Great Pyramid of Giza. It is listed as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world and is the oldest and largest of the three pyramids at Giza.
It’s made from 2.3 M limestone blocks, each weighing an average of 2.5 tons. The sides of the pyramid’s base are approximately 230 m, and its original height was 147 m. The missing capstone has been theorized to be made of gold or a large sphere symbolizing the eye of Horus. Casing stones that were used were made of highly polished limestone meant to shine by reflecting sunlight. Three small pyramids built for Khufu’s queens are lined up next to the Great Pyramid.
The second-tallest and second-largest of the Pyramids of Giza sits on higher ground and has a steeper angle than the Great Pyramid; as such it appears to be the largest of the three. To this day it still has a lot of its casing stones near the apex.
The smallest of the three pyramids and has a height of 61m and a base of 108m. The pyramid of fourth dynasty Pharaoh Menkaure has three queen’s pyramids and is the only one without any of its original limestone casing.
The Great Sphinx
Made of limestone, the reclining sphinx has the body of a lion and the head of a human. The theories surrounding the age, purpose and builder of the Sphinx are still widely debated but it is the general belief that it was built by and its face is representative of the Pharaoh Khafre.
Vandalism and Destruction at Giza
Earthquakes and time were some of the biggest factors for destruction of the monuments in Egypt. In other instances, some monuments were vandalized under different rulers of Egypt who did not support Ancient Egyptian beliefs. Some materials were also cut and used in construction of other buildings around cities in Egypt for example Cairo.
Our tour guides also took us to a little shop that specialized in items made from 100% Egyptian cotton such as clothing, sheets, hats, scarves etc. I thought the prices were a bit expensive and nothing really called out to me. So I didn’t buy anything.
They also took us to a Papyrus Shop. On entry, you are given a brief demonstration on the treatment of the papyrus plant and the process involved to turn it into paper. This paper is what the Ancient Egyptians used for their transcriptions. Modern day uses are mainly decorative purposes and contain paintings or drawings of hieroglyphs. They make excellent souvenirs and gifts. Prices vary based on size, intricacies of the artwork, the volume of your purchase and your ability to haggle. Even if you don’t purchase, the process is interesting to see while sipping a cup of complimentary tea.
We also asked the guides to take us for quick local meal where they themselves dine. We were served Koshary from a tiny local restaurant. Koshary is a popular dish amongst Egyptians; it is a mix of rice, pasta, lentils, fried onions, and tomato sauce. It’s full of carbs but definitely worth sampling as food is an important part of culture.
The Pyramid segment of my trip is definitely one of my favourites. Hopefully in the future I’d be able to visit Giza again as well as some of the 138 other Pyramids of Egypt. Up next, the Western Desert safari.
Have you been to Egypt? Please share your thoughts and comments.