Cairo is the epicenter of chaos and a city full of juxtaposition. 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. The highway is an obstacle course of horse drawn carts, buses, motorcycles, and pedestrians shuffling across 8 lanes of traffic. The horn has lost all significance, and the only traffic laws seem to be not to run into anyone else (which they avoid quite successfully actually). Cairo seems to have a sort of mystical set of rules guiding all of the chaos into a rhythm that against all logic seems to work.
Here’s your ultimate guide to navigating the bustling city in just 3 days.
Arriving to the airport in Cairo is a sort of experience in itself, it’s always a little flustering arriving in an unfamiliar country after a long day of traveling (Be sure to check out my post: ‘Know Before You Go: Egypt’ for what you need to know before you go). Luckily our hotel in Giza was kind enough to send a driver to pick us up which in the end we were really grateful for. (There was no charge for this by the way, but we tipped the driver well since it is about a 40 minute drive) We were two of the very few amount of tourists, and were instantly hassled by taxi drivers and others trying to offer transportation the second we cleared customs, so it was really nice to already have a plan in place. We spent the night in Giza at Best View Pyramids Hotel. We were actually kind of bummed that it was dark when we arrived thinking that we had wasted a day traveling, but we were instead greeted by the most amazing view of the pyramids at night. There is a light show every night that goes through the history of the pyramids (in English). I actually think that the pyramids look a lot better at night because none of the characteristic smog that hangs over the city is visible
We woke up pretty early with the plan in mind to see both the Pyramids and the Egyptian Museum. Although our hotel was in walking distance to the complex, we opted for a tour through our hotel. Everything is negotiable in Egypt so we tailored one of the tours they were offering to just take us to the Pyramids for a much cheaper price (I think we paid about $40). The pyramid complex is really large, and so it’s nice to have a car to take you to the entrance and to the various lookout points. (Below is the view from the Panoramic Viewpoint where you can see all 6 Pyramids- I know what you’re thinking, “There’s 6?!?”- it was news to me too.)
After spending about 2 hours at the Panoramic Viewpoint (partly due to a camel scam) we made our way around the complex for another hour or so- seriously it’s huge. Definitely watch out for the various scams. I even knew about them and we still got roped into one. Nothing in Egypt is free. If someone offers something to you and you accept, you’ll be expected to pay for it. (For more information about the pyramids check out my Guide to the Pyramids of Giza.)
Our last stop at the pyramids complex was the famous Spinx. As you can tell by the photo below he was not quite the kisser I expected him to be. This was another time that we were extremely happy that we had come with a driver by the way, it’s pretty far away from the pyramids. Although we were there in the off-season, the area around the Sphinx was quite crowded. You have to file into a small aqueduct type structure before going to the small viewing area. A little patience can still get you a really great picture.
After we left the complex we went back to our home base at Best Views to re-group before tackling the Egyptian Museum. EGYPT HAS UBER- I can’t tell you how happy we were to discover this (it’s the little things). Haggling with Egyptian taxi drivers gets really old, and being a tourist you pay double or triple the fair rate. With Uber, they don’t actually know you’re a tourist and everything is regulated through the app, so you get the fair price. Tip- Screenshot the address you’re going to in Arabic, unlike those working in hotels and at tourist sites, most of the Uber drivers don’t speak (or read) English so there’s a big language barrier.
A few things to note about the Egyptian Museum- you have to pay a fee to bring your camera in, so I’d recommend leaving it at the hotel, because most of the artifacts you’re not really supposed to take photos of anyway. I say “supposed to” because the Egyptians have a way of letting you get away with things. We paid a little extra for the Mummy Exhibit which to me was the coolest part of the museum.
After spending an hour or so we decided to “wrap up” (bad mummy joke) our day and head back to Best Views for a meal and to watch the sunset.
We decided to splurge our last night in Cairo and stay at the Kempinski Nile Hotel. This was actually an awesome experience not only because the hotel was so nice, but because there was a really great and knowledgeable concierge that basically scheduled our entire last day for us. He recommended that rather than take taxis to individual sites in Cairo that we hire a driver for the day (only cost us about $40 by the way) to take us to all of the sites. In the end this was such a great way to see all of the sites without haggling and losing money on every taxi ride.
The driver took us to many of the major sites in Cairo including:
Coptic Cairo (The Christian Quarter of Cairo housing the famous Hanging Church)
Khan al Khalili Bazaar (A bustling market where you can buy beautiful lamps, rugs, and jewelry)
Mosque-Madrassa of Sultan Hassan
The Cairo Citadel
My favorite site was probably the Khan al Khalili Bazaar. I have a strange fascination with Arabic markets, they draw me in every time. I accidentally bought 4 Arabic lamps that I somehow managed to stuff into my backpack.
We finished our last night in Egypt with a cocktail, a rooftop view of the sunset over the Nile, and an embarrassing amount of cheese.
Egypt is frustrating, a little dirty, chaotic, and confusing- but in the end it captured my heart. Have you been to Egypt? What was your experience like?