We started at the deep end on our first day in Egypt: spending a day at the pyramids. It was going to be a full day combining Dashur, Saqqara and Giza. From emptiness and desert horizons to the bustling grounds of the Giza pyramids. Although this was a do-able program, we would recommend to take two days if you do this from Cairo. Or go independent and visit each site and the surrounding villages on separate days. That way you visit them while travelling down south or around the region. Both Dashur and Saqqara as well as the pyramids of Giza deserve a leisurely pace – for different reasons.
The Bent Pyramid at Dashur is the first attempt to build a true smooth pyramid ever. Much of the limestone cover remains and you can see and feel the difference between the inner blocks and outer smooth surface up close! We do a walk-around of the pyramid and discover a small adjacent pyramid while on the horizon more pyramids and once-pyramids shimmer. The Bent pyramid at Dashur stands alone with nothing but desert around. Hardly any people seem to visit; we were the only ones with one other couple in the morning. The Sahara stretches out west across the continent from here.
The trip up to Dashur, driving along one of the bigger irrigation canals south, is confronting and interesting. Cairo’s big city buzz, smog and traffic is replaced quickly by clearer skies, villages, agricultural land, date palms, donkey carts and piles of rubbish.
Nearby is the Red Pyramid, the second attempt at pyramid building. A few people from villages nearby sell mid-morning breakfast to our guide and driver on the steps towards the toilet building. You can go inside this pyramid! But we just peek inside, down the steep tunnel leading down, take in the view over the Sahara desert and head to Saqqara…
Our following visit to the Step Pyramid of Djoser at Saqqara was kind of weird. This pyramid is the oldest true pyramid in Egypt. It is set between half renovated walls of an ancient festival complex. The place is populated by men on donkeys and in gellabiyas ‘offering’ their picture to be taken. Half of the pyramid is in scaffolds and there is controversy about the renovation work actually threatening the crumbling structure.
The interesting thing is that there are many more tombs and pre-pyramid structures nearby. Some have great interior decorations such as the star-covered ceiling of Teti’s ‘pyramid’. Other tombs contain elaborate reliefs of hippos, crocodiles and even frogs!
Saqqara is a great visit (with lunch options nearby) to combine with Dashur. With these three pyramids you really get an idea of the historic development of pyramid construction – a sort of pyramid building 101…
Heading back to Giza our guide brings us to a place with a view of the Giza pyramids for lunch. The city nowadays stretches right up to the foot of the pyramids. In the distance people, camels and horses swarm around the pointy structures.
After we manage the sensory overload and shake off a dozen of guides, horse rides and camel drivers (even while having our own guide already…), we’re rewarded with an eastward looking panorama over the great pyramids of Giza.
There are two panorama places out to the west of the pyramids with both great views for photography. Sadly, we just have time for one. Make sure you don’t get rushed through. It’s worth it to take your time, let the hassle stress flow away and let it all sink in.
Many people opt for a camel ride to get more out of their time at the Giza pyramids. We chose not to and do not recommend it. Many camels here are ill-treated and the hassle of the camel drivers is quite intense.
Another option to get down to the pyramids from the panorama is to walk – reserve that for colder days though as there is no shade and it is easily an hour walk up and down the dunes! Still, the camels are very photogenic – expect to pay a tip.
We finished our day at the Giza pyramids with a visit to the Sphinx. Definitely impressive! It is dug out of the ground now and there is a viewing platform along the side and at the front. Great fun to visit as something different to all those temples and tombs…