The Cairo Egypt Travel Guide is part of the Trip Report Athens Marathon: The Original Course which includes the following cities:
- Toronto, Canada
- Detroit, Michigan
- London, England
- Athens, Greece
- Giza, Egypt
- Cairo, Egypt
- Luxor, Egypt
- Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt
- Abu Dhabi, UAE
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Ahlan and welcome to Egypt. Here is the Cairo Travel Guide using the Guns & Butter methodology:
- A trip is composed of two factors: Labor And Lazy
- Anything on the line (Production Possibilities Frontier for my fellow economists) is an efficient use of your time depending on your tastes and preferences.
- Anything inside the line is inefficient as should be avoided.
- Anything outside is aspirational but may be impossible to do given the constraints of time and resources.
- The opportunity cost (what is given up) for relaxing and being Lazy is gained by being adventurous in the form of Labor and vice versa.
“I come to see Bheramids, “I said in my Iraqi accent hoping to get a good deal on the tour.
That’s the most fitting way to begin my Cairo Travel Guide because everything in Cairo is based on your ability to negotiate. In turn, it will be the most laborious part of your Egypt experience. If you fancy yourself a street hustler or if you deem yourself to be a great attorney, please visit Cairo to get a real lesson in contract law. If each part of contract was assigned to a country then Egyptians would be the fine print. That statement may straddle the line of political correctness but not only do I believe it to be true but also I believe it to be complimentary.
Since I’m from the Middle East, I appreciated fighting and haggling for every Egyptian pound. What was surprising was the level of precision I needed in crafting the deal. In Egypt, you get exactly what you bargain for. More on that when we get to the pyramid tour but for now know that, regardless of how many countries you have visited, you are ill-equipped to negotiate with Egyptians who are some of the best in the business.
The negotiation exercise begins with the taxi driver which is too cumbersome and takes far too long to get a reasonable price. For that reason I recommend that you use Uber Cairo. Even with the ease of Uber, the traffic in Cairo is among the worst in the world. What would constitute a justifiable 5x Uber surge tariff in the US is just another afternoon in this city.
Security is tight everywhere. There are bomb sniffing dogs, gates, and armed police especially in the tourist areas. I always felt safe.
This is why people come to Egypt and rightfully so. The pyramids are a sight to behold. They are also conveniently located in your backyard if you stay at Le Meridien. Though some believe that the pyramids were built by aliens or to store grain, they were actually the tombs for the pharaohs of Egypt.
The Price of the Pyramid Tour
Scour the internet and you’ll see that a tour of the ancient pyramids range from 50-100 EGP. The price should be the same whether you go by horse or by camel. I highly suggest taking a horse because the camel is uncomfortable and unstable, unless you are a camljahky or kameltender. (which were my AIM usernames in high school.) Not true to my name, I went for the horse.
Something very interesting happened when I began negotiating: the tour guide started detailing every tourist trap trick that I had read on the Internet. These included the following:
- I will not take you halfway then ask for more money.
- I will not put you up on camel and then ask you to pay double before letting you back down.
- I will not trick you because I want you to come back with your friends and recommend me.
- I am not Ali Baba.
An hour later, we agreed that for 100 EGP I would tour the pyramids for 2 hours. Though not the best price, I was running out of time to do the tour and still make it to The Museum of Egyptian Antiquities.
I got on the horse and was ready to see it all. Like a DJ scratching a record, my excitement was immediately cut short. Why wasn’t my tour guide on a horse? He looked at me and said, “Oh you want guide, that’s another 100 EGP. Otherwise, don’t worry the horse knows where he is going.”
100 additional EGP later, we set off on the tour. I was so livid for the first hour, I didn’t even look at the pyramids nor pay attention to the guide. The only time I had anything to say was when he found a piece of limestone on the ground and asked me if I wanted to keep it as a souvenir. I told him I certainly could make use of the heavy rock. Before I go into more detail about my time with the guide, let me do my best to show you the marvel of what you will experience when you visit.
The Great Pyramid of Giza
The oldest ancient wonder of the world and the largest of the pyramids is the Great Pyramid of Giza also known as the Pyramid of Khufu, the second king of the 4th dynasty. It’s remarkable up close and stunning from far away.
Note: Do not pay to go inside of it. There’s nothing in it.
Khafre’s Pyramid: Like Father, Like Son.
Khafre’s Pyramid was built for the son of Khufu. Limestone was taken from it to build the Mosque of Mohammed Ali.Thought it appears to be taller than Khufu’s Pyramid, this is an optical illusion.
This is the smallest of the Great Pyramids. It is surrounded by 3 other pyramids which were not completed.
The Great Sphinx
Body of a lion, face of a pharaoh, the Great Sphinx is something I have always wanted to see not only for its historical significance but also because it reminded me of days on the Pro Putt-Putt Circuit. I had always believed that the nose was shot off by Napoleon but according to my research, it was most likely the Turks who had done so.
Tomb of Hemon
Hemon is believed to be the architect of the Great Pyramid. The artwork on the inside of the tomb is indescribable. Know that pictures are not allowed inside, though the man guarding the tomb will insist on taking your photo and then asking for money after the fact.
The Story of My Tour Guide, Ebrahem
My guide, Ebrahem, had gotten the better of me by commanding an extra 100 EGP. He sensed my frustration and did his best to earn his money. The pictures we took were priceless and the experience of riding a horse charging through the desert at top speed was worth the cost of admission.
Ebrahem spent about 30 minutes taking our photo jumping in front of the pyramids and even covered the cost of a Sprite and a Coke after an elder man offered it to me, assured me in Arabic that it was not an issue to drink it. Though I kept refusing, I finally accepted it, drank it, and then he asked for money. “I told you I didn’t want it!” I said in Arabic. “Then why did you drink it” Ebrahem asked.
Here’s where things got tricky. After we had taken the photos in front of the pyramids, Ebrahem abruptly asked for his money and then took off on the horse. He left us in the care of his brother who was going to take us to the Sphinx then back for a quick photo with the camel. We got back to the entrance and waited for Lufthansa, the camel, to arrive.
“Lean back and steady yourself,” the new guide said as the camel lifted me up and up. I took a photo in front of the Great Pyramid, got off the camel, and was ready to be done with the tour.
“Wait Alex, Michael Schumacher is coming,” the guide said. And there he was, Michael Schumacher, the fastest camel this side of the Nile. Puzzled, I wondered what this legendary camel wanted to do with me. “Lean back and steady yourself,” the guide said as I hopped on another camel. “When you get off, you will be walking like Egyptian,” he added. This, by the way, was everyone’s joke for everything.
Off we went on a camel tour of the pyramids. We went by the Great Pyramid and then we arrived at a scenic lookout of the Sphinx. Pictures here, pictures there, and it was time to return and leave right? Wrong. Halfway to the entrance, we disembarked from Schumacher, and were put into a horse cart and put in the care of Ebrahem’s brother once again. He headed for the entrance but then made a left turn at the Great Pyramid and headed towards Khafre’s Pyramid. Once again, picture here, picture there. Then we got back into the cart and headed towards the entrance. As we were approaching he made a left turn and took us to the Tomb of Hemon. I went in and had a look around. At this point I’m well past the 3 hour mark and had seen the pyramids so many times that I could give a tour of the bheramids myself, but for 250 EGP friend price. Back in the cart, believing that there could be nothing left to see, I hoped that this was the end of this hostage standoff. It wasn’t.
Off he went again towards Khafre’s Pyramid only this time he took a left turn around the back of the Great Pyramid. Once again we arrived at the lookout point for the Sphinx. Time for more pictures!
After the hundredth photo we just sat there unsure of what was next. I checked my watch and noticed that we were closing in on 4 hours. Anxious, I didn’t know what to do. I started to think what I would do when the inevitable bill came. Could I make a run for it?
An eternity later, Ebrahem’s brother gets a call and starts taking us around yet again. “Off to your right is the Pyramid of Khafre,” I say to the guy. Suddenly form the corner of my eye, I see a crazy Egyptian man coming in at full speed shouting at the top of his lungs, “Alexxxx!!” It was our fearless tour guide Ebrahem who magically jumped off his horse, onto the horse commanding our cart, and away we went.
Laughing hysterically, Ebrahem said, “How did you enjoy your pyramid tour? Did you get your money’s worth or do you want more? I can give you tour on monkey, on tiger, you name it.”
“Ani khulsaan (I’m finished),” I cried.
Moments later, we were back at the entrance and free to go.
It took a second for me to realize what had just happened. I was laughing uncontrollably as I walked back to my hotel. Ebrahem had taught me a valuable lesson: arguing for the best price can be a literal waste of time.
Here is a map that shows you the area for the pyramids. I had no idea it was enclosed in such a small area until after my marathon tour was completed. Here is the business card for Ebrahem, the greatest negotiator/pyramid tour guide of all time.
The Pyramid Sound & Light Show
I can safely say that no Egyptian has ever been to the pyramid sound & light show. Any honest tour guide or competent hotel employee will also advise against going. Unless you’re a nerdy fan of lasers, stay clear of this tourist trap.
The Museum of Egyptian Antiquities
This gets the nod for tourist trap destination because of my personal experience from visiting the museum. It should not stop you from going to what may be one of the greatest collections of ancient artifacts in the world. But there are a few things you should know before you go:
Bring your Iraqi Passport. If you’re a tourist you will pay 75 EGP versus the 10 for locals.
Triple check that King Tut’s Mask is on display. I could not go to the museum the first time so I figured I would catch it on the way back from Sharm el-Sheikh since I had a five-hour layover. My Uber picked me up from the airport, put my stuff in the trunk, and off to the museum we went the. I braved traffic once again and was excited to finally see King Tut.
“King Tut under restoration. He’s not here,” a museum employee said.
Some genius had broken the beard off of King Tut’s Mask and like a complete oaf had glued it back on. Maybe a seasoned museum visitor would’ve known to inquire as to the availability of the main attraction, but I figured that nobody would dare disturb this ancient relic.
Over it and under the influence of food poisoning, I left the museum and went back to the airport.
Note: Coincidentally, King Tut’s mask went back on display today, 12/21/2015, the day of this posting.
You must visit Tahrir Square when you are in Cairo. While the square itself is little more than a small area with a large Egyptian flag, the events that took place there have changed the course of history.
It is said that as Cairo goes, so does the Middle East. Though the Arab Spring began in Tunisia the symbolic movement began in Cairo in 2011 with protests that led to the downfall of Hosni Mubarak. Thousands of young Egyptians took to the streets in peaceful protest. Even when government actors tried to use violence to squash the protests, the people stood firm.
After Mubarak was overthrown, the country held its first democratic election. It appeared that change was finally coming to the Arab World. That hope was short-lived as the winner, Mohammed Morsi, was overthrown in 2013 and replaced by the Chief of the Egyptian Armed Forces, Abdul Fattah al-Sisi. While Sisi has consolidated his power, Morsi now sits in an Egyptian prison waiting to find out if his death penalty sentence will be upheld. To be clear, I’m not saying that Morsi was the solution for Egypt’s problems but it is a tragedy that after 30 years under Mubarak, Egypt’s first democratically elected leader only lasted for one year.
For Egyptians, the joy following the removal of Mubarak has been replaced by uncertainty. As someone of Arab descent, I am saddened that what appeared to be a history changing movement has resulted in no meaningful change. Though the Arab Spring brought the fall of dictators including Gaddafi in Libya, the situation in the Middle East has worsened. Libya is in a state of chaos, Syria has been overrun by ISIS, Iraq is plagued by sectarian violence, Iran is up to who knows what. Meanwhile neighboring countries like Saudi Arabia remain complicit choosing to focus their efforts on building the world’s tallest building instead of addressing the issues at their doorstep.
The slogan of the Egyptian travel board should be Come to Egypt to talk politics, bargain, and eat. We’ve already covered the first two in this guide so let’s move on to the third most enjoyable activity in Cairo- the food.
I was only in Cairo for 2 nights so I didn’t get to eat as much as I would have liked. The first night, on advice from a friend, we went to the Moghul Room at the Mena House Hotel to have Indian food. Indian food in Egypt, you may be asking? I was told that it was some of the best in the world. I had to go find out for myself.
The food was pretty good but the chicken vindaloo has nothing in terms of price and taste compared to its native home in Goa, India.
The second night I went to Abou el-Sid for molokhia, okra, and mezze. (see complete review here.) This is why I came to Egypt!
Though I didn’t try it this time, be sure to order addis soup, an Egyptian favorite.
Where can you eat, talk politics, and bargain simultaneously until the early hours in the morning? The answer is Khan el-Khalili. This souk was my favorite stop in Cairo next to the pyramids. Drinking chai, smoking argheli, and fending off the kids selling useless junk was a perfect way to end my trip.
Take note of the prices before ordering. I can’t be sure because the waiter didn’t provide me with the bill but I think I overpaid for the argheli and nonalcoholic drinks.
With so much to do in Egypt I wasn’t able to enjoy the nightlife by going to a belly dance show or nightclub. That would be worth doing the next time I’m in Cairo.
Cairo was my favorite city in Egypt. It was exhausting yet exhilarating.