The lure of Egypt has been calling me for years and I finally made the trip deposit to embark on a journey of a lifetime. This milestone birthday trip was booked through Gate 1 Travel and led me on a 10 day adventure to Cairo, Luxor and Aswan. I experienced everything from the awe inspiring pyramids to cruising down the Nile river. After three years of not traveling abroad, it challenged me to start planning out my 2023 travel calendar and rediscovering what the world has to offer. During this trip, I conquered a lot of firsts; such as my first time visiting a predominantly Muslim country and my first time riding a camel. For your reading pleasure, I have separated my Egypt experience into two separate travel guides to highlight the beauty of each location. This travel guide will focus on my experiences in Cairo, so get ready to learn, see and do the culturally rich city that was home to the Pharaohs.
- The Egyptian Museum in Cairo: As a once aspiring Egyptologist and a fan of all things ancient Egypt, this museum is the mecca for enthusiasts like me. Known for having the largest collection of Egyptian artifacts under one roof, this is the place that you would go to see those treasures that you read about or seen in the documentaries on TV. There are two full floors packed with everything from life-sized statues of the pharaohs to canopy jars that were used to hold the embalmed organs of the royals. You could never imagine how wealthy the ancient Egyptians royals were until you see in person how much gold leaf was used to adorn their coffins and the relics that they would need to live comfortably in the afterlife. Pursuing through the museum became a bit overwhelming due to the huge influx of people visiting the museum. To combat this, the establishment has implemented a timed entrance approach, however due to its popularity it can be hard to abide by. My tour guide, Omar, took our group on a two hour glimpse of the museum that covered a world wind overview of Egyptian history. As with everything the Egyptians crafted, a meaning was embedded into every creation. Case in point, when you see the arms crossed on a pharaoh’s statue it signifies that the person is deceased. On the other hand, if the pharaoh’s statue is in a forward moving stance with their chin held high it communicates that the pharaoh was strong, alive and well. Tickets for the museum cost 200 Egyptian Pounds (approximately $6.50) for adults and 100 Egyptian Pounds (approximately $3.25) for students. Children aged 6 and under are free. The entrance fee was included in my tour package, so no money was exchanged during my visit.
Munch Tip: The main draw to visiting the museum is seeing King Tut’s coffin and death mask. Unfortunately, I couldn’t take pictures in the exhibit area based on the museum’s policy. Before I embarked on my trip, I visited the National Geographic Museum in Washington, DC to check out the King Tut exhibition and by visiting my instagram reel, you will get an idea of what I saw live and in person during my time in Cairo.
- Khan El Khalili: Located in the older part of downtown Cairo, is the central shopping area or souk where tourists and locals go to purchase miniature King Tut statues, spices and so much more. As we weaved through the many shops that outlined the busy streets my tour group made an impromptu visit to the second oldest mosque in the city. Ibn Tulun was under construction and was not opened for daily prayers. However, my tour guide asked the imam if our group could be granted special access to see the mosque. Upon entering you are instructed to take your shoes off as a sign of respect. The beauty of the sabil fountain which is the focal point and community purifying station is the central point in the mosque. The architecture and prayer rugs have navigational reminders that are etched into their surfaces, acting as an artful reference that points you towards Mecca. As a thank you for allowing us to visit, we gifted a few Egyptian Pounds to assist with the renovations. After leaving the mosque we walked deeper into the souk to explore and see if we could snag a deal or two before heading back to the hotel.
Munch Tip: When walking through the souk, be prepared for an onslaught of people wanting your business. The selling techniques of the vendors can seem overly aggressive, but don’t be intimidated to say no if you are not interested in the goods they are selling.
- Pyramids of Giza: My ultimate birthday trip kicked off by checking an item off of my bucket list right away by visiting one of the world’s greatest treasures, the pyramids of Giza. Driving to these historical gems took about 30 minutes to reach from downtown Cairo. You may have seen many pictures of the three pyramids that were constructed for Pharaoh Khufo, Khafre and Menkaure on TV and in your history books. Circling around the local roads, my excitement couldn’t be contained and I immediately transitioned to the ultimate tourist and by taking tons of photos of everything in its vicinity. I couldn’t believe the precision of each piece of alabaster that was put together to form this geometric structure. My mind automatically started to think of the people who toiled away in the hot sand and sacrificed their lives to make the pyramids a reality. There is an opportunity to climb, more like crouching through the inner sanctum of one of the pyramids. Channeling my alter ego, Indiana Jones, I maneuvered the path of the artisans that built the pyramid to see the King’s chamber. Prepare yourself for a workout and if you are someone that is claustrophobic, it might be best to sit this excursion out. A separate ticket is required to enter the pyramid and it will cost you 220 Egyptian Pounds which equates to about $17.
Munch Tip: There are park tickets and excursions that have different fees. If you just want to view the pyramids from the outside, you are free to walk the grounds at your leisure for no additional cost.
- The Great Sphinx of Giza: When most people think of Giza, the Sphinx is one of the first things that come to mind other than the pyramids. The mythical creature has a head of a human that is dressed in ancient Egyptian garb. The body is formed in the shape of a lion and imperially sits in front of the Giza pyramids as if protecting them from evil doers and grave robbers. Tickets are required to get a closer look at the Sphinx. However, if you buy the combo ticket it includes the admittance into the pyramids of Giza.
Munch Tip: When taking pictures you will get approached from panhandlers to take your photo for a fee. So be on the lookout for random people approaching you.
- Saqqara Pyramids: The Saqqara “Sakkara” pyramids archaeological site is home to the original concept for the pyramids that would be built throughout the Egyptian empire. The step pyramid of Djoser literally looks like a six tiered level wedding cake. Each layer decreases in size the closer you get to the top of the pyramid. Every brick is carefully laid in a synced pattern to create the vision of the architect, Inhotemp who was also a medical doctor that was known for his other achievement as being the first person in written history to conduct open heart surgery. Surrounding the pyramid are more tombs for the noble Egyptians that definitely are worth seeing. I highly suggest that you hire a tour guide to give you a full scope of the people who were buried in the tombs and the relation of importance to the Egyptian royalty. The price of the ticket for the full Saqqara area experience is 200 Egyptian Pounds for Adults and 100 Egyptian Pounds for Students. If you rather see certain aspects of the area, tickets can be purchased separately for the noble & new kingdoms tombs, Serpeum, tomb of Merekua, pyramid of Djoser and the southern tomb of the Djoser complex. During my visit, I was lucky enough to see an active archaeological dig taking place and I can only imagine what treasures will be uncovered and brought to light for the public to see.
Munch Tip: Check out the tomb of Princess Seshestut Idut. The story of the princess’s life is depicted as a road map for her spirit to recognize her tomb and have the ability to transition to the afterlife. The hieroglyphics on the wall are so vibrant and detailed, it looked like it was painted the day prior.
- Sakkara Palm Club: A modern version of a desert oasis outside the city limits of Cairo, you can find a restaurant that specializes in classic Egyptian food. Served buffet style, I was excited that there was every type of eggplant dish that my taste buds would desire. I was a big fan of the grilled beef liver that was served with grilled vegetables. Round out your plate by adding a dollop of baba ganoush and a serving of Baladi bread.
Munch Tip: After this filling meal stroll over to one of the beach chairs surrounding the pool and soak up the sun rays while your food digests.
- Oriental Carpet School: Unique souvenirs are hard to come by when everything has been manufactured in other countries. The Oriental Carpet School breaks the mold by creating a place where you can buy a handcrafted rug that is uniquely Egyptian. The trade school located on the first level of the building teaches students the art of weaving by using cotton, wool or a blend of both materials. This skill is passed down in the master weavers family and during my visit a father was teaching his young daughter and son on how to loop the weaving needle in a strategic manner to maximize their time between actions. I was surprised to learn that the price of a rug is not based on the amount of labor hours it takes to construct. Instead it is based on the materials used and the size of the carpet, with Egyptian cotton being the most expensive material to use. After the tour, you have the opportunity to go upstairs and browse the many carpets for sale with a welcome drink in hand.
Munch Tip: If you decide to buy a rug don’t forget to haggle. Not only is this encouraged, it is part of the buying experience.
- Sky Rim: Beautiful views and delicious food are within a 20 minute drive outside Cairo’s city center. When my tour group arrived, our table was beautifully displayed with appetizers of tahini, hummus and samosas. My three course meal consisted of a bowl of mushroom soup, grilled chicken with french fries & mixed vegetables and a lemon tart for dessert. All courses were super fresh and yummy, but the main attraction was the beautiful views of Cairo. In the far distance you could see the outline of the Giza pyramids and the abundance of mosques that are present in Cairo.
Munch Tip: There is no bad seat in the restaurant, but if you can, sit outside and enjoy the weather. The only caveat is that you have to watch out for the stray cats that are interested in trying your food as well.