Getting to Cairo
Our journey from Dahab to Cairo was the easiest long-distance venture during our month in Egypt. The trip itself took around eight hours, from what I recall. We left Dahab in the early afternoon, and made it to our Air BnB in Cairo around 11 PM.
The cheapest and most efficient way to travel this route is by bus. There were several buses to choose from, with varying prices and bus sizes, and after lots of contemplation, we decided to go with a company called WeBus. A local had told us this would be the fastest bus to go with, and it also had the smallest buses. They were vans that could fit no more than 10 people.
Since we were a group of 7 people, we ended up having a van to ourself the entire way. It felt as if we had rented a private car service to ourselves. The trip was comfortable and easy, although we found ourselves feeling exhausted once we reached Cairo—pretty typical for any long road trip. Our bus dropped us off in a very busy part of the city, but we were able to call a couple Ubers for ourselves very quickly. We found Uber to be the most efficient way to get around Egypt. It was cheap, and you wouldn’t ever have to haggle the price. We ended up using Uber every time we wanted to get across Cairo.
Our first Air BnB was in the Giza neighborhood of Cairo, and we were pleasantly surprised when we arrived at the 3-bedroom apartment the seven of us would be sharing. The place was spacious, had a washing machine (such a great find for a group of backpackers), and two bathrooms. But the best part was the location: the apartment complex was right next door to the Great Pyramids of Giza, and we had a private terrace that overlooked them and the Sphinx. None of us had ever seen the Pyramids before, much less at night, so it was quite extraordinary to see them illuminated by lights. The lights casted on the Sphinx seemed to change color every so often, while the Pyramids held a golden-white glow throughout the evenings.
Every night, there is a Sound and Light show at the Pyramids, showing projections and lights on the structures, while providing a narration of the history of Giza. We could experience the whole show from the roof terrace of our Air BnB, which saved us some money. The show was interesting enough, but a bit long and drawn out. I wouldn’t have paid money to see it, personally.
Staying in the neighborhood of Giza can be nice for a couple days if you plan to check out the Pyramids and don’t want to travel far, but in all honesty, staying in that neighborhood can be a bit hectic. Because of the large amount of tourists that visit this area, there is also a large amount of vendors, many of them very persistent. It made every excursion to get food or to the market or ATM very exhausting.
Food in Giza
Conveniently, there were several places to get food nearby, and a variety of markets to get water and snacks from. One place nearby called El Gizawy was nice for breakfast or lunch, but very difficult to order from, and also usually crowded and hectic. There is no menu visible–you just go to a cashier and tell him what you want. Every time we went there, we got something different from what we attempted to order, but the food was all good so it wasn’t a big deal. They had cheap falafel wraps there, and you could get a lot of food for a few dollars.
There was also a koshary place nearby. I wish I could find the name for it online but I can’t!! It’s around the only koshary spot around the corner from the Giza KFC (yes, there’s a KFC across the street from the Great Pyramids). Koshary ended up being one of our favorite things to eat in Egypt. It was dirt cheap and full of carbs. Koshary is a traditional Egyptian dish, and is made up of a variety of noodles, lentils, chickpeas, and rice, topped with fried onions and tomato sauce. Chili oil and garlic oil are used to garnish it, if you want. It’s absolutely amazing and we ate it many times during our month in Egypt. We miss koshary so much!
We also tried pigeon while in Giza. It’s a popular dish in Egypt, and served at many restaurants. There wasn’t a lot of meat on it, and it was mostly dark meat, but it was surprisingly very tasty. They stuff the pigeon with flavorful rice (honestly the best part of the whole dish).
Another tasty local dish we tried was fattah. It wasn’t incredible, but it definitely hits the spot if you’re hungry. It’s essentially fried bread topped with rice and tomato sauce. It was interesting, and tasted good. We ended up eating fattah a few times while in Egypt.
Must-See Attractions in Cairo
1. The Great Pyramids of Giza (obviously)
We got very lucky with the Air BnB that we booked—the owners were very kind people who offered to provide us with a tour of the Pyramids, Saqqara, and Memphis for a very affordable price. Having a tour guide is wonderful if you’re wanting to know more about the history, and it also helps keep vendors away who will try to sell you souvenirs while you’re at these destinations. Being backpackers, none of us are very interested in buying lots of souvenirs, so having a guide help deter the merchants was so helpful.
The Pyramids themselves are incredible. Their size alone is enough to leave a person in awe, but when you realize how perfectly aligned they are with astronomical occurrences, it’s clear how much thought and effort was put into these structures.
To enter the Great Pyramid, you have to pay around $19 extra on top of the $10 fee you pay to enter the site. We paid the extra to go inside, and because of our love for Egyptian history, we really loved the experience, but I wouldn’t recommend it if you aren’t interested in ducking down and making your way up a long uphill tunnel to scope out an empty chamber. There is the remains of a large red granite sarcophagus inside, but not much else. We really liked the experience just because we’re fascinated by the energy that lives within this magnificent structure, but if you’re on a budget, you aren’t missing much if you skip it. There are cheaper pyramids at Saqqara you can enter that are a bit more interesting.
2. Saqqara and Memphis
Saqqara is the necropolis of Memphis, the capital of Ancient Egypt. Here you will find some smaller pyramid structures, including the famous Step Pyramid, and there are several tombs you can enter that feature walls covered in hieroglyphs. It’s incredible to see how detailed and seemingly perfect these hieroglyphs are.
This area is located about an hour outside of Cairo. I recommend going with a tour guide so you can travel there safely, and it’s very helpful to have someone along to explain the vibrant history of the area.
The area where Memphis was located has now been turned into an open air museum, featuring a small Sphinx, a giant statue of King Ramses II, and many other remains of the ancient capital. If you’re into the history of Ancient Egypt, you must check out Memphis and Saqqara. Personally, I found them to be more interesting than the pyramids because there is more to see with hieroglyphs and ancient art done by the Egyptians. The energy is indeed more intense at the Great Pyramids, but if you’re interested in hieroglyphs, this is the place to go.
3. The Museum of Cairo
We spent hours in this museum, and it wasn’t nearly enough. I recommend bringing snacks and making a day of it. The museum itself only consists of two floors, and since they are moving buildings, the entire collection isn’t even available to see currently, and we still felt overwhelmed with how much there is to see there.
Our favorite room in the place was the mummified animals exhibit. Unfortunately, no photos were taken in this room, but it was incredible! There were mummified crocodiles, cats, monkeys, and even snakes! The museum also has human mummies, and even has a King Tutankhamen exhibit where you can see his famous mask along with the possessions that were found inside his tomb.
4. Khan el-Khalili
There’s a couple really interesting marketplaces in Cairo that we checked out (more so during our second time in Cairo), but Khan el-Khalili is the most famous. The marketplace can be a little intense if you aren’t used to hustle and bustle, especially now with COVID going around. The small streets were packed with people and vendors selling all sorts of goods, and to be honest with you, face masks were far and few between.
Everywhere you would look you’d see people selling colorful fabrics, ornate jewelry, fragrant perfumes and incense, every spice you could imagine—the marketplace seemed to have everything! We really enjoyed wandering around and sightseeing in these areas.
The first time we went, however, we ended up having to go back to our Air BnB because we got hit by an unfortunate stomach bug. Luckily, we had brought Zithromax (Z-paks) with us, and that cleared up the bug within a couple days.
We ended our week in a Cairo by having one last dance/flow sesh on our roof terrace overlooking the pyramids. It was a nice goodbye to the Pyramids before leaving the amazing view behind. Our next destination was Aswan, which meant taking an overnight train. It proved to be extremely difficult to get from Cairo to Aswan by train, but I’ll go more into that on my next post.
Overall, we found Cairo to be a very busy and very lively city. Although, it was a bit too intense for our liking, we really enjoyed being able to see all the historical sites that Cairo has to offer.
Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for our next week’s post about Aswan and our cruise up the Nile River!