The tour bus left our hotel in the morning. It was just a 15 minute ride to the Pyramids of Giza. I was still sleepy since I had just checked out of my room and piled all of my things into one of the “community rooms” reserved for people on the tour.
This was my second trip to the UNESCO World Heritage listed Pyramids, the first coming in 2010 on a crazy trip to Cairo with Dana and Maria. That was, to put it lightly, a traumatic and crazy experience. This time, it was much more organized and relaxed, thanks mostly to Sem Sem.
The bus pulled up to the first pyramid, the Pyramid of Khufu, where Sem Sem gave a quick lecture on the bus. It was a windy day and sand was blowing in every direction.
I got off the bus and admired the ancient structure. It was more unbelievable to imagine how they built it than during my first visit. The Pyramid of Khufu (Cheops) is the largest and oldest of the pyramids at Giza. It’s also the biggest in Egypt, standing 146.5m high. It was built around 2560 BC and contains almost 2.3 million blocks. The top was once encased in gold but now there’s a 9m tall rod instead. The smooth outer limestone casing was also stripped. The Pyramid of Khufu was the tallest building in the world for over 3800 years.
There are two entrances – the original, and one cut by Caliph al-Ma’mun in 820, which is used for tourists. It’s also the only pyramid in Egypt that has both ascending and descending passages. I had the option to go inside the pyramid, but Sem Sem advised the group to save our money because there’s nothing inside to see. Since I had already been inside the Red Pyramid at Dahshur, it was enough for me to wait outside.
I wandered over to the Western Cemetery nearby. This is where pyramid workers and important people were buried. I then had a quick chat with Sem Sem, took in the views of Cairo, and jumped back on the bus.
Our next stop was a spot where we could see all three pyramids. I’ve seen pictures with better views, but this one was pretty good. Most of the group took camel rides while I admired the view.
While waiting for the rest of the group, I had a nice talk with a very friendly vendor who approached me speaking in Turkish. We also had part of our conversation in Greek. He gave me a great price (I got sucked in), so I ended up buying some little sculptures from him with Turkish Lira as gifts for my little cousins back in the USA.
The bus took those of us who didn’t do the camel rides to the smallest of the pyramids, the Pyramid of Menkaure. We waited there for the camel riders to return. The Pyramid of Menkaure (Mycerinus), standing 65.5m tall, was built around 2500 BC. A sultan tried to dismantle it in the 12th century and you can still see the scars. There are also some small queens’ pyramids nearby.
It was back on the bus for a short stop at the Pyramid of Khafre (Chefren). It’s the 2nd biggest pyramid at Giza. It was built by Khufu’s son, Khafre. He didn’t want to outdo his father, so he placed the pyramid on ground that was 10m higher and built the pyramid at a steeper slope to give the illusion that his pyramid was taller. It was built around 2540 BC and has a height of 136.4m. The one prominent feature is that it still has some of the original limestone casing around the top.
After arguing with some aggressive vendors, Sem Sem directed everyone once again to the bus and we headed for my favorite monument in Giza, the Great Sphinx. To get to the Sphinx viewing platform, we first had to go through the Valley Temple. This is where the mummification process of Khafre took place. A huge statue of Khafre was found there during excavation. The statue sits in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, and the pit is covered with a grate to protect visitors from falling in.
The Great Sphinx is an odd, George Washington-headed figure that was probably built before 2500 BC by Khafre. It’s the largest monolith in the world, at 20m high, 74m long, and 19m wide. I hate to make fun, but I could hear some of the Egyptian guides pronouncing it “Sphinkis”. It made me chuckle every time.
After the pyramid complex was abandoned, the Sphinx was covered in sand up to its shoulders. Thutmoses IV tried to excavate it in 1400 BC and placed a granite plaque between its front paws. It remained covered in sand until the 19th century. The nose and beard are mysteriously missing. In front of the Sphinx is the Temple of the Sphinx. It’s also possible to spot the Tomb of Queen Khentkawes, a daughter of Menkaure, from the viewing platform.
Before leaving, we were treated to a spectacular view of the Sphinx in front of the pyramids. It’s my favorite photo spot at the complex.
Our visit to the pyramids lasted a good two hours, which was more than enough to see everything important. We got back on the bus and headed towards Saqqara for our next tour, stopping for a traditional Egyptian lunch on the way. Click here for a virtual tour of the pyramids.