I had a 10-hour layover in Cairo on my way to Uganda. I knew even before I landed that I was not sitting in the Cairo airport for that long when what I had waited decades to see was a mere two hours away.
When I landed at the Cairo Airport I immediately grabbed my bag and headed to find a way to see the pyramids. I already had my entry visa because I was coming back for a week-long tour, but you can get it at the airport.
My driver and I chatted the entire way out and he taught me how to read the numbers on the license plates. I learned a lot about the culture and really enjoyed the drive.
When I first glimpsed the pyramids from the car I actually teared up. I couldn’t believe I was seeing them for real!
We arrived at a stable and there I was offered a Coke or hibiscus tea. These are offered every place you go and it is rude not to accept. I was then asked to choose whether I wanted to ride a camel or a horse. I chose a camel because it was not something I had experienced and felt pretty iconic.
When we entered the pyramid complex I was shocked to discover we were the only ones there. I had the entire place to myself. I couldn’t have imagined a better experience (This is not the norm by any means).
We got to go right up to the pyramids and with no one around I was able to really take it all in. I felt a bit like a National Geographic photographer getting a private tour of a tourist hot spot. We didn’t go inside the pyramid (I did this on my return trip), but the site itself was enough to experience.
It was interesting to see how close the modern city had grown to the complex on one side and nothing but the golden sand of the Sahara Desert on the other.
After spending a while there, we went to the Khan El-Khalili bazaar and souq and then stopped off at a hotel for me to shower. I had paid for day-use and used it to store my luggage. The opportunity to have a shower before boarding the plane after I had flown from Toronto and then out in the desert was magical.
If you ever have a layover in Cairo, I absolutely recommend taking a tour to see the pyramids. You do need a long layover because most trips are 6 hours and you don’t want to be rushed or stressed out that you may miss your plane. Plus traffic is a bit unpredictable so leaving more time is a good idea.
Tips for a Great Experience
1. Remember that you are a guest in the place and that respecting the culture you are visiting is important for both a positive experience and to keep you safer.
2. As a female, wear looser fitting, opaque cotton clothing and avoid wearing jewelry. Men should also wear cotton clothing and pants.
3. If you are stopping by any bazaars or shops, know that bartering is expected. If you are not interested in something, politely refuse and place your right hand over your heart as a sign of humble gratitude. It’s a very polite way to say ‘no, thank you’.
4. Know that the left hand is considered unclean and so you should not eat using it or hand anyone something using your left hand. This is common in many cultures.
5. As a woman, you will not shake hands with men.
6. When you are offered a Coke or hibiscus tea upon entering a shop or home, it is considered rude not to accept and then to remain to drink it in order to return the bottle to them. My friend and I were allowed to split a Coke after we had had about 4 of them and politely explained we didn’t want to be rude, but could not consume another bottle ourselves.
7. Bring a scarf to cover your head in case you decide to enter a Mosque. You must be fully covered to do this with only your hands, feet (and usually face) exposed.
8. The water in Cairo is highly chlorinated so bottled water is preferrable to avoid stomach upset.
9. The weather averages about 35 degrees Celcius in the day, so stay hydrated and wear sunscreen.
10. If you want some food, but want to keep to a tight schedule and the tour doesn’t include food, have your driver stop at Felfela. It is a chain restaurant with delicious and very affordable food.
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