Cairo is a dense, bustling city, situated amongst some of the most astounding ancient wonders of the world that draw people from all over. While I typically am not drawn to major tourist destinations such as this, I have always been interested in ancient Egypt and regardless of how touristy some things may be, you just have to see them. A couple of days in Cairo will give you enough time to see Memphis, the pyramids, and plenty of other amazing cultural experiences that I've listed below. To see these first 2 sites, I recommend hiring a guide (and have included contact info for some!) for 2 reasons. The first being that it allows you to use your time more effectively, as the guide can drive you to all 3 sites in one day. The second is that they are super knowledgeable not just about ancient Egypt, but can provide insider tips, some of which I've shared with you in these posts.
Located at the entrance to the Nile River Valley, Memphis was ancient Egypt's first capitol and served as a major trade port and religious center built around 3100 BC. While Memphis is not as visually impressive as the pyramids at first glance, there are several statues and relics to see. There were so many tombs and artifacts in this area that the government could not afford to pay people to leave there homes to allow for excavation, and to this day there are families with legit ancient Egyptian artifacts just sitting out as room decor in their homes.
The pyramids are one of the ancient wonders of the world. Constructed using blocks of stones weighing 35-65 tons each that were cut precisely despite the lack of metal tools in ancient Egypt (they are still not sure HOW they cut them!). Even more impressive, there is no mortar used, the stones have all just been placed perfectly together to last standing for thousands of years. There are 2 different sites: the Step pyramid, and the Great Pyramids of Giza. The Step Pyramid, or Pyramid of Djoser, is the oldest dating back to 2956 BC. It is free to enter the tombs here where you an see hieroglyphics on the walls, but photography is not allowed UNLESS you bribe the guy 20,000 Egyptian pounds ($1 USD).
The Great Pyramids of Giza, located just southwest of the Cairo city center, date back to 2650 BC. This is also where you can find the Great Sphnix, which is actually situated in front of a Pizza Hut. Here you must pay to enter the pyramids, but the walls are blank and it's nothing really special to see unless you just want to say you've been in the great pyramids.
Our guide, Ayman, took us to Memphis, the Step Pyramid, and the Giza Pyramids in one day. For around $50 each a person, this included our transportation throughout the day, meals he bought for us when we felt like stopping, and our entrance to each site. As each site only costs a few USD, it is cheaper to go on your own, but Ayman was worth the money not only for time and convenience, but because of his extensive knowledge of ancient Egyptian history. If you're interested in hiring Ayman, or another guide, I've provided some contact info at the bottom.
Desert Camel ride to Bedouin camp
While both pyramid sites have camel ride available, I recommend foregoing it there, and go out into the desert at sunset instead. The pyramids close at sunset so it is not possible to have a camel ride then, and additionally you will get less time for your money. For $25, we had an amazing guide who brought 3 well treated camels to our hotel, lead us through the city and into the desert, pyramids to one side with the sun dropping over the sand dunes. We had hired them for one hour, but at the end in stead of returning to the city, our guide asked if we would like to go out to a bedouin camp. Bedouins are Arab nomads with travel throughout and live in the desert, setting up camps like the one you see in the second half of this video. The time spent at the camp, followed by a dark, starlit journey via camelback to the city, was one of the most memorable experiences of the entire trip.
The Khan el-Khalili is a souk, or marketplace, located in the historic center of Cairo. The Khan el-Khalili is a great place to experience modern day Egyptian culture as it draws both tourists and locals alike. You can spend hours winding through the streets amongst stands of spices, clothes, food, perfumes, jewelry, and more. What made this bazaar so special for me is that people eagerly will lead you to their workspaces to demonstrate how they make jewelry or process spices for example.
Papyrus, a plant that grows abundantly in the Nile River Valley, was used to make paper (and other things) in ancient Egypt and still remains apart of Egyptian culture today. There are several papyrus shops and museums across Cairo, and most of them will be eager to invite you in and share how they make the papyrus and the history of it in Egypt. There was one next to our hotel in Giza, and the owner invited us inside for tea everyday. He, like many others in his field, studied Egyptian history at university and is passionate about sharing the custom of making the paper but also the significance of the hieroglyphs depicted.
This was our guide for Memphis and the pyramid sites. If you're interested in hiring Ayman, you can reach him via TripAdvisor.
Mohamed Hamza Radwan
For transparency, he was actually my taxi driver one day and I did not hire him as a guide. He shared with me that he drove a taxi because he wasn't able to find much business as an Italian tour guide due to the decrease in tourism related to negativity in the media. I told him I could pass his information on to my friends, and he informed me he cannot work with English speakers because guides in Egypt must be licensed by language, and he said his English was too poor. I told him his English was excellent (it really was!), gave him my contact information, and asked him to reach out to me when he got his license. Low and behold a few weeks later I received a message from him saying he passed the English guide exam with a 92%! If you're interested in contacting him for guide services, you can message him on Facebook.
A horse/camel trainer who served as our guide for a camel ride into the desert. It is easy to find guides for camel rides, but Hamooda can provide the special experience of visiting a bedouin camp. If you're interested, you can contact Hamooda on Facebook.