The Great Pyramids at Giza are amazing and there is a reason for the crowds of visitors that have been coming to experience them for thousands of years. However, there is something magical about the other pyramids in the area of Cairo as well. I found it really amazing to visit them all in a day because I was time travelling thousands of years and could see the progression from the first attempts on making a pyramid to the magnificent Great Pyramids themselves.
At Dashur, the farthest from Cairo, you can have the surreal experience of having the site all to yourself and feel the exhilaration of exploration going down, down, down the dark and steep passage into tomb of the Red Pyramid (which is included in the entrance ticket price… unlike the Great Pyramid at Giza…) alone.
At the oldest site, Saqqara, where you can see the first attempt at a pyramid with the Stepped Pyramid of Zoser, unassuming mounds of sand and rock reveal hidden treasures of beautiful and intricately decorated tombs.
How to visit the pyramids
The Pyramids of Giza are accessible by transit but getting to Saqqara and Dashur by public transport is much harder.
If you are feeling adventurous and only going to the Pyramids at Giza, then take the metro (1 LE) to Giza station and then taxi (about 15 LE) or bus 355 or 357 (2 LE), which drops you off in front of Mena House Oberoi on Pyramids Road about 250m from the site entrance. It is pretty obvious as you get closer because you can see the pyramids over the skyline of city apartments. Also, people are very friendly so ask the people around you on the bus if you want more confirmation. Be warned that everyone seems to know a tour guide or horse/camel stable. They’re usually genuine but they will probably offer it to you. The entry into the Pryamids of Giza is 80 LE regular or 40 LE if you have a student card. The Cheops Boat Museum and going inside the pyramids are extra. Going inside the Great Pryamid of Khufu is 200 LE and only a limited number are sold per day. In my opinion, after going to both, going inside the Red Pyramid at Dashur was a much cooler experience! Cameras are not allowed in the tombs.
There is a bit of an uphill climb from the entrance (near the Sphinx) to the pyramids themselves – maybe another 250m, which will feel longer in the heat and sun. Everyone seems very excited to offer horse or camel tours. Vendors say that being on a camel helps avoid persistent touts though I found the camel tours and guides to be just as persistent about how they were THE method to avoid touts. With the slowdown of tourism, I found that the camel/horse tours operators and guides seem a little more desperate and consequently a little more bitter at tourists. The guides will pressure you for tips. However, the other side is that it was a lot of fun to see the pyramids from the back of a camel and the camel guides know the best places to get the best pictures. Prices vary from 280 LE for a short 1 hour tour to two pyramids and the Sphinx, to 380 LE for a medium tour that visits all three pyramids and 480LE for the full tour that visits all the pyramids and goes to a viewpoint where you can get a photo of all nine pyramids in one photograph. These prices do not include the entrance ticket. However, the prices are open to bargaining. I was able to get the price down to 150LE for the short tour and I was only a single traveller. If you are in a group, you can definitely bargain a group price.
Dashur and Saqqara
Dashur and Saqqara are both outside of Cairo so public transportation is a challenge. It is possible navigating various microbuses/ buses but there are connection in little communities and it would be hard to navigate without speaking Arabic. Apparently, it is also harder to return to Cairo than it is to get out! Dashur is just under 40km away while Saqqara is around 30km. It takes about an hour to get out to Dashur, though of course, this really depends on the traffic getting out of Cairo! As the city fades, it is a beautiful drive alone the fertile Nile River and its subsidiary irrigation canals. It is really amazing to see the lush date palm groves, that immediate fade into barren desert as you leave the irrigation canals behind.
I found it really easy to visit all three sites – Dashur, Saqqara and Giza, in one day by booking a driver through my hostel. I actually decided that morning at 9am and the driver was there by 9:30am! Booking a driver all day to visit the three sites cost me 250 LE, roughly $28 USD. The drivers who work in tourism often speak good English and my driver basically acted as a tour guide, giving me introductions to the sites in the car while leaving me to explore the sites on my own. In addition to booking the driver, it is 42 LE (40 for the entrance ticket and 2 for the car) to enter Dahshur and 82 LE (again 80 for the entrance and 2 for the vehicle) for Saqqara. Student prices are half that.