The iconic image of the pyramids, with its backdrop of endless desert, is a clever trick, as we discover after navigating the congested highways of Cairo, a city of 22 million people. The Giza Pyramids complex lies on the west bank of the Nile, on the city’s outskirts, barely a stone’s throw from the crammed high-rises and bustling bazaars of the sprawling metropolis.
Still, nothing can detract from the majesty of Giza, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The UNESCO Heritage-listed site is home to six pyramids; magnificent burial tombs built for the kings of the 4th dynasty around 4,500 years ago. This includes The Great Pyramid, built for King Khufu, and its cloud-grazing 480ft (146m) apex. Keeping loyal guard is the Sphinx – a mythical hybrid of human and lion.
In the shadow of the pyramids, camel owners seek shade for their animals in breaks between offering 15-minute rides at a cost of around the US $30. Even having your photograph taken with one can cost around the US $10. Though the majority of the camels look healthy and well-cared for, it’s an activity that does not sit well with every traveler.
We each pay the US $11 to join the queue to go inside Khufu’s Pyramid. A fairly steep (and slightly scary) descent on a narrow wooden walkway takes us to the inner chamber. I’m expecting to be blinded by a dazzling haul of treasures, but the tiny room is airless and threadbare, stripped of its treasures thousands of years ago by opportunistic robbers. Thankfully, I don’t suffer from claustrophobia, but the experience is a little anti-climactic.
Egypt, a country linking northeast Africa with the Middle East, dates to the time of the pharaohs. Millennia-old monuments sit along the fertile Nile River Valley, including Giza’s colossal Pyramids and Great Sphinx as well as Luxor’s hieroglyph-lined Karnak Temple and Valley of the King’s tombs. The capital, Cairo, is home to Ottoman landmarks like Muhammad Ali Mosque and the Egyptian Museum, a trove of antiquities.