Well seeing the pyramids is much of the reason if not THE reason to visit Egypt. And understandably so. The site is amazing and awe inspiring. From the drive up to the site, you can see the pyramids from miles away and as you get closer, you begin to appreciate how large the site and the pyramids are.
Although the pyramids are easy to get to, you may not be aware of what you’ll encounter as a tourist. This guide isn’t so much about the history but about what you can expect when you go. There are so many scams there that it can really put a damper on your visit if you’re not mentally prepared.
When to Go
I got there at 7am which was the advertised opening time. However, the real opening time was more like 7:30am. The guard made me and the other tourists wait for a good while before they were officially open. I’m not sure why but there you have it.
Most tour buses seemed to arrive around the 9am hour at the earliest so if you want to walk around relatively easily, I’d say getting there before that is a good idea. Just remember that you’ll be walking around in a desert avoiding the midday sun is probably your best bet. You’re not going to find much shade out there.
The grounds pass is $200 LEs and it’s CASH ONLY. As we move more and more into a cashless society, I really don’t understand why these tourist sites don’t accept card payments. Now if you want to go into one of the pyramids, it’s extra. I believe the cost to go into the main pyramid is an extra 400LEs. You’ll have to figure out for yourself if it’s worth it. If this is the ONLY pyramid complex you’re going to visit, it may be worth it. But just know that there won’t be anything inside and you’ll spend more time traversing down into the chamber than you will inside.
The grounds pass will allow you to basically go wherever you want except inside the pyramids. Basically, that’s about all you need. You can walk to the different vantage points to get your photos (even though depending on the time of day, it can get really hot).
One thing to remember. If you want to take photos, you can do so for free on your cell phone. However, they’ll charge you extra if you want to take photos with a camera. Now there really isn’t anyone enforcing this rule since the Giza plateau is so vast but it’s a theme you’ll see at every tourist site in Egypt and the smaller ones are definitely more stringent on this rule. If you enjoy taking pictures with something other than your cell phone, be prepared to pay extra AT EVERY SITE.
Scams and People “Offering” Services
As a tourist, you will be bombarded with peddlers. You can’t avoid it. You just can’t. You can try to pretend like you don’t speak English (like I did) or just firmly say “NO” and they’ll probably only bother you for another few minutes or so. They’re trying to engage in a conversation with you since that gets you hooked.
For this reason, I actually think having a tour guide for Giza may be a really good idea. The scammers won’t bother you as much and you’ll probably have a more enjoyable time. I’m not saying it’s necessary since I was able to walk around Giza by myself. But it could make your visit more enjoyable
Don’t ever, EVER, EVER show your ticket to anyone. There is NO REASON anyone inside the ticketed area should or needs to ask for your ticket. People will ask to see your ticket. To be honest, a lot of people will DEMAND to see your ticket. You can tell them to F* OFF. (Sorry, it really makes me angry that these people are allowed to walk around and prey on tourists who don’t know any better). They might have a badge or look official but as soon as they look at it, they might take it and start a tour and not give your ticket back. If that happens, go to one of the many tourist police located throughout the site. They’re wearing an all white uniform with a TOURIST POLICE patch on their arm. They also speak English so they’ll be happy to help.
Remember: NOTHING IS FREE. But also remember that this door swings both ways. I honestly wonder if some of the locked doors at the pyramids are there only to allow people with the key to charge access. You may not have a ticket to take pictures but you’ll miraculously be able to photograph everything for a tip. Wondering what’s behind that locked door? A little cash will open it. It all depends on how much you want to do something and how much you’re willing to pay. Although climbing the pyramids is not allowed, I’m not entirely convinced if you couldn’t get away with it if you tip the right person.
That said, don’t let them pressure you into giving more money. If you offer them $1, they’ll ask for $5. 50LEs? They’ll look at you with disgust and demand 200LEs. Pay what you feel is right because I bet every time you do, you’re giving them MUCH more than they would otherwise make/get.
Some people will “give” you something for “free”. I saw this happen with kids where they give something to the kids and then demand money for it later. I had one guy try to give me something and tell me it was a present (not sure what it was) and basically shove it in my arms. I just let it fall to the ground and walked away. They’re preying on the “hospitality” angle where they make you feel guilty for accepting something. Don’t fall for it.
The Most Infuriating “Offer”
I think what I found the most annoying thing was when people expected a tip when they did absolutely nothing for me. It’s like paying for admission to Disneyland and then when you want to go on a ride, you’re asked for a tip from the person operating the ride. Seriously, what am I tipping for? I found that to be the most infuriating because they were persistent for a tip after doing NOTHING. I’m walking into a building where the admission is covered by my ticket and I’m supposed to tip? After a while, I didn’t have the energy to even look in their direction. They’ll also make themselves known by speaking loudly and saying “HEY” or “EXCUSE ME” or touch your arm or pat your shoulder. Just keep walking…
What To Do?
If you find yourself cornered, figure out the situation and think about how much you think the experience or service is worth. To some extent, I do understand that they’re trying to make a living so I can accept that. I just don’t want to be scammed.
Here’s what I did. I got cornered into riding a camel that I personally didn’t want to do because I feel bad for the animal. But I get it’s a bucket list thing to do so I went with it. I got forced on and then walked around a bit. I was maybe on it for about 15 mins before I asked to get off because I’d had enough.
When I got off, the man demanded payment. When I asked how much, he didn’t give a number so I offered 50LEs (about $3 USD). I thought that was more than fair. The guy then raised his voice and demanded 200LEs to which I just said NO. I gave him the 50 and he just gave it back as if he were insulted and that he wouldn’t take anything less than 200. I gladly took it back and walked away. Amazingly, that 50 didn’t look so bad and he came racing after me. In my view it was still a bit high but I’d like to think it went toward the camel.
Another scam is when someone will offer to take your picture at a “special” place. Again, do the same thing. Offer what you think it was worth. If they don’t like it, take it back and walk away. As soon as they see you’re serious, they’ll take it.
I had a someone with a “security” badge on who offered to take my photo. I said ok and he wanted money. Fine by me. The smallest amount I had was for 10LE so I gave it to him. Of course, he wanted $5 USD (about 75LE)…I just laughed and walked away.
How Much is Correct?
This is so tough to say since everyone’s perception is different. But I will say this. I took a tour of the pyramids around Saqqara and when I emerged from one of the areas where the guide wasn’t allowed, I saw my guide give a few coins to the man. So judging by that, my guess is 5LE is MORE than enough. If you think about how many tourists are coming through every hour, I don’t think they’re hurting too much.
It was my impression that no matter what you offered, it was NEVER enough. They’ll always try to get and demand more. That said, you have the wallet and you get to choose how much to give. Don’t open your wallet in front of them so they can see how much you have. Cover it with your backpack or purse.
I’ll leave you with this horror story. My guide the next day was asking about my trip to the pyramids the day before. When I told him about all the people bothering me, he knowingly nodded. I told him about the camel experience and how I paid 50LEs. He said that was good considering he had heard of others being told to pay 1500LE or more. A 30 minute ride should be 100LEs as a point of reference.
Don’t let the people pressure you into doing anything you don’t want to do. They might ask for your ticket, “give” you something for “free”, or offer to look the other way (even if you don’t care about it). If someone does something for you, of course you should tip. But NEVER feel pressured to offer more than you feel is right. Trust your gut. Don’t shortchange them but there is no need to severely overpay just because you’re a tourist. If you feel like you’re being scammed, just remember that you can always WALK AWAY.