October - May; sandstorms (khamsin) appear sometime March-May and may cloud the entire area for a couple of days though usually less. It rarely rains but winter nights get chilly.
Worst: June-September (extreme heat).
Avoid camel touts. They're whiny and endlessly demanding.
Also avoid the disappointing Sound and Light show at the foot of the Sphinx.
Notes on the Pyramids:
The Giza Pyramids squat just on the edge of Cairo, Egypt, about 25 km (15 miles) from the city centre but only a few dozen metres from some buildings. The Great Pyramid is the only one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World still visible and Africa's most awesome monument by far.
The Great Pyramid, also known as the Pyramid of Khufu or Pyramid of Cheops, shares the Giza Plateau with the two slightly smaller pyramids of Khafre (Chephren) and Menkaure as well as some tombs and smaller monuments such as the Sphinx. Many Egyptologists believe, by the way, that the Sphinx's face is that of Pharaoh Khafre.
The sides of all three pyramids are precisely aligned to magnetic north, south, east and west; the bases are square, level and built on rock, not the sand that covers most of Egypt.
The Great Pyramid was originally 146 m (481 ft) high and contains an estimated 2.3 million blocks of stone each weighing 2.5 tonnes or more. The largest block weighs as much as 15 metric tons.
Rock was quarried from just south of the site, worked and placed in position by thousands of paid labourers, not slaves, who were probably farmers in their off-season when fields were flooded during the Nile's annual inundation.
The Step Pyramid of Djoser, just south of Giza pyramids
far from the Maddening Crowds:
- Saqquara (aka Saqara), a slow and gentle
drive south alongside the Nile to see the Step Pyramid of Djoser, reputedly Egypt's first pyramid. It's not huge and somewhat
crumbly but is decaying with style in a very quiet and evocative environment.
Dashur is where Snofru tried again for the perfect pyramid, almost right that
time, with nicely smoothed sides and it didn't collapse, but it did start
to crack so designers, after receiving a good thumping from the Pharaoh's
heavy mob, altered the upper angle, giving the structure strength, a hunch
and a name: The Bent
Ph Snofru succeeded in Dashur on his third attempt, building a the world's
first smooth pyramid, the Red
though it has lost its smooth casing now as well as its name; known officially
Pyramid North or by locals as Bat
it's worth the crack.
a rather longer but no less interesting drive into deep Egypt, a rural
bliss of strolling goats, donkeys, oxen, water wheels, mud pigeon houses
and fellaheen doing the everyday thing that they've been at for
5,000 years. The little village of Meidum sports an experimental and now Collapsed
built by Snofru 4,600 years ago.
email from Henry:
As one would expect we did all the usual things in Cairo and went to see the pyramids at Giza and the museum which were of course magnificent. We also took in the older pyramids at Dashur and Saqqara which were less spectacular, but much more interesting and atmospheric because there were fewer tourists around and we could go down into them and see the tombs inside.
visitor to Cairo with a spark of adventure needs to do some walking,
to see the squalor, the chaos and the magnificence side by side and understand
that this is not an ancient Egyptian city - that was Thebes (Luxor) or
Memphis. This was originally Africa's Babylon, founded by Coptic Christians and
captured by Arabs in 641.
Consequently the city is packed with stunning
old architecture, dirty, dishevelled and in desperate need of maintenance
it's true but still stunning stuff, if you can drag the eyes away from
the kids playing in the noxious gutters, the crippled scaredy cats and
the dead Fiats.
We all liked Cairo very much particularly the old Coptic and Arabic quarters which are still very much lived in and full of life. We visited many mosques from the oldest mudbrick mosque of Ibn Talun, built in the 9th century, to the more refined and visually stunning mosque of Mohamed Ali built in the style of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul in the mid 19th century. However, the most interesting for us was the Al Azhar mosque as students from all over the Islamic World come here to study.
We entered the mosque just after the mid-day prayers. It was cool and had a relaxed atmosphere so we just sat down to get the feel of the place. Small groups of young men from different nationalities were quietly talking to each other. A couple of young lads approached the girls and gave them some leaflets on the rights of women in Islam and on how it was a peaceful religion and against terrorism. It was all done in a very politely and in a friendly way.
el Khalili bazaar is a tourist must-do, the best souq in Africa, but considering the narrow
streets and individual interests, this is a must-do in pairs or very small groups.
This fascinating shopping area, arguably the world's best
souk (way better than Fez or Marrakesh) and filled with a huge range of
wonderful goodies as well as terrible neo-Nefertiti trash would be a disaster
in a sluggish herd of tat-grazers. Escape! And no, it's not dangerous.
Some of the better items are: gold and silver jewellery, glassware, leather,
rugs, lamps, cotton clothes, and spices.
Cairo is a very exciting, vibrant and rapidly developing city with lots of things going on. Women dressed in black and covered from head to toe rub shoulders with modern young teenagers wearing jeans and colourful head scarves. The traffic is noisy and polluting and refuses to stop at traffic lights, yet we saw few traffic jams and no accidents. There is some sort of order in what looks like chaos, which is probably the best way I can describe Egypt.
tourism: Most Egyptian visitors tread the same basic Cairo tourist
trail of mosques - especially Mohamed
Ali, Khan el Khalili bazaar (souk),
the Egyptian Museum, maybe the City
of the Dead and Heliopolis if they're
a bit adventurous, and the pyramids at
Giza. Then it's off to Luxor after
an evening of Stella beer, stuffed pigeon and belly dancing.
Bad move. This way travellers end up surrounded by tourists all day long
in a very crowded, artificial and stressed, anti-holiday environment.
The cure? Ensure you have enough time to head off to lesser-tourist locations
where 5-day tour parties fear to tread.
Cairo's northern suburb (in Arabic Misr al Gedida or 'New Egypt)
is spectacularly different from the rest of the city.
It was conceived
as a luxury city in 1905 by a Belgian industrialist, Baron Empain, with
unusually broad streets, green areas and a unique architectural style,
a mixture of Moorish, Arab and European design ideas combined into the
delightful and successful 'Heliopolis Style,' visible in the images above
and throughout the area.
pipes: In case you ever wondered whether naughty Eyptians (and by the
way, most of these people do not consider themselves to be Arabs, they are a breed
apart, Egyptians) smoke hashish in the water pipes such as those
pictured above, the answer is no.
Water pipes with long flexible tubes are called shisha and used
exclusively for tobacco, usually mixed with honey. Hash pipes are called goza and are much smaller with short bamboo stems that do not collect
the psychoactive fumes en route to the smoker's lungs.