It was my final week of a 3-month-long stay in Cairo, Egypt in 2018 when I announced to my colleague that I hadn’t visited Khan el-Khalili, a famous souk and bazaar in the historic centre of the city. “Well, you didn’t really visit Cairo” she had said “You have to come back!”
Five years later, I find myself back in Cairo for another work trip and the first place I put down on my list to visit on my free weekend is Khan el-Khalili.
With only one of that to spend in the city, I hire the services of Sam from Egypt Eye Tour for a one-day city tour. We begin the day by visiting the Pyramids of Giza. I have been here before, but when in Cairo, right?
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Visiting the Pyramids and Great Sphinx of Giza, Egypt…
As we drive down to the Pyramids Complex, Sam gives me a brief but fascinating history of Egypt and the pyramids themselves. We arrive after a 30-minute drive from the Maadi area, get our tickets from the booth and proceed inside through the security gates.
Again, Sam lectures me about the tombs and the theories about how they were built. Like my first visit, I gain a new appreciation of these world wonders. But unlike my first visit, which was quieter due to fewer tourists, this one feels just slightly hectic. The burning sun does not help matters either.
We walk around the grounds, taking photos along the way, with Sam pitching in different interesting facts about the Pyramids of Egypt – both the ones in Giza and outside too. Later, I take a camel into the desert for a view of all nine structures.
I walk the same distance the next day and while it is a bit of a hike, it is an option if one chooses not to ride a camel or a horse-drawn cart. Afterwards, we drive out to see the Sphinx and end our outing to the Pyramids there.
A Weekend in Cairo, Egypt – Visiting Coptic Cairo…
Next, we make our way down to Coptic Cairo to see the Church of Abu Serga, a cave church where the Holy Family – Joseph, Mary and the baby Jesus, hid when fleeing from King Herod. I don’t remember if I have ever visited any locations where Jesus lived or walked through, so this felt unreal.
We leave the Church and head to the Hanging Church, which is the most famous Coptic Christian church in the city and one of the oldest in Egypt.
Again, Sam gives me a great guide about this place – which I would not go into the details of in this travel diary entry. Maybe I will write about it later or maybe I will include a link for a good read. In any case, I find that there is a rich history in Coptic Cairo and in all of the city in general and I am happy to have visited with a guide to explain it all.
We leave the area to find our car blocked in by worshippers at a nearby mosque. Without overthinking it, Sam asks if I was ready for an adventure via tuk-tuks. My answer is a resounding yes, so we hop into one to go find somewhere to get the Egyptian delicacy – Koshary.
After trying to find a restaurant that will serve us during prayer time, we stumble upon a hole-in-the-wall restaurant and get our orders in.
It is my second time trying Koshary, although the first hardly counts since what I had was only a spoonful. The meal, made up of rice, lentils, pasta and chickpeas, is hearty and does enough to quench my hunger.
We return to the car to see that we are now able to leave, so we hop in and drive to the last stop of the day – Khan el-Khalili.
The souk is surprisingly delightful to visit. I don’t know whether having Sam by my side helped but unlike the Pyramids, the vendors here are not aggressive when trying to convince me to buy something from them.
After a while, I find a shop I like and get a few dresses. I am quite sure I overpaid for them but I make my peace with that.
My colleague will now accept that I have visited Cairo.
Visiting the Pyramids and Great Sphinx of Giza, Egypt… Again!
The next morning, I skip breakfast at the hotel for one with a view of the Pyramids. Inside the complex, lounges and facilities for visitors are being erected. One of the completed lounges is the 9 Pyramids Lounge.
I arrive early to beat the tour buses and enjoy views of the Sphinx, Pyramids and a tomb in great weather and without disturbance.
Breakfast with a View: 9 Pyramids Lounge…
Then I walk an hour to get to the 9 Pyramids Lounge. By the time I arrive, they are open for the day. I get seated in the outside area and order the Egyptian Breakfast off the menu. It is delicious and I thoroughly enjoy it.
With a full belly, I hop into a Uber and head to my next stop – the Ibn Tulun Mosque. Said to be the oldest mosque existing in Cairo in its original form, I include it on the list of places to visit during this trip.
Visiting the Ibn Tulun Mosque…
The Uber somehow drops me off in an incorrect location and due to the language barrier, I decide it is better to find my way using Google Maps. The map tells me that I am a 20-minute walk away, and eventually, it leads me through backstreets to the mosque.
The mosque is free to enter, but a tip, which seems compulsory to leave, is demanded. The man is friendly enough, and he tells me that the tips go into the maintenance of the mosque. I doubt that my measly tip contributes anything to the mosque’s upkeep, but I leave one anyway.
He hands me a disposable shoe cover, which I assume is supposed to be worn when entering rugged areas. Surprisingly, I see tourists wearing them all around the courtyard, and then stepping onto the rugs again.
After the courtyard, I climb the stairs to the top of the mosque to take in the view of Cairo. And with that, I wrap up my weekend and head back to the hotel to prepare for work the next week. After all, that is the main reason I am here.
Getting to Egypt…
Nigerians need a visa to travel to Egypt. At the time of this writing, travellers can either apply directly at their nearest embassy or they can get a visa on arrival in Cairo for $25, if they have a tourist visa for the US, UK, Canada, Schengen Countries, Australia, Japan and New Zealand.
Group travellers are also eligible for this visa-on-arrival program. However, I would advise that you confirm this from the airlines while planning your travels.
Have you visited Egypt before or is it on your travel wishlist? Share your experience with me in the comment section below!