Sometimes you choose travel dates and sometimes they choose you. After I’d locked in my Nile cruise I looked at the calendar and realized it made more sense to fly to Egypt a couple of days early since my monthly rent was up. With a couple of extra days in Cairo, a lot of day trip options are available. I chose Saqqara, Dashur and Memphis to see the 1st ever proto pyramid, 1st ever true pyramid and the Rhameses II statue.
Saqqara is approximately a 45 minute drive from The Pyramids of Giza. My custom Highlights of Egypt map can help you plan your day and your trip.
It’s hard to balance all the things to do and see in Egypt. Ancient Egyptian history begins over 5000 years ago. I’d argue that adding this day trip helps put ancient Egyptian history in context. And it’s darn near impossible to limit yourself to the 2-3 activities per day that I recommend.
Saqqara is the home of the 1st ever proto or step pyramid. Egyptologists credit the step pyramid of Pharaoh Djoser as designed by Imhotep. Imhotep is generally considered evil in current pop culture, but was one of two commoners deified in Egypt! (And his tomb is thought to be lying undiscovered under the sand at Saqqara.) For a fictional take read Imhotep A Novel, the series by Jerry Dubs
You can go inside Kagemni’s tomb. Bonus the entrance is included with the Step Pyramid ticket. Bonus 2 it’s not cramped and there is no crawling!
Hieroglyphs were the original emojis. 😉 In tombs and monuments they tell stories of the inhabitant and the gods. Pyramids do not have hieroglyphs. Hieroglyphs can be read right to left, left to right or top to bottom. It all depends on the way the figure is facing!
TIP: Pyramids are big. Tombs are pretty.
TIP: Go to the Serapeum. I didn’t realize where it was and missed it. Until I asked my guide at Memphis then it wasn’t practical to go back. 🙁
TIP: BEFORE you start your day trip, spend 5-15 minutes talking with the guide about what to see, do, not to miss, what you like and don’t (ex detailed explanation of the site, walking slowly, exploring on your own, etc). I had tons of extra time and could have easily fit in a stop at the Serapeum and a carpet school (if I’d wanted to see the carpet school).
Dashur is natural successor to Saqqara. It’s the site of the 1st “true” pyramid, the Red Pyramid and the Bent pyramid. Both of which you can go inside. I went in the Red. You do NOT have to go in every pyramid. Having now been in two (Red and Great Pyramid of Giza) I feel comfortable saying visiting only one is quite enough. BONUS: You’ll save money, entering a pyramid is an added cost.
CAUTION: You will need to bend over and crawl through a shaft approx 1m x 1m to get inside the pyramid. 3 feet (0.91 m) in height and 4 feet (1.2 m) wide, slopes down at 27° for 200 feet (61 m) to a short horizontal passage leading into a chamber. Then you’ll have to do it again to get out. Not recommended for anyone with knee, back, or hip problems or anyone with claustrophobia or severe asthma.
Despite the warnings and notes there’s always a line to get into the main chamber. At some points it’s possible to climb past others and sometimes some people are pushy when they should be patient. After all the pyramids have stood for thousands of years. They aren’t going anywhere.
The “Bent” pyramid gets it’s name from the change in angle of the pyramid. The angle and construction was altered after they discovered the weight of the stones would have collapsed if they had continued at the original angles.
Memphis is HUGE. And 99% of the ruins of the capital of “Lower Egypt” is covered by the current city. The statue of Ramesses II, is huge too, like all of his monuments! It’s so big that it’s Italian discoverer Giovanni Battista Caviglia in 1820, was told it was too difficult and expensive to ship to Italy. The British Museum also declined to acquire it. And even here they built the Mit Rahina Museum building around the statue!
In the open air museum around the Ramesses II statue there are other Ramesses statues and the best preserved sphinx in Egypt.
NEED TO KNOW:
- A day trip from Cairo covering these three sites should last 4-8 hours.
- Search for Cairo Day Trips for providers.
- Cost ranges between USD 40-80 per person and includes transport, driver, egyptologist guide and sometimes entrance fees and lunch.
- If you want to add stops, ask. If you need more water, ask. If you want to buy something, ask. If you want something explained, ask.
It’s your day trip. Do not let the guide rush you! Guides want you to enjoy yourself and leave them a good review. Win-win.