Egypt

The Pyramids of Egypt were simply amazing - true wonders of the ancient world which are breathtaking from up-close. The obvious first destination is the Giza complex, with the three well-known pyramids of Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure (you've seen tons of photos of them, but did you know their names?).

Of course I'd seen countless photos before; but visiting the pyramids is one of those experiences that's really hard to put into words. It's just amazing that these structures were built 4,500 years ago and still look as magnificent as ever.

One never tires of walking around and marveling at the ancient Egyptians' ingenuity and skills (until the punishing sun has its say, of course); for an additional out of this world experience you can enter the first two pyramids at Giza, navigate the slightly claustrophobic corridors and arrive at the simple yet somber burial chambers (no pictures inside these two). And then there's the Sphinx, of course - maybe less awe-inspiring than the pyramids themselves but rather intriguing; also, it's much smaller than pictures might make you believe.

These being said, it would be a shame to end your exploration of the Egyptian pyramids with Giza. My next destination was Sakkara, about 25km away from Giza. Here I visited the Pyramid of Teti, completely unremarkable from the outside (looks like a mound of dirt, basically), but stunning on the inside with beautifully decorated walls full of hieroglyphs. Also in Sakkara you'll find the Step Pyramid of Djoser, one of the earliest cut stone large-scale construtions (built during the 27th century BC). You can't go inside the Step Pyramid as it was undergoing restoration, but you can walk around the fabulous Djoser necropolis complex located nearby. You'll enjoy Sakkara even more as there are far fewer tourists or locals offering camel rides.

Even further-removed from the tourist track, and located about 10km away from Sakkara is the pyramid complex of Dahshur, with two more magnificent structures to visit. The Red Pyramid (not actually red) is the third largest Egyptian pyramid after Khufu and Khafra in Giza, and apparently the first successful smooth-sided pyramid of ancient Egypt. This one can also be visited via a 65m corridor. Finally, there's the beautiful and odd-looking Bent Pyramid, which was apparently started at an angle that turned out to be too steep, and completed at a shallower one.

Back in Cairo I walked around the Tahrir Square area a bit (now peaceful with no demonstrations, but discreetly guarded by heavy military presence) and visited the 187 metres-tall Cairo Tower. The Museum of Egyptian Antiqiuities in Cairo is another jewel absolutely worth visiting (no pictures inside the museum); as with every major tourist attraction, get there as early as possible to avoid (most of) the crowds. Impressive statues and tombs, bizarre mummies, fascinating hieroglyphs, odd depictions of half man-half beast creatures (or even weirder animal combinations) - all seemed to come from an alien civilization. I was positively impressed.

While my short three-day trip made a strong impression as you can see from the above, Egypt is a country of contrasts. With a population of about 18 Million, Cairo is crowded and the traffic is horrible; drivers have no concept of traffic lanes, cars fill every available space on the roads with inches to spare and people cross the streets randomly everywhere. There's lots of poverty and misery especially outside of Cairo, with heaps of trash being an ever-present sight in some places; a really sad state of affairs. Nevertheless, I found Egyptians to be friendly; just watch out for tourist scams which are easy to come by (but just as easy to avoid if you're a bit careful).

All in all, a fantastic experience. I'd say the Egyptian Pyramids are unmissable.

Additional info:
- country entry on Wikipedia
- country profile on Wikivoyage

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Egypt

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