Most travelers have heard of the Paris Syndrome: the mental breakdown a small number of people suffer from after realizing a place isn’t what they expected. The Wikipedia page offers a few reasons for this: the language barriers, the cultural differences, the idealized image of an area (often built up by well-meaning marketing), and exhaustion.
You’ve probably never heard of the Pyramid Syndrome, however, because I just made it up.
I’d define the Pyramid Syndrome as the physical and mental issues brought on by aggravating locals, asinine policies or regulations, a lack of signage or direction, exorbitant prices, and/or dehydration. The result is a frustrated, tired traveler who may find themselves near a breaking point wherein a primal scream may surface and frighten small children up to a kilometer away. (This didn’t happen. I promise.)
I should note that you can suffer from Pyramid Syndrome from anywhere — Sukhumvit Road in Bangkok or the Eiffel Tower in Paris can be just as bad. Since Paris already has a syndrome and Sukhumvit would be pronounced ‘Suck-hum-veet’ by anyone that hasn’t been there, let’s stick with the Pyramid Syndrome, ok? =)
One of the very few signs on the expansive site. It’s here (and only here, once you’re inside) that I saw anything about a ‘special ticket’. Remember this for later.
The walkway to approach the Sphinx is a long, gradual uphill one — we opted to take the right path and saw some ‘guards’. I use the word loosely, since it wasn’t a restricted road and they didn’t actually stop us. They pointed us to the path all the other tourists were going on, but didn’t seem much interested in doing anything else.
One of the many offerings available at the Pyramids — more than a few of which had difficulty understanding the word ‘no’ in any language. (We later learned that something like ‘mah fish fluss’ is Arabic for ‘go away’ or ‘bug off’ — give it a try if you like.)
With Egyptian tourism down and the number of touts the same, you can guess what happened. Some travelers are of the peaceful nature, and are wholly able to transcend these difficulties or simply block them out — to them I say ‘bravo’. Others are of the ‘I’ll pay for someone to help me out’ nature, a mindset that keeps the touts hawking their offerings. Folks like us that are cheapskates don’t like buying from touts on principle…? Yeah — the Pyramid Syndrome can happen…
Getting back to the pyramids themselves…
You probably first read about them in grade school — the ancient pyramids serve as the resting places for kings and queens from several millennia ago. They’re an engineering marvel, even today, and on plenty of people’s bucket lists. It’s the thing to see in Giza, bar none, and relatively easy to reach from Cairo (see the directions for getting there via public transportation and on your own — you won’t need any assistance in getting there with a taxi or tour group).
The site has three pyramids, all within walking distance of each other — but bear in mind you’re hiking through the desert to reach them. Also, actually entering the pyramids requires the special ticket — the uniformed police officer and smoking staff member without ID aren’t able to sell you a ticket if you missed it at the sign by the entrance or didn’t pick it up earlier. You’ll have to head back to the entrance — through the desert — to get it. Finally, at the risk of being a buzzkill, no photos and no liquids are permitted inside.
Near the Eastern Cemetery, I think…? The heat and frustration of the day, combined with the lack of useful signage, was beginning to get to me. Before arriving, pick up one large (1.5 liter) bottle of water per person. It might suck to carry it around the whole day, but A: no one’s selling water in the desert, and B: dehydration sucks worse.
I never gave the touts enough time to offer me a price for a camel / horse ride I didn’t want, so I can’t tell you whether this is an ‘over-and-above’ tariff or some attempt at standardized pricing. 50 Egyptian pounds, however, is about $6.50 USD — a fair bit of change in a country where a bus ride is 1 pound and a decent meal can be had for 10 pounds.
Avoiding Pyramid Syndrome means recognizing reality — the pyramids themselves are outstanding sights — sights that have brought out the touts and sellers from across the country. Despite the fact that foreigners pay many times more for admission, the anti-foreigner sentiment can be felt pretty easily across the city (the Wikitravel page for Cairo is a sobering reminder).
Name: The Giza Pyramids, The Great Pyramid of Giza, Pyramids of Giza, The Giza Pyramid Complex, or simply the Pyramids (أهرامات الجيزة in Arabic)
Address: Nazlet El-Semman, Al Haram, Giza Governorate, Egypt (entry to the less busy ticket office: GPS: 29.975537, 31.140897)
Directions: From the Egyptian museum’s exit, take a left to walk to the main road. Once there, take another left and begin walking towards the back of the museum. It’ll curve around to the left — look right, underneath the overhead expressways. In the midst of the spaghetti-like roads is a small bus terminal (approximate GPS: 30.049451, 31.232144) — look for bus 1014 (١٠١٤), 900 (٩٠٠), or 337 (٣٣٧). Bear in mind these schedules are erratic, and there no signs — the reward, however, is the price — the bus ride should cost you 1 Egyptian pound (about $0.15 USD).
Get off at a major intersection — you’ll probably be motioned off by helpful locals (approximate GPS: 29.986796, 31.141278). From the bus stop, cross to the opposite corner and make your way south on Al-Sourmaneya road — you’ll probably see a pyramid in the distance. Walk about 1 kilometer (pick up some water on the way!) and take a right onto El Malek Fouad. At the fork, bear left until you reach the intersection — the ticket office and entrance to the pyramids are there.
Hours: May 1st to Ramadan: 7am-7pm; Ramadan-April 30th: 8am-5pm
Admission: 80 LE (Egyptian pounds) got us access to the site, but not inside any of the pyramids.
Website: http://www.sca-egypt.org/eng/SITE_GIZA_MP.htm (official, but out of date)