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Cairo Layover Tour: Was It Worth It?

Absolutely! Here are tips for making the most of your time.

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Our family of five (3 teenagers aged 14, 15 and 17 years old) had the opportunity to explore Cairo for 7 hours on a recent layover. Of course, I had a ridiculously long list of landmarks, historical monuments, and museums that I wanted to visit. I realistically calculated that we needed 3-4 days to really allow us to see and experience most of them. But, we didn’t have the time. I had to decide whether to wait and book a return trip to Cairo, or bite the bullet and see what we could see within the timeframe. Ultimately, I bit the bullet and booked a private Cairo layover tour.

Was it worth it?

Absolutely.

I would say spending 7 hours exploring Cairo is worth every minute and dollar that you spend.

 

The view of the Sphinx and two of the oldest Pyramids of Giza. Every night, there is a light show in front of them which is supposed to be amazing.

 

Cairo layover tour
Old Cairo and Khan el-Khalili market.

 

Cairo Layover Tour

This is not something that I would propose doing on your own for a few reasons.

1. Cairo is an enormous, sprawling and chaotic city. Officially, it has a population of approximately 10 million. Unofficially, it is closer to 25 million. The city has grown and evolved out of necessity without any real city planning. In case after case, we saw half built buildings full of squatters and even a massive cemetery that 50,000 people now call home.

2. Driving is crazy! If there is 4 lanes, you will more than likely have about 7 cars driving side by side. Pedestrians simply step off the curve and walk across the street whenever it suits them. If a driver hits them, no matter what the circumstances, it is the driver’s fault. Along the streets, large random groups of people hang out by the side of the road flowing in and out of traffic while they wait for buses. Buses and trains are completely packed to overflowing.

 

Cairo layover tour
A little bit of the craziness on a Cairo road.

 

3. Timing is of critical importance. In order to make the most out of your visit, you need a professional tour guide and/or driver who knows when and where to pick you up at the airport, and when and how to return you so that you easily make your next flight. Relying on public transportation or randomly picking up a taxi driver at the airport would be risky for a number of reasons, but at the very least, would make a timely return to the airport very stressful.

 

Book A Private Cairo Layover Tour

There are a number of travel companies that offer private Cairo layover tours. All you have to do is google “Cairo layover tours” and dozens of links show up. Even more can be found on TripAdvisor with comments and opinions about the quality of the tour that is being offered. However, when I started to follow up with these travel companies, two issues became apparent.

 

1. Itineraries were similar

First, the itineraries were remarkably similar for every private Cairo layover tour. In our case, we were landing in Cairo at 11:00 am. By the time, we would be able to purchase a visa and clear customs, we were scheduled to be out of the airport and picked up around 12:00 pm. We didn’t have to worry about luggage, of course. That was being transferred by the airline to our evening flight.

 

Cairo layover tour
Camels and horses were available to rent and ride around the Pyramids.

 

In Cairo, most historical sights and museums close by 4:00 pm.  Accordingly, with the size of the city and traffic issues, we really only had the option to go to one significant attraction before the 4:00 pm deadline. For us, without question, visiting the Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx was our number one choice.

 

Cairo layover tour
Juliet in front of the largest Pyramid  that belonged to King Khufu.

 

After 4:00 pm, every tour included visiting “Islamic Cairo”, the only significant historical or cultural “attraction” open. It is also on the way back to the airport. This meant taking a walking tour on El Moez street which is over 1000 years old and filled with mosques, tombs and mansions built during the Islamic era. In addition, it also incorporated time exploring and shopping in Khan el-Khalili, a major bazaar in the centre of Old Cairo. Finally, all tours ended with a transfer back to the airport in time for our flight.

 

Cairo layover tour
The beautiful architecture of El Moez and Old Cairo.

 

Cairo layover tour
Goods for sale in the Khan el-Khalili market.

 

2. There were significant cost differences

Second, there were notable cost differences between tour companies offering a private Cairo layover tour with the exact same itineraries.

Case in point, we almost booked our private Cairo layover tour with a company that was going to charge $125 USD per person. This included pick up and drop off at the airport in a large air conditioned van, an English speaking Egyptologist guide, entrance fees into the Pyramids and the Sphinx (a $10 USD per person cost), and lunch.

After further research, I found Egypt Tailor Made Tours who offered the exact same itinerary, with the same size van and an English speaking Egyptologist guide, for $28 per person – a massive price difference! This did not include the $10 per person entrance fee to the Pyramids or lunch, but that was the only difference.

 

Cairo layover tour

 

Cairo layover tour
Items for sale next to beautiful buildings in Old Cairo.

 

Delay or inability to acquire an Egyptian Visa

Further, the terms were excellent. I only had to pre-pay $20 USD deposit to secure the tour. The balance of $120 was due in cash at the end of the tour. This was significant. One of the concerns of booking a Cairo layover tour is the very real possibility that your flight is delayed. If a delay is significant enough, then there comes a point when taking a tour might not be practical. If you have prepaid for the whole tour before arriving, this could be a loss of a lot of money.

A further consideration for Egypt is that most visitors need to purchase a visa before entering the country. Yes, you can acquire it before arriving but not without a lot of hassle. Accordingly, many people who are only entering the country for a Cairo layover tour choose to purchase their visa on arrival. Again, if for some reason this is denied to you and you can not leave the airport, then not pre-paying for the tour is ideal.

Of course, neither result is great for the tour company or the guide, but it addresses the very real issues preventing most travellers from even contemplating booking a Cairo layover tour, much less an expensive one.

 

Was The Cairo Layover Tour Worth It?

YES, I loved our tour. Our guide, Heba, was wonderful. She was waiting for us at the airport. From the time we got into the van, until we were dropped off for our evening flight, we were immersed in Egyptian history and current events. In addition, we had our own driver who focused on the psychotic sport of driving and parking in Cairo.

 

Cairo layover tour
We were very excited visiting the Pyramids!

 

The Pyramids of Giza and Sphinx

Getting There

The Pyramids are approximately 1 1/2 hour drive from Cairo International Airport. The exact travel time depends on traffic and time of day, but count on it being at least this long. The drive took us through a big chunk of Cairo and it was fascinating. We loved seeing the seething masses of cars and people basically EVERYWHERE. I was captivated looking at the different neighbourhoods and how this huge metropolis has grown and overflowed into areas unprepared to handle the throngs of people. It was amazing having a glimpse into what day to day life looks like for most Egyptians.

 

Cairo layover tour
The roundtrip route that we took from Cairo International Airport.

 

Cairo layover tour
Crossing over the Nile to get to the Pyramids. The Nile divides Cairo and Giza. Here is Jaco Island, a unique place where individual farmers own plots of land.

 

The History of the Pyramids

When one talks about the “Pyramids of Giza”, they are essentially referring to the three pyramids constructed over 4500 years ago by three different Pharaohs (Kings). Pharaohs expected to become gods in the afterlife. They prepared by building temples and massive pyramid tombs filled with all the things they needed in the afterworld.

Pharaoh Khufu built the first pyramid and is the largest in Giza. It towers 481 feet (147 meters). It’s believed that 2.3 million stone blocks, each weighing an average of 2.5 to 15 tons, were used.

 

Cairo layover tour
The largest Pyramid with the door entering the tomb.

Khufu’s son, Pharaoh Khafra, built the second Pyramid at Giza. He also built the Sphinx, a mysterious limestone monument with the body of a lion and a pharaoh’s head which stands guard over his tomb.

 

Cairo layover tour
Pharaoh Khafra’s Pyramid in the distance.

 

Cairo layover tour
The Sphinx with King Khufu Pyramid in the background.

 

 

Exploring the Pyramids and the Sphinx

We walked around the Pyramids and the Sphinx for about 1 1/2 – 2  hours with our guide. I was awe-struck by these incredible structures. There were a lot of people milling around, but at the same time, the pyramids are located on a huge piece of land. This allows visitors a lot of space to wander around and view them unencumbered from far away and right up close. Of course, the sheer mass of these structures make you and the crowds feel very small and insignificant.

 

Cairo layover tour
The immensity of the largest Pyramid next to other people.

 

We scampered up a few levels of King Khufu’s pyramid. That involved a little more jockeying for space. We also climbed down into the tomb of a smaller pyramid, one that entombed a Queen. That was a little freaky. We walked backwards down a ladder into the darkness on a one way route. We couldn’t see the bottom and had no idea where we were going or how far it was. In addition, it steadily got hotter and hotter as we descended.

 

Cairo layover tour
The view that we had before climbing down into the tomb.

 

Once at the bottom, we found ourself in a very small room without anything else. Then, we climbed back out, somehow balancing on one foot and leaning perilously off the ladder to allow others coming down to pass us. A wild experience that I would recommend doing provided you are not claustrophobic!

 

Travel Tip

Be prepared for Egyptian men in uniform asking you for money at random times. When we climbed up a few levels of King Khufu’s Pyramid, a man had his hand out. We had no idea what we were supposed to pay him, so we just ignored it and got swept away with the crowd. Again, another man stood at the front of the other tomb where we climbed down into the Queen’s pyramid. Entrance to this pyramid was supposed to be free. It was only when our guide stepped in that he stood aside and let us go down without paying. So, just in case you aren’t as lucky as we were, I would have a couple dollars in hand to help you freely move about the Pyramids.

 

El Moez and Khan El-Khalili

After walking over to view King Khafre’s Pyramid and the Sphinx, we drove around 45 minutes to El Moez and Khan El-Khalil. On the way, we stopped at Felfela and purchased shawarma, falafel and drinks and ate in the car. We didn’t want to waste any of our time stopping for a prolonged meal. Felfela is a chain and the food was delicious and ridiculously cheap. If you are short of time, I would recommend stopping at one of these and picking up a quick bite to eat.

 

Cairo layover tour
Fast food Cairo style!

 

El Moez and Khan El-Khalil were a fantastic place to spend the last of our time in Cairo. We saw many old historic and beautiful buildings. The street was packed with people, cars, motorcycles and there was action everywhere. We passed by restaurants offering tempting food, vendors selling on foot a variety of things, and gorgeous shops with artisan jewelry and other traditional Egyptian crafts for the home. We eventually sat down at a cafe, had a drink and people watched. That was a lot of fun.

 

Cairo layover tour
Amazing detailing on an Islamic Cairo building along El Moez.

 

Cairo layover tour
The cafe where we people watched.

 

Conclusion

We loved the time that we spent exploring the Pyramids and Cairo on our private Cairo layover tour. We turned what would have been an incredibly long and boring time at the airport into a fantastic day of sightseeing. If you find yourself with a long layover in Cairo, or you are thinking of adding a long layover, you will not be disappointed with what Cairo offers you. We had an amazing guide and took an excellent tour that was well priced. We saw everything that we had hoped to see with our short timeframe without any stress whatsoever. I can’t wait to go back and see everything else that we missed.
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We had a 10 hour layover in Cairo and decided to take a private Cairo layover tour. We saw the Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx, and explored Old Cairo and the Khan el-Khalili market. It was an amazing! Here are tips for making the most of your time. #travel #familytravel #travelwithteens #Cairo #Egypt | El Moez, falafel, Felfela, Giza, Islamic Cairo, Khafra, Khan el-Khalili, Khufu, King, layover, Menaure, Nile, Old Cairo, Pharaoh, Pyramids, shawarma, Sphinx|

22 Comments

  • Loved your photos as they truly put me with you there! And I am happy to know that you found it great stay there even if only for a layover

  • What an amazing difference in the cost! It just shows that doing some research really pays off. I’m so impressed by all you managed to see during your layover time! I’ve not yet made it to Egypt but hope to one day soon.

      • Wow! You covered quite a lot in 7 hours. I would have done the same if I had that much time. Thank God you didn get stuck in traffic otherwise it would have been difficult to cover all you did

        • Well, traffic was tough and slow. I think traffic is calculated into the itinerary and why we could only visit one major site between 12:00 pm – 4:00 pm. But, seeing all that traffic and how the city worked was also kind of cool.

  • Now that is a great way spend a long layover. Have dreamed about visiting the Pyramids of Giza longer than I can remember. Hope to visit them sometime soon. The tour sounds perfect as it covers the major highlights of Cairo. Thanks for sharing the details on cost and itinerary.

  • I have heard a lot about how chaotic the city is and how tough it is to drive there so I would be careful too about planning the places to visit during a short layover. You’ve given some great tips about taking a private tour as it saves on time and the recommended company that you found seems perfect as they’re not only cheap but also you do not need to prepay for the tour, which sounds very fair to me. You did the most you could in the time you had- the pyramids and Sphinx are the highlights of Cairo anyway and you made it there so awesome!

    • Thanks Medha. The whole experience worked out really well. I think that it is a very reasonable thing to consider doing, and also an amazing experience seeing everything that we saw.

  • Loved your photos as they truly put me with you there! And I am happy to know that you found it great stay there even if only for a layover

    • Thanks! Yes, you do. We are Canadian and we definitely needed one to exit the airport. I can’t remember if we had to do anything when we left Egypt. I don’t think we did, however, you should double check the requirements for your own country.

  • This is a great info. Thanks for posting this. I have a long layover in Cairo on my way to Tel Aviv and Im planning to go out of the airport and do some sightseeing as well. I’ve check the price on the site you used but somehow they are now charging for at least $135 per person. Is this correct? Kindly let me know. Cheers!!!!!

    • Hi Robert, When we did took the private tour, it was $28 per person and there was five of us. So, we paid almost $140 USD for the tour. Are you alone? If you are, that could be the difference. If it still doesn’t make sense, I’d email the tour company and ask whether they could improve the cost for you. They were very responsive and easy to work with. It couldn’t hurt!

      • That’s completely make sense to me. Probably the price would be much lower if I’m with a group. I will definitely contact the tour company about this. Thank you so much for your quick response and I’m so looking forward to reading your next travel blog. By the way, I’m also a Canadian. From the beautiful city of Vancouver. Cheers😊

        • Have a great time! I noticed that I misquoted what we paid – we paid $28 USD per person or $140 USD for the tour. It sounds like you are getting a similar quote. But, like I said, I’d reach out to the tour company and see what they suggest. As for living in Vancouver… aren’t we lucky! One of the most beautiful places in the world!

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