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When my son suggested that we visit Super Nintendo World in Japan as our long-distance trip, I asked him whether he would rather spend more time in Japan or whether he would rather visit more places, even if that meant a shorter time in each place. I know there are pros and cons of “fast” vs. “slow” travel, and people with passionate opinions on both sides, but he decided he would rather visit more places. This worked out great with the ability to stack 23 hour layovers with an Aeroplan award ticket, so that is what we did.

Setting up a Cairo Tour

With only 1 day in Egypt, I decided to book a tour guide to take us around. I found someone that was recommended on a Facebook group, and we agreed on a tour of the Great Pyramid, Sphinx, Pyramids of Giza area, Sakkara, Memphis and Dahshour. With a private car and driver, this would also include pickup from the airport, admission to each of the areas. The only thing it wouldn’t include was entrance to the Great Pyramid and tips for the tour guide and driver. The total was USD$225 for 2 people, but it was an additional USD$15 to be dropped off back near the airport (there would not have been an extra charge if we were getting dropped off near Giza). I’m sure I could have gotten a cheaper tour but I felt okay with that amount.

Arriving in Cairo Egypt

Arriving in Cairo was hectic, to say the least. Our EgyptAir Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner Business Class flight from Washington DC to Cairo was scheduled to get in at 4:30 a.m. but due to delays didn’t end up getting landing until 5:17, so it was around 5:45 by the time we made it outside. Our guide had said that the driver would be waiting for us outside the terminal ( the building) at 4:30 am, holding a sign with my name written on it.

We cleared immigration and customs fairly easily and made our way into the arrivals hall. Then tons of people kept coming up to asking if we needed a taxi, or needed help, etc. We ignored them all and made our way outside. There was a large crowd of people waiting for arrivals, many of them holding up signs with people’s names on it. It was a similar scene to when Carolyn and I arrived in Cuzco to visit the Sacred Valley, except… there was nobody with my name on it!

To make matters worse, I was expecting to have limited international data available, but I couldn’t get it to work on my phone. The airport had wifi, but you had to have it send you a text message which was ALSO not working for me. So I was a bit stuck here. We kept walking back and forth trying to find the guy with our name on it, but nothin. It was a tricky situation, because I didn’t want to get TOO close to people or look like I didn’t know what I was doing, since then people kept coming up trying “to help”. But it was hard to not look like I didn’t know what I was doing, given the fact that I DIDN’T ACTUALLY KNOW WHAT I WAS DOING.

We kept crossing the street back and forth, and going down to the parking lot, just trying to find where this guy could possibly be. We tried to get back into the airport but the police / security yelled at us (in Arabic) and wouldn’t let us in. There was an airport waiting area where we went at one point, trying to see if we could get on any wifi at all, but that didn’t work.

The whole time, people kept coming up to us yelling “Taxi Mister?” or offering to “help”. There was one guy who KEPT asking if we had a phone number and he could call our tour guide. I was slightly tempted by this but stuck to my general philosophy of not accepting help from random people. Later, when I was telling our guide about this, he said that what would have probably happened was he would have pretended to call our guide and then just told us “Your guide says he is not coming”, trying to get us to go with him.

It was about an hour later (about 6:45 a.m. local time) that we saw the signs for the Le Meridien Cairo Airport. I had the idea that if I could get over there, they would probably have wifi that I could use to contact my guide and figure out what was going on. It took awhile to figure out exactly where that was – you can see that there is a bit of a bridge going over the parking lot from the hotel to the airport terminal building. First, we started heading to that, but a policeman told us there was no access to get up to that pedestrian bridge.

a map of a city

So we dragged our suitcases across the 6 lane “Airport Road” over near the hotel. We were in the parking lot (south and west of the actual building) when we got close enough to get a few bars of wifi signal. I was able to connect, pull up Messenger and call our guide. At first, when I told him we were at the Le Meridien (“the the meridien”), he wanted to know if he should have the driver meet us there. But I tried to tell him that we weren’t actually AT the hotel, and frankly, I didn’t even know where the actual hotel entrance was. (Looking at the map now, I can see that we would have just needed to go around the corner. But eventually we agreed that I would just walk back over to the airport terminal area. When we did, our driver was there with a sign with our name on it, and we were (finally) off!

Pyramids and Sphinx Tour

The delay, while super stressful, actually worked out fine, since the major pyramids and archaeological sites don’t open until 8 a.m. Since we were there on a Saturday (the weekend in the Arabic world), there was no traffic at all and we decided to start with the pyramids at Dahshour. I had wanted to start at the Great Pyramid so we could be there before it got crowded, but that would have meant another 30 minutes of just waiting.

The tours were amazing, though you do get a bit of “pyramid burnout”, similar to the “statue burnout” I remember getting in Rome. Here are a few pictures from our one day in Cairo Egypt.

two men posing for a picture

two men sitting on rocks in front of a pyramid

a large statue of a man

two men standing next to a stone wall

a man standing in a desert with a pyramids in the background

A Note About Driving in Cairo, Egypt (short answer: don’t)

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a little bit about driving in Cairo, Egypt. Like I mentioned earlier, we were there on a Saturday morning, so there was not much traffic at all. When our driver was taking us around, I noticed that he was driving in the middle of a lane (basically straddling the white line). Even though we were on a six-lane highway with nobody else around, he was just chilling in the middle of the lane.

I thought that was a bit odd, but then afterwards I did a bit of searching and found that it was quite common. I can only imagine what it would have been like had we been there on a time when there was more traffic. I have driven in some crazy places (Dominican Republic), but I would not recommend driving in Cairo. Most of the reports that I saw on Tripadvisor and other places also recommended hiring a driver. With as cheap as it is in Egypt, I think that would be a relief to your sanity. Also, in the entire city of Cairo (population nearly 10 million), I literally did not see a SINGLE traffic light. There were a few roundabouts and exit ramp / overpasses, but for the most part, if you’re on a side street you just have to go for it.

The Bottom Line

It was a bit of a rocky start, but we had an amazing time in our one day in Cairo Egypt, once we were finally able to connect with our driver and tour guide. Visiting the Great Pyramids, the Sphinx and many other historical and archaeological wonders was a trip that I will never forget.

What would you do with one day in Cairo Egypt? Leave your trip and tour suggestions in the comments below

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