An Insight Into Marrakech, And 4 Things You Must Find Time To Experience

marakech

Photograph

Marrakech has to be one of the most breathtaking and astonishing cities in the whole world. It’s a riot of color, culture, music and life. The architecture is authentic even today, the squares and streets and bustling and busy. There is manmade nature to rival the peace and serenity of the natural beauty found high above in the cities mountains. It is the ideal place to spend a long weekend, a week or a fortnight. It balances chaos with calm, demure with boldness.

Read on for an insight into the incredible place, and four things you must find time to experience while you are there.

Stay In An Authentic Riad Or Villa

marakech2

Image link

First things first; staying in a beautiful villa or riad should be an absolute priority for your visit. If there is one thing that the Moroccans are truly excellent at, it is building and decorating their homes. You’ll quickly see that luxury in Morocco isn’t hard to find. If you want to be bang in the center of things, look for a luxury riad with a central location. If you want a little more serenity, a villa on the outskirts will be the place for you. Spacious ones, with their own pool and amazing views, are idyllic. There is also a pretty big chance that buying property here in future will make an appearance on your bucket list. You have been warned!

Trek The Atlas Mountains

marakech3

Image link

High up above the city, looking down like a grand and watchful guardian, are the Atlas Mountains. Book a private tour up to them, and then take a hike! The landscapes and vistas are breathtaking, and the views will be unforgettable. Don’t forget your walking shoes, hat and enough water for the high temperatures!

Wander Jardin Majorelle

marakech4

Image source

While the Atlas Mountains are entirely natural, back in the heart of the city you’ll find Jardin Majorelle. This place is also known as the Yves St. Laurent Gardens. That is because this is the guy who designed, built and curated this place. He is the guy who you will owe your huge thanks and blessings to when you see it with your own eyes. The colors are so bold and beautiful, they may make any you’ve seen before pale in comparison. And the plants, trees, water and shrubs are special enough to draw you in for a peaceful couple of hours.

Get Lost In Jemaa El Fna

marakech5

Picture link

A great holiday or vacation is usually all about balance. So, balance the mountains with the gardens. Balance a luxury riad with the bravery to try some delicious street food in one of the many market squares. And balance a relaxing morning by your pool with a frenetic afternoon at Jemaa El Fna. This is Marrakech’s biggest, busiest and most popular hub of shops, stalls, restaurants and cafes. Don’t be content with staying around the perimeter. Pack a bottle of water, some long clothing and dive right in. Go and get lost in the winding streets, and finding authentic wares from friendly, cheeky market sellers.

Cairo – City of Thousand Minarets

CAIRO, EGYPT: I don’t think I need to say much about Cairo or Egypt as a whole. This is one of the earliest civilizations of the world and when you visit this country, you will know that some talented group of people lived here once few thousand years ago. Some of world’s very original art, culture, history, language, and science started from this land.  For a traveler, this is a paradise to see, taste, learn, and experience uniqueness. Cairo is Egypt’s biggest city and is also known as the “City of Thousand Minarets” for having hundreds of big and small mosques in every corner. After being in so many places, I must say there are 2 places where I found people to be the friendliest, most helpful, and hospitable. One was in Dublin and another city is Cairo. Egyptian people are always eager to help its guests and very humble. This is a contemporary and thriving city with glorious history from past…a perfect place to feel both of the worlds and eras.

River Nile and Cairo city...what a great combination
River Nile and Cairo city…what a great combination
  

Some FYIs and tips for the travelers before visiting Cairo: Egypt made it really easy for US citizens to travel their country. We can get entry visa in the airport for 15 USD per person. About transportation, always ride white taxis with meters. Black cabs don’t have meters, therefore better to bargain a price before riding. Always carry tissue or napkins with you. Some public bathrooms don’t have tissues, even if they do they will expect some tips for that.

Streets and traffic jam of Cairo during rush hour, a view from Al-Azhar Park
Streets and traffic jam of Cairo during rush hour, a view from Al-Azhar Park
  

TIME of TRAVEL: We flew to Cairo from Belgium during the 2012 Christmas break. While it was freezing in Belgium, the weather in Cairo was just perfect. But carrying a sweater won’t be a bad idea when traveling here this time of the year.

OUR HOTEL: We stayed in Cairo Moon Hotel in the heart of Cairo, only 10 minutes’ of walk from Cairo Museum and Tahrir square. Honestly speaking this was a below average hotel with tiny (for only 3 people) and scary elevators, big red ants walking all over the floor, too much noise late at night, and few other problems. But the owner of this hotel, Mohamed, is an exceptionally friendly and helpful gentleman. All the staffs here are same way too which overcomes all the other problems of this hotel. Mohamed organized few trip for us here and there including the trip to Giza. It had free basic breakfast and free Wi-Fi. Pick up from or to airport can be arranged if you let them know ahead of time.

EATING and SHOPPING: Kushari is a famous cheap street-food in Egypt. This usually comes in different sizes. It may sound weird, but this combination of pasta, rice, spaghetti, lentils, white beans, and fried onions is very filling and tasty when you mix it with different types of sauces. We had dinner on 2 nights in a very popular restaurant in the heart of Cairo, called “Gad”. From the daily crowds of it, we could tell that this was going to be a great place to eat some local food. They have burgers and fast food menu as well as some traditional dishes, like Egyptian pancakes, spiced salad (the best), and burger with egg. One of the castle-like restaurants in Al-Azhar Park was a very fancy spot where we were taken to for a dinner by someone we knew. Night view of Ali Pasha Mosque in citadel as we were having dinner was gorgeous. I think this is where we had our best food in Cairo. Also try Egyptian pizza, falafel, and shwarma.

Kushari, a yummy street food of Cairo
Kushari, a yummy street food of Cairo
  

I can give you a whole list of things that you can buy from Cairo. Spices, papyrus, sphinx, pyramids (in different colors and materials), shawls/scarves, traditional clothes are just to name some. Khan-El-Khalili is more of an expensive place for tourists. Most of the tourist attractions have small stores or vendors nearby. When we took our Giza trip, our guide Haisam took us to a big showroom of papyrus, Golden Eagle Papyrus on Sakkara Road. This is a government approved store, and therefore you know you are buying the real thing. It has hundreds of papyrus wall decors to choose from at various price ranges and with different themes. The guy who was showing us around actually took 10 minutes to show us how a piece of papyrus was made from its trees…that was absolutely fascinating and very educational for our little ones. Here is their phone number if you need it – +2037719585.

Some souvenirs in Khan El-Khalili Bazar in Cairo, Egypt
Some souvenirs in Khan El-Khalili Bazar in Cairo, Egypt
  

PLACES WE’VE VISITED: Cairo is overloaded with many touristic places from really ancient wonders to modern and stylish sites. We spent about a week here and was pretty much done seeing most of old part of the city. We could have stayed longer to visit experience more of new areas, its night life, and thriving life of Cairo. Other than the following some other places that tourists can consider visiting (we couldn’t see these places) are Cairo Tower, which can be seen almost from any corner of the city and provides 360-view of Cairo including Giza. Also dropped off your list was Abdeen Palace which was home of the last king of Egypt the exiled King Farouk.

Grand view of Ali Pasha at night from Al-Azhar Park, Cairo, Egypt
Grand view of Ali Pasha Mosque at night from Al-Azhar Park, Cairo, Egypt
  

1) KHAN-EL-KHALILI BAZAR: Khan-El-Khalili Bazar is a tourist trap in Cairo for shopping. It’s a like big maze with winding small alleys and many small stores. You will find almost anything here including perfumes, spices, handcrafts, traditional clothes, gold, and many other things. I wouldn’t recommend buying papyrus paper from here as they may not be real Egyptian papyrus. But whatever you buy bargain is a must…not just here, in whole Cairo.

A woman polishing her shoes in Khan El-Khalili Bazar
A woman getting her shoes polished in Khan El-Khalili Bazar
   

2) NILE RIVER CRUISE: You can’t leave Egypt without experiencing Nile at night and the best way to do is to take a dinner-cruise. Our ship’s name was Lady Diana Nile Cruise Line. This was a unique experience for all of us and the kids loved it the most. Combination of Nile and Cairo looked more than just beautiful at night from the observation deck.

It was a cozy sitting area where we had dinner. Buffet trays were filled with absolutely fantastic food. The show started with karaoke songs during our meal but the real entertainment started after dinner. First it was belly dance, which we saw before…I think I enjoyed the fast Arabic music the most here. The final item was a man doing whirling Sufi performance. Now, that was something we have never seen before and it looked out of this world. The enthusiastic music, Dervish’s costume, his circling…everything about it made that place very mystical.

A Dervish performing Sufi dance during our Nile River cruise
A Dervish performing Sufi dance during our Nile River cruise
   

Our hotel arranged this trip for us. It was 90 USD for all 4 of us. The dinner started at 7:30 pm and by the time we were done with all the performances, it was about 9:30 pm.

3) TAHRIR SQUARE: Also known as Midan Tahrir (meaning Liberation Square) is located in front of Egyptian Museum and was occupied by the demonstrators’ campsites and banners during our visit. This is where Egyptians gathered around during the uprising of the country before impeaching their President Hosni Mubarak. This large public square is a historic place for Cairo and Egypt and their history.

Demonastration in Tahrir Square, Cairo
Demonstrations in Tahrir Square, Cairo
    

4) EGYPTIAN MUSEUM: Located in busy Tahrir Square, this is one of the greatest museums in the world and a must-see to acquire knowledge on real history of Egypt. Massive collections of ancient Egyptian antiquities can be found outside and inside of the building. I’ve heard that hundreds of items are added each year to this museum as more excavations and discoveries take place. More than 135,000 items of this museum display artifacts of pre-dynasty, Old-Kingdom, Middle-Kingdom, late periods, and from Greek and Roman periods.

Some of the highlights of this place are the 2 Royal Mummy rooms, pet/animal mummies, early jewelries, hundreds of beautifully carved coffins, stone-carved statues, hieroglyphics granites, and early manuscripts from different dynasties of Pharaonic periods from as early as 3200 BC.  Finally many objects/treasures from Tomb of Tutankhamen, including his famous original mask is at display here. Royal Mummy room has mummies of ancient Egyptian kings, queens, and high priests. Seeing mummy of Pharaoh Ramses II really gave me goose bumps. Evidently, he is the Pharaoh who chased Moses (Prophet Musa AS) across Red Sea and drowned with his army in the ocean. His mummy is the best preserved mummy there… when you look at his teeth and hair, those don’t look like few thousand years old. The museum is a bit un-organized and many of its objects lack labels or information board. Some collections looked like they were just stacked without care. But the good news is that, the location of this museum is supposed to move somewhere in Giza which will have more space to accommodate these object of bygone days.

Front of Egyptian Museum in Cairo
Front of Egyptian Museum in Cairo
  

Ticket to enter the museum is 60 LE for adults and 30 LE for children. There is a separate fee to enter the section of Royal Mummies which you can purchase from the upper level. It’s 100 LE for adults and 60 for the kids. No camera or backpack is allowed inside the museum. We had to keep them in a locker near the ticket office. The museum has 2 levels and visiting it took us about 2 ½ hours.

5) AL-AZHAR PARK: This is the best landscaped garden and park in Cairo for strolling and enjoying magnificent view of the city. It is known to the locals as the “lung of Cairo”. We went there right before sunset and saw the whole city lighting up as it was getting dark very slowly. Standing in Al-Azhar Park, you will realize why Cairo is known as “City of Thousand Minarets” … you can see many old and new minarets of mosques from here, creating a unique skyline. An uncle, my ex-colleague’s father, took us here and treated all of us to dinner in a restaurant inside the park name “The Citadel”. We had our best traditional Egyptian meal here while looking at lit-up Ali Pasha Mosque on the distance. The park looked ever nicer at night. 5 LE is the entry fee. It is very well maintained and absolutely safe. Park closes around 10pm and no one is allowed in afterwards.

Al-Azhar Park in Cairo, Egypt
Al-Azhar Park in Cairo, Egypt
  

6) CITADEL and ALI PASHA MOSQUE: Locals know this place as Salahdin’s Citadel because it was built by the mighty Salahdin (Muslim caliph who defeated the Crusaders) in 1183 AD.

Walking towards Cairo Citadel, also known as Salahdin's Citadel in Cairo, Egypt
Walking towards Cairo Citadel, also known as Salahdin’s Citadel in Cairo, Egypt
   

There are few old mosques and museums (like Police National Museum, Prison Museum, Al-Gawhara Palace Museum) inside the citadel. You can spend whole day roaming around and visiting them leisurely. The best part of being here is the view you get over Cairo. On a clear day, you can see as far as the Pyramids of Giza. Panoramic view of Sultan Hasan Mosque and Rifaii Mosque side by side looks great along with the other parts of Islamic Cairo.

View of Rifaii Mosque, Sultan Hasan Mosque, and other parts of Islamic Cairo in Cairo, Egypt
View of Rifaii Mosque (right), Sultan Hasan Mosque (left), and other parts of Islamic Cairo in Cairo, Egypt
   

Ali Pasha Mosque, also known as Mohamed Ali Mosque, is an iconic structure of Egypt that can be spotted from almost anywhere in Cairo day or night. The mosque was built inside the Citadel in the mid-19th century. This old and grand mosque was established by Mohamed Ali Pasha, who is considered to be the founder of modern Egypt, and took about 18 years to build. From outside, the mosque looks more like the Blue Mosque of Istanbul. Courtyard is enormously spacious and beautiful. This big mosque is very beautiful inside with nice dome, vaulted ceiling, big chandelier, and old patterns on wall. Tomb of Mohamed Ali Pasha is also located inside the mosque. One thing that made me sad about this mosque was that it lacked maintenance outside and inside.  A structure this massive and historical is country’s pride and deserves love and attention which was missing from this place.

Ali Pasha Mosque in Cairo, Egypt - an iconic landmark of Cairo
Ali Pasha Mosque in Cairo, Egypt – an iconic landmark of Cairo
   

The citadel is located in Islamic Cairo. Entry fee to the citadel is 50 LE for adults and 25 LE for the kids and is open from 8 -5 pm. We didn’t go to any museums or mosques, other than Ali Pasha Mosque, that’s why we were done in few hours.

Inside Ali Pasha Mosque in Cairo, Egypt
Inside Ali Pasha Mosque in Cairo, Egypt
    

7) HISTORIC MOSQUES of CAIRO: Most of the mosques are located in Islamic Cairo and they are very old, dusty, and lack in maintenance. You will see many homeless and beggars lurking around these places. Please try to maintain right etiquettes of visiting these sacred places during your trip, it shows the local that you respect their culture and belief.

Looking at Islamic Cairo and its many minarets from Al-Azhar Park...no wonder Cairo is known as the City of Thousand Minarets
Looking at Islamic Cairo and its many minarets from Al-Azhar Park…no wonder Cairo is known as the City of Thousand Minarets
   

a) SAYYIDINA AL-HUSSEIN MOSQUE: The mosque is located in Midan Hussein and very close to Khan-El-Khalil souk. The original mosque was built-in the early 12th century. This is a very sacred site for Muslims all over the world since head of Ibn Al-Hussein, grandson of Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W), was buried here. The decorative rawdah or tomb can be viewed from both men and women side. It’s free to enter (have to pay 1 LE to store your shoes) but unfortunately, this in not accessible to non-Muslims.

Rawdah or tomb of Sayyidina Hussine AS (grandson of Prophet Mohamed SAW) inside Al-Hussein Mosque, Cairo, Egypt
Rawdah or tomb of Sayyidina Hussein AS (grandson of Prophet Muhammad SAW) inside Al-Hussein Mosque, Cairo, Egypt
   

b) AL-AZHAR MOSQUE: This is another historic site in Midan Hussein. Founded in 970 A.D., Al-Azhar Mosque is one of Cairo’s oldest mosques and nearby Al-Azhar University which is the world’s OLDEST OPERATING UNIVERSITY. Its big and open inner courtyard is very peaceful where you can spend some time appreciating its age and beauty. Inside the mosque is simple but very big. It’s free to enter but have to pay 1 LE to store your shoes in the entrance. Non-Muslims can access this mosque but not during prayer times.

Courtyard of Al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo, Egypt - standing there since 970 AD
Courtyard of Al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo, Egypt – standing there since 970 AD
  

c) IBN-TULUN MOSQUE: Built in 879, this mosque is from early Islamic era. The minaret of Ibn-Tulun Mosque is said to be the oldest minaret in Egypt. The inner courtyard and the interior are huge, but lack care. It was free to enter and took us about 15-20 minutes to walk around the perimeter. The mosque is still active, therefore, they don’t allow any visitors during prayer times.

Ibn-Tulun Mosque in Cairo, Egypt - minaret of this mosque is said to be the oldest in Egypt
Ibn-Tulun Mosque in Cairo, Egypt – minaret of this mosque is said to be the oldest in Egypt
    

d) SULTANA HASAN MOSQUE: Located in Midan Salah ad-Din (Saladin Square) and lying at the foothill of the hill, this is a really old mosque from 1356 and is a great example of Mamluk dynasty. This is one of the biggest mosques in Egypt. This is actually a both mosque and madrassa (Islamic school) with very early Islamic architectural design. You can still see some of the original old mosaic floors here and there. The courtyard is notable for its elaborate marble flooring, a trademark of Mamluk art. It was under major renovation during our visit, therefore couldn’t visit some of the sections. Entry free to this mosque and Rifaii Mosque is 40 LE for adults and 20 LE for kids.

Inside Sultan Hasan Mosque in Cairo, Egypt - a great example of Mamluk dynasty architecture
Inside Sultan Hasan Mosque in Cairo, Egypt – a great example of Mamluk dynasty architecture
   

e)RIFAII MOSQUE: This mosque is located right opposite of Sultan Hasan Mosque and the same ticket covers both the mosques. This is probably the last large-scale mosque to be built-in pre-Republican Egypt. Several leading architects of that time took part in designing it. Replacing a smaller mosque, this early 20th century mosque is the final resting place of the last Shah of Iran (Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi). Many members of the Egyptian royal family were eventually buried in the mosque. Ironically, Egypt’s King Farouk, who was overthrown in 1952 and died in exile, has his tomb inside the mosque too. Both exterior and the interior of the building are elaborately decorated. High ceilings and big old chandelier are some of the highlights of this place.

Prayer hall of Rifaii Mosque in Egypt, final resting place of Egypt's last king, King Farouq
Prayer hall of Rifaii Mosque in Egypt, final resting place of Egypt’s last king, King Farouq
   

f) AMR IBN AL-AS MOSQUE: Built in 642, this is Cairo’s first mosque and is still an active place for the worshippers. The mosque looked very simple, dull, and not very nurtured by the authority. The mosque is free to enter for everyone, except during prayer times.  Men and women have separate entrances.

The ladies have to wear a cloak and everyone must take off their shoes upon entering any of mosques.

Courtyard of Amr Ibn Al-As Mosque, the oldest mosque in Egypt from 642 AD
Courtyard of Amr Ibn Al-As Mosque, the oldest mosque in Egypt from 642 AD
   

8) COPTIC CAIRO & ITS CHURCHES: This is part of Old Cairo and has been home of Cairo’s Christian community for centuries. You can actually walk from Amr Ibn Al-As Mosque to the boundary of Coptic Cairo. Old walls and the winding alleys of Coptic Cairo are amazing. Many old churches and monasteries still stand bold and beautiful here. One of the biggest and oldest churches (from the 7th century) of this community is The Hanging Church. It was under major renovation that time, so we couldn’t get an inside view.

Old and narrow alley of Coptic Cairo, Egypt
One of many old and narrow alleys of Coptic Cairo, Egypt
   

Then we followed an old road of this neighborhood and stopped at in front of another underground ancient church, called Church of St. Sergius. Built in the 4th century, this church has been destroyed and renovated many times over and over again. This old style church is very small but beautiful inside. When we entered there was some kind of recitation going on inside the church and I must say it was a bit surprising listening to these recitation in Arabic, it sounded like I am in a mosque…lolz. Another interesting fact about the Christians here is that they celebrate Christmas on January 7th of each year and not on 25th of December.

9) PHARAONIC VILLAGE: This theme park was built by Dr. Ragab to teach the children of Egypt and the whole world about the 5000 year’s history of this country. This is a living museum and one of the best place for kids as well as adults to get a visual feeling of Egypt’s glorious past. There are four different packages that you can choose to fulfill visitor’s interests. Here they are:

***Village tour + 4 Museums = 95 LE

***Village tour + 8 Museums = 115 LE

***Village tour + 4 Museums + Nefertari Yacht Ride = 145 LE

***Village tour + 4 Museums + Nefertari Yacht Ride + Meal = 195 LE

We took 3rd package but for the lack of their organization and time management, we couldn’t visit all four museums. It’s better to come here in the morning and stay until they close. The “Village Tour” is done by a small engine boat that takes you to the “Mythological Canal” and gives you a ride thru the canal for 30 minutes. This was probably the best part for all of us. You actually see real people enacting ancient scenes of agriculture (like fishing, farming, and etc.) and ancient industries (like papyrus, cotton, wine, pottery, mummification, and a lot more).  As the little boat passes by each station you feel like you are living in that era of ancient time.

Scene of baby Moses being picked up by Pharaoh Queen in Pharaonic Village, Egypt
Scene of baby Moses being picked up by Pharaoh Queen in Pharaonic Village, Egypt
   

After our boat stopped at the last stop, we met up with a young man who guided us thru the exact replica of Karnak Temple of Luxor. Even though not the real one, this architecture and its decoration are almost look-alike of the real temple. Leaving the temple behind, he showed us around the example of how rich men and peasants used to live thousands of years ago…model of their houses, real people acting out how fire was made, how rich man’s wife would live a lavish life, and how a poor man’s wife would have to work hard all day at home.

A copy of Temple of Abu Simbel in Pharaonic Village, Egypt
A replica of the Temple of Abu Simbel in Pharaonic Village, Egypt
    

After a 10 minutes break, we headed towards “The Tomb of Tutankhamun”. This is another depiction of the actual tomb of Egypt’s most famous Pharaoh, King Tutankhamun found in Valley of the Kings in Luxor. You can visualize the exact way the tomb was discovered by Howard Carter in 1922. The tomb was filled with many treasures, furniture, couple layers of casket layers, mummified body of King Tutankhamun, and finally his musk, an iconic symbol of ancient Egypt. Our last attraction was Nefertari Yacht tour. The yacht took us to River Nile and gave us a chance to get a daytime view of the river for 45 minutes.

Our Neferteri Yacht in Pharaonic Village, waiting to take us to River Nile
Our Nefertari Yacht in Pharaonic Village, waiting to take us to River Nile
   

The park has few important museums, like Pyramid’s Museum, Cleopatra’s Museum, The Tomb of Tutankhamun, Mummification Museum, Boats Museum, Modern History Museum, Museum of Islamic History and Art, and couple other museums. Each of these museum doesn’t take more than 15-20 minutes but they are very informative. There are also few unique souvenir stores, cafes, and a photo studio.

Enchanting Marrakech

MARRAKECH, MOROCCO: Marrakech is one of the major destinations not only in Morocco but in whole Africa for its location and unique landscape. Situated near the foothills of snow-capped Atlas Mountains and very close to Sahara desert, Marrakech is a city with magic in every corner. We didn’t really spend time in the new part of the town. All the tourist attractions were mostly located in the historical district, known as Medina.

Countryside of Marrakech from our plane
Countryside of Marrakech – bird’s-eye view from the plane

The locals here speak very well English along with Arabic and French. Moroccans are very friendly and helpful. Walking around Medina on foot is the best way to experience the city and its culture. Just be careful when crossing roads as too many bikes, motorcycles, donkeys, and horses sometimes make it a bit harder to walk in the main roads.

Walking around the city, outside the walls of Saadian Tombs in Marrakech
Walking around the city, outside the walls of Saadian Tombs in Marrakech

TIME of TRAVEL: We flew to Marrakech on the first week of January 2013 during my daughter’s winter break. It can be very cold in Marrakech around this time of the year. Some days were really pleasant but got a bit chilly after dark.

OUR HOTEL: We stayed in a hotel (actually a Riad) called, Riad Dar El-Ihssane in Marrakech. This is actually not really a hotel, it’s a traditional Moroccan style Bed & Breakfast type inn, usually known as Riad.  Our riad was located inside the boundaries of Medina (old town) thru some small alleys and passages and very close to Djemaa El-Fna and other major souks (bazaars). These riads are usually decorated with very traditional Moroccan style features, like cozy inner-courtyards surrounded by the guest rooms, bright-colored living spaces with old-style furniture and linens; some riads may have swimming pools and other cool features. Every day after coming back to our riad, I used to order some Moroccan mint tea, sit down in the courtyard, and enjoy the surrounding which was warmly decorated with some Moroccan lamps, candle-holders, some plants, and a small fountain. It’s a family run riad and one of the staff’s sister used to prepare breakfast for us. We had cheese, olives, breads (sometimes home-made crepes or Indian style parathas), home-made jam, fresh orange juice, fresh fruits, boiled eggs, coffee, and milk for the kids. The breakfast and Wi-Fi were free. Our room was very clean and all the staffs were very helpful and friendly. Every night they used to burn incense in the courtyard and I could get that sweet smell from our room…I felt like I am sleeping in a Sultan’s palace. But one thing specifically about our room was that we had NO DOOR for our bathroom…yes, it sounds weird but I guess that was a little part of the whole experience in Marrakech. Using the toilette and taking shower in a bathroom without doors is a funny feeling, especially when you have curious kids around you. I never got used to that during our stay there, so I ended up using the bathroom near the reception J

The courtyard of our Riad Dar Al-Ihssan in Marrakech
The courtyard of our Riad Dar Al-Ihssane in Marrakech

EATING and SHOPPING: You can get wide variety of dishes inside the old walls of Medina. There are few permanent restaurants in one side of Djemaa El-Fna, where we had our first dinner. The place was called “Taj’in Darna”, we sat on the 2nd floor with a whole nightly picture of Djemaa El-Fna from the window. Dried fruit juice and avocado juice were something we never tried before and had to taste it. We also had beef kebab taj’in with eggs that night. “Café Arabe Marrakech” is another place we went for a lunch which is very upscale and luxurious multi-level restaurant with a terrace, courtyard, and inside sitting options. I didn’t see any locals here; mostly westerners come here for drinks, to chill, or to have exquisite meals from professional chefs. This was by far the best place we’ve dined in Marrakech. Café Arabe has menus offering traditional Moroccan dishes as well as Italian dishes. I tried harira soup, which combines vegetables, rice, lentils, chick-peas, and lamb in aromatic spices. Another evening, we ate in the open food-court in the middle of Djemaa El-Fna. You won’t see these restaurant during day time. They start setting their restaurants up every day before evening and there are too many of them to choose from. I won’t highly recommend eating here if you are looking for some good food. We had some tasteless kebabs with fries and salad that night and I never wanted to go back there again.

Our first dinner, traditional Moroccan Beef tagine with egg in a restaurant, Taj'in Darna, in Djemma El-Fna
Our first dinner, traditional Moroccan beef tagine with egg in a restaurant, Taj’in Darna, in Djemma El-Fna

For shopping, I literally went crazy while roaming around the souks in Marrakech. I wish I had more space in our suitcase during this trip. You can seriously empty your pocket buying many unique souvenirs from here. I ended up buying different sizes of tagines (traditional clay pottery for cooking and serving), a Moroccan style hanging candle-holder, tea set, silver tray, small folding table for serving tea, babouche (Moroccan slippers), and saffron. I still wanted to buy a painting, a silver tea-pot, scarves, more spices, rugs, mirror, colorful serving platters, and bowls. We saw many vendors in and around Djemaa El-Fna who were selling dry fruits like dates, figs, raisins, and other things. Don’t forget to drink freshly squeezed orange juice from here.

A souvenir shop near Djemma El-Fna, Marrakech
A souvenir shop near Djemma El-Fna, Marrakech

You have to bargain while shopping in Djemaa El-Fna or other nearby souks. Start bargaining from one-third of whatever the price the salesman tells you. You can find pirated CDs for cheaper price here too. You can use credit/debit cards pretty much in any of the shops but I won’t recommend it for fraud and extra fees. There are many exchange booths near Djemaa El-Fna who will give you good rate for your currency.

Moroccan babouche (slippers) in a souk of Marrakech
Moroccan babouche (slippers) in a souk of Marrakech

PLACES WE’VE VISITED: All the places we’ve visited in Marrakech were inside the old walls of historic district, Medina.  It’s hard to picture the hustling-bustling and enchanting life inside Medina from the other side of the wall. The fun is to get lost in the mazes of this old part of Marrakech and navigate thru the exotic alleys without any map. Other than the places below, visiting tanneries, museums, and some gardens may be good choices if you can spare some time. Royal Palace is also located very close to Djemaa El-Fna but cannot be accessed since the royal family still resides there. In Marrakech we spent 3 full days and it was perfect. Doesn’t matter how long you stay here, dip into the magical life inside Medina and enjoy every bit of its character to the fullest.

My daughter is being hauled in a luggage cart toward our riad, in Medina, Marrakech
My daughter is being hauled off in a luggage cart towards our riad, in Medina, Marrakech

1) DJEMAA EL-FNA: This is the beating heart of Marrakech and the place to get a vivid picture of this enchanting city. If you have only couple hours to spend in Marrakech, Djemaa El-Fna would be the spot where you would want to stay absorbing its unique atmosphere. This is the biggest and main square surrounded by many restaurants and shops. During day, the place is packed with many snake-charmers, people with monkeys, women to design henna on tourists, horse-wagons, and smaller vendors selling trinkets. At night, it’s a totally different picture and is the best time to enjoy Djemaa El-Fna. Hypnotic music and loud drum beats fill this place with excitement. Musicians, dancers, and actors/actresses keep this party alive until late at night. Enjoy different kinds of dishes that the open-air restaurants offer in the middle of the square; after that may be a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice. This is the best place to see, hear, and taste Marrakech to the fullest; this place is all about enjoying life and the moments…so enjoy every second.

Djemma El-Fna at night, Marrakech
Djemma El-Fna at night, Marrakech

Just to give you some ideas of the prices on different services in Djemaa El-Fna, I must say some shows, like musicians/dancers usually don’t demand any fix amount while snake-charmers or monkey performers may want a specific amount. It’s always better to agree on the price before anything. Horse-riding for 45 minutes charged us 75 DH and henna tattoo on both of our daughters (on one hand each) was for 50 DH total. Whatever you do, don’t let bargaining ruin your fun…really not worth it.

A snake-charmer in Djemma El-Fna, Marrakech
A snake-charmer in Djemma El-Fna, Marrakech during day time

2) KOUTOUBIA MOSQUE: The mosque was completed in the late 12th century and the exterior is made from brick and sandstone. This is known as the “Eiffel Tower” of Marrakech and its tall tower can be seen from many parts of the city and from Djemaa El-Fna. It doesn’t take more than couple minutes of walk to reach there from Djemaa El-Fna by passing the rows of rental horse-carriages. Unfortunately, the mosque is not open to tourists. Muslims are allowed inside only during prayer time. Since we couldn’t go in, we decided to just walk around the perimeter of the mosque passing some old ruin and gardens.

Walking towards Koutoubia Mosque from Djemma El-Fna, Marrakech
Walking towards Koutoubia Mosque from Djemma El-Fna, Marrakech

3) EL-BAHIA PALACE: Located within walking distance from Djemaa El-Fna and El-Badi Palace, El-Bahia Palace is really an awesome attraction and a must-see in Marrakech. This gives a good impression of what it was like to be a nobleman in the 19th century in Morocco. The ornate rooms, long passageways, tranquil gardens housing many lovely plants, calm courtyards with fountains can keep its guests entertained for couple hours. Enjoy the original tile works on the fire-places, doors, windows, and lots and lots of stray cats outside the building.

One of many courtyards with a fountain in El-Bahia Palace, Marrakech
One of many courtyards with a fountain in El-Bahia Palace, Marrakech

The palace charges 10 DH per person (free for kids under 12). Be careful of the tour guides inside the palace; they usually pick random people and start telling history, then charges a lot of fees for showing you around. If you want a guide, better to bargain and set the price beforehand.

4) EL-BADI PALACE: The unique Badi Palace was a royal palace constructed by the most famous king of Saadien dynasty, Sultana Ahmed Al Mansour Addahbi in 1578. The general plan of this palace was inspired by Alhambra Palace of Granada. The palace is now in ruins and home of many storks and stray cats. Couple of the rooms still have the original exquisite mosaics and tiles.

A nicely preserved room in El-Badi Palace in Marrakech, Morocco
A nicely preserved room in El-Badi Palace in Marrakech, Morocco

It took us good 15-20 minutes of walk from Djemaa El-Fna, passing some busy and congested streets. It’s open from 9 am – 4.45 pm and entry fee is 10 Moroccan DH (free for kids under 12). We spent about 45 minutes in this palace enjoying its rooms and gardens leisurely.

Walls of El Badi Palace in Marrakech - home of lots of storks and stray cats
Walls of El Badi Palace in Marrakech – home of lots of storks and stray cats

5) SAAADIAN TOMBS: This is a very well-preserved graveyard from the time of Saadien around late 16th century. This is the home of many tombs from different religions and background. The fantastic wood and stone carved doors are totally jaw-dropping. Inside the main building, you can take a peek at the room with few important tombs decorated with overloaded Moroccan tiles. The garden is a nice place to walk around and enjoy different colors of roses, tall palm trees, and many other pretty plants.

One of the rooms with few tombs in Saadian Tombs, Marrakech
One of the rooms with few tombs in Saadian Tombs, Marrakech

Entrance fee is only 10 DH (free for kids under 12) and you can easily spend a good hour enjoying its garden and the tombs.

6) BEN YOUSEF MADRASA: This madrassa (Islamic school) is one of the largest madrassa in the North Africa and has been standing here since mid-16th century. Located in Medina, this is another great example of early Islamic art and architecture. We saw the small rooms where little children and may be teachers lived once. The center and the main courtyard is intriguingly marvelous and is decorated with mosaic floor, tiled fountain, and calligraphic walls…the beautiful carvings of them are something beyond my limited words can describe.

Calligraphic walls in main courtyard of Ben Youssef Madrassa in Marrakech, Morocco
Calligraphic walls in main courtyard of Ben Youssef Madrassa in Marrakech, Morocco

The madrassa is open from 9 am – 6 pm. Ticket to enter is 50 DH per person (free for kids under 12) only for madrassa and 60 DH for the madrassa and museum.

7) SOUKS: Souks or the markets are the best place to enjoy the real essence of Marrakech. Located just beside Djemaa El-Fna, these souks sell almost anything including tagines, lamps, spices, babouche, tea sets, tea-pots, Islamic clothing, home decorations, shawls or scarves, and many other things that you won’t find anywhere else in the world. Of course, you end up paying more for being a non-Moroccan. Nevertheless, do what the locals do and don’t forget to look around and bargain before committing to buying.  You can have a whole day dedicated just exploring the little alleys of these souks and looking for the best bargain.

Marrakech souks after dark
Marrakech souks after dark

8) DAY-TRIP to OUARZAZATE: Ouarzazate is about 200 km south of Marrakech. This was a nice way to get out from the city life and visit not only the natural beauty of this country but also the life-style of local Berbers. We needed some fresh air after being in Djemaa El-Fna, Marrakech for few days and this was just a great escape to the wilderness. We paid 1200 Moroccan Dh for the whole arrangement which included a tour-guide who was also a driver. Please visit my page on Ouarzazate on the right-side bar for all the information on the city. There were many other day-tours we could’ve chosen (e.g., Ourika Valley) which were available through our riad (hotel where we stayed).

Road to Ouarzazate...beautiful snow-capped mountains and the valley
Road to Ouarzazate…beautiful snow-capped Atlas Mountains and the valley

In a land of Moroccan Barberes – Ouarzazate, Morocco

OUARZAZATE, MOROCCO:Ouarzazate is about 200 km south of Marrakech. Although 200 km sounds nothing for day trip but it took us about 4 hours each way on a private taxi. But the hectic journey through the rugged Atlas mountain range was worth every bit of it. If not for this trip, we wouldn’t have seen the true beauty of Morocco’s giant landscapes and its desert. This was a nice way to get out from the city life and visit not only the natural beauty of this country but also the life-style of the local Berberes. We needed some fresh air after being in Djemaa El-Fna, Marrakech for few days and this was just a great escape to the wilderness.

Layers of Atlas Mountains on our way to Ouarzazate, Morocco
Layers of Atlas Mountains on our way to Ouarzazate, Morocco

We paid 1200 Moroccan Dh for the whole arrangement. He was a great driver, being very careful while driving on elevated roads of mountains without rushing or anything. The main problem came when we found out that we’ve asked for an English-speaking guide/driver and we were stuck with a French/Arabic-speaking driver for a whole day of the journey. He was a very charming man but could barely explain what we were seeing. Also, making a day trip with kids where we had to spend total 8 hours in the van was a bit tiresome. My almost-3 year old daughter actually fell sick from being in the car for that long and riding on twisty and zig-zaggy mountainous roads to reach there. Visiting all those place were actually very relaxing and enjoyable but it’s the van-ride that kinda made all of us sick. We were planning to take another day-trip to Ourika Valley but had to cancel it for the sake of the kids and especially after finding out that the same person would take us there L …. So, yeah…other than that I would recommend anyone going to Ouarzazate to get some real taste of the beauty of desert and mountains all in one place.

Roads thru Atlas in Morocco
Roads thru Atlas in Morocco

TIME of TRAVEL: We flew to Marrakech on the first week of January 2013 during my daughter’s winter break. It can be very cold in Marrakech around this time of the year. And Ouarzazate is even colder and windier at times than Marrakech because of its elevation and surrounding mountains.

Road to Ouarzazate...beautiful snow-capped mountains and the valley
Road to Ouarzazate…beautiful snow-capped mountains and the valley

OUR HOTEL: We stayed in a hotel (actually a Riad) called, Riad Dar El-Ihsaan in Marrakech. This is actually not really a hotel, it’s a traditional Moroccan style Bed & Breakfast type inn, usually known as Riad. Our riad was located inside the boundaries of Medina (old town) thru some small alleys and passages and very close to Djemaa El-Fna and other major souks (bazaars). These riads are usually decorated with very traditional Moroccan style features, like cozy inner-courtyards surrounded by the rooms, bright colored living spaces with old-style furniture and linens; some riads may have swimming pools and other cool features. Every day after coming back to our riad, I used to order some Moroccan mint tea, sit down in the courtyard sofas, and enjoy the surrounding which was warmly decorated with some Moroccan lamps, candle-holders, some plants, and a small fountain. It’s a family run riad and one of the staff’s mom used to prepare breakfast for us. We had cheese, olives, breads (sometimes home-made crepes or Indian style parathas), boiled eggs, coffee, and milk for the kids. The breakfast and Wi-Fi were free. Our room was very clean and all the staffs were very helpful and friendly. Every night they used to burn incense in the courtyard and I could get that sweet smell from our room…I felt like I am sleeping in a Sultan’s palace. But one thing specifically about our room was that we had NO DOORS for our bathroom…yes, it sounds weird but I guess that was a little part of the whole experience in Marrakech. Using the toilette and taking shower in a bathroom without doors is a funny feeling, especially when you have curious kids around you. I never got used to that during our stay there, so I ended up using the bathroom near the reception J

EATING and SHOPPING: We stopped at a road-side restaurant near Ait Ben Haddou before entering the Kasbah. It’s a traditional style Moroccan restaurant, can’t really remember the name, with a gorgeous view of Ait Ben Haddou, nearby valley and mountains from its terrace. I wasn’t really up for any meat dishes after being in the van for 4 hours going thru the twisty highways of Atlas Mountains, so decided to go with simple rice, with some veges, and fried egg.

My simple lunch near Ait Ben Haddou in Morocco
My simple lunch near Ait Ben Haddou in Morocco

While walking towards Ait Ben Haddou, we saw some shops carrying local hand-crafts, like rugs, babouche (Moroccan slippers), tagines (their traditional cooking clay pots), and other souvenirs made by the native Berbere people. The price may be a bit cheaper than the ones in Marrakech, but the options and qualities here were limited. Other than these, we saw many other Berbere shops on the side of the highways while driving towards Ouarzazate. Moroccan argon oil is another famous (and very expensive) souvenir that tourists buy from here. We stopped at a road-side service inn for a small break on our way to Ouarzazate. It had a restaurant in one side and an argon cosmetic factory/showroom right beside it. We were lucky to get glimpses of the ladies breaking and processing the argon nuts to get cooking oil and for making cosmetics.

A lady breaking argan nuts in a road-side cosmetics store, on our way to Ouarzazate
A lady breaking argon nuts in a road-side cosmetics store, on our way to Ouarzazate

PLACES WE’VE VISITED: We visited only few spots in Ouarzazate in about 4/5 hours. It’s not just these places that amazed us, it were the snow-capped Atlas Mountains in the distance, the rugged desert during the sunset, beautiful valleys with old Kasbah every now and then, and up & down terrain of hilly landscapes that made this trip an enjoyable day-trip.

The valley from up above
The valley from up above

1) AIT BEN HADDOU: This was our 1st destination after about 4 hours of drive from Marrakech to Ouarzazate. This is a Kasbah in a desert valley where 15 native Berbere families still live. As far as I understand, Kasbah is something that rich Berbere (native Moroccans) families made to live together under one roof. They look like they are risen from the desert and are blended with the mountains for similar colors and textures. We didn’t go inside the Kasbah but standing on the scenic valley with a small stream running thru it and surrounding small hills were good enough to entertain our eyes and make good memories in our heart.

Ait Ben Haddou, a Berbere Kasbah near Ouarzazate in Morocco
Ait Ben Haddou, a Berbere Kasbah near Ouarzazate in Morocco

As soon as we arrived at Ait Ben Haddou, one young gentleman (probably a local Berbere) approached us to guide us through the Kasbah for 50 Dh (later he came down to 30 Dh) but we preferred to take time and do it ourselves instead. There are 2 ways to reach the mountain top overlooking the Kasbah: 1) thru the community, where you can actually see the life-style of Berberes, it costs 10 Dh per person to enter and 2) thru another entrance which requires more walking but is free. It takes you around the Kasbah to the top.

Walking back to our taxi from Ait Ben Haddou, going thru some Berbere shops. You can see their hand-made rugs hanging in one of the stores
Walking back to our taxi from Ait Ben Haddou, going thru some Berbere shops.
You can see their hand-made rugs hanging in one of the stores

2) OURZAZATE KASBAH or KASBAH de TAOURIRT: This Kasbah is from 1750 A.D. and was built by the same families who built Ait Ben Haddou. It was like a maze inside the building with few levels, many small doors and rooms. Some of these rooms still have Moroccan tiles on their doors or windows or fireplace while some had nicely carved ceilings. Small windows of these rooms give breathtaking views of Atlas and the surroundings.

One of the rooms of Ouarzazate Kasbah in Morocco, decorated with tiles
One of the rooms of Ouarzazate Kasbah in Morocco, decorated with tiles

This Kasbah is located right opposite of Cinema Museum of Ouarzazate and is less than 10 minutes’ drive from center of Ouarzazate. Its 20 Dh to enter the Kasbah and guided tour is charged separately. It took us about 30-45 minutes to go around and explore the rooms of this place. The small doorways and lots of stairs doesn’t make this a stroller-friendly place, but we couldn’t find a place to park it; so my husband ended up carrying it with us.

View from one of the windows of Ouarzazate Kasbah, Morocco
View from one of the windows of Ouarzazate Kasbah, Morocco

3) MAIN SQUARE of OUARZAZATE: This is the center of Ouarzazate and in a way the “Djemaa El-Fna” of the city where all the fun things happen. City town hall is located in this square in one side along with couple of shops and many restaurants. This was our last stop before heading back to Marrakech on another 4 hours’ drive. We sat down in a restaurant for mint tea and some snacks. The square was empty that time, but our guide was saying this place comes to life after dark with more vendors and street entertainers.

The main square or center of Ouarzazate, Morocco
The main square or center of Ouarzazate, Morocco

A whole day in the desert of Giza, Memphis, and Saqqara

GIZA, MEMPHIS, & SAQQARA: Giza is THE site where most of the tourists (if not all) come to while visiting Cairo. This is the iconic image of Egypt and one of the most famous symbols of all ancient wonders. The pyramids and the sphinx in Giza, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, give a real glimpse to the early Egyptian civilization, their life-style, beliefs, and talents. Looking at something that old (from 2500 BC) literally gave me goose-bumps.

The desert in Giza Necropolis, Egypt
The desert in Giza Necropolis, Egypt

Memphis is more like “an open air museum” as our tour guide Haisam said. This was the first capital of unified Egypt during the Old Kingdom around 3000 BC and another UNESCO World Heritage Site along with the pyramid complex in Giza.

The open-air museum of Memphis - 1st capital of unified Egypt
The open-air museum of Memphis – 1st capital of unified Egypt

Saqqara is also a necropolis which houses the first and the oldest pyramid in Egypt. I think I would really remember the beauty of the desert of Saqqara for a long time. It was almost sunset; we were standing on a small hill and looking at other pyramids in far distance. The sight of sand with pyramids in the backdrop during that moment will stay with me as long as I live…this was a memorable day overall.

An ancient corridor to pass in Saqqara before reaching the Step pyramid
An ancient corridor to pass before reaching the Step pyramid in Saqqara

Please scroll down to “Places We’ve Visited” for detailed information on these three places.

TIME of TRAVEL: We flew to Cairo during our Christmas break of 2012. Although Giza is about 45 minutes of drive from Cairo downtown, it took us little more than an hour to reach there due to traffic conditions and some road blocks. November to March is the best time to explore Egypt, when the weather is fine and you can enjoy desert sun without going crazy from exhausting heat.

OUR HOTEL: We stayed in Cairo Moon Hotel in the heart of Cairo, only 10 minutes’ of walk from Cairo Museum and Tahrir square. Honestly speaking this was a below average hotel with tiny (for only 3 people) and scary elevators, big red ants walking all over the floor, too much noise late at night, and few other problems. But the owner of this hotel, Mohamed, is an exceptionally friendly and helpful gentleman. All the staffs here are same way too which overcomes all the other problems of this hotel. Mohamed organized few trip for us here and there including the trip to Giza.

We paid 45 USD for a private car with driver and 15 USD for a tour guide, Haisam (please click on my Tour Guide tab if you or someone you know needs a tour guide in Cairo). For a total 60 USD, I think, we got a great deal to tour around Giza, Memphis, and Saqqara. Fortunately, brother Haisam was an excellent guide who knew A LOT about Egypt from its ancient, recent-past, and modern era. He was very humble, gentle, nice, and finally, someone we could absolutely depend on for anything.

EATING & SHOPPING: We stopped at a local street-side restaurant for lunch that day. It was more like a quick pick-up shwarma in between Giza and Memphis. There is absolutely no place to eat or have lunch within the boundaries of the pyramids; at least I didn’t see any.

For souvenirs, we saw many individual vendors selling cheap items here and there in Giza and Saqqara. Memphis has more stores where you can get some small gifts and something for yourself. WARNING: do not buy any papyrus products from them as they are not real papyrus papers. Our guide Haisam took us to a big showroom of papyrus, Golden Eagle Papyrus on Sakkara Road. This is a government approved store, and therefore you know you are buying the real thing. It has hundreds of papyrus wall decors to choose from at various price ranges and with different themes. The guy who was showing us around actually took 10 minutes to show us how a piece of papyrus was made from its trees…thatwas absolutely fascinating and very educational for our little ones. Here is their phone number if you need it – +2037719585.

PLACES WE’VE VISITED: Our taxi left for Giza little before 9am and we reached the place where we were going to rent out camels from near the entrance to the pyramids around 10. Giza is the place where we spent most of the time – about 3:30 hours. Memphis is about half an hour drive from Giza and we spent, I think, about little more than an hour. Then our final destination of the day, Saqqara, was another half an hour drive and again, spent about an hour near the sunset time. Our guide, Haisam, kept us entertained with all the charming secrets of these pyramids and ancient Egyptians all day.

Pyramids of Giza and our ride in the desert of Egypt
Pyramids of Giza and our ride in the desert of Egypt

1) GREAT PYRAMIDS of GIZA & SPHINX: After arriving at Giza city, we first went to the place where we were going to rent our camels from; another option was to ride a horse (but who would…?). We took the longest ride which took us around the deserts, to the panoramic spot, to the pyramids, and then to the sphinx.

Here comes one of our rides to the pyramids in Giza
Here comes one of our rides to go to the pyramids in Giza

Pardon my ignorance, but all this time I thought there were total of 3 pyramids in Giza necropolis. But as we were approaching the “Panoramic spot” near the pyramids, Haisam explained that there are 3 main pyramids which are the burial sites for 3 pharaohs (Khufu, Khafre, and Menkaure) and 6 small ones (3 with the pyramid of Khufu and the other 3 with the pyramid of Menkaure) for their mothers, daughters, and wives. Panoramic spot is an up-hill site from where you can see all the 9 pyramids lined up. This place not only gave us magnificent view of the Great Pyramids, but from here we could also be fascinated by the wilderness of the desert. Watching men riding their horses fast, flying white sand in the air looked like Arabian Sultans chasing their enemies in Hollywood movies. I am not exaggerating, but it was a true beauty that I enjoyed from the back of my camel.

The Great Pyramids of Giza
The Great Pyramids of Giza

After the panoramic site, we were on the camels again and off to get up-close and personal with these pyramids. So, we touched the old limestone of these relic structures, took some pictures, and back on the camel headed towards the sphinx. You can actually go inside the burial chamber of these pyramids which we didn’t do. At any given day, at least two of the three big pyramids will have the burial chamber open to visitors. And you pay separately for these visits.

On the camel again and we headed towards the Sphinx. Sphinx of Giza, the biggest one in Egypt, is located in front of the middle pyramid, which was for Pharaoh Khafre. The Sphinx’s body is a combination of head of a man, representing the wisdom of human and the body of a lion, meaning the strength and power of a lion. This was our last stop before returning our camels to their owners and start driving towards Memphis.

Sphinx of Giza, the biggest sphinx in Egypt
Sphinx of Giza, the biggest sphinx in Egypt

One thing I must say here is that, if you haven’t ridden a camel before, DO IT in Giza…you won’t regret it. I cannot describe the royal feeling of looking over the sand and to the astonishing pyramids from a camel-back as it slowly makes it trails into the heart of the desert…nothing beats that. It was a bit scary when the camel got up or sat down with me on its back…I felt like screaming every time. Oh, and not to mention the pain I had in my legs the next day from that ride. The trick of riding a camel is that you have to relax and just let your body move back and forth with the movement of the camel, which took some time for me to get used to. I felt like I was going to fall from that height and break a leg if I let my body loose.

Here are some necessary information/precautions when visiting Giza. First of all, if you are thinking about riding camel/horse in the desert, see if your hotel/tour guide can arrange that for you before arriving in Giza. You can always contact and take our guide Haisam, if he is available (please click on my Tour Guides tab). Second, never, ever rent camels once you are already inside the perimeter of the pyramid complex. Lots of horrible stories have happened where they not only charge you sky amount of money, but also takes your money first for 1 hour and won’t give you the camel for more than 10 minutes. We paid 400 LE for 2 camels with 2 helpers for about 2 and half hours and a free horse for brother Haisam, our guide. Also keep in mind that, the helpers expect some tips after you are done with the trip…they work really hard walking on foot on the desert for a long time under the sun, be a little generous. The entrance fee to enter the main gate to Giza pyramids is 60 LE for adults and 30 LE for kids. If you want to go inside one of the 3 pyramids its 100 LE for adults and 60 LE for kids. Usually the biggest pyramid, “Pyramid of Khufu” is open every day for the visitors in addition to another smaller one. Another thing is – don’t wear any fancy clothes on the day you are going to Giza. You are going to desert, you will be covered in dusts by the time you are done seeing these pyramids and other sites. Wear something very comfortable, a hat, and take few water-bottles with you, especially if you are traveling in summer. Finally, don’t try to climb the pyramids…its forbidden and extremely dangerous.

A random poser in Giza, who later asked for money since he posed for my camera and he was the one who kept insisting that I take picture of him and his camel
A random poser in Giza, who later asked for money since he posed for my camera and he was the one who kept insisting that I take picture of him and his camel

2) MEMPHIS OPEN-AIR MUSEUM: This is rather a small open area to explore compared to Giza’s vast desert and the pyramids. There is an enclosed area where an enormous limestone statue of Egypt’s most important king Pharaoh Ramsey II from New Kingdom rests. Research has indicated that most likely it was Pharaoh King Remses II who chased Moses out of Egypt and drowned in Red Sea. The statue is about 10 meters long and laying on its back. Outside, there are many ruins along with couple other smaller sculptures of Pharaoh Ramsey II. The alabaster sphinx, called Sphinx of Memphis, in the middle of the yard is in its original spot from 1200 BC.

A limestone statue of Pharaoh Remses II from New Kingdom in Memphis
A limestone statue of Pharaoh Remses II from New Kingdom in Memphis, researchers believe that he is the Pharaoh King who chased Moses out of Egypt and drowned in Red Sea

Entry fee here is 30 LE for adults and 20 LE for children. There are few souvenir shops lined up in one side of this open air museum.

An alabaster sphinx in the open air museum of Memphis, known as Sphinx of Memphis - also from the New Kingdom
An alabaster sphinx in the open air museum of Memphis, known as Sphinx of Memphis – also from the New Kingdom

3) SAQQARA NECROPOLIS: As I have mentioned above, Saqqara Necropolis is a vast burial ground which has the first and the oldest pyramid in Egypt. It features the famous Step pyramid of King Zoser or Djoser from the 27th century BC. There is a corridor that you have to pass to come to the Step pyramid complex. I can’t remember what Haisam said, but the passageway is also an ancient stable-like architecture with many stone pillars and many rooms. After climbing the stairs opposite of the pyramid, we came up to a small hill, from where we saw another two famous pyramids in the far distance of Dahshur, called Bent pyramid and Red pyramid. Bent pyramid was built under Old Kingdom from around 2600 BC by the son of Djoser. This is an example of a transitional form of pyramid between Step pyramid and regular smooth pyramids. As the Bent pyramid did not come out the way expected it was never used. Instead the Red pyramid was built next to it with correct pyramidal angles and that is the burial site of the king. It was almost dusk and looking at those pyramids from afar on the dusty desert was magical.

Step pyramid of Saqqara Necropolis - the first and oldest pyramid in Egypt
Step pyramid of Saqqara Necropolis – the first and oldest pyramid in Egypt

Entrance fee to Saqqara pyramid is 60 LE for adult and 30 LE for children. This is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site along with the pyramids in Dahshur.

Bent pyramid (back on the left) of Dahshur and Red pyramid (on the right) in far distance, seen from Saqqara
Bent pyramid (back on the left) of Dahshur and Red pyramid (on the right) in far distance, seen from Saqqara

Previous Older Entries

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 5,406 other followers

Blog Stats

  • 470,826 hits
%d bloggers like this: