This is part of a blog series called “Cool Things I’ve Done on Vacation”, an exploration of the greatest moments I’ve had while traveling the world. Other posts in this series will be added soon!

Egyptian PyramidsI still very vividly remember the moment when the airplane dipped to the left to circle around for our landing at Cairo airport in Egypt and the Great Pyramids of Giza filled the airplane window. It was my first glimpse at the pyramids in person and it was the most incredible sight. A few days later when we toured the Giza plateau and saw the pyramids up close, I was incredibly awestruck.

The Pyramids are one of the incredible marvels of this world. The amount of sheer manpower and backbreaking work it took to build these ancient tombs is confounding. The Great Pyramid was built with 1.3 million limestone blocks that ranged in weight from 2.5 tons to 15 tons. Can you even imagine what it would take to build something of that magnitude without trucks and cranes?

It wasn’t until we arrived there and were looking around that I realized you can actually climb inside an Egyptian pyramid. Yes, you can literally climb inside the belly of the tomb and see the burial chamber that’s built deep inside.

The largest and most famous of all the pyramids, the Great Pyramid at Giza, was built by King Khufu. There are two smaller pyramids nearby that were built for Khufu’s son, King Khafre and his successor Menkaure. You can go inside all three of these pyramids, but only two are open at any given time, and the lines for tickets can get rather long. They only sell 150 in the morning and another 150 in the afternoon so you have to be one of the lucky few who get there early enough. The current cost is about $13 USD for the Great Pyramid and $8 USD for the smaller ones.

Gisa Pyramids
Gisa Pyramids

However, these three are not the only pyramids in Egypt and are not the only ones you can climb into. There are more than 100 pyramids in Egypt. The first to be built was the step pyramid that was designed by King Djoser’s architect, Imhotep. At the time, Kings were buried in plateau-type mounds called mastabas, so Imhotep placed six ascending mastabas in a stack to form a rudimentary pyramid.

The Step Pyramid of Djoser
The Step Pyramid of Djoser

Later, King Snefru improved upon the design and built what was the first smooth-sided pyramid at Medum, which was basically a step pyramid filled in with limestone to create the smooth sides. Snefru built a couple of attempts at a truly smooth-sided pyramid, which resulted in two of the more famous pyramids in Giza – the Bent Pyramid and the Red Pyramid at Dahshur.

The Red Pyramid at Dashur
The Red Pyramid at Dashur

What it’s Like to Climb Inside an Egyptian Pyramid

The Pyramid of Snefru at Dahshur (the Red Pyramid) is by all means an impressive pyramid, though not as large as the Great Pyramid. The base is almost as big, but the sides slope at a 43 degree angle to the Great Pyramids 51 degree angle, so it’s not nearly as tall. The good news is that the Red Pyramid is not as frequented by tourists, and there is no cost and no long line to go inside. If you want to go inside an Egyptian pyramid, this is a good one to try!

While this was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done, I also have to say that it was very uncomfortable and I’m not sure I would do it a second time. If you’ve never done it, you have to do it at least once, because it’s an incredible and unique experience – truly one of the coolest things I’ve ever done. But once is probably enuogh. You’ll understand why once you’ve climbed in.

Steps leading to the entrance
Steps leading to the entrance (the Red Pyramid still allows visitors to climb up the outside).

First we had to climb up the steep steps that lead up to the entrance to the pyramid, which is about 90 feet up. When we visited, there was a man and his daughter at the entrance taking “donations”. We paid them for a photo just to be charitable and then began our decent into the belly of the pyramid.

Egyptian Pyramids
A photo in exchange for a donation

When I said it was uncomfortable, I meant that to the fullest extent. The space through which you crawl is very small and narrow. One side of the no more than 5-foot-wide ladder was for climbing in, and the other side was for climbing out, so if its a busy day, you may have no room to move once you’re on the ladder except to continue to descend with someone directly in front of and behind you. The ceiling is no more than a few inches above your head as you bend to climb the ladder. For a better look inside, check out this website, which details the pyramid’s entrance and chambers with photos and diagrams.

Inside an Egyptian Pyramid
Inside an Egyptian Pyramid (CC4.0 Photo by Jennifer Pickens

Once you get all the way down to the bottom (about 200 feet), you can walk upright again. There are three chambers inside. The first is a small room with a dramatic corbelled ceiling. It leads to a second small chamber from which you can ascend an installed staircase to the final chamber, which is believed to be the actual burial chamber. This far into the tomb, with no real ventilation, the air is thick with the smell of ammonia and it’s difficult to stay in there for any length of time.

The corbelled ceiling in the first chamber
The corbelled ceiling in the first chamber (CC4.0 Photo by Jennifer Pickens

Despite feeling rather stuffy and claustrophobic, I’m really glad I went in and saw the inside of the pyramid. I can’t imagine missing an experience like that. I’ve seen pictures of the inside of the Great Pyramid and I think that would be great to do as well. However, I did like that there were very few people at the Red Pyramid and you didn’t feel so rushed to look around. Most people visit Egypt on a guided tour, and many of these tours don’t go to the Red Pyramid. I would suggest going there if you can. It’s a little slice of history that can’t be missed.

Have you been inside an Egyptian Pyramid? Tell us about it in the comments.

19 thoughts on “Cool Things I’ve Done on Vacation: Climbing Inside an Egyptian Pyramid

  1. Karina Noriega says:

    What an incredible experience, and for relatively low cost too. I know I would feel claustrophobic but I NEED to experience this once in my life. I highly recommend checking out the Mayan pyramids in Guatemala. You won’t be climbing inside them, but standing back and admiring them will leave you feeling inspired.
    Thanks for sharing your story.

    • Laura Lynch says:

      I’d love to check out the pyramids in Guatemala. The sheer determination it took to build these wonders of the world make them completely fascinating just to stare at and admire.

  2. Elaine J. Masters says:

    It does sound like a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I felt that way about diving a Cenote and it was claustrophobic in a different way. I’m glad I did it and would love to explore the inside of a pyramid one day too.

  3. Valerie says:

    I would like to think that I would be adventurous and go into a pyramid, but that last picture made me so nervous! It looks so small and confining! That’s nice that there are fewer people there, it would give you more time to appreciate the history and all the work that went into building the pyramid. I hate feeling rushed when I know I’m visiting somewhere special but can’t savor it because there are so many other people around.

    • Laura Lynch says:

      Valerie, I would recommend doing it because it’s such an amazing thing to do, but it is certainly confining. You just have to remember how cool it is and you forget how tight it is in there. 🙂

  4. Emme @ Green Global Travel says:

    Wow, this looks amazing! It does look a little tight and uncomfortable, probably best for claustrophobic visitors to take a pass. But the Egyptian history and culture is so unique and is displayed in incredible ways at the pyramids. It sounds like the experience of a lifetime! Thanks for the post.

    • Laura Lynch says:

      Hi Emme. It really was the experience of a lifetime – and I definitely don’t plan on doing it again! Ha. It was really small and hot, but incredible nonetheless.

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