Last updated on December 24th, 2016
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!
I 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.