From world heritage sites, to some of the region’s most insistent tourist touts…welcome to Cairo.
January 16, 2010 10:21 by Austyn Allison
Where to stay
If you’re not lucky enough to be staying in one of the big downtown hotels with a view across the capital’s skyline to the Pyramids, it might be worth popping along to the Cairo Tower. This 187m-high television tower was built between 1959 and 1964 in the downtown area of Zamalek, which lies on an island in the middle of the Nile. President Gamal Abdel Nasser built the tower, allegedly with $3 million of funds from the United States. The donation was given – possibly as a CIA-funded bribe – to help develop Egypt’s ragged infrastructure, but Nasser used it to build one of central Cairo’s best-known landmarks as a sign that his country could not be bought. The latticework structure rises from a lotus-shaped base fashioned from the same Aswan granite as the Pyramids. The recently renovated tower is open from 9am to midnight in the winter, and stays open till 1am in the summer. Entry costs around EGP 65 (45 dirhams) and there is a restaurant at the top.
Pyramids sound and light show
In the evening, visitors can see the laser light show at the Pyramids. It gets chilly even when the days are sweatily warm, so it is worth bringing warm clothes or hiring a blanket (EGP 5) to keep yourself from shivering through a barrage of light and cheese. The show is an impressive spectacle – after all, its producers have some fine raw material to work with – but it’s not subtle. As eerie green lights illuminate the landscape, Omar Sharif booms from tannoys, assuming the personality of the Sphinx itself to tell Egypt’s history through that beast’s eyes.
Compared to the daytime, the Pyramids by night are fairly laid back. You go in, sit down, listen to Dr. Zhivago booming lines like, “With each new dawn I see the sun god rise from the far bank of the Nile; his first ray is for my face, which is turned towards him, and for 5,000 years I have seen all the suns man can remember come up in the sky.” Green lasers cast runes and maps on the surfaces of the Pyramids.
From Monday to Saturday, the English-language sound and light show starts at 6.30pm, and translation headsets are available for hire at the blanket booth. On Thursday, the English show begins at 7.30pm. It costs EGP75 (AED51) for adults, although most hotels will happily sell you a package where they bus you out and back if you don’t fancy the hassle of haggling or the stress of getting there on time. If you’re going solo, leave two hours to beat the rush-hour traffic.
Emirates Airlines flies from Dubai to Cairo from AED2,055. Visas for many nationalities are available on arrival at Cairo airport for around $15 (EGP80; AED54).