Cairo Day Trips

The White Desert
The White Desert © Vyacheslav Argenberg

Western Desert Oases

From Cairo it is possible to experience Egypt's finest journey on offer, the Great Desert Circuit. It runs for over 621 miles (1,000km) through spectacular desert landscapes and is punctuated by four oases situated in a depression: Bahariya, Farafra, Dakhla and Kharga. The first two have hot springs and palm groves, Farafra being the more traditional and rural of the two. To experience the remoteness of the desert travellers can spend an unforgettable night in the White Desert between oases. Dakhla and Kharga are surrounded by old ruins and villages from the times of the ancient caravan routes to Sudan. The Great Desert Circuit is a fascinating journey and really allows travellers to grasp the enormity of the Egyptian desert and appreciate the history of exploration in the region. The roads are in good condition, with hardly any traffic on them, and the whole circuit can be done in anything between 16 hours and a week (you can linger as you please). Some of the oasis towns are lovely places to spend a night before setting off on your road trip again.

Transport: The circuit takes between a day and a week depending on desired schedule and can be travelled using public or one’s own transport, or visitors can book a tour. It is also possible to hire a local guide with a 4x4.

Pyramid of Djoser
Pyramid of Djoser © Charles James Sharp

Memphis and Saqqara

Memphis and Saqqara are small towns today, but in ancient Egypt they were great cities and seats of power, a legacy still traceable in the ruins and relics in each. Memphis is home to the Temple of Ptah, which includes the Colossus of Ramses II, a 33-foot (10m) statue near the entrance, and a small museum. Memphis was once the capital of Egypt and you can still tell how impressive it once was. Less than two miles (3km) away is the plateau of Saqqara. Here visitors will find the vast Saqqara Necropolis, containing many cemeteries, pyramids, mastabas and private tombs, including the Mastaba of Ti, the Pyramid of Teti I, and the Unas Causeway and Pyramid of Unas. One of the most famous structures in Saqqara is the Step Pyramid of Djoser, also known as the Step Tomb due to its rectangular base. Saqqara is also home to the Imhotep Museum. Memphis and Saqqara together make a popular excursion from Cairo. There isn't much in the way of entertainment, dining, or accommodation at these sites, however, so most visitors don't overnight.

Dahshur © Daniel Mayer


One of the most worthwhile things to see and do in the Cairo area is take an excursion to Dahshur, a royal necropolis in the desert, where the oldest true pyramid, the Red Pyramid, can be found. Some of the burial sites and pyramids date back to the Old Kingdom of the 4th dynasty and the Red Pyramid and the Bent Pyramid were built by Sneferu in about 2600 BC. The Bent Pyramid is so-called because the angle of its sides is not quite straight, probably the result of an ancient engineering mistake. The Red Pyramid, made out of red limestone, was built after the Bent Pyramid and is thought to have been the first true, straight-sided pyramid in Egypt. The famous Pyramids of Giza were modelled on this design. You can usually climb into the Red Pyramid and descend down a tunnelled ramp into its three interior chambers which is a rare privilege. There are other tombs of interest scattered around the area and you can't walk far without stumbling on some wondrous ancient ruin. Dahshur is about 20 miles (32km) from Cairo and makes for a fascinating excursion from the city. The drive takes under an hour and follows a scenic route which passes through date orchards. Dahshur is far less crowded than most other big tourist attractions and visitors experience far less of the hassle from locals and touts that they do at Giza. At this site you can still get the thrill of an explorer discovering something mysterious and ancient. However, the empty nature of this famous archaeological site is partly due to occasional sectarian violence in the nearby town of Dahshur, so travellers are advised to check out travel alerts to gauge how safe it is before they visit.


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