This article isn’t designed to dissuade you from visiting the Great Pyramids; it’s intent is to enlighten you with information about an archaeological site we find more rewarding than its infinitely more famous neighbor.
While the Pyramids of Giza are breathtaking, once you see them, well, you’ve seen them. You can pay to descend beneath two of the three remaining structures, or take a funkdafied camel ride through the surrounding desert, but once underground, you’ll find NOTHING: no hieroglyphics, no sarcophagus, no treasures or projection of Michael Jackson’s “Remember the Time” video. And with the camels, you’ll get a cute picture for Instagram but an experience easily replicated throughout North Africa.
Most people visit Cairo to see Giza, maybe visit the Egyptian Museum and then hop on a plane to Luxor or cruise up the Nile. Unfortunately, the bulk miss what is truly one of Egypt’s great archaeological sites, Saqqara. Located about 20 kilometers from the Great Pyramids is the ancient necropolis which belonged to Memphis. Memphis was the capital of Ancient Egypt before Giza and is home to the wonderful Pyramid of Djoser, Egypt’s first pyramid constructed in 27th century BC.
Here are some reasons why you might want to check out this spot in addition to Giza:
1. More Preserved
One thing you will not find at Giza are rooms like these. Despite being looted during the 2011 revolution, Saqqara is full of pristine chambers with perfectly preserved hieroglyphs. Some of the rooms have wall paintings that have maintained their color for thousands of years. And if you’re athletic enough to descend beneath a pyramid, you will be rewarded with visuals unlike the bland ones found inside Khufu’s or Khafre’s Pyramids.
2. Far Less Tourists
Because Saqqara is a bit off the beaten path, you’ll find it less crowded than Giza. The majority of day and half-day tours don’t stop here, so most people hire a private driver or specifically book a Memphis-Saqqara tour. Because it’s not on most radars, you’ll find yourself inside ancient tombs and structures by yourself. If you’ve tried climbing inside one of the three pyramids at Giza, you know how impossible being alone inside a tomb sounds, but we assure you it’s an everyday reality at Saqqara.
Asked by TravelCoterie which site she preferred, experienced traveler Malita Mayers fired back, “Saqqara! Absolutely!” Her reasoning will sound familiar. “Mainly because it was so much less touristy. We actually were able to spend a decent about of time in the tomb and one of the pyramids. [Our guide] talked us through the hieroglyphics, and the color was still intact. Climbing down to see inside this tomb was much more rewarding than at the Great Pyramid.”
3. Shortage Of Salesman
While there are peddlers and vendors at Saqqara, you’ll find them far less pushy than those at Giza; you’ll also notice there are fewer. This can be attributed to the lack of tourists, and consequently, lack of money to go around. Someone will probably offer to be your guide, or share some information about a compound or other highlight at the site. Just politely decline and keep it moving. People selling items or “tours” are really only in two areas and are much more graceful when it comes to receiving a no than the folks at Giza.
If you’ve been to the Pyramids of Giza, you know that sh*t looks like Tijuana in the 80s. Trash is scattered everywhere, animal feces litters the desert floor and people climb on the structures like it’s a damn jungle gym. You’re less likely to find that kind of recklessness at Saqqara for the reasons noted above: less tourists, less guides, less panhandlers, less vendors, less trash.
If you have to choose between Giza and Saqqara, skip the latter. You’re likely planning a trip to Egypt because you grew up romanticizing the pyramids and one of mankind’s greatest civilization. But if you have an extra afternoon or morning in the area, make visiting Saqqara an absolute priority. We guarantee you will be happy that you did, and who knows, you just might like it more than the pyramids.