Dahshur Pyramids: A Local’s Guide To Visiting The Bent Pyramid, Red Pyramid & Black Pyramid of Egypt
Updated: Nov 4, 2022
If you’re visiting Cairo, then chances are you have plans to visit the Pyramids of Giza (as you should!). The Great Pyramid of Giza is the last standing Ancient Wonder of the World and definitely is a highlight of any trip to Egypt – it is absolutely not overhyped or overrated, as so many travel destinations now are in our Instagram-obsessed world.
But you know what is UNDERhyped and UNDERrated? The pyramids at Dahshur! To the extent that most visitors coming to Egypt have never even heard of them, which is a crying shame because the Bent Pyramid especially is one of the coolest-looking pyramids in the world. But before we get ourselves all hot and bothered, let’s quickly break down what exactly IS Dahshur, why exactly you should visit, and everything else you need to know about this hidden gem in Egypt.
So what is Dahshur?
Dahshur is an Ancient Egyptian royal necropolis in the desert on the outskirts of greater Cairo, and home to several pyramids, two of which (the Bent Pyramid and the Red Pyramid) are even older than the Pyramids of Giza.
Is it worth visiting Dahshur if I’ve already seen the Pyramids of Giza?
If you’re not super tight on time in Cairo, then the answer is definitely yes! Visiting Dahshur will actually give you more insight into how exactly the Pyramids of Giza were made and the transition from the step pyramid shape (like Djoser’s pyramid at Saqqara) to the smooth-sided shape of the Giza Pyramids.
Pharaoh Sneferu (the father of Khufu, the pharaoh of the Great Pyramid) first attempted a smooth-sided pyramid at Dahshur but failed, resulting in the Bent Pyramid (more info below). He then got it right with the Red Pyramid, leading his son to use his engineering know-how to later build the greatest pyramid the world has ever seen, in Giza.
Also because Dahshur is off the beaten path, the necropolis is much less crowded than the Giza pyramids, and there are no touts (just a couple of security guys who will offer to take your picture). Plus the entrance ticket is a quarter of the price of the Giza Pyramids!
What can I see in Dahshur?
The Bent Pyramid
Built 2613–2589 BC (so over 4,600 years ago!) by Sneferu, archaeologists believe that the Bent Pyramid represents a transitional form between the step pyramid and smooth-sided pyramid.
The ‘bent’ appearance is due to its base having a 54 degree inclination, but the top section having a narrower 43 degree angle. There are different theories as to why it was built this way: one was that as the builders reached the top, the top section started to show instability, so they narrowed the angle.
Another theory is that they anticipated Sneferu’s death approaching, so they wanted to finish his pyramid as soon as possible.
A third theory is that they were trying to avoid the same colossal disaster that occured with Sneferu’s first pyramid, the Meidum pyramid in Beni Suef, which collapsed mid-construction.
The Red Pyramid
The Red Pyramid is believed to be the first successful attempt at creating a smooth-sided pyramid in Egypt, and was Pharaoh Sneferu’s third pyramid (after the Bent Pyramid & Meidum Pyramid). It’s also the third biggest pyramid in Egypt, after the Khufu and Khafre pyramids at the Giza Plateau.
The Red Pyramid received its moniker due to its reddish hue, although it wasn’t always red. The entire pyramid used to be encased in white limestone, which you can still see at the base.
The white limestone was actually stripped from the pyramid in the Middle Ages (can you believe it?) to construct buildings in Cairo. The layer underneath was red limestone, which you can see until today.
The Black Pyramid
This pyramid, while technically ruined, is still definitely worth seeing when you head to Dahshur, just because it looks so different and vaguely creepy.
The Black Pyramid is believed to be the first pyramid in Egypt that was intended to house both the pharaoh and his queens. It was built by Pharaoh Amenemhat III in the Middle Kingdom, so around 3,800 years ago.
It’s called the Black Pyramid due to is “dark, decaying appearance”. It collapsed partially due to it being made out of mudbrick instead of traditional stone (although it was encased in limestone), and partially due to its low elevation allowing Nile water to seep into the walls, ending with the structure cracking and sinking into the clay ground.
Can you enter the Dahshur pyramids?
Yep, you can enter the Red Pyramid and the Bent Pyramid, for no extra price (unlike the Giza Pyramids, where you have to buy an extra ticket to go in them).
To be fair though, there’s not much to see in them and it’s not recommended if a) you’re claustrophobic, b) not in the best shape or get winded easily, c) have back or knee problems, or d) you’re afraid of bats :D
To enter either pyramid, you climb up long (and sometimes steep) stairs to get to the entrance. Then it’s a series of very low tunnels (as in, you’re completely hunched over) to get to the lower pyramid chamber. There are also high wooden staircases to take you to upper chambers. All in all, it’s a workout and not easy on the back or legs by any means. The adventure element is fun, but don’t expect to see treasures at the end of it – the pyramid chambers are all just empty rooms (save a few bats, lol).
How to get to Dahshur
While Dahshur isn’t far from Downtown Cairo (maybe an hour’s drive), getting there isn’t very straightforward so here’s where our local experience on the ground will come in handy. Because like we said before, Dahshur is off the beaten track and not known to most visitors – the main people there were part of tour groups who came via tour bus, which obviously is the most straightforward way of going about it.
If you’re interested in going solo though and not part of a tour group, then here’s some important things to keep in mind:
If you’re going with an Uber or using GPS to get there, it gets really tricky because the GPS will want to take you there via the quickest route (Fayoum Road), but it doesn’t realize that that route will cut through the Dahshur military base (which you obviously can’t go through). So then it’ll force you to take a really long circuitous route through questionable neighborhoods and roads. So basically what we’re saying is that it’s best if you hire a car & driver for a day who actually knows how to get there and doesn’t need to depend on GPS (the best way there is through the Saqqara Road). Or hire a tour guide who will be able to give directions to the driver. Basically just someone who knows where they’re going lol.
Once you arrive at Dahshur, it’s best to have some kind of vehicle with you because it’s a trek through the desert from the entrance to the Red Pyramid, then to the Bent Pyramid after that, and so on and so forth. With a car or tour bus, you just drive from spot to spot and then can walk around and take pictures as much as you like.
If you do end up going with an Uber driver, make sure you hold on to him there because it’s extreeeeemely difficult to get another Uber or even a regular taxi on the way back. Dahshur is desert surrounded by agricultural land, so it’s not like the Pyramids of Giza which are right on a bustling Cairo road.
Dahshur Opening Hours:
9 am to 4 pm (they close earlier in Ramadan, so make sure to double check – it’ll probably close by 3 pm then but Egyptian opening hours can change with the wind)
Dahshur ticket prices:
Non Egyptian ticket: 60 EGP
Egyptian ticket: 10 EGP
Car ticket: 10 EGP
And now a few parting local tips about Dahshur:
If you’re not going with a guide, there’s no signage there with explanations of the pyramids, so it’s best to read up before you go to really get a feel for how interesting Dahshur is
There aren’t any restaurants or cafes inside the necropolis, so make sure to bring your own water and/or snacks
There are very few shaded areas (unless you’re inside the pyramid, that is) so make sure you’re equipped with sunblock and a hat if you’re sensitive to the sun
There aren’t any bathrooms, so emptying your bladder before heading to Dahshur is always a good idea
If anyone offers to take your picture or to show you different spots in the necropolis, they’re looking for a tip. Feel free to just say no thanks and keep it moving, they’re not pushy like the touts at the Giza Pyramids
It’s a good idea to also visit the Saqqara necropolis (where the Step Pyramid of Djoser and other cool tombs are) because it’s close by and along with Memphis (the remnants of the Ancient Egyptian capital), make a really fun day trip. Read more: Saqqara, Egypt - A Local's Guide to Visiting the Step Pyramid of Djoser & the Saqqara Tombs
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