Little visited, even by locals, Saqqara is a nine-square-mile necropolis comprising Egypt’s oldest stone monuments, including the Step Pyramid, erected in the 27th century B.C. for the pharaoh Djoser. The trip takes 45 minutes by taxi each way, but you’ll be rewarded with some of the most beautiful carved and painted tombs in the country. Get your bearings and buy tickets at the small, elegant Imhotep Museum, just inside the entrance, devoted to Djoser’s vizier and architect, who first conceived of building in stone instead of wood and brick. Don’t miss the carved scenes of dancers in the mastaba tomb of the Sixth Dynasty courtier Meruruka; scenes of daily life, including a beer brewing and a parade of tame African antelope, inside the shared tomb of Khnumhotep and Niankhkhnum, overseers of the manicurists of pharaoh Unas; and the Serapeum, underground chambers containing 24 giant carved sarcophagi that once contained the remains of sacred bulls. A café on-site serves cold drinks and snacks, but we suggest you also bring a few bottles water from the hotel to keep hydrated. No need to leave at the crack of dawn, except in the hottest weather: if you set off from the hotel around 10 a.m. and head back around 3 p.m. you’ll avoid the heaviest morning and after-school rush hours.
The Saqqara Complex is on Saqqara Road, close to the Memphis archeological site.
SAQQARA COMPLEX: Saqqara Road, Giza; sca-egypt.org