After our action-packed taxi ride, we were relieved when we finally made it to the gate of the pyramid complex.
Online, we had read that you shouldn't give your tickets to anyone before the gate. The gist of the scam is that shady tour guides will take your tickets, under the auspices of "checking them", and then force you on their overpriced, and laughably inaccurate, tour.
When we approached the gate a man asked for our tickets. We gave him our tickets and then immediately remembered what we read. We asked for our tickets back, but he withheld them. We grabbed the cheap tickets and moved ahead to the security guards. The security guards didn't seem concerned that we were ignoring him, so it confirmed to us that he was a tour guide, and not legit. After some heated discussion back and forth it was revealed that he was allegedly authorized to ask for our tickets. When we finally went through the metal detectors and were leaving the security area the guard said, with a smirk, "Welcome to Egypt".
We entered at the Sphinx gate, which meant that once we went through "security", we were right at the feet of the famous statue (or as close as you can get). We worked our way through a steady line of tourists having their photo taken with the mythical lion-man in the background. These were followed by the people using perspective, and their fingers, to take cheesy photos that look as if they're touching the top of the pyramids (same thing happens in Piza, we're told).
With each step we took up the hill towards the pyramid, we were offered camel rides or the opportunity to buy "quality" souvenirs at a "fair" price.
Eventually we made our way up the hill to the base of the largest of the 3 pyramids, the Great Pyramid of Giza. It seems like an odd thing to say, but it actually seemed a little smaller in person. It stands, a not insignificant, 450ft high, but for some reason it seem a lot larger in our imaginations.
The downside of not availing ourselves of either the camel rides or a bus tour, was that we had to walk around in the stifling heat. Couple that with the lack of beverage facilities (we only saw two vendors near the Great Pyramid) and it made for some less than comfortable walking. At least the unrelenting heat of the sun was as we imagined it.
We made our way from the Great Pyramid up to an observation plateau. From this vantage point we could see the 3 pyramids against the backdrop of the city of Giza. Since it was hardly the traditional photo we were looking for, we began hiking to the south where the camel rides were heading.
This led us on a wide arc that eventually returned us to the side of the Great Pyramid. By this point the sun was setting and the security guards were chasing people out. We exited through the main gate and made our way to the venerable Mena House Oberoi Hotel for a relaxing early dinner.
We had heard in advance of touring the site that many other tourists found visiting the pyramids to be an empty experience. Despite this, we both went in with open minds. The Pyramids, like Easter Island or Stonehenge, are things you read about growing up that not only pique your historical curiosity, but also offer limitless possibilities for a child's imagination. In reality, we found the site to be poorly managed/organized/staffed, and there is no appearance of wanting to have visitors be educated or engaged in the history or culture. Sadly, we would not recommend visiting them. The historical sites in Luxor are moderately better organized and make for a much more enjoyable visit, but we felt the pyramid complex was designed in a manner that reduced the experience of visiting the pyramids to a feeling that we were merely crossing them off a list of places to see (and not understand or appreciate).