You're a rare soul indeed if you can gaze on the massive Pyramids of Giza (or any other pyramids for that matter) and not be filled with an urge to explore them. How could it be otherwise, knowing there are chambers inside where mummified pharaohs lay in state? The fact is, you can enter the pyramids and scramble through to the galleries. Yet reality rarely lives up to fantasy, and a trip into the heart of one of the great pyramids might not be as glorious as you imagine.

The Pyramids of Giza

If there were no pharaohs, would there still have been pyramids? Probably not. In ancient Egypt, pharaohs were considered to have descended from the gods, coming to earth to mediate between them and regular Egyptians. This mediation continued after a pharaoh died, since it was believed that he would live forever in the world beyond. It was important that the pharaoh have everything needed to get through to the next world.

That's where pyramids came into the picture. They were tombs in which a pharaoh's mummified body would be placed after death along with his most precious possessions, food, clothing and other items required to sustain him. These items were hidden deep under the massive stone pyramids, in closed chambers that could be reached only through dark and circuitous corridors. Doesn't going inside a pyramid sound enticing?

Entering the Pyramids

Tourists are allowed to enter all three of the great pyramids, for a fee, of course. That is, you can go into the Great Pyramid of Khufu, the Pyramid of Khafre and the Pyramid of Menkaure as long as you pay for a ticket. That's the good news.

The bad news starts with the mundane issues of how hard it can be to get inside. You must first pay for a ticket (around $20) for general admission to the grounds, then for an additional ticket for each pyramid, between about $5 and $15. The total mounts up fast, especially if you're traveling with your family.

Second, ticket sales are not a smooth procedure. Changes occur in the process regularly, and you can never be sure of exactly what to expect. First, there's often, but not always, a limit imposed on ticket sales for the smaller pyramids, those of Khufu and Khafre. This is usually 300 tickets per pyramid per day, but only 150 are offered in the morning, the rest are saved until the afternoon. People get annoyed and impatient and you may run into pushing and shoving.

Third, it is often, though not always, the case that if Khufu is open to visitors, Khafre is not and vice versa. The explanation is that this accommodates restoration work proceeding inside them. You may be unable to find this out before you go. Some say it's better to sign up for an organized pyramid tour instead so someone else can handle arrangements.

Leave Your Fantasies at the Door

Many Americans heading to the pyramids have seen the exhibit of items found in Tutankhamen's tomb or at least the television show about it. That sets a high bar for what might be inside the pyramid chambers. It's best to part with this fantasy before buying your tickets.

The chambers in the pyramids are empty. Grave robbers removed the bodies and many of the funereal goods centuries ago, and modern day plunderers took whatever remained. All you will see inside are narrow corridors and empty rooms. The Great Pyramid is particularly difficult to explore, since visitors must scramble a long way through tight, airless passages, heated by the size of the crowd. If you've ever experienced the slightest degree of claustrophobia, do yourself a favor and stay outside. Once you get to the Great Gallery, you'll find it empty as well. Of course it's a thrill to be inside a pyramid, but you'll probably wind up finding it at least equally thrilling to get back outside.