Pyramid of Giza

There Is More To The World Than The Pyramids Of Giza

Derek Perspectives 23 Comments

Pyramid of GizaWith a glass of champagne in my hand, I took a deep breath and stared at the sight in front of me. I had finally reached one of the most anticipated destinations on my travel ‘wish-list’, the Pyramids of Giza.

After a few minutes of soaking in the view and trying to comprehend the sheer enormity of these structures rising straight out of the sand, I turned away, put my glass down and glanced towards Cairo in the near distance.

A few moments later, I turned back towards the pyramids, ready for this Ancient Wonder of the World to shower me with all of its mesmerizing power. I waited and waited and waited some more.

Oddly, instead of finding myself absolutely overcome with awe, I found myself standing there with my hands on my hips, feeling somewhat disappointed. While clearly the pyramids were incredible structures, the more I stared at them and the more I tried to bring myself to jump up and down in complete wonderment at what my eyes beheld, the less inspiring did the moment appear.

Even four hours later, after crawling through the narrow tunnel of the Great Pyramid to reach the burial chamber of King Khufu and after having observed the three pyramids and the Great Sphinx from every possible angle the surrounding area allowed, I still felt the same.

At no point during my visit did I feel the magic that I had heard spoken about so often by all those who had visited before me. My day at the pyramids turned out to be little more than one small enjoyable piece of an otherwise far more exciting adventure through Egypt.


Two weeks ago, a couple of friends and I drove to the Mayan ruins of Coba, located some two hours inland from Playa del Carmen here in Mexico. This site receives nowhere near the attention of the stunning ruins at Tulum or the impressive ruins at Chichen-itza, both also located in the same general region.

We had picked Coba simply because none of us had ever heard of it before seeing it listed in a poorly-written pamphlet we found lying on the ground near the beach one day.

Upon arrival at the site, we parked the car in the lot and entered the main gate. We walked along a dirt and stone path, completely surrounded by the dry jungle that covers just about all of the Yucatan peninsula. There were a few dozen other visitors but for the most part, we didn’t run into many people as we wandered through the large grounds of the archaeological park.

After walking for about forty-five minutes and having passed several small Mayan structures along the way, the path turned towards the left. And as soon as I turned that corner, I stopped dead in my tracks, staring with awe at the pyramid before me.

Mayan ruins of Coba

While nowhere even close to the size of those in Giza, this semi-crumbling yet spectacular pyramid shot straight out of the jungle and rose some 130 feet above the tree-line, a sight that left me standing there in silent admiration for several minutes. I couldn’t take my eyes off the long flight of worn-out steps that climbed up the front face of the pyramid, leading to what appeared to be a platform with a small temple on top.

A sudden burst of curiosity had me soon climbing those steps, which proved to be a steep and somewhat dangerous ascent. However, I was instantly rewarded with a view of the surrounding jungle that stretched to the horizon in every direction, with the mysterious pinnacles of smaller temples popping out of the landscape below. The scene was surreal.

I remained at the top for over an hour and could have easily stayed there for several more had a sudden rainstorm not drifted in. But with that rain and those strong winds also came a magically purple sky, a jungle that suddenly stirred awake as if breaking into some eerie ritual dance and a pyramid that now rose out of a hypnotizing mist.

As I slowly descended the pyramid amid this impressive display, I felt more energized and inspired than I ever expected I would from a visit to the Great Pyramid at little-known Coba.


Just because some place – a city, volcano, lake, beach, museum, temple, waterfall, any place at all – is described as ‘must-see’, doesn’t mean that we must go and see it or that when we do, we are going to feel the exact same way about it as whoever gave it that label in the first place. And likewise, we shouldn’t automatically skip over certain places simply because nobody has yet declared their experience there to be life-changing.

We are each our own travelers, each with unique motivations and goals as we trek to places near and far. As a result, it is impossible for any two of us to have the exact same experiences wherever we may go in the world.

So when it comes to choosing our destinations, we should be open to places both well-known and unknown, right in the middle and far from the beaten path and every kind of place in between. Limiting our travels only to the list of major highlights we find in a guidebook can lead us astray as the high expectations we develop are always at risk of not being met.

And chances are, your greatest memories and rewards are going to come from experiences that no guidebook could ever foresee.

In fact, they will probably come from the places you least expect them and at moments that completely surprise you. A few years ago, before I visited Egypt, I would have laughed at the idea that I would have been more affected by the Pyramid of Coba than by the Great Pyramid of Giza.

But now that I have been, I’ve once again realized that travel is not about ‘must-see’ lists and those glossy guidebook photos, but about the individual connections we make, none of which have anything to do with how popular a particular sight happens to be among other travelers.

What do you think about ‘must-see’ sights? How do they fit into your travels?

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Comments 23

  1. Pingback: Top 3 Temples by Travelers Around the World | Vagabond Quest

  2. I agree, the Pyramids were not our favorite ruins by far. But they certainly are on everyone must see list and we are glad that we have seen them, but like you, we are more fascinated with the Mayan ruins. Tikal is still our favorite. We felt this way about the Taj Mahal a few weeks ago. It is on everyone’s top must see list. We weren’t moved by it at all. Are we glad that we went there, we are not quite sure, ask us in a few years:-) What we loved more so was the Golden Temple of Amritsar. It was incredible.
    I agree with you, it is always great to check out the must see destinations because you may be disappointed if you don’t, but keep room for the less publicized sites, they will probably turn out to be the real travel gems on your itinerary.
    Sorry you didn’t love the pyramids. We found the best part of our day there was riding the camels:-)
    .-= Dave and Deb´s last blog ..Our favorites from India: A Photo Story =-.

    1. Hey Dave and Deb – I’ve always found it amazing that such few travelers make it to the Golden Temple. I can walk around and around that complex for hours on end and remain in awe the entire time. It’s one of my favorite sites in all of India. But that’s how it works I guess, we all connect with different places depending on what experiences we seek.

      Perhaps I should have jumped on a camel at the Pyramids like you did and my day there would have been more memorable! That’s actually another great point, sometimes its not even the main attraction itself that we remember or that makes our experience special, but a smaller aspect that we happened to enjoy better.

  3. Pingback: Weekend Reading: Travel Edition | Feint

  4. I concur, there have been a few places in India that fellow travellers have said was must-see. After battling 14 hour couch trips, ravenous mosquitoes and downright mean fire ants I can say that they really were not “must-see.”

    Mate I am jealous of your ridiculous amount of traveling.

    1. Haha…I could see how that would be disappointing! It should be illegal for anything in India to be labeled ‘must-see’ as every traveler is attracted to (or appalled by) a different aspect of that country. I could spend three months there doing nothing else but eating street food and I’d be quite satisfied with my adventure.

      And by the way, I’m certain that plenty of people out there are already jealous of the amount of traveling you’ve done as well!

  5. I love this, Earl, because it happens to me pretty much any time someone tells me something is a “must-see”. Maybe my imagination is just too spectacular, so I instantly picture MY ideal of a “must-see”, and then I’m disappointed when I have to face reality. I don’t know, but my greatest moments, and favorite memories, have come from random, off the beaten path, totally unexpected places and things.

    This is one reason I’m fairly certain I’ll never see the Taj in person… there’s NO WAY it will match the one in my head… the one that exists ONLY as a symbol of Shah Jahan’s love for Mumtaz Mahal. If I have to witness tourists and vendors traipsing all around my view of the Taj, I’ll break down and cry!
    .-= Lisis´s last blog ..What Are We “Teaching” Our Children? =-.

    1. Hey Lisis – You’re right, the images and ideas we each get when we here the words ‘must-see’ are typically the most incredible images we can imagine. Rarely can a place actually live up to what our imaginations can produce! And there is nothing better than a random, seemingly unimportant travel moment turning into a lifelong memory.

      As for the Taj, it’s funny, the first time I was there I chose to stand in the nearly dried up river bed behind the Taj and just enjoy a quiet, peaceful view from behind the massive outer wall. It was just me and one cow and I wanted nothing to do with the craziness that I knew was taking place within the grounds. And the peacefulness of that experience more than made up for the partial glimpses that I was only able to manage. So if you’re there and you start to cry, you know where to run to!

  6. Yeah, I definitely think this can happen when we ‘build things up’ in our mind or create stories about things we haven’t even seen. I think it’s best to have no expectations and just be with it. I think guidebooks can be good and I think even must see destinations can be good, but it’s when we want to get through them to get to the next destination that it becomes a problem (sort of checking it off the list).

    As an example, I vividly remember being in the Colosseum in Rome. At its face it can seem like a cheesy destination. Tons of tourists, Romans dressed up in war garb trying to grab a picture with you..etc. However, I was completely mesmerized by the structure. Just being there in this building with such a rich history…so, I fully enjoyed it.

    Having said that, I’ve also had other moments like yours above. One example was seeing the Mona Lisa in the Louvre. But again, I think it was my mindset as well as being in a rush to get there and see it.
    .-= Nate´s last blog ..Welcome Reach Our Dreams Readers =-.

    1. Mona Lisa! I was disappointed that I could only see it from so far, through the thick bullet proof glass. Two guards were standing in right and left. Many many tourists were taking flash photography. It was more like a circus than an art gallery. In short, I can see the details of Mona Lisa better in a calendar print out than in Louvre.

      .-= Dina´s last blog ..An elephant goes camping =-.

      1. Yeah…that’s pretty much how it is. I got to see it close up, but I wasn’t there in the middle of summer or anything. I was there in October, so crowds weren’t really an issue.

        I think the main thing is not to get caught up in the stories we create in our head…whether it’s must see…or whether we think it’s really cool because it’s off the beaten path and unconventional and unknown…which makes it somehow cooler, better, or more unique because we’re one of the few who have seen it.
        .-= Nate´s last blog ..Welcome Reach Our Dreams Readers =-.

        1. Good point – it works both ways for sure. And since we’re always going to have those stories in our head, I guess we need to make decisions that are not based upon expectations but on what truly interests us. If doesn’t matter if it’s a famous or unknown destination if we are visiting it because we are personally drawn to it and not just going where we think we’re supposed to go…

    2. Hey Nate – I think the key is being able to separate ourselves from the thought that something is a ‘major tourist attraction’ or ‘top highlight’. If we can do this, we are free to connect with the places we visit, even the most touristy of destinations. The problem is when we visit places to do exactly what you said – check it off a list. At that point, the sight becomes only an item on a list and our only concern is to take a photo and move on. While there is still value in this sort of travel, we often miss out on connecting with the history, the beauty, the magic of a place…

      I also agree that guidebooks definitely have their role although some seem to make it a point to tell travelers exactly where they should and should not go. I find this to be unfortunate, especially when I meet other travelers who are strictly following only what the book tells them to do.

    1. That’s very true Moon. It happens all the time, in every aspect of our lives. When you mentioned movies I immediately thought of Avatar. At the risk of taking some heat, I just didn’t see what all the fuss was about and left the theater quite disappointed.

      As for Florida, I didn’t expect to turn the heater on and have to sleep under three blankets to keep warm!

  7. Your article right away brings me to my memory about Barcelona. I very famous city with so many popular destination, written down in various “top 10 things to do in Barcelona.” While I had a magical moment in Sagrada Familia because I’m so awed by how genius Gaudi was, my other best memories there were not listed in the typical top 10. The monastery and jagged mountain of Montserrat brought me the magic. From hiking the beaten path of the pink jagged mountain that offered a magical view when your reach the top, to listen to boys choir at the church.

    I did visit the Great Pyramid as well, which was great, but unfortunately a part of day visit during a cruise stop. It was such in hurry. We only got about an hour in the Museum of Egypt in Cairo, which is ridiculous seeing the immense collection the have. I didn’t have much time to connect with this ancient life. It was already very special for me, but it could be more. I have been fascinated greatly about the topic of ancient Egyptian Kingdom and their Pharaohs, I wish so much that I had much more time than that. Maybe the whole month or more in Egypt, exploring the north to the south along Nile River. Match what I see with the history records, imagine and connect to how was the past life of the Pharaohs, their family, and their people. I think then I will feel the magic.

    I agree that the “connection” is what makes a place special.
    .-= Dina´s last blog ..An elephant goes camping =-.

    1. Hi Dina – I was actually going to mention in the post how much I did enjoy the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities in Cairo. I spent an entire day in that building and left only when they forced me to at closing time!

      Your trip to Barcelona is exactly what I’m talking about. You racked up some incredible memories in your own way, not just from taking photos of some of the major highlights. You clearly connected with your hike around Montserrat and that connection is much more rewarding that doing anything on any Top 10 list.

      1. Yes, that’s why wandering around the city by walking is much more rewarding than riding those double Decker busses that stop only for the top 10 or so only (other than walking is cheaper, just cost you ice cream maybe along the way).
        .-= Dina´s last blog ..An elephant goes camping =-.

  8. “your greatest memories and rewards are going to come from experiences” — Yes. Our strongest, most positive memories of our cruising years involved places rarely seen and never heard of in the Sea of Cortez, little corners of nowhere full of nothing but sun, desert, water, and solitude.

    And knowing this, it is very important to ‘plan’ your travel with as little planning as possible. By avoiding time lines and objectives, you can open yourself to experiences, people and places along the route. Trail magic is about being ready to stop somewhere you’ve never heard of to spend time with people you don’t know yet and look at things you know nothing about until you open yourself to their uniqueness.
    .-= Toast´s last blog ..The Memory Project =-.

    1. Hey Toast – You couldn’t have described it any better! ‘To plan with as little planning as possible’ – I love it and it is indeed the most rewarding way to go.

      And the more flexible and open we are, the more we are able to follow the flow of our travels instead of forcing them into a detailed itinerary. On most occasions, it just doesn’t matter that we somehow end up in places we never expected because by doing so, we are creating our own adventures, not simply connecting the dots between major points of interest.

      You have me curious about these hidden gems in the Sea of Cortez – I could always do with some more sun and water!

      Thanks so much for your comment Toast.

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