To ancient Egypt and back in 45 minutes: What to expect at the Horizon of Khufu experience in Atlanta

The VR exhibit educates and enthralls


Courtesy of Excurio

Growing up in the ’90s, my primary experience with virtual reality is centered around Universal Studios rides like Back to the Future: The Ride, where visual cues merged with physical movements for a 3D adventure. As a child, I fully embraced it, thrilled with the feel of soaring through space or plunging down a track without covering any distance. Thirty-some years later, I’ve played around with Meta Quest, but I just didn’t really see the appeal. So when I was invited to visit Eclipso’s Horizon of Khufu VR experience just off the BeltLine Eastside Trail, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I imagined exploring ancient Egypt via floor-to-ceiling screens around the room like at the Illuminarium. I anticipated eye-catching graphics and a slow-moving storyline. I was wrong.

Horizon of Khufu is a completely immersive virtual reality experience, meaning participants don headsets covering their eyes and ears and keep them on for the entire 45 minutes. A guide helps you get set up and explains how the headset works. It’s pretty simple: stay within the blue or yellow lines. If you get lost, look for the white beacon of light. Red means stop before you hit a real wall. In addition to the human guides, an animated guide is with you for most of your journey, so you never feel alone.

Now for the educational part: the headset transported me back in time 4,500 years to land of the pharaohs. I visited the Great Pyramid of Giza, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, wandered through its tunnels, climbed its steps, and learned about its history. As I moved throughout, ducking into tunnels, I often had to remind my claustrophobic self that it was not real. Following a giant animated talking cat helped.

As we navigated the Nile on a boat and explored the tombs of Pharaoh Khufu, I found myself reaching around, testing the physical boundaries of what my eyes believed. I was tempted to try sitting on the pyramid but didn’t want to get stepped on by other guests. (If you “travel” with others, your tickets are linked, and you’ll see them as avatars in Egypt.)

I was intrigued by the tombs, the mummification ceremony, and the funeral of King Khufu, the visionary behind the pyramid, but I was just as captivated by the technology through which I was experiencing it. When the rocks moved, I followed. What would happen if I didn’t step up—would I stub my toe like I would in real life? (The answer is no, I discovered tentatively.) Could I touch the dead pharaoh? Nope, just air. But it looked so real!

Courtesy of Excurio

“I was a VR skeptic myself. It’s not just playing a game; it’s experiencing a whole new world,” says Jennifer Berghs, general manager of Atlanta location—the first in the U.S. “You’re truly exploring—physically moving through the space as opposed to using a controller to move your avatar through the VR world.”

Excurio, the company behind Horizon of Khufu, partnered with Egyptologist Peter Der Manuelian from the Giza Archives Project at Harvard University to make it as archeologically and historically accurate as possible. Eclipso, a European-based company distributing Horizon of Khufu, rented the 11,000-square-foot Illuminarium space for a year, rebranding it and implementing their own technology. If the Horizon of Khufu exhibit is successful, they may seek a permanent space in the future.

When the experience reached its conclusion, I waited for instructions. A guide came over to assist me, startling me in the process. Removing the headset, I saw a large white room with black symbols across it. Apparently, I’d traversed the room at least three times in my journey. I had no idea!

“It was really astounding to be there in the room,” Berghs says.

I concur.

Horizon of Khufu tickets are available in 20-minute increments with dynamic pricing starting at around $27 and discounts for groups of four or more. Reservations are recommended, as no more than 70 to 90 people can experience Khufu at once. Because of the size and weight of the equipment, the experience is limited to those age 8 and up.