Tourist traps in Egypt are extremely well disguised. If you are on a tour, or opted for a tour guide, there is no doubt that you will be taken to these tourist traps. To be most effective, tour guides typically take the time to earn your trust and show you the incredible historical sites of Egypt. They may take the time to know you, or they may share personal stories so they seem more personable. Once they sense that your guard is down, they will inevitably take you to a tourist trap that is disguised to be an educational part of the tour. While some of these shops were rather interesting from afar, what I was not aware of this until my last day in Egypt was that these tour guides get a commission from what you purchase.
The “education” starts with a small presentation of the history, or workmanship that makes this shop in particular more special and authentic than any other outside of it. Your tour guide might tell you that generations of his family have purchased from this tourist trap in Egypt. Of course, they won’t call it a tourist trap, but rather, a well trusted establishment. After a few minutes of presentation, you are immediately escorted to the shop, where the shop keepers use high pressure sales tactics to convince you to bring home a little work of magic made “only from Egypt.”
If you refuse, they will either be confrontational, or they will drop their prices more than 50%, and expect you to buy immediately. Either experience leaves a poor taste in the mouth, which I would much prefer to avoid. Being a solo-traveler makes it even more challenging, because all eyes are on you, and there is no other fellow-tourists you can hide behind and quietly slip away after.
These are common tourist traps in Egypt, and the prices are so incredibly inflated that even after you bargained enough to believe that you got a deal of lifetime, sorry to say, you are still getting robbed. Looking back, I feel silly having spent more money on these tourist traps in Egypt than I did on any other country on my round-the-world trip.
1. Papyrus "Museum"
For this tourist trap in Egypt, you will be shown a 2 minute live presentation on how papyrus is made, and how their papyrus is authentic and of high quality. They continue to bash the “fake” papyrus that street vendors sell outside this store, and convince you that the paintings on their papyrus is one of a kind, and seriously genuine. You can humor them as they force you to engage with them in their presentation, and then they will escort you to the rest of their shop, showing you their paintings, that looked very mediocre and unimpressive. Some were painted with glow-in-the-dark paint, and some looked like finger paint. Regardless, when I said I was not interested in their highly inflated prices or any papyrus paintings, the owner came out and hounded me with questions, asking why I wasn’t purchasing, and why I didn’t like his paintings, going on to follow me as I inevitably tried to escape from this situation. I was simply brought into this museum with the understanding that I will be seeing the history of papyrus, not that purchasing of any items was necessary.
2. Precious rock "museum"
You will find that everything in Egypt will be disguised as a museum, because tourist traps in Egypt acted as an opportunity for tourists to learn more about the Egyptian culture. They will brief you on how hard they work to shape rocks, offer you a drink, then present you with items and inflate the price so much, that it’s almost astounding. If you bite, they will present you with more until you are out of cash. But don’t fear, they also take other currencies and most importantly, plastic. If you refuse, they will drop the price to hook you. You will probably negotiate and eventually end up with what you believe is a good deal. Of course, having never purchase rocks before, how would you know? If you ask your tour guide, they would definitely agree that this is a great deal. Once you pick out something, maybe for your loved ones as a souvenir or two, they will continue show you how each object is painstakingly hand-carved or smoothed out, and assure you that rocks like granite and obsidian are incredibly rare. If you challenge that granite is a common rock, they will convince you that these rocks are special, and you might just walk out spending $75 on 2 common rocks wrapped in old newspaper.
3. Perfume / Cologne "Museum"
Another common tourist trap in Egypt where your tour guide is likely to tell you that he gets all his perfumes and colognes here is the perfume / cologne “museum.” Once you enter, they will escort you to a room filled with glass, sit you down, and make you a cup of tea. They will proceed with a brief history of scents and perfumes, where they will make you smell about a dozen scents. They will dab their “original base scents” on every finger and available skin you have, until you run out. They will ask you to wash your hands with soap, and return for more. They will convince you that it is not oil-based, so you can rub it all over your clothing without the possibility of a stain. They will explain to you that big name brands purchase these “base” scents from them to bottle in their perfumes, and they are offering it to you at a fraction of what name brand stores charge. They will swear to you for certain that the brand name scents you request for are the ones they offered even if you know the scent by heart and doubt what they say. They will offer you a deal, and guarantee you 100% that these are genuine and the containers will not leak. They will convince you that their products are a steal and to purchase their glass to put these perfumes in, and that they will not break. Sorry to tell you, they will leak. Not only will they leak, they will break and cause a great stink in your luggage. You will have spent nearly $200 on perfumes and colognes you will have trouble transporting on the airplane, and they will shirk their guarantee when it stains your clothing, and when the glass breaks in transport. If you use Charles Schwab as your international travel bank, the bank will also side with the merchant, asking you to provide in writing that the merchant gave you a guarantee. Best to avoid this tourist trap in Egypt to avoid disappointment, especially the Queen Cleopatra in Aswan.
4. Taking pictures for you
A huge tourist trap in Egypt is the service of offering to take pictures for you with your own camera or phone. Often times, they will follow you, or act as an employee that’s volunteering to take a photograph for you. They will take your pictures, then ask for you to pay them after they offered. You might have thought this was offered out of the kindness of their hearts, but they are simply trying to hustle you. This might be common in some cities, but there are usually signs or even an agreed-upon-and-known fee prior to taking your picture. Avoid this tourist trap in Egypt simply by asking your own tour guide to take your pictures, or asking if there is a fee when asking one of the locals or employee at a tourist attraction.
5. Tour guides at the Pyramids
One of the biggest tourist traps in Egypt are people insisting that you need a tour guide to see the pyramids. As beautiful as visiting these ancient sites are, you will be hassled to no end. Tour guides are not necessary to visit, and simply enter through the official entrance. There will be people that will convince you that the entrance is on the side, or that you will have to take a camel ride from the side or around. You will hear all sorts of creative reasons as to why you cannot simply just pay for your entrance fee, and take a look around yourself. They will also try to follow you and perhaps give you “tips,” then charge you after because they acted as your “guide.” Do not fall for any of it, and just stand your ground and try not to make any eye contact. Also, if you have a student ID, bring it to get a discount on entrance fees. These fees are not cheap and will add up quickly. You will also have to purchase a ticket for your camera/phone if you want to bring your camera in, or try to take any pictures at some temples. It will cost just as much as an entrance fee for a human. If you refuse and still take pictures, you will be fined.
6. Hailing taxis
Unfortunately, something as simple as hailing a taxi can fall under a tourist trap in Egypt. Although meters are required by law for white taxis, some drivers turn them off in hopes of getting a higher fare from you at the end of the trip. Some meters have been tampered with, where they will go up faster than it should. I would suggest using the Uber app to hail your ride, so you won’t have the hassle of any of this. If you must use a white taxi, you should agree on the fare prior to getting in. Traffic can be ridiculous on the Giza strip, where a 10 minute ride will take an hour. Also watch out for vehicles pretending to be taxis.
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