Egypt Travel Scams And How You Can Avoid Them
Last week, I was in Egypt and I have never been so disappointed with any of my past travel experiences. As much as I loved witnessing one of the seven wonders of the world, the magnificent pyramids of Giza, I cannot stop thinking of how I got scammed despite following all anti-scam protocols. This post is therefore dedicated to all the future budget travelers to Egypt and includes different types of scamming and some tips to avoid getting scammed.
|The Pyramids and Sphinx in Giza|
Scam 1: Unofficial tour guides and guards scam at the Giza and Saqqara Pyramid complexes in Cairo.
- Unofficial tour guides dressed up on traditional Arabic robes (see the below photo) will pretend as if they are the official authorities. They will ask to check your ticket, not return it and then proclaim themselves as your guide. They will demand an inflated fee and won’t return you the ticket until you pay them.
- Some also offer simple, unsolicited help, like pointing to a direction or offering to take a photo or tie your scarf in Arabic hijab style, then ask for a tip (‘baksheesh’ in Arabic).
- Some fake guards will ask to check your ticket, accuse you of an offense and not return your ticket until you pay a fine. Likewise, you might see ticket signboards at the entrance of some Pyramids or tombs with a fake guard standing there will ask you to buy the ticket. These are not official tickets.
How to avoid this scam? Only buy and show your ticket at official checkpoints and do not let go while doing so. I was almost going to get molested by two such unofficial tour guides who offered to help me tie my headscarf and started touching me inappropriately. As you can see in the photo, their hands were on my shoulder and I was paralyzed as if they had got me hypnotized. I think it's a distraction strategy for robbing tourists. One of them tried stealing my husband's hat. Thankfully, a policeman interfered and drove them away and I wasn't molested or robbed. I am not sure if that was real or fake police. But there is no guarantee that you will get police help when you want. Both these complexes are vast and mostly deserted. Therefore, avoid visiting these places without a tour group or a licensed, reputable guide.
Scam 2: Camel and horse (caleche) ride scams at the Giza Pyramid complex in Cairo.
- Claiming a camel ride/horse (caleche) ride can help you enter special attractions (such as go inside one of the pyramids), save you time and save on the entrance fee.
- Claiming that you can get closer to the Sphinx.
- Claiming that you can get a panoramic view at the Giza Pyramids.
- Claiming that tourist vehicles are not allowed to enter the pyramids complex.
- Claiming that there is a tremendous amount of walking involved as the pyramids are very far from each other, the area is uphill and rocky and the complex cannot be explored by walking. They will show you a false map of the complex to prove this.
- Claiming that the locals or the guides will harass or rob you. This was the main reason why we opted for a horse (caleche) ride. My husband got stressed and he rubbed off his fear on me.
- Halfway through, a higher price will be demanded with you sat atop the camel. You will not be let down unless you pay.
- Your car driver or tour guide is also a part of this scam. You will be taken to the horse/camel stable instead of the ticket counter/entrance gate of the pyramid. We paid about $115 (i.e. 1800 EGP) for two people including the 400 EGP entry ticket. The scammers sensed our fear and we accepted their price like an amateur. In my defense, we did not know what else to do because our driver kept quiet and we trusted him. We were told that they charge as high as 3600 EGP during peak season or if you are from any Arab country, which is a lie. They charge anything from anybody. For comparison, the average price of an entry ticket to see any attraction is between 180-200 EGP, a foul sandwich for breakfast will cost you 5-10 EGP, the price of a 2-liter packaged water bottle is 5 EGP. So, now you can imagine how much of an inflated fee we were charged for the hour-long horse (caleche) ride.
How to avoid this scam? Tourist vehicles (both taxis and tourist cars/buses) are allowed inside the pyramids complex. Ask your driver to drive inside the pyramids complex. All pyramids are well connected with wide roads. If at all you want a camel ride, make it clear what the ride entails, do not pre-pay. Do not accept their first price, always negotiate. If you think the price is high, listen to your instinct and walk away with confidence. If a higher payment is demanded midway, get down and walk away. Do not trust your tour guide or your driver.
Scam 3: Animal handlers photo scam at the Giza Pyramid complex in Cairo.
- Pushy horse/camel handlers will pressure you to take a photo of them with their camels. A fee is then demanded. These animal handlers will first offer to take a picture of you with their camels, and then demand a fee while holding your camera hostage.
- These horse/camel holders will also offer you to take your photo. They will tell you that you can trust them and they won’t run away or steal your camera. However, they will demand a fee holding your camera hostage.
- These horse/camel holders will tell you about their revolution story and how they used to be rich before the revolution and now they are poor. As soon as you start feeling bad for them, they will ask you for tips.
|Animal handlers at the Giza Pyramids complex|
How to avoid this scam? Get a selfie stick. Do not give your camera to the animal handlers at any cost. Do not pose with them or animals for a photo.
Scam 4: Sound and light show at the Giza Pyramids complex in Cairo.
At the show, there are only two categories of seats: VIPs and one open area. The scammers will claim that there are different tiers of prices in the open area for instance and pressure you into buying the most expensive one.
How to avoid this scam? Buy the standard ticket. If you have already seen the pyramids in daylight, there is no need to see the sound and light show at night. It is mostly a never-ending narrative with colored lights in the background. There are no fancy laser lights in case you are expecting one.
Scam 5: Papyrus and Egyptian Perfume Museums scam in Cairo.
- Your tour guide or driver will recommend and bring you here. A tout claiming to be an Egyptologist/head of a Papyrus institute will offer to show you how papyrus is made. Sadly, photography is not allowed inside these places, for obvious reasons. They will offer you tea and show how real papyrus is cut and processed. They then show you papyrus scrolls made of cheap banana leaf, which they claim, are valuable antiques. They claim that there is a special one-day offer, or that today is the last day to buy, as they are moving. They will offer you a free piece if you recommend their shop. Next, they ask for your name and will write it on the papyrus you like. They then ask for your family members’ names and write them on new pieces. Payment will be demanded for this service.
- Likewise in the perfume factory, they will show you how essential oils are mixed to make a perfume. Then they will force you to buy that because you wanted them to make this customized fragrance for you.
How to avoid this scam? The papyrus and perfume museums are interconnected. They belong to the Golden Eagle group. These places are not real museums. If you just want to have a look, avoid revealing your name and firmly decline any offer even if it is claimed to be free. Just walk away after seeing the show.
Scam 6: Nile river dinner cruise scam in Cairo.
We were taken to the Nile river dinner cruise (the cruise name was 'Andrea'). We paid about USD 30 per person. The two-hour ride included buffet dinner and cultural program. We were extremely disappointed with the food and the performances. The belly dance was very vulgar and was not a true representation of the actual form of dance, it was rather obscene- not to blame the poor performer, she was just doing her job. There were two other Tanoura dance performances, which were very average.
How to avoid this scam? Do not take the Nile river dinner cruise. It is a waste of time and money. Instead, see the Nile rive in daylight and click a photo with the river in the background. There are plenty of photo stops where you can ask your driver to stop so you can click photos.
Scam 7: The hotel scam.
- Our first preference was the Le Meridian Pyramids Hotel and Spa. We were almost going to book it, however, it seemed a bit far from Cairo and we were indecisive about whether we were going to stay in Giza (near the pyramids) or Cairo.
- Our second preference was the Hayat Pyramids View Hotel in Giza (not to confuse with the Hyatt group of hotels). It is supposedly a 4-star hotel with the view of the pyramids from every room. We had initially booked it based on their reviews on hotels.com and booking.com, but we had to cancel it on the request of our tour manager. We don't regret that because I saw this hotel in person during my visit to the Pyramids- it is right outside the horse/camel stables in a shady lane. Moreover, I went on a rainy day and there was water logging outside the hotel entrance and the strong smell of animal feces was extremely putrid.
- On the recommendation of our tour manager, we ended up staying at the Royal Pyramids Hotel in Giza. We believed him despite the bad reviews all over the internet. That was our biggest mistake. We didn't realize that we were getting scammed. The hotel is horrible and dated though the location was great with ATMs, currency exchange services, restaurants, all within walking distance. I think the travel agency earns a commission on the booking which is why they recommended this hotel. Not even for once, did they care about our preferences or safety, which is why I call it a scam.
|Royal Pyramids Hotel at King Faizal Street in Giza|
How to avoid this scam? Just book an internationally reputed hotel. If you cannot afford it, look out for deals, travel in the off-season (Dec and Jan are peak season,) use your reward points, but do not book a hotel based on its reviews or not the recommendation of your travel agency. I would suggest that you stay in a reputed hotel and take tours that are operated through the hotel.
Scam 8: Student selfie scam in Cairo and Alexandria.
This was the most unique form of scam that I had ever seen. In this scam, young students/teenagers will request you to take a selfie with them. I tried to blend in with the locals and look as much Egyptian as I could (FYI, I am from India so I do not stand out). Moreover, I used to tie my scarf like a hijab at public places to avoid attention. Despite that this kept happening with me every 10 minutes inside the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. I don't know what these people were up to and knowing my Photoshop abilities, I know the extent of damage that could be done with someone's photo. Being a cynic, I am used to avoiding my photos from being clicked. Moreover, I would also check my bag to make sure nothing has been stolen post the selfie attempt.
How to avoid this scam? If you are as apprehensive as me then just smile and politely refuse.
|Teenagers inside Saint George Church, Cairo|
How to avoid this scam? If you are as apprehensive as me then just smile and politely refuse.
Scam 9: Cheap tour operators with hidden fees.
Advertising cheap tours with hidden fees is a common scam. Most of the time, their package will not include the entry fees. They will offer you one price and bill you a higher price at the time of the full and final payment.
How to avoid this scam? Make sure your tour operator has an official license, they have a legit website, office and working phone number. Check if there real online reviews. Avoid paying in full upfront (unless reputable operator) or off the (online) platform.
We had booked the Golden Pyramids Travel agency. First of all, they scared us by telling how unsafe it is to explore the Giza Pyramids on our own. Then they told us that we have to take the horse/camel ride as if there wasn't any other option to enter the pyramids complex. Then they took us directly to the horse/camel stable and let us get scammed while they stood in silence and didn't help us in any manner. I am certain they earn a commission from such scams. I wouldn't recommend this travel agency even though they are the official tour operator for many hotels in the Giza area. One thing I am proud of is that we paid in installments, i.e. at the end of each day and did not make any advance payment.
My parents had visited Egypt in 2017 and my mom had to give away all her jewelry to pay for the tour. The tour company had initially confirmed a certain price estimate. However, at the time of the full and final payment, their total had changed, it was almost double what they had quoted. This happened at the time of their check-out from the hotel as they were settling their pending payments before proceeding to the airport. Unfortunately, my parents had run out of cash since they had spent all their money on the entry tickets (which was not included in the tour package and they weren't informed about this). Moreover, the tour company was not willing to accept credit cards. They forced my parents to give their jewelry to make the balance payment. My father was almost going to get a heart attack that day and the entire experience shook my parents. After this incident, they have completely stopped traveling alone.
The horse (caleche) ride scam happened to us on our very first day in Cairo. As soon as we entered the pyramid complex, we realized that we were scammed. We were very upset and this experience ruined the rest of our trip. But we got a bit smarter after this incident. We started saying a firm "no" and were ready to walk away. Another thing that always worked with me which I keep telling my husband too is that I behave deaf and dumb when strangers approach me. I feel communication is their way tour wallets. So, if I don't talk to them, they will probably spare me.
Bottom line is, tourists may get scammed in Egypt or any other country that is known for scamming, no matter how smart you are. But that shouldn't stop you from visiting this archeologically blessed country with all ancient ruins and delicious food. The purpose of this post is not to discourage you from visiting Egypt but to make you aware of the harsh reality so that you can avoid these unpleasant situations and have a great vacation instead.