Don’t get me wrong! Egypt has some of the most magnificent tourism sites in the World!… Not traveling to Egypt would be a mistake, as you would miss out on some of the most well preserved and oldest temple complexes, amazing desert scenery and of course the Pyramids of Gizeh! But there are also downsides of traveling in Egypt…
Unfortunately, despite (or perhaps due to) being a tourism hub for decades – if not centuries – Egypt also copes with issues of corruption and low income per capita. These seem to be the main reasons that Egypt has developed an environment where tourists (and particularly the money the bring) are treated very ‘aggressive’. In this post I will provide some first-hand examples of my more negative experiences when traveling in Egypt. In this current glitter and glamour social media era these are hardly highlighted, but trust me these are very much an annoying reality to ANYONE traveling to Egypt. Therefore, read this post and use it to your advantage when preparing your trip! Let’s dive into the downsides of traveling in Egypt…
Get ready for outrageous quotes for Egyptian Tours!
We like to travel efficiently and according to our own schedule. Usually this means renting our own car. However, this is (almost) impossible in the Egypt (see also my part about the traffic below). This means you are automatically dependent on either a tour operator or private drivers. As we prefer the latter, we did some online searches and asked for some quotations. The quotes you get back are just outrageous!... A simple few hours drive can easily be quoted for many hundreds of US Dollars… PER PERSON!… ONE WAY… In my experience renting a car with driver, always goes ‘per car per day’ anywhere else in the world. So, be warned! Do some very well double, triple checking before you confirm your trip and push the price down as much as you can!…
Top Tip: If you are more flexible, do some online checking before your trip to get a sense of the (outrageous) prices, but book on the spot when you are in the country. When in the country it is easier to haggle with the many drivers / tour operators that will surely approach you offering their services. (Many do not have any or limited online presence and could be much more cost-effective).
Egypt’s annoying ‘souvenir sellers’
Over the years I have been to many key attractions all around the world. In these places there are people in all kinds of shapes and forms who offer you goods and services are a given (let’s call them ‘Souvenir Sellers’). In some places you can just stroll by their stalls, and they leave you be. Where in other places they are more persistent and downright annoying… However, NOTHING trumps Egypt! Especially the downright disaster around the Pyramids of Gizeh!
We stayed right next to the Pyramids of Gizeh (for full details read my post about Cairo). This hotel is already behind the first security checkpoint. This meant only a small walk up to the pyramids entrance. On this small stretch towards the ticket booth, you already get continuously approached by various sellers. However, still similar to various other places in the world (the usual nuisance).
Why the Pyramids of Gizeh are one big tourist trap!
Almost anywhere else in the world, as soon as you have shown your ticket at the entry gate you will be ‘free of salesmen’ to enjoy the site you bought your ticket. Well NOT at the Pyramids of Gizeh… Here the actual ‘tourism trap’ really starts!… For all the authorities that read along, a very shameful situation!… To be perfectly clear; AFTER entering the Pyramids of Gizeh grounds you are ‘bombarded’ with all kinds of ‘souvenir sellers’ offering you all kinds of tourist traps. A clear sign of corruption and lack of control! Who is allowing this army of souvenir salesmen, camel riders, horse carriages and (dodgy) ‘tour guides’ on the Pyramid grounds?
Top Tip: Even though, you cannot avoid the ‘souvenir sellers’ completely, make your way out of the busier areas as soon you can and get to far less crowded areas of the vast Pyramids grounds. Here you can (more or less) enjoy the Pyramids in peace and quiet!
The most aggressive souvenir seller award goes to… Egypt!
When you think about it, the various ‘tourist services’, like a Camel ride at the large Pyramid Grounds could be acceptable to a certain extent! The problem is that the vast majority of the ‘service providers’ are very aggressive and persistent in trying to push their goods and services through your throat… This instantly changes your visit to the Pyramids from a beautiful and memorable experience to a very annoying one where you have to be on your guard all the time!… Most of the time you are distracted and trying to get rid of annoying ‘camel riders’ and busy with dodging the ‘dodgy guides’. Sad, as instead you should be enjoying the beautiful historical site, which you just paid an entry ticket for.
Top Tip: Be very strict and just give everyone a Blunt ‘NO’ or ‘Not interested’… Do not keep telling your ‘nationality’, etc. Keep in mind the ‘service providers’ here are NOT friendly or interested in you… They are ONLY interested in getting as much money as possible out of you. In case you are looking for souvenirs, buy them elsewhere! Do NOT support this shameful and annoying setup!
A photo that perhaps shows the ‘other side’ of your Egyptian travels best would be the below. Imagine the money flowing into the Egyptian economy from the Gizeh Pyramids alone. Any other country would arrange the entire grounds and surroundings of the Pyramids with parks, parking arrangements, etcetera. apparently NOT in Egypt… here the first thing tourists see upon arrival is a car graveyard…
Again, this side of Egypt is underrepresented on the Social Channels, but very much reality…
Out to get your Money not providing you a great experience
Especially when traveling to poorer countries, there is good money to be made for the local population in the tourism industry. Tourists are in a ‘spending mode’ and are willing to pay premiums for good services! After receiving a great service, they are happy to hand out nice tips!
Go anywhere in the world and chances are high that most staff serving you are trying to get you the best service and experience (if only for a good tip). Well, you guessed it… Not in Egypt!… Again, here the tourism industry, including most of the servicing staff, seems severely broken…
And that is a huge problem! Most of your interactions Egypt are with people working in the tourism industry. Think of hotel staff, restaurant staff, cruise staff, tour guides, souvenir sellers, restaurant staff, etc. My unfortunate experience is that most of them are not trying to give you a great experience. They are downright out for your money (you just happen to be the person handing it over). As soon as someone feels that you have only looked at them, most already feel that they have provided you a service to you… and obviously a service comes at a cost… Very annoying!…
Let me try to give you some examples from my Nile Cruise (which is in itself is a tourist trap to some degree, see below):
Sad stories trump services to get money
The masseuse on our Nile Cruise comes to our table; “Hey, my name is XYZ, (takes out her phone)… These are my children… Are you coming for a massage?” In other words, trying to make you feel sad or feel adoration for her children to opt for a massage… put another way; It all about THEM and not about providing a nice experience to YOU (as a guest), not about opting for a nice (massage) service and experience, so that you BOTH are benefitting.
No more money, no more service
After a Nile Cruise it is common to give a tip to all the staff in an envelop and a feedback form (not anonymous so likely providing slightly biased feedback). Well, you know me I am happy to provide feedback. And believe me it is nice and constructive, hoping to make the next guest’s experience better… To be fair: the tip was likely a bit below average (matched to the various services provided – see further examples in this post below). After checking out and handing over the envelop to the front desk, we walked out… After a few minutes I went back in to get an internet connection to be able to contact our Uber driver. I was literally ignored by the receptionists which before was all smiling and slimy.
My theory: either the money in the envelop was already checked and deemed ‘not enough’. Or, there was just ‘no need anymore’ to provide more services to me, as I already had checked out and no more money could have been extracted from me. Both explanations are very sad.
Pay up ‘my friend’, or you may hurt my feelings
Another, perhaps even worse, experience was at the Pyramids of Gizeh. Here a person kept ‘showing us around’ and liked to take photos of us… In an effort to thank him for his ‘services’ (get rid of him), I offered a small amount in Egyptian Pounds, but he did not want to take it, as I was “his friend”.. (Could this then be the one exception?)
After a while, we clearly indicated that we could find our way from here… However, before we split ways he want to give us a small gift (a small blue stone in the form of a scarab). Now my ‘scam alarm bells’ really started ringing. Then again, he did not want to take any money earlier (perhaps there are nice ‘souvenir sellers’?)… Only then, after this very long time he finally showed his intentions: “My friend, I have children and like to give some Euros or USDs to them, do you have any with you?”… Obviously hoping to get a larger amount, than he would otherwise get via Egyptian Pounds. Obviously this resulted in me getting fairly pissed off and we just walked away… It is a very sad situation, but DO NOT TRUST ANYONE, not matter how friendly they appear to be… Especially not around the Pyramids of Gizeh!….
A small caveat: According to someone we spoke to, this is apparently how things work in Egypt in general. Everyone pays ‘small commissions’ to everyone for almost anything… I do not mind being cultural insensitive here, it makes your whole experience very bad (and smells like corruption).
Does this count for everyone? No! Of course there are exceptions… Usually the younger, less experienced staff members can be very nice! However, over time they probably learn the ‘tricks of the trade’ from their more senior ‘examples’ and management. I hope this will change over time, but I have a sad feeling about this.
I find the behavior of many Egyptians (in Egypt) especially surprising as I have many Egyptian friends and colleagues in Dubai of which the majority is very friendly!… Are they the ones that got away? I am unsure…
Why a Nile Cruise is a tourist trap and bad value-for-money in many ways
I already mentioned some examples of the Nile Cruise staff that definitely leave room for improvement. However, the entire Nile Cruise Experience in Egypt has many hints of a tourist trap. For clarity, there are definitely nice aspects to being on Nile Cruise! Also, there are certainly advantages to exploring this part of Egypt via the Nile. However, it is good to keep the below in mind…
Service on the Nile Cruise is below expectations
We booked a cruise in the more luxury segment and as already mentioned my experience with cruise staff was not the best. Experiences from cleaning staff trying to get -on the spot- tips (while it is clear there will be an envelope for all staff at the end) to waiters continuously making misplaced jokes, to the reception literally not extending any help after checkout. I can only imagine the situations on the ships that are classified as less luxury.
You only ‘cruise’ 1 day, essentially committing to an ‘overpriced’ hotel the other days
By booking a cruise, most of the time you are either parked Aswan or Luxor, instead of actually cruising on the Nile. This is where you see the Egyptian countryside go by, which is the main reason to book a Nile Cruise. Out of your 3 or 4 nights stay, you are only sailing only 1 night. The other nights you are essentially committing yourself to an ‘overpriced’ full pension hotel, where your room is a small cabin (compared to a normal hotel room).
To be clear: This does not have to be bad! However, you likely would get more value for money hotel-wise when comparing your cruise ship rate to a hotel in either Aswan, Luxor and/or cities in between. Just keep this in mind when making your decision, when comparing to overland travel.
Double parking of the Cruise ships
Linked to the above item, what really downgrades your value-for-money of a cruise ship is that most of them double, triple or even quadruple park in Aswan and/or Luxor. This means you do not have ANY (city or Nile) view! Instead, you are inches away from the cruise ship park next to you. To top this, when you open your window, you smell the lingering exhaust fumes from the engines in between the boats… Not really that romantic Nile Cruise experience that you saw in the brochures!
Top Tip: We asked the General Manager to change our room to be on the ‘water side’ when parking. I am sure most ships will happily oblige where availability… Small caveat: This sort-of-worked on the first part of the trip until afternoon before checkout in Luxor. We were ‘lucky’ as we were already (triple) parked next to 2 other ships… Until a fourth ship arrived…
Conclusion and further reads
So, while this is not the most positive Ghost around the Ghost post, as always it is an honest one!… I hope this helps you with your travel (preparations) when visiting Egypt!… Egypt is beautiful and a must visit for every traveler!… Unfortunately, despite (or due to) the floods of tourists the country has many areas of improvements to this major economic sector!…
Do read all about my travels through Egypt via the various links below! I promise these are much more positive and are full of tips & tricks to make your Egypt travels as fun and efficient as possible!…