Shopping in Egypt
Haggling: This is expected everywhere you go in Egypt.
The only exceptions to this are Government stores and some
local food stores with marked prices. Some stores are called
"no hassle", with marked prices. Even these stores
often will have a small window of opportunity! There are
other specific occasions where haggling is not appropriate:
when we were at Dendarah in 2006 one of the vendors was
selling embroidered shawls for LE£40. These shawls
had been sold for LE£65-75 in Aswan. While the shawls
in Aswan were thicker, the embroidery on the Dendarah shawls
was much finer. Haggling was not an option in this case.
When haggling, don't be afraid to start with a ridiculously
low price because, no doubt, they will start ridiculously
high! An excellent tactic, if you are not pleased with negotiations,
is to walk out of the shop and walk away. Many times, the
owner will chase you and you then have the upper hand. While
we urge you to haggle, we also urge you to be mindful of
the poverty of the people in Egypt and the buoyant state
of our dollar. Don't ever just give in because you are sorry
for someone: this will only insult them. However, don't
become so caught up in the competitive spirit that you deprive
someone of their livelihood. Or, if you do, another option
is to leave a tip, for the salesperson. This way, you win
the haggle but don't damage the shop owner. If this all
sounds very complicated, don't despair, it will seem much
clearer in situ. The important thing to remember
is to have fun. An important post-script to this is our
plea to those who think: I just won't haggle. Egyptians
are a very welcoming and social race. Social interaction
is very important for them. Many will love nothing better
than to have a chat with you. They will want to know where
you come from, how many children you have etc. Haggling
is part of this social interaction for them. They will have
more respect for you if you do haggle, even if you only
make the attempt. If, after all this, you still don't want
to haggle, ask Mike and Patricia and they can point out
some really good stores where you won't be ripped off! You
will often be asked 'What hotel you stay at?' This is often
to gauge how wealthy you are but it can also be used as
a way to track you down. We generally find that it is best
NOT to answer this question.
When it stops being fun: There are many con artists
in Egypt. They are very often not easy to spot. The best
advice is to stay in small groups, ask Mike or Patricia
if they are around, and don't go anywhere you don't want
to. You may meet a charming man in the souk who just wants
to take you to his brother or his uncle's shop. Don't
go: it is very rarely a fruitful trip! The con artists
at Giza are arguably the worst (best?) anywhere. Some pretend
to be police or Antiquities Inspectors - always ask to see
their ID cards (many of which are good fakes anyway) and
get Mike or Patricia as soon as possible. Do not part with
any money or go anywhere with them. Another 'Giza special'
is to be offered gifts ("no money") or have 'gifts' placed
on you (eg. a scarf on your head). As you walk away, you
are suddenly told to pay! If you do not wish for the goods
at the said price, hand them back. If the owner refuses
to take them (now that they have been used!) just drop them
on the ground and walk away. Do not get into an argument
(you won't win it!), just walk! If the hassle is too much,
call 'Tourist Police Help!' or something similar and keep
in groups: This is one of the best ways to avoid the
pitfalls. While there are a few occasions, especially early
on in the tour, where we will go shopping in the souk as
a whole group, you will mostly want to strike out on your
own to shop. If you do this in twos or threes and take care
not to become separated, you will probably have a more enjoyable
experience. If possible, always have a man in the group.
Tourists are far less likely to be 'hassled' if there is
a man in the group. If you walk into a shop and you don't
like the atmosphere, then just walk out. Don't care who
you offend, or who's speaking to you, go. You will find,
though, that this rarely happens.
The Good Bits: Despite the warnings, shopping in
Egypt can be - and usually is - loads of fun! We know that
Lonely Planet describes many of the goods that you
can buy in Egypt as 'kitsch' but we think that there are
many beautiful artefacts that you can purchase. However,
if you do love 'kitsch', then Egypt will be a paradise for
you! If you have specific needs for particular items then
let Mike and Patricia know. We may be able to point you
in the direction of some stores where you will find what
you want. At the end of this handout, we have suggested
the towns that we think are the best places to buy particular
goods. Obviously, this is a starting point only and part
of the fun will be any exciting discoveries that you make
along the way.
You will find the souks in Aswan and Luxor - and the Souq-al-Fustat
and Khan-al-Khalili Bazaar in Cairo - absolute cornucopias
of delight. You will be able to run from shop to stall and
back again purchasing anything that your heart desires.
The locals will quickly identify you and you will be a treasured
guest in their shops!
Art of Shopping: For those among you who appreciate
shopping as an art form, then the centralised aspect of
many souks will be a great starting point. Do take care
in the Khan-al-Khalili Bazaar, however, as diving off down
laneway after laneway in search of the ultimate brassware
shop can be a very bad idea.
Difficult as it is to understand this concept for most of
us, Mike is in fact one of these! The good thing about Egypt
for these people is that about 80% of stalls and shops contain
exactly the same things! So, if you don't want to shop around,
then you will probably get what you want in the first shop
The Best Places to Get Things (in
Aswan: The souks of Aswan
are world famous and have a magic all of their own. You
will enjoy strolling through these in the cool of the evening
after your meal.
* Spices - Aswan is definitely
the place to get these. Nowhere will you find them fresher,
tastier or cheaper. We think our friend, Ashraf, has the
best spices anywhere. Do check with Mike and Patricia
though, as to what you can or can't bring into Australia.
Gold jewellery - As Nubian bridal customs focus around
the provision of enough gold jewellery to keep your wife
happy, this is the place to shop for this. While both
Luxor and Aswan have good quality gold and silver jewellery,
we have found that Luxor is best for silver and Aswan
* African crafts (from the Sudan
and elsewhere) - for original and high quality wares that
are quite unique (for that friend who is sooo difficult
to buy for).
* Embroidered shirts and Galabiyyas
(traditional dress for the Egyptian male - but Western
women love them!). Very touristy but real talking points
*Jewellery cartouches -many people
have these on their "must buy" list, whether
for relatives and friends, or for themselves. We have
purchased these in shops all over Egypt and have found
that they can be of varying quality. We have found a government
jewellery shop in Aswan that makes extremely high quality
cartouches at highly competitive prices and that we are
happy to recommend. They can be in silver or gold, and
while most are made to hang from a necklace there are
other options such as rings and bracelets. (A cartouche
is an oval ring: in hieroglyphic form it is simply the
representation of a rope, looped and tied at one end.
It was traditionally used to contain the name of the king.
In modern times, Egyptian jewelers make these from precious
metals and recreate tourist's names).
* Silver Bedouin (modern and antique)
jewellery - as mentioned above.
* Reproduction antiquities - Some
of the best quality and most original pieces seem to be
able to be sourced here.
* Carpets, applique and embroidered
work - we believe that we have found the best carpet
shops in Egypt!
*Alabaster - some of the 'factories'
on the West Bank can give you the cheapest and most interesting
alabaster pieces that we have found.
* Limestone reliefs - we know an
artist on the West Bank at Luxor who hand-makes the most
delicate and beautiful re-productions of some of the famous
ancient reliefs from well know tombs and temples. We have
several pieces of his work ourselves and many of our past
participants have purchased wonderful pieces. While extra
care is needed in packing the works (and do carry them
onto flights as hand-luggage) they are well worth the
* Brassware & copper - some of
the shops in the Khan have truly magnificent ranges.
* Books - we have found a great
shop that sells Egyptian cultural and historical books,
as well as fine quality prints.
* Gold and silver jewellery.
*Traditional Egyptian women's wear.
* Stone jewellery - unparalleled
anywhere in Egypt.
* Western things! Clothes, shoes,
watches etc. The shops surrounding our hotel in downtown
Cairo are fabulous and CHEAP!
*Papyrus - a favourite souvenir
for sure (and lightweight to boot) papyrus varies greatly
in the quality of the paper used and the artwork (from
stamped designs to most delicate hand painted works of
art). Prices vary greatly too, and it is easy to be caught
out buying banana paper, not real papyrus. We have found
what we believe to be the best papyrus shop in Egypt.
Prices range from a few pounds to several thousand, and
designs range from reproductions of scenes of ancient
Egyptian wall and tomb paintings to medieval scenes of
Cairo, abstracts and modern designs.
* The Khan - anything you really
want depending on what you are prepared to pay for it!
Please be aware that this wonderful experience is on the
itinerary so try not to shop yourself out before you get