What is the shopping like in Egypt?

Shop 'til you drop: One of the first things that you need to be aware of about shopping on our tour is that you are completely in control of what you spend. Each person on our tour comes with different priorities and a different agenda. If you have been saving for this trip for ages and just want to spend, spend, spend - go ahead! If souvenirs are not a high priority for you, then don't feel pressured into buying.


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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 going.

Shopping 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.

Shopaholics: 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!

The 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.

Shopaphobics: 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 you enter!


The Best Places to Get Things (in our Opinion)

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 for gold.

* 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 back home.

*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 effort!



* 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 there.


Ashraf's Spice Shop, Aswan