Cairo traffic is surreal. It seems to be the one place in Egypt where the maniacal drivers that roam the roads of this fine country grind to a screeching halt, as the traffic creeps along at snail’s pace. It was with this knowledge that I, and my band of North American misfits that I had accompanied from Israel to Cairo, set off to visit the Pyramids of Giza.
See, the pyramids are located a hop, skip and a jump away from downtown Cairo in a suburb called Giza. While there is a city bus that leads from downtown to the pyramids, we figured that our best bet would be to take Cairo’s handy Metro (with its female only cars) under the Nile River and get off in Giza, where it’s only 9km or so to the pyramids themselves. Easy, right?
A New Friend
It was no sooner that we’d left the Metro station in Giza, following the throngs of people to the street when we found we’d made a friend. A nice Egyptian fellow who spoke excellent English. “I’m an English teacher from Alexandria,” he told us. “I too am going to the pyramids. Why don’t you come with me?” A nice person in the Arab world! Exactly what some incredibly racist Israeli bartender in Eilat warned me would not happen a mere 2 nights before… So why not trust this guy?
And so we were whisked away, following our new friend across a busy intersection (which, much like the streets in Hanoi, felt a bit like a real-life game of Frogger) and into a share taxi. The fare? A mere 1 Egyptian pound (roughly US$0.16). There he conversed with us, offering friendly gestures such as snacks and cigarettes (the latter of which are quite popular in the Middle East). We were hitting it off well!
A Slice of Southeast Asia…in Egypt!
We exited the share taxi and made our way to…a tuk tuk! In Egypt? Really? Yes, it seems this staple of Southeast Asia had made its way to the streets of suburban Egypt. Just with a bit less color and a lot more closed in.
It was a fun ride as we zigzagged our way through a maze of small dirt streets bursting with colors. The unique fabrics that the locals wore, the patchwork of animal feces on the streets and the fresh produce, standing out against a very monotone desert landscape. This was a Bedouin neighborhood, our new friend informed us.
Soon, the imposing pyramids were in view up ahead. They looked exactly like every picture you’ve ever seen of them, rising like giants out of the otherwise desolate desert sand.
The tuk tuk came to a stop along a wall; on the other side, the pyramids themselves. Our friend paid for our ride and we stepped out, only to find ourselves at… A shop. A shop that sold pyramid tours by camel or horse. “This is the best way to see the pyramids,” he told us. “I’ve done this before.”
We, however, were seasoned travelers and as soon as we arrived there, a red flag went up in my head. This was one of the most widespread travel scams in the book, seen across the world in Southeast Asia and elsewhere. You make a friend who takes you to a shop against your will. You buy from the shop in a high pressure sales pitch. They get commission.
Inside, we were pitched packages. 220 pounds (US$36) for a 3 hour camel tour, including entry to the park, entry to go inside the biggest pyramid, entry to the Sphinx, entry to go inside the Sphinx and use of an animal. Plus we could use the entrance right by the shop. Sound too good to be true? More on that later….
An “Escape” to Breakfast
Hoping to escape these guys, we insisted on getting some breakfast before making a decision. Our new friend insisted on following us, buying an incredible local breakfast from the surrounding Bedouin shops to share with us (“It’s my Egyptian hospitality!”). Bread, amazing falafel, pickled vegetables, some mashed potato looking-thing.
We ate back at the shop, having already made clear to this friend that we were not interested in buying a package.
Making an Exit
“It’s a 7km walk to the entry gate for people!” he warned us. Now I knew he was pulling our leg since we could see the pyramids right in front of us. And thus, we made our exit, with no argument from the shop owner or our friend, his seeming associate, who stayed put in the shop.
It took us 5 minutes to walk the alleged 7km to the entry gate. The entrance fee was 60 pounds (US$10). Had we wanted to enter the big pyramid, that would have been another 100 pounds (US$16.50), but we passed as there’s nothing to see in them anymore (and we entered a smaller one that was free). And there’s no such thing as an entrance fee for the Sphinx and it’s not possible to go inside it!
Thankful that we’d succeeded in not being bamboozled, we laughed about the experience we’d just had. Sure was a hell of a lot more interesting than a plain old taxi ride! And we got to sample some interesting food…for free!
Lesson from This Experience…
If you find yourself in this situation…walk away! As nice as people might seem, some of them are trying to sell you stuff. But hey, if you get a good story out of the experience, isn’t that all that really matters in the end?
Have you encountered travel scams before? What about at the Pyramids of Giza?
46 replies on “Scammed at the Pyramids of Giza: How You Can Avoid Being Bamboozled!”
Not an Egypt story, but I was in Bangkok and I was walking to the Grand Place though a large park. While making my way though with some newly found Australian friends a gaggle of locals came up to us and grabbed our hands and shoved birdseed into them and took a few steps back. When my first friend dropped her birdseed a ton of pigeons flew over and I was able it get some pics.
While the birds surrounded us so did the locals then demanding money. and trying to pull it out of our pockets and trying to grab our purses as well as putting more bird seed in our hands to keep us distracted.
I had to tell them to stop it while I grabbed my Aussie friends and quickly got out of there. I thankfully did not get robbed but some of the others in my group were not so lucky. They were using the distraction of the birds to try to rob and aggressively demand cash. Like you said Aaron, sometimes it is better to walk away!
Ah Bangkok is rife with travel scams, though I’ve never heard of the one you describe before (the one where a tuk tuk driver tells you the Grand Palace is closed and then takes you on a tour is pretty common). What an interesting way to distract people! And it’s always good to remember, especially in touristy areas, that you need to keep your guard up at all times!
Thanks for sharing!
I took the same path – metro to Giza, approached by “friend” who took me in a minivan/tuktuk to a shop, and once offered a package with lies about how far it is to walk, made my exit to the pyramids myself.
Others I heard about at the hostel were scammed, so its clearly a popular way to scam tourists.
Interesting to hear that this experience was not unique to us, though I’m sure there’s a good system in place for hooking tourists into this. And good that you had the smarts to walk away too! Did you at least get a free breakfast out of it?
Going INSIDE the sphinx?! Is there even an inside to it?! Ooh scammers make me angry! Glad you managed to get away from him.
No there is no inside to it. Nor does it have a separate admission ticket…
actually, there is an inside, but it costs something like $1,000 –new age groups and the like often come to spend the night in there chanting and whatever. i know it sounds strange, but it’s true. i’ve lived here 28 years and taken many many groups out there, though i’ve never been interested in seeing the inside for that price!
Interesting! Sounds a bit like tomb of Nefertari, which you can pay through the nose to get into! Is there anything to see inside?
I am in Cairo right now for a couple of days and was wondering if you could tell me where/how I can go inside the sphinx. Where to find a guide for that.
If you know that is.
Much appreciated thanks.
There was no scam
The official definition of a “scam” is “a dishonest way to make money by deceiving people” (my source). There is no such thing as a separate admission ticket to the Sphinx that the average visitor can buy and we were told that there was. That is a deception in an attempt to make money, which fits the definition of a scam…
Oh “A real-life game of frogger!!”. That’s the best description I’ve ever heard for that traffic!!!!! Love it!!
as much as I am always tempted to talk to foreigners when I see them in Egypt, I always avoid doing this because I know most will think I’m there to scam them. This one however was weird because Egyptians rarely have perfect English and are still scammers, I know it might sound weird but it is actually a rare combination to be found in Egypt.
But that is smart of you to have made your exit 😉 and trust all that he has paid for you in that whole scam thing doesn’t exceed US$ 1.5 😀
Interesting. I know from my interactions with Egyptians outside of big tourist centers that most people aren’t out to get you, but if I had just visited, say, Luxor, for example, where I had trouble trusting anyone since seemingly everyone was trying to sell me something (or do something and then demand baksheesh), I’d have a very different opinion.
Regarding this incident, I don’t think the guy could have successfully claimed he was an English teacher if his English was not up-to-par! And cheap or not, that breakfast he bought us was seriously one of the best things I ate during my time in Egypt!
Good for you for recognizing the scam and avoiding it! Definitely not easy to do, I’m sure.
I hate that these sorts of things are so common in certain parts of the world, though. 🙁
Unfortunately there area plenty of gullible people out there and if you don’t do your research, you might think this was a great deal! Lesson is arm yourself with research so you can outsmart these guys!
Glad you got away ok! There was so much hassling all around the Pyramids it was a bit of drag.
Just have to say that although there was nothing in the Pyramids, we decided to go into the smaller of the large pyramids and it was a *phenomenal* experience. I really regret not going into the biggest as well. We were sceptical that it would be worthwhile. But damn. Amazing.
Interesting to hear about the inside of the pyramids. We went into one of the tiny little ones that was free to go into and it was cool, but after that I didn’t feel the need to pay to enter a larger one. Were there paintings or something?
Glad you got away without getting bamboozled, though somehow the story would be better if you had. Not that I want bad things to happen to you, but you know.
Also, I get the feeling that people read these stories all the time and are very wary of English-speaking people in non-English speaking parts of the world. About a quarter of the time I offer to help obviously lost tourists in Santiago, by asking if they need help (in English and Spanish), they tuck their bags in closer and say, “NO!” And you know how scary-looking I am.
Also, you asked quite a while ago if I was going to TBEX, somewhere or another. Answer: Not this year, but hope you have fun if you’re going!
Hahahaha yes but bamboozled would have been a terrible experience. Then again, terrible experiences DO make the best stories, don’t they?
Someone else from Egypt commented on this post with a similar response about helping tourists. I don’t think it’s just these posts, but in Egypt in particular, I found it incredibly difficult to trust people since seemingly everyone in Luxor, for instance, was trying to sell you something. Not so much scam you, but help you and then demand baksheesh. Or follow you around trying to sell you a horse tour. I was about ready to deck someone my first day there.
Sad that I won’t see you at TBEX! I am going and am really looking forward to it! It’s the culmination of a rather interesting adventure I’m setting out on!
Often it’s best to not to talk to the vendors at all because you know they’re going to pull every trick in the book to get you. In Jordan, because I was obviously pregnant, it was easy. Every mom out there was telling me to buy “this and that” for good luck for the baby and I had to laugh and walk away but there was one woman who wouldn’t take no for an answer. Ah, well! They must make a living too I guess..
Well in this particular situation it wasn’t apparent that the man who had just befriended us was a vendor. He had a story that seemed plausible and had befriended us (“It’s my Egyptian hospitality!”) and it was only our first full day in the country. Trust me, if he’d looked like a vendor I wouldn’t have said a word to him…
Congratulations on not only not getting scammed, but coming out ahead with a free meal and taxi ride. Most people would have just thought that $36 US wasn’t a lot to pay to see the pyramids and forked it over without a second thought.
Haha well I’m cheap. I’ll be the first to admit that. The less money you spend the longer you can travel. It helps to be well educated about how things are supposed to work.
Perhaps the more ridiculous thing was that $36 got you to the pyramids for something like 90 minutes tops. We ended up spending the entire day there for a fraction of the cost…and got a free meal and taxi ride out of it!
It is not a matter of being cheap, more about just not being ripped off. Even for the smallest amount, I hate being ripped off in a foreign country. I’d rather pay more to some one who is being honest and up front.
Likewise! It’s such an awful feeling to know that it’s happening.
Thanks for that post that’s really useful to know. I know the feeling of the high pressure sales you get in North Africa and how it seems impossible to get your own way without being completely beligirent (no idea how to spell that!).
I like to think that I deal really well in these high pressure sorts of situations after years of traveling and of living in NYC. I did hit my breaking point later in this trip when I got to Luxor, where it was a barrage of high pressure sales pitches…
Ours was in Abu Dhabi! My husband is someone, who just for the sake of rules of life, will turn a pence/price twice, which has it, that we hardly will take a taxi, unless I MAKE him to.
From the bus station (Ibne Battuta) close our Hotel in Dubai, we had a public bus to Abu Dhabi, the fare was 25 Dirham per person (USD 6.79) for one way. We arrived at the main bus station in Abu Dhabi. There we asked at a desk for the next travel facility to the Sh. Zayed Grand Mosque. It turned out to be, that local buses 120 and upwards all drive to it Okay! Sounded fine! We went out to see the timetables and bus stops, when someone asked us “Do you want to go to the Grand Mosque”, my red flag went up at that, but my husband turned around naively and asked, if he could show us, where the buses leave from. “oh, I can take you by Taxi, nice Taxi, only Dirham 40″ And the very moment when I turned around, to tell him off (he was clad in Civilian dress and made me suspicious), my husband said in English (we normally talk in German), I think, we will go with him. All my glares didn’t help anymore! The Taxi turned out to be a Toyota pick up, however quite comfy. When we got at the mosque, my husband gave him Dirham 50, not having a change of 40. This guy: I don’t have change, you are my first customer,” (at nine in the morning!!), and I noticed him pulling back his hands from his dashboard….okay: I told my husband,what do you have, dig out whatever you have: 39 DIrham. Then I dug deep into my purse. In the meantime this guy had the impertinence to tell us: “no, problem, you can give me 50 Dirham”. In the meantime I had the coin of 1 Dirham out, we paid 40 Dirham and off we went, not responding to his offers of showing us around in Abu Dhabi. On our way back, the bus stations weren’t working due to repair (!!), thus I waved to a taxi and we paid only 25 Dirham including a generous tip for the driver back to the bus main station in Abu Dhabi! Errrgh!
Ah yes, the old “ripping off a traveler” trick. Happens all over the world! I once had a taxi driver with a rigged meter in Hanoi take me to the bus station. I only realized this when I took a taxi back from the bus station and found that it was half the price!
I also had another experience in Hanoi where I, like your husband, took a bus from the airport only to have to take a taxi to my desired hotel. I hopped on the back of a Xe Om (motorbike taxi, very common in Vietnam) and he drives me by this hotel under construction and says “Oh it’s closed for renovation! Here I go better hotel.” Famous last words… The hotel he takes me to was a certain rate, but only if I also bought one of their tours! I said my farwell and found a different hotel. Later, I found the hotel I’d originally been looking for. It was very much open and very much NOT under renovation. Turns out I’d been lied to by this guy!
Though your tale does remind me a bit of another certain experience I had trying to leave Egypt… You can read more about that one here: http://www.aaronswwadventures.com/2012/05/leaving-egypt-crazy-taxi-ride/
[…] way. We reached the entrance before our friend came to the punch line so we will hand you over to Aarons Worldwide Adventures for a better idea of what your new pal has in store for […]
Beautiful photos!! Wow!
I have always dreamt of seeing the Pyramids!! Its a shame there is always trying to scam you at every corner (in most of the touristy areas) and its sad to think of how many people would have fallen for this…
Yes, unfortunately travel scams are all too common, particularly in the developing world, where locals prey on unsuspecting tourists. It takes a bit of research to be able to outstmart these scammers and to know how to spot them. In the end, because we were able to walk away, this actually ended up being a bit of a positive experience! We got an amazing free breakfast bought from street vendors in the surrounding area and a free ride to the pyramids out of it. What’s not to like?
Very true! Whats not to like!
We had a few issues in Thailand with people trying to scam us but luckily, we had done some research before travelling and didnt fall for it 🙂
Traveling is all about educating yourself as to what to expect. Many good guide books will also advise you of scams to watch out for. Anytime anyone takes me to a business I’m leary of their motives.
What really threw this for a loop though was when I got to Iraq. This guy was like, “Oh let me take you somewhere to change money” and takes me to this little store front (not a bank) where some guy sat with a giant wad of cash. Alarm bells started going off in my head but the guy was actually genuinly just trying to help me. Never asked for anything in return (and I acutally got a better exchange rate than the official rate).
Wow! I guess its hard to see if someone motives are good or bad, especially when you go to a new country, you are on “high alert” until you can settle in a little and et a feel for what is right or wrong.
Sometimes you forget that there are nice people in the world who do want to help
It’s very true. Sometimes it really varies by country. Iraq saw so few tourists that its quite possible that the desire to scam tourists hasn’t developed at all, as they were by far the nicest and warmest people I have ever met! The guy with the money my first night was just a hint of the kindness to come!
Oh thats wonderful! Ill go find your articles on Iraq sounds like you had an interesting time
This is a good post to start with: http://www.aaronswwadventures.com/2012/07/travel-in-iraq/
Brilliant thanks Aaron!
My scam story comes from Malaysia, and it was more of a ‘what’s there to lose’ situation rather than actually falling for it. What makes it more interesting however is that they did it when I was with a local! So it makes me think they try it on everyone.
The local (a known friend who I was staying with) took me to a beach that is a well known weekend spot for Malaysians. However it was a weekday so it was absolutely deserted. I had hoped to try some water sports if there were some there but there weren’t as far as I could see.
So before long a guy and his kid came up to us and said they offered snorkeling for 100 Ringgit. They said that we were guaranteed to see some fish too! So as I mentioned, seems as there was nothing else there I thought ‘what’s there to lose’ and accepted. The good part was that they owned a speedboat and we had a nice little ride on it which I’ve never done before, out to the snorkeling spot.
However the hilariously bad part was that the their snorkeling tour came without… drum roll… a breathing tube! All they provided were goggles. So the in-water part consisted of me diving down for a little, they darting back up for air. It must have looked ridiculous!
What made it even worse was the fact that the sea bed was deserted and devoid of any life – plant or animal. And the fish that we were guaranteed to see? Well basically it was only ON the boat and when the guy threw some bread out, so all we saw were ripples in the water and bread disappearing.
But as has been said in a previous comment – scam or not this was certainly an entertaining story to tell!
Hehe, that’s quite a story! Look on the bright side…you walked away with this pretty awesome story to tell! I do hope that you eventually got some actual snorkeling in and did see some actual fish at some point in your trip (though I’m not sure how anyone could guarantee that you’d see any wildlife anywhere in the world, unless you were at a zoo or something).
Thanks for the wonderful post. Im in Cairo and is going to make a visit to Pyramids soon.
there are people asking me 200 pounds for travel, i feel i canb go in metro after i read ur post. and it wouldnt be an expensive trip.
hope ill be able to escape from travel scammers.
Do note that while the metro goes to Giza, it does NOT go to the Giza Pyramids. From the metro station, it’s still something like 10km to the pyramids, so you’d have to catch a taxi or a bus from there.
[…] be aware that there are even some more sophisticated scams that start even as far as at the Giza metro station (9km away). Don’t be fooled by locals […]