Egypt – Pickpockets and Scams at the Great Pyramids

BY Beth Williams

Egypt – Pickpockets and Scams at the Great Pyramids

It is obvious why millions of travelers have flocked to one of the world’s seven wonders – the Great Pyramids – they are absolutely stunning.
Egypt - Pickpockets and Scams at the Great PyramidsHowever, pickpockets have also capitalized on the fact that stealing wallets and valuables from tourists who are obviously distracted taking pictures of the pyramids is a great way to make tax free money.  Numerous reports have are reported by travelers falling victims to both skilled and opportunist pickpockets and scammers working these locations.

Taxi Scams to the Giza Pyramids

Here are a few taxi scams that travelers visiting the Giza pyramids need to be aware of:

  • Know that it is very common for many cab drivers to over charge tourists and most cabs do not have meters.
  • Be prepared to negotiate your fare before you get in the cab and tell the driver you want to only be taken to the main entry gate beforehand – stick to your guns on this.
  • Know that if you don’t tell the taxi driver to take you to the main entry gate, you have a good chance of being dropped off by the stables near the pyramids.  This is done on purpose because the taxi driver receives a kickback from camel and horse hawkers who try to pressure you into a horse or camel ride. Tell the driver you want to be dropped off at the entrance.If you don’t ask to be taken to the main gates of the pyramids.
  • Another scam stop that taxi drivers pull is that on the way to the pyramids, the driver will try to stop along the way or drop you off at some type of perfume shop or papyrus museum – of course at no charge – they just want to show you the sights.  When you go inside the store, you will be pressured to buy something you do not need.  In the perfume stop scam, you will be offered a great bargain – something like half the price of the original French version, but know that when you are back home the smell of your perfume will be gone, because the bottle you are sold is a scam and filled with water or a knock off version.  What you smelled was an “original” sample, but of when you were sold the bottle, it looked like it was sealed in factory wrapping was all a scam. Again, stick to your guns and demand to only be taken to the front gates.
  • When taking the ride from your hotel to the pyramids, the cab may innocently stop as if the taxi driver is picking up another fair to take to the pyramids, which may not seem unusual. The “new fair” gets in the cab and it seems like the taxi driver simply allowed a free ride for the local. The local will tell you that he owns a camel stable and will give you a great deal on a camel ride.  Of course the cab will suddenly take you to the camel agent’s place and you will get the full court press to buy a camel ride.  Another version is that the man who gets in the cab with you will offer to be your guide for the day.  These folks can be very aggressive so be careful and demand that the taxi driver tell the new passenger to get out of the cab.

Pyramid Tour Scams

For the best tour of the great pyramids at Giza, hire your own taxi and buy your own ticket. If you want a guide, book through your hotel. When you see the Giza great pyramids for the first time your first thought should be that one has not lived until he or she has awakened in front of the pyramids, but then your very close second thought must be how to go and visit the Giza plateau the best way. Should you book a tour or should you take your chances and go on by yourself? Asking the right questions allow a first time traveler to Egypt to visit the Giza plateau the right way and to make it a memorable experience.  The truth is that no one should ever book a tour to visit the great pyramids.

Here are a few tips to consider when considering a tour of the Giza Pyramids:

Do not book a tour! Due to recent changes, tour operators are not allowed to purchase the tickets for their group anymore. So at any case if you wish to enter the pyramids at Giza you will have to go to the ticket office and purchase your own ticket. Here are a few steps to follow.

  • Always make sure you have enough small money on you to never ask a taxi for change as it is very difficult to do so after the ride is over.
  • If you are in a not “on a budget hotel” simply ask the clerk for a taxi. Make sure you ask how much it will cost you to go the great Pyramids – wherever you are in Giza the price should not be more than 30 Egyptian Pounds, 40 if the taxi has air conditioning.
  • If you are in a ‘on a budget hotel” or simply in the street and you want to go to the great pyramids, simply get a taxi, they are everywhere in Giza. Very often Taxi drivers will not have a meter so you must negotiate the fee upfront. The taxi driver will always ask for a price much higher than you should pay for…remember the limit is 40 pounds wherever you are on the Giza plateau.
  • Make sure you arrive before all the tourist buses – it means you should be at the main Giza gate around 8am.Buy the general ticket to get onto the Giza plateau at the main gate.
  • Once inside, you can buy tickets to go inside the pyramids. As I learned once there, they only sell a very limited number a day. For the pyramid of Khufu the entrance tickets are limited to around 150 in the morning and 150 in the afternoon. The pyramids are never all opened for visit at the same time – one of the three major pyramids at Giza is always closed to the public for preservation, so usually only one or at most two pyramids can be entered on any day.
  • On the way back you will find many taxis at the outside Sphinx gate. Again make sure you bargain for a fair price – fares should be on a “last price, no tip or baksheesh” basis.

If You Absolutely Want to Book a Tour of the Great Pyramids

It all depends on what you are looking for but whether you decide on booking or not a tour, when it comes to Giza, the rule of thumb is that if you book a tour you should not do it from home as in Egypt, travel plans are often subject to changes.

When in Giza you can book a tour from your hotel if you stay in high-end accommodations.  These tours are extremely reliable and will provide you with the best tour available – you have your own Egyptologist if desired. But not everybody can afford such hotels.

Other less expensive hotels will still have excellent service and they will be happy to book a tour for you but the guide provided will do nothing for you that you cannot do by yourself. When you visit the great pyramids for the first time what you will want is time because you will be looking at something which is simply amazing. And time, even the best tour guides are on the clock and they will rush you, they always do.

And then you have the “on a budget hotels”. These hotels are affordable but the so called tours they promote are nothing but scams. For a fee much too high, you will have as tour guide a simple taxi driver…the only difference with what you could have done for yourself is that you will have to pay inflated fees to make up for the commission paid to the hotel and you will be rushed by an impatient taxi driver waiting outside of the entrance.

Scams Inside the Giza Plateau Site After You Have Purchased a Tour Ticket

  • After you buy your ticket and enter the site, hawkers will come up to you and either ask for your ticket or try and take it out of your hand. Do not give them your ticket…they do not work there…they are simply trying to trick you into paying them for a “official” tour.
  • Hawkers will also come up to you and welcome you to Egypt and then try and give you a “gift”. Do not accept the “gift” under any circumstance. If you have to, put your hands in your pockets, because they will literally force the item into your hands. If you accept the “gift” they will then hit you up for a big tip and they will be very persistent. Save yourself the trouble and simply keep on walking.
  • Often times the security guards at the Pyramids will motion for you to follow them and they will take you to a place with a nice view and offer to take your picture. Then of course they ask you for a big tip. If you say no, some are known to get mad. The viewpoints were okay but I would have found them on my own. So be advised the security guards are harder to say no to then the hawkers…as the guards have guns.
  • Know that when inside the site, or when visiting any snack or refreshment stand or stall around or in the plateau ground, you need to be prepared to pay the exact amount. If you are handing 10 Egyptian Pounds to buy snacks and refreshments in stalls on the street, more often than not – you will not get change.   Ask how much the items are and have the correct change.  Some times the vendors will say they do not have change, making you leave the extra change behind.
  • Be aware of fake ticket checkers that occur at the Pyramid, Saqqara and other tourist sites.  Many travelers report that they are often approached by officious acting people who would sternly demand to see the visitor’s entry tickets so they could “check” them. Upon seeing that they were valid, their expressions would soften and they would act apologetic before launching into “guide” mode (and then of course want a “tip”). These guys are not official and there are no ticket “checks” after you enter. If someone approaches you and asks (demands) to see your ticket, ask to see their ID. When they can’t produce one, seek out a a known official at the location.

Egyptian Museum Scams

If you are walking to the Museum there is a very good chance you will get stopped by someone telling you that the museum is closed for a “special event” for an hour. They will then invite you into their shop to have tea and or say hello to their wife. They will then proceed to pressure you into buying their worthless souvenirs for the next hour. So accept the invitation at your own risk.  This type of scam has been played out on thousands of unsuspecting travelers who initially think they have met someone who is really nice and take a local up on this opportunistic hospitality.

Want to Ride a Camel or Take a Picture on One -Be Aware Scams Abound

Every traveler to the Giza plateau wants to take a trip on a camel and have a lifetime photo taken of them.  Unfortunately, numerous travelers and visitors to the Great Pyramids need to be educated on the various scams that they may fall for when riding or asking to take a picture on a camel.  Here are a few of the most common camel scams of Giza:

Many travelers are drawn to those gaudy pompoms and tassels on the camels in front of the pyramids, and likewise, a traveler couldn’t ask for a more magnificent backdropEgypt - Pickpockets and Scams at the Great Pyramids for your showoff photos than the Pyramids of you sitting on one of those camels.  While initially, many travelers are put off by the price charged by the camel owners to take a ride on one of these photogenic camels, many travelers fall for the scam that comes right after you declining to pay the price for the expensive camel ride.  The scam usually goes something like this ” ok, you don’t want to pay for a camel ride, if you want, I will let you sit on my camel for free and let your wife take a photo.”

Sounds like a great offer right?  You take the kind camel owner up on his offer, and he tells his camel to kneel down so you can get on.  The owner pulls down on the camel’s reins, and camels front legs come down to the ground so you can get on.  The camel stands up, and your travel partner takes a very memorial photo that will last a lifetime.  You are very happy, your travel partner is very happy, and the camel owner will be very  happy in a minute or two, because he then tells you it was free to get on the camel and take the photo, but if you want him to tell the camel to kneel down so you can get off, that will cost you.  You look at each other and wonder what to do.  The problem is that when you are up on a camel, you are very high in the air and leaping off an eight-foot-tall camel is no easy feat, and sand ain’t so soft when you land nose first.  So what do you do?  Obviously, like thousands of other unwitting travelers have done, pay the ransom – usually reported to be up to $50.  You will have learned a valuable lesson the hard way, except now you know the scam and will hopefully avoid being taken for a ride.

Do…Ride a Camel – But Go Behind the Pyramids to Save Money

There are loads of stables near the Sphinx that arrange trips into the desert. Shop around — prices and the condition of the animals vary greatly. The best time to go is for sunset. You get a wonderful view of the Pyramids, combined with the mournful call to prayer that echoes through the desert from mosques all over Cairo.  But take a word of warning: for every leg-splayed hour astride a camel, you’ll spend a day walking like John Wayne.

Travelers who want to take a ride or photo on a camel or horse ride should avoid local touts should be avoided at all cost.  If you want to take a tour or photo, find reputable stable recommended by your tour guide, but always do the following:

  • Make sure that before you get on a camel, make sure you discuss the price and where you go first.
  • Ask to confirm it covers two people and two horses.
  • Negotiate the price you want. At the end of the trip, when you get back to where you had agreed, get off the camel, hand the man the agreed money and walk away.
  • Know that many travelers report that the camel owners or guides will try to come up with all sorts of scams to get more money out of you. If you are happy and wish to give a tip, do it because you choose. Don’t feel pressured into giving extra….just walk away.

More Scams at Giza

Know that scams that you will come in contact with from the minute you arrive and depart the Giza plateau will come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and variations.  The most obvious thing you should know that a scam is coming your way is someone walking up to you saying  “Hello my friend, where are you from?” Know that this is the classic opening question a scammer will use to bring you into his web of “victimization” in order to get you part with you precious cash. When visiting the pyramids, the rule of thumb is that any unsolicited help by the locals will end up in you being scammed. Here is a listing of the most recognizable scams that a traveler will be exposed to while visiting the Giza plateau:

  • The unwanted guides are many. They often introduce themselves as being licensed by some governmental institutions. They never are! When you accept any unsolicited information from a local he will push himself onto you as your guide, trying to hassle you out of as much money as possible for help you do not need.
  • The unwanted picture should be avoided. Whether it is from a local who proposes (aggressively) to either pose with you or to take a picture of you. There is no free lunch, you will have to pay if you accept.
  • The stolen ticket is also common. When you enter the pyramids area, men will come and ask to see your ticket, this is a scam! If you hand over your ticket, they will not give it back unless you pay them a tip. So just refuse to show your ticket and walk away.
  • The unwanted hat on the head. Again when a local tries to put his hat or anything on your head for a picture, this is no gift: he expects payment for it. Politely refuse!
  • The unwanted gift. There is no free unwanted gift at Giza, period!
  • The tourist police, have been seen to be less than honest. Beware: they will try to scam you too if and when possible.

What to do to Avoid Scams at Giza

On the Giza plateau, you will be constantly hassled; there is no way to avoid it. This is part of the experience. These people are very poor and are simply trying to make a living. It doesn’t mean you should let them scam you. Remember that “hello where are you from my friend? “doesn’t mean they are your friends, just that they want your Sterling (Egyptian Pounds.)

Not to be Scammed, You Should

  • Avoid eye contact at all cost.
  • Never start a conversation.
  • Avoid any type of unsolicited help.
  • Learn and use the words “La Shukran” (No thank you.) That should be your only answer to any unwanted proposal.
  • Do not be afraid to be rude; politeness will only be seen as a weakness – however you should never swear as it is considered unacceptable behavior.
  • Do not let the locals intimidate you; they will do it aggressively if you let them. Know that they will never get physical with you so be firm.
  • Never ever get on a camel with a local tout.

Health Concerns When Visiting the Giza Plateau

Egypt is a magnificent place but travels should not forget that it is also a desert with temperatures reaching as high as 122 degrees in summer. Many tourists have had heat strokes because they did not take the right precautions. Know that the number one concern a traveler should take caution to is the heat of the sun.  Here are a few health tips that travelers should take into consideration when visiting the Giza plateau.

  • Dehydration can be life threatening, mainly in people over 60 and children. It happens when the body loses water content and essential body salts. The usual symptoms are: thirst, less-frequent urination, fatigue, light-headedness, dizziness, dry mouth, increased heart rate and breathing. It should be taken very seriously.
  • A Heat Stroke is the result of long exposure to the sun. It happens when a person does not sweat enough to lower its body temperature. It is the most severe form of heat illness and is a life-threatening emergency.
  • Climbing the pyramids is strictly forbidden. Many tourists have fallen to their death doing so. People still climb them however, as the “tourist police” enforces the law very weakly.
  • The interior of the pyramids is narrow and the passageways are very steep. Heat, humidity and dust in such a small confinement can be difficult to tolerate and can lead to a somewhat claustrophobic sensation. To be on the safe side, people with heart and lung conditions should stay away.
  • Mosquitoes at twilight will suddenly appear faster than you can say the word “bug”: Within minutes you can find yourself covered in mosquito bites if you are not careful.