Visiting the Pyramids of Egypt: A Survival Guide

Usually, I write about the history, the mystery, and the grandeur of a place like the pyramids. For over 4,000 years the pyramids have been one of the best-known structures on Earth. We’ve probably all seen TV shows, read books, or perhaps wrote a fourth-grade report on them, so there is nothing I can really add that you can’t get somewhere else. If you’re keen on the backstory of the Egyptian pyramids, this book provides an exquisitely written history. 

Instead, let’s talk about the physical act of visiting the Great Pyramids of Giza. Off all the wonders in the world, visiting this site takes some explaining to do it right. Although my experience to the pyramids may not be representative of the experience others have had, it’s how it went down for me—and many others, I suspect. I visited the Great Pyramids by myself and on a day there were surprisingly few other tourists. If you’re on a cruise or one of the many great day tours, it’s an entirely different experience. Had I been with a group or on a day with more people, it actually would have been better. The pyramids are one of the few attractions in the world where I can say that it’s better to visit when it’s crowded. My tips below are written from my first-hand experience, and from talking to dozens of other tourists in Egypt who had experiences similar to mine.

trip to egypt pyramids
This is the cop who shook me down for 20 Egyptian Pounds.

What’s It Like Visiting the Pyramids as a Tourist?

From a straight tourist visitation perspective, my trip to the pyramids was the worst I’ve had. The management of the Giza Pyramids site is horrible and little to no investment has been put into even basic things like garbage cans or signs. Other locations in Egypt under the oversight of The Supreme Council of Antiquities are not in this poor of shape or run this poorly. Abu Simbel, one of Egypt’s best World Heritage Sites, was a great example of how an attraction like this should be administered. In fact, every other temple I visited in Egypt wasn’t really that bad. A mere $1,000 investment (which is probably less than one day of admissions to the pyramids) could pay for garbage bins and a crew of people to walk around the grounds picking up litter.

Getting to the Pyramids: Taxi Versus Public Transportation

My nightmare visiting the pyramids began with the taxi ride. Every taxi in Egypt is going to try and put the screws to you on the amount they charge to take you there. The pyramids are tourist attraction #1 and they know it. The advantage to being on a group tour is that you never have to deal with taxis.

Tips for Taking Taxi to the Pyramids

If you need to take a taxi, you must set the price before you go. The cab driver will try to just get you to get into the car without setting a price. There are tons of taxis and they all want your money. Pass and take another if your driver won’t commit to a price. You shouldn’t pay more than 20-30LE (Egyptian Pounds) for a ride. Also, make sure they take you directly to the entrance gate, with no stops in between.

How to Take Public Transportation to the Pyramids (Your Best Option)

Had I done it better, I would have used public transportation to get there, or even just arranged a private transfer. There is a Giza stop in the Cairo subway system—although this doesn’t take you directly to the pyramids, you can take a minibus from the station that will take you right there. This minibus is a much cheaper option (about 1LE for the subway fare) and you don’t have to worry about everything I listed above. The subway is what I should have done.

Taking a Day Tour to the Pyramids

If you’re staying across the street from the pyramids, a day tour is a good option because a great guide will not only get you there and navigate the transportation in Cairo for you, but they provide a bit of a buffer for what’s to come next, once you’re inside. Our favorite options include:

Camels: the source of all trouble at the pyramids
Camels: the source of all trouble at the pyramids.

Arriving at the Pyramids: The Camel Ride Hustle

You’ll notice as you approach the pyramids that it’s not like what you’ve seen in pictures all your life. While one side of the pyramids are up against the desert, the other side is right up against a residential neighborhood. In fact, right across the street from the main gate to the pyramids is a Pizza Hut. That that is literally what the Sphinx has been looking at all day for decades.

When my taxi was still a kilometer away from the entrance, I had my first run-in with the most aggressive and annoying touts I’ve seen at any tourist location in the world: the camel riders. There is a huge business built around giving tourists rides on camels, and they are very aggressive about getting business. When my taxi was still driving down the street, when we had to slow at a speed bump, one of the camel guys jumped into my taxi and tried to sell me on a camel ride.

The fact that this guy was willing to jump into a moving vehicle should give you an idea of just how aggressive they are. The taxi drivers get a cut of whatever the camel rider earns from you, so they have no incentive to protect you from these touts. In fact, such big business are these camel rides that they will do anything and everything up to—but not quite—theft. They will lie to you, they will scam you, they will try to con you. You need to know that before you get there because, in a typical con man fashion, they have developed a friendly routine for the tourists.

How to Handle the Camel Ride Hustlers

The first question they will always ask you is where you’re from. This is not because they are interested in learning about your culture. They encounter thousands of tourists every month—they’ve seen it all before. They ask the question so they can a) set a price for how much to charge you, and b) use it as a hook to start a conversation that makes you think they’re your friend. They are not your friend. If you say you’re American, they will say “Obama!” If you say you are Canadian, they will say “Canada Dry!” No matter where you say you’re from, they will say “Good people from xxx!” They’re surprisingly adept at negotiating prices and engaging in small talk in a wide number of languages.

They will absolutely charge higher prices if you are from the U.K., U.S., Germany, or the Netherlands. If you can somehow pass yourself off as being from a less developed country, do it. The pyramids were the only time on my trip where I resorted to lying about my nationality. I went from America to Canada to Slovenia, and finally to the fictional country of Karkozia. I’d speak some gibberish sounding Eastern European language and pretend not to know English.

The hustle really doesn’t end though. They’ll persist with other tactics. If they tell you they’re with the government, or that it is illegal to walk around the pyramids, they’re lying.

If you want to do the camel thing, I recommend doing it early in your visit. That way you aren’t just buying a camel ride, you’re also paying protection money so the other camel guys don’t harass you. I should make clear that the camel guys are not just outside the entrance, they’re walking all over the pyramid grounds, as well.

Trip to egyptian pyramids
Litter at the base of the pyramids.

Exploring Inside the Pyramids: The Hustles Continue

At every tourist attraction in Egypt, they have metal detectors. The pyramids were the only place where they even bothered to use them. I had a Leatherman in my camera bag and the guy working the x-ray machine tried to steal it. I put up a fuss and he relented.

Lesson: Even the officials working for the government can’t be trusted.

While I was walking along the Great Pyramid, there was a small rope barrier. One of the tourist police said it was OK to go over the rope and climb up one flight of the blocks. The moment I got back down he demanded 20LE.

Lesson: No one does anything out of the goodness of their heart. They want a tip no matter how inconsequential the advice they give (“Stand here to take a picture … 5LE please!”)

On top of all that, you’ll have people trying to sell you cheap crap on the pyramid grounds. I didn’t find them nearly as annoying, just because they are stuck in one place because of their inventory. You should just know that all the trinkets they sell are made in China and can be purchased at countless other shops in Cairo.

How to Survive Scams Inside the Pyramids

Despite the fact it’s hot and it’s in a desert, there was a surprising shortage of people selling beverages. There was one lady (and there are very few women you meet as a tourist in Egypt) who said to me, “Sir, would you like to buy a Pepsi-Cola?” I was so shocked at her honest and direct approach of not trying to con me that I bought a drink from her.

My other tip is to bring small bills. If you expect to get change from any of these vendors, they will come up with excuses about not having enough money to make change. One fellow traveler told me that he pulled out a 100LE bill and the camel guy just ripped it out of his hand. He almost got into a fight with the guy. Most tourists are not that assertive and end up getting taken advantage of as a result. You have to be very aggressive and if need be, come across as a total asshole.

Another scam I encountered, but never went along with to figure out how it worked, was the guy who gives you a free t-shirt. They will “give” it to you as a gift and shove it in your hands. I always just let it fall to the ground. I assumed they had a partner up the road who would accuse you of stealing or something. If anyone has information on how the scam works, let me know.

In summary, for one of the greatest wonders of the world, the pyramids are a horrible place to visit. I put the blame for the squarely on the shoulders of The Supreme Council of Antiquities, which runs the pyramids. I suspect there is some political reason why they let lunatics run the asylum. They really should be ashamed. They clearly know how to run these properties, as I saw in almost every other attraction in Egypt. After a few hours, even though I had long dreamed of photographing this amazing site, I was willing to forgo some photos I was hoping to get just because I wanted to leave … which meant getting another taxi.

Most of the independent travelers I met in Egypt had an experience similar to mine. If you do get a chance to visit someday, I hope you can learn something from my visit to make it more enjoyable—below are some additional tips to make for a smoother Cairo visit than mine!

Insider Travel Tips: Visiting the Pyramids of Giza

How to Avoid Scams

In addition to our advice above, check reviews on the Pyramids’ TripAdvisor listing—this is where you’ll find the most up-to-date tips on scams and shake-downs happening right now. Other travelers will often leave some gems of tips in the reviews there. 

Where to Stay in Cairo

I recommend Nile Meridien Hotel for a great mid-range option, Kempinski Nile Hotel, Cairo if you’re keen to splurge on something quite nice and in a safe area (and with a fabulous breakfast buffet), and Ambiance Cairo Hotel for those on a budget but still wanting great amenities. (If you’re just doing an in-and-out and want to stay right next to the pyramids, then nab a night at Giza Pyramids Inn and then head on your way.)

Egypt Travel Guide

Our free guide to traveling Egypt covers the essentials, and you should also have a print guidebook like the Egypt Lonely Planet, which offers great transportation and navigation tips once you’re on the ground. You’ll also really get more out of the visit if you’re up on the Egypt’s fascinating history, so we recommend sending A History of Ancient Egypt to your Kindle, or buying a print copy for the plane.

Join a Tour

Sure, you could visit the pyramids solo—I did it and survived—but you’d have a much better experience joining a tour. This is a really great day tour if you’re solo traveling the rest of Egypt, or they even have adventure versions on quad bikes and such.

Or I highly recommend taking the 12-day Egypt Upgraded G Adventures tour (the eight-day version is also terrific if you’re pressed for time). I’ve taken dozens of G Adventures tours over the years and stand by them as the best small-group tour company for travelers. 

Book Travel Insurance

Seriously, you need travel insurance if you’re heading to Egypt. Particularly if you’re visiting the touristy spots like the pyramids. Great travel insurance protects you if your gear is stolen, if you need medical help, or just need trip protection—we recommend contracting World Nomads coverage for the duration of your Egyptian trip.

Read Next: Photo Essay: 20+ Photos of Amazing Egypt

59 thoughts on “Visiting the Pyramids of Egypt: A Survival Guide”

  1. There is nothing to see inside the pyramids themselves, so dont bother wasting your time and energy. Just take a walk around on the outside. I had researched it well before i went to the pyramids. I booked a hotel right in front of the sphinx, so i didnt have to carry any cash or anything else with me, i left it all in my hotel room which was like 5 minutes walk from the sphinx. All I had with me was a couple of 10LE bills and my cell phone tucked safely in my pocket, and a photocopy of my passport.

    When approached by the hagglers I just stood my ground, shook my head, and pointed to my pockets turning them inside out to show that I had no wallet or money on me. Once they realized that, they quickly moved away as they didnt want to waste time with someone who had no money – LOL :)

    While i understand the situation with poverty and their struggle to put food on the table for their kids and families, but that in no way justifies their attitude and behavior. Their are other decent and honorable ways to make a living.

    Anyway, I am glad that i came out of that place with no damage done and i was able to spend some quality time on my own, inspite of the occasional rush of these vendors and camel owners etc.They all disappeared once they knew that they wont get anything out of me even if they beat me to a pulp hehehehehe.

  2. This is 100% accurate and I had the same experience in 1999. I had always wanted to go to the Pyramids but when I got there it was a completely miserable experience and I was still disappointed about it almost 20 years later.

    In October I decided to try it again, just to see if I could set things right. This time I booked a guided tour in advance through Marriott iSeatz. It cost about $80 and was possibly the best money I’ve ever spent. The driver and guide kept all the hustlers away and I had a great time. Spent three hours walking around taking pictures with virtually no hassle. Total 180 from my first trip and left me with a much, much better feeling about the place.

    For the record, I’m not specifically endorsing Marriott as the only or best option…use whoever you want but just make sure you book a guided tour through a reputable agency rather than try to go it alone. This is not a place for tourists to be wandering around by themselves.

  3. Same thing happened to me, but I was scammed for a lot more. My taxi driver wouldn’t even acknowledge that I could walk around the pyramids and of course brought me straight to a camel/horse place after I refused the papyrus and perfume shops. My quotes in USD were outrageous. And meanwhile they’re telling me over and over that the pyramids/Sphinx are 12km away from each other and unwalkable. At this point I knew they were lying and asked to go back to my hotel because I knew I needed more research (no internet on me was a real downfall). They brought their offers down just slightly. I just went for it, only to be surprised by the fact that my outrageous quote didn’t even cover the guide apparently. Wtf did I just pay for? Probably best to only have like $40 USD and 200 LP in your pocket at all so no matter what pressure is put on you, you couldn’t possibly pay.
    The only benefit is that as a solo traveller, my guide took a lot of pics of me.
    As a side, Cairo is the worst place I’ve ever been as a woman. The cat calling is relentless and has made me a starving recluse in my hotel room.

  4. This is such a great post. I went there with 3 other friends in 2009 and had the exact same feeling of harassment. No matter were we went, the begging or pushing you to give your money is horrible. On the day we went to Giza to see the pyramids, we rode horses to get there and we could see the great amout of trash around the pyramid area. Seriously, I was shocked (and I am from Brazil, things here are not perfect but, dude, our tourist parks are decent!). We were all so disappointed. We were actually angry!!!! We could not enjoy the visit as we expected. We went inside the pyramid (I don´t recall which one) and the officer demanded from us to leave our cameras with him – we had no choice! and when we got back, he was asking money to return them!!! We refused, but it was not easy. We had to be more than assertive (as someone said previously: ‘ass***es’) with the officer, but we managed to get our cameras back and not pay him for them.

    Well… the disappointment was so, so big…. I never say never, but it´s very unlikely I will go there again….

  5. I saw this post was from April 2009 and nothing has changed. In fact, it got worse. I went to Egypt April 2016 to give some training for a bank. The last day I finished early and thought I’d visit the Pyramids. Big mistake going alone.

    I also took the taxi (uber) which was the best part of the visit. But when I got there I couldn’t wait to leave. I was harassed to take one of those donkey carriages. These guys are even more aggressive. They don’t take no for an answer and you have to pay for everything. And they charge in USD. My currency is 1-16 to the dollar!!. What a joke. I end up paying more than I should (way more!!! 90USD) and that’s just because I got scared at some point. The police are corrupt and extort money from these so called camel and donkey carriage guides. So they end up charging you more cause they have to pay bribes to the police.

    I don’t care how poor a country is. We also have a lot of poor people where I live but this is now way to treat tourists. We have learnt that tourism is a great source of income for a country.

    The pyramids are grossly neglected. There are no signs where to go or what to do. I would have gladly walked on my own and explored the scenery, but these camel and donkey cart jokey’s are all over you like a cheap suit. If they just spent some money on upgrading the site, add some parking, put up some signs, open a decent shop or two, have guided tours at regular intervals, protect the tourist and so on and so on. It’s not difficult. A lot of the local population close to the pyramids could benefit greatly from this attraction but instead they go the gung-ho way of exploiting the tourist. There is so much potential here, yet it’s scary whats going on.

    This should have been one of the best experiences for me but it turned out to be the worst. Maybe some of you had a better tour but I was left disappointed and scared. I couldn’t wait to get out of there and take the plane home. Wish I had seen this post before leaving. Never again, what a shame!

  6. Just got back from Alexandria two weeks ago after Cairo, Aswan & Luxor. Everything you said is true, but having been to Egypt several times there is a very simple solution. Act like a big, giant asshole. It probably helps if you’re kind of big (i’m 6’1″, 215lbs, not huge but not small). I learned that if you walk straight ahead at a rapid pace and when someone gets too close or too loud, turn to them menacingly with a scowl and almost yell, ‘what!?’ and start walking towards them quickly with your chest cocked out. I don’t really think it was me so much, but their fear of attracting law enforcement by me making a scene or instigating a scuffle. It seems the police treat the natives much more harshly than tourists and they most likely don’t have the same means to bribe the police with either. It wasn’t great fun acting like a cocky asshole, but I was generally left alone and able to do what I wanted. Cheers!

  7. It’s Egypt damn what do you expect? Did you want it to be la resort? Be prepared for a culture shock
    You’re bitch made

  8. Sorry this was not helpful at all. I was expecting practical tips! Every busy tourist site has got annoying people and you shouldn’t trust anyone but what about how to get a ticket, avoid crowds, transport??

  9. Many thanks Gary. Regrettably I have decided not to visit this time. at another time when I am ready for such hassle I might try. But something to think about for the authorities definitely.

  10. Most of the information in this leaves me feeling sad about the whole situation. One thing I was glad to hear was that the pyramids are so close to an establishment like a Pizza Hut. I have some concerns about being in the heat too long, water and feeling weak and this is actually good news so one day I may be able to go after all and not feel so scared about my body’s needs. Thanks for the article!

  11. Thank you Gary for the incite. I could have used it a couple years ago when I went the first time. I thought I would share my first experience to my second experience.
    1st trip. Pre-revolution
    I was traveling with one other person and set up the taxi ride with the concierge. The driver took us to two different stops before reaching to the “tourist” shop in front of the Pyramids. The first stop was the City of the Dead. It was kind of cool but with the unexpected stop, it felt a little nerve racking. The second stop was right in front of hospital/plaza. The taxi driver got out and led us to the basement of this plaza where a “Art Museum” was. The Museum was an Art Store. Again nerve racking, but it led me to buying a painting that I have hung in my living room. Finally we get to the Pyramids and we were ready to see the Pyramids. The taxi driver leads us into the tour business. In the tour business, we were brought to the rear of store where they tried to sell a camel or horse ride. Since I was educated about the Pyramids, I knew that we could walk the main 3. After tell them we would walk, they were very insistent on selling us the ride. We did leave with a tour guide and of course there were pluses and minuses. The guide brought us through a side gate where there were 2 guards and brought us around the pyramids. The guide was very friendly and helped us get rid of the annoying camel people. On the other side, he was working for money so in the end we had to pay out more money. There is no set of money when it comes to the guide.
    2nd trip Post revolution
    I was traveling with one other person and set up the taxi ride with the concierge. This taxi driver took us straight to the main entrance. After getting in, the taxi driver had set it up to give us a tour guide even though clearing I said I didn’t want one. We went along with guide because of my last experience. This guide was totally rude and had his own agenda. He tried to get us on camels many times after we were clear we wanted to walk. We did go inside the Great Pyramid (after paying for the ticket at the entrance). Prior to going in we were met by a guard sitting in a chair. After we get inside, we are met with a different tour guide. Even though it was clear that no pics can be taken, the guide lets you but always remember they aren’t doing it for nothing. We were exiting the pyramid, I tipped the guide and the guard in the chair tried to shake me for more money. I told him that I tipped the guide and he would have to get his cut out of him. The original guide got out of the mess and we were on our way. After seeing a small portion of the sites, the guide kept trying to take us to another Art Store and said its part of the tour. Knowing what that was all about I clearly said we didn’t want to but since my traveling partner hadn’t seen one, we went along with it. He led us down a dark alley before getting to the store. After leaving the store, he brought us back to the alley where he demanded money for the tour. There were a group of guys just standing in the alley that looked like it could be trouble if we didn’t give the guide the money he required.
    In 2013, these are the prices we paid for services:
    20LE for carriage (didn’t take it, but that was the offer)
    80LE for general admission
    200LE to go inside the Great Pyramid
    50LE to guide, but he wanted 200LE
    20LE to guide inside pyramid for pics.
    I am going back in a couple weeks and I am sure there will be more experiences, but with a little education, you will enjoy this impressive site.

  12. I agree BTW, a few very small investments would make a huge difference here:

    – consistent official signs with pricing for things that require official tickets
    – rubbish bins yes..
    – obvious uniforms / badges for security / park workers so that all the people that claim to work there but don’t are obvious

    But yeah. I actually got arrested and detained in another part of Giza because I ignored a guy ‘guarding’ a park who had no uniform but turned out to be a cop. Slightly (I’m understating here) harrowing experience (thrown into a shabby unmarked car with three other ununiformed armed guys, but thankfully driven into an actual police station and released after half an hour) – things are still a bit tense here politically and it turns out I had been poking around the police station area too closely with my camera.

  13. Reading this post after visiting the Pyramids today and haha – nothing much has changed in 2014. But I am staying nearby in Giza so I knew what to expect and mentally prepared for it.

    Wearing headphones and listening to music is a great strategy for almost all busy tourist destinations. Cuts out inane chatter of other tourists and makes it easier to ignore X percent of the hustlers who yell at you but can’t be bothered actually chasing you.

    And of course as you say anyone who does anything for you no matter how small will expect money. Either bring a lot of small bills and coins and offer a fixed amount upfront or just reply to basically anything anyone says to you with ‘thank you very much, I dont have a tip for you I’m sorry / I’m not going to buy anything’ + ‘have a nice day’ as a response to whatever they reply.

    Smile and be friendly but know that if you engage much deeper you are probably going to have trouble getting away.

    The thing that got me was actually how expensive (relatively) entrance to the main pyramid is.. Entrance fees in total for the day:
    Overall admission: 80
    Main pyramid: 200
    Other pyramid: 40

    I don’t really get the discrepancy in price (printed on official tickets and apparently correct – although locals said they would have bribed into the main pyramid with 50 cash..)

    It’s kinda neat going inside the pyramids – but also very cramped and hot, probably just unpleasant for some – but also quite basic – just a narrow steep shaft and a minimal chamber with ahem a dehumidifier and some neon tube lights.

    In retrospect I would have just done the cheaper one.

    I paid 50 for a camel ride later in the day and really enjoyed it. Also gave some kids a 20 for some postcards and bookmarks (made the mistake of leaving out a third kid who then followed me for a long time). That’s probably way more than I needed too but hey.. It translates to around $3 – it’s not the worst thing in the world to give some broke kids extra cash.

    All in all the day cost me 390 pounds – a little over $50 usd. Could have saved over half of that by skipping going into one pyramid. I can’t think of many major attractions that you can see for less than $25-$50.

    All in all it was slightly harrowing but still a great day.. I would recommend it, just mentally prepare and do your best to carry small bills so you never need to argue for change.

  14. Let me preface this by saying that I visited the pyramids and have also traveled extensively abroad in Europe, Asia and the Middle East, so I can discuss this with some context.
    Get off your high 1st world horses (or camels) and chill. The Egyptian people are POOR. If they are ‘scamming’ you for extra money, its more than likely they do so that they can feed and clothe their family. What the writer (and others) did not indicate to you was how much an Egyptian pound is worth: .14 USD or .10 EURO. Unemployment disguised as underemployment may exceed 30 percent. Do your research before visiting (you have the computers and money). Go with tour groups, be respectful, hope for the best, plan for the worst. If it is your dream to visit, go visit, but examine it without the idealisms presented in National Geographic, but also not by the negatives presented here.

    • I’ve spent almost a decade of my life traveling around the world. I’ve been to over 100 countries and I’ve seen plenty of poverty.

      No where in the world, not even in Egypt, was like the pyramids.

      I stand by what I say.

  15. Generalisation is bad but! This place takes a cake!! My ordeal started with the hotel concierge ! My initial booking with them to visit the pyramids was 355LE. On the day of the tour which was only the following day, the price had jumped to 500. If you despise dishonesty, you will be disgusted in Egypt. It is a culture of so many, i wonder where good religious people are hiding!

  16. Gary – you don’t know how many people I have sent to this post over the years. Thank you for your honesty, and for writing abt travel as it can be – not as we imagine it to be!

    • I went few times to Egypt as well.
      Pyramids is just disgusting to go, unless you like to get ripped off.
      Went there with private car and driverfrom hotel.
      Guide tried to ripped me off at any chance.
      Trying to go to carpets and jewelry etc.
      Finally arrived at pyramids.
      Negotiated price for camel ride.
      But did not negotiate price to get off camel!!!
      But arguments and almost fights with about 10 guys.
      I couldnt fight all of them, so I paid, after few guys punched me from behind in back.
      It is so aggressive there.
      I have been to many poor countries 3rd and 4th world countries.
      No reason to be aggressive.

  17. You should contact the Supreme Council of Antiquities. This is the director’s email address off of their website:

    I know that it probably won’t make a difference, but I think you should just copy paste your whole blog post into an email to them and ask them why they don’t take care of the pyramid site.

    I was really sad to hear about your visit, and I believe you. I have spent my whole life since I was a child wanting to go to see the Pyramids in all of their glory, but now I find myself not wanting to go at all. Makes me sad that there is a pizza hut across from the sphinx. I can’t believe that a country with one of the oldest civilizations in the world isn’t doing what it should to maintain this wonder of the world. Thank you for being so honest.

  18. I recently read a post about how much harassment tourists get in Egypt. Great that you shared this experience about visiting the pyramids so others can avoid as many issues as possible.

    I love that you pretended to be from some obscure country. My Spanish could be useful, but I think my hair, eye, and skin color might give away that I’m not Bolivian :-)

  19. I had a similar experience at the pyramids back in March of this year. I traveled from Istanbul overland to Cairo and the touts in Egypt definitely test your limits with how aggressive they can get. I suppose it is the price you must pay to see the last remaining Wonder of the Ancient World.

    I was there shortly after Mubarak stepped down and the tourist numbers were still down. So when I went to the Pyramids there was hardly anybody and the camel riders really targeted me. My little piece of advice on dealing with the camel riders is to pretend your a running back and start doing zig zag patterns. It doesn’t stop them from approaching you but its entertaining to watch the camel rider continue to turn around and change direction.

  20. Hi Gary,

    The situation is the same (if not worse) now that the tourist numbers have fallen after the January revolution.

    Everywhere I went in Egypt (by myself, with my wife, or as part of a tour group) it was the same – touts and people hassling us to buy something, inviting us to “see my shop”, telling us that was closed. It never stopped.

    My wife and I have traveled a lot. This was the first holiday where we were glad that it was over and we were going home.

  21. I’ve been three times. My experience is exactly as written but I did learn two things that I would like to share.

    1. All this trouble is in front of the pyramids. I went around to the back, and was virtually the only one there. It was great.

    2. Go for the light show at night. Professionally run, great time.

  22. This is not only the Pyramids but Egypt in general. I’ve traveled the Middle East extensively.. Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, UAE, Qatar and nowhere have I encountered more scamming and con as in Egypt. The scams started the moment I arrived in Alexandria where I caught a cab and agreed upon a fare of 15 LE, after the cab ride handed him a 20 and he decided to just keep it and suddenly pretended to not understand English. Funny he spoke perfect English just earlier…I had to threaten him to get my change back.
    Then at the subway station the guy selling tickets pocketed a pound for himself, the subway fare was 1 LE, I gave him a 5 and he gave me 3 LE back and refused to understand that the change was wrong.
    I had prepared well for the Pyramids so I just didn’t talk to anyone or look at any of the touts. One time someone shoved a T-Shirt into my hands, I just let it fall to the ground and walked on. Another time someone said “good luck” and tried to put something on my head, I just kept walking and they had to take it back.
    The scams and rip offs are annoying but I understand the economy is extremely bad and people are desperate…

  23. What a hard read. I can’t believe there was nothing possitive said. I mean, as far as I was able to read. I just kept hearing a bunch of whinning! I have traveled to many parts of the world where people try to rip me off. It’s part of travel. Get over yourself. I traveled to Madrid one year where I went into a cafe and ordered a cup of coffe and a pastry, I gave them a 50 dollar bill, and they refunded me a few cents. So you see, you need to be aware of where your going, and not be neive. It doesn’t make it right, it’s just the way it is.

    • Well rudeness is never acceptable, but honestly what do you expect when handing them the currency of another country?
      What would happen if I paid for a coffee in Washington with a 50 EUR note??

  24. Oh man! I started the day in a bad mood and now I’ll end it in one. Excellent article, but not the kind of news I wanted to hear. Riding a camel at the Pyramids has been on my list forever! I guess I’ll keep it on the list, but not quite so close to the top. And now I’ll be better prepared. Thanks for the eye-opener.

    • Gary,

      I’m really sorry to hear that you or any other person had to go through such an experience. I apologize on behalf of all of Egypt! To get to the point, I believe you realized, as you stated in your post, that The Supreme Council of Antiquities is indeed run by a bunch of low-life scumbags. I’m really sad that I have to say that about my people, but its true. As to the harassing that occurs around the Pyramids’ site, that happens due to the few uneducated ignorant people that try to sell the tourists ANYTHING they can in order to make ANY amount of money to feed their families.

      This is actually the first time I ever post on a blog or even really get interested in a blog post. However, your post really moved me, of course along with the other posts that people have shared here saying that they had a similar experience. I am going to take your post and try to pass it on to some officials to show them what tourists really think of their experiences in Egypt, and hopefully that can change something if anything. I would really appreciate if you can send me any videos or pictures that can support this. After all, I would really hate to see one more person go through such an experience in this lovely country that is full of history but unfortunately full of poverty too, which drives its people to perform such actions.

      I really hope that you enjoyed the rest of your stay here in Egypt. And I encourage everyone to come visit the land of the Pharaohs!

  25. Nelspruit Lodge – I’m also a South African and I had a very similar experience to Gary regarding the Pyramids. We had two days in Cairo and the first day entailed the Pyramids and the Museum and after Day 1, we could have happily closed the door on Egypt and never considered it again :-)

    If you want to chat, just let me know via Twitter/my blog!

  26. The pyramids are amazing, I can’t wait to go back. One thing that wasn’t as easy when traveling was calling home…thats why I found CallArc to be a lifesaver, Free International Calls, can’t beat that.

  27. I know how to survive visit to the Pyramids. Don’t go! LOL!! Seriously, if it’s that much of a hassle, I don’t see the point.

    I am reminded of my visit to the Dominican Republic where the constant harassing by local vendors became almost unbearable. Again, it’s a poor country, so I understand the desperation, but it ruins what would have been an otherwise great vacation.

  28. Great post! Good to know that other people get annoyed by the constant touts that turn up at large tourist traps like the Pyramids. I still want to go there since it’s always been on my to do list, but I will definently watch out and take care based on your advice. Thanks!

  29. Great post! I have Egypt in my sights for my next travel destination. Definitely some valuable information to keep in mind.

  30. Gary,

    That is brutal! Sounds as if you were hit by EVERY crappy tourist scam there is…all at once.

    I find myself yelling and cussing a lot in those situations, it does not necessarily help but gets some confused looks from locals. Actually, I besides really hating such behavior on a personal level and having to put up with shelling out big dollars for an “attraction” without value – I am also consumed with ensuring my kids are taking care of and having a tout come at aggressively is usually a bit much.

    Great post! Think I will avoid the pyramids…

  31. Echoing Anne’s comment: Acting like you are mentally impaired and deaf generally works like a charm when being harassed by touts. No eye contact, mouth slightly agape, no reaction when spoken to, and never…I repeat…NEVER STOP WALKING.

    That technique has gotten me through every tourist gauntlet in Egypt and India without a scratch!

  32. I seem to be the only one here who didn’t have a horrible time at the pyramids. I just followed my time honored approach of not making eye contact and shaking my head no while continuing to walk. If you don’t provide any feedback at all they stop following you pretty quickly, or at least that’s my experience.

  33. “You will notice as you approach the pyramids that it is not like what you have seen in pictures all your life. While one side of the pyramids are up against the desert, the other side is right up against a residential neighborhood. In fact right across the street from the main gate to the pyramids is a Pizza Hut. That that is literally what the Sphinx is looking at.”

    You think maybe after all this time, it’s getting a little hungry?

  34. Just got back from Egypt. Did Cairo & the pyramids in a tour group.

    Please believe me, being in a tour group does NOT protect you, except from having to use the taxis. For the rest, though, unless you physically cluster in a totally impenetrable mass you are not protected, and even then, the hucksters get the people on the outside edge. As it stands, however, they are capable of cutting apart even the most tightly clustered group of people for individual harassment, more efficiently than I have ever seen sheepdogs cut a herd of sheep.

    From your description, you missed out on the “musical” epileptic toy camels being sold.

  35. When I visited few year ago, I was constantly being chased by locals who want to sell me one thing or another. Although I enjoyed many aspects of my visit, it was very annoying to have to deal with saying no every minute of the day. To say no is “La'”

  36. These are cultural experiences, I’m sure that people from Egypt going to US have issues with American systems too. At least they don’t treat foreign tourists as second class (or terrorists) in Egypt, or do they?

    When I went to Russia last year, I struggled with my newly learnt Russian – but everywhere I went, people listened and helped me with patience. Recently I was in NYC and a Russian man wanted to buy a burger but could not speak good English. He was treated in a bad fashion. Fortunately I could translate it.

    I understand you had bad experiences. But if you look at it from a perspective, it can be understood better. Who doesn’t have cultural experiences like that? But why am I telling this to a guy like you who is well traveled! ? Oops, my bad.

    But I’ll be careful before I lower my guards when I visit Egypt this fall. Thanks for the tips.

    • Are you saying that the camel riders at the pyramids are evidence of Egypt’s culture?? I hope not and I don’t think many Egyptians would want them to be the face the world sees of Egypt. The vast majority of Egyptians are not con men and hustlers.

      It’d say it is as much a part of culture as getting mugged in New York City is.

      Not everything in a foreign country is a “cultural” experience.

  37. I went to Egypt last summer, luckily on a tour. While in Cairo, we had an amazing (female) guide, who managed to get us to all the famous and most interesting places without having to deal with most of those bloodsuckers.
    What really got to me were the roads (I was terrified of crossing the street, even locals stopped to help, surprisingly, out of the goodness of their hearts) and the fact that , being 3 sisters, we were goggled at everywhere we went, and that can get really uncomfortable, to say the least.
    Thankfully, it was only for 3 days, and we spent the last at the hotel.
    Averything in Egypt but Cairo was incredible, and I would definitely recommend it, even the bargaining prices at markets part. One day at Cairo is more than enough (pyramids and museum is all there is to see)

  38. A friend of mine lives in Cairo and has invited me for a visit. Thanks for the warning … I’ve been to the Taj Mahal and had similar experiences. Do you think there’s an international training school that teaches how to pressure the tourists into parting with their money?

  39. Was there in ’99 and had a similar experience. When we were supposed to go to the pyramids, our driver took us first to a papyrus store, then to a perfume store (for lunch, at least it was comp), then told us that there was no road out to the pyramids and the only way to get there was to take a horse or camel. So we were suckered into the camel ride. When we stopped near the Sphinx, some guy who was standing near a section of temple motioned to us that it was a good spot for a picture and then demanded a tip which we refused. Once at the pyramids, things were okay (probably because we’d already been ‘claimed’ by our horse/camel guys) but the two larger ones were being renovated apparently, so we went in the smaller one.

    Overall our Egyptian trip was a real headache because it was just my father, sister, and I doing things for ourselves, and we encountered pretty similar scams to all the above listed. Cairo was a nightmare, Luxor much more manageable, etc. On the other hand at least two of our taxi drivers were decent human beings who went out of their way to protect us from scammers. Sure, they were possibly hoping for a tip, but they didn’t badger us about it in any case. One guy even took us to his flat (where he lived with his elderly mother and father) and allowed us to get showers before our late-night train trip up to Luxor. He really went above and beyond the call of duty.

    So what does Egypt teach us? As a poor country with massive unemployment but a huge tourist reputation, traveling by oneself is not for the fainthearted or the thin-skinned. My father–who is usually a proponent of DIY travel–said that if he ever goes back there, it’ll be with a tour.

    Lastly, I have to agree with the fellow who posted above, that if your world tour doesn’t include Turkey (Turkiye) you are doing yourself a serious disservice. Forget Europe, which is an overpriced, overdeveloped, and overrated playground for the rich and boring. Get thyself to the underground cities of Capadocia, sunken ruins along the Mediterranean, the unmatched presence of Mount Ararat over Dogubeyazit, and that great romantic city, Istanbul. I was lucky enough to spend four months there as a student, and it was one of the best travel experiences of my life.

    –Bruce, US expat currently in Nanjing, China

  40. Hey C,

    I went to Egypt lastChristmas with Cairo being the final stop. Yeah the beggers can be annoying. I got suckered into the Pyramid Camel ride con myself. Luckily I didn’t have that much money with me.

    Did you go down into one of the Pyramids?
    Did you visit the Hard Rock Cafe Store next to Pyramids?

  41. Oh man! I had nearly the same experience in Egypt, myself. While we’re in a long lay over in Cairo International (about 13 hours), we figured out that we had been included on a group tourist trip to Giza. Now the first thing that *really* screwed me up was that they take your passports and give you NOTHING in return. Just a promise that they are honest and will give them back. Hah. More on that later.

    We end up waiting outside on a hot August day with a group of about 30 people. About half an hour after the tour bus was supposed to be there, we all loaded up and started the long drive to Giza. It was then, that I realized I was likely the only American on the tour. Even my travel buddy was European. But no worries, right? I was safe in a group!

    We at least had some fair warning about the people trying to sell you everything everywhere. They told us not to give anyone money. The rest of the trip to the pyramids was pretty quiet. the smog of the city reminded me of L.A. and communication via # of honks, and 7 rows of traffic across 3 painted lines only made me a *little* nervous.

    When we first got to the pyramids, we were told we’d have half an half an hour to take pictures at the first site. We were bombarded by sales people, and my poor Danish friend who’s never had to hang up on a telemarketer (exaggeration) was trying the polite approach to get rid of this guy. Finally, I had to drag him away and tell the guy we weren’t interested and we weren’t buying anything while dragging my friend away.

    We stopped 3 times. Every time, this happened. The last stop we made had a row of curio shops, and they seemed pretty cheap so I figured I’d get one thing. All I had at that point was a 100LE bill, as I was ripped off by the camel ride guy (Yeah, I fell for it).

    Now, I’m not a real flea market savvy person, but I had just spent 2 hours in Swaziland going through a mile of curio shops and getting some really good deals on things. So I tried to play the game I knew how to play.

    No dice. After picking up a statue for 10LE, I asked for my change back, and the guy told me to pick something else. And something else. And something else. He said he had no change to give me, and he refused to give me back my 100LE. Lesson learned. NEVER give anyone money until they are offering you change.

    Eventually, I told him I was taking as many things as I wanted, because he had broken the deal we had originally made. I ended up with 3 Pyramids, a Tut, Sphinx and Scarab Beetle. I still wasn’t happy with the amount I had spent, but, you live and learn.

    After we made our way back sunburned, dry-mouthed and dehydrated, we all went back to receive our passports and wait for our plane.

    Yeah. Right. Everyone on the tour except my Danish friend and I had received our passports. For the next several hours, we waited, argued, and reasoned them back into our hands an hour before our flight into LHR.

    We ran into a nice British couple who had been doing the tourism thing around Egypt alone. They explained that they had a police officer escort them around town, and then beg for money after they got to each destination. How do you turn down a corrupt officer with an AK in a foreign country? You don’t.

    Never. Again.

    At least we weren’t surprised when our luggage was lost in Cairo and took an extra week to find us back home.

    When I got back into the states and people had asked about my pictures, I couldn’t tell them how disgusted I was with how things were run in Egypt. And I had just gotten out of South Afrika/Swaziland.

    Thank you for sharing. I’m so glad my friend and I weren’t the only ones.

  42. I like your article on the pyraminds. I saw them once but it was from a 747 on my way back from the 1st Gulf War. From up high they are beautiful. I guess the scam/scum only shows up when you get close.

    Skull for the win!

  43. Yeah, I was at the Pyramids five months ago. Very similar experience. Glad you made it out relatively unscathed!

  44. I have not seen any Turkey reviews. You are always welcome in Turkey…

  45. I went to the Pyramids one year ago and had a really similar experience. Once you got in the surprisingly underwhelming entrance everyone was trying to rip you off. It was amazing how relentless they were. I saw one guy get on a camel for a picture and then it started walking so they charged him for a ride.

    To answer your question about the “free” t-shirts. From what I saw, they will do anything to give it to you and then when you take it they will beg relentlessly for money since they gave you a “gift”

    Our personal story started with my mom buying a postcard from one kid and ended with the whole family taking a picture with head dresses on next to the kids and a camel. We almost got in a fight with the kids dad who was in on the scam and demanded a huge tip.

    It is definitely worth going, but be mentally prepped to get barraged.

  46. Great post. I had the exact same experience when I visited the pyramids two years ago. Thankfully, I went to Cairo last on my Egypt trip and had already had great experiences in Luxor, Aswan, and Sinai. I spent about an hour at the pyramids before I got frustrated and when back to the hotel. It was probably the most disappointing travel experience I’ve had!

    I second the motion of taking the subway/minibus and bypassing the taxi and camel touts.

  47. This is a great post, very engaging. By your adventure, it can be a travel nightmare waiting to happen. I will put this in mind if we decide to do an independent travel in the area. Thanks!

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