Scams and how to avoid them
First of all, let's be clear that Luxor is a very safe place. I would sooner let my children walk at night through the street of Luxor than the streets of many british towns and cities. Furthermore, the vast majority of Egyptian people are honest. If you leave change in a shop, most of them would call you back or follow you to make sure you are not out of pocket. Regrettably, however, there are a few rouges in Luxor, as everywhere else.
You may not come across any of these things - but just in case you do, browse the following and be prepared!
Pickpockets and distraction thefts
Pickpockets are everywhere. In our experience there are fewer in Luxor than most tourist cities, but be prepared. A reduction in the presence of tourist police has made life a little easier for the few dishonest local people and a little more difficult for the tourist. Take the usual precautions. Do up your bag. Keep valuables and openings in bags in front of you, not behind you.
There is a team of two working in the area behind Luxor Temple and sometimes in and around St Joseph Street. One of them is dressed in a galabeya, the other in european casuals. One will distract you by showing you a scarf or something similar and try to command you attention with his sales pitch, whilst the other is helping himself to your camera, purse or anything else he can see.
He said he would take us to the hotel for 'ten'. On the way he took us to shops that we did not want to go to, but he insisted. When we eventually got to the hotel, he charged ten english pounds per person. We thought the ride was going to cost us about £1. We ended up giving him £40. This made me so scared I didn't leave the hotel for the rest of the holiday. (paraphrased from a story told to us by British holidaymaker)
There are some trustworthy caleche drivers. Regular visitors and local ex-pats often have their favourites and steer clear of the others. The rest of us need to be cautious because, unfortunately, this is where many of the scams happen. Steering clear of the caleches altogether is the only way to be sure of avoiding scams. If you do take a ride on a caleche, be aware of the following:
Currency of the quote
Caleche drivers will call out to visitors 'FIVE'. You expect they are asking for five egyptian pounds. Be sure to clarify this before you get in. If you do not they will remember that the currency has been left open and may charge five english pounds, dollars, euros or something else and ask you for that amount in Egyptian currency.
Price per passenger
When you agree a price, and have agreed that the price is in Egyptian pounds, be sure to agree that it is for the whole caleche, not per person. If you do not do this this may charge the agreed amount per person.
Caleche drivers may tell you that the main tourist market is closed or that there is a 'local market' somewhere else. The main market is open from early morning until after 10pm and is never closed when another one is open. They want to take you the other way either to get you to take a ride or because they get commission somewhere else.
Even if you agree the currency and that the fee is for the whole caleche, the driver may ask for more because he took you to a shop or for an extra ride, even if you did not want to go! Be clear that you only want to go to your destination, not to other places on the way.
Agree the price, the currency and that it is the price for the whole carriage. Agree that you are going to your destination only. If he offers to take you to visit his family shop on the way - refuse.
We agreed a felucca trip for LE40. It was too windy so he took us in a motor boat instead. We got back late and he asked us for LE200 because the motor boat was dearer and the trip was more than an hour.
A felucca ride on the Nile is a wonderful part of a Luxor holiday and most trips are enjoyed without any problems at all. Be aware of things that can go wrong, especially if you book through people on the Corniche, to make sure yours is as enjoyable as it should be.
How many people for how long?
You will often be quoted a rate for a felucca trip. Clarify that it is the rate for the whole boat and not per person. (Some hotels and agents charge per person but this is made clear at the outset). You will normally be told that the trip is for an hour. However, when you are on the Nile you may find that the hour is up when you are far from your dropping-off point. You may then be charged more than you agreed and will be told it is because the trip was longer. If you want a longer trip, fine, but it is best to agree how long the trip is before you start, and to agree a fixed price for the whole boat, to avoid a surprise price increase at the end.
Motor boat assistance or substitute
Some days are very windy. If it is too windy it is not safe to use the feluccas. They may sell you a felucca trip and not tell you until you get to the pier that it is too windy and that you will be going in a motor boat instead.
If there is not enough wind they may either substitute a motorboat or get a motorboat to tow the felucca up river. In either case the cost will be higher because the charge for a motorboat is more than the charge for a felucca. The difference can be substantial, especially as you have negotiated on the basis that only a felucca will be involved. A typical rate for a small group for a one hour trip on a felucca is LE30. A motorboat may be charged at LE80 - LE100.
Agree a fixed price per boat and agree a duration. Make it clear that this is the amount you will pay and that you are only going on a felucca. Say if it is too windy, or not windy enough, you will go on another day. Check before you go that there are other feluccas sailing against the flow of the river under their own wind power and that they are not being towed. (The river flows from left to right as you face the Nile from the East bank. They don't need wind to sail that way - the rive flow is enough. To check whether there is enough wind, make sure feluccas are sailing from right to left as you face the Nile from the east bank).
Local people, especially porters, are often given foreign coins by holiday makers who have recently arrived and do not have Egyptian currency. Local people are not able to change coins at the bank so need to change them privately. This is common and is often innocent. However, there are some people who take advantage of the tourists' willingness to exchange coins.
You may be offered 10 euros or 10 english pounds and asked to change them. You may agree an exchange rate, but the true rate is rarely a simple whole figure. Unless you are good at maths or have a calculator you are likely to round the sum in their favour. Fine, but when you have agreed the amount you are paying, even if it is a little over the top, they may then say that they think the exchange rate is wrong or that it has just changed and ask you for some more egyptian notes.
Count the coins
You will see the number of coins when you are first asked to change them. Then you look to your purse, wallet or pocket to find the Egyptian currency. Are the number of coins you actually get, the number of coins you first saw before you looked away?
There are so many nationalities visiting Luxor, and so many different kinds of coins, that some similar ones can easily be confused, especially during a quick transaction in the street. The Sri Lankan 5 rupee is worth about 4p but it is so close in colour, size and shape to the English pound that it needs very careful inspection to tell them apart, especially when the designs on both of them change so frequently. Make sure that if you are offered coins of a particular type, they really are all that coin.
The only real way to avoid problems is not to agree to change coins at all; otherwise it is best to stick with people you know and you will see again, such as the porter in your own hotel. If you do agree to change coins with a stranger in the street, make sure you agree the amount; don't change the amount once agreed, and check before you part with the Egyptian money that the coins you are given are the coins you were expecting.
Men on bikes sell newspapers. They will usually say they are today's. In practice they are usually at least a day old, sometimes much older, and will probably be second-hand newspapers recovered from planes. Even if the paper on top of his pile is recent, the one underneath may not be! Be sure what you are getting, and that you know the price, before you pay.
This is not common, but very occasionally you may agree a price for something you want and the item may be switched for something similar, but not as good. This may happen by sleight of hand, or a trader may offer you a wrapped one in place of the unwrapped one you have inspected. This may all be fine, but to be sure, just check the item you are given is the actual item, or an identical item, to the one you inspected.
Shops pay commission to people who attract tourists to their shops if the tourist buys something. Commissions of 50% are common. A lot of this is legitimate - your tour rep probably does quite well if you buy something on a trip. Other people who are not employed to guide you may try to cash in on this.
Write a postcard
"Do you write English?". "Can you help me to write a postcard?". Yes, of course you can, but the chances are the chap asking you doesn't want a postcard written at all. If you agree, you will be taken to his cousin's shop, where you can write it for him. By that time you are in the shop and someone else will take over to try to sell you something. The ploy may also be to befriend you, to persuade you to buy a trip.
A stranger will ask "Remember me?" I am your waiter, porter, receptionist etc. He may even have noticed which hotel you came from and add credibility by mentioning it. He is not connected with the hotel. He is probably linked to a shop or to an unlicensed tour operation and after some friendly chat will try to take you to a shop, or to sell you a trip, or to plea for money so that he can buy his child's school uniform.
If someone is genuine about wanting a postcard written, they will have the card and a pen on them. If you want to help, offer to do it there and then. If they have to take you to a shop to write the card, think about why that might be. Don't be embarrassed into pretending that you remember someone if you don't. You can't remember them because you have not seen them before. They are not who they say they are. Just say, "no, sorry, I don't remember you".
Updated August 2011