Update: This story was originally written and published in 2011 based on my experience in 2008. Since then, I have become more aware of the potential for tourism-related animal abuse.
In 2023, PETA released video footage documenting mistreatment at the Birqash Camel Market. Given how hard it is for travelers to verify camels they ride are treated well, the only safe bet is not to ride a camel.
The Great Pyramids of Giza are best experienced on a camel. Arguing that it's better to approach the last of the seven original wonders of the world in a minivan or massive air-conditioned bus will be an exercise in futility.
It may top the list of tourism cliches; however, riding a camel in Giza was not only one of my favorite experiences from a lifetime of travel but also some of my favorite photos.
But there's one catch before you can enjoy this epic, time-honored tradition. You must bargain for your camel. And let me tell you; it won't be easy.
My 11 days in Egypt quickly taught me that Egyptians are hardcore when bargaining. It reminded me of my time in India, where I faced tough negotiators at every turn.
The good news is you can turn this potentially stressful situation into a game and a fun one too.
Negotiating Your Camel Ride
Note: I arranged a one-day tour of the Great Pyramids and Giza through the same Cairo-based tour company I booked my Nile River cruise. These companies are a dime a dozen downtown.
These tips are based on the assumption that you are either prepared to hire your camel independently (i.e., go straight to Giza on your own) or the tour you arrange leaves the camel negotiating up to you.
1. Do Your Homework
There are many hotels in Egypt, and even the most budget-oriented ones have staff willing to warn you about the potential tricks and scams guides and tour companies play on tourists.
Take advantage of the local advice to anticipate what's coming, and you should be able to maintain control of the experience and your money.
Be wary of booking your tours through the hotel itself, as that will increase the cost versus doing it on your own since they will get a commission for the sale.
2. Treat It Like A Game
The game begins when you arrive in Giza and walk into one of the little offices where the camel negotiating occurs.
You'll be warmly welcomed with smiles, laughter, tea, and possibly a lousy joke like me.
Don't get distracted by the transparent attempts to woo you, but be open to banter and rapport building, as it will benefit you just as much as the other guy.
You'll be offered several options. The agent will try to upsell you on the more expensive option, and it's your job to get that experience for as little as possible.
Don't worry about the agent's financial well-being; he won't rent you a camel at a loss.
Whatever rate you ultimately agree on, he'll surely be making some profit from the transaction, though it might not be as much as the other suckers walking through his door who haven't read these tips!
3. Be Dramatic
As you mull over the options presented, ask many questions: hem and haw. Consult your guidebook. Delay.
Pretend you have all the time in the world because, at that moment, you do. Meanwhile, the agent is racing to book as many daily tours as possible. Time is money to him. Use this to your advantage.
Watch for signs that he's becoming impatient because they'll mean you're in the driver's seat.
4. Offer 50-75 Percent Less Than the Initial Rate
One of the biggest mistakes tourists make when bargaining abroad is to think of the product or service's value in terms of their home country's currency versus the local currency.
If you're thinking in US Dollars while the seller is thinking in terms of Egyptian Pounds, that leaves a wide margin for him and inadvertently inflates expectations and prices for future tourists.
For example, I was quoted $80 for the two-hour, “long” version of the camel ride around the Pyramids.
After applying the techniques in this article, we ultimately settled on $40. I'm positive a more assertive negotiator than myself could've gotten it for even less.
On the plus side, I enjoyed an extra 30 minutes on tour, much to the dismay of the manager, who scolded my camel guide upon our return.
5. Don't Be Afraid To Walk Out The Door
In the stables on the outskirts of the Pyramids, plenty of camels hang around. And plenty of agents are willing to rent those camels to tourists.
If you're unsatisfied with the rates offered in the first office, don't hesitate to walk out the door and try another one.
If you booked the whole day through a larger tour company, that company has an agreement with the first office they bring you to and probably gets a commission for any sales they bring in.
By showing that you're willing to go elsewhere, you're potentially removing a sale from both parties.
Be respectful but firm. And if the guy doesn't try to stop you, or offer you his best deal as you head for the exit, then at least you have a better sense of the going rate for when you go to the next office.
Egypt is hot, dusty, and crowded. It's easy to get overwhelmed by it all, and throwing in the back-and-forth negotiating of camels can turn an otherwise fun experience into a stressful occasion.
Remember to treat it like a game and not take it too seriously.
Once you're riding through the desert, on your way to walk like an Egyptian in front of the Great Pyramids, you'll soon realize nothing else matters in those moments.
This story is brought to you in partnership with Travel Republic Limited.