1 Introduction
2 What to buy
3 Bargaining

There are department stores and malls in Cairo and Alexandria but the most interesting shopping is in the bazaars and souks. The process can take time and patience, but bargains abound. The main bazaar in Cairo, Khan El-Khalili, has a wide selection of ethnic items. It attracts tourists by the hoards, though wandering far off the main alleys will lead way to shops and corridors rarely visited. For a truly off-track shopping experience, visit one of the many fruit and vegetable souks scattered throughout the country. You'll find chickens milling about, people singing songs about their wares and dead cows hanging from storefront windows. Prices are clearly marked in Arabic numerals, usually indicating the cost of a kilogram. Bargaining is not appropriate in this context but learn the numerals so that nobody takes advantage of you.

What to buy

Egypt is well known for its
cotton and textiles
. Higher-end stores in luxury hotels and shopping malls around Cairo and Alexandria (as in World Trade Centre, Nile Hilton, Nile City Towers, and Marriott) have stores that sell linens and new clothes. For colourful tapestries, scarves and bags, Khan El-Khalili is a good place to start. Also of interest may be the Tent Makers' Bazaar, south of Bab Zuweila in Islamic Cairo, where it's possible to commission the making of a bedcover or a Bedouin tent. If you want a
, formal or otherwise, wander around the shops surrounding Al-Azhar mosque in Cairo. For handmade rugs, check out the many stores lining Sharia Saqqara, near the Giza Pyramids. Or if you are visiting the oases, wait till then to buy Bedouin designs woven in camel wool either in natural colours or bright with geometric designs.

, in particular, gold, silver and some precious stones, are cheap in Egypt. In the centre of Khan El-Khalili, as well as places scattered about Islamic Cairo, you will find exquisite gold jewellery. Sold by weight, with a bit of money tacked on for craftsmanship, you can have pieces made to order. Particularly popular are cartouches bearing your name or the name of a friend. Siwa Oasis is known for beautiful Berber silver jewellery, and though the world-renowned antique pieces were sold long ago modern pieces are made to the traditional designs.

can be found, albeit of varying quality, everywhere. Ensure when you are shopping around for papyrus that it is real, not the increasingly present imitation banana leaf. Real papyrus is not chemically treated, a process which causes the picture to disintegrate after three or four years. You can tell chemically treated papyrus by its homogenous surface and pliability. Thick and unmalleable, real papyrus can't be rolled or folded. Authentic papyrus also has variants of colour as the stalks have lighter and darker patches, which you can see in the meshwork when you hold it up to the light. Rest assured that the papyrus sellers you will trip over at every major tourist site are not selling the real thing, though if you just want to pick up some cheap presents then they have their uses. Dr Ragab's Papyrus Institute in Cairo is a bit pricey, but offers good-quality trustworthy papyrus art.

You'll probably smell the
stalls before you see them. They're all over Khan El-Khalili and most carry an extraordinary variety of smells - ranging from rose to Egyptian musk to replicas of famous scents. Ask around at different stalls for the going price before purchasing. Also fragrant and incredibly colourful are the abundance of stalls that sell
displayed in large burlap sacks. You will find everything from dried hibiscus to thyme, cumin to saffron, which is priced higher per kilo than gold, but still comparatively cheap. For an alternative spice experience, check out
Harraz Medicinal Plants Co
, a store in Cairo specializing in ancient remedies and medicinal plants. Upstairs you can consult with the resident herbalist if anything ails you.

Other things of interest you will find in larger
and bazaars: kitsch souvenirs galore,
pipes, musical instruments (drums in particular) copper and brass ware, wooden boxes inlaid with intricate designs and backgammon and chess sets.


Haggling is expected in the
. Most shop owners site the start price at two to three times the amount they hope to make. Start lower than you would expect to pay, be polite and good humoured, enjoy the experience and if the final price doesn't suit, walk away. There are plenty more shops. Once you have gained confidence, try it on the taxi drivers and when negotiating a room. The bargaining exchange can be a great way to meet people and practice your Arabic.

Interestingly, a barter exchange system still exists in some rural weekly markets, where goods such as seeds, eggs or beans can be exchanged for a haircut or access to education. This is unlikely to be something you will get involved with as a traveller, however.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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