The Aswan Souq (market) is a great place to practice your bartering.
This market is located mainly on one long street (around 2 kms long) a couple of blocks back from the river, and it seems to continue on forever - shop after shop of tempting wares....and shop after shop of vendors trying to coax you over for a closer look!
It is a really colourful market - particularly so because of the numerous shops selling spices and bright purple indigo powder.
What to pay: Never pay the asking price - be brave and barter hard!
What to buy:
Cartouches are small replicas of the larger Cartouches found on the walls of various temples throughout Egypt. The symbols inside are hieroglyphic, each one stands for a letter in the ancient Egyptian Alphabet.
In ancient Egypt, the only people allowed to have his or her name inside a Cartouche in hieroglyph, were royalty.
What to pay: Silver Cartouches with Silver lettering, $10-25
Silver Cartouches with Gold lettering, $25-35
Gold Cartouches (All Gold) Sold by Weight.
(All prices above in U.S. Dollar)
What to buy:
Shopping for gifts and souvenirs in Aswan is the only way to go. Most items can be bought for a much lower price than in Cairo or Luxor. The biggest misconception when shopping for items in Egypt is to pay full price, ( the first price that the vendor offers). Actually, the local shopkeepers are more than willing to bargain with you. Try to bargain down to half of the asking price. (If the price is agreed upon pay for the item, it is considered rude to agree to buy an item and the change your mind and not buy). The exception to the rule of bargaining is when buying gold jewelry. Most people come to Egypt thinking that gold and silver are extremely cheap. Not true. You will pay for gold and silver for what it is worth on the World Gold Market, so it does no good to bargain (they usually weight it). If you are with a tour group, ask the tour guide to help you.
Items to buy:
Jewelry-Gold, Silver, Turquoise etc.
Carpets and Rugs
Perfume Oils/Perfume Bottles
Herbs-Vanilla, Saffron, Indigo, Curry, and Cinnamon etc.
Copper and Brassware
After we checked out of the cruise ship at about 1pm at Aswan, we put up at Marhaba Hotel for a few hours as our flight to Cairo were at 10pm at night!
So we wandered around the streets of Aswan and Bingo! We came across this colourful bazaar at Saad Zaghlool St.
What to buy: This bazaar sells everything, silver, cartouches, vegetables ( gosh, their cabbages are HUGE!), perfume bottles, scarves, all sorts of souvenirs and the colourful sand bottles, bags, spices of course! & tea leaves.
What to pay: We paid
- 3 of us paid 40 Egyptian Pound each for a silver cartouche, with our names engraved.
- 5 of us paid 40 egyptian pound for a box of 5 large perfume bottles
- 2 of us paid 15 Egyptian pound for a A4 size bag od peppermint tea leaves.
The street for shopping in Aswan is as-Souq Saad Zaghlou, going south from the square in front of the train station. Here you can find shops selling typical Egyptian and Nubian souvenirs like T-shirts, painted papyrus (or banana leaves), sheeshas, jewellery and baskets. There are also shops with a big choice of spices.
For the water in Aswan I paid 2 pounds for 1,5 litres (in Dahab I had paid 1,5 pounds and later I paid 1,25 pounds in Siwa). Couldn’t find it cheaper anywhere, but many shops sold it for more.
On as-Souq Saad Zaghlou I bought nice falafels for 50 piasters. They are quite small so two can be good to buy if you are very hungry.
While decidedly touristy (the whole place is in the process of being dolled up for tourists, who else), Aswan's souk is still a good place to wander about, chat with locals and get a feel of the "real" Aswan.
As I was walking along the main street, I was tapped on the leg by a charming kid (in the picture) who offered the sweetest smile I've seen in all Egypt - he was there standing beside me - radiating with genuine friendliness, and perhaps filled with curiosity about my being an ''odd-looking" creature.
Between Aswan and Luxor, Aswan's souk is the lesser evil - by a wide margin - in terms of pushiness of touts. In Aswan, you could still walk through some alleys and shops without being hassled by merchants. Some of the more interesting products I've seen are the spices and the colorful local baskets.
For tea lovers, remember to buy back some tea leaves from Aswan, if you happen to be at the bazaar that was mentioned in my shopping tip.
The peppermint and hibiscus tea leaves i brought back are fantastic! The flavour is very strong and it's simple the best! My mum love it and is lamenting that how could i buy so few!!!
It cost me 15 EP for one big bag of peppermint tea leaves, but i paid more for hibiscus at 45 EP. A big Bag too.
A tip though, for peppermint tea leaves, try to ask the shop owner not to give you those with too many stems.
For shopping I like to stroll in the souqs.
For daily shopping as fruits, bread and drinks, but also for spices, local craft and other stuff to bring home.
You can find everything from local to touristic stuff. Just go there and find out yourself.
What to buy: Nubian things.
Papyrus-making, another one of the world known Egyptian crafts.
Have a look at a short demonstration on the Papyrus plant and how they make their paper out of it.
Actually that is quite easy: you cut the Papyrus plant into thin stripes, let them in the wtare for some time, take them out, place them diagonally over each other, then press them and let them under the press for some more time -presto!
And then you paint colorful pictures on it (preferably scenes from gods and such which you found in some tombs) and sell them to the tourists.
Be careful if you buy them. There are some around that are made from cheap banana leafes. The scam should be able to be seen, when you hold it against the light. Papyrus has a classical structure.
What to buy: Papyrus, Papyrus, Papyrus
with Hieroglyphs or scenes of gods or modern paintings
What to pay: well, how high do you want to go?
Aswan is known for it's spice markets. Originally, settled by Nubians, spices, textiles and wonderful crafts is what they are known for. In fact, many of the items you purchase on the ship (if you're cruising from Luxor towards Aswan) are actually called ahead and readied for the ship's store vendor to pick up once you dock.
You may save a couple of dollars by buying direct if you make the time for shopping.
For instance, I had a cartouche made based on a sample that the jeweler on ship had to show.
He took the order then, when we were docked in Aswan over night, he went to his "contacts" jewelry store to pick up.
Whala, I had it that night. We saw plenty of shops offering the same cartouches and, using computerized machines, they are simple to make and relatively fast.
Next time, I would wait and bargain for a slightly better price in town, plus it's part of the fun!
What to buy: Silk, spices, teas, oils and jewelry. I love my cartouche and get many compliments on it.
It is Silver set against black and with a simple black neck chain.
What to pay: Bargain, bargain, bargain. Stand firm on a price - usually begining on 1/4 of whatever they initially quote you.
If they act like NO way, go up but only slightly..then say thank you and walk away.
I guarantee, they will follow you! Stand firm but, realize, you're eventually going to end up paying approximately 1/2 to 1/3 of their initial asking price.
Also, realize that you are always taking a risk on items such as soapstone, and gold
If you are allergic to perfume or do not like strong smells, you may better stay outside any Perfume factory.
First thing you get here is a small overview over the ground substances they have (with demonstration) and some of the fix combinations (with demonstration), and then you may say which ones you would like to buy ... any questions?
Some of the fixed mixtures they have they say are the ground for some well known perfumes as Armani for men (Tut ench amun is the mixture).
What to buy: Perfumes mixtures and ground substances etc.
and do not forget these fine glass bottles...
What to pay: well, how high do you want to go?
Again, this is one of the places your guide will gently "nudge" you towards..
You will soon start to read your guide and get to know when he's out to make a buck on your expense by getting a kick back from friends and family who have him working for them on the side.
In egypt, everyone is out to make an easy buck and, your entrusted guide will be NO different!
Ours was a jovial, very good chap. His knowledge, as a guide was priceless and he added so much to the trip. By the same token, he was easy to read and you could tell that, as an Egyptologyst, he almost seemed to feel that this part of the job (touting to clients) was almost below him but, expected by the shop keepers non-the-less. We cut him some slack, went along with the game but, busted him on it every time which made for some personal satisfaction in so far as letting him know I was aware of his tricks!
What to buy: We loved the teas. naturals and medicinal. BE CAREFUL - some are very nasty concoctions, not necessarily exotics we, as westerners may be used to.
My favorite was the mint tea! Very refreshing and I bought a large bag to bring home
This is also a good place to smoke shisha but, please note the warnings about smoking shisha in public and, the risk for TB
Like anywhere in Egypt, there is lots of kitsch to buy in Aswan. Little statues in soapstone, papyrus paintings, etc. We found a wool hall rug that we liked for a good price. It wasn't like a good hand knotted oriental rug from Syria or Turkey, but it was very handy and appropriate for the wear and tear of a hallway. We also bought the Bishareen coffee set-up that we found at the Panorama restaurant (see restaurant tips). My favorite handicrafts though were the leather decorated Nubian baskets, which come as plate and conical shapes. We have a large basket collection from all over the world, and these still stand out as special ornaments among the things that we have. At the time we shopped, it was during a cool winter night. Some young Egyptian orphans on the street appeared in need of a sweater, shivering as they did in the doorways.
The ladies with us seemed to enjoy shopping in Aswan the best, even better than Khan Kalili so, I'll take their word for it.
They particularly raved about the silk and the textiles!
I'm not much of a shopper but, went along for the ride. Had a great time people watching and seeing everybody do their bargaining.
We quite often bought our bottled water from small stalls on the side of the roads...the guys would either walk up to you to offer you some bottles of water or you could buy it at a stall. We still bargained for a better price and almost always got it a lot cheaper than what it was first offered at. The guys seemed to enjoy our constant bargaining and laughs... ;)