LUXOR, EGYPT: WHAT TO SEE + TIPS
Luxor in Egypt is the ancient capital of an empire that stretched from Nubia to Palestine between the 16th century BC and the 11th century BC. The pharaohs that ruled during this period spent large amounts of money on temples and monuments for which the city is known today. This is why Luxor is sometimes called the world’s greatest open-air museum.
The antiquities from the Valley of the Kings and majestic temple complexes of Karnak and Luxor to the exciting Nile river cruises make Luxor one of the "must visit" places in the world. Add to that the exotic mash up of color, scents, noise--and it truly becomes a dream destination. It is still not crowded after some security concerns that happened a few years ago. Today's Egypt is quite safe for travelers with airport-style security in major tourist sites and hotels. The hustle and hassle is fun and can be somewhat intimidating but it is important to remember that the locals are only trying to earn a living.
Two days is enough to see the most important sites in Luxor. The concierges in major hotels can book tours and it is inexpensive to hire a private guide and visit the locations at your own pace. The tour guides from reputable companies go through rigorous training and are extremely knowledgeable Egyptologists. We booked our tours--one day to the temples of the East Bank and the other to the royal necropolis sites of the West Bank--through the concierge of the Winter Palace hotel and were very happy with their choice.
The grandiose Karnak temple complex is one of the largest and most impressive temples in Egypt. Construction at Karnak started 4,000 years ago and continued up until the time the Romans took control of Egypt, about 2,000 years ago. Around thirty successive pharaohs all added their own touches and additions to it.
The temple is entered via the Avenue of the Sphinxes, or Sacred Way, that once stretched the two miles from Karnak to Luxor Temple. Part of it can be seen at the Luxor Temple.
• Location: East Bank of Luxor
• Ticket: 150 EGP
Luxor Temple was once the most important religious center in ancient Egypt. It was the power base of the living divine king and the foremost national shrine. Unlike most other Egyptian temples, its main entrance does not face the river and it runs parallel to the river looking towards the temple at Karnak. Part of the avenue of human-headed sphinxes that connected the temples of Karnak and Luxor can still be in both temples.
At the entrance of the temple, there is a tall 75-foot (23-meter) obelisk, one of the original two. The other one was given to France by Muhammad Ali Pasha, ruler of Ottoman Egypt, where it has stood in the middle of Paris' Place de la Concorde since 1836.
• Location: East Bank, in the heart of the city
• Ticket: 140 EGP
VALLEY OF THE KINGS
The Valley of the Kings is the royal burial ground for pharaohs, as well as queens, high priests, and other elites of the 18th, 19th, and 20th dynasties. Pharaohs were expected to become one with the gods in the afterlife and the bodies were mummified so that the deceased's eternal soul would be able to reanimate it in the next world. Material goods and food were added to the tombs - items that the ruler might need in the next world.
The tombs include intricate hieroglyphic carvings and vivid painted decorations that illustrate different ceremonies. Over 60 tombs have been found, and they are opened and closed in rotation to try and help preserve the wall paintings, which have suffered severe degradation from the humidity caused by the 1.5 million tourists who visit the valley each year.
The 200 Egyptian pound ticket allows you to visit three tombs and there is an extra 250 pound charge to visit King Tutankhamun's tomb. King Tut's tomb was once filled with gilded wood furniture and over 1,000 precious objects of gold, faience, and alabaster. These furnishings are now in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. The tomb is definitely worth a visit.
• Location: West Bank
• Tickets, that allow you to visit three tombs, cost 200 EGP
• There is a separate ticket to visit King Tutankhamun's tomb that costs 250 EGP
• Photography ticket: 300 EGP. The guards will not let you take photos without the photography ticket
• Photos are not allowed in Tutankhamun and Meremptah tombs
• Tour guides are not allowed inside the tombs. They will give you an overview of the tomb and wait for you outside
• Tomb guardians have very low salaries and supplement this with tips from visitors. When they point things out to you, tip them a few pounds
• Visitor Center: The Valley of the King's visitor center has clean toilets. The adjoining bazaar sells souvenirs, cold drinks and snacks.
• Tomb Train: electric trains run from the visitor center up to the start of the tombs area
VALLEY OF THE QUEENS
The Valley of the Queens contains about seventy tombs, mainly belonging to queens, princesses, and nobles who lived during the 19th and 20th dynasties. The valley is nowhere near as impressive as the Valley of the Kings. Many of the tombs are unfinished, with no decoration, and resemble caves in the rocks rather than lavish tombs. Note that most walls are behind protective glass, making photography challenging.
The most notable tomb here is the lavishly decorated tomb of Queen Nefertari who was the principal consort of King Ramses II. The tomb is completely painted with scenes depicting Nefertari being presented to the gods who welcomed her.
• Location: West Bank
• Ticket: 200 EGP
• There is a separate 1200 EGP ticket to visit Queen Nefertari's tomb. Do not miss this one!
• Photography ticket costs 300 EGP. There is no reason to pay for photography here since photos are not allowed in Nefertari's tomb and the other tombs are covered with glass protective walls.
MORTUARY TEMPLE OF HATSHEPSUT
The striking temple is situated at the foot of the cliffs in the desert, the temple standing out prominently against the golden yellow rocks behind. Queen Hatshepsut, who had herself crowned pharaoh of Egypt, was known for her successful reign that is generally regarded as one of Egypt’s most prosperous.
• Location: West Bank
• Ticket: 100 EGP
NILE RIVER CRUISE
The majestic Nile Valley has a wealth of history, antiquities, and natural beauty. A cruise along this legendary river from Luxor to Aswan is to be experienced at least once in a lifetime.
You will discover the many archaeological treasures and breathtaking panoramas by sailing on its peaceful waters; you will walk through small villages, among farmland and orchards; meet the Egyptians as they go about their daily business; and you will see some magnificent temples and tombs, away from the crowds.
One of the most luxurious and serene experiences is cruising the Nile on a traditional Egyptian sailboat, dahabiya. Read about the Nour El Nil experience here: Nile River Cruise in Style: Onboard Nour El Nil's Dahabiya and Nile River Cruise with Nour El Nil: Complete Itinerary.