Ancient Thebes! This name fills me with dreams of temples and mummies. But it’s not like in a Agatha Christie novel – and for good reason. Luxor is a big (relatively) normal Egyptian city with over 500.000 citizens, traffic, street vendors and dusty roads. But they are just that more aggressive, since the tourists are still not returning – and their livelihood depend on it! And also that centuries old and terribly annoying habit of hassling…
I just returned from a week in Luxor with my mom. And it was quite a more strenuous trip than expected…
The city is actually called al-Uqsur (say it fast and it sounds like Luxor) meaning the “Palaces” or “fortifications”. You might think, that this is a relatively rich city. But it’s like all the money from the tourists don’t stay in the country. Maybe it’s because all the tourists come in packs, and then all the money ends up in some foreign travel agencies pockets. And there are not as many tourists as you might think. Since a massacre in 1997 where 97 people died, balloon crashes and later attacks, the tourists are still keeping away. This is clearly visible in the poverty. Just behind Karnak temple, we met children goat herding, and the goats were eating the trash in the streets.
The city of Luxor is divided into the east bank and the west bank. The west bank is where valley of the kings and the other temples are located, but the east bank has the fantastic Karnak temple, Luxor temple and the Luxor museum. The city is also divided by the river with the west much more calm and with more backpacker hostels close to the tombs, and the more noisy east side with the bigger hotels.
What was also quite typically of our trip was signs to places that didn’t exist anymore. There was supposed to be a tourist information near the train station, but the huge building was empty. The information in the train station didn’t really have any information. The lounge in the airport wasn’t there…
But let us get to the reason why we came: the sights!
There is of course a reason why tourists still visit ancient Thebes, and why this is a huge UNESCO site called the world’s largest open-air museum. And you know: I love museums…
Ancient Thebes is/was were the god Amun lived. Actually! On the west bank are all the temples and tombs, but there is also something to be said for the east bank with the city of Luxor, the temple of Karnak and Luxor Museum.
KARNAK TEMPLE COMPLEX ⇓
After the pyramids, this is the most visited place in Egypt. It actually consists of several temples, and the site is huge. It is the second largest religious complex in the world (after Angkor) and the temple of Amun-Ra is the largest religious building – ever! There are many visitors, so we visited from 15-17 just getting the late afternoon red light. The buses with day trippers are gone at that time. It can be a little difficult to locate the most important carvings and, so think a bout hiring a guide. Its 100 LE for one hour, and the ones we heard were educated and well speaking, so I would recommend a guide for the first hour and then an hour to yourself just soaking up the atmosphere. The entrance fee is 120 LE – higher than stated in LP.
You can easily walk to Karnak from Luxor, but I recommend taking a taxi one way and walking the other to save time. Walk along the Corniche – the stretch between the temple and Luxor museum is very nice and hassle free with small cafes and restaurant by the Nile.
If you walk the way back to Luxor, you’ll have the sunset over the Nile. Between Karnak and Luxor is a 3 km long Sphinx-road being excavated now. It will be cool, when it’s finished.
LUXOR TEMPLE ⇓
Luxor Temple is located right in the middle of the city. Construction of the temple was begun by the pharaoh Amenhotep III (1390-52 BC) and was completed by Tutankhamen (1336-27 BC) and Horemheb (1323-1295 BC) and then added to by Rameses II (1279-13 BC). There is 1 huge pink granite obelisk, but there use to be 2. The second is in Paris in Place de la Concorde, so I will definitely see that again in April. We arrived at 11.00, which should be the worst time of the day, if you want to avoid the day trippers. But there were not that many people. It’s not as big as Karnak, but part of the same story of devotion to the God Amun-Ra.
If you eat in Luxor in the evenings, you’ll see it lit up.
LUXOR MUSEUM ⇓
Again the opening hours and the fee are not like in LP, so check. The museum cost 120 LE and all signs are in English. Most tour group diss this place, so it’s pretty quiet. The museum has a quite impressive collection without being very big. It’s just masterpieces…
There are two royal mummies (Ahmose I and Ramesses I) and some extremely well-preserved carvings and artefacts. For instance, a bed from Tutankhamun’s tomb and a large alabaster statue of the crocodile God Sobek. Everything looks new -and in a lot better condition than most ancient Greek and Roman stuff – they almost look fake. Many artefacts are found in Karnak and Luxor Temple, so try to fit it in after you’ve visited the temples -not before. Then you know who’s who!
WHERE TO STAY ⇓
The Winter Palace (part of Sofitel) is the most elegant hotel in the city (and in Egypt maybe. This is where Agatha Christie wrote her “Death on the Nile”, which really fuelled my Egyptian dreams! It’s right in the middle of the city, but with a huge wonderful garden and a really nice pool. It was built by the British (of course) and it’s just as foreign as the Victoria Falls Hotel in Zimbabwe. The small town-hotel St Joseph is for the more hardcore traveller. It’s very rundown and haven’t seen that many tourists for years. We met 1 not-so-happy guest. Then I would rather find a b&B on the west-side.
We wanted an easy trip with peace and quiet and a the possibility of swimming, so we stayed at Jolie Ville Kings Island 5 km south of Luxor. This was way too all-inclusive like for me, but the good thing was the peace and quiet, since it’s on an island. Also many of the guest was Arabic speaking and probably Egyptian, so it’s a nice reminder of where you are. There was also many Chinese tourist though.
GOOD TO KNOW
Egypt is very different from many other countries I’ve visitied. I it’s a little like Morocco with a touch of Jordan, but the hassling made it one of the worst countries I have been a tourist in. So here are some good advice when visiting.
It is not without reason, that Luxor is called the hassle capital. Walking along the Corniche is the worst place. This is where the most aggressive hasslers are. Some of the Egyptians I talked to said that business was still bad, although this last year it was getting better. This makes the sellers very desperate. It was so bad, that even though we wanted to buy some souvenirs we didn’t; even though we were tired we just said no to all taxi drivers – and then nobody is happy. Even the kids yelled “Money” at us. I know they do it for survival, but it is scaring the money away.
But we kept paying overprice, because of the constant hassling and you can’t stop up and think, you just say no until you give up and say yes and then you don’t get what you really want. This culture throws me off even though I have tried it before.
Just take a deep breath, look like you know what you’re doing and remember they’re just trying to feed their kids like the rest of us…
Before going one of my friends told my she wouldn’t go without a man. And she is not so easily scared. So, I was actually nervous, even though I always try to insist that women can do everything, and I will not get hurt. But fortunately, we didn’t feel really threatened, but it does set a more intimidating vibe when you mainly see men. (Almost everyone in the tourist industry are men.) But we were yelled at: Habibi and other things. Even small kids would call us names. But everyone are really nice, if you get pass the money issue!
The dress code is very conservative. If you can wear long trousers and a loose long-sleeved shirt and a hat. Since most tourists in Luxor are pensioners, they are modestly dressed anyway. But still… You can of course insist on your right to dress as you like – especially as a woman – but you will definitely not feel comfortable and blend in. Actually – don’t just modestly – dress for dust and trash!
But there must be some danger. When we arrived by bus to the city borders, the police insisted we were followed by a police convoy to the hotel. There are also police and security check along the road and in hotels and museums and temples. And you get your bag checked before entering anything.
An traffic is of course as expected, which doesn’t bother my anymore, but my mom was quite disturbed…
Bakshees! This means tip. Always have small Egyptians notes like 5 and 10. This may sound obvious, but before we even reached our hotel, we had to tip 3 different guys; the chauffeur, the toilet guy and the guy taking our luggage. And it is difficult to get the money. We only one time had a coin of 1 LE and only two times had a 5 note.
Note than foreigners pay way more in entrance fess than Egyptians, but that’s fine with me. Note that all entrance fees are higher than in LP.
WHERE TO EAT ⇓
By the Nefertiti hotel is a restaurant Al sahaby Restaurant. Its on a side street from the souq. You can sit at street level on or at the rooftop terrace with a view of Luxor temple. They have nice meals at a reasonable price. It was the only place, we met individual travellers (2 people).
Sofra Restaurant is close to the train station and the most expensive place we ate at. I’s beautifully decorated and with very friendly staff. It’s good, but we preferred Al Sahaby since with so few travellers, this place was almost empty- also it was more expensive than the latter.
Egyptian breakfast is lots of bread, baladi salad, greens and kind of porridge. Also the Egyptian falafel made of fava beans was a breakfast treat. For dessert go for the rice pudding or the Kanaafa.
Note there is not alcohol of course, but you can get decent non-alcoholic beer, if you get tired of the delicious lemonades.
There are of course many souvenirs to buy, but the hassling really kept ours to a minimum. The Aboudi bookstore has been around for 100 years and has everything. There is a café on top with good lemonade and a fantastic view of Luxor temple. The window even a have small square you can open to get a picture through the glass. I bought a fantastic book with Ancient Egyptians poems like “the tale of Sinuhe”.
The vendors everywhere will try to sell you everything between heaven and earth and their old grandmother…I bought a small crocodile sculpture for my son, a Hammam towel in Egyptian cotton and a ring with a scarab. Also buy embroided bags, gold, bread and leather.
Often the roads are one-way, there are no It is very difficult to find your way. I used maps.me which was very helpful to navigate the backstreets, that aren’t in any maps. Because of the hassling make sure you know where you going and don’t stop. When you get off the tourist spot it gets easier. I use the app maps.me for detailed maps offline.
OPENING HOURS ⇓
Opening hours in LP from 2015 are not completely up to date. Usually I double check beforehand, but the internet at the hotel was so bad, that we relied on it. This meant we reached Luxor museum in their not-scheduled lunch break. Then when we reached Karnak, and they closed an hour earlier than expected. So be updated.
So in conclusion: You should definitely go and spend as much time as you can, but only if you’re a long time mummy fan.
Do you agree?
Also find yourself Winding down with a cruise on the Nile!