Luxor is the true GEM of Egypt
Our third and last day in Egypt was by far my favorite! We rode an overnight train to and from Luxor and while I am glad we had that experience, I wouldn’t choose to travel that way again. The trains are far from our standards of clean and some were even so dirty that you couldn’t sleep or use the bathroom. It’s really a gamble. Luckily our 2 trains were manageable enough that we could throw a t-shirt over the pillow, sleep in our clothes and use a jacket as a blanket. But that was by far the best case scenario. Each ticket was $80 USD (roundtrip $160 each) and while it was convenient to be able to sleep and then arrive, you take a large step back in time with no amenities (Wi-Fi, showers, usable windows, etc.), pre-made meals consisting of mostly bread, no alcohol served, and less than clean bathroom situations. If you can book a flight ahead of time, I highly recommend doing so. The only other options are a 7+ hour car drive or a few-day cruise down the Nile. Note, with the flight options that you can find on Skyscanner, Orbitz, or other similar sites, you cannot book online because they do not accept American credit cards. The best way to book a flight is email or call in advance.
As a quick aside, we had hoped to fly to Luxor and booked a tour through Viator.com. However, in order to get cheaper fares, we think they fly you on standby so it’s not guaranteed that you will get on the flight. We found out the day before we were supposed to leave that we did not make the flight. We received a full refund but had to figure out another way to get to Luxor. Similar to the flights, you can’t actually do book through their website with an American credit card. This meant venturing down to Ramses Station and piecing together English and Arabic to try to find the overnight station booth. It didn’t help that our taxi driver dropped us off at the back entrance of the station. But after 20 minutes of roaming, chatting and a lot of pointing we found the office! For reference, the office is in the front portion of the station, in a glass cube to the right of the entrance to the station. There should be signs saying “Overnight” around it.
Once we arrived in Luxor we decided to make a pit stop to freshen up and grab some real food. Since we all have day jobs that require some form of travel, we each have frequent flier or hotel membership perks. I always recommend having both for every airline and hotel chain because points add up and they always treat members better. So we took a taxi over to the Hilton Resort and Spa in Luxor to see what we could finesse. In general, most resorts and hotels will serve you food and let you use their amenities for a small fee. In our case, we purchased breakfast (about 20 USD) and got access to Wifi (10 USD each) while we relaxed by the pool for a bit and freshened up. This also happened to be the resort 4 of our other friends were staying at so it was a convenient way to meet up with them.
After all 8 of us were ready to go we rented 2 taxis for 5 hours for 350 Egyptian pounds each (about 14 USD total) and asked the drivers to take us to the West Bank of Luxor to begin our day exploring the Valley of the Kings, King Tut’s tomb, and Hatshepsut’s Temple. We decided to start with the sites that were farthest away and work our way back to the hotel. There are many more tombs and museums to explore on the West Bank, but given our limited time we chose our top 3. Lonely Planet’s section on Luxor was an excellent guide for the entire day of Luxor (with maps and descriptions). On our way to the Valley of the Kings, we stopped briefly at the Colossi of Memnon which are on the side of the road that leads to the other historical sites. The Colossi are 2 extremely large excavated statues that used to flank the tomb of Amenhotep III. His tomb is still being excavated but you can see the beginnings of the funerary temple and many statues peeking out from the dirt. These great stone figures were named Memnon by the Greeks and Romans because of a whistling sound the statues made when the wind blew. They believed it was Memnon whistling for his mother (another fun fact from Lonely Planet). After we got over our shock at the extreme size of the statues and took a few strategically angled pictures, we hopped back in the taxis to continue the day.
When you arrive at the Valley of the Kings, you have to buy a series of tickets depending on what you want to see. To enter the Valley of the Kings, the ticket is 200 Egyptian pounds ($8 USD). To visit King Tut’s tomb in the valley you pay an additional 250 Egyptian pounds ($10 USD). If you would like to take any photos, you have to buy a photo ticket (I did not get one of these so I don't know how much they are) or attempt to be sneaky about it. Lastly, there is a small train that takes you up a short hill to the valley and they ask for 4 Egyptian pounds to ride. It is a very walkable distance, although we didn’t figure this out until we were on the train for 2 minutes, rounded the bend and saw where it would drop us off. Before you enter the Valley of the Kings, they take all cameras that they can see then give you a ticket to collect your camera after you’re done. If you bought the photo ticket, you can keep your camera. If you’re caught taking pictures without a ticket they will demand that you delete them or pay a fee.
Walking through the Valley of the Kings is literally walking through a mountain desert. The tombs are small doors in the mountains with passageways lined with hieroglyphics that open up into an interior chamber. Each chamber has a spot for the sarcophagus (some are still there and others have either been stolen or moved to various museums over the years) typically in the middle and every free space of wall is adorned with hieroglyphics that tell stories of the deceased’s life or his journey to the afterlife. (The Valley of the Queens is similar to the Kings except it is less ornate and smaller. You have to buy a separate ticket and drive a distance to get there. This is something we did not have time to do on our trip. However, I fully intend to go back to Luxor to see all the sights I wasn’t able to see the first time around.) King Tut’s tomb is the most ornate of all the tombs, but the decorations have significant damage. The entire gold sarcophagus is inside and King Tut himself is encased in a glass box to preserve his body. Most of his body is covered with a white sheet except for his head and feet which are remarkable preserved for an over 3300 year old body (he died at 19 in 1324 BC). When it was excavated in the early 20th century, they found more riches and jewels in the boy king’s tomb than any others. Some archaeologists believe King Tut’s tomb has another chamber hidden behind it that was originally used to bury Nefertiti – they have not discovered any other chamber yet…
After exploring a few more tombs of different Ramses, we took the taxis to Hatshepsut’s Temple. This was my favorite part of the West Bank. Entrance to the Temple cost 100 Egyptian pounds ($4 USD) and you’re permitted to wander the entire temple and grounds at your own pace. You can take pictures freely here, but there are always locals trying to make a few extra bucks by offering to take your pictures for you. If you accept, they will expect a nice tip and will let you know if you haven’t given enough.
Hatshepsut’s temple is almost entirely reconstructed but it is said to be very accurate compared to what the funerary temple looked like at the time it was built. The temple nearly blends in with the cliffs and has a modern look to it with its symmetrical and almost grid-like structure. At the time it was built, we learned that the path leading up to the entrance was lined with large sphinxes (a bazaar exists there now) and the inner courtyard was filled with greenery and flowers. It was designed by a man named Senenmut who was thought to be Hatshepsut’s lover and the temple itself is line with the Karnak Temple on the east side of the Nile. When you climb to the top of the temple and look out, you can just make out the ruins across the river.
We were moving at incredible pace trying to maximize our limited time in Luxor. We were experiencing so many wonderful parts of Egyptian history in such a short time that we were getting a bit overloaded. Every site is equally as incredible as the next and without even realizing it, we saved the most jaw dropping one for last: Luxor Temple back on the east side of the Nile.
We pulled up to the Luxor Temple about an hour before sunset and paid the 140 Egyptian pounds (nearly $6 USD) to enter. The lighting was beautiful amidst all towering columns and statues. I would definitely recommend going at this time of day because the stones seem to glow! The other large temple on the east side of the Nile is called the Karnak Temple. We would’ve loved to see that one too if we had more time (my next trip to Luxor will include that). They have partially excavated all the sphinxes that line the walkway between the two temples, called the Avenue of the Sphinxes which is a crazy 3km long (just under 2 miles). In the Luxor Temple you can find massive decorate pillars and towering statues of gods or pharaohs. The size of the structures made us all speechless. We were so amazed by the experience we all went off and explored on our own, trying to capture the beauty of the place in our pictures. No matter how good the pictures are, they don’t do the place justice. And according to Lonely Planet, Luxor is the simpler of the temples. I can’t wait to get back to see Karnak!
On the way back we grabbed some food and wine at a local shop and raced to catch our overnight train back to Cairo. I was disappointed to have to leave Luxor so soon and had we not had a 10am flight out to Israel the next morning, I know I would’ve changed my schedule to stay another day in Luxor. For those interested, the total we spent on this day in Luxor (not including the train) was about 850 Egyptian pounds (includes the tip for the taxi drivers) or $34 USD. We also bought food and water along the way and wifi at the hotel. So the total for the day came out to about $60 USD. Not bad for how much we got to see. The most expensive parts were at the hotel to buy breakfast and wifi.
This type of packed day may not be for everyone, but since we were looking to maximize our time over the course of our entire trip, we had a few packed days. Check out the itinerary section to see the full time in Egypt and then the breakdown for each day.
Reach out with any questions about this trip and others! And definitely connect with me on IG if you have trip suggestions, ideas, or asks!