Visiting Sites on the West Bank of Luxor, and other Luxor Favourites
Luxor Airport was really small, and honestly, not much to shout about. A lot of Nile Cruise tourists would arrive in Hurghada by charter flight. So, forget about public transport from Luxor Airport to the town centre – a taxi it was, and the first shock of haggling a decent price, because as a tourist fresh off a plane, I was easy prey/ very tired and bothered and just wanted to sleep.
So it was the next morning before I could really take all this in: I have a weakness for places to stay with a bit of history, and the Winter Palace Hotel was the perfect place for that in Luxor. I stayed the Soviet-style New Winter Palace Building (now demolished), but all three buildings shared these gardens, as well as the pool. Its an oasis in the middle of Luxor.
Another advantage of the Winter Palace that, despite being fairly quiet (especially when your room overlooks the gardens) that is right by the river Nile, as well as close to Luxor Temple and the public ferry to the West Bank… and if that’s not good enough, consider a felucca ride… about every other person on the promenade will approach you, especially a couple hours before sunset, but check out the boat and consider going with a few others when travelling alone. Or just sit on the terrace and watch the sunset!
So, what should a great hassle-free day of sightseeing look like? As a solo traveller, I had a return flight and no other constraints at all. I like to see places when they are not crowded, at my leisure, and stop and sit for a while when I want. I also like to use local transport, and while I am concerned about personal safety, I don’t mind when things get a bit hot or uncomfortable.
Most days, I would get up really, really early. The sites in Thebes West opened at 06:00, so I strolled to the ferry ( you can get private boats, too, but negotiate!), figure out my plans, got a small taxi by the ferry pier (negotiate a price before getting in), and then visit while my cab would wait for me. Each time you would pass the ticket office and purchase the appropriate ticket, or get a combination ticket (now the Luxor Pass, which must be paid in US Dollars or EURO and can be bought from the Office of Antiquities is available to those who want to sightsee a LOT – costs 100 US Dollars and is valid for five consecutive days, a passport photo is required).
The first day, I started at Medinet Habu, centrally located and not that much visited. Then, on to the Valley of Queens, which contains only a small number of tombs of which the Tomb Of Queen Nefertari is the most outstanding. It was closed to the public when I visited, I hear it opened again in 2017 and 150 tickets are issued daily – which sell out extremely fast and cost a rather chunky 1000 Egyptian pounds. Before the Nefertari Tomb reopening, the Valley of the Queens was a rather sleepy affair. Then, the Tombs of the Nobles in Old Gurna: again, not overvisited, rather small, but with more detailed paintings, many of them original. I hired a local guide back then, not only did he know where the tombs were (not signposted) but he also kept other hasslers away. I visited the tomb of Rekhmire, then the tomb of Sennofer, then a few smaller ones strewn about the village. That was enough for the first day, as it gets extremely hot fast. Then lunch and pool, and a venture out for falafel and the touristy bazaar in Luxor, and a meeting with my new friend.
The following days, I went to Edfu, Abydos and Dendera, and made my long day trip to Abu Simbel. I also visited the temple of Karnak, which is a somewhat longish walk from the Winter Palace, but taxis and horse drawn carriages can be hailed about anywhere. The following pictures were taken in Edfu.
Finally, I visited the Valley of the Kings, It was a bit like saving the best for last, but it can be exhausting as well. In retrospect, the site was amazing, I wish I had an extra day to return. The ticket at the time allowed visiting three tombs (except Tutankhamun), and a large board by the entrance displayed which tombs are currently open. And believe me, the valley is well spread out, and depending on which you decide to visit, its a helluva walk in the sun, sometimes followed by a steep climb, so three are a good number for the day, though it might be possible, on time terms only, to squeeze four or five in, but bear in mind there is no shade whatsoever, and the only catering is from vendors by the entrance, mainly crisps and soft drinks. I went to see the tombs of Ramses III (intricate paintings, but part of the ceiling had collapsed, so it was a rather short tomb), Tuthmosis III (bit of a climb down some crevice in the rock, goes deep in the rock and is a bit faint-inducing, and Ramses IX (more intricate glassed-over paintings, depicting one of the night sky). Almost as an afterthought, I went to Deir-el-Bahri/Hatshepsut Temple, which is very accessible, therefore can be overrun, and simply… there was not that much to see. Also, I felt somewhat uneasy as this is the site of the 1997 massacre where over 60 people, mostly Swiss tourists, were killed.
Last not least, one day I rode in a balloon. I am a nervous flyer and moderately scared of heights (I do them but don’t make me look down too much) and many people say ” ride in a balloon, it will be totally different”. In Egypt, there was the chance. Not only do you get a great view of the Nile and Luxor and the West Bank temples, it is also reasonably priced here – I booked my ride just a day or two before at a local travel agents near the Winter Palace, after comparing prices in two or three outlets. There have been incidents since, including a crash in 2013, so there are some concerns regarding safety. I went with Sindbad balloons, who gave a very thorough security briefing, and the pilot certainly seemed very confident, explained a lot about the balloon during the ride and made a safe flight including a safe if somewhat bumpy landing in a field an hour later.
One week in Luxor was plenty to see the major sites – in fact, many visitors come on Nile Cruises or on a much shorter Trip from Hurghada or Cairo and stay much shorter!
If you consider visiting Luxor /the Valley of the Kings and cannot quite make up your mind about it, I recommend “Valley of the Kings” by Kent R. Weeks and Araldo Luca for motivational reading. Huge book, amazing photographs – it was the book I got hooked on that sparked my trip to Egypt.
Flights: I flew from London Heathrow to Luxor and back on Egyptair, booked through a consolidator, and booked my Luxor to Abu Simbel flight on Egyptair.
Accommodation: Once in Luxor, I stayed at the Sofitel Winter Palace Hotel, booked through a hotel booking website. Before you get too excited, bear in mind that the Winter Palace then had three buildings: a beautiful historical wing (Old Winter Palace), a 1975 Soviet Style “New Winter Place Wing” (demolished in 2008) and a 1990’s Pavilion Wing. Both the Old Winter Palace and the pavilion Wing are four-to five-star, the New Wing was three-star. Guess which one I stayed in! The good thing back then was that they were sharing pools and garden, so they were beautiful and five-star standard. You find both high-end and mid-range places at the Corniche, where I recommend you stay. If you do a lot of sightseeing, try to stay close to Luxor temple, as this is where the ferry to the West Bank departs. As many of the sites open early, they are used to early risers, and serve breakfast early, too.
Back in 2007, I also liked the laid-back and pretty untouristy atmosphere of the West Bank Village (El Gezira), which, I was told, was very “up and coming”. I wonder what it is like now? Has any one stayed there?
Local Transport: For the West Bank, usually the frequent public ferry in the early mornings, then I haggled long enough with a taxi driver of one of the many waiting taxis at the ferry pier to take me wherever I wanted and wait, then take me to the next place. Usually went well without any involuntary detours to alabaster factories.
For longer trips, I always hired the same taxi from a relative of a relative that someone knew… In short, I met a German woman in one of the temples who went here every year and knew people, so she helped me find a good driver from one of her acquaintances. Also, you could book a trip with someone you find solid, see how it goes, and then book them for another trip. This way, you leave some money in the local economy, and I believe there are plenty honest people out there that may benefit from your repeat business and perhaps recommendations.
The Winter Palace is in good walking distance to the train station, and I took the train from Aswan to Luxor once. I felt very safe in a second-class carriage as a lone Western woman.
Can’t remember if there is public transport within Luxor, I don’t think there was back then.
Personal Safety: In terms of political unrest, there were no issues at the time I travelled. In the more touristy areas of Luxor (basically on the riverfront, the bazaar and some hotel areas), as a single/female traveller, you will be approached again and again and again by males trying to sell you caleche rides/taxi rides/felucca cruises/stuff or sometimes just stared at or hassled no matter how modestly you dress and how aloof you appear. I just thanked them once, then ignored them. And when you venture out, it will all start again. Just the way it is. On the West Bank, there was never any hassling except a little from sellers by the Valley of the Kings, and outside touristy locations, nobody would bat an eyelid at lone women walking around, though I recommend you stick to populated streets.
PS: I travelled to Luxor as an individual in 2007, in what I consider a relatively safe period between large-scale tourist attack of 1997 and the Egypt Revolution of 2011. I never had any concerns for my safety whatsoever while I was there. At the time of writing, both the German and the UK Foreign offices have partial travel warnings for Egypt in place. I recommend you check with your foreign office concerning safety in Egypt.
PPS: This post contains an affiliate link. Since a lot of books are only available second hand now, I don’t really expect to make money from it, and for you, of course, it carries no extra cost.