When most people think of Egypt, they usually think of three things: pyramids, tombs, and temples. While the first of those, the Pyramids, are primarily located just outside of Cairo in the north of Egypt, the most famous tombs and temples are located down south in and around the city of Luxor. And of Luxor’s many mind-blowing sites, the most famous is the fabled Valley of the Kings – the burial ground of scores of Egypt’s greatest pharaohs.
The location of the Valley of the Kings, or Wadi el Muluk in Arabic, has been known since the ancients first started burying their royals there, and many of the site’s tombs were broken into and robbed of their treasures in antiquity. However, many other tombs were much more well concealed, with several not being discovered until the 20th century, the most famous of which was the discovery of King Tut’s tomb by Howard Carter in 1922. A new tomb was even recently discovered in the 21st century and is still being excavated. Needless to say, the area is still an active archaeological site even today.
Tomb openings rotate a little from time to time, but some of the more popular tombs tend to remain open year-round while others pop open and close up from time to time for random reasons. I’ve been inside of nearly all of the consistently open tombs there, but every once in a while a new one will come open for a while and I’ll get to explore something new. I recently visited the Valley when a tomb I had never seen before was open to tourists and I got to see something really fascinating and unique – ancient Greek graffiti (think: “Socrates wuz here” and “Plato + Athena 4ever”) and even Christian desecration of the ancient Egyptian polytheistic artwork on the tomb’s walls.
It can be really important to consult some kind of resource (like Egypt Travel Blog) about this site to really get the most of your visit to the Valley of the Kings, since your entrance ticket will only get you admission three of the valley’s tombs. Some tombs are rather short with badly eroded wall art, while others are much longer with multiple chambers and elaborate, well preserved murals throughout. There are also tombs that are deeper and require carefully walking down and back up steep steps and others that have quick and easy inclines, better suited for those who are tired, elderly, out of shape, and/or claustrophobic.
Local “tomb guards” are employed by the Ministry of Antiquities at the Valley to check and punch tickets to help enforce the 3-tomb rule for visitors. During slow times, these guys may also walk with you down into the tomb after punching your ticket and try to either hand you a flash light and/or point out some interesting things on the walls of the tomb for you in broken English. They’re all very sweet, but just know that they’re hoping for a tip for their “services.” A few Egyptian pounds will usually suffice.
Cameras are usually not allowed inside of the entire Valley complex, although they have been allowed in times past. Even when cameras have been allowed within the Valley, photography has not still been allowed inside of the tombs. Occasionally an indiscreet tourist will sneak in a camera and snap a photo with flash inside of one of the tombs, bringing about the angry ire of the tomb guard and often the confiscation of the camera that did the snapping. It then usually takes the intervention of several other parties and the paying of a bribe to get the camera back.
Sometimes during slow periods, the tomb guard may actually offer to let you take a photo (without flash!) inside of the tomb. This is still against the rules, but if offered know that the guy is looking for a decent sized kickback (or “backsheesh” in Arabic) to the tune of 20-30 Egyptian pounds or so in exchange for the privilege. Just be careful if you take him up on this offer, because if you get caught by someone from outside then you both may be in trouble.
There are two tombs within the Valley of the Kings complex that are open to the public but which require an extra ticket to enter. These are the tomb of Egypt’s most famous pharaoh, King Tut, and the tomb of Ramses VI. If you want to see these tombs, you’ll need to be sure to purchase those additional tickets before entering the Valley complex (but after the tram ride, also an additional ticket but not necessary if you don’t mind walking a few extra minutes).
Visiting King Tut’s tomb is one of those experiences in Egypt that’s neat to say you did, but there’s actually not too much to it. Since his death was a surprise and his burial, therefore, rushed, the tomb is rather small and not very elaborately decorated. All of the fabulous treasures that were discovered in the tomb were excavated and transferred to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, where they are among the museum’s most popular exhibits. The only thing really left in Tut’s tomb is Tut himself, or his mummy that is. Other than the coolness factor of being in King Tut’s famous small tomb and being able to stay you were there, seeing the actual mummified body of the boy king is the only other reason you may want to pay for the extra ticket to enter this tomb.
When you’re done exploring the valley, you’ll exit out the same gate you came in and board the tram for the short ride to the main entrance (or just walk down if you prefer). When you get back to the visitors center, unless you need the restroom again (which is just inside the visitors center doors and again costs a pound) you’ll head toward the right to exit through “the gauntlet.” Once outside of the compound, you can take pictures of the Valley from the there if you like, although it’s hard to really capture the essence of the site from the outside. For now, the tombs’ eternal images will have to leave with you in your mind and memory, unless you want to buy a set of postcards of the tombs that someone will surely be trying to sell you as you depart.