Luxor is Egypt’s number two destination for visitors after the greater Cairo/Giza area further north. Luxor is the area I call the land of tombs and temples because, while there are certainly tombs and temples all over Egypt, Luxor is where the most magnificent ones are located.
Most notably in Luxor we have the Valley of the Kings with the splendid underground tombs of some of ancient Egypt’s greatest pharaohs, and we have the greatest temple to the gods of ancient Egypt, Karnak Temple, which is also located in Luxor. So alongside the Pyramids back up in Cairo/Giza, Luxor is iconic and synonymous with ancient Egypt.
Ok, let’s begin by talking about where precisely Luxor is. It’s clearly in Egypt, but it’s quite a hike or a caravan away from Cairo. Cairo is in the north of the country not far from the Mediterranean Sea. Luxor, however, is way further south in the lower part of the country about roughly two-thirds the way down the length of Egypt.
Luxor is the modern Arabic name for the city that sits on the site of the ancient capital of the Kingdom of Upper Egypt (i.e., the south of Egypt further up the Nile River, since it flows north). Egypt used to be divided into two separate kingdoms until the Pharoah Narmer aka Menes came along and united the two lands under his rule around 3000 BC, or roughly 5000 years ago. So Luxor was the capital of Upper Egypt before unification and it was the capital of the united Egyptian empire for nearly a thousand years during the height of ancient Egypt’s power.
But as I said earlier, Luxor is the Arabic name for the ancient city that it acquired after the Arabs invaded and settled much later. In ancient Egyptian times, the capital here was known by several names like Waset and Nowe and Ta-ope, none of which we really hear of anymore because most ancient Egyptian names for people and places have been replaced by the names later given to them by their conquerors. The capital Waset was later renamed Thebes by the Greeks and, as we’ve established, later yet Luxor by the Arabs, which is, of course, what we still call the city today.
During its heyday though, Luxor was a capital city of immense wealth and extravagance. Some of Egypt’s greatest and richest kings made their homes here and ruled from here, and they showered the city and its surrounding area with lavish building projects of monuments and temples and the like. And many of them had themselves and their families buried here too in elaborate secret tombs fit for the god-king status they bestowed upon themselves.
Most of these ancient temples and palaces have, of course, been destroyed over the past several thousand years, but lucky for us and almost incredibly, some of them have survived and are intact today for us to visit, walkthrough, and experience what the splendor of ancient Egypt was actually like.
So let’s move on now to talking about what’s left in Luxor for you to see on a visit there today. And while Cairo has the most famous ancient monuments, the Pyramids at Giza, there’s actually much more ancient stuff to see in Luxor than up in Cairo and Giza.
Ok first, the most famous spot in Luxor is the Valley of the Kings. This area lies on the western bank of the Nile River down in Luxor, so across the river from the actual city of Luxor. This is the site where the Egyptians buried about 500 years’ worth of pharaohs primarily from the New Kingdom period.
If you’ve hired a car and driver in Luxor, you’ll have to drive about 20 minutes south of the city to get to the nearest bridge to cross the Nile and then about 20 minutes back up the Nile on the other side then another 10 minutes further north to get to the Valley of the Kings. It’s nice to have a car and driver for the day in Luxor, especially if you’re trying to cram a lot into one day, but it’s not necessary. You can always take a little felucca boat across the Nile and grab a taxi on the western bank to take you the short 10-minute ride to the Valley too if you’re on a budget or crunched for time.
The hassles of taking a taxi aren’t nearly as bad in Luxor as they are in Cairo and Giza. So even first-time tourists can strike out on their own around the sites in Luxor and not have a bad experience, unlike at the Pyramids most of the time. But if you do go on your own with a guide around Luxor, you’ll still honestly be at a little bit of a loss because just like the Egyptian Museum, so much of what there is to know about what you’re looking at and walking through in Luxor isn’t labeled and you’ll miss 90% of it if you don’t have someone knowledgeable with you to share the experience with.
When you arrive at the gates to the Valley of the Kings, you’ll go through a light security checkpoint to get into the visitors center and then outside of the back door of that is where the ticket window is currently located. Here you’ll want to get your general admission ticket to the site, which will get you entrance to three of the 6-10 regular tombs that are open to the public at any given time. It’s usually about 10 American dollars, give or take a few dollars depending on yearly fluctuations for this basic entrance ticket.
Now there are a few special tombs inside the Valley complex that require an extra ticket to enter. Your general admission ticket will get you into three tombs and then you’ll need to buy the extra ticket if you want to see the tomb of King Tut, which can be up to double the price of the general admission ticket. That might seem like a lot for just one extra tomb compared to the price for the general admission to three tombs throughout the whole Valley, but honestly you’ve spent thousands of dollars and come all the way to Egypt and I think it’s really worth it to just shell out the extra few bucks and see King Tut’s actual tomb too while you’re there.
It’s not big or elaborate like most of the others you’ll see, but it’s just neat to know you’ve actually been inside of King Tut’s tomb. It’ll really bring to life the story you’ve heard about how his tomb carving and burial were rushed and not well planned because he died unexpectedly so young, which also led to its survival over thousands of years of grave robbers and plunderers. And this, in turn, is precisely the reason why we still have all of his treasures today and know of him as the most famous pharaoh in Egyptian history, despite him being one of the weakest and most politically insignificant at the time.
Other than Tut’s tomb, the tombs of Ramses VI and Seti I require an additional ticket. Seti’s tomb is quite expensive, but Ramses VI’s tomb is cheap and worth the extra few bucks to see too. And finally, like at the Egyptian Museum now, the Vally of the Kings has also started selling a “photography ticket.” You definitely want to get this too because a) it’s cheap and b) you’re going to want to take pictures inside of the tombs. For decades photography inside of the tombs wasn’t allowed, so the fact that they’re now allowing it for the cost of a cheap extra ticket is quite remarkable.
Alright on your visit, you’ll want to start by scoping out three of the included tombs that you want to see in the Valley complex first and plan your time there accordingly. It’s usually best to walk all the way to the back of the Valley to start back there then work your way forward. King Tut’s tomb is near the beginning, so I usually like to pop into it last or next to last. But let me just share a couple of my favorite tombs to visit and why and you can make your own list of the three you want to go into based on what you want to see in them.
Ok, KV11 is one of the larger tombs with bright colors covering the walls and a huge red granite sarcophagus in the main burial chamber. One thing I love about this tomb is that the tomb builders actually broke through to an older tomb when they were starting to dig to build this tomb, so you can see where they said uh-oh and patched over the hole, then later hung a right and kept digging. This one was originally started for a pharoah called Setnakhte, who was the father of Ramses III, but when they messed up they just abandoned it and built his tomb in another spot. But his son Ramses III is the one who had the builders hang a right at the breakthrough spot and keep digging to create his tomb, so KV11 ended up being his.
KV16 is the tomb of Ramses I. Now he died before it was finished, so it’s rather simple and small, which means it’s also an easy one to do too, but it’s still really beautifully decorated inside. That’s actually something to consider in the Valley of the Kings, accessibility, if you or someone you’re with has trouble climbing steps. Some of the tombs have steep steps down into them and back up, and some require a little bit of a hike up to get to their entrances. But the good news is that there are several that are both easy to get to and easy to go down into as well, and Ramses I’s tomb is one to put on that list.
KV34 is another neat one too. It’s the tomb of Thutmose III and it’s all the way toward the back of the Valley, so you’ll want to perhaps start with this one if you want to include it. But be warned – this one has a lot of steps outside to get to the entrance to it and then it descends back into the mountain once you’re inside. But the benefit of that is that it’s usually less crowded on busy days for that very same reason.
KV35 is another really neat one too because of the story behind its significance beyond just being the tomb of Amenhotep II. This tomb remained undiscovered until 1898, so the Pharoah was still in his original sarcophagus when the tomb was opened then, but what’s really strange is that a whole bunch of other mummies was also found stuffed into a side chamber of this tomb.
Remember back in ancient days known tombs were getting looted all the time and often the mummies of the pharaohs would be hacked open by robbers looking for gold and jewelry buried on their bodies. So finally the high priests were freaked out enough that they went into a good number of tombs themselves and took out the Pharoahs’ mummies and hid them all in a secret room in Amenhotep II’s tomb, which was evidently a good idea since his tomb’s location remained a secret until almost the turn of the 20th century.
So thanks to the smart thinking of these High Priests, we still have the actual mummies of some of Egypt’s greatest pharaohs today because their secret hiding place inside of Amenhotep II’s tomb was a REALLY good secret hiding place, it turns out.
So those are a couple of the tombs inside the Valley of the Kings that I personally like and others tend to as well, but there’s no definitive list of must-see tombs that you’ve got to worry about discovering lest you miss something. Even the least spectacular of the tombs in the Valley of the Kings is still wonderful to get to see, so you can’t really go wrong once you’re in there.
It’s just a matter of finding out which aspects of these spectacular tombs you want to focus on and selecting along those variables, whether it be ease and accessibility, well preserved wall art, the biggest or most rooms, a favorite pharoah, or just a neat story behind the tomb. They’re all marvelous.
Now you know how I keep saying that all of Egypt is still an active archaeological site and that new discoveries are still being made all the time? Well nowhere else is that more true than in Luxor, and especially in the Valley of the Kings. I’ve mentioned that many tomb locations have been known since antiquity, meaning they were discovered – and robbed – thousands of years ago. But many more were discovered more recently.
We just talked about Amenhotep II’s which was discovered in 1898, and you probably know now that King Tut’s tomb in the Valley was discovered in 1922 with all of his treasures still inside along with his mummified body. But archaeologists are still discovering and excavating tombs in the Valley up to the present day.
In 2005 they found a chamber that became known as KV64, which they didn’t even get to enter and start exploring until 2011. And another tomb that became KV65 was discovered in 2008 and it’s still being excavated and studied. So it’s almost certain that many more tombs of Egypt’s many more lost pharaohs remain undiscovered under the very ground you’ll be walking on, which is such a thrilling thing to think about when you’re there.
And by the way, another thrilling thing to think about when you’re at the Valley of the Kings is water. It gets hotter than hell there, even when Cairo is much cooler. And especially in the summer months, you can really become overheated fast walking around the Valley going from tomb to tomb even for just an hour or so. So make sure you take or buy a huge bottle of water and gulp it down before and during your visit there. In fact, just constantly keep gulping bottled water while you’re there just to make sure you don’t get dehydrated and have to interrupt your trip. You’ve come way too far not to be able to see what you’re there to see.
After you finish up at the Valley of the Kings, you’ll be on what we call the West Bank of the Nile – in other words the western side of the river, which is where a few other key sites are too. You definitely do not want to miss Hapshetsut’s temple, and it’s also easy to stop by the Colossi of Memnon too while you’re on this bank.
If you’re spending more than one day in Luxor and you want to see more tombs, there’s also the Valley of the Queens and the Workers’ Village on this same side. But if you’re short on time, tombed out, or just exhausted after traipsing around the Valley of the Kings already (or think you will be), you won’t miss anything major by skipping the Valley of the Queens or the Workers’ Village. Those are just for hard-core Egypt history buffs.
One site you cannot miss over here, though, is Queen Hapshetsut’s mortuary temple, known locally in Arabic and on most maps as Deir el-Bahari. Queen Hatshepsut was quite a remarkable figure in Egyptian history and her mortuary temple is quite a sight to behold. It usually costs about five US dollars to enter and there are no extra tickets to buy once you’re in there unless you want the cheap ticket to ride the tram up and down the causeway too. But that’s a short distance so you don’t really need to wait around on it unless you or someone you’re with has mobility problems. Also, some of your best photos of this site are going to be the wide-angle ones you’ll be able to take from halfway up the short road leading up to the entrance.
Now as I mentioned earlier, the western bank of the Nile in Luxor also hosts an area known as the Valley of the Queens, which contains about another 80 or so tombs of queens and princesses from roughly the same period as the pharaohs buried in the Valley of the Kings nearby. There were some queens actually buried in the Valley of the Kings, but for the most part the women were buried here in the Valley of the Queens and in a few other surrounding areas.
I’m not going to spend as much time on this site as I did on the previous two because those are the primary two that you have to see on the west bank in Luxor and you can do them both in a half-day, by the way. But I’ll tell you that you should do the Valley of the Queens if you didn’t get enough tombs and ancient wall art at the Valley of the Kings and want more, or if you want to see what the difference between what the tombs of the Kings were like and the tombs they had built for their queens (hint: they’re not quite as grand), or if you have more time in Luxor and just really want to see more sites.
The same can be said of the Workers’ Village, which is nearby this whole area as well. But unlike the royal tombs, the Workers’ Village ruins are quite different in that they give you a sense of what ordinary everyday life was like for the laborers who were subjects of the pharaohs and enlisted to build the tombs and temples. These folks included not only the manual laborers who were carrying the stones and digging out the dirt, but also sculptors and painters and engineers and architects and so on. I’d personally probably prioritize seeing the Workers Village over the Valley of the Queens if you have to choose between the two after seeing the Valley of the Kings and Hatshepsut’s Temple, which are musts.
But then there’s one more site on the west bank that you can squeeze in even if you’re in a crunch for time, which is the Colossi of Memnon, and that’s because these ruins are on the side of the road and you’ll probably pass them anyway, so it’s not really out of the way to pull over real quick and check them out even if you’re in a rush. These two huge statues used to stand at the entrance to an even bigger temple, but nearly all of that site has been destroyed and even these two statues had to be pieced back together in modernity to get them to the state you see them in today.
This mini-site is free, but just beware that there are lots and lots of unregulated souvenir hawkers here because it’s not an “official” or ticketed site with security and administrators. There’s nothing dangerous about them, but they can get away with hassling tourists more here than they can at the bigger sites. This site will literally take you about five minutes or less.
So all of that that we’ve been talking about so far has been on the western side of the Nile down in Luxor, and now we’re going to move along to the eastern bank and see what all is over there. If you took a car and driver over to the western bank, you can take that same mode of transportation back over to the eastern bank. Or you can take a little motorized boat back over and there much quicker.
If you’re doing a whole day of west bank and east bank sightseeing in one day, I usually recommend taking a boat back over to the east bank regardless of whether you have a car or not because the first site you’ll want to see over there you can actually walk to from the shore, which you can’t do going over to the west bank. So it’s a lot quicker and saves a lot of time to take a quick boat ride to the next site and have your car and driver meet you there when you’re done.
So on the east bank of the Nile in Luxor, there are three major things that visitors usually make time to see. In order of importance, they are Karnak Temple, Luxor Temple, and the Luxor Museum. If you skip the Luxor Museum, you’ll be totally ok. It’s small and the outdoor sites in Luxor are far more worth your time. Only do the Luxor Museum if you have extra time and want to see more.
Similarly, if you skip Luxor Temple because of time constraints, you’ll be ok too. But if you have extra time, Luxor Temple can be really neat to see. I especially like it when it’s lit up at night, and it’s in the middle of downtown Luxor so you can also just walk around it and see it from the outside if you prefer.
Ok, so let’s talk about Karnak. Karnak is a huge temple complex. It’s actually the second largest religious complex in the world after Angor Wat. But it’s one of MY absolute favorite places in Egypt to walk around in and explore and I feel pretty confident in saying that I think you’ll be blown away by it too when you get there, so allow at least an hour and a half or two hours to let yourself get lost in it and soak it all in.
Unlike most of the other sites and monuments in Egypt like each Pyramid or each tomb that was primarily built by and for a particular pharaoh in his lifetime (or her lifetime, in a few cases like we’ve talked about), the Temple of Karnak was built up over the course of nearly two thousand years by more than 30 different pharaohs.
Remember how I keep stressing the importance of understanding just how OLD Egypt really is. You know the Sagrada Familia cathedral in Barcelona that was famous for taking over 130 years to complete and still isn’t supposed to be finished until 2026 even though construction started in 1882?
Well, imagine the ancient Egyptians with Karnak. After a thousand years, the temple was still being built up and expanded more and more and they had to be thinking to themselves, “Sheesh when is construction on this temple ever going to end?” And after a thousand years of building, they still had another thousand years to go before the pharaohs would say, “Ehhh, I think we’re good. It’s done.”
Karnak Temple is so massive that St. Peters Cathedral in the Vatican, the Duomo Cathedral in Milan, and the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris could all fit inside of Karnak Temple together and there would still be plenty of room left to throw a party outside. Now as with most of ancient Egypt’s grand buildings, not all of it is left standing today. After all, it’s been sitting there two thousand years more, and that’s after the two thousand years it took to finish it.
But more than enough of it is certainly still left today for you to be absolutely blown away by its scale and beauty. Karnak is another of Egypt’s marvelous open-air archaeological sites where you can walk around inside of it, touch the walls, feel the groves of the hieroglyphic carvings with your fingers, look up at the absolutely massive lotus flower-topped columns in the main hall, and still see some of the color left from the original paint. You can just imagine how incredibly beautiful it all must have been back in its heyday when all of the walls and ceilings were painted these bold bright colors and huge flags and banners were waving in the wind on top of the pylons and priests were walking around with incense and chanting prayers to the gods.
Ok back to the present, and some logistics. You’ll enter Karnak through the front door of the visitors center and go out the back door of that to find the ticket window. Tickets for Karnak usually hover around 10 US dollars, give or take a few bucks from time to time.
Then you’ll walk across the big courtyard toward the huge ruins you’ll see in the distance and you’ll go through a little mini-security checkpoint. After that, there will be a guy right by the entrance between the huge pylon walls that will tear your ticket for you and you’ll be in.
Some people like to be guided around Karnak and some like to explore it on their own, but what I’d really recommend, even if you’re totally into being guided around and talked to the whole time, is to at least take a good half hour minimum by yourself to walk around and just experience the magnitude and majesty of Karnak alone. You really have to just wander, gaze, be curious, peek around corners, and get up close and personal with the oversized structures and hieroglyphics on the walls and columns.
Karnak is just room after room after room of massive ancient beauty and it’s nearly impossible to describe, so you just have to see it and more importantly experience it for yourself to understand. But after you’ve been there, you’re going to remember me saying this and be like – Oh my God, John was so right about this feeling of just being overwhelmed with awe inside of Karnak.
My absolute favorite part of the temple is what we call the Great Hypostyle Hall in the front center of the complex, which you’ll come to pretty quickly when you’re walking in. Hypostyle is just an architectural term that means a big room whose roof is supported by lots of columns spread around the room, but the Hypostyle Hall in Karnak is the most famous of all in the world.
When you walk into this hall, the first thing you’ll notice is the enormous girth of the columns. They’re far bigger than any other columns you’ll have ever seen in your life. And then you look up and notice the shapes of lotus petals flowering out above, making them even bigger on top. Then as you walk through the hall, you notice the sheer number of these columns all around you. I’d really encourage you to walk left or right into the forest of columns in the Hypostyle Hall and get lost in there.
Beyond this room, you’ll come to a series of open-air and indoor parts of the temple with things like more rams-head sphinxes and enormous oblisks covered in beautiful hieroglyphics, which you’ll also see covering the walls between the rooms and the temple’s outer walls. I don’t want to give away too much here because I want everyone to be able to take in and experience Karnak for themselves and form their own impressions of this place. But suffice it to say that I’ve been to Karnak dozens of times and I get excited all over again every time I get to go back.
While Karnak is the biggest attraction in Luxor on the eastern bank of the Nile, as I mentioned earlier Luxor Temple is a smaller temple in the center of the town itself. Luxor Temple is still a very impressive ancient site with some unique aspects of its own that Karnak doesn’t have, like the ancient Roman temple built later on its grounds and especially the mosque built much later right in the middle of the ruins.
The practice of conquering civilizations building their own worship sites into or on top of those of the vanquished is pretty common in history, but often the old sites were completely destroyed and replaced by the new constructions. So I always find it really fascinating when you have layers of history that have all survived to the present day like you see inside of Luxor Temple with the ancient Egyptian temple to the gods combined with a later smaller temple to Roman gods combined with a mosque that the conquering Arabs later threw in there too. And the mosque inside of Luxor Temple is still in use today, so technically Luxor Temple is still a site of active religious worship, although for a different religion that what it was originally built for, of course.
Most people just do one or two days in Luxor, but some like its chilled-out vibe and want to spend more time there. I can usually only do about two days max in Luxor myself before I get restless and want to move on to other stuff, but if I do stay in Luxor longer than a day or two ten it’s because I’m luxuriating at the renovated Hilton resort property there just north of town and along the Nile.
It can also be really neat to hire a felucca boat for an afternoon in Luxor and have a relaxing long sail up and down the Nile. Feluccas are the traditional-looking boats with big sails that you’ll see all over Luxor and some in Cairo too. They come with a guy who will sail it for you and they usually speak English somewhat so they’ll be able to point out things along the river that are neat while you’re floating and relaxing.
Many people just jump on a felucca spontaneously because they’re walking by and someone calls out to them and asks them if they want to do a boat ride on the Nile and they just got for it. But if you plan ahead to do a felucca sail, you can be sure to pack food and beverages to take with you and turn it into a posh little outing.
So thus far I’ve talked extensively about the sites to visit in Luxor and what to do there, but let me now briefly switch over to talk about some logistics related to visiting Luxor.
Luxor’s hotel scene isn’t quite as diverse as Cairo’s, but there are some great places to stay if you’re doing more than just a day trip there. As I mentioned before, my favorite hotel in Luxor is the Hilton Luxor Resort and Spa. This property rivals nearly all of the five-star Cairo properties and in my opinion, because of its location along the peaceful banks of the Upper Egypt Nile, is one of the nicest resort properties in all of Egypt.
There’s also the Winter Palace Hotel in downtown Luxor, which is run by the international brand Sofitel. The Winter Palace Hotel in Luxor is a little dated and worn around the edges, so don’t go there expecting five-star luxury. But Luxor’s Winter Palace does have a quaint and charming appeal that harkens back to the days at the turn of the 20th century when the explorers and archaeologists and egyptologists were spending the winter months down in Egypt digging up tombs and treasures and making headlines around the world with their finds.
In fact, that’s exactly the target audience it was built for in the late 1800s. It was never an actual royal palace, but was instead designed for the aristocratic visitors and explorers who were flocking to Egypt around the time that Egyptology was first taking off as a new field.
In addition to these two properties, there is also the Jolie, the Mercure, the Steigenberger, and the Sonesta that are all up to roughly four-star Western standards most of the time, I’d say.
Now here’s an insider tip about all hotels in Egypt – if you come across a hotel named after a pharoah, that’s a pretty consistent hint that it’s a dump. Anything called the King Tut Hotel or the Cleopatra Resort or the Ramses Inn… avoid those. Those are just fictitious example names I came up with and not the names of actual properties I know about, but hopefully you get the point.
Moving on… while we’re on logistics, let’s also talk about getting to and out of Luxor. If you’re coming from Cairo, the easiest option is to fly. It usually costs about 150-200 bucks for the one-hour flight, and Luxor’s airport is very small and easy to manage.
The alternative is the train, which I would not really recommend for older visitors families with young children, or anyone who can’t handle a budget or backpacker-style journey. The Cairo to Luxor train is a 10-hour overnight journey. I’ve done it many times and I’m often ok with it, but I’m also a person who can sleep just about anywhere. The seats are comfortable and spacious, but there are no plus and no wifi so make sure your devices are charged up before you board.
While the Luxor train station is small and manageable, the Cairo train station is a zoo and frustrating to navigate even for Egyptians. If you decide to buy a train ticket either way between Luxor and Cairo, know that there are only certain trains that the ticket salespeople are allowed to sell tickets on to foreigners. There are lots of trains between Luxor and Cairo daily, but only about a quarter of them allow foreigners to buy tickets for them.
That’s just because they’re the “nicer” trains and, more importantly for the Egyptian government, the ones that are more secure because they don’t stop at all the smaller train stations in all the towns and villages without Tourist Police in central Egypt where foreigners generally don’t go (and at times haven’t been allowed to).
If you do decide to take the train, one more thing worth mentioning is that they do have a “sleep car” train, but I personally don’t think that’s worth it unless you absolutely need a lie-flat bed in order to get some rest. The regular seats recline a lot and are wide and comfortable. And the regular trains’ ticket prices are usually between eight and fifteen US dollars for the ten-hour journey, so it’s quite a bargain. The sleeper train cabins aren’t that nice and are far more expensive.
Now whether you flew or took the train into Luxor from Cairo, the train is a perfectly legitimate way to travel between Luxor and Aswan. The only other way is to take the three-hour trip by private car with a driver, which isn’t that expensive.
Going between Luxor and the Red Sea resorts, private car and bus are the two primary means of transit between those two places as well. There are no trains between Luxor and the Red Sea, and there are no direct flights between either Luxor and the Red Sea or between Luxor and Aswan.
A lot of people don’t realize that the Nile cruises don’t go between Cairo and Luxor either. The cruises go between Luxor and Aswan, and although I’m personally not a huge fan because they’re very slow and waste a lot of time, they can be nice options for visitors who like slower travel, especially older travelers who are less mobile or who tire easier when traveling.
Ok now let me touch on some scams to watch out for in this part of Egypt. Luckily in Luxor, it’s not as vulturous as it is at the Pyramids in Cairo/Giza, so you don’t have to be as on guard here even if you are on your own. But there are three scams I want to forewarn you about, or maybe fewer scams and just more “peculiar situations.”
The first has to do with getting caught taking photos in the tombs at the Valley of the Kings without a photography ticket. This ticket is new and it’s pretty cheap, so I always recommend that visitors just get it and avoid the worry and hassle of trying to “sneak” a photo or two and risk getting caught. Still, some people do try to be cheap and not buy the new ticket, and they usually do get caught by the tomb guards.
Now here’s the thing about the guards though… they’ve been there for years watching hundreds of thousands of tourists go in and out of these tombs. They may look a little rough, but they know tourist psychology and they know what to look for. They don’t even need the flash to go off to know what gestures give away someone trying to sneak a picture in one of the tombs.
And do you know why they’re looking out for this so intently? Well, unfortunately it’s usually not because of genuine concern for historic preservation or ticket revenue management. It’s because if they catch you, they can confront you and extract a bribe from you not to confiscate your camera or phone if you don’t have a photography ticket.
The deal is if they catch you they’ll come up to you and tell you it’s illegal to take photos without this special “permit” and they have to confiscate your phone or camera. Then they do a little song and dance with you and ask you for a bribe to keep quiet, and most intimidated or nervous tourists just fork over the equivalent of ten or twenty US dollars to not “get in trouble.”
While this may seem like a reasonable amount to get your phone or camera back from someone who seems “official,” especially when you already know you’ve done something wrong, it’s way too much and if you fork over that it’s going to be raining cash in that guy’s house for the next month because that’s a hell of a lot of money to those guys.
Trust me – if you do break the rules and get caught, don’t get conned into parting with a pharaoh’s fortune. A simple 50 Egyptian Pound “gift” to the tomb watchers will be perfectly sufficient and generous. They’ll likely protest and say you need to give them more, but you don’t and just refuse to hand over your phone or camera and tell them it’s that or nothing at all.
This happens dozens of times a day, so no need to think you’re the first person stuck in this dilemma if this happens to you. It’s even happened to me multiple times and I just pony up and give the dude a few bucks to make him happy and continue on my way. But now that they have the photography ticket, I absolutely always get that and this never happens anymore.
Speaking of those same tomb watchers, the second thing to watch out for is a more up-and-up money-making thing that some of them do, which is to try to give you a mini-tour or let you borrow a flashlight to see the wall art better. Just know that if it’s not busy and they follow you into the tomb and start pointing out stuff, they’re expecting a tip. 10 or 20 Egyptian Pounds is perfectly fine for either the pointing mini-tour or for borrowing their flashlight, but seriously if you don’t want it then just politely say “la shukran” a few times, which means no thank you, and continue exploring on your own.
Guides are actually not allowed inside of the tombs, so these guys often make a decent side hustle out of playing substitute guide when it’s not busy and they don’t have lots of tickets to tear at the door and can follow you in to try to make a buck or two.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years about poor Egyptians it’s that they always try to earn your money and won’t just ask for it as charity like many will in the West. Even the poorest of the poor almost always want to do something for you before asking for money, no matter how simple or humble the service. And that’s one of the many reasons I love and respect the Egyptian people so much.
The third thing to watch out for in Luxor is the alabaster shops. Luxor is famous for its alabaster crap and if you’re wild enough to arrange your own guide through a local company or try to pick one up along the way, then you’re virtually guaranteed to get diverted to an alabaster shop at some point in your Luxor adventure. No matter where they take you for “shopping,” the guide, and often the driver too, will get a decent kickback from the shop for taking you to that one over another one. The more seedy local guides will try to steer you to the shops that give them the best kickbacks and then they get a cut of everything you’re pressured into buying.
It’s the same as the papyrus shop scam back in Cairo. Just beware, and unless you just really really want some alabaster souvenir crap, say no to stopping at an alabaster shop in Luxor. A seedy guide and driver will be annoyed and pissy with you for making them skip it, but if that happens then you’ve picked the wrong guide to begin with anyway so let that serve as an indicator of quality, among other things.
Alright, that wraps up this post all about getting to, staying in, and exploring magnificent Luxor – the number two most famous collection of sites in all of Egypt. There’s so much to see and do in Luxor that you’re guaranteed to be awe-struck whether you only have one day to spend here or you spend an entire week in Luxor relaxing and taking it easy. In any case, enjoy your stay there. And as always don’t hesitate to reach out to me by email if you have more questions about visiting Luxor.