Egypt Travel Guide: The Easy Way
Temple of Ramses II – Temple of Nefertiti
There are actually two temples at Abu Simbel; The Great Temple of Ramesses II and the smaller but still impressive Temple of Nefertari, his wife. Both have huge statues guarding their entrance and artwork throughout their chambers. They were originally built in 1264BC – making them 3282 years old at the time of this post! Although you can comfortably get around the site in 30mins I’d say that this is a must see and justifies its 6-hour round trip and 160EGP entrance fee.
On the return leg to Aswan, now that everyone was awake, we tried to recruit the two girls in front of us for the Felucca. They were the only ones young enough to want to rough it on a sailboat. We got chatting and when we asked one girl replied, “Oh I wish you asked me earlier, I booked two nights on the cruise ship to Luxor now.” I was intrigued. Out of my price range though, surely? No. Sharing a twin room with all meals included was $30 each a night.
We joined the girls and went to meet their tour agent and booked a room on the same ship. I’ve since met some people who have gone to the ships docked in Aswan direct instead of using an agent and picked which ship they preferred, although the price didn’t change.
The Ruins of Abu
That afternoon we took the ferry to Elephantine Island which is where the ruins of Abu and a new museum are. Abu is an ancient trading post which dates back 3000 years. Expect to be shown around the small museum and the ruins for Baksheesh (tip) you have to be firm if you don’t want their help or they will walk behind you continue to be your guide.
The ruins themselves are mostly rebuilt but in a way which really allows you to visualize how the place would have looked without pretending that everything is original. They do this in many of the temples in Egypt; they use a technique whereby they rebuild the missing sections in with the original but draw on the new parts what would have been there thousands of years ago when it was built, rather than sculpt them.
I really like this, you can see these great structures in their original glory without it feeling like an imitation. Something that has unfortunately happened in other parts of the world. This island is inhabited by Nubians so on the way back to the ferry we stopped at a locals house for a cola and had a chat. He showed us his baby crocodile from Lake Nasser and told us about his life, which is very poverty stricken.
Afterward, we walked to the Unfinished Obelisk (60EGP) which would have been larger than any other obelisk I saw on this trip. It is in an area of town with nothing else around so if you are pushed for time maybe give it a miss.
Cruising The Nile in Style
The next morning we had breakfast and then went to our ship – The Monte Carlo. It was a two day and night journey and took us all the way to Luxor; further, than Esna, the furthest a Felucca can travel and one night faster. The cruise ship would also take us to Edfu and Kom Ombo temples and had a pool. It was 5-star luxury compared to the Felucca, if not a little less fun.
It gave us a chance to relax and watch the banks of the Nile, where farms and locals made the most of the gift of the river. One disappointment in the cruise ship was its timing. We arrived late at Kom Ombo, walking through the entrance as the sunset, and for Edfu, they woke us up at 5.30am which was an hour earlier than planned.
Kom Ombo is on the waterside, next to where you dock. We arrived at the sun was setting and from the ship, it took on the glow of the low sun. By the time we had walked through the stalls and purchased a ticket it was dark.
This didn’t actually make the temple any less awesome, although I’d have preferred to have seen it in daylight. Kom Ombo was illuminated fantastically, the hieroglyphics and the sections of the painted ceiling above its pillars stood out against the black sky. Entry is 80EGP and it is a must see if you are traveling between Aswan and Luxor.
The Temple of Horus
Temple of Horus at Edfu requires a horse carriage which should cost 20EGP, but barter is required. We didn’t want to make a horse pull us the 2km to the temple, but lack of any other transport meant we had no choice. This temple is one of my favorite in Egypt – the flat front is chiseled with the two pictures of the God Horus. Going through its doorway leads to some of the best hieroglyphics outside of Luxor. We were rushed around this as the horse can take ten minutes each way from the ship, but ideally, you would want 45 minutes here at least to appreciate all the inscriptions and art.
Luxor – And the Scams That Come With It
There are lots of scams to watch out for in Luxor, here are the ones they tried on me;
If anyone approaches saying they know you from the hotel, they are lying. Usually, they say they are the chef and they are going to the Souk to buy spices or want to show you the one day only Souk that tourists don’t know about. All nonsense. If you speak to them long enough they will start offering you beer and marijuana. Do not trust these people.
If you want a beer there is a Drinkies shop beside the railway station. I don’t need to tell you why buying drugs off of a stranger on the street is a bad idea, don’t even contemplate it. I normally began talking about my hotel and making things up until about their ‘job’ until they got fed up and go away. Taxi drivers and even sometimes people on the street will tell you about local places tourists don’t know about – lie, again.
Another word of warning, in the Souks on two occasions I was sworn at and even called racist because I didn’t want to do business with an Egyptian. Obviously, it was nonsense I just didn’t want to buy what he was selling. People I traveled with were also grabbed by the arms as they walked past stalls here which they did not appreciate. I also felt some animosity from some younger men in the Souk, trying to play harmless tricks because you are a foreigner, such as chasing you to tell you that you have dropped money and then laughing at you when you look. Basically, you have to be savvy in Luxor and, unfortunately not trust anyone. Otherwise, Luxor is great, I promise.
There is so much to see in Luxor and I am ashamed to say that I didn’t have time to see it all. On the first day, I walked to the Luxor temple in the center of town. You can walk around the outskirts without paying but it really doesn’t do it justice. Entry is 100EGP and it is really worth it. We all commented on how much bigger and more grand it was inside than we were expecting. At the main gate there is the best example of an Obelisk that I saw in Egypt and as you walk through, large pillars and sections of the wall still stand.
Luxor Temple actually has written description throughout its sites which were brilliant as you could read about everything from the wall structures to the uses of the Temple. Like everything else, it is about 3000 years old. No matter how many temples I see of this age, I’m always shocked at how amazingly preserved they are. Directly opposite the main entrance is the Avenue of Sphinx which originally went all 3km to Karnac temple but only a small amount remaining. They are in the process of rebuilding the whole pathway but it doesn’t look like it’ll be done anytime soon.
Valley of the Kings
The next day we had booked a Valley of the Kings tour with the hostel for 50EGP per person. With hindsight, we should have hired a taxi for the day for 250EGP as our tour didn’t include the Valley of Queens, Tombs of the Nobels or …house. It did include the Colossi of Memnon, Temple of Hatshepsut, Medinet Habu and finished with the Valley of the Kings. We also had a guide which I think is essential at these places. Factor in at least another 300EGP for entry.
We first visited the Colossi of Memnon, which is roadside on the way to the Valley of the kings and free to enter. The statues are 18 meters high and do have some damage, but that is what happens when you are 3400 years old. No part of these statues has ever collapsed, considering they once stood at the entrance to Amenhotep’s mortuary temple of which nothing remains is remarkable.
Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut
Next, we went onto Medinet Habu – The mortuary of Ramesses III. As our guide explained, the Pharaohs built these huge complexes just for the process of mummification after they died. This temple had no other use whatsoever. The temple entrance fee is 80EGP. This was my favorite part of the day – yes I preferred this to the Valley of the Kings. The temple is preserved fantastically due to it being mostly swallowed by the desert.
More elements took its toll here though, flooding also washed away many of the colors on the walls which is why they are only visible past a certain point. The entire place is decorated beautifully and there are lots of hieroglyphics of the God of Fertility, Min, who almost certainly had exaggerated manhood.
Next was the Temple of Hatshepsut (80EGP), of course, another mortuary for the Pharaoh of the same name. Built into the cliff side I suppose after a few thousand years it is inevitable that rock fall and earthquakes would almost completely destroy it. The top two stories have been entirely rebuilt, but because of this, it is a better example of the layout of one of the mortuary temples than the others. On the other hand, it doesn’t feel like an ancient site, more like a museum example of ancient times. Its setting is stunning, with cave holes from the Tombs of the Nobels beside it and the mountain towering over it. But it was nowhere near as interesting as Medinet Habu in my opinion.
Then, after a detour to an alabaster shop, we went on to the Valley of the Kings. I’d been looking forward to this all day; finally, I was going to enter these tombs of ancient Pharaohs. However, like the Pyramids, I was a little underwhelmed. I don’t want to take away from either of these places; The Valley of the Kings and the Pyramids are both astonishing, unique places with such an important place in the history of Humankind.
But I think the Legends of the Ancient Egyptians and the mythology I’d learned about as a child wasn’t matched by the tombs. There are three tombs included in the 160el entrance fee, by far the best is tomb 11 – Ramesses III. The Tomb was actually started by a different Pharaoh before breaking into another tomb. Ramesses III continued the tomb later for himself in a different direction.
The corridor leading to the burial chamber is by far the most colorful and best decorated of the three tombs. Other Tombs included in the price are Tomb 6 – Ramesses IX which is actually quite interesting because of what it doesn’t contain. The Pharaoh died before it was finished so there are sections of the tomb which are not decorated at all. Seeing this next to the decorated walls shows how much time and effort was put into the wall art. The last tomb included in the price is Tomb 8 – The tomb of Merenphat which is the only one of the three to still contain a sarcophagus.
Outside of these, there are more tombs you can pay extra to enter; Tutankhamun, Seti I and Tomb 9. The general consensus is Tutankhamun’s tomb is not worth the high fee; it is quite ordinary and although it contains his mummy in his sarcophagus, everything else is housed in museums. Seti I is by far the longest and deepest tomb at 137 meters and is also supposedly beautiful, but costs 1000EGP. I did enter Tomb 9 – Ramesses V & Ramesses VI for an extra 80EGP and it was worth it.
The story of this tomb is famous as Ramesses VI stole the tomb from his dead father, Ramesses V. The artwork was originally depicted V, but his son had it all changed to resemble himself. He extended the Tomb and the burial chamber now contains both his and his father’s sarcophagus. It was interesting as his father’s sarcophagus is pyramid shaped, not at all what I expected to see whereas Ramesses VI has a more traditional square one made from stone.
As well as the amazing burial chamber with intact sarcophagus, the tomb is decorated with the splendor that the others were not. Look closely and you’ll see scenes from the Book of the Dead, where the Pharaoh is transported to the afterlife by gods. After what disappointed me a bit, this tomb was really the only I saw that was what I expected from the Valley of the Kings.
Sacred Lake – Karnak Temple
Next on the list was to visit Karnak Temple and then the Luxor museum. Karnak Temple (120EGP) was the busiest place I visited in Luxor, although the lack of tourists in Luxor did mean it still wasn’t that busy. Karnak is a vast complex made up of halls in states of decay, obelisk, and even a huge lake at the end. The site is truly massive, but no part is greater than that of the Hypostyle hall which is held up by 134 inscribed pillars ranging between 10 and 21 meters tall.
As with all the great Egyptian monuments, it is hard to imagine how these went up and how many people must have died in its construction. The complex seems to be a great mix of everything an amateur Egyptologist would consider Egyptian and this is because it was built over a long period and added to by various different Pharaoh ’s. As I mentioned earlier, the avenue of the Sphinx used to run here all the way from Luxor temple, but now the entire complex seems to be out on its own, away from the main area of Luxor.
You’ll probably want to taxi here rather than walk along the busy roads and it shouldn’t cost more than 30EGP from Luxor temple. Visit in the morning or late in the afternoon if you also want to watch the night light show. It’ll be quieter at these times and gives you plenty of time to stroll around the complex without rushing. The light show has three shows per evening in different languages; these are listed at the complex but they do not change so your hotel should also know.
It is just a short 10-minute walk from here to the Luxor Museum. I cannot give this museum enough praise; it is everything that I wanted from the Cairo museum. It is a great deal smaller but what it does contain is placed logically and has so much information you could easily spend an hour or more learning about Luxor. I suggest, if time allows, you make this the first place you visit in Luxor.
It is so informative about the city and its remarkable ruins, it’ll make you much more aware of what you are seeing when them. I honestly regret making this my final place to visit in Luxor. One particularly fascinating section is about the Pharaoh mummies that were found hidden in the Tombs of the Nobels. I won’t give too many details, but they have one of these mummies which were found in a curiosity shop at Niagra Falls, USA, in the late 1800s.
It also has statues and gives clear and detailed information as to how they were restored and also some everyday items you won’t see in Cairo, such as beds and furniture. It also has a great collection of weaponry, including longbows from Tutankhamun’s.
So, This Is The End…
And that was almost the end of my trip, I said goodbye to my travel companions. After experiencing the lack of backpackers here I feel lucky to have met them.
This left me with a day alone. The sandstorms and salesmen had started to take its toll so I decided a day of luxury was needed. If you too feel like this in Luxor I happened to find a way where you can do this without breaking your budget; The Eatabe Hotel, next to the Luxor Museum, will let you use their pool for the entire day for 75EGP. Poolside is really nice here, although I don’t recommend staying here overnight as the rooms are very run down for a 4-star hotel.
My final evening was met with a once in a ten-year sand storm which crippled Luxor and transport countrywide for the night. I’d had a couple of small sandstorms, but this was more like a Pharaoh’s curse. My friends who had left that day had to sleep on the roadside on the bus. Fortunately for me, it had cleared up for my flight to my next destination Jordan.
So, to sum up, Egypt. I’ve enjoyed myself so much here, despite the challenges it presents. By challenges, I mean the people who are constantly lying to you to force you into situations where you will end up spending more money, or the overbearing salesman. These people will waste so much of your time over the course of your trip. And I know this part of the world has a bartering culture, but this was more aggressive than I expected.
Hopefully, anyone reading this doesn’t take that to mean the place is unsafe for tourists; I have at no stage felt unsafe or in danger here. I think the lack of tourism here, especially by independent travelers, is partly because Egypt is deemed a dangerous place. This is not my experience. If they aren’t trying to sell you something, the people of Egypt are some of the kindest and friendliest you will meet.
But those who are selling or attempting to convince you to do something different to what you want, be firm and if you have to walk away and ignore them. They will only cause you trouble. I really hope that Egypt can bring tourism back, for the sake of its people who had a huge cut in their income after the revolution which has still not come back after more than 10 years. I know that the revolution, and then the plane incident in Sinai, made me choose other destinations over Egypt in the past.
If there is anything I would like the reader to get from this blog post, it is a desire to visit Egypt again, but armed with some knowledge about the difficulties and scams that are bound to come their way. It is a country that has some much to offer; it straddles north Africa and the Middle East, has perhaps the greatest collection of remains from an ancient civilization and the longest river in the world which gives life to not only Egypt but also large swathes of Africa.