Luxor is probably the premier travel destination in Egypt and it is considered by many the world’s greatest open-air museum. The town has two major districts, West (most historical sites) and East (trains/restaurants/hotels) bank. The West side of the Nile used to be the capital of Egypt and it is the richest area regarding the history of the country. The East side is modern and bustling and most of the people live there.
I arrived late in town by train from Cairo, a journey that was supposed to take 10h but in fact took 14h… So when I got off the train it was already night. Fortunately, I intended to stay in a place called Bob Marley House Hostel (there are 2 of them in Luxor, don’t ask me why…) that is only 10min by foot from the train station. Luxor is extremely cheap and this particular hostel offered dorm beds with breakfast and coffee/tea for free all day for only… 3.5$ a night.
The first person I met when I got to my dorm bed was a Brazilian guy called Gabriel that was coming from Aswan to visit some of the highlights of the west bank that he missed when he first stopped in Luxor. I promptly offered to go with him and split the costs of our journey. The west bank is vast and you’ll need some kind of transportation, especially to get to the Valley of the Kings. The other sites you can visit with a bicycle or, like I did with some of them, by foot.
It is easy to go to the West bank cheaply. Behind the Luxor Temple, before the Mummification Museum, there’s a boat that crosses the river almost every 20min or so for just 0.10$. Once on the other side the fun begins. Or if you’re lucky like me it’ll start once you go into the boat. The tourism in Egypt has taken its toll since the revolution, and it is in moments like these that you can really see the reality in there. We were the only tourists on the other side of the river which lead to all the touts surrounding us with ridiculous offers. Eventually we struck a deal with one of them and we were off!
Don’t try to explore all the sights in the west bank in one day. It’ll be hot and you’ll not enjoy because you’ll be always in a constant rush. I would always recommend at least 2 full days to visit the west bank, but only if you have a car available, if you’re going to explore with a bicycle you’ll need another day.
The Valley of the Kings is an amazing site because it is where the ancient Pharaohs were buried. Unfortunately, most of the tombs are closed to the public and your ticket only allows you to visit 3 tombs of all the ones available that day. Photography is also not allowed inside, but if you give a Baksheesh to the guy there he’ll turn a blind eye.
Hatshepsut is a truly magnificent temple carved in the mountain. Inside there’s not much to see, but from afar this temple is really one of a kind. From here I walked to the next nearest temple, Medinet Habu, the Mortuary Temple of Ramesses III.
Just 1km away from Medinet Habu, you have the Colossi of Memnon, that is basically two massive stone statues of a Pharaoh (Amenhotep III). It is not the most impressive sight, but it is free and it is on the way back so why not?!
I even got a ride back to the boat! A stranger was kind enough to let me go with him and his son on his motorbike. He was a seller in Valley of the Queens and I would find him there when I went there to visit the valley. I could have still visited more places, but I would be rushing and I had plenty of time.
The following day was spent exclusively exploring the East Bank. From my hostel to the farthest attraction (Karnak Temple) I had to cover ~4km by foot, easily doable if you walk by the Corniche. It is very pleasant, no traffic whatsoever and you’ll almost certainly struck a conversation with someone. It’ll be most likely at first to try to sell you a boat ride or something, but once you’re able to go through that you’ll be able to have an actual conversation!
I don’t know why, but the fact is that the Karnak Temple was the sight where I found more tourists. Even more than in the Pyramids of Giza which is remarkable. The temple is beautiful, but I don’t think that it is as beautiful as the sights on the West Bank.
At the end of the day I was watching the sunset by the Corniche when the 100th seller of the day came to sell me a boat ride. Eventually I said that I was getting sick of being seen as a moving wallet and that I was tired rejecting people. He understood my position and we eventually talked about religion and politics. A couple of hours later he told me to go with him later to an Egyptian wedding!
He was not invited to the wedding, but he was responsible to get the groom and his friends, throw a little party on his boat for them, and in the end get the bride and transport them to the place where the dinner would take place.
After this little adventure, Adam wanted me to go with him to his house. He was living on the West bank and was still building his house, there were still windows missing, there was no kitchen, and he was sleeping on a wooden plank. Despite all of this, he gave me tea and invited his friend to come over. We talked about everything in general and I learned how hard it was to live in Egypt post-revolution due to terrorism, corruption and mainly the decrease of influx of money from tourism.
Eventually I had to ask Adam to take be back to the East side, but he insisted first to go to his sisters’ house to meet her husband (which was Adams’ best friend) and his cute little niece. We watched TV and talked about the differences between living in Portugal and Egypt.
It’s moments like these that stay in memory forever, more than any historical monument that you can visit in the world. I’m very glad I joined this strange man when he invited me. It could have gone wrong, but it didn’t. Thank you Adam!
I would eventually come back to Luxor on my way back from Aswan to Cairo because I still wanted to see the Valley of the Queens, Deir el-Medina and Tombs of the Nobles. I really think that these two deserve more praise than what they actually get. Maybe it was luck in the tombs I chose, but I think that the Valley of the Queens is the real highlight of the west bank.
I loved Luxor. It was my favourite place in Egypt and I can’t recommend it enough. The town is relaxed, there’s tasty food everywhere, history so easily accessible and unique people live here.
How to get there and away
- I took a direct train from the Ramses station in Cairo to Luxor. Buy the ticket online, you'll not be able to buy it at the station or to the conductor if you go during the day on a regular train. I also came here by train from Aswan, I boarded the train without a ticket and bought when the conductor approached me.
- I left Luxor to Aswan/Cairo by train. It's easy to buy tickets at the train station in Luxor, there's always someone that speaks English there.
What to do/see
- West Bank (Valley of the Kings/Queens, Medinet Habu, Deir el-Medina, Tombs of the Nobles, Hatshepsut temple and Colossi of Memnon).
- East Bank (Luxor temple, Karnak temple).
Where to sleep
- Bob Marley House Hostel, 3.5$ dorm bed with breakfast included. Really central and close to the train station.