When coming to Luxor, the first thing you’ll have to understand is that the town is divided into the East Bank and the West Bank. Obviously that refers to the east and west sides of the Nile. If you’re staying in Luxor, you will almost definitely be staying on the east side of the Nile (unless you found some very oddly located AirBNB).
In my opinion, the West Bank is the more fun side to visit because it has the more interesting sites. A tour will take you to sites like the Valley of the Kings, Valley of the Queens, Medinet Habu, and Hachetsupt Temple. This all depends on the type of tour and the length of time you have on the West Bank. I’d say you definitely want to devote at least a day to see the highlights on the West Bank because you’ll see some amazing sites.
The West Bank is definitely NOT something you want to try and do on your own. By that I mean try to get from site to site without the use of some vehicle you can rent for the day. You can certainly try driving in Luxor because the streets are far less congested than Cairo and most locals won’t be driving out near the tourist spots. That said, you certainly need to have nerves of steel driving in Egypt.
The reason you’ll need a car is that you’ll be visiting sites that are fairly spread out in the desert. That said, it’ll probably be really hot when you visit. If you think Cairo is hot, it’ll feel like a coastal paradise compared to the heat in Luxor. You won’t be able to walk from site to site and if bicycles are even available, I can see that getting old very fast. There is also no Uber here so you’ll be forced to negotiate with a taxi for your rate and unless you know Arabic, you’ll be paying tourist prices.
Benefit of a Tour
As many of you know, I don’t really enjoy taking tours. I enjoy the freedom of being able to do whatever I want on my time schedule. That said, I took a number of tours with Far and Beyond Travel (this is not an ad, I pay for all my tours) and I can’t recommend them enough. I had an amazing guide named Hamdi and a fantastic driver in Mahmoud. I can easily say I wouldn’t have been able to cover a fraction of the things I did while there if I’d done it on my own.
By taking a tour, I not only had my transportation for the day, but also my tickets were all paid for. Of course I also had a fantastic, knowledgeable guide to help me really understand everything I saw. An unintended benefit to all this is that the scammers pretty much left me alone. They saw I was with a guide and although some would approach to try and sell me something, the bulk of them just stayed away. Also, one of the tours included a home cooked lunch. Now THAT is something you never get and it’s an amazing feeling to be invited into someone’s home to have a meal. I’d really recommend at least thinking about joining/paying for a tour while here if only to make your life that much easier.
Valley of the Kings
Arguably one of the coolest sites you’ll visit is the Valley of the Kings. It’s amazing to see how many burial sites have been found and how many more have yet to be discovered in this valley. I’ll post a few pictures of some of the different tombs below but you’ll have to visit them so you can take your own pictures.
One thing I will mention is the tomb of King Tut. The general admission ticket allows visitors to enter three of the tombs (an experienced guide here can tell you which ones are better than the others). For the more impressive tombs, you’ll have to pay extra. One of the tombs that’s extra is King Tut’s tomb. Here’s the thing with King Tut. It’s famous for Carter’s discovery and all the treasures found with him. The thing is, King Tut wasn’t that noteworthy as far as pharaohs go and his burial chamber isn’t that great. To be perfectly honest, it’s tiny and really blah. It’s been restored to show off all the paintings and inscriptions on the walls, but as a whole, it’s very plain. I’d recommend skipping King Tut for another tomb if I were you, but I imagine once you’re there, you’ll feel compelled to go inside. But remember I tried to warn you. I guess you do get to see King Tut’s mummy.
When you see it from the parking lot, you may not fully understand exactly how far you’re standing from the temple. It looks impressive but you probably won’t be too impressed. As you walk closer and begin to understand how massive this temple is, you’ll be shocked.
What is interesting about this temple is the history about it (and thus the need for a quality guide). A quick backstory is that she ruled as pharaoh (and dressed like a man) and had a long reign of peace and prosperity but when her stepson took over the throne, he wanted revenge. I would argue he kind of had a point.
This was the last of our stops for the day and it’s split into different chambers or sections. The walls are covered in writings and scenes depicting all matter of things from battles to religious ceremonies. It’s just really stunning to see how much is so well preserved and even the colors for still be visible in an open air museum/setting is really stunning.
The West Bank is really fascinating. Now maybe I’m putting a lot of weight on this because I really enjoy visiting old, historic sites. That’s just me. I know for many, “in the past” means last night and if tonight can top last night’s activities. That’s totally fine. But you won’t have fun in Luxor and you’ll be better off staying in Cairo, or better yet in Miami, Seoul, or Ibiza. But if you enjoy seeing and experiencing these historic sites, I can’t think of a better preserved site in the world that I’ve been to. The colors inside the tombs are chilling and so amazing, you’ll just stare at it like a child seeing something for the first time. That’s what makes travelling to historic sites so amazing.