Having returned from a memorable Nile cruise with Discover Egypt I must say this is the time to go!
Despite the negative exposure in the media there is no social unrest on the stretch of the Nile between Luxor and Aswan. Our guide said that 90% of the Nile cruising ships are tied up because of the massive drop in visitors and the consequence is that the river is peaceful and uncluttered, and the fabulous historic sites are relatively deserted. We did not queue anywhere, had wonderful access to the tombs and temples and were able to take photographs with ease and without hordes of tourists. The local guides are desperate, many have lost employment, and they hope a more positive message can be promulgated by visitors returning to the UK. Despite their concerns and uncertain future, they show exceptional enthusiasm, impressive knowledge and a proud command of English. Go now while it is quiet, safe and cheap!
Now is the best time to go to southern Egypt – the weather is perfect and the locals will be particularly pleased to see you after a lean year. The Winter Palace’s grander rooms and elegant late 19th century façade overlook the Nile, and conceal from the bustle of the Corniche a lush and well tended garden. You can relax with a drink or a swim after a day exploring the sights, and watch the desert sun turn even the drabbest building to gold as the sound of the muezzin rises from mosques all around. For a romantic dinner, albeit without alcohol, go to the atmospheric Sofra, where delicious mezze are served on round brass tables under hand-blown glass chandeliers.
Corniche el Nile street Luxor
Google map: bit.ly/H3jLOJ
90 Mohamed Farid St.
+20 95 2359752
Google map: bit.ly/HmHdos
+20 95 235 9752
It's a Victorian era hotel, built by Thomas Cook in 1886, and has not been overly modernised. It was used by passengers of the flying boat era, though I don't know if they stopped overnight or just for lunch. Now it is just 'old school': extensive gardens, grand piano in the bar, peace and quiet. Best position on the Corniche. Timeless.
If you don't mind that Tony Blair had a suite there, its worth a couple of nights.
It is the way to cruise the Nile - small, intimate 19th century style sailing boats with six cabins and private moorings, away from the hustle and bustle of the crowd. The company has four boats - Nesma, Amber, Zahra and Musk! Don't do the Nile any other way.
Although millions of tourists visit the west bank at Luxor every year the area is so rich in archaeology that it is not difficult to find quiet and equally spectacular monuments away from the hordes.
Just across the road from the bazaars and the coach-park at the Hatshepsut temple a jumble of mud-brick remains marks the cemetery of el-Asasif, site of some of the largest and most spectacular tombs anywhere in the country.
Three of its tombs are open to the public: that of Kheruef of the 18th Dynasty, and those of Pabasa and Ankh-hor of the 26th. Their subterranean ‘sun-courts’ are unique to this area, and each of the tombs preserves beautiful relief decoration of varying styles.
I would highly recommend taking a walk from here back to the road through the crumbling remains of tombs yet to be investigated; at the road I recommend hailing one of the local service taxis and riding back to the river with the locals for a few piasters, rather than taking a private car for 100 times the price.
Egypt decided some years ago that it was relatively unsafe to allow tourists to travel outside the established tourist centres; as a result several isolated, but nonetheless spectacular sites in between Cairo, Luxor and Aswan are infrequently visited.
For those looking for archaeological adventures away from the hordes, I highly recommend making arrangements (in hotels or with taxi drivers) to join the daily convoy down-river (north) from Luxor to see Dendera and Abydos. The former is the site of one of Egypt’s best preserved monuments, the Ptolemaic and Roman temple of Dendera, with scenes of Cleopatra VII (the Cleopatra) and her son Ceasarion; at the latter the atmospheric temple of Sety I and his son Ramesses the Great features some of the most beautiful relief decoration anywhere in Egypt.
The drive is fairly lengthy but provides an excellent opportunity to see the Egyptian countryside.
I would like to recommend a restaurant I discovered in Luxor. It is called Sofra Restaurant & Café. Both food and ambience were excellent and it was the highlight of the trip to Luxor for some people I was travelling with. We were so impressed that we went there four times in one week.
90 Mohammed Farid street, El Manshia
and near by the train station in Luxor
Phone 095 2 35 97 52
Fabulous food, great staff, well stocked bar and spotless kitchens!
We enjoyed many a night here in February this year. Try the duck or kebabs. Tell them Caroline and Paul sent you, they assure us you will get a free drink!
Opposite Meridian Hotel, next to Murphys Irish bar. Passport Office Street.
Private double sleeping berth, with dinner and breakfast, for $60 each way. It is fantastic to watch Egypt go by in the night and very romantic though the train is a bit 'grubby' but after a bottle of wine (sold on board!) you won't notice!
It is cheaper to book it yourself than through the travel agents in Luxor itself. The train leaves Luxor around 9pm and gets into Cairo at about 7am.
Email to reserve - www.sleepingtrains.com
And specify you want to pick your tickets up in Luxor (the office is on Platform 1). You have to pick up/pay for your tickets the day before (sometimes 24 hours).
For a romantic sunset over the Nile it's hard to beat the Movenpick. Situated at the far southern end of the resort there aren't any other hotels nearby to spoil the view.
The sunset concert mixed with the sound of the evening chorus of birds and the sight of fellucas sailing gracefully by is hard to beat. It's open to non-residents so just turn up and watch the sun go down with your partner.
Movenpick, Crocodile Island, Luxor
Great rugs, provided you actually get to go home with the one you 'bought'. Be very careful that the one you agree to buy is not switched for another, half-finished reject. If the merchant wants to take your rug out of your sight, don’t agree and don’t let him bind it all up with twine either. Do your deal and take your rug – don’t have it pulled out from under you.
A donkey trip gives you the best views and is the most fun, slightly ridiculous way to see the valley of the kings. We made the mistake of booking through a hotel, who take massive commissions (up to 80% of fee). The donkey trip guides are VERY poor, so why not book direct and cut out the fat? Then they get a fairer deal and you get a cheaper price. Call Abdl on this number: 095/2060352, or 010 472 9416. He will meet you at your hotel and take you on a great 5-6 hour trip which should cost about £4 sterling each.
Call him on 095/2060352 or 010 472 9416
This colonial-era hotel in Aswan, about 80 miles south of Luxor, is famed for Agatha Christie's Death on the Nile. The glamour has faded but it remains a lovely retreat from the heat and hawkers where you can take scones and tea on a palm-fringed balcony.
Sofitel Old Cataract Hotel, Abtal El Tahrir Street, Aswan;
tel: 00 20 97 316000
For many tourists, the way to see the West Bank temples and tombs appears to be the highly priced offerings from their tour company.
Typical costs are £39 per person for a visit to the Valley of the Kings, Hatshepshut's temple and the Valley of the Queens. Included in this price are the ticket prices (approximately £9.50 per person).
To hire an air-conditioned minibus and a guide, and to visit temples and tombs that you wish to see, will cost at most 200LE (£20) for up to six people (total price), so adding the cost of the tickets, the trip will probably cost an individual in this situation about £12.
The other plus of this is that you can actually spend as long as you wish at a site, and not have to rush back to take in the obligatory visit to an alabaster or papyrus shop, for which the tour leader on the coach can make up to 50% of your purchase price in commission.
A great way to experience a Nile sunset or to cool off during the hottest part of the day, is to take a felucca (yacht) cruise upriver from where you will get great views of Luxor and traditional rural life on the west bank. A walk along the Corniche will invariably be accompanied by many offers of felucca trips, which should be tried at least once. Take protection against mosquitoes if going at dusk.
Over on the west bank, the Valley of the Kings, Queens and Deir El-Bahri (Hatshepsut) are all set in stunning locations. These are the ancient burial grounds of the Pharoahs and their wives, nestled in underground chambers in the hillsides. The cheapest way to reach the west bank is to take the local ferry (across the Corniche from Luxor Temple) which will cost £E1. Bicycles can be taken aboard.
Alternatively, there are plentiful taxis on the other side waiting to take you the remaining 3-4km to the sites. All tickets for the sites must be pre-purchased at ticket booths 1km inland. A general ticket for the Valley of Kings or Queens costs 55LE (approx. £5.50) and gives admission to three separate tombs, although Tutankhamen’s tomb will set you back a further 70LE.
As with many other attractions in Egypt, ISIC holders receive a 50% discount. A word of warning: don’t feel obliged to take an unofficial tour of a tomb by one of the wardens: they will expect and occasionally demand, a tip for the service.
For its size, Luxor has more ancient historical sites than any other location in the world. The great temples of Karnak and Luxor are the main attractions on the east bank and should not be missed. These were once joined together by an avenue of sphinxes and are both dedicated to the ancient gods Amun, Mut and Knonsu.
Karnak is one of the world’s most celebrated monuments: a vast complex of different temples built over 1300 years including the spectacular Hypostyle Hall with its 134 giant columns. It’s worth seeing in daylight (afternoon is less crowded) and at night with the sound and light show. It’s about 2.5km north of the town centre and can be reached by walking either along the Corniche before turning right when you see the sign for Karnak, or directly up Sharia El-Karnak. Alternatively, take a caleche or taxi from the centre. Entry is 40LE.
The impressive Luxor Temple is right in the centre of town on the Corniche. Entry is 30LE. The small Luxor museum just up the Corniche houses a number of interesting artefacts and will take an hour or so to cover and is probably worth visiting. Entry is 30LE.
Luxor has a good selection of places to eat, particularly in some of the large hotels.
For example, the recently-opened Indian restaurant at the Sheraton has received excellent reports and is well worth a visit. Other hotels such as the Hilton and Emilio also house very good restaurants and are open to non-residents. At the budget end, there are several good-value ‘tourist’ restaurants.
The Ramses restaurant adjacent to the Emilio on Sharia Yusef Hassan, is a very reasonable, basic place somewhat undiscovered by the bulk of tourists.
The restaurant at the St Marks Hotel on Sharia El-Karnak is cheap with pleasant service but in need of a facelift. The Amoun and El-Hussein which are next door to each other further down Sharia El-Karnak and attract large numbers of tourists, both are good value serving mainly western dishes.
Although the town isn’t renowned for its nightlife, some of the larger hotels such as the Etap and Sheraton have discos until the early hours where you can also see bellydancing shows.
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