Difference between revisions of "Luxor"
Revision as of 08:45, 29 May 2012
Luxor (Arabic: أَلْأُقْصُر Al 'Uqṣur) is the premier travel destination in Upper (southern) Egypt and the Nile Valley. The dynastic and religious capital of Middle Kingdom and New Kingdom Egypt, Luxor has much to offer the traveller, from vast temples, to ancient royal tombs, via spectacular desert and river scenery and a bustling modern life.
Although a relatively small town by Egyptian population standards, Luxor is quite extensive and is best divided up into several 'districts' or areas that group the main attractions on their respective sides of the river Nile:
The old capital of Egypt, Thebes, was on the West bank of the Nile. That is where most of the ruins and tombs are.
The modern city of Luxor is on the East bank. That area has the train and bus stations, most of the hotels and restaurants, some museums, tourist shops and so on. Most visitors (and almost all tour groups) stay on the East bank and travel across for the tourist sites but, in recent years, there has been an increase in hotels on the West bank and many independent travelers stay there.
Luxor International Airport (ICAO: LXR) is a destination for flights on several European and Middle Eastern routes, as well as the main southern hub for domestic flights within Egypt.
Direct charters from Europe (London Gatwick, for example) are common in the winter high season. From the airport in Luxor, you will probably take a shuttle provided by your hotel. Note that the Airport in Luxor is very small, and getting luggage off the belt is a challenge.
EgyptAir also arranges day trips from Cairo which is an easy way for those who can stand long days to cover the main attractions of Luxor. Taxis are in abundance everywhere for local transportation.
Visitor visas are available on arrival to many foreign nationals, just after you enter the terminal building. (15$ or equivalent, approximately LE 86, most major foreign currencies accepted.)
A taxi from the airport into town should cost no more than 50EGP. Do not be fooled by the cartel of taxi drivers outside the doors to the airport. keep walking until you find a taxi driver in his car and then negotiate. Half the people you think are taxi drivers are just touts, so don't waste your time negotiating.
For those unwilling to purchase an expensive plane ticket, who have more time in which to travel and / or who wish to see more of the country, train travel to Luxor is a great and amazingly inexpensive option.
Tickets can be arranged through most travel agents in your city of departure for minimal commission. Otherwise, tickets can be purchased directly at Ramesses Station by proceeding through the chaos to Platform 11, where signs will point out the ticket booth. Tickets are best bought a couple of days in advance of travel, although the same day is often enough. The big exception to this rule is Egyptian holidays, when it is best to reserve a ticket at least a week in advance. Weekend travel (Thursday and Friday in Egypt) is the busiest time.
Train tickets have assigned seating to a particular carriage and seat, written in both English and Arabic. Train travel is possible without a prior reservation, but it will add LE 3 to the price of your eventual ticket, and you will not be guaranteed a seat for the long journey.
Buses leave regularly from behind the Luxor Temple, to most major cities. For connections to Aswan and Cairo, the train is recommended, but it is a good alternative to get to Sinai (via Hurghada--Sharm el Sheik, or over the Suez canal).
There are boat trips from Luxor to Aswan and also on Lake Nasser to Abu Simbel. These are reportedly the most pleasant and interesting way to get there if you have the time and money. A felucca cruise on the Nile is a great option for those with more time and less money. The train is a close second and much faster.
Note (2011) according to river boat captains, it is impossible to journey from Luxor to Aswan. Due to the river lock, the felucca must leave from the town of Edfu and continue to Aswan. The prices are wildly negotiable but you will be bargaining down from 700 EGP so it could be a couple hundred or more for a two day cruise to get there. The train is reputed to take four hours.
Luxor is brimming with rental shops for bikes and a great many hotels also hire out bicycles. Rental rates vary from roughly 5LE - 20LE, depending on your bargaining skills, the relative demand on bikes that day and the quality of the bike in question. Check the tires and be wary of last minute inflating as they may deflate just as fast. It is quite normal for people to be asked to leave behind their passport, drivers license or student ID card as a deposit. Bikes can be rented on both the East and West Banks of Luxor (the latter near the local ferry landing), though the choice and quality of bikes is usually better in the East, and prices can be a little over-inflated on the more isolated West. If you look for high quality bicycles, you can find Dutch bikes (gazelle/batavus) at the Dutch Rental Agency in Sheratonstreet (Eastbank)and in the Souk just when you leave the ferryboat(Westbank). Note that bikes can be taken on board the local ferry (be considerate though!), so feel free to hire on the East, then transport your bike over yourself. Do watch Egyptian traffic before deciding if you want to ride a bike through it.
Remember - the East bank is the metropolitan side, so consider the traffic and crowds while deciding whether to bike on that side. The West bank in contrast is much more rural, and many tourists opt to bicycle among the fields here while getting themselves between the tourist sites.
Warning though: At the sites, guards will try to convince you to avoid locking your bicycle as they will watch it. Which they will do very well- and then demand a tip for having done so. Lock your bike yourself to avoid this unnecessary expense.
For the even more brave, Luxor is brimming with Chinese motorcycles around 150cc. With the right bargaining skills you can net one for 50LE+ per hour, or less for the day or evening. In the summer, the roads around the West Bank are relatively empty, and motorcycling around the ruins and mountains is easy and efficient. In a slow season, many are willing to rent you their own motorcycle for the right price. Remember to demand a helmet - since nobody uses them.
Taxis are plentiful in Luxor. They have no meters, but there are current rates that are accepted if you stay firm.
From the airport to downtown is about LE 50 (
The Sheraton Luxor Resort has a list of current (overpriced) taxi rates from their hotel to a number of destinations that can be used as a handy reference.
Minibuses are the transportation of the locals in Luxor, and the cheapest way to get around for the adventurous tourist. They all have the same shape so are easily recognized. They have fixed routes, with different routes marked by a different colour on the side of the minibus. However there are no maps of the routes, the locals just seem to know them by heart. All busroutes seem to converge at the railway station. Hail a bus by looking at it while it is approaching, and raise your arm. When the bus is full it will not stop (there are about 14 seats in a bus). Otherwise you can jump in, take an empty seat, and pass money to the driver, a flat 0.50LE per person for a ride (no haggling required). When you do not pay while you sit down, they will assume you do not know the price and the driver will charge you 1LE when you get off. Getting off is possible anytime, and is done by simply asking the driver to stop when you are near your destination.
An essential way of getting between the East and West banks of Luxor is to use a boat. As you walk by the river, dozens of felucca owners will offer you their services to haul you over the river, and normally a taxi driver will be on standby on the other side. This of course is all at a very inflated price, 20-30LE minimum and that is if they don't give you an extra excursion (not necessarily what you asked for). It is much easier to take the blue local ferry, a very basic boat that you can use for around 1LE, sometimes 0.50LE. The downside is that the ferry only leaves when it is full, or when another ferry arrives, so taking the ferry is in general slower - though you avoid the haggling. Taxis are available at the ferry terminal on both sides, and the trip takes just a few minutes.
Calèches, or horse-drawn carriages, are common on the east bank and are a delightful way to see the city, especially at night-time. Prices vary according to bargaining skill, but 20LE per hour seems common.
However, a number of animal rights groups have advised against calèches due to the poor treatment of the horses. It is not uncommon for drivers to beat their horses, and most Western tourists will notice many skinny and scarred animals. This does not mean that all drivers are to be avoided, some are reputable. Use common sense when choosing.
Beware of using the same driver for several days in a row. At the end he may decide he has undercharged you in some way for previous trips and may ask for a lot more, for things which "wasn't" included, such as waiting around while you visited a temple, all the money paid before went to the boss and none to your driver, a tip for the horse, in the original price. It might be best to use a different driver each trip and not book a previously used driver to avoid this possible scenario from happening even if he does seem more pleasant than most to start with.
It is also possible to travel around the tourist district on foot during the cooler parts of the day, provided you have a good sense of direction. To avoid unwanted attention you will need to constantly repeat the words "No Hassle", or "Laa Shukran", which means No Thank You in Arabic. Also, be prepared to yell out for the Tourist Police if you have any concerns for your safety. There are usually always some policemen nearby since they may be also wearing civilian clothes.
A good tactic for avoiding hassle is to buy an Egyptian paper each day (in Arabic) and carry this with you. Locals will assume that you know Arabic (and therefore their tricks) and leave you alone. Egyptian papers cost around 1LE.
The various Luxor district article pages contain detailed information and suggestions for things to see. Definite highlights, not-to-be-missed, include:
There are at least two different markets in Luxor. One is located in an air-conditioned hall, with shops located on either side of the hall. This market hall connects two major streets.
The older market takes up several streets near the Luxor temple. It is a joy to walk through, as it is mostly pedestrian and is a welcome respite from the horse and carriages on the main streets. This market really feels like an old souk and the visitor is taken back in time. It is covered with a wooden trellis, shading people from the sun. Many of the shops offer the same items, so the wise buyer shops around and looks for the best price. One can often bargain better after going to several stores.
Once you find a merchant you like, sit down, have some tea, and begin the game of bargaining. It can feel like you are becoming a part of the family. Buying something as simple as a cotton galabeya can take hours, as you try on almost every single galabeya in the store, and then move on to items that they think you may want for the rest of your family.
Buying anything may be very frustrating due to constant bargaining if you are not used to it. This trick has proven to work well: usually their first offer for the price can be ten or even a hundred times bigger than a reasonable price. First decide what you are actually willing to pay. Let us say that in this example it is 20LE. If you ask for the price, you may get a reply "120LE". Now you offer 22LE. You may then be offered something like 110LE. Then instead of going up, you start going down with the price, your new offer will be only 20LE (your predefined price limit). If the bargaining continues you continue dropping your offer. Pretty soon he will understand where the bargaining is going and you get a comfortable price or - at least - you get rid of the vendor.
The touting in the main Souq in Luxor is so bad that it is an absolute nightmare walking through it. Any desire you had to buy anything will quickly disappear as dozens of men try every possible catch they have on you. These include: "You look lucky," "you look Egyptian," "come see my shop, no hassle," and guessing your nationality. But if you continue straight forward, you will come to the real Souq, where the locals go shopping - and suddenly the atmosphere changes completely.
Luxor is a vegetarian's paradise with lots of fresh seasonal vegetables such as tomato and cucumber.
A meal often begins with pita-bread and mezze such as baba ganoush or taboulé.
Your main course may include meat or poultry, or regional dishes such as pigeon or rabbit. (To avoid an upset stomach, you may prefer to stick with the beef.) As with any heavily touristed area in Egypt, it's never hard to find reasonably well-executed Western food.
Dairy products, such as yoghurt or gibna bayda cheese (think feta but much creamier), might accompany your main meal.
Finally, many fine vegetarian desserts are available, though some might seem overly sweet to western tastes. (If you can, specify low or medium sweetness.)
While the evening meal is often filling, you may find this doesn't meet the energy requirements of a busy tourist. Be sure to eat a hearty breakfast, drink lots of water, and snack frequently during the day.
For restaurants by district, see:
There is something of a social stigma attached to public drunkenness. Although Egyptians themselves sometimes choose to ignore this, for a foreigner to be drunk in public can give a bad impression. Most local pubs tend to be testosterone-filled hard-drinking dens where lone foreigners and especially lone women may feel uncomfortable.
That said, there are numerous places in Luxor to buy alcohol. Many restaurants, above the basic on the street places, sell lager and wine. They are generally made obvious by Stella signs outside or by having people drinking inside them. There are two open-air restaurants opposite the temple about 200m south of the main entrance which serve Stella lager for 14LE including tax (as of September 2011) and other local beer and wine for fairly reasonable prices. The huge Stella signs outside give them away. If you can't find somewhere convenient serving alcohol, it may be an idea to ask the staff in your hotel for directions. 'Cafeteria' can be the euphemistic name for a pub in Egypt, and pubs can be quite hard to find if you don't know exactly where to go.
There is a duty-free shop close to the north end of the Luxor Temple, seen slightly to the right across the busy junction - it has plastic see-through shutters at its windows and a guard outside. If you take your passport and go within two days of arriving in Egypt, up to three bottles of main-name spirits and beer, etc. at well-reduced prices, per person, can be bought. After the two days you can only buy the Egyptian equivalent. They also sell electrical products and close at 10pm.
Drinking in the street or in parks, although fairly widely done by locals, is not recommended for foreigners as it is technically illegal and alcohol is generally cheap enough in restaurants anyway.
Luxor has an extremely wide variety of accommodation options, from camping and hostels, right up to 5 star luxury hotels like the Old Winter Palace Hotel which is of extreme opulence and has played host to both movie stars and heads of state. In all Egypt, Luxor probably experiences the greatest seasonal variation in hotel rates - some hotels can be up to 50% cheaper (or more) in the low season (summer), others have no change.
Whilst the vast majority of accommodation options are to be found on the East Bank, an increasing number are to be found (and are being developed), however, on the more laid-back and isolated West Bank, close to the tombs and the Valley of the Kings. A lengthy stay in the area might benefit from staying on both sides of the river for some time.....
If you are arriving in Luxor by train or bus, beware the over-friendly and sometimes pushy hotel touts, especially at the station (these guys are a symptom of the sometimes fierce competition between rival hotels, especially at quiet times). Remember you don't owe them anything, but that they get 25-40% commission for convincing you to stay at their "cousin's" or "brother's" hotel, which is then added to your final bill. It's usually best to pre-book accommodation..... Also, use a map or a taxi to find your hotel - discourage attempts to guide you to your hotel, as you may end up somewhere else altogether, in the expectation that you will give in and stay where your "guide" has led you after all.
NB: Women travelling without company should exercise extreme caution whilst seeking budget accommodation in Luxor. Several reports have been made of sexual assault after women were given spiked drinks by hotel touts and staff.
On your first morning in Luxor, you may be woken at dawn by the adhan, or Muslim call to prayer. This normally lasts 5-10 minutes, and after a few days you will find yourself sleeping through it.
See the various Luxor district pages for details of telephone, internet and postal services - being a major tourist town, Luxor is extremely well-served with communication facilities.
Most of the best outlets are to be found where the bulk of the local population lives, in the East Bank of Luxor.
NB: As of August 2004, Luxor has had its telephone exchange upgraded and an additional "2" must now be added to old 6-digit telephone numbers..... The format for overseas callers, for example, should now be +20 95 2xxx xxx. Mobile phone numbers are unaffected by this change. As of June 2005, numbers on the west bank that began with 2426 now begin with 2060. So the format for these numbers is now +20 95 2060xxx rather than +20 95 2426xxx.
Luxor Passport Office is located south of Luxor town centre, virtually opposite the Isis Hotel, open Saturday - Thursday, 8am-8pm. Rumour has it that visa extensions are far easier to acquire at this office than its equivalent in Cairo.
Stay Alert Luxor is known as the hassle capital of Egypt (and therefore a good candidate for the world). For those not on fully organised tours, please be aware that touts can make sight seeing very frustrating. (Although they tend not to stray into the actual temples.) However within temples, one must contend with the government tour guides. The guides are legitimate government workers, but also extremely aggressive about "guiding you" and then demanding a tip. Rule of thumb: If anyone shows you anything, for any amount of time, they will want a tip. It may be worthwhile to give a small tip upfront while asking to "self tour".
It is wise to pre-book accomodation to save yourself the trouble of having to deal with the touts at the stations.
As tourism is the main source of income in Luxor, and has been for centuries, many people have made scamming into an art form. Some of the older tricks in the book:
Find out on your own whether something is open or closed, whether you're walking the right way or not. Ask a local, not taxi or caleche driver.
Women travelling without company should exercise extreme caution whilst seeking budget accommodation in Luxor. Several reports have been made of sexual assault after women were given spiked drinks by hotel touts and staff.
Merchants in Luxor are notoriously aggressive and manipulative. If you don't want to be talked into buying anything, it's wise to completely ignore any attempt by a local to strike up conversation, no matter how benign it may seem. In shops and the market, the phrase "No Hassle" can often be used to avoid unwanted attention. If you would like to be polite, it is also appropriate to say "Laa Shukran", meaning No Thanks in Arabic. Being polite will make your life easier, as people will remember you if you were rude and may hassle more later. If problems persist, threaten to call the tourist police with the phrase "You're a hustler!"
On the streets, you may find it easier to feign ignorance of English: "Non Speakee Engleezee" and/or "Non Parlee Arabee" seems to be the most reliable way to show you are not interested in their offers. This technique can however backfire quite spectacularly as most egyptians speak several languages, so if pressed claim to speak something obscure like Azerbaijani or Ossetic. If you do speak an uncommon language like Persian or Albanian or an Eastern European language, make sure you start talking to them in that language. If you don't, practice faking it and do so in their presence. This is the fastest and easiest way to get rid of the touts.
Depending upon the perception your profile creates, you may be asked, sometimes within minutes of exiting your hotel, if you would like to purchase drugs or sex. Remember, prostitution and drug use are not taken lightly by government authorities. For Gay travelers, extreme care should be taken when propositioned by a sex worker. Egypt has a well documented record of Gay men getting caught up in entrapment schemes.