Difference between revisions of "Luxor"
Revision as of 08:51, 12 July 2007
Luxor 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:
These areas may then be divided into small sub-districts....
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.
Visitors usually stay on the East bank and travel across for the tourist sites.
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.
As of Jan 2006, visitor visas are available on arrival to many foreign nationals, just after you enter the terminal building. (LE 150, most major foreign currencies accepted.)
A taxi from the airport into town should cost no more than 20EGP. 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. All taxis in Luxor have an official rate card (in English) in the corner of the windscreen which states the price from the airport to town as 12 EGP, you can point out and demand this price if you feel like a good haggle.
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 a whopping (!) LE 3 to the price of your eventual ticket... More seriously, you will not be guaranteed a seat on what is a very long journey or you may be forced to change seats throughout the journey. That said, on quieter travel days, you seem to be able to change seats and even upgrade yourself with impunity....!
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 Cairo to Luxor and sometimes further up the Nile to Abu Simbel. These are reportedly the most pleasant and interesting way to get there if you have the time and money. The train is a close second and both cheaper and faster.
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 of tires. They may deflate just as fast. It is quite normal for people to be asked to leave behind their passport, drivers licence or student ID card as a guarantee of return. 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. 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.
Taxi's 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 25, and short trips within Luxor are between LE 5 and LE 10. A round trip to the West Bank is about LE 80.
The Sheraton Luxor Resort has a list of current taxi rates from their hotel to a number of destinations that can be used as a handy reference.
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. 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 5LE per hour seems common.
It's 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". Also, be prepared to yell out for the Tourist Police if you have any concerns for your safety.
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 1EGP.
The various Luxor district article pages contain detailed information and suggestions for things to see. Definite highlights, not-to-be-missed, include:
[[image:Luxor.felluka.jpg |thumb||West Bank view from Felluca.]]
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:
Egypt is an Islamic country, and it is forbidden for Muslims to buy, sell, or consume alcohol. However, the Egyptians are a pragmatic people and tolerant towards foreigners with money - restaurants and hotels which are not Muslim owned will happily serve alcohol.
Similarly, in shops which sell cola, if you are discreet, the owner will be able to locate some of the locally brewed Stella for LE 10-15.
Egyptian red wine is palatable (thanks to previous French occupation), but not recommended.
For spirits, you can choose between extortionate tourist prices for imported vodka, or to bring some from home.
Keep alcohol out of sight when in public - especially when leaving the shop!
Luxor has an extremely wide variety of accommodation options, from camping and hostels, right up to 5 star luxury hotels of extreme opulence. 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.
The Winter Palace , built in Victoria's reign, is the place to stay in Luxor. It is very central, well-appointed, and has good service and quite a bit of history. It was on the bulletin board in their lobby that Howard Carter first announced his discovery of King Tut's tomb. Prices are reasonable for this class of hotel. [www.bookingpage.com/town/Luxor.php Hotel Map of Luxor]
Various large chains like Hilton, Sheraton, Novotel and Meridien also have high-end hotels in Luxor.
On your first morning in Luxor, you will be woken at dawn by the adhan, or Muslim call to prayer. This normally lasts 5-10 minutes, and after a few days you may well 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.
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 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.