Difference between revisions of "Luxor"
Revision as of 17:44, 6 May 2009
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:
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.
As of Jan 2006, visitor visas are available on arrival to many foreign nationals, just after you enter the terminal building. (15$ or equivalent, approximately 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. 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.
For the extremely brave 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. Do watch egyptian traffic before deciding if you want to ride a bike through it.
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, and short trips within Luxor are between LE 10 and LE 20. A round trip to the West Bank is about LE 100.
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 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.
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", 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 1EGP.
The various Luxor district article pages contain detailed information and suggestions for things to see. Definite highlights, not-to-be-missed, include:
There are many historians and Egyptologists that live in Luxor or provide guide services in Luxor and throughout Egypt. When I was in Luxor I hired one such Egyptologist who is also the official guide of one Western embassy. His name is Mohamed Abdouh Ahmed. He speaks fluent English, is very friendly, accommodating and affordable. He provided transportation and a wealth of information as my friends and I toured the West and East bank. I learned so much more than I would have from just my guide book. He comes highly recommended. He can be reached at +20 012-345-5716 or [email protected]
I'd like to add my support for Mohamed. I recently spent three days with him and learned a huge amount. He was generous with his time and knowledge, put himself out to please, he is an excellent teacher (knowing how much to say and when so you don't feel overloaded) and charges reasonably. He also doesn't take you around the usual sites if he thinks that you will learn more from other places. For instance, rather than taking us to the Valley of the Queens he took us to the workers' tombs because he believed that some of the best painting was done there. And he was right. I was with some other folks for a couple of days and they had be told by someone based in Egypt and who knows the guiding scene that they absolutely must hire him.
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 several 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 is at least five times, but it 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.
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 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 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.
Stay Alert Luxor is known as the hassle capital of Egypt (and therefore a good canditate 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.) 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:
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.
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.