As we traveled south, Egypt became unbearably hot. Even in April, the temperature soared above 100F most days. Combined with the fact that we spent most of our afternoons traipsing around archaeological sites without a speck of shade, it was all we could do some days to not call off our plans and spend the hottest part of the day at the nearest pool. Some days, we did just that.
Luxor is beautiful and pastoral, the polar opposite of Cairo. Upon touching down, we were greeted by lush fields of sugarcane stretching out around the banks of the Nile. Men walked their herds of sheep down the one-lane highway. Flocks of birds circled low overhead in the late afternoon sun. Our guesthouse, located down a dirt road on the West Bank (the less populated side of Luxor), overlooked a barren desert mountain.
Luxor is famously called the biggest open-air museum in the world, and it has some spectacular sites, Valley of the Kings being my favorite. Despite the fact that it is a much smaller city, expect to face the same level of harassment and baksheesh-seeking as in Cairo, if not more. The economy is very dependent on tourism, which has declined since the Arab Spring.
What We Did
Valley of the Kings. This was probably my favorite ancient site of Egypt. The famous Valley of the Kings is home to dozens of tombs of the pharaohs of Ancient Egypt, including Tutankhamun's, or King Tut. Only a small fraction of the tombs are open to tourists at any given time, and our guidebook gave us suggestions on which to visit. We especially liked Ramses IV (KV 2), Ramses VI (KV 9), and Ramses III (KV 11).
Entrance fees for each tomb vary, and you will have to choose which ones to visit prior to entry to the site. The walls of the tombs are covered in colorful hieroglyphics, and we thought the above listed were some of the best preserved.
Mummification Museum. This is the less-famous museum in Luxor, the main one being the much larger Luxor Museum. Since mummification is fascinating to me, I enjoyed this tiny museum with an entrance fee of about US$4.50.
Al-Moudira Hotel Pool. This extremely upscale hotel is located in an isolated patch of the already isolated West Bank, and allows you to purchase a day pass to use the pool for a moderate fee. They also serve drinks and food, and when we arrived it was empty. A good way to spend the afternoon on a scorching day once you can't take any more sites.
We visited the other major sites, including Valley of the Queens, Luxor Temple, Karnak Temple, and Deir el-Bahari. My best advice is to visit either very early in the morning or in the very late afternoon to avoid the heat and the crush of tourists that pour off buses and into these sites. Karnak Temple in particular was overrun with Europeans in cutoffs, which ruined some of the magic. Nevertheless, if you walk all the way back into the gigantic complex, you can escape a lot of the people.
Where We Stayed
Beit Sabee. This was the guesthouse we stayed in, and it was amazing. Though somewhat rustic, the two men who ran the hotel were extremely attentive and accommodating, and the food they cooked for us was some of the best we had in Egypt. Breakfast was included and came with French press coffee, fresh cheese, and the most amazing homemade guava jam I have had in my life. They also cooked dinner for an extra fee upon request, which was almost as delicious.
The guesthouse is located on the West Bank, away from the main city of Luxor on the East Bank. It was hard for our driver to find, so I recommend being able to point it out on a map, or just tell the driver that it's near Medinat Habu (another ruin).
The main practical difference from Cairo is the lack of Ubers, which means you have to negotiate with taxi drivers, which adds a layer of annoyance. Be sure to negotiate them down; I think half the price they ask is a good starting point, which will still be more than what locals pay. When crossing the river from the West Bank to the East and vice versa, locals will try to steer you into an overpriced private motorboat for £E20-80, while the public ferry costs £E1.
Our guesthouse manager hooked us up with a private driver, who drove us all over the West Bank on one our days for US$40. We considered this a deal, since he chauffeured us wherever we wanted to go for around five hours, and the distances were far too great to walk and it was too hot to bike (which some tourists choose to do).
After Luxor, we continued south to Aswan, an even smaller town in southern Egypt.