In the previous episode, I told you about our arrival in Luxor. Today, I am taking you on some exceptional visits to Luxor. Are you ready? Log in from a computer to see more pictures. Here we go!
Part 1: Travel Diary
Part 2: Practical Tips
Part 1: Travel Diary
Day 1: Visit Luxor Temple by night
It is 7:30 pm and we are starving. We walk from our hotel to Luxor Temple.
Walking time: 6 minutes
Number of pickers, requests for “calèche, calèche mon ami?” : 10
Tourists complain about it on all forums and blogs. Ohlala we are ATM on legs, ohlala scam ohlala too aggressive.
In the end, it wasn’t so bad. They ask us the question “carriage?”. We answer “no thanks”. “What are you doing tomorrow?” “we have a guided tour, thank you!” and they do not insist more, do not follow us, do not insult us. On the contrary, we are entitled to “have a good stay”, “thank you for coming to Egypt”, “have a good night”, “good visit”. No request for tips, no remark or look in relation to my outfit (I am in long skirt but not veiled).
Nickel chrome. Too adorable!
Much of Luxor Temple can be seen from the street. We get a little lost (we can’t find the entrance to Luxor temple) and a gentleman points us to a footbridge in the basement (to the right of the small mosque, and in front of the big mosque) where we pay 140 pounds per person. This gentleman helped us with a smile, without asking for tips.
Rates 2018: 140 pounds/person, day or night
The temple closes at 9 pm
It’s marked 20 books for the photos but in fact it’s no longer relevant, the photos are free.
We pass through a very cursory checkpoint (everyone rings the bell and the guard doesn’t care) before discovering the five Ramses II lined up. Apparently we are very lucky because two of them have just been renovated this year and are standing. The last one (6th) is being renovated and will be standing soon. It’s still nicer to see 5 of them than only 3!
The excitement is at its peak, I slowly come to realize that I am in Egypt. I have seen the pictures of Karnak temple and Luxor temple and I don’t know why I have a thing for Luxor temple, I really like this temple (hence the why of how we chose a hotel only 6 minutes walk from it). I am taken by an incredible euphoria, I feel like screaming, dancing, running… I am too happy! too happy! This temple has an incredible energy!
Here are some pictures of the temple. I will give you more details about the temple at the end of this article.
Day 2: a marathon day
After a very copious and luxurious breakfast (silverware please, waiters passing by every 5 minutes), we meet our guide at the reception at 7:30 am. The night was rather hectic, the air conditioning is too cold and we are woken up at 5 am by the prayer call of the mosque next door.
I set much of today’s tour program. It cost me a lot of hair and stress. Once the list of things to visit was sent to the agency, I told them to work it out and add more stuff if time allowed. So today we’re starting with…
The Valley of the Kings
It is really in front of our hotel, on the other side of the Nile, like 4km as the crow flies. It is the enormous mountain which we see opposite. But we took 1 hour by car to go there. Because the nearest bridge is in perpetuity. And they don’t want to build a closer bridge for fear that the vibrations will destroy the graves. Clever!
Economical tourists will take the ferry (1 pound/person) to the other side of the Nile, from where cabs depart for the Valley of the Kings/Kings/Temples. This saves time and money – because you don’t have to make the huge detour.
So, to explain a little about the principle, in the beginning, royal tombs were poorly protected and prone to theft (because they contain many treasures). Then they thought of putting a huge pyramid on top to make it difficult or even impossible to loot (Saqqarah). And then they thought that it was too much effort, why not opt for a natural pyramid, such as the mountain we see in Luxor, made of limestone? We will spend more time decorating the tombs than stacking the stones, and it will be easier to camouflage them once the sarcophagus is put inside. Hence, there are hundreds of tombs in the area, not only for kings but also for queens, princes, princesses, nobles and craftsmen working in the area.
The mountain is enormous, and we visit first a part, it is the Valley of the Kings where only kings rest.
As far as the ticket is concerned, this is how it goes. There is :
- a ticket to visit 3 of the 8 open tombs (it costs 200 pounds). Every month, some tombs are closed and others are open. That way, they are all preserved.
- there are 3 graves that are open all the time but require a special ticket. This is the case of Sety I (1000 pounds), Tutankhamun (250 pounds) and Ramses V/VI (100 pounds, both kings used the same tomb). It is very expensive, especially Sety I (50€ anyway) but it is the most beautiful of all. Even if you only visit these special tombs, you still have to buy the above mentioned global entrance ticket (200 pounds)
- one can pay the photo fee (300 pounds) giving the right to take photos in 3 tombs of one’s choice(except Sety I and Tutankhamun).
- there is a small train that takes us from the ticket office to the entrance (about 300 meters) but it’s nice especially when it costs only 5 pounds per person (0,25€)
Who took almost all of the extra paid options? We did! As long as we are going to ruin ourselves by coming to Egypt, we might as well go all the way!
Apart from the tomb of Tutankhamun (which everyone advises against), we opted for paid visits to Sety I, Ramses V/VI (two kings in the same tomb). And as we have anyway the entrance ticket with right to the 3 tombs, we visit in addition Ramses IV and Septha
One image explains very well the process of decorating royal tombs.
Tomb of Ramses IV
At each visit, the guardian of the tomb punches our ticket (to be sure that we don’t visit more than 3). This tomb is one of the tombs with no extra payment. It is just beside the entrance so many tourists go there too. Guides aren’t allowed to enter the tombs for ages, so all explanations are done outside the tomb, with photos and a detailed map “when you enter, look to the right, blah, blah, blah, blah”.
From the first entry, all prejudices, images I had of royal tombs are erased from my head. It’s so spacious! It’s so pleasant, the air is fresh, the hieroglyphics are in color, it’s well lit. And above all it isn’t very long and the sarcophagus (empty) is huge. The last chamber is always the one containing the sarcophagus. If on the ceiling there is a goddess that looks like a boat (Nout), it means that the tomb has been completed. This is the last drawing to be made in each tomb. But very often (in fact, almost every tomb) isn’t ready in time, and when the king dies, craftsmen aren’t allowed to create new designs, but only to finish those that have been started, in as little as two months.
Price: included in the entrance ticket
Location: near the entrance, on the right hand side
Ramses Tombs V/VI
Attention: Paying tomb in addition (100 pounds). In the beginning, there was only Ramses V. Then Rameses VI decided to enlarge and usurp this tomb, for him, for some mysterious reason. This gives us a tomb composed of two parts.
The first part, very pretty, resembles what was seen at Rameses IV, the preceding tomb. But the second part is EXCEPTIONAL with enormous columns in the middle, super charged with decorations, hieroglyphics… The colors are clearly more vivid. And when we see the shape of the coffin (without the mummy), we give a cry of surprise. Even if the sarcophagi have been heavily damaged, the whole remains magical. The ceiling is magnificent but the decorations on the sides are also beautiful, illustrating scenes like “book of death”.
The most extraordinary thing of this visit is the absolute silence that reigns there. Apart from the guard, we are alone. A few minutes later, there are one or two tourists who come but a royal tomb of this size, with so few people, it is incredible! As it is necessary to pay in more to visit it (only 5€), the number of tourists is much lower than the other tombs.
Tariff: special ticket 100 pounds or 5€
After the tomb of Rameses V and VI, a visit to Septha Tomb is a little disappointing because the colors aren’t at all the same, and the hieroglyphics are very, very damaged. The hieroglyphs are so badly damaged that they are now protected by glass. Part of this tomb is unfinished, and this allows us to see what the corridor, freshly excavated by the craftsmen, looks like, as well as the half-finished drawings and hieroglyphics. It’s super interesting.
Above all, there is one scene to find and watch absolutely: the ritual of mummification.
Price: included in the entrance ticket
Tomb of Sety 1st
After these visits, we move into high gear. We visit the most expensive tomb in the Valley of the Kings: that of Seti 1st. 1000 pounds the entrance is 50€/person.
We aren’t allowed to take pictures so I will show you the pictures taken by our guide at the time when it was allowed to do so.
This grave requires a good physical condition, the guide tells us. It is necessary to go down two very steep wooden stairs, and the last room is more than 60 meters underground. He tells us to go down and go back up slowly, otherwise the heart will give up lol. Anyway, there are a lot of hieroglyphs to look at so we really take our time. In reality, you just have to take your time, you don’t have to be an athleteeither.
What is extraordinary here are the enormous columns decorated with scenes of the pharaoh with each God. The colors are even more vivid than the tomb of Rameses V/VI and the details more impressive. For example, the snake is shown many times, and because it is in relief, it looks as if it is a REAL snake.
There is a very special room at the end of the first level where the drawings are still in draft form. We see like pencil marks, the head of the pharaoh drawn and redrawn. This allows us to have a very precise idea of the working steps of the craftsmen. I don’t feel very well in this room, I don’t know why.
Then we take another corridor on the left and go down to the place where the sarcophagus is (which is no longer there). There are smaller rooms on the sides, closed, but we were allowed to go there (you’ll understand how once there). The ceiling is a little more than a meter high, you have to bend to enter it. The ceilings represent hundreds of stars, the colors are beautiful and we are so well surrounded by the drawings that we feel as if we are absorbed. This is the most magical moment of the day.
Tariff: special ticket, 1000 pounds or 50€/person
Keeper a little insistent, tip 1€ (20 pounds) if special treatment
Tomb of Nefertari
We take the car again, stars in our eyes, to go to the Valley of the Queens. The entrance costs 100 pounds and there are only 5 open graves here, one of which is accessible with a special ticket at 1200 pounds (60€/person). What’s so special about it that it costs so much?
It is simply the most beautiful of all. The drawings are even more beautiful and better preserved and rich in color than all the tombs we visited. The Valley of the Queens is located in a place with strong water corrosion, and most of the tombs are in very poor condition. It took many years and a lot of money to save the tomb of Nefertari. Now to preserve all these drawings from humidity (the breathing of tourists also creates humidity), it is limited to 150 people per day, with a very high entrance fee.
There are so few tourists coming here that we don’t need to book for the tour (at least not before noon). Our guide tells us that if there is only one tomb to visit, it is this one. It is small, but the hieroglyphics, the drawings, the colors are extraordinary. As soon as we enter it, we are indeed subjugated by the color and the state of conservation of the reliefs. Nefertari is represented everywhere, her dress is in relief, there is even an extraordinary transparency effect to show the details of her “vest” that she wears over her dress. There is a room on the right, where the drawings are very very large, very very colorful. The room is small so we feel as if we are absorbed by all these colors. This is my favorite room in this tomb.
Then one reaches a small corridor leading to a large room, with beautiful columns, and other small rooms very very very well preserved too (but forbidden to access). We are alone with two guards. What’s a pity is that the guardian follows us around, trying to show us this or that drawing and hoping for a tip at the end, making the experience less pleasant. While in other, more crowded tombs, there are more “victims,” so he is busy bribing other tourists.
Normally, if we are alone, we can stay as long as we want. But two other tourists entered thus the guards press us a little to leave, to respect the 15 minutes of visit authorized by tourist. 15 minutes, it is short, but for a small tomb like that, it is acceptable. We manage to see the main drawings and go back twice in the room on the right that I like too much.
We aren’t allowed to take pictures here (even if a ticket that costs 300 pounds allows us to take pictures of the other tombs in the Valley of the Queens), so I will show you the pictures taken by the Egyptologists. Yes the colors are as vivid in real life. I told you it’s beautiful!
Rate: special ticket, 1200 pounds
Guardian a little insistent, give 1€ (20 pounds) if special treatment
Tomb of a Prince and Titi
As we have the ticket of the Valley of the Queens which gives us access to 3 other tombs anyway (except Nefertari), we quickly visit the tomb of a prince who died very young. All the reliefs show him, accompanied by his father, because he is still too young to know how to deal with the gods. It is really cute. Next, we visit the tomb of Titi, not very interesting and small.
Rates: included in the entrance ticket
That’s it for the valleys of the Kings and Queens.
Note on custodians
Many try to round out their month-end by relying on tips from tourists. They will show this or that drawing, tell anecdotes… (since the guides aren’t allowed inside so the guards take advantage of this to “guide” the tourists). It is often false what they tell 🙂 free to you to give. They will always be offended by the amount whatever the amount given but it is part of the Egyptian experience. In general, we give when we have broken the rules with the complicity of the guardian (taking a picture WITHOUT FLASH unauthorized or privileged access …)
Our guide takes us to a small shopping stop. As it’s a private tour, we could have refused this stop, but it’s still quite interesting, we stayed 15 minutes just to see the explanations, wash our hands and leave.
Temple of Hatshepsut (Al Deir Al Bahari)
I have seen this temple on the pictures and in real life, it is even more impressive and massive. The ticket costs 100 pounds and there is a train (2 pounds) that takes us to the base of the temple.
This temple was used for mummification rituals. It is the first time that a 3-level temple like this was built in Egypt. This temple was erected by Queen Pharaoh Hatshepsut.
After the death of her husband and pharaoh, she usurped the throne by locking up her son-in-law (Crown Prince). When he recovered the throne, he destroyed all representations of them in revenge. Moreover, traces of them can still be seen.
On the 2nd level, we see several representations of the Gods, but with the face of the queen.
The 3rd level has been very renovated as there isn’t much at the base.
This temple is interesting because of its massive size, but frankly I did not find it pretty. There is a small path to the right of the temple, which leads to the Valley of the Kings in an hour’s walk for the brave.
Colossians of Memnon
We pass in front of the Memnon colossus for a photo break. These two statues are at the entrance of a temple that has now disappeared. We see from afar two other statues, less impressive but rather well preserved. The first statue on the left is original. The second on the right has been renovated.
We are dropped off at the pier for a surprise lunch by the Nile. We were not supposed to come here but our Egyptian agency wanted to “upgrade” us.
After 15-20 minutes by boat (we were there alone with the guide, luxury), we arrive on Banana Island where we have lunch at Aladdin Restaurant. The lunch is delicious, it’s the first time we have a 100% Egyptian meal. The guide advises us to taste a delicious drink based on a flower (carcadet/hibiscus – 30 pounds). Lunch is included in the tour but not drinks. We are offered bananas for dessert, bananas coming directly from the banana trees that are grown on the island.
We are dropped by boat in front of the Winter Palace (our hotel) and our driver comes to pick us up to take us to Luxor Temple. Frankly, we could have walked too but well, luxury is luxury. The entrance ticket costs 140 pounds/person. The temple of Luxor is one of the 3 places where I feel best in Egypt (with Abu Simbel and near the Sphinx in Giza)
We enter the temple and discover it in daylight (unlike last night). We are out of daylight in the afternoon, which leads me to believe that the visit will be more exceptional in the morning.
We see the Sphinx Alley (which connects this temple to the magnificent Karnak Temple), which we did not see last night (there was no lighting). This alley will be restored by 2030? And UNESCO has already validated funding in the 6 billion dollars to see it realized one day. Well, we have to come back to Egypt.
I don’t know if it’s fatigue but our guide is rushing and closes the visit a little too quickly for my taste. There are still some interesting information.
For example, why is there a high mosque in the middle of the temple? It is because the temple was covered/hidden by sand and a mosque (the 1st of Luxor) was built on the site.
The temple is composed of 3 parts, made by 3 different pharaohs (including Alexander the Great – I count him as a pharaoh but should I?). In any case, the visit is very very pleasant, you can see freshly renovated statues, come to Egypt regularly because statues of Ramses II, it grows like mushrooms. Soon we will have 6 Ramses II in front of the temple and 2 others (headless for the moment) with head in the inner courtyard.
The missing obelisk on the right is currently… in Paris . It was a gift to France, not a flight 😀
The thirty or so columns with a hood in the shape of a lotus flower attract attention, they form the hypostyle hall but the ceiling is collapsed. Unfortunately the hieroglyphs on them are very damaged. Part of it will be “recycled” to make a Coptic church (we can still see the cross, the drawings). A temple erected by Alexander the Great and hieroglyphics “propaganda” representing him as a true pharaoh sent by the Gods will follow.
I find that some hieroglyphics and reliefs are easier to see with artificial lights last night than against the light today. I think the two visits are complementary, so if you can, visit Luxor Temple by day and by night (evening).
We end the visit here at 5:30 pm. We walk a bit to find an ATM and Vodafone store to buy a bit more data for our phone (we understood that the Internet connection, even in a 5 star hotel like the Winter Palace was not very good and that only the 4G can allow us to post the items for you). It’s finally a good decision because we will also need a lot of data for our next days on our cruise on the Nile on a traditional boat.
I will tell you the rest of the evening in another article because it is related to the 3rd day.
Part 2: Practical Tips
What we paid
Our Egyptian agency has already included all our visit fees (including the tombs costing a fortune), driver, guide, lunch… (see the detailed program here)
The only things we paid for were for :
– backshish for grave guards (to get privileges): $1.00/guardian if you broke “the law”
– tips for the guide: 300 pounds (because we are on a private tour)
– tips for the driver: 150 pounds (because we are on a private tour)
– drinks for lunch: 80 pounds for two
What you would have had to pay if you were doing the same thing we do independently
Rates November 2018. 20 pounds = 1€
– deprivation of a driver for one day: count in the 600 pounds
– tips for the driver: 100 to 150 pounds (150 pounds especially if he doesn’ t take you shopping)
– backshish for grave guards (to get privileges): $1.00/guardian if you broke “the law”
– entrance to the Valley of the Kings (3 tombs to choose from except Sethi I, Tutankhamen, Ramses V/VI): 200 pounds
– train to the Valley of the Kings (optional): 5 pounds/person
– ramses tomb V/VI : 100 pounds
– sethi tomb 1st: 1000 pounds
– right to photos at the Valley of the Kings (3 tombs to choose from except Sethi 1st and Tutankhamun): 300 pounds/camera
– entrance to the Valley of the Queens: 100 pounds
– nefertari tomb: 1200 pounds
– temple of Hatshepsut : 100 pounds
– Colossus of Memnon : free
– train to Hatshepsut Temple (optional): 2 pounds/person
– restaurant on the banks of the Nile: Don’t know
– boat to go to the restaurant on the Nile: Don’t know
– boat to cross the Nile: 1 pound/person
– entrance to Luxor Temple: 140 pounds