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 traveler, 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:
- East Bank the town, the Luxor Temple, the Temple of Karnak, The Museum, trains, hotels, restaurants
- West Bank the location of the major ruins including Valley of the Kings, the Valley of the Queens and other important sites; the Western Valley ruins, and a few hotels.
- 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.
Internal flights (duration approx. 1 hr) from Cairo to Luxor are maintained by Egyptair and cost about $120 for a return trip ticket.
Direct charters from Europe (London Gatwick, for example) are common in the winter high season. From the airport in Luxor, you will probably take a shuttle provided by your hotel. Note that the Airport in Luxor is very small, and getting luggage off the belt is a challenge.
EgyptAir also arranges day trips from Cairo which is an easy way for those who can stand long days to cover the main attractions of Luxor. Taxis are in abundance everywhere for local transportation.
Visitor visas are available on arrival to many foreign nationals, just after you enter the terminal building. (15$ 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.
Four different modes of train travel exist between Ramesses Station Cairo, Luxor and on to Aswan (some trains even start in Alexandria):
Air-conditioned express train - travellers to Luxor can choose from 1st and 2nd class carriages, both with comfortable aircraft-style seats. The journey down the Nile Valley takes the larger part of the daylight hours (approx. 9-10 hrs), but is a relaxing way to sit back and view the lush rural landscape of Egypt, its many towns, people and animals. 1st class tickets Cairo-Luxor cost about LE 90, 2nd class LE 45 (for tourist, often around 165 and 90 respectively). Refreshments are served, but are basic and lacking in choice: a good tip is to go shopping before your journey to stock up on water and snacks. A good book also helps whittle away the hours. Note on refreshments: they will cost extra money to have them 'served' - sometimes 3-4x as much as the same or similar food choices you can grab yourself in the dining car, if available. If you want to ride in the air-conditioned express train, don't be too discouraged by those people (including the official ones) telling that tourists can only travel by the overnight train.
Overnight air-conditioned express train - the night service, otherwise identical, saves sightseeing time compared with traveling by day and costs far less than the deluxe sleeper. Cairo-Aswan costs about LE 165 one-way 1st class air-conditioned. Luxor is the same price despite lower distance. Note: train tickets can be hard to nab at times, so be assertive and hold your place in line at the station.
Overnight deluxe sleeper - saving time and discomfort, modern air-conditioned sleeping-cars are run between Cairo and Luxor by a company called Abela Egypt. Each train has a selection of 1- and 2-berth rooms and a club / lounge car. An evening meal and breakfast are included in the fare. Note that passengers travelling alone who don't opt for a single-berth compartment will be booked into a 2-berth compartment with another, random traveller of the same sex. Prices currently 60USD each one way from Cairo to Aswan.
Slow trains - 2nd & 3rd class slow trains also run between Cairo and Luxor, stopping at most stations - these are incredibly basic and are not only not recommended for tourists, but actively discouraged by the Egyptian government.
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 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.
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. 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 or not. 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 (LE 25 is possible as well, if you negotiate well and there are not too many tourists around), 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.
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.
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
- the Valley of the Kings
- the temple complexes of Luxor and Karnak
- Medinet Habu
- the Tombs of the Nobles
- The Ramesseum Temple