Not yet templed out, we ventured further down the Nile to Luxor. If you’ve seen pictures of ancient Egypt, you’ve seen pictures of the temples and tombs of Luxor. Feeling like true tourists (did I mention we still sprung for the air conditioned room), we booked a Luxor sites tour and found ourselves shuttled around in a mini-bus from Valley of the Kings to Valley of the Queens and Hapshepsut’s Temple. After being alone at the sites in Sudan, this suddenly felt like Disney World- lines, pushy guides, tour buses, crowd control, tram rides from the entrance gate to the main attraction, and $8 Gatorade. I loved it.
The sites in Sudan were wonderful because of the solitude and the complete lack of tourist kitsch. In Egypt, especially Luxor, the sites were impressive because of their sheer size. Karnak Temple was simply breath taking because of its size. Row after row of 20 meter columns completely covered in carved stories of the Egyptian gods. Valley of the Kings, the ancient burial site with over 60 tombs, was a cemetery of who’s who among Egypt’s Pharaoh’s, including Tutankhamen. The tombs at Valley of the Kings, no pictures allowed, were worth a visit because the decorations are still vibrantly colored. Blues, greens, yellows and reds all made from natural dyes vividly depict scenes from the King’s life and his transfer to paradise. Small chapels off the main corridors had scenes of daily life in ancient Egypt, from growing crops to weights and measures. Aged several thousands of years, the paintings in the tombs really brought to life ancient Egypt despite the somewhat conveyor belt of tourists feel.
Valley of the Kings is one of the most famous sites in Luxor, and had it not been on the tour we probably would have wanted to skip Valley of the Queens. After the crush of tour buses at Valley of the Kings, I was shocked at the almost deserted nature at Valley of the Queens. We shared the entire site with only one other group- a couple. Granted there isn’t as much to see at Valley of the Queens- at the time of our visit only two tombs were open and the famous and supposedly most incredible tomb of Nefertari costs a whopping $5,000 to visit according to our tour guide.
The first tomb (Tomb of Titi) was in pretty terrible shape and didn’t really excite us at all. Fortunately the Tomb of Amunherkhepshef, a prince who died as a teen, was better. And by better I mean, wow. It was the best preserved tomb we had seen all day. The brightly colored reliefs depicted Amunherkhepshef’s father King Ramses III introducing his son to various Egyptian gods, and transferring him to the afterlife. The reliefs were by far the most vivid we have ever, their colors were so bright I asked the tour guide several times if they had been restored. Unfortunately, a grotesque mummified five month old fetus sat in the first room of the tomb, which was a little weird.
All in all Luxor was touristy, but we thoroughly enjoyed it. There’s just something about being in a busy downtown and looking up to see Luxor Temple right in the middle of it all that just makes you say, cool!
IF YOU GO: Visit early in the morning or late in the afternoon to avoid the huge tour groups and awful sun. All the budget hotels downtown offer very affordable packaged tours which will cut down transportation hassles and time for just a few dollars. At the time of our visit the train stations refused to sell anything but a first class overnight sleeper train from Cairo to Luxor ($60 per person), however we heard rumors that if managed to board the second class train and bought your ticket on board they didn’t kick you off.