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Luxor On A Budget
Luxor, in Egypt, is one of the most fascinating cities on earth. Known as Thebes to the ancient Egyptians, Luxor has so many stunning temples and monuments that it's been dubbed the 'world's largest open-air museum.' And pride of place amongst all this magnificence belongs to the Valley of the Kings, situated on the Nile's West Bank. This is where, for nearly 500 years from the 16th to 11th century B.C., Egypt's pharaohs were laid to rest.
A trip to the Valley of the Kings is a must for everyone who visits Luxor. But there's just one problem: organized tours have become wickedly expensive. Two people staying at a hotel on the East Bank of the Nile can easily blow $200 on a five-hour trip. But you don't have to bust your budget to visit the tombs of Egypt's mightiest rulers. It can be done for a fraction of that cost and here's how.
Forget the organized tours. Doing it yourself is really quite straightforward and safe. My wife and I have visited the West Bank on numerous occasions and we've never felt worried or threatened in any way. It's a good idea to have a guidebook with you, or else you can check out the Theban Mapping Project website which has tons of fascinating info. And another thing; take plenty of water. It's hot. Even in winter temperatures in the Valley of the Kings can soar into the 90s.
Crossing the Nile
First you need to cross the Nile to get to the West Bank. The easiest way is to take the National ferry. The terminal is on Luxor's main street, called the Corniche, just across from Luxor Temple. So it's right in the heart of town and handy for all the major hotels. The ferry operates several times an hour and runs all night.
At the terminal, several guides will tout for your business. Most speak English and act as agents for cabdrivers who operate on the West Bank. When you've agreed a price – LE120 ($20/£12.50) is reasonable for a half-day hire (payable at the end of the excursion) – the agent then accompanies you onto the ferry. The trip across the Nile only costs LE1 each way (that's about 17 cents or 11 pence!) Or you can pay LE2 and get a handwritten return ticket which saves a bit of time on the return journey.
Then settle back for a very pleasant 5 minute journey across the Nile. Quick tip – always go on the upper deck, as there are some fabulous views to be had along the Nile. Plus, it really is something to see businessmen in expensive suits, poring over the contents of their briefcases, sat alongside a farmer who's decided to give his goat a day out! This is the real Egypt and utterly absorbing. Best of all, you won't be overrun by other tourists.
The first time we made this trip the agent, Ayad, accompanied us on the ferry, to show us the ropes and to introduce us to our driver, Mohammed, on the West Bank. Both were wonderful. Thereafter, each time Ayad just phoned ahead and Mohammed was always waiting for us.
There are many incredible sites to visit on the West Bank, besides the Valley of the Kings. Let the driver know what sights you want to see and he will take you to a kiosk and buy the appropriate tickets for you. One of the best is the temple of Hatshepshut, the most powerful of all the female pharaohs. At the time of writing a ticket for Hatshepsut's temple is LE30 ($5/£3).
Down in the Valley
Then it's on to the Valley of the Kings. The journey doesn't take long, about 15 minutes into the Theban Mountains. When you reach the drop-off zone arrange a pick-up time with your driver. A couple of hours is probably enough for the first-time visitor. Then you buy your ticket at the visitor's center. Currently the entrance fee is LE80 ($13.50/£8) and this provides access to 3 tombs (not including the tomb of Tutankhamun which costs extra.) Since most of the tour guides herd their parties into the closest tombs, and these can become very hot and overcrowded, it's a good idea to head for some of the more distant tombs. Here you can marvel over amazing 4,000-year-old murals and hieroglyphs at your own pace and in relative peace and quiet. This is one of the most magical places on earth and the memories will live with you forever.
The Queen Pharaoh
At the appointed time, meet your driver at the drop-off zone for the short journey to the temple of Hatshepsut. There are no problems with cameras here and you can snap away till your heart's content in this fantastic building. Unless you anticipate spending an awfully long time in the temple, the driver will wait for you. On the return journey he may suggest a visit to one of the nearby 'alabaster' factories. Give this a big miss. The stuff is shoddy and the prices are astronomical. A knowing smile and a polite "No, thanks" usually gets the message across that you're not in the market for being conned. After all, we're trying to stay within budget.
The Trip Home
At the end of a memorable day, it's back to the ferry terminal. This is where the LE120 ($20/£12.50) changes hands. We generally add on a good tip and, if we're returning to the West Bank, make arrangements with the driver to meet us again. The best part of a do-it-yourself visit is that the money goes directly into the hands of the people who need it the most, rather than some faceless tour company. All that's left now is to catch the next ferry for the short return trip to the East Bank.
When you disembark at the Corniche how about treating yourself to a long, cool drink on the terrace of the Old Winter Palace hotel? There's no better place in Luxor to watch the sun set over the Theban mountains and you'll have plenty of money left over to enjoy the treat. Your day out in the Valley of the Kings has cost you and your partner just $60/£37.50, saving as much as 70 percent off the tour company price. I'll drink to that. Cheers!
A Tour of the West Bank
- Theban Mapping Project
The largest Egyptological website on the internet, offering complete coverage of the Valley of the Kings in images, text and maps.