My favorite parts of Egypt lie in the far South…
I have now returned from Egypt where I spent 6 months. As a final “treat” I decided to go on a trip to South of Egypt. However, I am feeling kind of tired from all the travelling and constant moving (Cairo -> Estonia -> Paris) so I am keeping this post rather short. Pictures speak more than 1000 words, right?
So Luxor is an ancient city in South of Egypt by the river Nile (as most ancient places in Egypt). It served as a capital and major religious center for a considerate part of Ancient Egyptian history. It is packed with temples, graves and all other important monuments that all carry a major importance both in Egypt and abroad.
I really enjoyed it from the moment we landed. Yeah, we took a flight because it’s actually really far from Cairo. Check the map – Egypt is huge and Luxor and Aswan are located in the other end of the country. Many people opt for the train as it is a more “authentic” way of travel to the South but to be honest I do not think it’s worth it. The price is pretty much the same for a foreigner as the flight ticket, it takes the whole night to travel there and the conditions on the train are usually quite gross. Even if you get a private salon with your own bathroom it is oftentimes quite repulsive. The flight is only one hour long and it is super comfortable. You can show up at the airport late as there is literally nothing to do there anyways.
Anyways, I liked it straight away. It was sooooo much calmer than Cairo, air was cleaner, surroundings were greener. There were less people, less hustle and everything seemed more relaxed. Moreover, it was the first time I felt I am on the African continent. The vibe was completely different and we saw similar tropical plantations like sugar cane and bananas as we did in Tanzania.
It’s best to visit Luxor and Aswan in the winter since it is overbearably hot in the summer. Even Cairo was boiling in July and August – the temperatures reached 43 degrees in shade. However, as you can imagine the South is even hotter. Plus many of these temples and graves are located within mountains with hardly any wind around which means you would likely just pass out when you go in the summer. We were there in mid-December and the temperatures were around 27 degrees in Luxor and 29 in Aswan. That’s hot enough! Especially considering that it’s respectable to wear longer clothes so forget about short shorts.
If you’re not a major history fan then all these temples can become repetetive and boring relatively early. Luckily there are many more activities to do rather than just visit temples (although the biggest ones are a MUST). For example, we visited a craftsmen center where they showed us how they handle some local precious materials like alabaster and marble. They are also pretty chill which means you do not have to buy anything and they are not even trying to sell anything. Seriously. The man seemed rather disinterested and let us look around without any pressure. However, we both ended up buying small things because they looked so awesome.
In addition, you can take Nile river cruises, walk around the city, have some Egyptian food or go on a hot balloon sunrise ride. However, be cautious of what company you go with as I have seen many news of those balloons crashing and people dying. Safety regulations are a big joke in this country.
People usually stay in Luxor for 2-3 days because it takes at least one day to visit one side of the river. The West bank usually takes longer to see than the East bank because it is filled with o-h m-y g-o-s-h how many temples and graves (West side of the Nile was for the dead people). On the West Side of Luxor I would recommend to definitely visit the temples of Hatchepsut and Habu. They have very delicate and impressive details on all the walls. Make sure to go with an experienced guide who can make your experience so much better. Otherwise it can at times just appear like a big pile of beige rocks. I did not find the Valley of the Kings super impressive. The first two graves were impressive but after that they started to look alike.
On the East bank there are two major temples to visit – Karnak and Luxor temple. Karnak temple is one of the largest ancient religious complexes in the world and the pictures really don’t do it any justice. You can simply get lost between the huge columns which were built in a way so they would appear like giant flowers offered to the God. Back in the Ancient times only the High Priest and the Pharaoh were allowed to visit all of the temple when they wanted to. Regular people were allowed to go once per year during major festivities. I can only imagine how grand they must have been.
Karnak temple from the outside
Ironically these places have stood the test of time only because they were forgotten and lost. Karnak for example was fully covered with sand. Same thing with graves. Tutankhamon’s grave is so famous because it was discovered so late which means that all the treasures were still in the grave. Most other graves and temples were robbed thousands of years ago. Even this day there are families in Luxor who are professional grave robbers and make money over selling originals and replicas. They still have work to do because many of the treasures and graves are still undiscovered in Egypt.
Our second stop was a couple hundred kilometers south from Luxor – Aswan. The old border city of Egypt. Because this city is so close to the Sudanese border it looks even more different from Cairo than Luxor. We decided to end our trip with a treat by staying in the Old Cataract hotel, a world famous luxury hotel that has hosted guests such as Princess Diana, Winston Churchill, Agatha Christie etc. In fact, Agatha Christie’s novel “Death on the Nile” was inspired by this place and the fictional story takes place in this hotel.
It had the most classy interior design, friendly service and beautiful views of the Nile that you can imagine. However, we did have some minor disappointments regarding the plumbing in our room and the response to that. Luckily the rest of the hotel was so charming that we left with a good mood.
Aswan is pretty much a chill place to relax. It is not overcrowded by major temples and pharonic graves but it is not any less worth of visit in my opinion. It is just so calm, relaxing and beautiful there. Take a felucca ride on the Nile and enjoy some good food, visit some historic islands and the Nubian museum. It’s a nice place for winding down and experiencing the hospitality of Southerners.
One place I recommend to visit is the Nubian Village. Nubians are a distinct ethnic group living mostly in South of Egypt and North of Sudan. They speak their own language, they have their own traditions and they are very keen on their family. One of my closest friends in Cairo is a Nubian and ever since then they have seemed like a very special and kind group of people so I was determined to visit one of their villages. We approached it by boat and as soon as we arrived, small girls greeted us to the shore.
However, the friendliness seemed a bit fake to me since it turned out they had made their major road into a shopping street. We wanted to visit the village to just walk around, look at their famous colorful houses and have some good food. Instead we had to face some quite aggressive sales-techniques. I cannot fault them though, the economy is really down since the revolution and I do not know how these families even survive in remote areas like that. However, I had already stocked up on souvenirs in Cairo and Luxor so I was not in the mood of buying and they were not particularly happy about it.
Later I heard that the most aggressive salespeople yelling “I’m Nubian, I’m Nubian, buy from real Nubian” were most likely not even Nubian but desperate Egyptian men trying to make a sale. Regular people stayed mostly in their homes and watched us from the distance. However, we were still asked to take many photos with teenage boys and little kids. Comme d’habitude ! Nevertheless, their colorful houses were beautiful and it was still an interesting place to see, even though it had become quite commercialized.
All in all, I totally recommend to visit Luxor and Aswan on your trip to Egypt. I visited all major parts of Egypt and while I liked Sharm el Sheikh the least, I loved Aswan and Luxor the most. Truly beautiful nature, relaxed pace of life and warm hospitality.