Is it really possible to travel like a Pharaoh from “The Mother of the World” to “The Hassle Capital of the World”? Your Egyptian adventure begins here!
Cairo will be almost everybody’s first introduction to Egypt (unless you’re here to lay on the beach). Whether you will enjoy Cairo or not is up for debate; I guess it will depend on your tolerance levels and your capability to adjust to different cultures. While it is true that the Pyramids of Giza are close by, Cairo itself is somewhat short of major tourist attractions. Yet a couple of nights here is perhaps all it takes to appreciate and understand the Egyptian way of life. Walk around Khan el-Khalili markets, try some local street food, visit a mosque or two, and then prepare yourself for that journey down south to Luxor – which is probably the city most people most associate with Egypt anyway!
Road transport is not recommended between Cairo and Luxor as it is a whopping 419 miles as the crow flies! Although driving time between the two cities can be anything between 6-8 hours, depending on traffic (and there’s a lot of traffic in Egypt, especially you’ll find in the first half of the journey!), it is actually no longer than to travel by train, which although supposedly faster, still takes up to 9 hours anyway! Most tourist guides will advise you to travel by train, as this is considered cheaper and safer, although some travellers enjoy car travel, so using a taxi (or private vehicle) to get from Cairo to Luxor is always an option. In addition, there will be PLENTY of tour companies using their buses to get tourists from A to B! There used to be convoys for road travel between Cairo and Luxor, and this was for the safety of the tourists, although over the past few years, these convoys have been deemed no longer necessary.
As always with Egypt, there are some important pointers to remember when hailing a taxi. Firstly, ALWAYS agree a price BEFORE you get in the taxi, and ask for the driver to use the meter if he has one (not all taxis in Egypt have meters – wonder why?). Secondly, try to give the driver the EXACT amount through the window when you arrive in Luxor, then make sure you have your belongings with you before you get out of the taxi. Thirdly, don’t expect to get any change…
Train travel in Egypt is relatively simple and purchasing tickets is easy. Usually, there are 4 different cabin classes from which to choose: Deluxe Overnight Sleeper, Daytime Air-Conditioned Train, Night time Air-Conditioned Train, and then the slow local trains (NOT RECOMMENDED FOR TOURISTS!) which don’t even have air-con and take around 12 hours to make the journey! When purchasing tickets at Cairo Main Station, just make sure you join the right queue, as there are ticket windows for each cabin class, and if you join the wrong one, you will be sent to the back of the queue to start all over again!
It will cost around USD$100 for a deluxe overnight sleeper cabin, although for single travellers there is a slight “tax” for this privilege and it will cost an additional $20. A regular seat on the overnight train will set you back $31. It will cost $17 (first class) or $8 (second class) to use the air-conditioned trains from Cairo to Luxor. Even though it is more expensive, I would really recommend the overnight sleeper, as you can arrive in Luxor in the morning and head straight for your hotel. This journey overnight takes around 9 hours and saves on accommodation fees as you won’t need a hotel for that night as you’re on the train! All fares can be paid in Egyptian Pounds, apart from the Deluxe Overnight Sleeper, which can be only be paid for in foreign currency (actually only in USD or GBP, as of January, 2016).
After a 15 year hiatus, the Nile has been reopened to tourist cruises between Cairo and Luxor. Since 2001, there were concerns about the safety of the water, but now things have improved and many cruise companies now offer tours from the Egyptian capital to the historic city of Luxor (and even as far south as Aswan) for a variety of budgets. It must said, however, that river transport has historically never been the cheapest method of getting to Luxor from Cairo, and I don’t think there are any regular “water taxi” services (not surprising, considering the distance between the two cities). Bearing this in mind, then, you will need to find a good tour operator of cruise company who will sail you down the Nile. It’s a fantastic way to enjoy the river and it is a much, much more scenic way of travel than by taxi or train!
Luxor is an incredible open air museum and is the premier travel destination in the Nile Valley. Luxor has much for travellers to enjoy, such as vast temples, ancient royal tombs, spectacular desert and river scenery, and a bustling modern life. In summer 2015, a suicide bomber blew himself up in front of tourists at the Temple of Karnak, which underlines the horrible world we live in nowadays, so you should be vigilant when in Luxor; seek advice from your hotel or hostel (or tour operator) and avoid any large gatherings and crowded marketplaces (easier said than done in Egypt, I know!).
The main sights in Luxor are the aforementioned Temple of Karnak (which is actually the largest temple complex in the entire world, believe it or not), as well as Luxor Temple, the Valley of the Kings, the Ramesseum, and one of my own personal favourites Tutankhamun’s Tomb. For all serious travellers, therefore, a trip to Luxor is simply a MUST to cross off of the bucket list and is provides a nice contrast to the hustle and bustle of Cairo where you started your trip!
When it’s time to head back to Cairo, bear in mind that – for some reason – travel (especially by road) is always more expensive when departing Luxor compared to when departing Cairo. I am told this is true for Egyptians too, not just for tourists. So when they say Luxor is the “Hassle Capital of the World”, it seems they really mean it!