Hot Air Ballooning in Luxor

One of the most serious bucket list activities I’ve had on my list forever is hot air ballooning. It’s up there with the usual: sky diving, climbing such and such mountain, paragliding (now checked off in NZ) and other wild adventures. I’ll be honest I actually had no idea ballooning was a popular thing to do in Luxor and it wasn’t even on our radar until the day before when our tour guide mentioned it as an add on experience. When I thought of taking a ride soaring over Luxor with sunrise on the Nile river slowly lighting up the monuments of the west bank including the valley of the kings we couldn’t turn the experience down.

*It’s also a pretty mild price compared to similar experiences in the US.

About our experience

Pickup was ungodly early at 3:15 and we needed to have all our luggage ready to go and checkout of the cruise ship. We met our tour manager for the morning who escorted us via van to pick up another group for the morning, and then on to a boat that would ferry us from the east bank of Luxor to the west bank.

Once at the boat we “signed in” and were given tea or coffee and small cookie while we waited for clearance from the river police to cross the Nile. This took almost an hour but we learned about landing positions for the balloon (very important safety info) and could see monuments on the west bank hill lit up nicely.

We also learned the layout of the basket which has 4 sections around one with the pilot in the middle. There would be 15 of us in total on our balloon– 2 families each that had 2 kids, another group of 4, the pilot, and then Braden and myself.

The airfield

Once we had clearance to cross, it was a short boat ride to the other side, followed by another van that took us to the airfield. The airfield was pretty mindblowing and pretty indescribable unless you’ve visited other balloon festivals. So many giant air balloons filling up and expanding toward the sky at once. It was still dark so the light from the jets was even more stark and the roar was almost deafening amidst the silence of the early morning. We were lead to our specified balloon and instructed to get in while the balloon was almost full height and still on the ground.

In the air

Then there was a couple adrenaline filled moments as the ground team started releasing the ropes and the balloon began to drift upward above other balloons still filling and below still others that took off earlier. All around there was silence apart from the sound of the hot air jet punctuating the air as we drifted high and higher. It. Was. Magical.

Our pilot began to point out the significant monuments we were flying over including the windy path that snakes through the tombs in the valley of the kings, the stunning mortuary temple of queen Hatshepsut (right photo above), and the temple called Ramesseum (in honor of Ramesses II)(left photo above).

Slowly our pilot would turn us about so we could get the best view of everything in the valley and watch as the sun rose above the horizon of the Nile and the lights of the memorials flickered off. We were in the air over 40 minutes, taking in all the beauty you can only experience during flight. Between the sights of the other balloons too far away to hear over the sound of our own jet, silently lighting up as they drifted around us, and the cooler crisp air of the high altitude, it was an experience to remember.


After our specified time in the air, we made our way over the many agriculture fields of the west bank passing houses and canals. Our pilot steered us as close as he could to the edge of a field close to a road and the grounds crew came along to help pull us down and guide us into a good landing spot. While the description of landing earlier in the morning was a little scary, it was surprisingly easy and no cameras were harmed in the landing of the great balloon.

We waited around while the ground crew got everything brought down and got our certificates of flight. We tipped both the grounds crew and the pilot and were then ushered into a different van to meet up with the rest of our tour. (There were, of course, kids running around while things were packed up asking for money so that is where the peaceful experience ends).


The new van brought us and one other group from our flight to a café on the west bank to wait for our cruise ship tour guide and tour friends to meet up with us. We had around 15 minutes to have a coffee, dig in to our breakfasts packed from the cruise, and use the bathroom before we were ready to venture groundside- to the tombs and monuments of the west bank in Luxor.

Guide to Aswan

Aswan was actually my favorite city in Egypt- might be because it was our first stop and I was just SO grateful to actually be in the country or it might be due to seeing the prettiest sunset of our trip from our hotel patio. Or in truth, it might be just because I loved the places we went to during our stay in Aswan that much but either way- it should be on any Egypt itinerary you’re planning.

Best way to get to Aswan:

Planes– Fly from Cairo to Aswan (from $100-$140 one way) *This is the option we did

Trains – If you fly or take the a train to Luxor, you could take a 3 hour train to Aswan from around $4/ person one way. You could also take a sleeper train from Cairo to Aswan from around $100. That train journey is 10-13 hours and usually includes dinner and breakfast.  

Nile Cruise –From Luxor, take a Nile cruise to Aswan stopping to see incredible temples along the way in what is usually a 4 day tour. Read my post here about our experience on a Nile cruise to Luxor (reverse direction).

Temperatures in Aswan

Luxor and Aswan are among the hottest cities you’ll visit in Egypt and one of the main reasons travel sites tell you not to visit in the summer. The highs most days in July and August are around 120 F/ 49 C. If you want more moderate temperatures but would still like to swim, visit in the spring/ fall. Winter (December- February) the highs are in the 70s so you may find that walking temperatures are perfect but it’s too cold to swim at your hotel pool.

Best things to see in Aswan.

The Unfinished Obelisk

Obelisks, like pyramids, are an important part of ancient Egyptian building and theology with the idea that the top of it brings them closer to the god Amun-Ra. The unfinished Obelisk in Aswan is an important stop for a couple reasons.

  1. It’s the largest known Obelisk in the world and is at least 1/3x the size of any other constructed obelisks in the world. If it had been finished, it would have measured 138 feet (42 meters) and weighed nearly 1200 tons (equal to about 200 African elephants). It was abandoned due to cracks forming in the granite but then other unknown builders started to carve a smaller obelisk into it avoiding those cracks but it too was abandoned.
  2. It was started under the reign of Hatshepsut sometime between 1508-1458 BC possibly to complement the Lateran Obelisk at Karnak (although that obelisk was later brought to Rome)  
  3. It gives incredible insight into ancient Egyptian stone masonry technique and is actually located in the same granite quarry as many of the other obelisks found in Luxor and surround sites. Some interesting facts about the stone masonry techniques seen here are:
    1. The obelisks created by ancient Egyptians are all carved from one single piece of stone. (Questions such as how did they transport one solid piece of stone weighing 1000 tons hundreds of miles and then raise it once it got there are still a mystery)
    2. The obelisks were first outlined with a harder stone by chipping away at the sides. Then stone masons would chip away underneath the obelisk along the bedrock until they got deep enough to actually insert logs to light on fire. They did this in increments up and down the obelisk as a way to weaken the stone against the bedrock. You can see many of these increment spots and even the strikes from the stone being hit multiple times to chip it away.

The High Dam of Aswan

Since we hail from Utah, a land of many important dams (Hoover, Glen Canyon, etc) and having seen all of these impressive industrial constructions myself- I found the high dam to be a very interesting visit. It makes sense when you learn about the flood cycles of the Nile, which have been recorded for thousands of year, why Egypt would seek to control the flooding for improved farming along the Nile. The additional hydroelectric benefits were also instrumental in Egypt’s industrialization. The high damn alone provides 65% of the entire country’s electricity. It was completed in 1970 and has remained the largest embankment dam in the world (the 3rd largest dam in the world).

It’s generally a short stop (maybe 15 minutes) but gives impressive views downstream of the city Aswan and upstream of Lake Nasser which is, no surprise here, one of the largest man-made lakes in the world. Lake Nasser itself is at least 8x the size of Lake Mead in the US and also unlike Lake Mead, home to thousands of Nile River crocodiles. All in all, it’s an interesting stop and will you give a peak at the industrialization age in Egypt and cold war politics of the middle east in the 1960s.

The Philae Temple

In one day (maybe a 4 hour tour) we visited The unfinished Obelisk, the high dam, and finished with the piece de resistance of any trip to Aswan- the Philae Temple. I have a post dedicated to it you can read HERE, but for a short glimpse, the Philae Temple was easily one of my favorite spots in all of our Egypt trip. It’s very close to town in Aswan but with a catch, it’s only accessible by boat.

There’s a small visitor center area where you can book a boat over to the island the temple is now located on and let me tell you it is MAGICAL seeing this island from 360 views all around the island. On a Thursday afternoon we also had this temple largely to ourselves (so I maybe biased). Visit my post here to see more picture and information about this incredible spot.

Abu Simbel Temples

Abu Simbel is two incredible rock-cut temples with beautiful inscriptions, multiple rooms, and iconic sitting statues of the pharaoh who “built” them guarding the entrance. While it maybe a bit of a trek to get to, it was pretty unlike anything else we saw on our trip to Egypt. It’s definitely worth the day extra on your trip to visit these iconic temples. (even if that day has to start obscenely early.) Read more about our trip here.

A Nubian Village

If you book a total organized tour package like we did, this maybe no considered a “must do” or even part of your itinerary but may likely be included as an optional add on once you get there. The jury is out on how “worth it” this add on actually is but if you have the free time and are interested in learning about yet another culture that’s been around thousands of years and still struggling to persist in today’s world, then go for it!

The tour only takes around 2 hours and we had the additional incentives of getting to see Nile river crocodiles (in an exhibit in the village) AND get to swim in the crocodile free portion of the Nile. Read more about our experience here.

Where we stayed in Aswan

Movenpick is the reigning supreme hotel in Egypt and there is one on Elephentine Island that looks pretty amazing. However for a luxurious stay that doesn’t break the budget, the Tolip Hotel was wonderful.

Everything from the lobby, to the pool, and to our Nile view rooms was pretty near perfect. We got a hibiscus drink free at checkin, the room was very comfortable, and the best part was our incredible view from our room. We ended up eating dinner in our room via room service because it was air conditioned (not many places are in Egypt) and our view was just as good as any.

Exploring the temple of Edfu

If there’s a must see temple in Egypt, I’d say Edfu is it. (Though I do think Philae is up there with the boat views.) It’s famous for being the best preserved cult temple in all of Egypt and was built sometime between 237-57 BC.

How is it the best preserved you might wonder? For starters, it still. Has. A roof. As far as wandering a 2000+ year old building, that’s pretty dang impressive. Edfu also brings the wanderlust in terms of grand scale and its layout. Out of all the temples, this was my favorite to explore.

The location of Edfu

Edfu is located along the Nile closer to Luxor than Aswan and further back from the water’s edge than other temples. From a cruise ship, you need a mode of transportation. Unfortunately there was a time when horse drawn carriages were all the rage and that’s still the principal way of getting to the archeological site.

A note on the horse-drawn carriages

Our tour had already arranged this so we didn’t have much option besides to go in the carriage but had I known before hand I probably would have requested a taxi or something else. The horses that pulled us along were in decent shape but all around us were other carriages pulled by skeleton horses that really, really crushed me to see. It was maybe a 5-10 minute carriage ride to the site and our horseman would be the same one to take us back to the ship.

I’ll also point out that I was concerned for the horses and also our safety. The carriages are not all in great shape and the whole thing was pretty lopsided as our horse pulled us at pretty quick pace through city streets (speed bumps, cobblestones, etc). I spent most of the ride anxious and uncomfortable, and sad. So be up front with your tour company if you’d like to avoid this experience.

*No matter what though plan to tip your carriage driver at least 30-50 EGP for 2 people.

About the Temple of Edfu

This temple is the largest temple dedicated to the god Horus, and his wife Hathor. Horus if you remember from my previous posts, is the son of Isis and Osiris and a large part of the décor in the temple is related to the creation of the world, of good and evil, light and dark.

About the decorations

It is referred to as the temple of revenge with depictions of Horus defeating the evil god Set for killing his father. One of the best depictions of this is Set represented as a hippo being dragged along by boats on the Nile containing Horus and the other gods.

Set represented as a hippo.

Hathor is less represented here except for in some depictions of her travelling from her dedicated temple of Dendera to Edfu to be with Horus once a year in celebration of their marriage. There’s lots of other important reliefs that preserve the language, myth, and religion of the Hellenistic period in Egypt. There’s information about the construction of the temple and a mythical interpretation of this and all other temples seen as the island of creation.

About the structure

There are 2 large pylons (gates) and a massive forecourt before entering the inner (roofed) temple. The inner temple consists of the large columned vestibule with 2 hallways on the side that service the many side rooms dedicated to various gods.

In the back is the sanctuary and shrine dedicated to Horus with a recreated Cedar ship on the altar. There’s also stairs that lead to a view of what would have been the second floor and massive passageways off the side of the inner temple that are interesting to explore.

About our experience

Besides the carriage ride and one very pushy sales man at the entrance to the site, we actually had a pretty positive experience at this temple with very few guys trying to get in our photos or ask for tips. We had a quick 45 minute tour or so where our guide walked us through most of the site pointing out the most significant wall depictions and overall structures within the temple.

Then we had an even quicker 20 minutes to explore on our own (we needed to get to Luxor early enough to see things before they closed) There were so many small rooms used by the priests recording things like recipes for salves and ointments, or rituals related to the gods.

We poked our heads in all the rooms again but my favorite part by far was a staircase that used to lead to a second floor of the temple. After that, the hypostyle room of towering columns and side rooms were very interesting to wander around.

One room has bats living in it that you could see clinging to the ceiling and flying about above your head and with little light from lamps and filtering in from the outside, this temple has adventure written all over it. It is a MUST SEE.

And last but not least, photos from the hypostyle hall. Truly breathtaking and a marvel of a site to explore and uncover for yourself.

Kom Ombo Temple

Kom Ombo is a very unique temple in that it deviates from the standard triangle shape and is symmetrical along the center axis in order to serve as a temple for 2 sets of gods. While we may not have had the best experience getting to and from this temple, once we were there it was one of the most fascinating temples to learn about due to the detailed depictions of the gods and references to early surgery and medical work. It’s one of the newer temples built sometime between 180-47 BC but still incredibly impressive in height and scale.

The location of Kom Ombo

The temple is located RIGHT on the water next to the Nile river almost halfway between Aswan and Luxor. (closer to Aswan) The city surrounding it would have been predominantly a trade city as its portion of river travels between narrow sandstone canyons leaving little flooding planes for farming and agriculture.

*You literally walk from your cruise ship right up to the entrance to the temple in 5 minutes.

The view of the temple we had from our room on the cruise ship. We fell asleep on the way for a nap and woke up this view.

About Kom Ombo

The first and more interesting god the temple is dedicated to is Sobek, the god of fertility and creator of the world (local belief). Sobek is depicted as a crocodile and was a more localized religion. He was worshipped greatly by the surrounding area and over 300 crocodile mummies have so far been found in nearby tombs.

The art depictions within the temples court yard depict Sobek with the other prevalent gods of the time which leads to the other half of the temple which is dedicated to Horus to tie into the universal beliefs of the time.  

Interesting Temple advancements

Some cool things in the temple included a voice amplifier that a priest could speak into and be heard throughout the large temple complex. This was thought to be included here as at the time of this temple being built, religions and beliefs had begun to wane so priests spoke into the amplifier to make it seem as though the gods themselves were speaking to those in the temple.

There are several small rooms along the back section of the temple and a hallway which is thought to depict early medicine and surgery with many medical instruments like forceps, scalpels, scissors, and dilators. There’s also a section on child birth involving the numerous gods of fertility. This gives a light to the temple that not only did people come to worship gods but some came to be cured of ailments and viewed the temple as sacred for healing.

The Crocodile Museum

The crocodile museum is a cool little museum included with your ticket and within the Kom Ombo temple complex. It’s home to several mummified Nile river crocodiles that were discovered in the region. The museum is small and will only take a few minutes to check out on your way back. Don’t miss it.

Our experience at Kom Ombo

While overall we were very impressed and had a great time taking photos within Kom Ombo we were simply overwhelmed by the shop sellers outside of this temple. (It was the worst we visited) The temple itself is magnificent and we had probably 1.5 hours of guided tour and wandering within its walls just before sunset. Despite the overzealous hawkers, I’d still consider it a must see and the truth is in the photos. (Apologies in advance for the extreme photo dump)

Beware the shopkeepers

From the second we stepped off the cruise ship for the 5 minute walk to the temple entrance we each had 4 different people in our face trying to sell us stuff like jewelry and scarves. Even once we were in the temple complex they were calling after us until we were out of sight.

Then as we were leaving, we had the same people hounding us to buy stuff for the longer walk back to the ship. I had sellers grabbing my arms and pull me into see their shop stands no matter how many times I said no I didn’t want anything. Eventually I pressure bought a dress and they still hounded us all the way back to the ship- draping scarves and necklaces on us that we just had to let drop to the ground or they’d not take it back.

Needless to say we heaved a huge sigh of relief once we were back on the boat.

Nothing is free

Within the temple walls we also had the usual guys trying to get tips for being in photos but otherwise we avoided them and they took the hint we didn’t want to deal with them quicker than the shop guys did. All in all, it was an incredible temple and I loved being there close to sunset but we left with a rather sour taste of the overall experience.

Sailing away from Kom Ombo

The view of Kom Ombo as we left port. Those other 2 ships would leave shortly after us.

*This was all made up for by a very peaceful sunset sailing on from Kom Ombo to our morning destination of Edfu. The sun set around 6:30 PM and dinner was at 7:30 so we had plenty of time to enjoy the bird song, evening prayers sounding off in cities along the river, and people watching as locals finished their working day fishing or swimming in the river as we floated by. I STRONGLY recommend going to the top deck of your boat when sailing out of Kom Ombo to marvel at its position on the river and enjoy the scenery.

Nubian Village tour

I will preface this post with a note that this tour is *a bit* of a tourist trap. I had read a similar review of that before hand so I had my expectations aligned BUT I also have a few reasons for why you should consider this tour add on as well.

Why you might consider this tour add-on:

When given the option of a 2 hour tour where you

  1. Swim in the Nile River from a beautiful beach
  2. Take a scenic motor boat ride along the Nile
  3. See crocodiles that were caught from Lake Nasser (not the  part of the river you just swam in)
  4. Get to learn even a little bit more about the Nubian culture, a culture that’s been around as long as the ancient Egyptians.

OR getting to spend a couple more hours in a cruise ship room because the cruise doesn’t depart until 1 in the afternoon… which would you choose?

About our tour experience

Our tour started from our cruise ship (where we spent the previous night just docked in Aswan) at around 8:30 AM.

We took a very leisurely 30ish minute motor boat ride alongside Elephentine Island and up a few smaller sections of river where the world was quiet apart from the rushing of the river, the birds in the trees, the rustling of the grass on the river bank, and the quiet motor of the boat.

It felt a bit like being on the river cruise at Disney minus the dad jokes. Some of my favorite views were the sandy hills home to Nubian royal tombs, lush plant life along the banks of the river, and as we got closer to the Nubian village- the camel riders moving to and from the village.

Swimming in the Nile

After exploring the river we stopped at a pristine sandy beach for a swim and considering the day was already heating up, I was happy to hop in.

*We were assured that the crocodiles which are found a plenty south of the High Dam in Lake Nasser, are never found down river (north) of the dam where we were swimming. The water was clear and felt amazing to swim around in. We stopped there for around 20-30 minutes to enjoy it but it would have been even more enjoyable if we weren’t hounded with sales people the whole time. (I was ok since I just swam out away from them and stayed in the water but Braden didn’t wear a swimsuit and was held somewhat captive)

Even after buying one thing from each of them, they still didn’t leave us alone the whole time we were there making this the perfect example of why you won’t get to relax on a vacation to Egypt. Haha

Visiting a Nubian home/ museum

Following the beach, it was another short boat ride to what I can only call a welcome house within the village. It was sort of a cross over between a museum, a restaurant, and someone’s actual house. As we walked in we passed a couple rooms with traditional woven bowls, clothing, and other home wares on display. We learned about why the concrete roofs were domed and that they would store things needing refrigeration in bowls hung from the ceiling since under the dome was actually the coolest part.

Our guide then took us to the top of the home for a view of of the low dam and rest of the village in both directions along the river.

One of the most interesting things about these villages is that they were given by the Egypt government to the Nubian people who were displaced as a result of the high dam (and lake Nasser). The Nubian people are primarily fisherman (when they aren’t in the tourist trade) and camel traders. I’d hoped to see more camels in the village itself but we really only saw them outside the village and “evidence” of them on the streets inside the village.

The crocodiles

The blue guest house also was home to the afore mentioned crocodiles which were held in a concrete container in a corner of the room. There was one larger croc (estimated to be about 1/3 of full size and couple years old) and then a bunch of babies which our guide said are constantly getting caught up in the fishing nets by the villagers fishing on the lake. (evidently they trade them out sort of catch, show off, and then release is what we were told)

Exploring the village

We spent some time in the guest house having some hibiscus drink and I got a henna tattoo before voyaging out into the town.

It was all in a all a pretty quiet walk with most people probably hiding from the heat of the day but we did get to see some spice/ tea shops. Then we hopped on the boat and took the short way back to our cruise ship in preparation of setting sail to Luxor.

On the boat ride back we took a more direct route to the cruise ship but passed the famous cataract hotel and remnants of other ancient buildings on the Nile, now flooded and lost to time.

Overall, I can’t say it was the most educational of experience but it beat hanging out in a cruise ship room all morning and how many other people can say they’ve swam in the Nile.

Abu Simbel Temples

Abu Simbel is two incredible rock-cut temples with beautiful inscriptions, multiple rooms, and iconic sitting statues of the pharaoh who “built” them guarding the entrance. While it maybe a bit of a trek to get to, it was pretty unlike anything else we saw on our trip to Egypt.

Instead of columns in the vestibule of the temple, there are giant carved statues and long short roofed rooms branching off the sides. The small amount of light let in is reminiscent of adventure movies like the Mummy and the closest comparison to walking into the hillside of a mountain is the Valley of the Kings. (which is usually just one single hallway and not as grand- albeit very beautiful)

Where is Abu Simbel?

Located a lengthy 3.5 hour drive from Aswan, Egypt- Abu Simbel sits just a few miles north of the border with Sudan and right next to Lake Nasser.* Like Philae temple, Abu Simbel would have been lost completely with the construction of the High Dam and filling of Lake Nasser. It now rests near the lake shore about 200 feet (65 m) higher and 650 feet (200m)back from its original position. It is carved into an artificial hillside made just for the temples.

*Abu Simbel does have a small airfield and layovers are possible when flying from Cairo to Aswan or back. This is a pretty costly way of seeing the temples though.

Moving the temples

The salvage of the temples began in 1964 by a skilled team of archeologists, engineers, and very skilled heavy equipment operators. The entire site was carefully cut into large blocks of up to 30 tons (averaging 20 tons), dismantled, lifted, and reassembled in the new location. The hillside that the temple is now built into is a steel dome and the shape/ rooms/ and artwork in the rooms were all placed exactly as they had been before.

We didn’t try as hard to notice seams in the Philae Temple but I will admit we were looking for them at Abu Simbel and didn’t find a single one. They pieced it back together so perfectly, it is really incredible to see and witness in person for the engineering feat alone. There’s even a small visitor center dedicated to what was accomplished in moving the temples and it’s a great spot to check out on your way back to meet your guide.

About Abu Simbel

Abu Simbel has some interesting politics associated with it. The construction was ordered by King Ramesses II (or the great) in 1264 BC in order to cement his reign with the Nubians that lived in southern Egypt. It depicts him as a god, specifically in line with the gods the Nubians worshipped at the time and further sought to unify the northern and southern kingdoms of Egypt. The smaller of the 2 temples is designated for his chief queen- the famous Nefertari who was a chief diplomatic figure at the time in addition to being the chief wife.

Photo taken in the hypostyle hall of the small temple

The Great Temple

The four colossal 65 foot (20m) statues are depictions of Ramesses II seated on a throne and wearing the double crown of upper and lower Egypt. The temple is dedicated to the highest gods Amun, Ra-Horakhty, Ptah, and the deified Ramesses himself.  

The layout of the temple is triangular and similar to other temples with the largest room at the front which gradually gets smaller as you get to the inner sanctuary. The first room has 8 impressive statues of… you guessed it, King Ramesses II again.

I loved this incredible room called the hypostyle hall – the statues are of the king linking him to the god Osiris (the husband of Isis who we learned about at Philae temple)- he is the god of fertility, agriculture, the afterlife, the dead, and resurrection. The reliefs around this room depict the many successful military campaigns that Ramesses waged against the Hittites (modern day Syria) and the Nubians.  

The second pillared hall is smaller and has four pillars decorated with scenes of offerings to the gods- this room includes more depictions of the beautiful queen Nefetari.

The sanctuary

Following this room is one of the most interesting parts of these temple and that is the inner sanctuary. Most other temples had a single altar that would support a cedar wood boat used for offerings to the gods of the temple. This sanctuary however has 4 statues depicting the 4 gods the temple is dedicated to.

The 4 statues are also in alignment with solar activity and on only a couple dates a year, the sunrise will penetrate from the front of the temple to the back to illuminate the 3 statues on the right- King Ramesses II, Amun, and Ra-Horakhty. The god on the far left, Ptah, who is the god of darkness and connected with the realm of the dead, remains in the dark during these solar events.

Apart from the impressive central rooms, there are many rooms branching off the side with incredible reliefs and hieroglyphics depicting information that would be used by the priests of the temple such as rituals, recipes for various balms and salves, and the like.

The smaller temple

The small temple is dedicated to Queen Nefetari and the goddess Hathor. The entrance is flanked by 6 statues (33fet or 10 m high) and depict the king and then the queen by his side. Interestingly this was only the 2nd temple ever built in honor of a queen in Egypt’s history, and the queen was made to be the same height at the king instead of only knee height which was the norm. This definitely puts some perspective on how important Queen Nefetari was in Egypt’s history.

Once inside the temple, there is a hall supported by 6 pillars which are decorated with scenes of the queen playing the sistrum instrument with the gods Horus, Hathor, Isis, and others. The top of the pillars have the face of Hathor (the easiest goddess to recognize as she is usually represented with a human face and cow ears) who is the goddess of music, dance, joy, beauty and love, motherhood, and also the sky consort (wife) for both Horus (son of Isis and Osiris if you remember) and the sun god Ra.

The majority of this temple is decorated with depictions of sacred offerings from the king and queen to the various gods and the inner sanctum/ sanctuary is the more standard altar like other temples.

It’s an impressive temple, but not really as mind blowing as the greater temple.

Our experience at Abu Simbel and why it should be on your list

Both facades are incredibly iconic and combined with the towering statues and art work within the tombs, these temples should definitely be on your list to visit. We had a very early morning start for our trip, leaving our hotel in Aswan at 4:30 AM to make the 3.5 hour drive out there. The drive really doesn’t showcase anything but desert in all directions so we mostly just relaxed and picked at our breakfast boxes we got from the hotel.

Once we arrived, our guide told us about what we would see inside and walked to the front of the great temple with us but then left us to explore both temples on our own for an hour or so. (Guides aren’t allowed in the temples) We wandered around trying to identify the art depictions that our guide told us about and the general significance. It was REALLY hot and this is maybe one of the longer walks around so once we finished looking at the temples, we didn’t waste much time in walking back to meet our guide.

These temples are immensely popular and can get really crowded during peak tourist season but one of the perks of going in summer is the lack of crowds and it really wasn’t that busy. We took a couple minutes to view the small museum on how they moved the temples and use the bathroom on our way back to the van and were on the road heading to Aswan by 10AM.

Our Covid Travel Nightmare

Why we chose to travel to Egypt in 2021

I’ll start with a little background on why we chose to visit Egypt this year first. Last year I had 2 Europe trips scheduled and both got cancelled. I considered rescheduling one of those for 2021 however come March 2021, Europe was still entering stages of lock down and there was still no word on if or when the EU countries would open to vaccinated Americans.

Meanwhile I had seen a few friends that visited Egypt in 2020 and early 2021 so it seemed like a pretty safe bet. This trip would also coincide with Braden’s and my 5 year wedding anniversary so I figured we’d go all out with what I consider a “more expensive” destination due to longer, more expensive flights AND needing to book an organized tour for everything.

Preparing for travel restrictions

Well here we were a couple weeks before departing on our trip when I re-looked up the entry requirements for Egypt, Jordan, and the USA to know what to expect. By this point, both Braden and I were fully vaccinated so I wanted to see what tests we would need. I couldn’t find an actual government site for Egypt however multiple airlines and an online visa for Egypt website all stated that fully vaccinated Americans could enter Egypt without needing a negative test as long as they had their vaccination card on them.

A few days before departure I again checked these websites and found the same information. The US Embassy site was a little more vague calling out that the vaccination card needed to have a QR code but also stating that there are testing facilities in the Cairo airport. OK…. So this did put a seed of doubt in our minds on whether we would need to get tested or not but we were unable to find a testing center open when we would need it (on a Sunday) and after calling and talking to someone with United Airlines, they assured us our vaccination card was sufficient for entry. We then thought worst case scenario… We’d just get tested on arrival at the airport.

Boy were we wrong.

Let’s look at the timeline of events.

  • 7/12 12:21 PM Departure and first flight to Chicago. – 3 hour flight
  • 7/12- 6:10 PM Departure Chicago to Munich, Germany – 8.5 hour flight
  • 7/13 – 9:45 AM Arrival in Munich, Germany.
    • 8.5 hour layover and on my birthday, so we venture out easy as pie to grab lunch with a local friend at the central square in Munich.
  • 7/13- 4:55 PM Departure from Munich to Cairo, Egypt. – 4 hour flight delayed once we were on the plane so more like a 4.5 hour flight
    • Once again our next airline Lufthansa reassured us we would be fine to enter Egypt with the vaccination card.
    • I will also call out this was a TERRIBLE flight. At this point we are exhausted with next to no sleep and there were SO. Many. Screaming children on this flight it was ridiculous. The meal served was also pretty terrible so we barely picked at it and Lufthansa only handed out 6 oz cups for a beverage once the entire time. This is important for later as we went HOURS without food or water in Cairo.
  • 7/13 – 9:45 PM Arrival in Cairo

This my friends is where it all went south.

Immediately out of the gate and before passport control was a checkpoint where they wanted to see negative PCR tests taken no more than 96 hours before arrival (no other airport has had this checkpoint by the way). We showed them our vaccination card with our passport and they flagged us as not having the right documentation. They confiscate our passports along with another older couple, and a solo girl who had the same issue as us.

We wait until they check everyone else in from the flight and then follow the guy in the lab coat who has our passports to the immigration hall where they were supposedly talking with the airline whose fault it is for allowing us on the flight. Our tour manager who came to pick us up from the airport meets us here and tries to interpret what is happening for us but they don’t communicate with him well either. A couple hours pass by while we wait for them to make a decision on how to proceed. We are sitting right outside the testing facility in the immigration hall.

There’s also no vending machines, no food, and no water in this hall where they are holding us. We also have no idea how long we will be there.

  • 7/14 – 12:30 AM Our tour manager says it isn’t sounding good, that he has requested we just get tested but they are insisting that we cannot enter the country and will have to leave.

There’s loads of arguing between the older couple who were with us but they had dual citizenship and so they got tested. The airport police say the onsite testing there is for “Egyptian citizens only.”   The solo girl traveler had more of a headache but was travelling there on a work visa for the largest company in Egypt so as I understood later that eventually got her through. At this point, we start working out a game plan with our tour manager on how we will proceed if we have to leave.

  • 7/14 – 1:30 AM Our tour manager confirms they are making us leave instead of allowing us to just get tested there.

We come up with a plan on if we go back to Germany and get tested there- how we will resume our tour and fly back later this same day. I also requested some sort of water at this point because I feel like I’m dying from exhaustion and thirst. Our lovely tour manager leaves us for a few moments and returned with a bottle of water, croissant, and small Orange juice for both of us from the café just pass immigration and customs. We find out when our flight will leave and our tour manager takes his leave of us.

  • 7/14 – 5:00 AM, 30 min before departure. A police guy finally comes to get us, escorts us to the ticketing counters to check our bag (which we find out is getting checked ALL the way back home and that they didn’t just reticket us to Germany but to home) then escorts us to the gate which is boarding and puts us on the plane.
  • 7/14 – 5:30 AM, our flight departs back to Munich, Germany.

The meal is inedible on this flight also so I’m still starving having been awake and travelling 36 hours and having nothing of substance to eat (and very little water) since lunch in Munich over 17 hours ago. We’ve also discovered that they changed our initial return flight tickets to this day (so this flight home is on our own dime by the way) and that we only have a 2 hour layover in Munich before our flight back to the US. I’m way too stressed out to rest on this flight unfortunately so I spend the whole time anxious instead.

The cost of returning to Egypt

  • 7/14 – 9 AM, our flight lands in Munich. We race to a customer support counter for Lufthansa and ask them to hold our checked bag as there is no humanly possible way I am going to get on a 9.5 hour flight back to the USA at this point. They rebook the rest of our return journey of Germany to SLC for July 27th (1 day after our original return date but we will take it) free of charge.

HOWEVER, we have to now pay for a flight back to Cairo, Egypt. The only direct option that would get us back to pick up our tour in time to fly to Aswan and board our Nile cruise is the same one at 4:55 PM that day. Great there’s seats but it costs $1300/ person because they are the last seats.

The other flight options involved 1 or more long connections and would make us miss 2 days of sight seeing on our tour and still cost us at least $700/ person so we pony up the money and book to return to Cairo at 4:55 PM. (mostly just to be done with it at this point because we are EXHAUSTED)

  • 7/14 – 10:30 AM, we pay more money to have rapid PCR tests done in the Munich airport that cost us $220 each. We grab some brunch from Mcdonalds, and find somewhere to FINALLY rest a bit.
Waiting for our flight back to Cairo.
  • 7/14- 4:55 PM Depart for Cairo, Egypt. Again the flight is a little delayed leaving. We have the same terrible meal but otherwise it’s quiet enough we can sleep a little.
  • 7/14 – 9 PM Arrive in Cairo – easy pass through customs and immigration with our fancy negative PCR test. Drive 1 hour to our hotel in Giza ( we  were supposed to have toured the pyramids this day so that’s just the hotel we had on our schedule.)
  • 7/14 – 11 PM Finally get to our hotel and pass out for 4.5 hours before we have to get up and drive 1 hour back to Cairo for an early morning flight to Aswan.

Wrap up

We ended up in Egypt a full 24 hours later than we were supposed to but thankfully only missed 1 day of sightseeing which we could mostly squeeze into our day in Cairo on the back end of our trip… so not too bad. Total travel time ended up being 5 flights and 53 hours with very little sleep.

However the cost for this avoidable screw up was:

  • $2600 flights Munich to Cairo and back on the 26th.
  • $440 Rapid PCR tests.
  • 1 missed day of sightseeing in Cairo. (We did not have time to see the Saqqara Pyramid complex, the Souks in Cairo, or the old town in Cairo)
  • Seriously messed up return flights home that resulted in needing 2 hotel stays and another full day of work PTO needed for me.  

So moral of the story, if you’re planning on travelling to Egypt this year or any year during a pandemic, don’t listen to the airlines- just get the freakin test.

Complete Guide: Hoh Rainforest

Olympic National Park is one of the most diverse National Parks in the US. It ranges from coastal beaches with sea stacks, soaring mountains with glaciers, crystal clear lakes, and one of the best preserved temperate rainforests in the Northern hemisphere.

While Olympic NP actually has 4 rainforests, the Hoh rainforest is the most accessible. There are 3 trails in the Hoh rainforest – all relatively easy depending on the distance you want to cover. 


About the Hoh rainforest:

“The Hoh Rainforest, pronounced “Hoe”, earns its name from the ever-flowing Hoh River that carves its way from Mount Olympus towards the Pacific Coast. However, where the name originates, is up to some debate. The word “Hoh” undoubtedly comes from Native American languages; possibly the Quileute word “Ohalet” which means “fast moving water” or “snow water.” Since the river itself forms from glacial runoff, that origin seems straightfoward.”

When to visit the Hoh rainforest:

The road into Hoh rainforest and the campground are accessible all year round. The rainforest is temperate so any time of year will result in abundant greenery and likely wet conditions. I would base your visit on other areas in WA and what weather/ activities you plan to do there. Keep in mind on summer weekends, the trailhead parking can reach capacity as early as 11AM.


$30/ private vehicle. Free with an American the Beautiful- National Parks pass.

Our experience:

We visited during probably Washington’s busiest tourist month- August. That being said, we drove out on a moody (read: rainy) Friday evening and the parking lot was just about empty. We saw a handful of people along the trails but as they are one way, we didn’t have to pass too many of them.

We saw several deer and particularly enjoyed the low hanging clouds along the river. Maybe this hike is busier on a weekend or sunny days, but I can attest that packing your rain jacket and visiting in less ideal weather conditions is just as magical

Trailhead directions:

All trails for the Hoh Rainforest start just to the right of the visitor center if approaching from the parking lot. (Across from the flag pole) As you arrive to the National Park, there is a large parking lot labeled “hikers parking lot.” This is confusing as the trails don’t actually start from this parking lot.

You need to cross over the tree divider/ picnic area to the main visitor center parking lot where you will see the restrooms and main trailhead. 

Best hikes in Hoh Rainforest

From there the 2 shorter loops will branch off with the Hall of Mosses on your left and the Spruces trail on the right. 

The Hall of Mosses

This is the trail that almost everyone told me we “had” to do. It’s a nice short loop with you guessed it – an amazing display of moss along with towering trees. While we thoroughly enjoyed this trail, we like the Spruces trail for its variety and solitude a little bit more. That being said- if you can do both- do both. 

Trail details:

Distance: 1 mile loop
Elevation: flat
Time: 1 hr
Difficulty: Easy

Highlights of the Hall of Mosses:

The Maple Grove is particularly spectacular with towering trees over 250 feet in a close cluster. The trail also sports an incredible variety of moss and ferns along the forest floor. This trail is enjoyable rain or shine but prepared to get wet as well as for some mud along the trail.

The Spruces Trail

Maybe it was the lack of expectations going into it, but the Spruces trail really surprised us and blew us out of the water. There was no one on the trail with us on a Friday evening and the trail had a little more variety to it than the Hall of Mosses.

There’s still that beautiful moss and towering trees that you visit the rainforest for, but you also luck out with beautiful riverside views as well. The lack of crowds also helps persuade wildlife to hang around so we actually spotted a few deer on this trail. 

Trail details:

Distance: 1.2 mile loop
Elevation: flat
Time: 1 hr
Difficulty: Easy

Highlights of the Spruces trail:

The river views and sparsity of crowds are definitely the highlights of the trail. There are plenty of tall tress and just as many moss/ ferns as the Hall of Mosses. I highly recommend both of the trails but if you want moody river views specifically- this is your trail.

A couple little deer hiding in the forest

Where to stay near Hoh rainforest:

Hoh Rainforest Campground:

There are 78 first come first serve campsites at the Hoh rainforest campground. Fees are $20/ night. There are a few sites that can accommodate RVs up to 21 feet long and a couple that can fit one 35 feet. There is no dump station or hookups however the campground provides flushing toilets and potable water.

We did not stay in the campground but admired it as we drove by. The sites are stationed along the river dispersed among giant trees. Just be prepared to get wet if you camp here!

Forks, WA

Forks is the closest town (about 1 hour away) to the Hoh rainforest part of Olympic NP. It’s a fantastic place to base for a day or two to also visit the many nearby Pacific Beaches including Ruby Beach and those of La Push. Be warned hotels don’t come cheap and are pretty sparse in the small town- book early. My recommendation: Forks Motel

What do you think? Is Hoh Rainforest on your must do list? Anyone hike both trails and think the Spruces trail trumps as well?

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Trail Guide: Madison Falls in Olympic NP

Madison Falls is the perfect easy hike for families and waterfall enthusiasts alike. The trail is mostly level and just under 0.5 a mile round trip. It’s also an easy convenient spot when travelling along hwy 101 from Lake Crescent to Port Angeles making the the excursion a perfect quick stop to stretch your legs when travelling between the two popular spots. 

Trail Details:

Distance: 0.4 miles RT
Elevation: Flat
Fees: Included in the Olympic NP fee or with a National Park Pass
Facilities: porta potty


If headed North to Port Angeles, turn right off hwy 101 onto Olympic Hot Springs Rd. The parking area will be 2 miles down the road on the left.

Our experience:

We had the trail and waterfall just about to ourselves for the 30 minutes it took to hike and take photos. Since we visited in sunny August with no recent rain storms in the area, the water was falling serenely but I’ve heard it can really rage after or during a storm. It was a great way to break up our drive for the day and see another small part of Olympic National Park.

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Sol Duc Falls Trail Guide

Olympic National Park is brimming with beautiful and accessible hikes with Sol Duc falls as the piece de resistance. It’s a short, relatively flat trail through the towering forests that the national park is well known for. The falls are thunderous and a beautiful. With a trail as easy as this one, families and adventurers alike will enjoy this trail making it a must do for anyone in the Lake Crescent/ Port Angeles area.

Sol Duc Falls Trail Details:

Distance: 1.85 miles RT
Elevation Gain: 210 feet (easy)
Time: 1 hour
Fees: Sol Duc Falls is within the Sol Duc Valley fee area for Olympic National Park. A week pass to the park is $30 or included with a National Park pass.

Trailhead directions:

Take hwy 101 and turn left onto Sol Duc-Hot Springs Rd if coming from Port Angeles. Follow the road 13.8 miles passing the hot springs and Salmon run on the right until the road dead ends at the trailhead. The parking lot is huge and offers facilities/ trash. The trailhead also serves a number of other great trails in the area including Lover’s Lane which is a 6 mile loop that includes a stop at the falls.

Sol Duc Falls trail description:

The trail starts at the far end of the parking lot from the road, straight from where you came in. Shortly after the trail starts, there is a trail split to the right, stay left (or straight in this case) following signs for Sol Duc Falls. Just before you reach the falls around 0.75 miles in there is another trail split. Keep right (again straight) and follow the trail as it crosses the bridge and gives you the best view of the falls.

The best photos are from the bridge!

The falls are located in a deep scenic gorge which is unfortunately inaccessible at the bottom so you can only view the falls from above.

If you cross the bridge you will find many small paths down to the water to get different angles of the falls. Use caution especially as you near any edges of the falls.

Return back down the same trail for the short version or take the Lover’s Lane trail all the way down to the hot springs resort.

Nearby: The Salmon run cascades

*Make sure to stop by the Salmon run cascades as well for a glimpse of salmon and trout swimming up river. The fall will bring more viewing possibilities, but even in August I watched at least 10 fish make the 6 foot jump up the cascades in about 30 minutes.

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