Ultimate Guide to Petra

Petra: One of the many highlights of Jordan. The iconic Treasury was featured in Indiana Jones and the last crusade and I don’t know anyone whose seen that movie and not dreamt of visiting this place since. Petra is so much more than the Treasury however; it’s miles and miles of wonderful archeological sites and definitely requires more than a day if you actually want to cover all the trails and see all the major points. Don’t worry though if you only have one day- just make it a full one and follow the tips below to get the absolute most out of visiting this once in a lifetime place.

Table of Contents:

Tips for visiting Petra:

  • Stay in town the night before so you can visit Petra (Wadi Musa) right at opening time! (Biggest tip of all)
  • Wear your comfiest walking/ hiking shoes. We hiked 8 miles on our visit and still barely scratched the surface
  • If the trail you are on is on the map you get with your ticket, don’t listen to the scammers who say it is “closed”
  • Beware scammers in general. There are lots of salesman camped out along narrow trails. Try not to engage with them unless you actually want to buy something. (or they won’t leave you alone)
  • Don’t pay more than $5 in a tip for the included horseback ride. Make sure to settle any prices or tips before getting on the horse.
  • Bring plenty of sunscreen, water, and snacks. You will be there ALL DAY. There are places to buy more if you need them, but the tents are very pricey.
  • Stay on the designated trails on the map- don’t pay the people who take you on dangerous and ILLEGAL trails to get a quicker view of the top of the Treasury.
  • Verify the days “Petra at Night” is offered when booking your trip. It is only a select few nights a week and if you’re interested in this, make sure you plan for it!
  • Hire a guide for at least the first walk to the Treasury and Street of Facades. It was very interesting learning about what life was like in ancient Petra as we were guided through.
Views from the high place on street of Facades we explored with our guide. You can see the main trail heading off in the lower right towards Monastery trail.

Practical Information:

  • Hours: Open daily from 6AM to 6PM in the summer; 6AM to 4PM in the winter.

Ticket price:

  • One day: 50 JD
  • Two days: 55 JD
  • Three days: 60 JD

*There’s no price difference for children. Plan ahead whether you’d like to visit for more than one day since the price is much cheaper then.

*You will need to submit your passport at the tickets office to purchase- make sure you bring it with you.

*If you don’t have a guide previously arranged, you can hire a licensed one at the visitor center when you buy tickets for around 50JD+ depending on how much of the site you would like guided.

Petra at Night Information:

Petra by Night runs every Monday, Wednesday and Thursday of each week. It starts at 20:30 from Petra Visitor Centre and delivers you back by licensed guide to the Visitor Centre around 22.30pm. You must have daylight tickets for the day of your nighttime visit.  The nighttime ticket however is NOT included and is an extra fee of 17 JD. (Children 10 and under are free for the night time show)

Photo taken from Jordan Tourism board website. I wish I could’ve seen this myself!!

How to get to Petra:

By Car: It is a 3 hours drive south of Amman on the desert highway or 4 hours on the more scenic Kings’ Highway to Wadi Musa. (Modern town just outside of Petra archeological site)

By Bus: JETT Bus leaves from Abdali station in Amman at 6.30 and arrives to Petra around 10.30. And it runs back on the same day at 17.00 (Summer season) 16.00 (Winter season)

Main points of interest on their respective trails :

  • The Siq (main trail) – This is the picturesque slot canyon that is almost 1 mile in length and ends at the iconic Treasury. While the canyon itself is special and beautiful in its own right, the carvings done by the Nabateans make it one of the most unique slot canyons in the world. Running the entire length of the canyon on both sides is a carved canal that was used for transporting water from the dam into town. There are also a number of decorative carvings, shrines, and statue remnants so keep an eye out.
  • The iconic Treasury (main trail)– The reason anyone even plans a trip to Petra, this building is just as cool to see in person as the pictures make it seem. There is still some debate on what the purpose of the building was for: whether it was a tomb/ temple, or a place to store goods and information (hence the name). It’s comprised of 2 floors with a 3 chambers on each level and stands at an incredible 128 feet high. While you can’t go in, make sure to wander around and get the many angles as well as peer down at the recently excavated graveyard underneath it.
  •  The street of Facades (main trail) – This street makes up the portion of trail/ canyon you walk through after the Treasury as it opens up onto the town. It has tombs on both sides that were likely used for royal courtiers in the middle of the 1st century AD.
Follow the canyon right past the Treasury and you’ll be at the street of Facades! This is where other trails will start to branch off.
  • The theater– What makes this theater so incredibly unique compared to other ancient theaters is that it was CARVED instead of built up. It was carved into the mountainside between 4BC-AD27 and had capacity to sit 4000 spectators.
  • The Royal Tombs (Al-khubha trail)– Comprised of 4 main tombs that are high up on the right side as you leave the street of Facades. In order (from right to left on the photo below) they are the Urn Tomb, the silk tomb, the Corinthian tomb, and the palace tomb.

These tombs were estimated to be constructed between 40-70 AD and a few of them were adapted around 446 AD to serve as Byzantine Churches.  All were used for burial and their names are derived from unique features of their appearance. These are fun to visit as you can go inside them and explore around. Our favorite was the Urn Tomb with it’s lower section of archways and the upper columned courtyard.

  • The Treasury overlook (Al-khubha trail)– Follow this legal and free trail to the viewpoint above the Treasury. There is a Bedouin tent perched right in the prime spot and evidently the tent charges 2-3JD for drinks in order to take photos there. We didn’t hike to this point but the concept doesn’t surprise us. If you plan to hike up here, I recommend having a small bit of cash on hand for the drinks.

  • The colonnaded street and Great Temple – The street was an original Nabataean creation that was refurbished (widened) during the Roman occupation. It would have been on of the principal shopping streets in ancient Petra. Excavations around the street indicate courtyard markets, fountains, and small temples used to line the street making it a primary part of the city center. The great temple which sits just beyond the colonnaded street, was colossal in size at an estimated 76,000 sq feet. Some of its columns and pavement were made of white limestone which would have made for a dramatic contrast to the red rock surrounding. The style and quality of the temple indicate it was built at the end of the first century BC and then used to a late point in the Byzantine period.

  • The Monastery – This is one of the largest monuments in Petra measuring 155 feet (47m) wide and 159 feet (49m) high.  It was built with niches to house sculptures and the interior is occupied by 2 side benches and an altar on the rear wall. It dates to the early 2nd century AD and would have been used for religious meetings.

  • The High Place of Sacrifice (Wadi Farasah Trail)– It is a steep half- hour climb from the theater to the high place of sacrifice which sits on the summit of the Attuf Ridge. The paths and stairs were part of the original processional way used by the Nabataean community. At the top, note the 2 obelisks standing 30 m apart in east/west alignment likely representing the 2 most important gods of the time. The high place of sacrifice is one of the best preserved of such sacred places and also provides a great view of the city center.  

  • The Garden Tomb (Wadi Farasah Trail) – Continuing past the high place of sacrifice and through the obelisks- follow the trail past more facades and tombs as it leads back down into the main parts of the town (see below on the map, it is the yellow trail)

*This is not a comprehensive list but it is the MAIN sites that you will see on the given trails. Unless you are incredibly fit, there’s no way to squeeze all of these into one day. It is recommended to visit for two days if you wish to visit them all.

Official trail map you get with your tickets

Trail Descriptions:

The main trail:

This trail travels from the main entrance to the start of the Ad-Deir (Monastery) trail. It is 2.5 miles each way and is relatively level- easy walking. (designated in red)

The Al-Khubha trail:

This trail branches off the main trail at the Royal Tombs and ascends up to a great overlook of the Treasury. It is a STEEP and exposed (so hot) climb rated as difficult. It will add 2.2 miles RT to your day if you go all the way to the overlook. (It is worth it to go on this trail at least to visit the Royal Tombs which is not a hard or long climb at all) (designated in green)

The Wadi Farasah trail:

Take this trail to escape the crowds and see the High place of Sacrifice, Garden Tomb, Tomb of the Royal Soldier, and more. It is 1.9 miles from the theater to the city center and will will skip parts of the main trail that you can see on your hike out. (designated in yellow)

The Ad-Deir (Monastery) trail:

This trail will add 1.6 miles RT to the main trail and is rated as difficult. It climbs over 800 steps but is absolutely worth the effort as the Monastery rivals the Treasury in terms of beauty and scale. (It’s also a lot less crowded) (designated in pink)

Follow the main trail with a short branch to visit the royal Tombs first. (2.5 miles + maybe 1 mile to see the Royal Tombs) Skip the Treasury overlook to preserve your strength and return to the main trail past the colonnaded street and city center. Take the Monastery trail up to the top and then back down. (1.6 miles) Then follow the Wadi Farasah Trail from the main palace up to the high place of sacrifice and then down which will take you to the theater back near the Treasury) (1.9 miles) Follow the main trail out from the theater (about 1.5 miles) back to the entrance.

This route hits the most major archeological points and will likely work with a guide for the first potion if you’ve hired one. It also ascends the Wadi Farasah trail more leisurely but then will be harder going down.

You could do this in reverse although I would hit the Monastery climb as early as possible since it is a longer/ harder ascent than the high place of sacrifice.

Braden taking a break after climbing all that way to the Monastery and not being able to go inside.

*Unfortunately, since I had broken my foot 2 days before we left on our trip and I was still in a boot, we had to scratch off the options of the Wadi Farasah Trail and the Treasury overlook. That being said, we still did around 8 miles that day.

A Brief history of Petra

Petra, known as the “ Red Rose City” because of the color of stone, was settled and developed by the Nabataeans. These people were an Arab tribe who first appeared in the 6th century BC. Their culture was initially similar to other Arab tribes in that they had little interest in agriculture but were nomadic and lived in tents. By the 2nd century BC they developed into an organized society in the area where they quickly grew in power and wealth.

Many armies from the Seleucids and Ptolemies warred for control over Jordan however the Nabataeans remained mostly untouched and independent throughout. They resisted military  conquest but were greatly influenced by the Hellenistic (Greek) culture of their neighbors. Many of these influences are easily visible in art and architecture throughout Petra.

When Rome took control of Jordan’s northern territories (Jerash) and Syria, they had many military engagements with the Nabataean people until finally from 70-106 AD the Romans claimed the kingdom and renamed it Arabia Petrea. At this time the city of Petra was redesigned according to traditional Roman designs (most easily seen with the palace and colonnaded street area.) Under Roman rule, the city flourished and grew with an estimated 20,000-30,000 people living in Petra during its peak.

As commerce shifted to trade routes in Syria or expanded to seaborn trade around the Arabian Peninsula, the city of Petra declined. Eventually the Nabataeans left their capital although no one really knows exactly why. The few silver coins or valuable possessions unearthed in Petra indicate it was an methodical move away from the city.

About our visit:

We had 2 nights in Petra town which is the absolute best way to visit Petra. Because we were there in the “low” season and COVID we actually met our guide about 1 hour after opening at 7AM to sleep in a little more. We were at the Petra Guest House hotel right outside the main gate so we walked right in from there.

For the first 1.5 hours or so we walked with our guide as he told us the history of the site, about the culture of the people (then and now) and pointed out very interesting structures so eroded by time we maybe would have missed them. Being from the land of many reservoirs and drought, I found the dam they built and water canals in the slot canyon one of the most interesting inventions.

The camel shaped rock

After we took our time taking pictures at the Treasury and exploring around there (since it would get busier later) our guide lead us to some pretty cool cave houses around the street of Facades that weren’t called out on the map and walked with us to the colonnaded street where he told us about the rest of the trails. We definitely enjoyed having a guide so I’d recommend hiring one to walk with you at least through to the Treasury.

Looking back at the Royal Tombs with the beginning of the Colonnaded street in the right side.

After saying goodbye we ran into a small dog whom I absolutely fell in love with. (She was sooo sweet) The pup escorted us the rest of the way to the Monastery trail where we parted ways. Then up up up we went. To be honest with my foot, I was super grateful it was stairs! So much easier to manage in a boot. We saw very few other people on the trail and when we reached the top we had it completely to ourselves for over an hour.

On the way up and down we were a bit bothered by the various sellers. (read the tips up at the top on best way to deal) Otherwise while it was a lot of climbing we didn’t find it too hard and the view was absolutely worth it!

Once we got back down we wandered our way back towards the Royal Tombs which we climbed up and explored while I tried to decide if I felt good enough to climb up to the Treasury overlook. In the end, my foot was hurting and the day had become really hot so we decided to call it a day and start the 1.5 mile hike back to the entrance.

We could have gotten a horseback ride (since it is “included” in the ticket) from the mouth of the slot canyon back to the main entrance (about 1 mile) but they were doing it in groups and I didn’t want to wait for them to complete the group OR to have to negotiate our “tip” amount as our guide warned us we’d need to do. So we just walked out the rest of the way happily ending our day at our airconditioned hotel.

*I wish we could have experienced Petra at Night but it wasn’t running due to COVID.

Where to stay for your visit to Petra:

Best places for location:

  • Budget: P Quattro Relax Hotel : 1.6km from Petra, beautiful rooftop pool, great price and rooms (cheapest hotel/ best value out of this whole list)
  • Mid: Petra Guest House Hotel : 0km walk (closest hotel), no pool but comfortable rooms and still a good price. Really cool cave bar.
  • Luxury: Mövenpick Resort Petra : 0km walk (right across the street), again no pool but highly rated and well known hotel brand.
View from our room on the top floor of the Petra Guest House Hotel.

Best hotels for a unique experience:

Swim in the Dead Sea

The Dead Sea is one of the most famous lakes in the world due to its high salination and low elevation. It’s actually the lowest land based elevation on Earth and that’s just the shoreline. The lake itself is almost 1000 feet deep at its deepest points making it the deepest saltiest lake in the world. The shores are 1400 feet below sea level and the salinity of the water is 9.6 times as salty as the ocean’s. The Dead Sea is split by both Israel and Jordan and can be enjoyed from both sides. It’s a popular place for tourists and locals alike to swim, float, relax, and cake on some mineral rich dead sea mud for your skin.

Tips for visiting the Dead Sea

There are several public beaches and resorts along the shore on both Jordan and Israel’s side and I would absolutely recommend choosing a location that has fresh water showers as a minimum necessity.

  • Keep in mind not all beaches have the “mud” although most of the resorts will gather it in a bucket for you.
  • Bring towels, sunscreen, and plenty of drinking water with you.
  • If you have bangs- try to pin them back before getting in the dead sea.
  • Water sandals are also very useful if your chosen location doesn’t have nice sand
A rest stop on the way down to the dead sea. It marks sea level which is fun as from this point you are still quite a bit above the top of the Dead Sea and still have a ways to go down to get to it.

Where we visited for our Dead Sea swim:

Holiday Inn Resort Dead Sea– We didn’t stay the night but the resort offers days passes that include towels and use of the poolside restrooms/ showers/ and of course- pools. We got an armband that allowed us to get the towels and prove we could be there. The resort also has little cabanas and beach chairs, showers, and waiters for drinks down by the lake itself.

About our experience:

We visited in summer so it was HOT and the sea was really warm too (not exactly refreshing.) We floated for a while and definitely did the coat yourself in mud thing (It does make your skin super soft!)

After a couple of rinses and swims, my hair had a lot of the salt water in it and I kept having issues of my bangs dripping into my eyes… which I then couldn’t wipe away because my hands also were covered in super potent salt water… so we didn’t last too long in the dead sea itself.

Luckily we had another hour after swimming in the dead sea to enjoy the resort pools and cool off before taking our full showers and getting ready to jump back on the road towards Petra for the night.

The drive along the Dead Sea is super beautiful and our driver pulled over in a couple spots to point out neat salt pillars or other natural and beautiful spots along the shore. It was really cool having some Biblical places or stories pointed out to us such as the city Jericho which is easily visible from Jordan. We definitely enjoyed this day in Jordan (split between Jerash and the Dead Sea) and even if we only spent a handful of hours at the Dead Sea itself- it’s a very memorable experience.

Guide to Jerash: The Pompeii of Jordan

When many people picture a trip to Jordan they picture: Petra. While Petra is an incredible and unique historical site, Jordan has so many other richly historical places to visit and one of them is the Roman archeological city Jerash. It’s a special city and archeological site and is known as one of the best preserved Roman ruins in the world. (It is second only to Pompeii)

Where is Jerash?

Jerash is a quick 45 min drive North from the capital city of Jordan- Amman.

How to get there:

We visited on a tour however if you want to visit by yourself, traveling via bus is doable and safe. The bus station at Tarbabour (just north of downtown Amman) has the most frequent buses however there isn’t a set schedule as buses leave when they are full. (so add waiting time to your trip if taking this route) The drop off in Jerash city is a quick walk from the ruins and the cost of the bus is just 4 JOD or $5.60 USD.

You could also rent a taxi for the trip which will set you back between $50-$60 for a half day or day tours from Amman are another great option.

Hours of operation:

Summer hours: 7:30-7:00

Winter hours: 8:00-5:00

Cost of admittance

12 JOD/ $17 USD

History of Jerash

The area around Jerash was originally settled as early as the Neolithic period (7500-5500 BCE) and became a major city during the ancient Greek rule (Hellenistic period around 2000 BCE) The Greek city was known as Gerasa. There is lots of evidence of the Greek foundations with specific temple architecture credited to that time period as well as ancient Greek inscriptions. There are additional inscriptions that allude to the Emperor Alexander the Great’s general passing through this city.

The Roman Empire

The Romans conquered this area in 63 BC and the city was then annexed to the Roman province of Syria as at the time it was mainly inhabited by Syrian people with a small Jewish community. The Syrian province worked mainly as semi-autonomous cities that relied on Rome for protection but otherwise maintained some degree of freedom from Roman politics. Around AD106, Jerash was absorbed into the province Arabia (which included the ancient city located in Amman and Petra.) The Arabian culture at the time was known as Nabataean and many of this culture’s coins, art, and other influences found within Petra are also found in Jerash. (one such example is a temple dedicated to a Nabataean god called Pakidas.

While Jerash flourished due to its prime location at the axes of several trade routes, it became even more affluent under the Emperor Tajan. He ordered new roads built within the city in order to support another major trade route known as the new Trajan road connecting Bosra to the Red Sea gateway in Aqaba.

The majority of the structures still standing today date from the rule of Roman Emperor Hadrian who actually visited and stayed in Jerash during the winter of 129 CE. (see photos below of the triumphal arch built for his visit known as “Hadrian’s Arch.” Jerash’s wealth during this time period enabled ambitious programs of public works including new temples. The population by 175 AD is estimated to be anywhere from 10,000 to 25,000 people.

The Byzantine Empire

It’s unknown when Christianity arrived to the city, however Jerash flourished under the rule of the Byzantine Empire. As many as 15 churches were built by 600 AD. Many of the churches once contained amazing mosaics that were later damaged by earthquakes and invading Arab armies. (There are some amazing mosaics from this time period visible in the ruins still.)

The Fall of Jerash

Persian armies captured, plundered, and occupied Jerash between 614-630 weakening it so much that when the Arabs arrived in 636, the city surrendered immediately. This was the major start of decline for the city and while it still survived as a small and humble city for some years, the wealthiest citizens abandoned it (likely for the major city Damascus). This coupled with new trade routes bypassing the region altogether caused a steeper decline. By 1130 the city had long been abandoned and fallen to ruins.

Points of Interest:

*I recommend walking the loop in counter clockwise and ending at the south theater or temple of Zeus.

Hadrian’s Gate

As previously mentioned the Emperor Hadrian actually visited and stayed in Jerash during the winter of 129 CE and in honor of his visit, a colossal archway was constructed at the south entrance to the city. Hadrian’s gate is likely the first part of the city and monument you will see as you arrive from Amman and marks the start of your fore way into history.

Hippodrome

This was a common sporting arena used or gladiator battles and most importantly chariot races. The Jerash hippodrome is anticipated to have had capacity for 15,000 spectators.

Forum (Oval Plaza)

The oval plaza served as the city’s forum and marketplace during Jerash’s Golden Age and is about 300 feet by 300 feet in width and diameter. It has 56 Iconic columns surrounding it and is an impressive place to take in from views on the above hillsides.

Colonnaded street

This was the main road through the city and overall region- it connected both the North and South gates. Admire how well the road has held up after all this time, including the visible wheel marks in the stone in some places.

North Theater

This theater is built similarly to the South theater but has a few more nooks and crannies open for exploring. The other very unique feature is the colorful mosaic floor in the center of the theater as it converted into a church during the Byzantine rule.

Temple of Artemis

As the daughter of Zeus, Artemis was a popular patron goddess among the people of the region. This temple was built in 200 AD and 11 of the temple’s 12 original columns are still standing.

One of my favorite spots was the short bit of walk between the temple of Artemis and Zeus. The views from that hill were just amazing! I’d def recommend walking that whole loop and climbing the hill to this view.

In the photo above you can see just how massive Hadrian’s arch is in the distance. To the right and closest on the path is the temple of Zeus and down to my left in the photo is the oval forum. I really loved this area’s views of the neighboring farms and vineyards. What a great area!

South Theater

This is the larger theater of the two and usually has a small band or guys playing bag pipes performing in there. If you notice this make sure you drop a coin or two. (Jordan is a lot better than Egypt in regards to tips as for 1: Bathroom tips are actually optional everywhere we went, so when your guide mentions it as bad form not to tip… you probably should)

Temple of Zeus

A great place to end your tour and take in more views of the colonnaded street and oval forum. You can explore around the edges or even climb to the top of the ruins through a stair case that was open when we were there.

The Jerash Souk

The marketplace is just outside the entrance to Jerash archeological site. (As we’d point out about any museum or tourist spot, you end with the gift shop) Souvenirs are likely to be cheaper here than Petra and the shop sellers were much more respectful and courteous. I highly recommend checking out things here to save yourself from having to buy any of your keep sakes in Petra. (They were much more aggressive and a la Egypt vendors there)

Summary of our visit:

We had a leisurely morning having one of the best breakfasts on our trip before being picked up by our driver at 9. We stopped and picked up our tour guide along the way as well and made the short drive to Jerash. Once there our guide walked us through some of the buildings pointing out significant architecture and unique features of Jerash and then we had over an hour to explore on our own. It was plenty of time to walk the whole loop and wasn’t very busy at all so we had the place in large part to ourselves.

Once we finished exploring and taking photos we met our guide and driver back in the Souk at the entrance where we got some delicious slushies, picked up a couple souvenirs and headed back toward Amman to continue south towards Petra. We were pretty impressed with the size and condition of Jerash. Considering how easy a place it is to visit, it’s absolutely a must see on a trip to Jordan.

Review of Memphis Tours

When planning a trip to Egypt the first think I would personally recommend is to look at tour options. Egypt is by far one of the most complicated countries I’ve visited and it’s also one of the most rich in history. Why not make the trip planning easier on yourself AND make sure you get the most out of visiting such a richly historic place by booking a tour?

*I get 0 benefits or discounts for writing this review. This is just based on my own choices and experience.

Pros to booking a tour:

  • Logistics are all handled. Trust me the logistics of how to get from point A to point B are some of the most challenging.
  • Ensure you don’t miss any of the highlights
  • You will get way more interesting history and cultural facts than if you were doing things on your own
  • Much safer – on our tour we had a few moments of frustration with sellers but never felt even a bit unsafe

Cons for booking a tour:

  • The biggest thing is the PRICE
  • Less flexibility of visiting the monuments at specific times. (Although on a private tour, this isn’t much of an issue)

Why we chose Memphis Tours:

I compared Memphis Tours to several other major tour operators in Egypt including “On the Go Tours”. In the end I chose Memphis Tours because it was the cheapest PRIVATE tour option available that included a Nile River cruise and options to include Jordan. In fact the Jordan/ Egypt combo PRIVATE tour with Memphis Tours was CHEAPER than the group On the Go Tours equivalent and required 4 less days to see all the same sites. Going private also allowed us to completely customize our itinerary- we removed stops that were less important to us and added stops that we had to see. The private tour option also completely saved our Cairo site seeing ability – read more on that later.

Link to the tour we booked. (As we booked private we modified this itinerary to see more in Jordan and less in Egypt)

The good with Memphis Tours:

  • Wonderful PEOPLE. We absolutely loved everyone we worked with during our trip. From the guys that picked us up from the airport- helping us get through immigration quickly, the tour guides, the drivers – the hospitality and overall helpfulness of everyone we met on the ground during our trip was amazing. This is the #1 reason I would absolutely not hesitate to book with Memphis Tours again. Their people are. The best.
  • Flexibility- We did have a private tour which helps A LOT, but they were very willing to work with our itinerary. We saw A LOT in 13 days and still had plenty of time to relax. This flexibility turned out to be crucial with our Egypt entry issues due to Covid requirements. Our tour manager in Cairo reworked our 2 days of site seeing into 1! Read more about that here.
  • All flights were included in our price including our international flight from Cairo to Amman. The domestic flights were faster and easier than taking a train like other tour companies offered.
  • We NEVER felt unsafe and we were continually looked after when we needed it. We always had a guide with us, even in addition to a driver. Drivers could drive, and guides could guide. The dual system was very nice. The guides were also helpful in getting us to an ATM if we needed more cash after a tour (going out of their way to walk around Aswan to help us find a working one) and other small things beyond the story telling and leading us around monuments.
  • Lastly, the price while still being expensive was MUCH cheaper and PRIVATE compared to other tours.

The bad:

  • Communication pre trip: This may just come down to the trip planner we worked with but I have 3 complaints:
    • Not enough knowledge or warning about Covid entry requirements for Egypt. We NEEDED PCR tests even though we were vaccinated from the US. There was a lot of misinformation online (trust me I did my own research) so it would’ve been great for the tour company we were paying to know the requirements and communicate this with us. This is a big one- this cost us THOUSANDS.
    • They never sent us our flight vouchers for the flights they booked and our itinerary even had wrong flight times on it. This caused us to wake up and be at the airport for our Jordan flight 2 hours earlier than the 3 hours early they already make you get to the airport. (This was a 3:30AM wake up call… those 2 hours really mattered) We also know of this happening to one of our friends on the Nile cruise – they changed his domestic flight to be later in the day and he had no idea. Luckily in his case- our tour guide knew what was up… but we were not so lucky)
    • Misinformation about Jordan itinerary – Our planner told us we could schedule Petra at night and had it on our itinerary for a day it isn’t even offered. I noticed this discrepancy when I was reading about the experience a few weeks before our trip and when I brought it up, they told me that Petra at night wasn’t even operating at all! Luckily I brought it up so we could remove the cost of this activity from our total tour cost. 
  • Sales People – While we LOVED the two tour guides we worked with, our main guide from Luxor to Aswan could have helped us out a little bit more in the beginning when it came to the sales people. (We were harassed A LOT by merchants selling cheap stuff the first 2 days and he “tried” to tell them to go away but compared to our 2nd guide in Cairo… he could’ve been more stern or helped give us more tips from the beginning)
  • Not the greatest Nile Cruise experience in terms of food and staff but we did book the cheaper cruise option so it being average was probably right for the price point. Read my review specifically of the MS Salacia cruising experience here.

Summary of our experience

Overall I didn’t have that many complaints- in fact all of them besides the COVID entry issue were pretty minor. (And whose to say whether other tour companies would have communicated that issue correctly either- at least Memphis Tours on the ground in Egypt were ready and willing to help us fix the issue. Our tour manager in Cairo was AMAZING.) 

Our Itinerary for reference:

  • Day 1: Welcome to Cairo – Literally just a pick up from the hotel. Especially when that time is past 10:00 at night lol
  • Day 2: Pyramids Tour : Private tour of the Giza Plateau and Sakkara Complex – Meals: Breakfast, Lunch (This day was cancelled on us when Egypt kicked us out due to not having a negative test)
  • Day 3: Morning flight from Cairo to Aswan. Afternoon tour of the High Dam, the largest known Obelisk and stone quarry, and Philae Temple. – Meals: Breakfast
  • Day 5: Optional Nubian village tour or easy morning on the boat. Set sail from Aswan and then a sunset tour of Kom Omobo Temple. – Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner.
  • Day 7: Optional early morning Hot Air Balloon flight followed by a tour of Luxor’s West Bank sites (Valley of the kings, Queen Hatshepsut’s temple, and others) Afternoon or evening flight back to Cairo. Meals: Breakfast, Lunch
  • Day 8: Cairo city tour (the Egyptian Museum, Saladin Citadel and Mosque, Coptic Cairo’s churches/ Synagogues and old Bazaar. Note: since this was our only day in Cairo we ended up just touring the Giza plateau, Citadel/ Mosque, and Egyptian Museum. – Meals: Breakfast, Lunch
  • Day 9: Fly Cairo to Amman. – Meals: Breakfast

*Read my Jordan posts for more information on our Jordan itinerary which continued another 4 days.

Things I would do differently or recommend for someone’s first trip to Egypt and Jordan.

  1. Tour Jordan FIRST if you’re visiting both. You will enjoy it more as it is easier on your stomach (and mentally less taxing). After a week in Egypt we were so sick we could barely eat a lot of the food we had in Jordan. Jordan has better culinary practices. and in general… better tasting food. If you want to enjoy eating, I’d highly recommend going to Jordan FIRST. 
  2. Book your Jordan tour separately with Dakkak tours. Memphis Tours just outsources to this company for your entire Jordan trip. Dakkak was amazing and I would definitely recommend them, not just based on price but overall experience. (I’ll write a separate post for them later.) While having the two countries combined was convenient (and included our international flights) I can tell we may have gotten a lot better of information about Jordan, the best places to visit, and the best itinerary from Dakkak directly.

Last thing to consider before booking with Memphis Tours (or any other complete package tour for that matter)

If you are on a budget and you wanted to do just do day tours of the monuments, you could feasibly do this cheaper without a package tour. This is how I would do it:

  1. Book your hotels and make sure the hotels offer transport to/from the airport. You won’t get the same level of service in regards to having a driver AND guide to help check you in everywhere (which let me tell you was nice). We did book a hotel ourselves for after our Jordan trip when we connected back in Cairo and had a 12 hour over night layover. It wasn’t THAT bad. Again, just make sure your hotel will pick you up and drop you off at the airport. Your day tour operators will handle the rest. 
  2. Book a Nile cruise. The cruise ship likely offers day tours to all the spots it will stop at and will pick you up from your hotel in Aswan or Luxor.
  3. Book flights from Cairo to/from Luxor and Aswan for the Nile cruise.
  4. Book smaller day tours for anything else that isn’t included in the Nile cruise that you’d want to see. For example, there are many companies that offer day tours to the pyramids, or combo tours to the museum and other sites. They will pick you up from your hotel for the tour.

I’m not entirely sure how much this would save you as I haven’t priced out what individual tours might cost…. But this would give you greater range of choosing your hotels and more Nile cruise options. (Although Memphis will actually discount your package tour and let you book the hotels if you want)

The things you might miss are the complete costumer service of a tour manager. They help speed you through immigration at the Cairo airport (which is awful) and help your with ticketing counters, checking bags, checking into hotels, everything. I’d say the people from Memphis Tours took such complete care of us we hardly lifted a finger for anything. For that reason and many of the other “good” list above, I’d still choose to go with Memphis Tours. The people on the ground helping you with everything is a luxury and in a challenging place like Egypt, that little bit of luxury can make a big difference to your overall trip.

Review of our Nile cruise experience

Nile Cruises have been all the rage in one form or another since the dawn of Egypt’s civilization. As everything in Egypt is centered around the Nile, it makes sense that sailing would be an optimal mode of transportation. For tourism it picked up even more when speedy steamer ships were introduced making the journey from Luxor to Aswan doable in only a week.

The cruise ship is a fantastic way of seeing the temples that line the banks of the Nile since it allows you to disembark at the destination and see everything you need to see and then travel to the next in complete luxury. No trains or long car journeys here. That being said, there are some pros and cons to either mode of transportation and while my blog is going to focus on choosing a Nile cruise, I’d at least like to present both options.

The Pros of a Nile Cruise:

  • No logistics to worry about, everything is well planned and runs smoothly
  • Unparalleled views of some of the temples (like Kom Ombo) that are right along the water
  • Other peaceful and serene views as you cruise along the Nile seeing wildlife, farms, and small towns pass by
  • Very, very little time in a car as the temples are usually within 10 minutes of the cruise dock if not within walking distance
  • Comfortable accommodation you can actually settle into and unpack for a few days
  • Finding somewhere decent to eat can be challenging in Egypt so it’s great having all meals included in your price.

The Cons of a Nile Cruise:

  • Limited time exploring some of the temples, especially Kom Ombo and Edfu as these are usually shorter stops between Luxor and Aswan
  • Along the same lines, no ability to choose your tour time if you have a preference for time of day to visit the sites.
  • Smaller pool and less entertainment than you would find with a larger hotel in Luxor or Aswan
  • If you don’t like the food… you’re kind of stuck with it.

Travel around Egypt is doable both ways and with plenty more research or discussing with a tour company, I’m sure you could have a great experience either way.

The Cruise Schedule:

Day 1: Visit Abu Simbel (3 hour drive away) and then embark on cruise. All meals included and free time on the ship from 1 PM

2: Visit the Nubian Village near Aswan in the morning (an extra) or free time. Lunch and sailing. Visit Kom Ombo in the evening. Then dinner and sailing again.

3: Early morning in Edfu, breakfast, and then sailing to Luxor. Experience a “locke” on the cruise, then lunch and then visit to Luxor’s East bank temples – Karnak and Luxor

Day 4: Disembark and visit Luxor’s West Bank- the Valley of the Kings. Optional early morning start flight in a hot air balloon.

*Cruises also sail in reverse starting in Luxor and finishing in Aswan.

*Other tours and cruises may have differing schedules but there were at least 2 other ships sailing and following this same schedule as us so I think this schedule is pretty common

Our itinerary involved one night in Aswan on the front end so we made sure to see everything there, then 4 days/ 3 nights with the cruise. We visited the Philae Temple, high dam, and giant Obelisk on day 0 (you can read about that here) and had a great night in a hotel before our cruise began.

About our cruise ship and experience on the MS Salacia

Our tour was with Memphis Tours, and cruise ship was the MS Salacia. We had the more “budget friendly” cruise option of Memphis Tour’s partners and since we were travelling during an off season, there were only 9 total passengers on the ship including us. This will likely bias our review but here it is anyway.

The ship’s layout

Our ship had 3 guest floors with the first initial floor containing only the lobby and guest rooms. The second floor (where our room was located) contained the dining room, a library with small seating area, 2 small shops, and more guest rooms. The 3rd floor contained a small bar/ snack area, the spa, and the pool deck. Then there was one additional deck above the pool that had loungers and covered dining area.

Overall these ships are much smaller than what you’d expect if you’ve been on a large sea faring ship but all the rooms were comfortable and tasteful. I enjoyed all the vintage vibes without feeling out dated on our ship.

The Rooms.

The rooms were by far the best part of the ship. Everything about it screamed vintage steamer to me from the décor, wood paneling, and overall layout. It was spacious, comfortable, and quiet. We had a tv (although we never attempted to watch it), mini fridge, seating area, private bathroom, 2 windows, and a queen size bed.

The mini bar/ fridge is also stocked every day with 2 bottles of water, 2 cans of soda, and 2 juice boxes which are free. (That is the extend of the drinks included but we would take our water or sodas with us to the dining room no problem)

We were also given 1 GB of wifi per person for the entire cruise journey… Not great but better than nothing.

Entertainment

There is none. Don’t expect a live production stage or comedy here however sitting on the top decks and watching the beautiful scenery of the Nile pass by was definitely one of my favorite parts. I highly recommend bringing a few card games, card decks, or easy to pack dice games to play in your down time.

The pool is small but pretty well designed and we almost always had it to ourselves. It had 3 stages of depth, the first only like a foot deep and perfect for suntanning in. Then there was a 4 foot and 6 foot section that were great for swimming around in and cooling off. We spent most of the day by or in the pool when the ship was moving and the rest of the time hanging out in our room.

Unfortunately the 2nd day spoiled the pool a little for me as Braden went inside before me and I was laying on the pool deck in a chair that lined up with the hall leading to the wheelhouse. I noticed 2 of the boatmen (1 in uniform and 1 not) taking discreet selfies or photos of me in the background which needless to say, was really uncomfortable. After I noticed that I packed up and went inside.  I did go out again to the pool the next day but made sure I was out of view of that deck hall wherever I sat down.

Dining services

Our dining schedule was pretty consistent as

7:30-8:30 Breakfast

1:00-2:00 Lunch

7:30-8:30 Dinner

Occasionally they would have a free coffee or tea time where we could get those drinks without paying for them but it wasn’t the same time everyday. In addition the snacks that were free outside of meal time were generally a coffee cake, some type of small cookie, and apples.

Insert what I wish was a food photo here but evidently.. I didn’t take any food photos. Instead here’s a photo from the wonderful covered top deck.

The service

About the food

Again since there were only 9 passengers, there were at least 3 servers hovering around at all times. Lunch and dinner were both 5 course meal affairs and were very prompt. We’d have a soup, and then some sort of small appetizer, a salad or “side plate” that came out with the entrée, and then a dessert. You’d be handed a menu at the start so you could “review” and tell them any substitutions or things you didn’t want… supposedly.

The food itself was… ok. I’d probably classify it around a c+ in that it was edible but not that appetizing. The descriptions of the dishes on the menu usually made it sound better than it was and most of the meats in the dishes were pretty dry. I’m also pretty sure they plated everything ahead of time so you couldn’t really ask for alterations to the dish and that’s part of what made them come out so promptly. (And either the preparation or storage may have made them predisposed to making everyone ill but it’s hard to point fingers there since stomach issues are a pretty common issue for visitors to Egypt)

About the people

Unfortunately there was also a decent language barrier when communicating things about the menu (or the staff just ignored us) We’d almost always say no salad but always got it and ended up returning it to the kitchen un eaten. That rarely raised an eyebrow but we had a solo traveler friend sit with us during meals who was experiencing stomach issues and hardly wanted to eat anything only to have them ask “why” when he said he didn’t want something like the soup or desert. I also asked for only the vegetables only from an entrée I liked and they brought out an entire second plate of everything which of course… I barely touched which got me some angry looks from the staff at that but again, I didn’t ask for a whole plate more of meat.

Other than things in the dining room, our room was always well cared for and the front door staff were friendly. We didn’t have much interaction with anyone else.

Summary

So in the end, while I would recommend doing a Nile cruise for the ease of scheduling and views, I’d recommend seeing what cruise options are available with better reviews than the MS Salacia.

1 Day in Cairo Guide

Is it advisable to only spend one day in Cairo? Probably not. Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.

Cairo is an incredibly diverse and historic city. One minute you’re driving through neon light shopping centers, and the next you’re passing old Islamic cemeteries with no street lights but some signs of inhabitants. Then you turn a corner and you’re driving by incomplete sky scrapers where people are living, and don’t get me started on heading across the Nile to Giza where the pyramids magically appear out of nowhere.

There is SO much to see in Cairo and the best way to do it is undoubtedly with a guide. A guide will be able to combine all these city elements into a relatable story that all travelers can understand- they can melt the history into current day culture, giving you a real appreciation for life as it was and now is in this grand city. We toured Cairo with Memphis Tours as part of our larger Egypt tour and our guide in Cairo was out favorite. (Don’t get me wrong though, our Nile cruise guide was also amazing)

As we were supposed to have 2 days in Cairo but missed a day to travel mishaps at the beginning of our trip, we appreciated the flexibility of Memphis Tours to give us the highlights all in one day! So if you’re looking for the abbreviated version of what should probably be 2-3 days in Cairo, you’ve come to the right place.

Post Contents

A brief look at the history of Cairo

The old Egyptian capitol of Memphis

Cairo and the surrounding area played instrumental roles in the old Kingdom of Egypt, with the capitol Memphis being founded around the third century BC. The Memphis ruins are situated just south of the Giza pyramids and are definitely worth a stop (If you have more than one day that is) For the ancient Egyptians, the strategic position of Memphis just up river of the Nile Delta, allowed the region to thrive with commerce, trade, and religion. At the beginning of the middle kingdom of ancient Egypt, the capital and king’s court had moved to Thebes (up river on the Nile) so Memphis/ Cairo became a little less important until….

Coptic Cairo

Around the 4th century AD the origins of the modern city of Cairo developed with the building of settlements and the fortress Babylon. This “city” was an extension of the Roman and then Byzantine Empire with some building remains still in use today. The religion of the time was “Coptic” Christianity which equates to Orthodox- established by Saint Mark during the middle of the 1st century AD.

I won’t go into too much detail here but if you’ve read my other posts/ looked at photos you’ll know that Coptic Christianity played quite the role throughout the rest of Egypt as well as there is lots of evidence of temples being dismantled for churches or being turned into churches themselves. Apart from religion, the city played a large role in trade of the spice route at the time which furthered its influence worldwide.

Muslim rule

Cairo officially came under Muslim rule around 640 AD after being conquered by the rulers Amr ibn As. The city passed many hands for years being overthrown by different Muslim rulers but the religion and culture remained the same. The seat of government changed locations throughout the city however resulting in the construction (and then demolishing) of several forts and settlements.

In 1169, the first Sultan of Egypt, Saladin was appointed by the Fatimids dynasty. During his reign the the Cairo Citadel was constructed (more on that below). The city through these centuries remained an important city along the spice trade route making the city influential on a global scale (and also making it fall to the same global issues that plagued Europe… namely the Black Plague.)

Ottoman rule

The last major period of time pre modern history is with Ottoman rule. The city’s status as a global capitol of import was diminished in the late 1400s due to a sea route around the Cape of Good Hope allowing spice traders to avoid Cairo. The decline of the city still continued when the Ottoman empire supplanted power in Egypt in 1517 diminishing it from a country in its own right to a province.  The city did still prove useful in the transportation of coffee and Indian textiles with the rest of Africa and the Balkans. During the time the city also became an important place of learning with a large institutions of Islamic scholars taking up residence.

After the Ottomans began more of the modern history with first French and then British occupations. After failed occupations the country descended into civil wars until an Albanian named Muhammad Ali Pasha ascended to the role of commander and then Viceroy of Egypt.

The Mosque of Muhammad Ali inside the Cairo citadel lit up at night and easily visible from our hotel

A day in Cairo – MUST SEE’S

The Great Pyramids of Giza

Not just a Cairo must see, but an Egypt must see if the obvious Great Pyramids in Giza. It’s one of the seven wonders of the Ancient World and one of the oldest monuments in the world still standing. (And that you can actually visit inside of!) The pyramids are iconic for good reason as they are incredible to see in person. They are surrounded by sand and yet also city.

Several photos show the pyramids with nothing around them but that is a matter of perspective as all around the modern world bustles.  I have a couple posts dedicated to the pyramids so I won’t say more in this post but please visit here for a complete guide to visiting the pyramids and here if you’re curious about camel rides at the pyramids. I can’t say enough- this place has to be on your bucketlist.

Time needed to visit the pyramids: 1.5-3 hours

* Visiting the pyramids will take around 1.5-3 hours depending on if you opt for a camel ride and/or to go inside the great pyramid, and how long you spend visiting the mortuary temples and surrounding sites.

The Egyptian museum (old or new)

Once the new museum is completed, it will be even easier to visit in one day with the pyramids as it is right next door. However we visited the old museum which was still a bit of a drive away. The museum is a MUST because everywhere you go in Egypt you will only be seeing the shell of what was- the ruins. You’ll see the walls, some statues, even fewer roofs, and loads of carvings- but what actually made these places magnificent was what was IN them.

The museum holds all the treasures discovered in the tombs for Kings’ passages to the afterlife and statues that were moved from monuments for protection. Most powerful of all you will see the mummies that have been discovered and learn even more about the ancient leaders of Egypt and their beliefs.

Treasures in the museum

Apart from the mummies, one of the most notable things you’ll see in the Museum is King Tut’s collection. King Tut was a pharaoh who died in his teenage years but is famous for his tomb. His tomb was one of the more recent discoveries and was discovered IN TACT with all of its riches. Our favorite things were the ornate and GIANT boxes and his solid gold headdress.

*These are a small snippet of the incredible things you see in the museum. I did not take any photos of the mummies out of respect and most of King Tut’s gallery is off limits for photos.

Tips for visiting the museum:

  • Plan your day in Cairo AFTER visiting the other sites in Egypt (notably the Valley of the Kings) so that you can base everything you learn in the museum on a foundation built up from seeing the locations these artifacts were discovered.
  • If you are visiting in 2022 or later, you will likely be visiting the new museum. They are still moving things over so if you visit the old museum, know that there is no AC in the building so dress accordingly.
  • The museum will involve HOURS of standing and walking on hard stone floors. Wear maybe the most comfortable pair of shoes you brought on your vacation for this day. Your body will thank you.

Time needed: Minimum of 2 hours (4 hours preferred)

The Cairo Citadel

The citadel is a quick stop if you are visiting Coptic Cairo or the old Egyptian museum and is a great place to learn a bit more about the modern religion in Egypt as well as the more recent history. (more recent as in AD instead of BC) The view from the walls is panoramic and on clearer days you can see the pyramids rising out of the city haze in the distance. I particularly liked wandering the fortress and taking in the impressive walls but the key places to visit is the Mosque of Muhammad Ali which was built between 1828-1848.

After taking in the view from the citadel’s walls, head towards the Mosque’s entrance. There’s an open courtyard you can take a peep into (we were not allowed to walk around but we could take a look) that displays a clock tower given to Muhammad Ali Pasha by Louis Philippe of France in 1845 AD. Muhammad Ali reciprocated the gesture with an obelisk of Ramesses II’s (c.1279–1213 BC) that stood in front of Luxor Temple. Today, it stands in the Place de la Concorde Square, Paris.

After admiring the clock tower head inside the mosque itself. You’ll need to slip your shoes off before entering and women will need to make sure they are covering their shoulders/ arms. (No need to cover your hair) The mosque features an impressive chandalier, wooden pulpit, and many other intricate carvings including the space surrounding Muhammad Ali’s Pasha’s final resting place.

We were lucky to be there during an afternoon prayer where the walls reverberated the sweet melodic sound all around. The building is mainly used for tourism now so there weren’t any active worshippers in the site but it was still beautiful to be there during a prayer time.

Time needed to visit the Citadel and Mosque: 1 hour

Where to stay in Cairo

Downtown Cairo:

Le Riad hotel: $200+: This hotel is in the old Islamic area of Cairo. It’s literally within the walled old fort and you can only drive in via special permit. (Keep this in mind if you hire a taxi- they may not be able to find/ access the hotel) Each room is massive and unique – it is considered a “boutique” hotel. The rooms come with a private balcony, sitting area, and are themed based on cultures, colors, etc. We were upgraded through our tour so that was nice for us!

The restaurant on the roof had the best food we had in all of Egypt (also the most expensive) and the room was amazing. There was a fair amount of noise at night which could be due to the festival of Eid… but if you’re a light sleeper, I’d avoid staying in downtown Cairo.

Near the airport:

Le Passage Hotel and casino $50+ : This is the closest hotel to the airport which makes it very convenient for flights. Reasonable rooms and pool as well. We didn’t stay here as we got the upgrade to the Le Riad instead but it looks nice.

Concorde El Salam $80+: We stayed at this hotel on our own during a long layover in Cairo. The shuttle was convenient and helpful. The hotel is absolutely beautiful (and glamorous… we felt very underdressed in the lobby) and overall very comfortable. We had to leave early in the morning for our flight back to Germany but we were SO glad we booked this hotel instead of trying to pass a 10 hour overnight in the Cairo airport. (My least favorite place in the world at this point)

Near the pyramids:

Steigenberger Pyramids Golf Hotel $50+ – Luxury hotel feel on a budget wallet. The hotel has a pool with pyramid views. Some rooms have pyramid views and others have views of the new museum. Once the new museum is complete, this hotel is across the street in an unbeatable location. We stayed here and sadly only had like 6 hours in the hotel due to late flight in, and early flight out. We didn’t get to enjoy the pool but our room was very comfortable and the breakfast box the hotel provided for our flight was the BEST of our entire trip.

Other hotels of note:

Hayat $30+ Budget friendly and still within walking distance of the pyramids

Marriot Mena house – $200+ – Walking distance to the pyramids, very safe, and VERY nice. Easily the best pool.

Top things to see on Luxor’s West Bank

When most people think of Egypt, the pyramids and Memphis (the old kingdom capital) come to mind first. Luxor (ancient day Thebes) holds a huge part of story and is not to be missed, from soaring temples constructed through the ages and bright colorful tombs buried beneath the earth- Luxor holds the key to understanding and learning some of the most interesting parts of Egypt’s history.

Like 2 sides of a coin, there’s 2 banks of Luxor and they each hold different types of archeological sites and different historical importance. The East bank is where people live, work, worship… it’s where you’ll find a lot of the temples as the sun rises in the East- this represents life.

The West Bank, where the sun sets, represents a journey of the dead to the afterlife. This is where you will find mortuary temples (temples created for preparing the kings for burial) and the magnificent tombs that were built to help guide their occupants to a successful here-after.

Contents:

Both banks have lots to see and do so this post will focus on the west bank specifically.

Top things to see in Luxor’s west bank

Valley of the Kings

The valley of the kings is made up of at least 63 known tombs with 20 or so belonging to known kings. The tombs are not as grand in scale as the temples and are mostly devoid of any antiquity now- however the art work on the walls is really impressive to see. The colors are all original and almost all the wall space (including the ceilings) is covered. The way the tombs have been preserved against time is really incredible to witness in person, as is walking the steep narrow corridors down into the rock. For more information and photos from our visit, check my valley of the kings post here.

The Mortuary temple of Queen Hatshepsut

This temple is unlike any of the others you will see on your visit and is widely considered a great architectural wonder of the world. It is cut into the cliffs of Deir el-Bahari (another name used for it) and involves many floors and terrances. It took 15 years to build during the reign of legendary Queen Hatshepsut (which makes this temple worth visiting to honor Hatshepsut alone).

The temple is primarily dedicated to the god Amun (whom Hatshepsut used to legitimize her reign) and includes shrines to 2 other gods – Hathor and Anubis. It is a quick stop taking maybe an hour or so and definitely worth seeing when visiting the other west bank monuments. Read more about this incredible temple in my post here.

Ramesseum

The Ramesseum is a mortuary temple dedicated to Ramesses II. (Same guy that built a LOT of temples during his long reign) This temple doesn’t often make it into a must do for people with shorter itineraries but looks like a great stop and will have less crowds if you’re visiting during the busy season. We didn’t have time on our day tour but we did marvel at the site from the air during our hot air balloon tour.

Colossi of Memnon

The two massive statues are of the 18th dynasty Pharaoh Amenhotep III and greet all visitors on the main road to the west bank of Luxor. They are built from quartzite sandstone which was quarried down river near Cairo and transported 420 miles (675 km) overland to their present site.

They used to stand guard at the entrance to the pharaoh’s massive mortuary temple, which at the time was larger even than the temple of Karnak. The temple is all in ruins however due to being in a major flood plain for the Nile and potential dismembering from successors in the later dynasty’s to build their own temples. They are free to visit and a quick stop.

Hot Air Balloon tour

If you’re visiting Luxor and have a hot air balloon experience on your bucket-list, I can’t recommend this tour enough. There is nothing life being sky bound in the early morning- watching the sunrise over the east bank of the Nile and witnessing the lights of the west bank monuments flicker off. The air is crisp and silent, punctuated only by the jet of hot air filling the balloon and all around you can see other hot air balloons flying on the wind.

You get a birds eye view of so many of the west bank archeological site but on top of that, get to experience the wonder of feeling like you’re part of a balloon festival. Even during the low tourist season, there were around 20 balloons in flight and I just can’t really emphasize how incredible this experience is. For more photos and information from our tour, you can see my post here.

Valley of the Queens – Nefetari’s tomb

The Valley of the Queen’s is where the wives of pharaohs were buried in ancient times since valley of the kings was a more privileged (and too small) of a valley to bury everyone. The main valley contains at least 91 known tombs dating back to the same dynasties as the valley of the kings. We didn’t have time to visit this valley but the main thing to see there is Queen Nefetari’s tomb.

Queen Nefetari is the same queen honored at Abu Simbel’s smaller temple and was a very revered queen of the time. Her tomb is the most expensive tomb you can visit but for good reason. It is the single best preserved tomb and resembles how it would have looked at the time it was built with white plaster and colors all in original condition. If you want to actually get a clear picture of what the colors on the walls looked like, a trip to this elaborate tomb is worth it.

Cost to visit is 1400 EGP ($90 USD) per person.

If you have more time (2 days to see the west bank)

Mortuary Temple of Ramesses  III

Mortuary temples are temples built to honor a pharaoh instead of a god. This temple was built for Ramesses III (who consequently has a beautiful tomb as well in the valley of the kings). It has impressively large pylons (gates) at the entrance and few adventurous corners to explore. It’s best known for inscribed reliefs depicting the king’s defeat of the sea peoples during his reign.

Valley of the Artisans (Deir El-Medina)

These are the tombs of the highly skilled artisans who worked on the tombs in the Valley of the kings. It is an ancient village which gives insight to the lives of the laborers during their work on the elaborate tombs over in the valley of the kings. The tombs here are less extravagant and much smaller but worth the time if you have 2 days.

Temple of Seti I

This temple was begun by Seti I and was completed again by Ramesses II after Seti I’s death. It is dedicated to Amun-Re. This is another cool spot to check out if you’re visiting during crowded peak season and want to have a temple more to yourself.

Howard Carter House

Howard Carter lived from 1874-1939 and was a famous English archeologist and Egyptologist. He’s best known for his discovery of the intact tombs of King Tut in 1922. His house on the west bank of Luxor has been preserved and turned into a museum so stepping into it feels like stepping back 100 years into the real life of an archaeologist. If you’re a fan of archeology and learning about how these ancient wonders were discovered- this is a great stop.

And there you have it. I wish we had more time to see more of the West Bank but our already lengthy tour did not plan for it. I definitely think there are some must do’s on this list as with all things in Egypt, you kind of have to be there to really experience the wonder and history. Which places on the west bank are on your list?

Camel Ride at the Giza Pyramids

Is a camel ride worth it?

This is a pretty controversial question and since everyone has different experiences, you may not always get the same answer. Based on our experience, I would say YES (read more below), but know what to expect. Here are the pros and cons based on our experience:

Pros:

  • Some trails and vantage points are just not doable by foot but taking a long camel ride will give you more perspectives of the pyramids
  • Amazing photos in general with the camels
  • A memorable experience

Cons:

  • Like all of Egypt- this experience is prone to scammers and overly zealous tip collectors .
  • Not all camels were in the best of shape.
  • Riding down hill is challenging and camels might not be the most comfortable experience.

Tips for Camel Riding

If you are there with a guide, have them make the arrangements and agreements for you- especially the price and terms of the ride. Even if not with a guide, make sure it is clear how much you will pay AND where you will go before you get on the camel. DO NOT get on a camel thinking it is free or cheap before working out how much to pay.

About our camel ride

After we visited the Great pyramid, we visited panorama point with our guide and got some great photos there. Our guide offered the experience to us and worked out the cost with the local guys so we agreed we wanted to go. We started our camel ride from panorama point and rode all the way down to the Sphinx. It was about 40 minutes with a stop halfway to get a better perspective of the pyramids and more photos.

Cost: 400 EGP each (about $25 USD)

It was just the 2 of us on this ride and we started off with an older guy who lead us a couple hundred yards until a teenage kid took over leading our camels on the one way journey. About half way we stopped to get some photos (the kid did an awesome job of that I will say) and change camels with some that had been making the journey in the opposite direction. It wasn’t really explained to us why we changed camels and unfortunately my second camel’s saddle and gait were less comfortable than the first.

The second part of the ride went downhill – literally

At the halfway stop we also had a random hawker walk up to us popping the tops off soda bottles before he even got to us which was a little uncomfortable since we hadn’t agreed to buy the drinks or even noticed him selling them until he was right in front of us. We insisted to them we didn’t have any money on us to buy the drinks and that our guide had our money at the bottom where he was waiting for us.

This may have resulted in a different kind of fallout where the kid who was walking with us figured he might not get a tip so he actually hopped up on Braden’s camel with him, making Braden ride on the back for almost the entirety of the 2nd part of the ride. (I’m pretty sure they aren’t supposed to do that as he hopped back down just before we rounded the corner to the Sphinx area)

He spent the rest of the ride turning around every 5 seconds asking if “we were happy” and then saying something about a tip or asking where we were from (over and over and over again). He also supposedly was making some jokes to Braden about how many camels I was worth? (I didn’t hear that part) and Braden said the kid’s breath was horrible so needless to say, Braden didn’t have the best camel ride experience.

My experience – it was uncomfortable

For the most part I had a nice experience in contrast since I didn’t have to share my camel. However I struggled more to just stay on and found the downhill walk pretty uncomfortable. If I were to do it again I’d probably ask if there’s a reverse way to ride from the Sphinx back up to Panorama Point or maybe even go on a shorter ride just to that first viewpoint and then ride back up to panorama point.

The Positives (of our experience)

I know that sounds like a whole lot of negatives, but I do want to be real by presenting what actually is a decent experience compared to other people who get scammed out of the same amount of money to just sit on a camel for a quick photo or 2 minute ride.

The views of the pyramids from the back of a camel are just something you have to experience for yourself; I don’t think there’s a substitute. I loved the views we got from the path we took and it was SO cool looking out across the sands, seeing other people on camels or horses look absolutely tiny in front of the massive pyramids. It was really just unreal and crossed one of my last major Egypt bucket-list activities off my list.

If you’re considering going on a camel ride during your visit, I hope this experience sheds some light on what it is like so you can deem whether it is worth it to you or not. We would absolutely make the same choice again and deem this experience worth it. (we just might not want to hop on camels for another ride again for a while)

Guide to Queen Hatshepsut’s Temple

This temple is unlike any of the others you will see on your visit and is widely considered a great architectural wonder of the world. It is cut into the cliffs of Deir el-Bahari (another name used for it) and involves many floors and terraces.

About Queen Hatshepsut

Queen Hatshepsut is somewhat a controversial character with some legends depicting her as good, and others… power hungry. She came to power through somewhat dubious, albeit justified means. She had perfect blood lines, being both a daughter, sister, and wife of a king and a great knowledge of religion to establish herself as wife of the god Amun. She was the chief wife of Thutmose II and when he died- became a joint ruler with her step son Thutmose III (who was only 2 at the time). This is where the controversy begins.

She assumed the position of pharaoh and sent her step son away from the capital to be raised. Some reports claim she sent Thutmose III away for safety until he was old enough to assume the throne himself. Others claim that even once he was old enough, instead of being allowed back to the capital he was sent on military campaigns while Queen Hatshepsut maintained the exalted position of Pharaoh.

This second option seems the most likely to be true as there are records of Thutmose III’s military campaigns and evidence of Thutmose III’s great displeasure with his step mom. Once she died, her step son either destroyed or replaced many of her religious depictions with himself both at this temple and others she had contributed to.

Regardless of her motivations, her reign was largely successful and she is regarded as one of the first major female players in history. She established new trade routes and became one of the most prolific builders in ancient Egypt. Her reign is not known in total length but is estimated to be around 20 years. (a very successful reign for the time)

About the mortuary temple

The temple is primarily dedicated to the god Amun (whom Hatshepsut used to legitimize her reign) although it includes shrines to 2 other gods.

The shrine to Hathor

Hathor is venerated on the left side of the temple with a small portico containing scenes of Hathor being fed by Hathsepsut and 4 columns with Hathor capitals. This then leads into 2 hypostyle halls- one contains 12 columns and the second contains 16 columns. Beyond these is a vestibule containing a sanctuary depicting Hathor with Hatshepsut – who represented herself as a reincarnation of the goddess.

The shrine to Anubis

One the right side is a smaller shrine to the god Anubis. It contains a hypostyle hall with 12 columns and 2 small rooms that end in a small niche. The images throughout the hypostyle are very interesting depicting multiple offerings to the god Anubis and a large relief showing Anubis escorting Hathshepsut to the shrine. The depictions on this side still have a lot of the original color.

The final shrine at the top level is of course to the chief god Amun. We didn’t spend as much time up there as the top level is crawling with people wanting to show you something or be in your photo (for “tips”) but it is quite the experience just walking the ramp up to that top level of the temple and looking out.

Time needed to visit Hatshepsut’s Temple

It really doesn’t take very long to visit making it a great add on to the Valley of the Kings. To walk around the whole area, it is maybe 30 minutes – 1.5 hours depending on if you go with a guide or not. We spent around 1 hour.

Cost for Hatshepsut’s Temple

The cost was included in our tour but if you are interested in visiting on your own here are the costs:

140 EGP adult/ 70 EGP student

Cameras and phones are free! No flash allowed however.

Our experience

Overall I would definitely consider this temple a must do if you’re in the area since it is an easy place to visit with other West Bank attractions. Would it entice me to travel all the way to Egypt? Probably not but if you’re already there for all the other amazing places, definitely check this one out since it really is UNLIKE the other places we saw.

Guide to Valley of the Kings

Another must see on any trip to Egypt is the valley of the kings, making a journey to Luxor well worth it. The valley of the kings is made up of at least 63 known tombs with 20 or so belonging to known kings. The tombs are not as grand in scale as the temples and are mostly devoid of any antiquity now- however the art work on the walls is really impressive to see.

The colors are all original and almost all the wall space (including the ceilings) is covered. The way the tombs have been preserved against time is really incredible to witness in person, as is walking the steep narrow corridors down into the rock.

*Most of my photos are near the bottom in the section assigned to the tombs we saw. If you’re here for the pics, scroll on down.

Post Index:

About the Valley of the Kings

History

The tombs in the valley of the kings house kings, royals, and other important political figures that reigned during the new kingdom of Egypt. (1570 BC to about 1077 BC) Important key pharaohs you learn about through other sites like Abu Simbel and the Luxor temples were buried here with the most famous including King Ramesses II (most known for building a lot of the great monuments), King Ramesses III (largely known as the last great pharoah), and King Tut (the boy king whose tombs was just discovered in 1922 intact). 

Location

Location of the valley of the kings comes down to 2 very important aspects. The first is that it is on the west bank of Luxor (ancient day Thebes- the capitol for many kings) The Egyptians built their temples and homes on the east bank in order to greet the rising sun as a sign of life. Mostly tombs and mortuary temples were built on the west bank to represent the fading of the sun and the afterlife.

The second thing to note is the valley is located under the mountain peak Al-Qurn which has a pyramid-shaped appearance. This echoes the old kingdom (the actual pyramids) and symbolizes those who are buried there being closer to the gods through the peak of the mountain.

Design

The usual tomb architecture includes a long corridor usually depicting spiritual and religious texts. A lot of the tombs (the newer ones specifically) contain the book of the gates which shows the sun god passing through the 12 gates of night on his journey back to day. This was meant to help the owner of the tomb make their way through the 12 gates of night as well and rise again with the sun god. Some of the older tombs have a 90 degree bend that was on purpose in order to fill the upper corridrs with rubble and conceal the entrance to the tomb. Later tombs have bends in the corridor as well which is more due to unwittingly digging into someone else’s tomb and needing to divert in order to continue finishing the tomb. (King Ramesses III is a good example of this)

The ceilings of the burial chambers were usually decorated with the Book of the Heavens, which also describes the sun’s journey through the 12 hours of night. Major players who are represented in this artwork of the tombs are scarabs who were instrumental in protecting and helping the sun disk, Anubis, the god who presides over the embalming process and accompanies dead kings to the afterlife, and Nut the goddess of the sky and stars who frequents the ceilings in many tombs and temples. 

Information for visiting the valley of the kings

Tickets:

With the standard entrance ticket, you are permitted to enter 3 tombs (out of many) however there are some tombs that cost more and require an extra ticket. If you go with a guide, they will likely tell you which tombs are the most impressive to see on your trip. I’ll review the 4 tombs we went visited in more detail below but here is an overview of the tombs worth visiting.

The standard entrance ticket cost is:

240 EGP ($15 USD) per person

Discounts are available for children or students for 120 EGP.

*It is important to note the tombs are on a rotation schedule and some of these may be closed to visitors during your visit. This is to protect the delicate reliefs and paintings from the carbon dioxide, friction, and humidity from hot sweaty tourists.

Best tombs to visit included on the standard ticket:

Tomb of Ramesses I (KV16)

Tomb of Ramesses III (KV11)

Tomb of Ramesses IV (KV2)

Tomb of Ramesses IX (KV6)

*Again it is likely these won’t all be open on your visit. Only the first 2 were open when we visited.

Tombs you can pay extra to visit:

Tomb of Ramesses V and VI (KV9) – Requires an extra 100 EGP ($6 USD) per person. Absolutely worth it. This was our favorite tomb

Tomb of Seti I – Extra ticket costs a whopping 1000 EGP ($64 USD) per person. Photos and everything I’ve seen of this tomb don’t really seem worth the high price to me but if you’re looking for a tomb with multiple rooms, this one has a more adventurous feeling to it.

Tomb of Tutankhamun (famous King Tut) (KV62) – Extra ticket costs 300 EGP ($18 USD) per person. Not the fanciest of tombs but you can see his mummy still in his tomb. If you visit the Egyptian museum, you’ll see better preserved mummies and most of King Tut’s tomb collection. So may or may not be worth it.

Photography:

When we went, taking pictures and videos with your phone is free. Taking pictures or videos with anything other than a phone requires a photography ticket. This includes DSLRs, small handheld point and shoot cameras, and even gopros. (we saw someone get caught with a gopro and seemed like they were in for it) It’s most important to note that the photography ticket ONLY COVERS 3 TOMBS. So if like us you bought a ticket for an extra tombs, bring a bag to put your camera in for one of them. They punch a hole in your ticket to keep track.

The photography ticket is pricey and cost 300 EGP (about $19 USD) per camera. Luckily Braden doesn’t really care so we just bought one ticket to cover my camera.

The facilities

There is an electric train that will take you from the visitor center to the beginning of the tombs avoiding a very hot uphill walk. The cost of this train was included in our tour but if you are visiting on your own, it was only 4 EGP. ($0.25)

There’s also an airconditioned visitor center with a cool 3D model of the valley of the kings and bathrooms at the beginning but if you need facilities once you’ve already reached the tombs, there are also decent bathrooms up there. (Both require a tip so make sure you have small change on you)

If you get hungry or thirsty when exploring the tombs, there is a café centrally located to them all but I recommend bringing at least one bottle of water with you.

How long to plan for your visit:

Between the 6 minute round trip train ride and learning about each tomb from our guide before going in, we probably spent about 45 minutes. Then another 10 or so minutes in each tomb. I’d expect a tour including 4 tombs to take somewhere from 1.5 hours – 2 hours. 

The tombs we visited:

Tomb of Merenptah (KV8) –

This was the first tomb we visited and while it wasn’t the most spectacular, it was somewhat unique. It was in the highest state of disrepair with much of the decorated plaster missing. Where the plaster remained however there were brilliantly colored drawings and the final burial chamber is an impressive size (maybe second to only Ramesses VI that we visited) It’s all a downhill walk and was the deepest tomb we visited.

Tomb of Ramesses I (KV16)

This was the 2nd tomb we visited and was a nice lead up to Ramesses III. It’s a short and sweet tomb that drops quickly with a smaller burial chamber that was likely meant more to be part of the corridor but had to be finished quickly due to the early death of the king. The depictions in this tomb are very vibrant and if you’re a fan of the god Anubis, this tomb features a lot of him well.

Tomb of Ramesses III (KV11)

This tomb was our favorite of the “included” tombs we saw. The colors and depictions were the most vibrant and it was one of the larger tombs we visited taking the most time to take it all in. Ramesses III is also one of the more interesting kings to learn about as he had a long reign that ended with a murderous plot and likely his murder (though that is still being proven). This tomb is actually unfinished as well because at the time of his demise, the workers who were building his tomb went on strike for missing wages.  If this tomb is open on your visit I definitely recommend it over the other 2 we saw.

Tomb of Ramesses V and VI (KV9)

This was definitely our favorite of all the tombs. It features a very long hallway, series of staircases, and massive burial chamber featuring the sarcophagus in an interesting position that appears as if it was just discovered. The depictions in this tomb are also pretty clear in containing the book of the Heavens (the regeneration of the sun god with each new day) and the book of the dead. The ceiling in the burial chamber has a beautiful depiction of the sky and stars goddess Nut wrapping around the beautiful night sky.

Our overall experience:

Visiting the valley of the kings took much less time that I expected as most of the tombs are straightforward and quick to visit. We took the train which avoided most of the very hot uphill walking and enjoyed most of the tombs completely to ourselves. While I may enjoy the soaring temples in memory the most, the original colors in these tombs are not to be missed. We also largely had the tombs to ourselves thanks to visiting during the heat of the summer and Covid putting a damper on travel.

As a final note, beware the locals in the tombs acting as “tour guides.” This includes even the ticket guy. Since your guide won’t be allowed in the tombs with you, there’s a strong likelihood you’ll be approached by these guys. If anyone starts to point things out and follow you, say you don’t need a guide and avoid encouraging them unless of course, you find them interesting and want to tip them on your way out.