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.


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.


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.

Guide to the Great Pyramids of Giza

The number one thing to see on any trip to Egypt is of course, the Great Pyramids of Giza. The pyramids are located in Giza, a stone’s throw away from Cairo and are easy to visit (although going with a guide is still recommended.)


About the Great Pyramids of Giza           

The Giza pyramid complex is composed of 9 pyramids in total. The 3 large pyramids were built in order to house the remains of the deceased pharaohs of Egypt and the smaller pyramids in sets of 3 were built to hold queens/ family members. The pyramid structure was a religious symbol in thought that at the highest point, they would touch the sky. The belief was that the king’s spirit would continue on as a god of the sky and would rise and set with the sun- so being close to the sky was of vast importance. Each pyramid would additionally have at least one mortuary temple built for the pharaoh and used only once to celebrate that king’s life and perform the mummy rituals preparing for afterlife.

Things to see at the pyramids:

The Great pyramid (also known as the pyramid of Khufu)

The Great Pyramid is the oldest and largest of the pyramids. It’s also the oldest, most intact building of the Seven Wonders of the Anicent World. It was the first pyramid to be built and is estimated to have taken 27 years and was completed sometime around 26 BC. The dimensions of the pyramid are a base length of 756.4 ft. (230 m) and height of 481.4 ft. (147m).

The structure of the pyramid

There are 3 chambers known inside the pyramid- a base chamber, the queen’s chamber, and the king’s chamber. The royal chambers contained granite sarcophagus and were located fairly high up within the pyramid structure. The pyramid was built with many different types of rock with the most notable including giant granite blocks quarried from Aswan used for the king’s chamber, and white polished limestone for the outside. It’s estimated to be built from 2.3 million blocks of limestone making the pyramid structure almost entirely filled with stone apart from small shafts and the 3 known chambers.  There’s only a small amount of the white polished limestone left visible along the base of the temple so what is visible now on the outside is NOT what the finished pyramid would have looked like when it was built. (It would have been smooth and polished)

Building the great pyramid:

Other things to note about the great pyramid is that it was estimated to have taken an average of 13,200 laborers to complete this pyramid within 27 years with a peak workforce of 40,000 people at a time. Based on findings in excavated laborer camps near the pyramid, it’s believed the pyramid was not actually built from slave labor, but more of a conscript workforce.

The pyramid was built for King Khufu who ruled during the 4th dynasty of the Old Kingdom. (most other archeological sites in Egypt are from the New Kingdom or younger) Not much is known about Khufu’s reign besides the great pyramid and the only preserved portrait of the king is a small 3-in ivory figurine that was in a temple ruin at Abydos.

The 3 subsidiary pyramids known as the Queen’s pyramids that were also built by Khufu and are still in good shape today.

Going inside the pyramid

A visit to the inside of the Great Temple costs about $20 more per person and you only see plain hallways of stone. If we’d had time we would have considered it just for the experience of entering a pyramid. If you are clausterphobic it is not recommend. Unlike the valley of the kings, the walls are unadorned and the hallways tight, dark, and smelly. So, it’s up to you on how worth it you think it is.

This is the highest you can climb up on the outside of the pyramids and it is right to the entrance of the Great Pyramid if you have tickets to go inside. We didn’t go inside, but we still climbed up there to check out the view from the entrance.

The Pyramid of Khafre

This is the second-tallest and largest of the 3 Ancient Pyramids of Giza. It’s notable for the polished limestone cap that shows what all 3 pyramids would have looked like in their entirety back in the day. It appears from some angles as the largest pyramid due to the ground height it is built on. It was frowned on to build a pyramid taller than your predecessor, so Khafre found a way around this by building a smaller pyramid but on bedrock 33 feet (10m) higher than Khufu’s.

The Mortuary and Valley Temples of Khafre

The temples of Khafre’s complex survived much better than Khufu’s. The temple is most notably known for its proximity to the Sphinx although the Spinx itself is not attested to any king. (more on that below) That temple once contained 24 statues of Khafre that are now only represented by depressions in the floor where they used to be. The mortuary temple, although in ruins, has enough remaining to understand the layout. It’s notable for being the first mortuary temple to include all 5 standard elements of later temples: an entrance hall, a columned courtyard, 5 niches for statues, 5 storage chambers, and an inner sanctuary.

The temple is awesome and while we didn’t spend much time exploring there, it’s definitely worth heading in for the best side view of the Sphinx!


The Great Sphinx of Giza is made of limestone facing directly west to east. While there’s no direct documentation linking the Pharoah Khafre with the Sphinx, the plans for his temples surrounding it as well as similarities in the carved face to his statues point to him commissioning the statue. The purpose of the statue is unknown. Our guide told us a theory of there already being a large rock formation there (or even a more ancient statue) that was in the way of Khafre’s temples. Instead of dismantling it, it would be less work to just carve the bedrock stone into a statue itself.

Regardless of the reason, the sphinx is an impressive and legendary site to see in person. It measures 240 feet long (73 m) from paw to tail, and 66 ft. (20 m) high from the base to the top of the head. It’s best seen from the Valley Temple while visiting in there although make sure to capture it head on before entering the temple.

The pyramid of Menkaure

The final pyramid of the 3 main pyramids at Giza is thought to be the tomb of the 4th dynasty pharaoh Menkaure. Like its predecessors, it was constructed of limestone and Aswan granite. However, this pyramid was unfinished and several of the casing blocks are visibly unfinished as well. This pyramid gives great clues at the construction methods used by the old kingdom stone masons.

Panorama Point

The best spot for photos with the pyramids in the background. You’ll want to take your hired car, or if you’re on a tour, wait to be driven out to this spot. It would be an awfully long walk from the main pyramid entrance.

How long do you need for your visit to the pyramids?

To walk around the outside of the pyramids and visit the Sphinx and Mortuary Temple, you only need about 1- 1.5 hours. If you want to take a camel ride, or go inside the pyramid then you will need to add more time. We did a 40 minute camel ride but had less time to visit the temple so we only spent around 2 hours total here.

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:


  • 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


  • 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 on your body

Read my separate post here for more info on our experience and tips to make the best of your camel ride.

Where to stay for a visit to the Pyramids of Giza?

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.


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.


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?

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


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 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.


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


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.


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.

Exploring Philae Temple

One of my favorite archeological sites in Egypt both for its beauty and its relative peace was Philae Temple. It also made for an amazing introductory temple before visiting the others down river as it introduced us to the key gods we’d be coming to know through their worship sites. Before I get into that though let’s go over the basics.

How to visit Philae Temple

This temple is located on an island… That’s right completely surrounded by water and only accessible by boat. (magic right?) Although it’s one of the key sites to see in Aswan, on a hot summer day we shared it with only one other group. Following our tour of the unfinished Obelisk and the Aswan high dam, we hopped in a boat from the visitor center and had magnificent views of the temple on the approach. The boat man waits for you while you visit the temple and you return with the same boat. (Don’t forget to tip your boatman!)

About Philae Temple:

Religious importance

First stop on your tour will be in the forecourt of the temple with 2 sets of columns on either side and the second pylon (or entryway) appearing magnificently in front of you. Here is where we stopped to discuss the story of Isis, to whom this temple was originally built and dedicated too. Isis was considered the “divine mother” of the pharaoh and major player in helping guide souls to the afterlife as she helped guide her husband Osiris. Our guide told a long story of how Osiris (the husband of Isis) was brothers with the evil god, Set, who was jealous and slayed Osiris 2 times. Each time Isis recovered the body of Osiris and resurrected him and the 2 of them eventually begat their son god- Horus (who is one of the more recognizable gods as he is usually represented with a hawk head).

Isis was around for a long time as she transformed just from the wife of Osiris and absorbed traits of other goddesses to become one of the major goddesses worshipped not just by Egyptians but by Nubians and Greeks. Under Greek influence she encompassed all feminine divine powers in the world. In total she was a worshipped goddess from at least 2686 BCE when she is first mentioned in the old kingdom, up until the rise of Christianity in Egypt in the fourth-sixth centuries AD.

Buildings and structures

There’s 2 impressive, main gates or pylons when entering the temple. The second is the more photo-worthy of the 2 as it leads from the main courtyard into the vestibule of the inner temple. On it are depictions of the king presenting garland to the gods Horus and Nephthys on the right and incense to Osiris, Isis, and Horus on the left.

The left side of the pylon. Notice the bodies are all etched out- this damage was done during the Coptic (Christian) ruling of Egypt during the Byzantine Empire.

Once in inside the inner temple, you enter the vestibule which is supported by 8, impressively tall columns. This rooms was actually unfinished in its reliefs but there are still some interesting depictions of the god of the Nile and the soul of Osiris.

Continuing straight into the temple, there’s a number of antechambers flanked by dark side chambers that you pass through before reaching the Holy of Holies: the sanctuary of Isis.

Outside of the inner temple there’s a few structures completed during the Roman timeline of ruling Greece that include a gateway for Hadrian (Emperor Hadrian seemed to enjoy having his own special gateways if you’ve been to other Roman sites), a small temple to the goddess Hathor (or Aphrodite is the Greek goddess equivalent), and another small temple (referred to as Trajan’s kiosk) that would’ve served as the main entrance to the Philae Temple complex when it was an active religious site.

About the location of Philae Temple

One of my absolute favorite things about this temple was that it sits on an island completely surrounded by the beautiful clear water of the Nile river. Interestingly, the entire temple complex used to reside on a different island. The original island was covered and half submerged the temple most of the year once the first low dam of Aswan was built turn of the 1900s. When the high dam was built, the entire structure was threatened to be submerged completely. Since the temple became a UNESCO heritage site, each stone was painstakingly moved block by block and rebuilt as it was on a neighboring island.

About our experience

We were there around 3 PM on a Thursday and enjoyed the site mostly to ourselves and consequently had the most peaceful experience we’d have on our whole trip.

After walking through all of the buildings with our guide, he set us loose for about 30 minutes to wander and take it in ourselves. We loved experiencing the empty dark antechambers around the inner sanctum and wandering amidst the towering columns in the vestibule. Since it was so hot, even the inside of the temple in the shade was toasty. After wandering the temple, it felt amazing sitting in the shade of the palm trees with the cool breeze coming off the Nile while we absorbed the ancient spirit of this place.