Planning a Trip
By Plane -- With a dozen flights a day out of Cairo, flying is the best way to get to Luxor. At time of writing, fares were less than LE1,100 ($200/#102) for the 1-hour flight, so though more expensive than the train, they're still fairly reasonable. The airport is a 15- to 20-minute ride from town, but taxis are available there. The easiest solution is to book a transfer through your hotel or travel company, but check on the price. Even if you pay the frankly extortionate LE100 ($18/#9.25) that airport drivers have been known to demand, this can be cheaper than the transfer.
The EgyptAir office, Corniche el Nil (tel. 095/23805803; www.egyptair.com), is in front of the Old Winter Palace and is open Sunday to Thursday 8am to 8pm. Service is ostensibly controlled by an automated ticketing system, but the system is frequently down. When it is, don't hesitate to join the group at the counter to press your case. Better yet, book your ticket online.
By Train -- If you have time, or you want to save some cash, the train is a fine way to get to Luxor. The 9- to 10-hour ride from Cairo costs LE78 ($14/#7.20) for first class, LE40 ($7.30/#3.70) for second class in seats, and LE440 to LE660 ($80-$120/#41-#61) for single/double accommodation on a sleeper train. Note: This must be paid in cash with U.S. dollars. With eight "tourist" trains a day (12:30, 1:15, and 7:40am, and 6:45, 7:15, 8:45, 9, and 10pm) and two sleeper trains (8 and 8:30pm), there's usually something to fit your schedule. The sleepers are comfortable (even if the 5am arrival in Luxor isn't), but take your own food -- the stuff that comes on the trays as "dinner" should not be eaten no matter how hungry you are. If you're going to forego the sleeper, the night train is still a good option. Traveling up or down the Nile Valley during the day has some appeal, but even this scenery gets a little old after 5 or 6 hours. If you can stand to sleep in a seat, do so. The train station in Luxor is conveniently located downtown, and taxis are readily available to take you wherever you want to go. Expect to pay LE10 to LE20 ($1.80-$3.65/95p-#1.85).
By Bus -- As part of a downtown renewal plan, the bus station has been moved from its old, and very convenient, location behind the Luxor Temple to a new facility north of town near the airport. Twenty pounds ($3.60/#1.85) should be sufficient for the taxi ride into town, but settle on a price before you get in the car in order to avoid hassles at the other end.
Bus tickets to get back out of town can be purchased at either the Upper Egypt Buslines (tel. 095/2372118) or Super Jet (tel. 095/2367732) offices close to the train station. Of these, Super Jet is definitely preferable. Not only are its buses newer, cleaner, and air-conditioned, but it leaves from next to the train station, saving you the trek out to the bus station. All buses heading for Cairo, as well as Safaga, Quseir, and Marsa Alam on the Red Sea coast, go through Hurghada.
Upper Egypt Buslines buses leave frequently for Hurghada, but only the 7 and 8:30pm buses go straight on to Cairo after Hurghada; others require you to change in Hurghada. The 5pm goes on to Dahab. Fares are Cairo LE90 ($16/#8.30), Dahab LE120 ($22/#11), and Hurghada between LE25 and LE32 ($4.55-$5.80/#2.30-#2.95).
There is only one Super Jet bus each day. It leaves at 7pm from beside the train station and goes straight through to Cairo via Hurghada. Tickets cost LE90 ($16/#8.30).
By Boat -- The river route from Cairo to Luxor and Upper Egypt has been closed for several years and doesn't look set to open any time soon. It's a good idea to factor the cruise boats that shuttle between Luxor and Aswan into your transport plans. Cruises last from 3 days to a week and run frequently between the two cities. The northbound and southbound cruises are mirror images of each other, so take advantage of whichever one suits your priorities; a routing from Cairo to Aswan via Abu Simbel opens up the option of a 3- to 6-day cruise ending in Luxor.
By Car -- The best way to get around Luxor and its environs is to hire a car and a driver for the day through your hotel, a travel agent, or simply by negotiating a day rate with a taxi from the street. A reasonable fare would range from LE250 to LE350 ($45-$64/#23-#32) for the day.
By Taxi -- The blue-and-white cabs of Luxor tend to expect ludicrous fares, at least compared to anywhere else in Egypt. That said, they are also cleaner and newer than anywhere else in Egypt (with the possible exception of Sharm el Sheikh). Negotiate firmly for the fare before getting in. It's going to cost you LE10 to LE20 ($1.80-$3.65/90p-#1.85) for little jaunts up and down the Corniche.
By Bike -- Bicycles are a great way to get around the city if you can keep your nerve in the traffic. They can be hired from the numerous kiosks along the Khalid Ibn el Walid Street (my favorite is just outside the gates to the Luxor Hilton) for around LE10 to LE30 ($1.80-$5.45/90p-#2.80) per day. They are, without exception, clunky, one-speed junkers, but this somehow adds to the pleasure of the outing.
By Motorcycle -- Like the trade in their pedal-powered cousins, motorcycle rentals in Luxor are a slightly fly-by-night operation. Find them along Khalid Ibn el Walid Street (at the time of writing there was a kiosk just across from the Steigenberger), and expect to pay LE40 to LE60 ($7.30-$11/#3.70-#5.55) per hour, or around LE150 to LE200 ($27-$36/#14-#19) per day for a scrappy little 125cc model. Check closely that insurance and licenses are in order -- there are plenty of fly-by-night operators around.
By Foot -- It's possible to walk around Luxor, but it's not very pleasant. Along the Corniche, the tout hassle is some of the worst in Egypt, and as you get away from the river, the view becomes unappealing and the traffic gets worse. The only walkable area is the immediate vicinity of the Luxor Temple and the souk, and between the ferry landing and the hotels on the West Bank.
By Caleche -- I'm no fan of carriages that cruise the streets of Luxor drawn by underfed horses, drivers aggressively touting their services to all and sundry. Prices depend very much on your bargaining skills and the state of the market, but expect to pay LE40 to LE70 ($7.25-$13/#3.70-#6.50) per hour.
The administrative, religious, and living areas of Thebes were all built on the eastern bank of the river, under the rising sun, with its symbolic associations with life and rebirth. The great necropoli of the Valley of the Kings, the Valley of the Nobles, and the Valley of the Queens, along with the associated mortuary temples, are located on the western side, the land of the setting sun, associated with death. Modern Luxor has developed in much the same fashion, with the main hotels, offices, and restaurants all on the east bank. The main street on the east bank is Corniche el Nil, or Khalid Ibn el Walid Street as it is known where it doesn't run directly on the water. This runs the length of the town from the Sheraton Luxor at the southern end to Karnak Temple and beyond at the northern. The most important point of reference is the Old Winter Palace on Corniche el Nil. This classic hotel is close to the souk, downtown (such as it is), and Luxor Temple, and is situated in the middle of a useful cluster of stores and travel agencies.
The West Bank is less commercially developed, a lot quieter, and a little less densely populated by annoying men who will pester you to buy something. You can get there on the ferry that leaves from just below Luxor Temple. It leaves about every 15 or 20 minutes (really, it just leaves when it leaves -- buy your ticket, get on the boat, and enjoy the scenery), and costs LE1 (20?/10p). Alternatively, hire one of the little motorized falucas from any of the docks along the river banks. If you go straight across from near Luxor Temple, the standard fare is LE5 (90?/45p). You will be quoted substantially more at first, but stand your ground. From the ferry dock on the other side, there is one main street that runs directly west for about 5km (3 miles) to the necropoli, temples, and the ticket office. To the left of this street there is a dusty bundle of buildings wrapped in a tangle of narrow roads. This is where the hotels listed below are located.
The tourist information office in Luxor is located on the Corniche below Luxor Temple. There is little point in going, however, as they have almost no useful information and there doesn't seem to be anybody working there who speaks English. For maps, the best place to go is Gaddis & Co., in the mall directly in front of the Winter Palace.
With most hotels now offering in-house Internet, the need for the Internet cafe has dwindled somewhat. If you're looking around, though, you'll have no problem finding one. Expect to pay LE10 ($1.80/95p) or less per hour. My favorite, Friends Internet Cafe, on Salah el Din Street (tel. 095/2367260), is located behind the Old Winter Palace. It has eight reasonably new computers, good bandwidth, and a small coffee bar. Over on the West Bank, try Europa, on the main road near the ferry dock. It only has four PCs, but the service is extremely friendly, the bandwidth is great, and the price is right at LE5 (90?/45p) per hour. It also has Wi-Fi and an extra Ethernet connection for laptops.
There are numerous companies in Luxor that can arrange half-day, full-day, and longer sightseeing itineraries for you. The sheer number, however, means that there are quite a few shady operators on the market and several that will waste your time with tours of retail outlets that are paying them to bring in customers. If you use the right company, though, it can be a hassle-free and even cost-effective way of arranging your stay.
Before venturing out to find a company that can arrange your tours, however, your very first stop should be the lobby of your hotel -- every hotel in Luxor will have a way of arranging for transport, tours, cruises, and balloon rides, and many will do just as good a job as one of the companies listed below. Odds are that you won't need to go any farther than your own front door.
If you do find that you need services that go beyond what's available in your hotel, the companies listed below have a proven track record of reliable, high-quality service. If you'd like to shop around further, there is a row of offices in front of the Old Winter Palace that houses a number of companies that have been there for a long time and may find you cheaper prices. That said, I found the services at the American Express office here and in Aswan to be consistently disappointing -- with inaccurate information and bad service -- and I would avoid both for any kind of local travel arrangements.
- Karnak: You won't be inspired by the demeanor of the staff or the look of the facilities at this little office on the Corniche, but they will get you where you're going, and do it for less than Thomas Cook (below). They have a long list of prepared tours and packages and can book cars and minivans. Corniche el Nil; tel. 095/2372360 or 0106082816 mobile.
- Nobles: Of the bigger local firms, this is also one of the best organized and highest profile. They run trips around Upper Egypt as well as offer day and overnight excursions to the Red Sea and Cairo. Khalid Ibn el Walid Street (Corniche just before first Midan after the Old Winter Palace); tel. 095/2373155; fax 095/2376588; www.noblestour.com.
- Thomas Cook: With a couple of branch offices around town, I recommend going to the main one in front of the Old Winter Palace. They're a little more expensive than other agencies, but a little more efficient as well and generally deal in higher-quality products. Try Thomas Cook first for comfortable, low-hassle arrangements around Upper Egypt. Just don't expect them to answer e-mails. Corniche el Nil; tel. 095/2372402 or 095/2372196; fax: 095/2376808; www.thomascookegypt.com.
- Thomson Tours: This British company does a brisk trade here with British tourists. They can be trusted to use reputable, well-insured local companies to provide tours of the monuments, balloon rides, and day trips to Cairo. They keep a representative in Luxor, who can be found on a rotating basis in the lobbies of the following hotels: the St. Joseph, the Sheraton, the Steigenberger, the Sonesta St. George, the Maritim, Iberotel, Mercur, the Sofitel, and the Old Winter Palace. If you miss them, check the notice posted in the lobby for their schedule. tel. 02/38510102 (this is a Cairo number, which will put you in touch with the local rep).