Since the revolution of 2011, it is a sad fact that tourists have been shying away from Egypt. The rise of Islamic state and protracted wars in the Middle East have increased anxiety among travellers, and Egypt’s once buoyant tourist industry has suffered as a result.
The devastating crash of a Russian charter jet in Sinai in October 2015, suspected to be the work of Islamic State terrorists, has been something of a deadly blow, keeping Egyptian tourism in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. For the Egyptian people, many of whom rely on tourism for their livelihood, the last few years have brought distress and uncertainty. As fears of terrorism grow in the West, Egyptians must be wondering if tourists will ever return in large numbers.
As a seasoned traveller and regular visitor to Egypt, I believe there has never been a better time to visit Egypt. First and foremost, I do not want to let the vile, demented terrorists win by stopping me from enjoying life, exploring the world or meeting new people. While there is now the worry that terror attacks might happen anywhere, from New York, to Munich and Paris, the most recent advice from the UK’s Foreign Office website is that the main tourist sites in Egypt, from Alexandria in the north to Abu Simbel in the south, including the great archaeological sites of Luxor, are safe to visit.
Fear among tourists and tour operators alike has also made prices relatively cheap. While some airlines have cancelled flights to Luxor, most notably Monarch Airlines and Easyjet, it is still relatively easy and affordable to get to either Cairo or Luxor, with Egypt Air offering a weekly direct flight to Luxor from London Heathrow. Thomson and First Choice continue to offer package holidays in Luxor as well as Nile cruises. Hotels in Luxor are generally less than 30% full at present, so there are amazing deals to be had at the luxury hotels that line the Nile. You can now be treated like a pharaoh and lounge around the pool at the Old Winter Palace Hotel, once the haunt of Agatha Christie, Howard Carter & Lord Carnarvon, for a fraction of the usual price.
There are also many other advantages if you visit Luxor right now. With so few tourists in residence, you can enjoy the temples, monuments and tombs without having noisy tour groups and tour guides pushing past you and ruining your photos. While this may be a tragedy for the local souvenir hawkers and hotel workers, it does allow you time and space to enjoy the ancient monuments in a unique solitude and serenity.
Yes, you will still find people who will hassle you to come to their souvenir shop, but there is distinctly less hassle than in previous years, and you are more likely to get a “thank you” for visiting Egypt than nagging to buy something. Indeed everywhere you go you will find people more than happy to help you while asking nothing in return.
There is also more to see in Luxor than ever before. The Supreme Council of Antiquities, working in collaboration with foreign archaeological missions and heritage charities, have been undertaking repairs and improvements to many of the archaeological sites. New tombs and temples have been opened – most recently the tomb of Horemheb in the Valley of the Kings has re-opened to visitors after restoration work was completed, and there are also additional nobles tombs to visit on the West Bank. The small Greco-Roman temple of Deir el-Shelwit, situated near to the remains of Malqata Palace, has a fine painted interior and is open for tourists.
The Mut temple at Karnak has been opened to the public after many years of excavation and conservation work by Johns Hopkins University, Brooklyn Museum and the SCA – there you can marvel at the hundreds of surviving statues of the goddess Sekhmet, lined up like an army around the courtyards of the temple.
New signage has been added across Luxor’s heritage sites to help visitors understand and enjoy the monuments better, and statues and temples have been conserved, with statues mounted on bases to protect them from rising ground water and salt damage.
The magnificent Colossi of Memnon, always a great draw for tourists, front the extensive site of Amenhotep III’s funerary temple, which continues to be conserved and excavated. Although this site is closed to the public, recently reconstructed statues can be seen from the road-side. The SCA and the Colossi of Memnon and Amenhotep III temple project have added new signage around the edge of the site to allow visitors to learn more about the ongoing conservation work. Eventually the conserved site may be opened to the public as an open-air museum.
So, while Egypt has suffered political and social upheaval, much impressive work has been continuing in Luxor (and across Egypt) to protect, conserve and better understand the amazing cultural heritage and artistic treasures. These magnificent monuments will eventually draw tourists back to Egypt. Until the tide of anxiety changes and large numbers of tourists begin to return, the robust traveller can enjoy bargain travel to Luxor and Egypt in relative peace.
I can understand that many people are fearful of travelling to the Middle East, or anywhere for that matter, while Islamic State are spreading terror, death and chaos. The best thing any single person can do to thwart them is to enjoy life as always. Travel has the added bonus of bringing us all into contact with different people from varied cultures, building new friendships and understanding between people across the world.
So while the Foreign Office say it is safe to travel to Luxor and much of the Nile Valley, I wholeheartedly encourage you to take the opportunity to go. You will see amazing things, meet lovely people, and also enjoy some much-needed sunshine during the wet English winter. The money you spend there will help local people to feed their families and make a better life for themselves.
You can be guaranteed that the Egyptians will be there to welcome you with a smile and the hand of friendship.
by Tara Draper-Stumm, FSA
For further information and travel advice for Egypt click on the links below: