Luxor & Egypt: Now is a great time to visit

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.

A View of the Nile at Luxor. The Nile never fails to impress visitors. Own photo
A View of the Nile at Luxor. The Nile never fails to impress visitors. Own photo

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.

The pool at the Winter Palace Hotel, Luxor. Own photo
The pool at the Old Winter Palace Hotel, Luxor. Own photo

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.

Luxor Temple, where you will find fewer tourists than in previous years. Own photo
Luxor Temple, where you will find fewer tourists than in previous years. Own photo

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.

Inspector Aly of the SCA Luxor team - one of the many helpful and friendly people I met on my last trip to Luxor. Own photo
Inspector Ali of SCA Luxor – one of the many helpful and friendly people I met on my last trip to Luxor. Own photo

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.

Interior decoration at the Temple of Deir el-Shelwit, Luxor. Own photo
Interior decoration at the Temple of Deir el-Shelwit, Luxor. Own photo

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.

Sekhmet Statues at the newly opened Mut Temple, Karnak. Photo by Edward Stumm.
Sekhmet Statues at the Mut Temple, Karnak. Photo by Edward Stumm
New and improved signage at Luxor heritage sites - this example from the Mut Temple. Own photo.
New and improved signage at Luxor heritage sites – this example from the Mut Temple. Own photo

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.

Bust of Ramesses II at the Ramesseum, set on its new base, with ongoing restoration behind. Own photo
Bust of Ramesses II at the Ramesseum, set on a new base, with ongoing conservation work in the background. Own photo

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.

Excavations continue behind the Colossi of Memnon. Own photo.
Excavations continue behind the Colossi of Memnon. Photo by Edward Stumm

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.

Sunrise over Luxor Temple. Own photo
Sunrise over Luxor Temple. Own photo

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.

One of the staff at the Sofitel Winter Pavilion Hotel, adjoining the Old Winter Palace. Own photo
One of the staff at the Sofitel Winter Pavilion Hotel, cooking up a feast for hungry tourists after a hard day of sightseeing. Own photo

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:

Supreme Council of Antiquities website

Foreign Office Travel Advice for Egypt

Luxor Travel Tips website

Tour Egypt website

 

 

3 comments

    • Dear Geraldo,

      Yes please do use the photo as you wish! Please just refer to my husband’s copyright. Thank you. If you need a better quality image please email me the image and I will try and find it.

      Kind regards,

      TARA

      • Dear Tara;

        ¡Thank you so much¡ I will send you the final paper (once I finish it). The caption in the text below the photo is going to be like this (sorry is in Spanish):

        —————–
        Figura 10. Esculturas de Sekhmet en el recinto de Mut en el complejo del templo de Karnak. c. 1390-1353 a.C., reinado de Amenhotep III, dinastía XVIII, Reino Nuevo. Granito tallado y pulido. Gobernación de Luxor, Egipto. Fotografía de Edward Stumm en Ancient Egypt Heritage.
        ————

        And the text of the section about our beloved (and some times feared) “The Powerful One” is like this (sorry again, is in Spanish):

        —————–
        De las muchas diosas que se representaron en forma de leona, tal vez la más importante es sḫmt (sekhemet) Sekhmet, cuyo nombre literalmente significa “la poderosa”. Era hija de r´ (ra) Ra, el dios Sol, y también la personificación de su “ojo”, razón por la que usualmente porta sobre su cabeza el disco solar, el cual presenta el uræus -el motivo en forma de cobra egipcia (Naja haje) con su gola henchida-. Se consideró consorte de ptḥ (ptah) Ptah y madre de nfrtm (nefertem) Nefertum, quienes constituían a la triada de la ciudad de Menfis, como puede apreciarse en una de las láminas de el gran papiro Harris que se resguarda en el British Museum (ver figura 9), siendo Sekhmet la segunda figura de izquierda a derecha.

        Esta diosa se caracterizó por dos facetas distintivas que eran opuestas, pero a la vez complementarias; por una parte se consideró como destructiva y peligrosa, y por otro, como protectora y sanadora. En el primer aspecto mencionado, se creía que -actuando como el ojo de Ra en su forma de Hathor-Sekhmet- realizó una brutal matanza que casi aniquiló a la humanidad por ordenes de su padre, quien deseaba castigar a los hombres por sus malas acciones pero que después se arrepintió al observar la destrucción ocasionada por “la poderosa”. Al final, se engañó a Sekhmet ofreciéndole grandes cantidades de cerveza teñida de rojo -para emular la sangre- con la cual se emborrachó y calmó su ira. Este pasaje se narra en el llamado Libro de la Vaca Divina, que complementa a otras fuentes que la presentan como portadora de epidemias, enfermedades y desgracias que enviaba a la tierra por medio de siete flechas que arrojaba contra sus enemigos. Por otra parte, en su aspecto más benigno, como diosa guerrera, se creía que acompañaba al faraón en el campo de batalla y que lo protegía de sus enemigos con su gran poder. Asimismo, podía utilizar su magia para sanar todos los males que hubiese creado, y otros más; por esta razón también fue la patrona de los médicos. En este sentido, durante el reinado del faraón Amenhotep III (c. 1390-1353 a.C.) se crearon y consagraron cientos de estatuas de esta diosa con el fin, al parecer, de curar alguna dolencia que aquejaba al monarca (cfr.: Wilkinson, 2003: 181-182). Muchas de estas esculturas aún se encuentran in situ en el recinto de Mut en el complejo del gran templo de Karnak (ver figura 10).
        —————–

        Again ¡Thank you so much¡ and greetings from México.

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