Visiting Egypt nowadays is can be both incredibly rewarding and giant pain in the ass, usually a combination of the two. Trying to pick out the ancient sights to visit on famous Luxor’s West Bank? Even trickier!
When I finally plucked up the courage to tell my mother that I was going to Egypt in April, she yelled at me for a good 15 minutes. “Was I crazy? Did I have a death wish, was I asking to be kidnapped and why would I want to punish her” were among some of the more colorful chastisements I received. Although Egypt has it’s problems (among them filth, abject poverty, and constant hustling and hassling), I never actually felt scared in the 2 weeks I was there. Unless you count fear of dying from the ever-present 3rd world stomach virus or from heatstroke.
Even before the revolution in Egypt, most people stuck to traveling to sites with tour groups or on cruises. Rarely would someone dare to step off the beaten tourist track in this “dangerous Arab country” (quote from you know who).
However, I’m not like most people and if I’ve learned anything while traveling, if you dare to look beyond guidebooks, beyond what’s “safe,” and beyond the typical image of a country, what you will find might surprise you.
This was definitely the case in Egypt. I found that my favorite parts of the trip were the ones that weren’t planned or expected, and my favorite places I visited were not the crowded pyramids or the Valley of the Kings, but the small unknown tombs, empty of touts and tourists alike.
As soon as we left the crowds at the Valley of the Kings, we realized just how much more Egypt had to offer. The hieroglyphics and colors in the tombs in the Valley of the Queens are much brighter than any we had seen before, and the carvings on the walls of the other temples on the West Bank were much more detailed and much better preserved than those at Karnak and Luxor.
And one of the best parts? As soon as we left the Valley of the Kings, we hardly saw another tourist. We were almost completely alone apart from our hired driver and guide and security at the tombs and temples. This of course meant that we spent our days pretending we were mummies, pharaohs and great adventurers, like Indiana Jones, sliding down claustrophobic tunnels to the tombs below with borrowed flashlights.
Here are my 6 favorite ancient sights on Luxor’s West Bank. Have you ever dared to step off the traditional tourist trails in a country like Egypt? Have you ever been to one of these temples? Are you an Egyptology nut like me?
1. Hatshepsut Temple
This was the morturary temple of the famous Pharaoh, queen Hatshepsut. Few images survive of her today since her son erased her from everywhere he could. Few can also pronounce her name; our guide nicknamed her “hot chicken soup”, sounds about right, no? Supposedly designed by one of her lovers, Hatshepsut was only used for the weeks it took to embalm and mummify her, creepy. This temple is one of the hottest places on the planet, so don’t be an idiot like me and go at high noon.
Tip: Put on lots of sunscreen, even on your scalp, or better yet, buy a hat. An Indiana Jones style hat, of course.
2. Medinet Habu Temple
Tip: Be prepared to fall in love with this place. It is really impressive, but bring lots of water. I thought I was going to faint right under that giant pile of carved penises.
3. Valley of the Queens
The Valley of the Queens was by far more interesting to me than the Kings. There was no one here to elbow with down the tombs for a look, and they were in much better condition. And since there was no one else around, I couldn’t try to sneak my big camera inside with me. The guards wouldn’t even accept a bribe from me. So unfair. They also wouldn’t listen to my please to go inside the closed tomb of Nefertari, which is supposedly the most beautiful tomb in all of Egypt. She was Ramses II’s wife, and nowadays you can only get in her tomb if you make a $5000 donation. Next time Egypt, next time.
Tip: bring a flashlight and backsheesh (tips) for the guards. Check out the tomb of Amunherkhepshef (NO 55), he was the son of Ramses III who died young, the colors are incredible here. There is also a mummy of a fetus. Random but kinda cool.
4. Tombs of the Workers
Deir al-Medina or the workmen’s village. The houses and tombs of the workmen who made the royal tombs have been excavated and uncovered. It’s really cool to see the flip side of ancient life, and some of these little tombs have more splendid and better preserved wall art than those of their bosses. If you are naughty like me you can bribe the guards to let you take photos.
Tip: Check out the ancient greek graffiti on the walls and bring a camera. You can take pics around here. Don’t forget to see the tomb of Sennedjem (No 1), the walls are completely covered with paintings and colors. Really impressive.
5. Tombs of the Nobles
Hardly anyone goes to visit the Tombs of the Nobles on Luxor’s West Bank. The tombs are divided into groups each with a separate ticket, so pick one or two groups to see. It is really worth visiting these tombs, there is so much more to see than in the picked over and empty tombs in the Valley of the Kings.
Tip: Check out the tombs of Ramose, Userhet and Khaemhet, all close together. Pair visiting the tombs of the nobles with the tombs of the workers. And even finish at the Ramesseum. Makes for a perfect half day trip. Go in the morning unless you want to die of heatstroke.
6. The Ramesseum
This is Medinat Habu or Ramses II’s enormous memorial temple on the West Bank. If you haven’t gotten it by now, Ramses II was one of the most famous and important pharaoh. Now his temple is mostly in ruins, unlike those at Karnak and Abu Simbel. There are huge statues scattered on the ground and there is classical and 19th century graffiti carved around the place. This place inspired Shelley’s famous poem ‘Ozymandias’ the classical name for Ramses: