LAY OF THE LAND
The name "Luxor" derives from the Arabic word for "palace", which is how Egyptian farmers viewed the mysterious ruins in their midst. Straddling the Nile, the modern Egyptian governorate contains the mortuary and temple complex of ancient Thebes. The city proper—and most of its hotels—lie on the east bank, site of Karnak and Luxor Temples, various museums, the international airport, and the main souk. Where the east bank is congested, brash, and cynical, the west bank remains refreshingly relaxed and friendly, and consists of small rural villages separated by acres of lush sugar cane field, interspersed with the mortuary temples of Ramasses II, Queen Hatshepsut and other pharaohs, all overlooked by high cliffs concealing the underground tombs of the royals, their families, and nobles.
WHEN TO GO
October to March is the most popular time to visit Egypt. In January and February, the skies are clear, and temperatures are in the 60s and 70s—perfect for some winter warmth. In the summer, temperatures often top 100° F.
HOW TO GET THERE
Luxor Airport is just over seven miles northeast of the center of town (20-95-237-4655; www.luxor-airport.com). No US-based airlines fly directly to this airport, but Egypt Air flies from New York to Cairo. Connect to Luxor from there or another European gateway city. There are plenty taxis for the 15-minute journey to town.
Crossing the Nile
The Valley of the Kings and many other sights are located on the west bank of the Nile, across from the city of Luxor. Many travelers pre-book private cars and guides, but it's very easy to sightsee on your own. From the east bank you can take a taxi over the bridge about four miles upriver from the center of town, and then proceed to the west bank's sites. However, it's much faster, not to mention economical, to cross by boat and hire a west bank taxi, whose drivers seem more relaxed and less desperate than their east bank counterparts. To cross the river, catch a public ferry (about 20 cents) or come to an arrangement with one of the many private motorboat operators along the shores (about $1). The east bank boat station is across the street from Luxor Temple; the west bank station is at the end of the road that leads from the river bank up to the Colossi of Memnon.
Exploring the West Bank
On the west side of the Nile, you can hire a taxi to take you around the sites for the day for about $10 to $20 (depending on the season and your bargaining skills). However, if you're game, the best way to get from one west bank site to another is to bicycle or walk. One-speed bikes with baskets can be hired from several shops near the ferry for about $1.75 per day; the road from the ferry leads directly west past the Colossi of Memnon to the central Antiquities Ticket Office. The Valleys of the Kings and Queens and Hatshepsut's Temple have on-site ticket booths; tickets for every other west bank monument must be purchased before visiting from the central office.
Though the government is in the process of closing down the route, it's still possible to trek or hire a donkey and guide for a hike from the Valley of the Kings to the Valley of the Queens. It is a reasonably arduous climb and will take about an hour, but it's well worth it. The path runs along the top of the huge sandstone escarpment and offers a fantastic view down onto the Temple of Hatshepsut below. The only drawback is that you'll be tackled by souvenir vendors every few hundred yards.
The Egyptian Tourist Authority is located at the Tourist Bazaar on Corniche el Nile, next to the Winter Palace Hotel (20-95-2380-422). There are also offices at the airport and in the train station. Egypt's official tourism Web site is www.egypttourism.org; the private site www.touregypt.net tends to be more useful.View Egypt Factsheet