The Unique Experience of Visiting the Valley of the Kings in Egypt

Located in Luxor, Egypt is the Valley of the Kings where many of the pharaohs were buried at the base of the mountain. The Valley of the Kings is probably best known for the discovery of King Tutankhamun (King Tut) by Howard Carter in 1922 and you can watch a short documentary at the main entrance showing the removal of the treasures and sarcophagus that were found. You can purchase an extra ticket to go into the tomb of King Tutankhamun, but since he suddenly died at the age of 19, his tomb is small and unimpressive and not really worth the extra entrance fee. Regardless of whether you enter the tomb of Tutankhamun, walking through these tombs is something that you will remember forever.

First View of the Mountain
Colorful Paintings and Reliefs
Sarcophagus inside of Tomb
Walking Through the Tombs
Pyramid Shaped Mountain

After centuries of building the pyramids to house the pharaohs on their journey to the next world, they came to the realization that the pyramids did as much to attract looters as they did to symbolize their wealth and importance. Often the treasures were stolen from the pyramids within a few years, if not months, from the burial of the pharaoh’s mummified corpse. To help conceal their burial locations, the pharaohs started building their tombs in the valley of the mountain Al-Qurn (The Horn) because it was shaped like a pyramid, which symbolizes eternal life. Starting in 2100 BC, this isolated location became the final resting place for at least 63 pharaohs, although new tombs are still being discovered.

Vivid Colors
Boat to Travel to the After Life
Empty Tomb
Entrance to King Tut’s Tomb
Tomb Entrance in the Side of the Mountain

Many of the tombs have been damaged by treasure hunters, floods, and more recently the effects of tourism as people enter these ornately decorated burial sites. In order to reduce the impact of people entering these tombs, the ticket allows entrance into three tombs that are selected on a rotating basis as they restore other tombs. Be sure to bring plenty of water as walking through the Valley of the Kings is hot, dry, and dusty. Fortunately, there is a tram that will take you up the hill to the base of the valley and there are a couple of covered areas to provide some shade from the relentless sun. Also, if you want to take photographs inside of the tombs, you will need to buy a photography ticket, which is 300 Egyptian Pounds (about 18 USD). Through some miscommunication with our guide, we did not have a photography ticket and were stopped by one of the guards, which led to quite an awkward moment. Fortunately we were able to get everything straitened out and our guide returned to the entrance to get us a ticket, but not without some embarrassment on our part.

Market at the Entrance to the Valley of the Kings
Trams to Take You to the Tomb Sites
Ceiling of One of the Tunnels
Painting of the Workers
Hot Day in the Valley

A long tunnel leads to the actual tomb chamber and the longer the life of the pharaoh, the deeper into the side of the mountain is the tomb. On the sides of the tomb are the two antechambers, one that housed food and necessities for the pharaoh in the afterlife and the other that contained the various treasures. The paintings and hieroglyphs are amazingly vivid and tell the story of the greatness of the pharaoh. Regardless of the time of year that you visit, expect there to be large crowds visiting the tombs along side of you. Take advantage of the slower moving lines to fully appreciate the details of the reliefs that adorn the walls as you slowly descend into the heart of the mountain. Unfortunately your guide is not allowed to go inside with you, so they will likely explain what you will see by showing you pictures (which are available for purchase) prior to entering the tombs.

Hieroglyphs and Cartouches
Fascinating Painting
Walking Down to the Tomb Chamber
Scarab Relief
Colorful Details

Touring the Valley of the Kings was an incredible experience and one of the many highlights of our time in Egypt. We recommend getting the photography ticket as it is the only way, other than purchasing post card photos, to truly capture the magnificence of these tombs. Mummification and the building of tombs wasn’t just for pharaohs, there are also the Tombs of the Nobles, those who were rich enough to create a lasting memorial to themselves, as well as the Valley of the Queens. To walk through the tombs with the vivid colors that have survived for three to four thousand years is something that we will certainly never forget.

Beautiful Despite the Damage
Telling a Story
Walking with the Gods
Inside of a Tomb

Tips for Visiting Egypt

Egypt is an amazing country with such a rich history and so many fascinating sights to see, but we did learn that there are a few things that will make your visit even better. We didn’t do a lot of planning in advance of our trip, but Egypt is definitely a location that requires at least some investigation prior to the start of your journey. We wish we didn’t have to say this, but we need to at least first say that visiting Egypt is safe. As we told people that we were planning a trip to Egypt, we heard over and over again that they thought that it was too dangerous to go there since the revolution in 2011. The fact is that we felt completely safe during our trip and the people there wanted very much for us to let others know that tourism is important to the country and they very much want people to start returning to visit once again. With that said, here are some of the things that we feel people should know before going to Egypt.

Pyramid in Dashur in Giza

  1. Hire an Egyptologist for a Guide – To say that there is a lot of information needed to truly understand the meaning behind the temples, hieroglyphs, and pyramids is more than just an understatement. With 122 gods, 26 dynasties, hundreds of pharaohs, wives, and children, the information is truly overwhelming. Having a guide with a thorough knowledge of the history and the stories behind these impressive structures is crucial to having any idea as to why the ancient Egyptians went to the effort to build such massive structures and statues. You can obviously appreciate the grand scale and detail without having a guide, but you will miss out on the true meaning if you don’t have a guide with expert knowledge in the subject. We actually used three different guides during our trip and each provided their own unique insights into different aspects of the sights that we were seeing.

    Standing Outside a Pyramid

    Amazing Statues

    Obelisks in Karnak Temple in Luxor
  2. Dress Appropriately – There are two aspects to dressing appropriately when visiting Egypt. First of all, it is a mainly Muslim country, which means that you don’t want to expose too much of you skin or dress too provocatively if you don’t want to offend the locals. Pants should be below the knees and shirts should cover the shoulders. Some people say that you can wear shorts and tank tops at the tourist locations, but we believe that you should respect the local culture whenever you are out in public, so we don’t think it is appropriate, especially not short-shorts. You can wear shorts and swimming suits back in your hotel or on the cruise ship, but not when out, especially in Cairo. The other aspect of dressing appropriately is taking into account the weather in Egypt. Although Cairo sits in the Nile delta and is more humid, you will spend most of your time in the desert heat with temperatures that can reach well above 100 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius). You will want breathable clothes that are lightweight and you will likely want to wear a hat to protect yourself from the strong rays of the sun. Also, wearing comfortable shoes that aren’t open-toed is a must, especially considering the amount of walking you will do in these large sites and since you will be walking on a lot of  sand.

    Statue in the Egyptian Museum

    Comfortable Shoes

    Valley of the Kings
  3. Visit More than just the Great Pyramids – This might seem obvious, but a lot of people visit Egypt and the only place that they go is to the Grand Pyramids of Giza. With over 100 pyramids, there is a lot more to see in Giza alone, but you should also get out to visit Luxor, Edfu, Aswan, Alexandria and more. Although the pyramids are truly impressive and are one of the seven wonders of the world, we actually were more impressed with Karnak Temple, the Valley of the Kings, and some of the other sights that we saw during our time in Egypt. The more temples and other historical sites that you visit, the more that you begin to not only appreciate the grand scale of what was built thousands of years ago, but also start to appreciate more of the flow of history as different pharaohs updated these sites throughout the history of the country.

    Colorful Hieroglyphs

    Temple in Aswan

    Colossi of Memnon
  4. Have Cash, Especially Small Bills – Although you will find that most places take credit cards, you will also find just as many places that don’t take anything other than cash. You can use Egyptian pounds, Euros, or US dollars, but we recommend using Egyptian pounds so that you don’t have to do the math every time you go to purchase something. Another thing that you will find is that you will need to tip people and having small bills will be important to have because you will likely find that nobody has change to give back to you. One thing to be aware of is that there will be many people trying to get you to give them money for one thing or another. The best thing to do is to try to avoid making eye contact with those people who are trying to hustle you to get a tip. They can include guards in the temples, attendants in bathrooms, children at the historic sites, etc. If you let them show you something or take your picture, you will be obligated to give them some sort of tip. As a country, the desire is to get the population away from hustling people for money, so you should try not to reward them for their bad behavior.

    Giant Statues

    Shopping in a Bazaar

    Statues at Karnak Temple
  5. Take Time to Learn About the Culture, Religion, and Recent History – Obviously in a country with over 5000 years of history, there is a lot to learn and understand. There is also a lot more to Egypt than just ancient history and it is important to understand the current culture and how it came to its current state if you want more than to just visit the country like it is a museum. Going to the churches, mosques, synagogues, markets, and other places that are part of the daily lives of the current residents of Egypt is important to understanding the country as a whole. Egypt was self-ruled into 3rd Century BC and then it has been invaded and ruled by the Greeks, Romans, Babylonians, Ottomans, French, and Germans. It wasn’t until the 1950’s that Egypt was once again self-ruled, which is important to understand how the culture has evolved to the point that it is at today.

    Old Town Cairo

    Inside of a Mosque

    Mosque in the Citadel
  6. Try to Buy Authentic Merchandise – You will find markets and vendors selling trinkets and other items almost everyplace. Unfortunately, most of the time these items have been manufactured in China and are not actually made in Egypt. Although there is nothing wrong with buying those items and they will help the overall economy of the country, but if you really want to bring something authentic from Egypt, you need to be careful with where you purchase it. There are many wonderful places to buy carpets, tapestries, essential oils, spices, alabaster artwork, papyrus paintings, etc., but you find just as many knock-offs of the same items. We recommend working with your guide or concierge of your hotel to find the best places to purchase something truly handmade in Egypt if you want to bring back something special with you.

    Weaving a Rug

    Working with Alabaster

    Cutting Papyrus
  7. Pack a Smile and a Sense of Humor – You will find yourself spending a lot of time learning about the history of Egypt, seeing these amazing pyramids and temples, going to museums, etc., but visiting Egypt doesn’t have to be like a school field trip. The people of Egypt are very friendly and having a smile on your face will make them more likely to interact with you in a positive way.  Not everything that you do has to be educational or historical in nature. Ride a camel, go out on the Nile River in a Faluka, walk through a bazaar, or just generally relax. Lets face it, if you have fun and enjoy yourself, you will have better memories. It is true that there is more to see than you will likely ever be able to get to in a single visit, so don’t stress yourself out.  See what you can and be sure to make the most of the time that you have.

    Pyramid in Giza

    Sailing in a Faluka

    Camel at the Pyramids

Egypt is truly a special place with so much history since it is the cradle of civilization. We knew before we visited that this would become one of our favorite places and it certainly lived up to our expectations. We didn’t get to all of the places that we would like visit, so we will have to plan another trip sometime in the future. Hopefully, if you do plan a trip to Egypt, you will find some of these tips to be useful.

What to See in Luxor, Egypt

Luxor is certainly the highlight of any trip to Egypt and there are many wonderful ancient sites to visit. Luxor takes at least a couple of days to truly see and you should divide your time between the west and east banks of the Nile. It is a short flight from Cairo, although it can certainly be reached by bus or car if you prefer. There are plenty of hotel choices in Luxor, but because we were there to start our Nile River cruise, we stayed on board our ship. Out of our entire time in Egypt, many of our favorite memories came from our time in Luxor.

Entering the Karnak Temple Complex

Karnak Temple – After the Great Pyramids in Cairo, this is probably one of the most visited and photographed places in Egypt. We visited both during the day and then again at night for one of the light and sound shows. Regardless of the time of day, it is an amazing location with so many sights to see. From statues, columns, obelisks, to the hieroglyphs and temple walls, it is a labyrinth of fascinating art and architecture.

Empty Tomb in the Valley of the Kings

The Valley of the Kings – If you have watched any mummy movie or ever imagined yourself as an archeologist discovering an ancient site, walking through one of these ancient tombs is a memory that you will never forget. Even though all of the treasures have been removed and can be found in museums throughout the world, seeing where the pharaohs were buried centuries ago is worth the time.

Both of the Colossi of Memnon Statues

Hatshepsut Temple and the Colossi of Memnon – Although these are two separate sights, they are close enough to each other that we are combining them as one attraction. The sheer size of the Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut is amazing to see and it is definitely different than most of the other temples that we visited in Egypt. As for the Colossi of Memnon, it will only take about a half an hour to visit, but seeing these enormous statues that face the Nile River is quite impressive.

King and Queen Together in the Luxor Temple

Luxor Temple – Although not as large as the Karnak Temple Complex, it should definitely be on your list of places to see while in Luxor. There is a road between the two temple complexes that is being reconstructed that will be absolutely amazing when complete. By the time you have visited a couple of the temple complexes, your head will be spinning with all of the historical, mythological, and cultural information that you will be told if you use an Egyptologist guide as we did.

Valley of the Kings from the River

Nile River Cruise – Taking a cruise from Luxor down to Aswan is an incredible experience that you will treasure forever. As you leave Luxor and start to head south, you will see the mountains that house the Valley of the Kings off of the banks of the Nile. It is also a great way to get out of the heat of the desert and travel in relaxing style.

Chiseling the Soft Stone

Alabaster Factories – Going to one of the many alabaster factories is certainly worthwhile, even if you don’t purchase anything. Just seeing the artisans who create unique works of art from the translucent stone makes it something that you should do while in Luxor.

There are many other sites to visit while in Luxor, such as the Valley of the Queens or the Luxor Museum, if you have the time. If you only have two days as we did, we would certainly recommend that you at least visit these particular places.