In ancient Egypt, the temple was much more than a place of worship. Each one could be likened to a multidimensional book with a focus on a particular teaching. This interpretation was developed by French researcher R.A. Schwaller de Lubicz who spent nearly two decades at Luxor Temple, taking measurements and examining the reliefs. From his findings, Schwaller theorized that Luxor Temple is the ‘Temple of Man’ – a place where initiates studied man’s role in the greater universe.
When Schwaller de Lubicz noticed that Luxor Temple’s ground plan corresponded with an anatomically correct male skeleton, he became intrigued.
And so he set out to study the temple’s symbolism in more detail. After all, according to ancient esoteric doctrine, parts of the human anatomy are said to correspond with universal laws.
After years of research, he concluded that everything at Luxor Temple, from its art to its physical dimensions, had a deeper meaning. But even though modern tourists can go and walk through every room and sanctuary at the temple today, the symbolism is far from obvious.
Once you observe the myriad of correspondences, however, you can’t unsee them. A study of Luxor Temple reveals that the ancient Egyptians had much deeper knowledge of human anatomy (and a whole lot else) than Egyptologists give them credit for.
The information presented below, however, is only scratching the surface in regards to the symbolism present at Luxor Temple.
A Brief History of Luxor Temple
While a small Middle Kingdom temple once existed at the spot, the earliest extant construction at Luxor Temple is the shrine built by Thutmosis III (c. 1479-1425 BC).
Several decades later, a majority of the temple, from the covered sanctuaries to the colonnade, was built during the reign of Amenhotep III (c. 1391-1351).
But we should give most of the credit to the king’s architect and head priest, a man known as ‘Amenhotep, son of Hapu.’ Together with his ancient predecessor Imhotep, this New Kingdom architect was so influential that he was worshipped as a healing deity throughout later eras.
While Amenhotep III’s grandson, Tutankhamun, finished part of the colonnade, no major work was carried out until the reign of Ramesses II (c. 1279-1213 BC).
Strangely, the court and pylon he built were on a skewed axis from the rest of the temple. But was this carelessness, or was he actually following a master plan?
A thousand years later, the last Egyptian-born pharaoh, Nectanebo II (381-340 BC) added to the site. And as we’ll cover below, later constructions and remodeling were carried out by Alexander the Great, the Roman Empire, the Coptic Christians and even the local Muslim community.
Who was R.A. Schwaller de Lubicz?
R.A. Schwaller de Lubicz (1887-1961) was a French chemist and esoteric researcher who’s credited with developing the symbolist interpretation of ancient Egypt.
He argues that the ancient Egyptians were not superstitious primitives, but had a very deep understanding of things like metaphysics, astronomy and human anatomy.
But rather than write this knowledge down in texts accessible to the masses, the Egyptians conveyed their teachings through symbols. This wasn’t merely to keep things secret (though it was to some degree). According to Schwaller de Lubicz, symbolism is the most effective way to present abstract ideas related to universal laws.
While Schwaller wrote about a myriad of topics related to ancient Egypt, his main focus was Luxor Temple. In fact, he moved to Egypt and meticulously studied the temple from 1936-1951. He measured every part of the temple, in addition to carefully examining all of the bas-reliefs.
He first presented his findings in a relatively short book called The Temple in Man. The book’s purpose was to present the evidence that Luxor Temple was entirely built with symbolic intentions in mind.
He then followed up with a massive 1,000-page volume called The Temple of Man (available in hardcover form only).
The Outer Pylon
Before entering the temple, take note of the sphinx-lined walkway outside the entrance. The face on the sphinxes is that of Amenhotep III. In contrast to the ram-headed sphinxes outside Karnak, these human-headed sculptures are more fitting for the ‘Temple of Man.’
The avenue, in fact, links directly with Karnak Temple some 2 km away. And in an annual procession, the barque of Amun would be brought from the sanctuary of Karnak to Luxor Temple. At the time of writing, the Tourism Ministry is preparing to open up this avenue to visitors for the first time ever.
Karnak represents the physical manifestation of the universe, or the macrocosm (learn more here). According to Schwaller, Luxor Temple focuses on the microcosm. Or in other words, how each fundamental principle of the cosmos is present somewhere within us.
The pylon gate at the temple entrance was built by Ramesses II. Pylons are a typical feature at most Egyptian temples, and they represent the division of unity into duality (i.e., creation). Depending on their placement, they may also symbolize the sunrise, and therefore resurrection.
Outside are four huge colossi representing Ramesses II, though the one to the far right was originally carved for Amenhotep III.
The carvings on the pylon depict the Battle of Kadesh. According to popular legend, Ramesses traveled north to confront the Anatolia-based Hittites. He’d been told that the enemy was at Aleppo, but that was bad info.
Cutoff from his troops, he was ambushed by the enemy at Kadesh. Ramesses then prayed to Amun, who descended to earth and inhabited the king’s body.
The pharaoh then massacred scores of enemy troops – or so the story goes. The actual war lasted another fifteen years, culminating in the world’s first recorded peace treaty.
Also outside the pylon is a well-preserved obelisk. It’s one of two originals, while the other is now in Paris.
Obelisk pairs were always built at different heights – something that surely had a deliberate purpose. Sadly, though, there’s not a single original pair of obelisks remaining in Egypt, preventing us from further study.
Over to the right are the ruins of a small Roman temple – one of many structures that the Romans left behind around Luxor Temple. But for now, let’s head inside to the mysterious Court of Ramesses II.
The Court of Ramesses II
Examining the plan of Luxor Temple, something immediately looks off. The Court of Ramesses II was constructed on a skewed axis that gives the temple plan an uneven shape. Egyptologists claim that this was done simply to align Luxor Temple with Karnak.
Schwaller de Lubicz, on the other hand, believes that there was an overall symbolic theme to this court: man in motion. And the emphasis of man in motion (i.e., growth) is key to the temple’s overall teachings.
This court correlates with the part of the leg from the knee down. Notice the various statues of Ramesses II in full stride. Notably, with the exception of the outer pylon, this is the only part of the temple with striding statues.
When a side-view image of a striding pharaoh is superimposed over the temple plan (as seen on the cover of The Temple in Man), the layout begins to make sense. The entire temple plan is meant to represent man taking a step, emphasizing movement and growth.
At the right of the court, you’ll notice a shrine built by Thutmosis III, the oldest part of Luxor Temple. It’s dedicated to the Theban triad of Amun-Mut-Khonsu. During processions, the solar barques of the three deities would likely be cleansed here before being taken deeper into the temple.
Interestingly, the center of the shrine lines up precisely with the temple’s central sanctuary. Even some of the reliefs here constitute a mirror image of those in the main sanctuary.
While the theme of this Luxor Temple guide is its symbolism, let’s take a moment to appreciate the incredible engineering of the statues.
Take note of the crowns which once rested atop the striding statues’ heads. Entirely carved from granite, they represent the Hedjet, the cone-shaped crown of Upper Egypt.
Christopher Dunn, engineer and author of Lost Technologies of Ancient Egypt, was blown away when he examined these crowns in detail. He writes:
‘To accomplish such cutting today in one of the hardest natural materials known and with such a high order of precision would require specialized equipment and careful planning. What tools did the ancient Egyptian artists and engineers possess?’
Over to the left is another peculiarity – the Abu el-Haggag Mosque. But what is a mosque doing in the middle of an ancient temple? The space was originally transformed into a church by the Romans, and then later converted by the local Muslim community.
The mosque remains active to this day, and worshippers enter via a separate entrance. Egyptologists have long tried to get the mosque removed in order to fully restore Luxor Temple, but to no avail.
While the sight of a mosque inside an Egyptian temple is quite unusual, its presence means that this site has been in continuous use for well over 3,000 years!
Exiting the court on your way to the Colonnade, take note of the seated pair of Ramesses statues on either side. This spot correlates precisely with the placement of the knees in the temple layout.
Also notice the carvings on the side of the statues. It’s a standard scene depicting a mirror image of the Nile River god Hapi. It represents the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt. But it’s here, of all places, that the gap in the stone runs precisely over Hapi’s knees!
‘It is obvious that the overall plan pre-existed and that it was known to those who executed it.’
– R.A. Schwaller de Lubicz, The Temple in Man
The Colonnade is the final section of Luxor Temple built by Amenhotep III. Over to the right, you can find a statue of him and his wife Queen Tiy. The pair is considered one of ancient Egypt’s most influential power couples.
The colonnade features a double row of seven papyrus columns. According to Schwaller de Lubicz, seven is the number which the Egyptians associated with process, growth and the cyclical aspect of nature.
Anatomically, this section of the temple corresponds to the femur, the largest bone in the body. Visually, this long, narrow colonnade does indeed resemble the shaft of a femur.
As the only bone in the thigh, the entire body relies on the support of the femur for movement.
Appropriately, the reliefs on either side of the columns depict a procession. Namely, the Apet festival, which was a celebration of the annual Nile flood and thus cyclical renewal. The procession dramatized the mysteries of Amun, the spirit which animates nature’s neverending cycles.
It was during this festival that, as mentioned above, the sacred statues from Karnak were brought over to Luxor Temple for a special visit.
The scene begins on the western wall, which depicts the festival preparations taking place at Karnak. The procession then begins, with offerings being made and musicians performing. Later on the eastern wall, the procession returns to Karnak, completing the cycle.
Sadly, the reliefs are in poor condition and are hard to make out today.
The Peristyle Court
Walking through the Colonnade, you’ll arrive at the spacious Peristyle Court, the largest single section of the temple. The court corresponds to the human trunk, including the reproductive organs, digestive tract, naval and spine.
When Schwaller de Lubicz began his study of Luxor Temple, he wasn’t yet entirely convinced that the temple perfectly corresponded to the human body.
While in the Peristyle Court, he noticed that there were hieroglyphs carved into the architraves above all of the columns. He then pinpointed the section that should match up with the naval (when the side-view image of a striding pharaoh is superimposed over the temple plan).
If the writing at this particular spot didn’t have a special significance relating to the naval, then his entire hypothesis would fall apart. Schwaller invited his Egyptologist colleague who was well-versed in hieroglyphs and awaited a translation.
Sure enough, it’s at the particular spot – and at no other point – that the hieroglyphs mention the birth of the king. To quote John Anthony West’s guidebook The Traveler’s Key to Ancient Egypt, the sentence reads:
‘It is here, the true site of the birth of the king, where he passed his infancy and from whence he departed, crowned.’
With the naval on the eastern side (or left when coming from the Colonnade), the western wall should correspond to the spinal column. Exiting the court and walking along the outer wall, you’ll spot reliefs depicting thirteen horse-drawn chariots.
Schwaller de Lubicz, in his fifteen years at the temple, took precise measurements of everything. And when comparing the chariot scene’s position with an anatomically correct skeleton, he made an interesting discovery.
The thirteenth horse falls at the precise spot of the first lumbar vertebrae (a series of five vertebrae at the lower part of the spine. The twelve horses preceding it then, represent the middle part of the spinal column. This is known as the thoracic vertebrae, of which there are twelve.
In The Temple in Man, Schwaller writes: ‘Now, the marrow that traverses the twelve dorsal vertebrae also penetrates the first lumbar vertebra and stops at this point. Coincidence?’
Over on the opposite side, but also on the outside wall, is the spot which corresponds to the reproductive organs. Here there’s a large ithyphallic carving of Amun in the form of Min-Amun, or Kamutef (creation manifest as sexual energy).
Sure, there are also plenty of other depictions of Kamutef throughout Luxor Temple (and also at every other Theban temple). But it would be strange if there wasn’t one at this precise spot!
The Hypostyle Hall
The Hypostyle Hall, with its 32 columns, marks the bottom portion of Luxor Temple that was once entirely covered over. The roof over the Hypostyle Hall and various other rooms, however, is now missing.
In regards to the human body, this portion of the temple corresponds to the lungs and also the breasts. And both the breasts and the lungs are commonly associated with the moon.
The breasts represent the nutritive aspect of nature, and such feminine principles have long been symbolized by the moon in various world cultures.
The lungs, meanwhile, are in a constant state of cyclical movement which could be likened to the waxing and waning of the moon. In ancient Chinese medicine, for example, the lung was believed to contain po, or the material body of the moon.
As John Anthony West puts it: ‘The complex of functions and processes symbolized by the moon is made manifest in the lungs.’
In the Hypostyle Hall, notice how the phases of the moon have been carved into the base of the floor around the columns.
The southernmost row represents the new moon and therefore has nothing. But a crescent appears in the second row and then gradually grows fuller. (The last row with the full moon is entirely obscured by paving blocks).
The lunar symbolism here is undeniable. But why go through so much effort to be so subtle? Why not just cover the hall with drawings of lungs?
According to Schwaller de Lubicz, ‘the Egyptians apparently considered the organs of the human body – images of the divine universal organism – too sacred to be used directly as symbols.’
They preferred to use symbols from the natural world and the animal kingdom to represent the organs instead.
Elsewhere in this hall, meanwhile, reliefs depict the foundation and consecration of the temple.
'Man is the individualization of all the functions, affinities, and powers of the Universe.’
The Hall of Eight Columns
Like the Hypostyle Hall, the Hall of Eight Columns was once entirely roofed over. And upon entering, you’ll notice immediately that there are no columns!
The originals have been removed, though there are two Roman-style columns at the entrance to the next room. And the arch behind them was added by the Romans as well.
Over to the left, you can see some Roman-style reliefs painted over the original Egyptian carvings. While once thought to depict Christian saints, it’s now believed that the paintings are of Roman emperors Diocletian and Maximian.
Later on, this chapel was converted to a church. Interestingly, in the original plan, the Hall of Eight Columns corresponds to the heart.
Given the Christian emphasis on loving one’s neighbors, it’s appropriate that they chose this chapel above all the others in which to build a church.
‘Man is the Microcosm, Consciousness is the Temple in Man.’
The Inner Sanctuaries
Much of Luxor Temple’s original section remains roofed over. As is typical at Theban temples, many of the shrines in this area are dedicated to Amun. And according to Luxor Temple’s unique plan, the numerous small chambers here correspond to various parts of the head.
First you’ll walk through a small hall with four columns, entirely covered in intricate reliefs. And before long, you’ll arrive at the central sanctuary, the temple’s Holy of Holies.
The original sanctuary was built by Amenhotep III, but it was replaced by Alexander the Great. He can be seen making offerings to Amun in the relief carvings, though some of Amenhotep’s reliefs were left intact.
At Egyptian temples, the central sanctuaries were typically the first things built, and their proportions and geometry acted as a ‘seed’ upon which the rest of the temple was based. Perhaps it’s fitting then, that the main sanctuary corresponds to the mouth.
Long before the Bible, Egyptian creation myths stated that in the beginning there was the Word. Or to put it another way, creation emerged out of vibration.
When Schwaller was examining the temple, he found lines hammered into the subfloor showing three different axes, off from one another by a few degrees. And after examining the entire temple, he determined that every single structure is aligned to one of the three axes – including those built well after Amenhotep III’s reign!
Even when looking at just the original covered portion of the temple, many of the walls are slightly off and unaligned. Egyptologists attribute this to error. Schwaller de Lubicz’s discovery of the axes, however, confirms that it was all deliberate.
He writes: ‘Each axis is a theme that rules the direction of the constructions related to it.’ The study of the reliefs on a particular wall, then, must take that wall’s axis into consideration. (To learn more about the axes and their significance, be sure to check out The Temple in Man.)
Speaking of the flooring, Schwaller also noted the unusual and uneven nature of the paving stones placed all throughout the temple. He precisely measured every single stone and had them superimposed over the temple plan. Amazingly, they appeared like mosaic art but without the color.
And after adding some contrast, the stones form a typical Egyptian-style face! (See The Temple in Man for the illustration.) The head is facing left (like the side view of the striding pharaoh). And the throat corresponds to a small chapel over to the east.
The Hall of Theogamy
When looking at the temple plan, the room one row down and over to the left from the central sanctuary is what Schwaller calls the ‘Hall of Theogamy’ (marriage of the gods). The reliefs portray the annunciation by the gods of the coming birth of the divine being, or pharaoh.
The reliefs are in bad shape, while the lighting is also dim. But look closely and you can follow an important sequence of events.
At the bottom left, Khnum, the Ram-headed creator god, is seen with Isis. He molds a pair of twins which represent Amenhotep III and his ka, or animating spirit. Then we see Khnum together with Amun, the ‘Invisible Force’ behind all creation.
The next scene is particularly interesting. It shows Amun sitting intertwined with Mutmoia, Amunhotep’s mother. During their ‘divine union,’ they are being held up by the goddesses Selkit and Neith. Mutmoia later appears pregnant, and Isis presents baby Amenhotep to Amun.
As mentioned above, the spot in the Peristyle Court which corresponds to the naval had a sentence announcing the physical birth of the king. But this series of reliefs depicts the spiritual conception of the king in a room which corresponds to the throat (vibration).
Many Egyptologists label the scenes as political propaganda, claiming that Amenhotep had them carved to legitimize his claim to the throne (his mother was a commoner). But the general public would never be allowed in this room to see them!
The idea of the pharaoh as a semi-divine being who acted as a link between earthly and celestial realms dates back to the beginning of Egyptian civilization. And from the symbolist perspective, the pharaoh represents the idealized man.
Perhaps this scene and others, then, served as a reminder to temple initiates to seek out the ‘divine pharaoh’ within themselves.
The Hall of Twelve Columns
Further along, past the central sanctuary, is another multi-columned hall known as The Hall of Twelve Columns. On the human body, it corresponds to the eyes. And symbolically, it corresponds to the Eye of Re, which is itself a symbol of the sun.
As John Anthony West writes: ‘The course of the sun itself symbolizes the trajectory or field of transformations, the discrete steps through which spirit becomes matter, and matter reattains spirit.’
Appropriately, the twelve columns represent the twelve hours of the day and night.
But deeper within the head, this is also the spot where the two hemispheres of the brain unite. And it’s also around here that twelve optical nerves are found!
It’s fitting, then, that in this room, we see symbols related to the sun, the number twelve and the concept of duality. The reliefs on the wall create a mirror effect, with animals on different sides looking in opposite directions.
Unfortunately, the reliefs are incredibly faint and largely damaged. Even after multiple visits in different lighting conditions, I was unable to find many of the subtle details John Anthony West mentions in his guide book.
But supposedly, somewhere above the doors, a vulture on the east was deliberately left unfinished except for its right leg and talon. The western vulture, in contrast, is finished except for its left leg and talon.
One thing you can surely experience for yourself, though, is running your fingers over the columns. The eastern columns have smooth flutings, while the flutings of the western column are ogival – created by two points and therefore sharper.
‘This is a telling example of the extremities Egypt went to in making the temple conform to symbolic principles,’ West writes.
The Triple Sanctuary
The final and ‘top’ part of the temple is the triple sanctuary. The central part comprises of four pillars, while on either side are smaller rooms with two pillars each.
While accessible to visitors, the best views of this part of the temple are from the public road directly across from it. Originally, this area would’ve been covered over, but today the roof is missing.
Numerically, of course, there is an emphasis here on three. Many Egyptian divinities, in fact, were worshipped in triads (such as Amun-Mut-Khonsu).
And like many other cultures, the Egyptians emphasized the ‘three worlds,’ including the heavens and the underworld.
Schwaller de Lubicz also writes that man is comprised of three main beings: the sexual being, the corporeal being, and the spiritual being.
And it’s here, in the triple sanctuary, that this three-in-one principle ‘finds physiological expressions in the endocrine glands of the brain: the anterior and posterior pituitary and the mysterious pineal,’ writes John Anthony West.
But why does the temple end here? If Luxor Temple is supposed to correspond to human anatomy, why is the crown of the skull completely missing? Schwaller de Lubicz devotes an entire section of The Temple in Man to this conundrum.
Schwaller believed that according to Egyptian thought, the crown of the head is where man’s cerebral intelligence lies. In other words, we use this part of the brain to make comparisons and distinctions.
While vital to our physical survival, it’s also due to this part of the head that we’ve become disconnected from higher modes of consciousness.
The ideal person represented by Luxor Temple, according to Schwaller, is the ‘divine man,’ or man before the Fall (acquisition of ego).
So the lack of a crown here symbolizes man in a transcendent state beyond the senses and animalistic instinct.
One may argue that Schwaller de Lubicz simply made this up to justify the lack of the crown in the temple plan. But it’s worth noting that traditional Egyptian art also makes use of a similar design scheme.
In order to get the preferred proportions, the Egyptians used a grid system that was 18 squares high. It ended around the hairline, not at the top of the crown.
The height of the 18 squares was then divided by Phi to locate the naval of the figure, thus keeping everything in harmonic proportion.
Of course, ancient Egyptians were not drawn with the crowns of their heads missing! An additional, 19th square was added for this. But it was only a person’s height up to their forehead, not up to the very top of their heads, that was used to calculate the proportions.
It’s not so usual, then, that the plan of Luxor Temple also ends at this point.
And in pharaonic statues, cobras are always seen emanating from the forehead. Much like the Indians, the Egyptians used serpent imagery to symbolize kundalini energy rising up to the pineal gland.
‘We have too many proofs showing that nothing in their work is the result of negligence, chance, or personal whim, for us not to look for the meaning hidden behind apparent disorder.’
More Around Luxor Temple
The Open-Air Museum
Over on the eastern side of the temple is a large assortment of stones found throughout the temple ruins. It’s much like the open-air museum of Karnak, though considerably smaller.
While nothing here is as remarkable as what’s covered above, you can find remnants of every historical period from the New Kingdom up through the Roman and Coptic times.
The Luxor Temple Cachette
In 1989, over twenty excellently-preserved statues were discovered beneath Luxor Temple’s Peristyle Court. While not on display at the temple itself, they can be seen at the nearby Luxor Museum, easily walkable from the temple.
The statues belonged to pharaohs such as Amenhotep III, Tutankhamun and Horemheb. And deities on display include Hathor, Atum and Horus falcons. Supposedly, they were all buried during the Roman period.
Luxor Temple at Night
One of the best times to visit Luxor Temple is at night. Open daily until 22:00, the entire temple lights up to create a magical atmosphere. But be forewarned – just about everyone else in town has the same idea!
Nighttime is one of the most crowded times to visit Luxor Temple. But even with the crowds, it’s well worth it – especially if you have the Luxor Pass. (See below for more tips on visiting Luxor Temple, along with how to get the Luxor Pass.)
A single entry ticket to Luxor Temple costs 160 EGP and the temple is open from 6:00 – 22:00. I had the Luxor Pass (see below) so I was able to visit the temple multiple times without paying extra.
The first time I visited was in the evening after my day at Karnak. While the lighting was excellent, the temple was quite crowded.
I then returned another day to experience the temple at night. As mentioned above, seeing the temple at night is a great experience, but expect big crowds. Furthermore, you won’t be able to spot all of the symbolic details mentioned in the guide above.
Before leaving Luxor, I made sure to visit again in the early morning. I managed to get there right around 7 am. It was still an hour after opening, but aside from one other visitor, I had the entire place to myself for at least an hour.
The lighting was just as good as in the evening, and it was an amazing experience to explore the temple in total silence.
Therefore, if you don’t have the Luxor Pass and can only visit once, I’d definitely recommend an early morning visit.
Keep in mind that you can get a good view of the temple from the road that encircles it. So you can still see much of it lit up at night even without buying another ticket.
During your visit to Luxor, it’s well worth getting the Luxor Pass if you plan on spending more than a few days there. There are two versions of the pass and both are valid for five consecutive days.
The PREMIUM version costs $200 and allows access to every site in Luxor, including the tombs of Nefertari (1400 EGP) and Seti I (1000 EGP).
The STANDARD pass costs $100 and includes everything in Luxor minus the tombs of Nefertari and Seti I. Together, those tombs cost around $150, so the PREMIUM pass is worth it if you’re interested in seeing them. (Learn more about prices HERE)
Adding up the individual ticket costs of all the attractions I visited in Luxor, I saved a significant amount of money with the pass. The best part, though, was the convenience. The ticket system for sites around the west bank is confusing, with the ticket booths often far apart from the sites themselves.
Without the pass, if you ride past something that looks interesting, you can’t just go in. You’ll have to find the ticket booth and then ride back again. The pass is perfect, then, for those who like to explore.
Furthermore, the pass allows for multiple visits to each attraction. You can visit the expensive tombs multiple times, while photographers can freely return to temples to get optimal lighting conditions.
Note that if you’re coming from Cairo and already have the Cairo Pass ($100 USD), you can get 50% off the Luxor Pass! The deal even works with the PREMIUM Luxor Pass, allowing you to get it for $100!
Considering all that I visited, with both passes I saved over $250 in Cairo and Luxor.
To get the Luxor Pass, you’ll need to bring your original passport, a copy of your passport, a passport photo (exact size isn’t so important) and USD in cash. And be sure to bring your Cairo Pass for the discount.
At the time of writing, the Luxor Pass can only be purchased at Karnak Temple and possibly near the Luxor Museum. (For whatever reason, many locals in the tourism industry don’t seem to know about this pass. Check the Egypt Tripadvisor forums for the most up-to-date information.)
I bought mine at Karnak and annoyingly, the guys at the desk are running a little scam. They claimed that I needed a photocopy of the Cairo Pass even though I had the original. They wanted an extra 200 EGP for them to make a simple photocopy. Just eager to get on with my day, I haggled it down to a 50 EGP ‘fine.’ At least I still got the 50% discount.
I don’t think a photocopy of the Cairo Pass is an actual requirement, and they were probably just making it up. From what I read online, they told other people completely different reasons for why they needed to pay more.
Egypt can be a difficult country for independent travelers. The tourism industry has primarily relied on package group tours for decades. For some reason, it seems as if the government doesn’t really want tourists to take public transport. But it’s thankfully still possible.
The easiest way to get from Cairo (or Aswan) to Luxor is by public train. The train from Cairo to Luxor takes about 9 or 10 hours and there are both day trains and night trains. Strangely, the night train (which the government prefers tourists to take) can cost over $100!
Yet the day train only costs a couple hundred Egyptian pounds, or roughly $13 USD. But if you go to the train station and try to buy a ticket in person, they will NOT sell it to you. They will only offer you the expensive night train tickets.
Luckily, even though they don’t sell tickets to foreigners in person, it’s still perfectly legal for foreigners to ride the day trains. The trick is to just buy them online from the official Egyptian National Railways site and print them out before departure.
It seems like you can’t reserve more than a couple of weeks in advance. Furthermore, you will need to create an account on the web site and agree to the terms before searching. If you’re not signed in, the search will turn up blank.
Here is an excellent resource for all train timetables in Egypt. It’s worth going for the nicest AC1 trains, which are still quite cheap. Snacks and coffee are sold onboard. But expect the entire cabin to reek of smoke, as people constantly use the space in between the train carriages as a smoking lounge.
If you’re not able to book online for some reason, here’s another solution: simply show up at the station, hop on the train and sit down. When the ticket inspector comes by, pay him. Strangely, while you can’t buy tickets from the ticket booth, this method is completely acceptable.
In Luxor, the east and west banks of the Nile River couldn’t be more different. The east is the bustling city center where most of the hotels and restaurants are located. This is where you’ll find the train station and the Luxor Museum. And of course, Karnak and Luxor Temples.
The west bank is much quieter and less developed. But overall, the west bank has more tourist attractions. Not only are all the tombs here, but there are plenty of mortuary temples to visit as well. While you can see everything on the east bank in a single day, you’ll need two or three full days to explore everything on the west bank.
That’s why I recommend staying on the west bank. And as the area gradually develops, there are a lot more hotels to choose from nowadays.
Overall, the west bank is pretty spread out. But if you stay close to the ferry port, you’ll get the best of both worlds. Not only will you get a head start on visiting the west bank attractions each morning, but getting to the east side and back will be easy as well.
To really make the most of your time in Luxor, I recommend staying on the west bank, getting the Luxor Pass (see above) and renting a bicycle. You can rent a bicycle for the day from numerous west bank shops at somewhere between 30 – 50 EGP.
I stayed at a place called Sunflower Guest House which was right by the ferry port. The rooms were spacious and clean and I had no issues with my stay. But after my arrival, I discovered that there are plenty of other accommodation options right nearby.