Itinerary: Cairo – Giza – Saqqara – Dashur – Aswan – Abu Simbel – Luxor – Hurghada

Ancient Egypt

When you think of Egypt, you think of the Nile. The longest river on earth (or the second longest, experts disagree) flows from south to north through Egypt and via the Nile Delta north of Cairo it flows into the Mediterranean Sea. The Nile is Egypt’s lifeline. Ninety percent of the population lives in the Nile Valley, the small strip of land along the river. The rest of the country, about 94% of Egypt’s territory, is desert: the Eastern or Arabian Desert on the east side of the Nile, the Western or Libyan Desert on the west side.
The fact that Egypt consists almost entirely of desert has not always been the case. Thousands of years ago, the area in the northeast corner of Africa that is now Egypt was savannah. But the climate changed, there was much less rain and the savannah turned into desert. Depending on the rainfall in eastern Africa, the level of the Nile rises and falls, providing fertile land in the Nile Valley. For the ancient Egyptians, the Nile was a source of myths. The river was worshiped as a god (Hapi), and the water of the river was seen as the tears of goddess Isis.

Those ancient Egyptians are the reason I travel to Egypt. Because besides being the land of the Nile, Egypt is also the land of the pharaohs, ancient temples and of course the iconic pyramids. Between roughly 3100 BCE (the time of the first pharaoh: Narmer) to the first century CE (the time of Cleopatra), the Egyptians built monumental buildings, many of which still are there. Temples have been erected for gods and deceased pharaohs, royal tombs and the enormous pyramids. It was a flourishing culture that lasted for about two to three thousand years and which we also know from its characteristic and unique pictorial writing: the hieroglyphs.


The Egyptair plane leaves Schiphol an hour late (no idea why, no reason is given and no excuses made) and around half past nine in the evening we land at Cairo international airport. The waiting time for passport control is not too bad and thanks to my online e-visa I get through it quickly. In the arrivals hall I am – as expected – ambushed by taxi service providers. My negotiating skills are immediately put to the test, because in Egypt you are expected to haggle. Taxi drivers aim high, but with a little bargaining you can reduce the price by up to half.

Along the way I get acquainted with the traffic in Cairo. I’ve been to many countries so I’m used to chaotic traffic, but the traffic in Cairo is absolutely insane. Traffic rules are non-existent or completely ignored, people drive wherever they want, vans simply drop people off in the middle of the highway if desired. Drivers take every opportunity to overtake they see, overtaking left and right, all the while honking loudly. As a pedestrian you can only cross the road at the risk of your own life, simply between oncoming cars (there is no point in waiting until nothing arrives because that doesn’t happen). Miraculously, things usually go well…

Around half past ten I am dropped off at my hotel and the next morning I am ready to explore Cairo. I only have one day in the Egyptian capital and that’s not enough to see everything. I therefore focus on the oldest part of the city, known as ‘Islamic Cairo’.

Cairo did not yet exist in the time of the pharaohs. Memphis was initially the capital of Egypt and later it became Thebes (now Luxor) and Alexandria. Construction of Cairo only began in the tenth century CE and was given the name al-Madina al-Qahira (meaning the victorious city). Europeans turned that into Cairo. In the nineteenth century, Sultan Ismael took the initiative to build a new downtown Cairo on the Nile, west of the existing Islamic Cairo, following European example. In the twentieth and 21st centuries the city continued to grow and today Cairo has ten million inhabitants, the total urban agglomeration has 22 million inhabitants.

Qalawun Mausoleum cairo
Qalawun Mausoleum, Cairo

I start my exploration on the north side of Islamic Cairo. The city gates of Bab an Nasr and Bab al Futuh and the high defensive wall that connects them have marked the northern boundary of what the Egyptians still call al-Qahira since the year 1087 CE. The impressive city gates with heavy wooden gate doors provide access to the oldest part of the city. Behind the Bab al Futuh is the Al Hakim Mosque, which, however, never fulfilled the function of a mosque. It was used instead as a prison, stables, warehouse and school. Islamic Cairo is dotted with mosques and other monumental Islamic buildings. The streets are narrower than in downtown Cairo and you can get lost in a maze of small back streets.

I walk down Sharia al-Muizz Li Din Allah (al-Muizz Street), the old main street of Islamic Cairo. It’s like going back in time. Sand-colored plastered facades, wooden shutters, minarets and domes everywhere. In side streets you’ll find medieval mansions, such as Beit el Suhaymi and Qasr Beshtak, and seventeenth-century inns for traders traveling along the east-west trade route, such as Wikala al Bazara. One of the most characteristic buildings in Islamic Cairo is the Sabil-Kuttab by Abdel Rahman Katkhuda. The building, built in the eighteenth century, is a combination of a public water source (sabil) and a Koranic school (kuttab) and is typical of the architectural style of that time.

Further on in the Sharia al-Muizz you will find two large complexes that are both madrasse (Koranic school) and mausoleum. The first was founded in 1386 CE by Sultan Barquq. A beautiful hall with black and white marble leads to a pretty courtyard with a water source in the center and an open prayer room with a blue and gold decorated ceiling. In a room next to the courtyard is the mausoleum with the tomb of Barquq’s daughter. Next to the madrasse and mausoleum of Barquq, the madrasse and mausoleum of Sultan Qalawun were built in the twelfth century BCE. The Qalawun Mausoleum is a beautiful space with a high ceiling and carved wood, marble, mosaics and stained glass windows.

Al-Azhar Mosque Cairo
Al-Azhar Mosque, Cairo

In the heart of Islamic Cairo you will find Khan al-Khalili, the medieval souk. It is a maze of small streets full of shops selling all kinds of merchandise, from hookahs to t-shirts and from gold jewelry to the inevitable souvenirs (think miniature pyramids and plush camels). Khan al-Khalili is quite touristy nowadays, you don’t really have the feeling of an old souk anymore, although you can still spot small coffee shops here and there where local Egyptian men are smoking hookah.

Running along the southern side of Khan al-Khalili is the busy Sharia Al Azhar, named after the Al Azhar Mosque, which for Egyptian Muslims is the highest authority in Islam. The mosque, founded in 970 CE, has a large courtyard with a white marble floor that sparkles in the sun. Surrounding the courtyard is a colonnade, above which rise three minarets, dating from the fourteenth, fifteenth and sixteenth centuries respectively. The Al Azhar Mosque also has a madrasse, Al Azhar University, one of the most important educational institutions in Sunni Islam. Inside, young Egyptians are studying and here and there are groups of people being taught by Islamic scholars.

In the afternoon I visit the Egyptian Museum. Since 1902, this has been the most important museum with objects from Egyptian antiquity in the world. A few years ago, the world-famous museum got competition from the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization and the Grand Egyptian Museum will soon open near the pyramids of Giza.

egyptian museum cairo
Egyptian Museum, Cairo

Since its opening in 1902, the Egyptian Museum has been housed in the same pink building in downtown Cairo, and the inside doesn’t seem to have changed much since then. The museum seems a bit messy and outdated, but the collection is still worth seeing. First of all, you can find the treasures from the tomb of Pharaoh Tutankhamun: statues of the pharaoh who died at the age of 19, his impressive sarcophagi, the beautiful golden face mask and numerous other objects found in his tomb. Furthermore, in the museum you will find various sarcophagi from other tombs, mummies, statues of other pharaoh Djoser (found in his pyramid in Saqqara, see below), pharaoh Menkaure (who had the smallest of the three pyramids of Giza built, see below). and a statue of Pharaoh Khafre (who had the second largest pyramid built at Giza, ditto). In the busy museum (there is not only an abundance of treasures, but also an abundance of visitors) you will also find many other treasures from Egyptian antiquity: statues, tombs and panels with hieroglyphs.

Giza, Saqqara and Dashur

A visit to Cairo is not complete without a visit to the pyramids, which – contrary to what you might think – are not located in the middle of a desolate desert, but on the outskirts of Cairo, with the city skyline (and accompanying smog) in the background. The Giza plateau is located nine kilometers west of the Nile, on the edge of the desert and just outside the ever-expanding Egyptian capital.

The pyramids of Giza are almost 4,000 years old and are the only Wonder of the Ancient World still in existence. They are enormous tombs, built by order of the pharaohs of the Fourth Dynasty. Tens of thousands of Egyptian workers helped build it, most of them probably farmers who did this work at a time when their country was flooded by the Nile. The Nile also flooded near the Giza plateau, making it easier to transport the huge blocks to the construction site.

The pyramids of Giza have a perfect geometric shape and are built of large blocks of limestone, which were cut and polished so that they fit perfectly on top of each other. The blocks weigh up to 2.5 tons and the largest of the three pyramids consists of no less than 2.3 million of those blocks. We still don’t know how the Egyptians, without modern tools or technology, could create such enormous blocks, such that they fit together perfectly to form a perfect pyramid.

piramids giza egypt
Piramid of Khufu, Giza

There are three large pyramids on the Giza Plateau. The largest is the pyramid of Pharaoh Khufu (known in the West as Cheops). The pyramid was completed in the year 2570 BCE and was then 146 meters high. As a result of erosion, only 137 meters remain. A narrow corridor, one meter wide and barely one and a half meters high, leads forty meters deep into the pyramid and ultimately ends in the burial chamber. You shouldn’t be claustrophobic if you want to see the inside of a pyramid. The air in the burial chamber is thin. I find it a special – and a bit eerie – experience to realize where I am standing: in the burial chamber of a pharaoh who lived 4,000 years ago, in the middle of an enormous, closed pyramid with an almost unfathomable weight. It’s an incredibly impressive building.

Next to the great pyramid of Khufu are three small pyramids, or what is left of them, the pyramids of the queens. The tombs were built for Khufu’s wife and sisters and were originally only twenty meters high. The second great pyramid is that of Khafre (Chephren), the son of Khufu. This pyramid is 136 meters high, but seems larger because it is slightly higher on the plateau. The top of this pyramid still has the original smooth limestone cover. All pyramids were once completely smooth, but over time the smooth outer stones were removed for use elsewhere. The smallest of the three pyramids of Giza is that of Pharaoh Menkaure (Mycerinus), originally 66 meters high (now 62 meters).

The pyramids now stand alone on the Giza plateau, but 4,000 years ago there were several buildings around them. For example, on the east side of each pyramid there was a funerary temple, where the body of the deceased pharaoh was mummified and placed in a sarcophagus. The body was then taken to its final resting place in the pyramid during the funeral ceremony. There was also a temple at each pyramid in honor of the pharaoh in question. Khafre’s temple has been partly preserved. The temple has a hypostyle hall with six meter high granite columns and a white alabaster floor, thick walls made of enormous granite blocks that are also made to fit perfectly. Of the 23 statues of Khafre that stood in the temple, only one remains intact; the one in the Egyptian Museum.

sphinx giza
Sphinx, Giza

The Temple of Khafre gives access to the iconic sphinx, Abu al-Hol in Arabic, the famous statue with the head of a human and the body of a lion. The sphinx was carved out of the rock on site, probably during the time of Pharaoh Khafre. The sphinx lies like a watchdog on the edge of the Giza plateau.

The Pyramids of Giza are the most famous, but not the only pyramids in Egypt. And not the oldest either: you can find the oldest piramid at Saqqara. Saqqara was the necropolis of the ancient Egyptian capital Memphis, which was located south of modern-day Cairo. Saqqara was used as a cemetery for more than 3,500 years. Here too, deceased pharaohs were buried in pyramids. Not much is left of Memphis, but in Saqqara you can still visit the pyramid of Pharaoh Djoser. Djoser’s pyramid is special for several reasons. It is the world’s oldest stone monument, it’s the oldest surviving pyramid in Egypt and it is the only stepped pyramid in Egypt. With its stepped shape, the pyramid of Djoser anticipated the later shape of the pyramids of Giza.

piramid of djoser saqqara
Piramid of Djoser, Saqqara

Construction of Djoser’s pyramid began in 2650 BCE and when completed it was sixty meters high. The pyramid complex originally had a ten-meter-high limestone wall. You enter the complex through a hypostyle hall with forty large columns, which in turn gives access to a large courtyard on the south side of the pyramid. An anniversary festival was held here when the pharaoh had been on the throne for thirty years. Next to the pyramid are the ruins of shrines intended for the spirits of Egyptian gods. Northeast of Djoser’s pyramid is a small pyramid, the somewhat dilapidated exterior pyramid of Pharaoh Userkaf. Inside this pyramid, which you enter via a narrow corridor, the walls are decorated with hieroglyphs and a starry sky is painted on the ceilings.

After Giza and Saqqara I visit Dashur, ten kilometers south of Saqqara. Today, two of the original eleven pyramids still stand here. The ‘red pyramid’ takes its name from the slightly red color of the limestone used for this pyramid. Here too, the outer smooth layer of the pyramid has been removed. Nearby is the older ‘bent pyramid’. It is so called because the lower part of the pyramid has a slope of 53 degrees and the upper half has a slope of 43 degrees. This makes the sides of the pyramid appear bent. It’s a strange thing…

That concludes my tour to the pyramids of Giza, Saqqara and Dashur. In the afternoon I am taken back to Cairo, where I am dropped off at the airport for my flight to Aswan.


Aswan is located in the south of Egypt, on the Nile (of course). The sights in this part of Egypt date from the last period of the Egyptian classical dynasties, the last century BCE. Aswan was strategically located, to defend Egypt’s southern border but especially as an economic center on the trade routes in the region. The Nile Valley is much narrower than in northern Egypt, wedged between the western and eastern deserts. The Western Desert begins almost immediately on the west bank of the Nile. It’s also noticeably hotter: in Cairo it was a pleasant 20-25 degrees, in Aswan it is well above thirty degrees.

The next morning I visit Philae Island, about five kilometers south of Aswan, where the Temple of Isis is located. The god Isis was worshiped from 700 BCE, but most (remains of) buildings on Philae Island date from the fourth and third centuries BCE. The Temple of Isis was the last temple built in the classical Egyptian style.

temple of isis aswan
Temple of Isis, Aswan

After some haggling I am taken by boat across the Nile to the island. First you come to a large outdoor courtyard with a long row of columns with hieroglyphs. The first entrance gate has eighteen meter high walls with gigantic reliefs of Pharaoh Ptolemy XII. The gate gives access to the central courtyard, where a second entrance gate, again high walls with reliefs, gives access to the actual temple. Inside the temple you first enter a hypostyle hall with large columns with inscriptions. The walls are also decorated meters high with hieroglyphs. It is all very beautiful, impressive and photogenic. At the back of the temple is the sanctuary where a large golden statue of Isis once stood. To the east of the temple is Trajan’s Kiosk, a large pavilion with enormous pillars (and a view over the Nile).

Interesting detail: the island on which the Temple of Isis is located is referred to as Philae Island. But actually this is Agilkia Island. Here’s why: in 1902, the Aswan Dam was built south of Aswan, with the aim of better regulating the flow of the Nile and creating more fertile land in the Nile Valley. In the 1960s, the High Dam was built six kilometers south of the Aswan Dam. This created Lake Nasser, the largest man-made lake in the world. The formation of Lake Nasser threatened to submerge the Temple of Isis on Philae Island. Therefore, under the guidance of world heritage organization UNESCO, the Temple of Isis was moved from Philae Island to Agilkia Island.

I spend the afternoon in Aswan. On the terrace of a restaurant directly on the Nile, with a view over the water, I order a popular dish in Egypt: stuffed pigeon. Today, Aswan is a city of approximately 350,000 inhabitants. Most of them are Nubians, a people living in the region of southern Egypt and northern Sudan. Nubians are recognizable by their much darker skin color than the people of northern Egypt. The south of Egypt is also more traditional than the north. You see relatively many men in djellaba and more women walk the streets completely veiled.

Temple of Isis, Aswan

The Sharia as Souq (Market Street) runs straight through the center of Aswan. A long car-free street that is designed as a souk. Not only tourists, but also locals come to shop here. Herbs, vegetables, grilled chicken, souvenirs, household items, African masks, everything is for sale. Along the water of the Nile runs the Corniche, a promenade with palm trees and a panoramic view of the Nile, where sailing boats (feluccas) sail back and forth, and behind them the sandy hills of the western desert. This all may sound very romantic, but in reality is less so because of the busy street that runs along the Corniche and the Nubian men who endlessly keep offering boat trips and taxi rides (“Hello my friend!”).

Moreover, besides the beautiful sights, not only Aswan, but the whole of Egypt looks old, shabby and messy. Buildings are old, dilapidated, broken, or never finished. Roads and streets are bad and regularly turn into unpaved parts. On the street you will find a lot of litter and many street dogs and cats. Decrepit cars from forty or fifty years ago are still driving around (often with the license plate of the country of origin still on them). With donkey carts, tuktuks, overloaded pickup trucks and old taxis in between.

What also strikes me: the prices are a lot higher than my fairly up-to-date travel guide says. And as a tourist you always pay the top price anyway. Sights such as temples cost around 200-300 Egyptian pounds, a transfer from the airport to your hotel can easily cost 300 (provided you haggle), while a local probably pays a fifth of that. At the train station in Aswan there is a separate counter for foreigners, who I am sure will pay considerably more for the same train ticket than Egyptians. On the contrary, food is quite cheap, although the final bill in a restaurant is often higher than what you expected based on the menu. In short, I cannot escape the impression that as a traveler in Egypt you are constantly being screwed…

Abu Simbel

The next day is a day with a challenging itinerary. 🙂 I am picked up from my hotel in Aswan at seven a.m. I check out, leave my luggage behind and receive a breakfast package for the road. The driver takes me to Aswan airport, where my flight to Abu Simbel departs at just before ten a.m. The Abu Simbel temple complex is located in the extreme south of Egypt, forty kilometers from the border with Sudan. From Abu Simbel airport a bus (with the remarkable name Happy Year Bus) runs to the temple complex in less than ten minutes and if you fly with Egyptair that bus is free. Super handy.

The Abu Simbel temples are located on the shore of Lake Nasser. Like the Temple of Isis at Aswan, the temples of Aby Simbel were moved by UNESCO in the last century (200 meters back to be precise) to prevent them from disappearing beneath the water surface of Lake Nasser. The temples were carved out of the rock in the thirteenth century BCE. The complex consists of two temples: the largest in honor of Pharaoh Ramses II, the smaller in honor of Hathor.

abu simbel
Abu Simbel

Four gigantic statues of Ramses II have been carved into the front of the Great Temple yjat bears his name. They are located to the left and right of the entrance, largely intact, only the head of the second statue from the left has not survived the test of time. The impressive facade with the twenty-meter-high statues is thirty meters high and 35 meters wide. Above the entrance to the temple is an image of the sun god Ra (in the form of a falcon). The entrance gives access to a large hypostyle hall. There are as many statues of Ramses II in front of the eight columns that support the roof. The walls of the hall are decorated with hieroglyphs and images of scenes from the life of Ramses II. It is truly a beautiful and very impressive space. After this hall you enter a second hypostyle hall with eight columns. Here too, everything is decorated with hieroglyphs and images. A small room at the end is the sanctuary, where four statues sit: Ramesses II and the gods Ra, Amun and Ptah.

The smaller temple of Hathor also has an impressive facade, with ten-meter-high statues of Ramses II, his wife Nefertari and their children. The large hypostyle hall has six columns depicting the goddess Hathor. The walls of this hall and the space behind it are also beautifully decorated with images of Ramses II and Nefertari. Not much remains of the statue of goddess Hathor in the sanctuary, but this temple is also very impressive.

abu simbel
Abu Simbel

After exploring the temples for an hour and a half, I take the opposite route back: with the Happy Year Bus to Abu Simbel airport, by plane back to Aswan and there I agree with the same driver as this morning to take me back to my hotel. There I pick up my luggage and walk to Aswan train station. On the way I get Turkish pizza (or would that be called Egyptian pizza here?). The train leaves for Luxor at four p.m. The train follows the east bank of the Nile, a narrow green strip with palm trees and villages, with nothing but desert behind it. After a three-hour drive I arrive in Luxor. Before the station I am ambushed again by men offering taxi rides and carriage rides. Instead, I walk to my hotel in less than ten minutes.


What we today call Luxor was the capital of Thebes in ancient Egypt. Luxor takes its name from the fortifications built in the seventh century CE: these were called al-Uqsur in Arabic, which was corrupted by Westerners to Luxor. Luxor is of course also located on the Nile, with the old temples on the east bank of the river and the necropolis on the west bank. After breakfast I take a taxi to Karnak. It’s still early, eight a.m., so I’m ahead of the tour buses and it’s not that busy yet.

Pharaoh Montuhotep II made Thebes capital of Egypt in the 21st century BCE. It was at this time that the temple of Karnak, in honor of the god Amun, was built. Even after Thebes ceased to be a capital, it remained an important religious center for hundreds of years. Successive pharaohs expanded the temple of Karnak and the Luxor Temple three kilometers further south. The Temple of Karnak was connected to Luxor Temple by what is now called the Avenue of the Sphinxes, a paved road lined with a long line of sphinxes with the head of a human and the body of a century. The sphinxes have only been excavated again in recent years and the road between the two temples is now being restored.

Karnak, Luxor

Karnak is a huge complex, centered on the Temple of Amun-Ra. The local god Amun-Ra was the most important god at the time when Thebes was the capital of Egypt. The Temple of Amun-Ra is one of the largest religious complexes in the world. Before you enter the complex via the western entrance, you walk along a road with ram-headed sphinxes on either side. The outer entrance gate is the last to be built and gives access to the main courtyard, with the sanctuary of Pharaoh Seti II on the left. On the other side of the courtyard is the temple of Ramesses III, with a hypostyle hall with four columns and then a large hypostyle hall with eight columns and three shrines to the gods Amun, Mut and Khonsu.

The second entrance gate, flanked by large statues of Ramesses II, takes you to the most impressive part of the temple complex by far: the Great Hypostyle Hall. This is a spectacular 5,500 square meter space with 134 enormous columns. The columns are all richly decorated and in some places the colors are still clearly visible. The idea for the hall came from Pharaoh Ramses I, his son Seti I and his son Ramses II eventually had the hall built. It is an overwhelming, breathtakingly beautiful place. It’s so grand, and so old. You go so far back in time with what you see. It is without a doubt one of the most impressive monumental buildings I have ever seen.

karnak luxor
Karnak, Luxor

Between the third and fourth gates there is a small courtyard where four obelisks once stood. Now there is only one, 22 meters high. After the fourth gate is the Hall of Tuthmosis III, with a thirty-meter high obelisk that Queen Hatshepsut had made in honor of the god Amun, and the obelisk of Queen Hatshepsut herself. The fifth and sixth gates and the surrounding columns and statues are no longer intact. Behind it is the modestly sized Shrine of Amun. The complex includes even more parts, which, however, have suffered more from the passage of time and have turned into ruins. At the back of the complex you will find the Great Festival Hall of pharaoh Tuthmosis III, extensions to the south with more (but dilapidated) gates, and a large pond, which was used for bathing by the priests of the temple. This part of the complex is somewhat insignificant compared to the first part.

After two hours of looking around the Karnak temple complex, I walk back along the corniche. Along the Nile, with a view over the lifeline of Egypt, on the other side a green strip of palm trees and behind them the hills where the remains of the necropolis can be found that I will visit the next day.

In the afternoon I visit the Luxor Temple. This temple complex was built under the pharaohs Amenhotep III and Ramses II, between 1390 BCE and 1213 BCE. Later pharaohs further expanded the complex. Nowadays it is located in the middle of modern-day Luxor. During the annual Opet festival, in honor of the god Amun-Ra, statues of the gods Amun, Mut and Khonsu were paraded from Karnak via the Avenue of Sphinxes to this temple. The Avenue of Sphinxes ends at the 24 meter high entrance gate. In front of it once stood six enormous statues of Pharaoh Ramses II, two standing and four sitting, but only three remain. There were also two granite obelisks in front of the entrance. One is still there, the other is now on Place de la Concorde in Paris…

Luxor Temple
Luxor Temple

Behind the entrance is the courtyard of Ramses II, surrounded by a double row of decorated columns. Between the columns are large statues of Ramses II. This is followed by the impressive Colonnade of Amenhotep III, with enormous columns on either side. The colonnade opens onto the Sun Court of Amenhotep III, with a double colonnade on both sides. Behind this lies the hypostyle hall, with four rows of eight columns, which provides access to the temple proper: the sanctuary of Amun, the chapels of Mut and Khonsu, and the sanctuary of Amenhotep III. The Luxor temple is also a beautiful complex (although in my opinion it cannot compete with Karnak).

The temple complexes of Karnak and Luxor are both located on the east bank of the Nile. The next day I visit the west bank of the river. After breakfast (on the roof terrace of my hotel, with a view over the Nile; there are worse places to have breakfast), I let one of the many boats take me to the other side of the river. There I rent a mountain bike, which I use to cycle to the Valley of the Kings in half an hour. It is quite early and not yet too hot, and the road is not busy, almost flat, so excellent conditions for cycling.

The west bank of the Nile was used as a necropolis in ancient Egypt. The temples built in honor of deceased pharaohs have all but disappeared, but not their beautiful tombs in the sand-colored hills now known as the Valley of the Kings. Other members of the elite also found their final resting place in (albeit simpler) tombs in the hills.

valley of the kings luxor
Valley of the Kings, Luxor

Only a limited number of the 63 tombs of the pharaohs are open. First I visit the tomb of Ramses V and VI, constructed in the twelfth century BCE and one of the most spectacular tombs in the valley. A long corridor leads gradually down into the tomb. The walls and ceilings all feature beautiful images and hieroglyphs, which have largely been preserved. The burial chamber is also beautifully decorated. Very impressive to stand in a tomb constructed more than 3,000 years ago and so beautifully decorated.

After this I visit the tomb of Ramses IV. This tomb was also constructed in the twelfth century BCE, and had to be completed sooner than expected because the pharaoh died suddenly. Here too, the murals are beautiful and the burial chamber still contains the large granite sarcophagus of Ramses IV.

The third tomb I look at is that of Tawosret and Sethnakht. Tawosret was the wife of Pharaoh Seti II and later Pharaoh herself. She started building the tomb in the twelfth century BCE, and Pharaoh Sethnakht finished it. The tomb has two burial chambers. Here too, the wall paintings and hieroglyphs are well preserved (especially considering the fact that they are almost 3,000 years old). The last tomb I see inside is that of Pharaoh Seti II. This is also decorated on the inside, but the murals and hieroglyphs in this tomb are less beautiful than in the previous ones. Here too, the sarcophagus of Seti II is still in the burial chamber.

valley of the kings luxor
Valley of the Kings, Luxor

At the beginning of the afternoon I cycle to the Memorial Temple of Hatshepsut. Against the backdrop of a three-hundred-meter-high limestone cliff stands a sleek temple with three terraces spread over as many floors. The temple always has a central entrance to the next floor, with colonnades on either side. Statues of Hatshepsut once stood in front of all the square columns, but only a few remain, especially on the second terrace. The third and upper terrace leads to the sanctuary of Amun, which is carved into the rocks. It is extremely busy at this temple, a bit of a madhouse unfortunately. The crowd of people means that I leave quite quickly.


After six days of viewing pyramids, temples, tombs and other monuments, I travel by bus from Luxor to Hurghada. This is a journey that takes four hours on paper, but 5.5 hours in practice. Mainly due to the bad road, the many speed bumps (as everywhere in Egypt) and various police checkpoints (ditto).

Hurghada is the kind of place I don’t visit often. It’s a holiday resort on the Red Sea, best known for its cheap package deals, all-inclusive holidays and diving opportunities. I’m going to relax there for another day and a half at the end of my trip through Egypt. I’m staying in a hotel on the north side of Hurghada, outside the hustle and bustle of the tourist center. My room overlooks the Red Sea and downstairs there is a private beach. Relaxing, reading, eating, sleeping, that’s all I do here. On Sunday morning I fly back to the Netherlands via Cairo.