If you want to visit the spectacular ancient sites of Luxor and you like to do things your own way, I highly recommend exploring the west bank of Luxor by bicycle.
Wait! Before you dismiss me as crazy and go book a seat on a tour bus, let me assure you that this is a thing many people do. In fact, the day I cycled Luxor’s west bank I saw several other travelers doing the same thing, all out exploring on their own with no guide or group.
Why See Luxor by Bike?
On a bicycle you’ll get to take in all the details of the landscape and really connect the dots between these ancient sites. You’ll feel a sense of how they fit into the harsh desert landscape and how it might have felt for the ancient Egyptians to move between them, something you just can’t get through the window of a tour bus.
On a bike you can explore at your own pace, take breaks when you want to, skip things that don’t interest you as much, and take lots of pictures along the way. You’ll save money on transportation, and you’ll skip the hassle of having to negotiate with taxi drivers.
The area is currently very safe (Egypt’s police force is fiercely dedicated to protecting the tourist industry) and mostly flat. The roads are mostly paved and you won’t have to deal with much traffic. If you’ve survived the gauntlet of walking along the Nile corniche on the east bank, with all the touts shouting at you, then cycling Luxor’s west bank will be a breeze.
In this post I’ll explain exactly how to cycle around the west bank of Luxor, which sites to see, and how to get to them on a bicycle.
Luxor West Bank Bicycle Route
Here’s a brief overview of what’s included in this route, described in more detail below.
- Ferry across Nile
- Antiquities Inspectorate Ticket Office
- Medinet Habu
- Valley of the Queens (optional)
- Dier el Medina (optional)
- Temple of Hatshepsut
- Valley of the Kings
How much biking are we talking about?
The overall distance from the ferry landing to Valley of the Kings, which is the farthest site, is 10 km / 6 miles each way. Along the way you’ll add a few more kilometers here and there as you visit the various sites along the way.
This means the total route described here roughly around 25 km / 15 miles, give or take a few. At a leisurely riding pace of 8 miles per hour, this is about two hours of riding. That’s a solid ride, especially in hot weather, but it’s definitely within reach for most people. It’ll be broken up into several shorter sections in between sites, so you’ll have plenty of breaks.
Renting a Bicycle in Luxor
It’s easy to rent a bicycle in Luxor on both sides of the Nile. A good first step is to ask your hotel. If they don’t do bike rentals, they can probably point you to a nearby shop that does. Always be sure to test your bike (including the brakes) and adjust the seat properly before leaving!
If you’re only renting a bicycle to see the west bank, it might make sense to rent it on the west bank as well. But if you’d like to use it on the east bank as well, it’s easy to bring it across on the ferry with you.
Prices change fast and quality varies. Like everything else in Egypt, expect to negotiate. You may be able to find a bike helmet somewhere, but don’t count on it.
Luxor West Bank Cycling Itinerary
Unless you have a week to spend and an insatiable appetite for ancient temples and tombs, you won’t manage to see everything there is to see on Luxor’s west bank. How to choose?
It seems everyone who’s visited Luxor has a different opinion, but here’s the itinerary I recommend. I think it’s a good balance between cycling (which takes time but lets you see a different side of Luxor) and seeing the area’s most significant sites.
This cycling itinerary will take you the better part of a full day, so start early and prepare to be out for a while. For some it might be a bit too much to fit into a single day, in which case you can shorten it by leaving something out (I suggest skipping either Valley of the Queens or Dier El Medina in this case).
Each of these sites is shown on the Google Map embedded at the top of this post, along with the best cycling routes between them.
1. Cross the Nile on the public ferry
If you’re staying on the east bank, your first step is to find the public ferry dock on the Kornish Al Nile, shown on Google Maps. Ignore the touts trying to sell you a more expensive boat ride.
You’ll have to descend some stairs to reach the dock, and if carrying a bike you may be “helped” by yet more touts trying to sell you more things. Just politely and persistently say no thanks.
If coming with a bicycle from the east bank, you can bring it on the ferry easily. The ferry leaves when full, but it fills pretty quickly. Price was 10 LE for foreigners when I took it in early 2020.
2. Ride to the Antiquities Inspectorate Ticket Office
From the ferry landing, simply head away from the Nile, turn right on the main road, and keep going straight. In 4 km / 2.5 miles you’ll reach the ticket office on the left, where you must buy your tickets in advance for Dier el Medina and Medinet Habu (and a number of other sites, if you wish to add on to this itinerary).
3. Medinet Habu
Ride a short distance to your first site: Medinet Habu and the Mortuary Temple of Ramesses III. There’s a lot to see in this large temple, including some lovely carvings and paintings with the color still preserved in some areas.
4. Valley of the Queens
Head back up to the paved road and continue past the police checkpoint to reach Valley of the Queens. You’ll buy your ticket (100 LE in early 2020) at the entrance, which allows you entrance into three of the included open tombs.
I feel like a horrible feminist for saying this, but, if you’re going to visit Valley of the Kings (and you should, because it’s one of the most interesting sites in Luxor) then you may want to consider skipping Valley of the Queens. The tombs here are smaller and less spectacular, and you’ve got a long day ahead of you. But if you’re interested in the history of the pharaohs’ wives or just want to soak up all of Luxor that you can, it’s definitely worth a visit.
5. Dier El Medina
This smaller site is near Valley of the Queens. Tickets cost 100 LE (early 2020) and must be bought at the Antiquities Inspectorate Ticket Office (step 2 above).
Dier El Medina was a workmen’s village, home to the workers and artisans who worked full time to create and maintain the rest of the spectacular structures in the area. It has a couple of small open tombs, but is mostly interesting for the city ruins that give a clear picture of rooms and streets in the ancient village.
I liked this site because it’s different than all the others, but it may be underwhelming for some. If you’re short on time this is one you might consider skipping.
6. Temple of Hatshepsut
This is the massive tiered structure you often see in pictures of Luxor, carved right into the base of the cliffs behind it. It’s dramatic, different from the other sites on the West Bank, and is among the top temples in Egypt for many visitors.
Tickets cost 140 LE and are purchased at the entrance to the temple area.
7. Valley of the Kings
This is the last stop on the itinerary, and also one of the most spectacular and time consuming. Be sure to leave plenty of time – at least a couple hours – to cycle to and visit Valley of the Kings.
From the left turn off the main road, it’s about 3km to the parking area, where you’ll need to park your bicycle and walk the rest of the way. This is the only section of the whole day that’s an uphill ride, and it might be a bit windy. But stick with it, you’ll be there before you know it!
At the parking area, lock your bike to the fence by the guard house at the entrance (you probably don’t even need to lock it with the guards nearby). Walk to the office and buy your ticket for 240 LE (early 2020). You’ll have an option to buy another cheap ticket for the electric train, or you can just walk (it takes less than 5 minutes).
Once you’re at the tombs, it can be a bit confusing to figure out which to see (you can visit three with your ticket) and where they are. The locations are marked in the Maps.me app, which I highly recommend to travelers. I followed this advice on which tombs to see and was very satisfied with my visit, but you have a lot of options to choose from.
8. Return to Nile and Ferry
Congratulations! You made it! When you’re finished with Valley of the Kings, hop on your bicycle and enjoy the downhill ride back to the main road. I recommend turning right there and going back the way you came, along the road which passes near most of the sites, instead of going down to the busier road along the Nile. But feel free to explore!
Along the way, stop and treat yourself to a falafel sandwich or ice cream or some other favorite treat, and congratulate yourself on successfully touring Luxor’s west bank by bike!
If returning to the east bank, catch the ferry at the same place it dropped you off.
What to Bring for Cycling in Luxor
You’ll be out for a long day and it might be hot and very sunny. I recommend bringing a small day pack and some essentials:
- Water bottle
- Camera (see below for photography restrictions)
- Cash for buying tickets, and small change for tipping
What to Wear
For both men and women I suggest loose pants or long shorts that go at least past your knees, and a top with sleeves that at least cover your shoulders.
For women, unfortunately, you may want to be even more conservative and go with fully long pants and along sleeve shirt. It might be a bit hot, but you’ll be glad for the sun coverage while you’re out riding, and it’ll help you align more with the local women’s style of dress. A head covering isn’t necessary and might even seem odd in this town that is so accustomed to foreigners.
At the sites themselves you’ll see tourists wearing all kinds of wildly inappropriate things, but this doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to copy them. Many of these folks arrive in big tour buses and spend their entire trip in a large guided group, never interacting directly with Egyptians or exploring on their own. Independent travelers will need to have more cultural sensitivity in order to have a good experience.
It’s easy to park a bicycle at each site. Ideally you would have a lock (maybe the rental place will provide one), but tipping a tout or guard to watch it is another option. They will probably offer anyway, and may ask you for a tip even if you lock your bike.
Food, Water, Restrooms
There are some restaurants along the main road between the sites, and some small cafes near some of the bigger sites. Expect high tourist prices at these. For those on a budget I recommend venturing down into town between sites or bringing some snacks with you.
It’s easy to get dehydrated biking in the desert, so definitely bring at least one water bottle. You’ll need at least a few liters for the full day, so if you don’t want to carry all that, you can buy some as you go at the various sites or roadside shops.
Restrooms are available at the visitor centers of the larger sites.
Photography in Luxor’s sites, especially inside tombs, is a complicated topic. Some sites require an extra ticket in order to take photos inside the tombs, but apparently only with a real camera. My smartphone camera was apparently fine, but my little point-and-shoot digital camera was not.
However… Enforcement is inconsistent. I observed plenty of people taking photos without tickets. It also seemed that tipping the guards is one way to get around the restriction. In fact I even had a guard try to convince me to take photos against the rules so I would tip him afterward! As with elsewhere at Egypt’s tourist sites, be prepared to navigate these kinds of tricky situations however you see fit (and bring small change).
Hassles and Difficulties
The tourist sites of Luxor are, unfortunately, one of the more hassle-filled travel destinations I’ve experienced. It’s a shame, because elsewhere in Egypt the culture is welcoming and kind to foreigners, but the money brought in by tourism has really created a bad dynamic in the most visited areas.
Here are a few tips on how to deal with them. This may sound intimidating but don’t worry, it’s not really that bad. You’ll find ways to deal with it and maybe even enjoy some friendly banter with these people who are just trying to make a living.
Guards: Most of the tombs have guards at the door who check tickets, and/or guys inside who point out interesting things to visitors. Again, this can be useful if done well. It makes sense to tip them a small amount for their knowledge, but it can get annoying when some of them demand it too blatantly. Also watch out for guards suggesting you take pictures and then extracting a tip for “letting” you break the rules.
Touts: The most common hassle is touts trying to sell you products. They’ll approach you in a friendly way, start a conversation, and then want to show you “their work.” It doesn’t take long to figure out that every guy in the area is selling the exact same “work” – they are generally NOT the ones who actually made the items. If you’re looking for a souvenir to take home, feel free to negotiate. Otherwise you’ll just have to politely and persistently shake them off.
Guides: Sometimes the same guys selling souvenirs, or different guys, will appoint themselves your private guide. They are, of course, hoping for a tip. For independent travelers this may actually be a good deal; I tipped one guy at Dier El Medina for showing me around a temple I almost completely missed, and telling me useful information about it. But if you’re determined not to tip, you should make this clear up front before they spend time showing you around.
Scams: I’m not sure how common this is, but outside the Antiquities Inspectorate Ticket Office a little girl aggressively demanded I buy a ticket from her that was – quite obviously – already used (the end had been torn off). This was easy to spot, but I’m not sure if others are smoother operators. Most alarmingly, the adults at the ticket office didn’t shoo her away when she kept bothering me. Always buy your tickets ONLY from the official windows, and keep an eye on any overly interested children.
Safety: I felt pretty safe cycling around this area, especially in terms of physical safety / violent crime. I suspect it’s incredibly rare. I wouldn’t be shocked if bag snatching happens from time to time though, so do mind your stuff.
Sexual Harassment: I cycled around Luxor’s west bank alone as a woman and did not experience any sexual harassment. For that matter, I actually cycled alone through all of southern Egypt and still didn’t experience any! But I’ve heard that unfortunately it does happen. Don’t be too worried about it, but I do suggest you wear conservative clothes (a headscarf is not needed), ignore aggressive attempts to get your attention, and be wary of anyone who enters your personal space unexpectedly.
If you like independent and authentic travel, exploring Luxor by bike is the perfect way to turn Egypt’s popular tourist sites into a more spontaneous adventure. Have fun!
More Travel Resources
If you’re interested in visiting Luxor, you might also find these helpful:
- Best water purifiers for travelers
- Mindful travel tips for well-meaning adventurers
- Tips for Coping with Culture Shock
- More travel resources right here!
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