I recently had an awesome girls’ weekend in Luxor, Egypt with my two cousins, C and M, who visited. While I love traveling with my kids and showing them the world, sometimes it’s nice to travel with just adults-especially other adults interested in photography! We spent 3 nights in Luxor at the Hilton (highly recommend) and spent a day on the West Bank and a day on the East Bank. Our East Bank day started with sunrise at Karnak Temple and it was definitely worth getting up for it!
This was my second time going to Karnak Temple, the first being in July with my children. To read about a summer visit or visiting with kids, check out this post. For a scavenger hunt for kids to complete while touring the temple, go here.
Karnak Temple opens at 6 am and conveniently in late November, the sun rises just after 6. On the day we visited, it rose at 6:12 am. The Hilton is really close to Karnak Temple, so our guide and driver picked us up at 5:45am. The Visitor’s Center was actually already open we we arrived, which was perfect. We were able to get our tickets and then wait at the entrance right at 6 am. Our guide did tell the ticket counter worker that we were trying to catch sunrise, so he let us buy our tickets early so we could be at the entrance (a few minutes walk) at 6.
Once we were let in, we walked quite speedily to the far end of the temple to get the sun rising. The sky did not really have clouds, so we wanted to catch the brightest colors of the sun on the horizon rather than wait for it to light up the whole temple. It was totally worth it! We were the only ones there until about 6:20 and then it was only a guide with 2 other people who passed us briefly. By the time we left about 8:30 it was getting really crowded! Go early if at all possible!
Getting sunrise shots was so much fun! An important thing about photography is to always try different angles and walk around trying different vantage points. My favorite photos ended up being from the last spot I tried. Sunrise is also a great time for silhouette shots!
We enjoyed watching the hot air balloons. They take off from the West Bank every morning to catch the sunrise. However, I’d been warned by a friend who did them that safety is a concern so we did not do one.
After we got our sunrise shots, we worked our way from back to front. The morning light was great. There is a reason why the best photos come from the hour after sunrise and the hour before sunset! The light is beautiful. We did a lot of portrait shots of each other and of our guide (he was a great and willing model).
It was also great to have time to shoot without having to constantly wait for people to get out of the way. When I visited Karnak Temple previously in July we were there at 4 pm and we didn’t worry about crowds either–but that’s because it was over 100 degrees!
Within Karnak Temple, we found various examples of Coptic Christian usage. There were several paintings of saints on the columns and one trio of statues was taken apart until it resembled a cross.
Make sure to always look up as the ceilings still contain some great color and detail. It’s hard to believe how long some of those colors have lasted!
I particularly liked looking at the numbers carved into the walls to mark offerings. A straight line means 1, a curved n shape means 10, and the curly q means 100. Each box is one number.
Originally, there were four obelisks–two by Tuthmosis I and two larger ones built later by Hatshepsut. One of each of theirs fell down. Part of Hatshepsut’s fallen obelisk is near the Sacred Lake.
Cost: As of November 2018, Karnak Temple was 150le (or about $8.50).
Camera Fee: None
Parking: Large parking lot that fills up as the day progresses!
Location: Very near Hilton Hotel on the East Bank.
Guide Or DIY? This depends a lot on you and your style of sightseeing. It is definitely easy and possible to get a taxi from your hotel to the temple and go through on your own. There is not much signage inside, but if you like reading about the sites in a guide book or prefer the “soak up the atmosphere” method of sightseeing, it will work fine. If you want to know about the history or have specific spots of interest pointed out (what certain hieroglyphs mean, where a statue was carved out by a later pharoah, etc), you’ll want a guide.
We’ve used Mohamed twice and he is great. He has little kids himself, so he understands them and our kids adored him. He arranged our whole Luxor trip this time around, including airport pickup/drop off and a car and driver. He is very very knowledgeable and is an Egyptologist who goes on digs and does advanced studies when not giving tours. His number is +20 106 9695152. We arranged everything via whatsapp and paid on arrival.
Best Timing: Sunrise to beat the crowds and get great lighting. Or late afternoon to beat the heat. As of November 2018, it opened at 6 am and closed at 5:30 pm. Plan on about 1.5 hours to view, unless you spend a lot of time on photography. We were there close to 2.5 hours the second time, but only about 1.5 hours the first time (it was hotter and we had our kids).
Suggested Itinerary: If your schedule allows a full day for the East Bank, I’d suggest doing Karnak Temple at sunrise, then back to the hotel for breakfast. Or do breakfast first and do Karnak a little later but realize by 8:30 am there were major crowds. Then do the Luxor Museum and Mummification Museum in the mid to late morning. Have a relaxing afternoon with lunch and pool (or nap!) at the hotel and get to Luxor Temple about 45 minutes before sunset. Have a daytime tour of Luxor Temple and then stay for after sunset when they turn on all the lights. Luxor Temple is open until 10 pm, so you have plenty of time. In November the sun set about 5 pm, so we arrived about 4:15 pm and departed about 5:30 pm to have dinner and relaxing back at the hotel. In the summer, sunset is closer to 6:30 so plan on a later dinner. We stopped at a koshary place after Luxor Temple in the summer to grab dinner to go for hungry kids as hotel meal service is never fast.
If you don’t have a full day for the East Bank, skip the museums and do Karnak and then Luxor Temples in the later afternoons and for sunset if you have a midday arrival. Or do them both first thing before an afternoon flight.
Karnak Temple does have a Sound and Light Show, but we have not done it.