One of the highlights of any trip to Egypt is hot air ballooning over the Valley of the Kings during sunrise. While insurance prohibits Contiki from sanctioning the excursion, Contiki couldn’t stop us from taking the initiative and organizing our own tour and that is exactly what we did! We had a 3:30 AM wake up where we were picked up by our company, Sindbad Tours, who took us across the Nile River in a small boat. When we docked, we piled into large vans to take us to the balloon launch site. When we arrived, we watched as they inflated our hot air balloons which were much larger in person than they seem in pictures.
After the balloons were inflated, we hopped in the basket! The basket was divided into four & about eight people fit into each quarter of the basket. Within a few minutes of getting in the basket, we were off the ground for an amazing tour. Despite the name, I didn’t realize just how hot I would get riding a hot air balloon. The heat made me a bit sick, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying the scenery and I eventually felt better as the ride went along.
As the sun rose in the east, we ascended over the West Bank and were treated to a birds eye view of the Valley of the Kings and the neighboring area as the town around us woke up.
After a soft landing, we got out of the basket and headed for our van. We were met by dozens of little kids trying to sell us souvenirs, but were warned ahead of time to not purchase anything from them as they should be in school and buying things from them encourages them to skip school. Once we were in our van, we headed to meet up with the rest of our group on the way to visit the Valley of the Kings, the burial site of the Pharaohs of Egypt once they stopped being buried in the pyramids. Upon our arrival at the Valley of the Kings, we boarded a shuttle trolley that took us close to the entrance to some of the burial tombs. Our first stop, however, was the Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut. It was a beautifully preserved structure which is built into the side of cliffs. The temple had three levels with beautiful colonnades on each level, well preserved hieroglyphs and statues & amazing views
We then visited the burial chambers of four Pharaohs, Ramses IV, Sibtah, Tutankhamun & Tausert / Setnakht As they are burial sites, we were not allowed to take pictures inside the tombs. The valley itself was impressive. As you walk up the mountain, there are various temples to your right and left – all of which were booby trapped to safeguard the permanent resting places of the pharaohs. Once inside the tombs, there were ramps and/or stairs down to the burial chambers & beautiful hieroglyphs lining the walls.
After the Valley of the Kings, we returned to visit the Temple of Karnak. It was great to be able to see what we saw the prior evening in daylight as well. The sphinxes lining the Avenue of Sphinxes were damaged due to natural erosion, but still impressive as they lined the 1.5 mile pathway between Luxor & Karnak.
The columns & obelisks of Karnak in the day were just as impressive as Luxor’s the night before. Karnak is actually a temple complex with a variety of buildings and monuments constructed over time. It is also the second largest ancient religions site in the world. I had already seen the largest – Angkor Wat in Cambodia. The heat made it almost unbearable to walk around, so our tour guide showed us a few things including a beautiful obelisk and gave us some time to walk around at our own pace.
After our visit, we made one final stop in Luxor – an gallery where you could purchase artwork on papyrus. We received a quick lesson on how they make papyrus before perusing the art. I purchased two pieces depicting camels walking in front of the Great Pyramids! We then set course for the beach town of Hurghada – a popular destination for Eastern European tourists. The drive was about four hours long & we arrived after dark, so we just grabbed dinner on the beach and retired to our rooms for the evening.