From The Air And On The Ground – Luxor, Egypt

Day 44-45; Sept 1-2, 2022

It was only a one-hour flight from Cairo to Luxor, and we were happy to arrive to calm and quiet. What a difference the two destinations make. It was striking, where Cairo was loud, frantic and overwhelmed by locals, Luxor welcomed us with empty streets and serenity. Yes!

We were now on the river cruise portion of Viking’s Pharaohs and Pyramid Nile River Cruise, the last of our string of cruises for the summer. Below are the route and stops we made along the Nile River during this weeklong adventure:

Our visit at the Great Pyramids and the Sphinx of Giza exceeded our expectations, but little did we know that the upcoming stops would continue to be eye opening, fiercely educational and a treasure trove that would leave us speechless.

Luxor is home to some of Egypt’s most revered sites, and is known as the world’s largest open-air museum. It also lies amid one of world’s largest archeological areas. It was formerly known as Thebes, the ancient capital of Egypt’s New Kingdom. Today it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

From the Air

First, allow me to show you the lay of the land from the air, to give you a perspective of what we covered during our 2-day Luxor adventure. To do that, we went up high on a very popular hot air balloon ride offered by Viking that required us to get out of bed at 3:30am 😦

Our ship, the MS Antares, was docked on the east bank of the Nile, while the balloon launch area was across the river on the west bank. By 4:00am there were about 20 of us cruisers riding on small boats across the Nile to awaiting vans that would take us to the liftoff spot:

An early morning cruise across the Nile

There were about a dozen balloons being prepared for flight, and soon after we arrived they all started up their huge fans to begin inflating them.  It was like a mini Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta as they ran the fans and then fired up the burners to finish the process.  These huge balloons were the largest we’ve been on, capable of carrying 28 people each. Ours had about 25 folks on it and everyone was excited to get off the ground:

The rising sun over the Nile River tries to peek out of the haze
This guy probably wasn’t very happy waking up to us staring down at him!
There’s our ship! The Viking MS Antares
Karnak Temple covers a one-mile by two-mile area, it’s the largest religious structure ever built
The Luxor Temple is smaller in size, built circa 1400 BC
The Avenue of the Sphinx connects both ancient temples
The Valley of the Queens is where the wives and children of the pharaohs from the 19th and 20th dynasties were buried
Valley of the Kings, where King Tut’s tomb was discovered in 1922
Mortuary Temple of Queen Hatshepsut, Egypt’s great female pharaoh
The Nile River separates east and west Luxor
Will we clear those trees?

We headed slowly back to earth, and as we approached the city we saw many lush fields of corn, sugar cane and other crops, and the local residents tending them:

Muslim cemetery
Our balloon’s reflection in a canal, very close to the ground

It was an exhilarating early morning ride up in the air.

Back on earth

Giving a detailed description of the different elements that make up the complex temples and columns in Luxor is almost impossible. Let’s just say we were awed at our guide Mohamed’s explanations, and hopefully the pictures below can convey an example of ancient Egyptian design and architecture.

East Bank

Karnak Temple

The Temple of Karnak is the largest religious structure ever constructed, covering a site nearly one mile by two miles in area. It was dedicated to three Egyptian deities, Amun, Mut and Khonsu. It was built over a period of 1,500 years, with 30 different pharaohs contributing to its ever-changing landscape. That resulted in what is now a collection of temples, sanctuaries, pylons and other decorations that is unparalleled throughout Egypt:

The temple dates back to 2055 BC to around 100 AD, and yes we are talking thousands of years!
These columns were once painted with vibrant colors that have faded away, but the hieroglyphs remain very visible
The ancient Egyptians were so far ahead in their engineering endeavors

Avenue of the Sphinxes

The avenue is the processional conduit connecting the temples of Karnak with Luxor Temple. At a length of 1.6 miles and about 250′ in width, this byway is flanked by 1,060 statues of Rams, Criosphinxes and Androsphinxes, which are each separated by a space of approximately 4 meters (or 13′). Incredible!

The two temples, Karnak and Luxor, are connected by a sphinx-lined boulevard
The first group of these statues was excavated in 1949, continuing until 2011

Luxor Temple

Next we visited the real Luxor temple – not that phony copycat in Las Vegas. This one is flanked by two seated statues of Ramses II. Unlike Karnak Temple, Luxor temple was not built in adoration of a god or to a god figure of the kings and pharaohs. Instead, it was built in dedication to the rejuvenation of kingship where many of Egypt’s pharaohs were crowned. It’s considered to be one of the best preserved of all the ancient monuments, containing a large number of structures – statuary and relief carvings that remain intact to this day.

A tourist flanked by two colossal sitting Ramses II
A side view of a colossal Ramses II
The statuary and carvings that decorate the temple mainly feature Ramses IV
The Court of Amenhotep III
A nice stroll at the end of the day
At the temple’s entrance are six huge statues of Ramses II. There were originally two obelisks, but the one on the right was gifted to France and is now in the Place de la Concorde in Paris, where we saw it a couple of weeks ago
The beautiful Avenue of the Sphinxes at night

After seeing the two temples, we thought they must have been truly awe-inspiring in their day – we were blown away.

The hot sun finally dips below the horizon in Luxor

We were promised something special during our tour the next day, stay tuned!

Next up: Valley of the Kings and Queens


  1. There are very few things I would be willing to wake up at 3:00 a.m. for – a hot air balloon ride would most certainly be one of them. A cool experience under any circumstance, a truly amazing one in Egypt. I will say it’s sad to see so much pollution in the air there. I had no idea it was so bad. Here’s hoping the governments there get their act together sooner rather than later.

    Looking forward to your next installment!

  2. Seeing the area from the air was fantastic! Always nice to get the full picture. You were quite brave. What amazing structures and history. Definitely jaw dropping. Thanks fro sharing.

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