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Monday, 5 December 2011

Luxor December 2011

What is it like in Luxor right now?  Is it safe to come? I've got a week off at Christmas and I see some cheap flights to Luxor - should I come? Questions you may be asking yourself after seeing scenes from Tahrir on your televisions lately. I decided to ask two British women living in Luxor for their thoughts.

Oldbag (OBC):  Jane and Ayisha, you are two British women living in Luxor.  Can I ask you both a few questions about what life is like there at the moment and what reception visitors might expect?

Jane (J): Hi I am Jane Akshar living on the West Bank of Luxor in the village next to the ferry. Life is totally normal at the moment, I rent apartments to tourists and I have three sets of guests and they are enjoying the sites and the sun. They have been out of Luxor as well as locally. The locals are almost desperate in their welcome to these rare visitors.

Ayisha (A):It’s quieter than normal for this time of year, visitors would be most welcomed and well taken care of.

OBC: How safe is it in Luxor for tourists at the moment?

J: I would say that it safe for normal tourist activity. I wouldn’t recommend going down a back street at 2am wearing a lot of jewellery and wads of cash. Take the normal sensible precautions you would anywhere. I feel perfectly safe day and night and my advice to my guests has not changed.

A: very safe, probably safer than most cities the tourist would be coming from.

Interview with a Finnish tourist visiting Luxor recently

OBC: What does the British Embassy recommend?

J: It is reassuring that the British Embassy is also saying there are no travel restrictions. It tells people to avoid demonstrations, I think that is its standard advice in any country.

A: The British Embassy currently have no travel restrictions to Egypt but do recommend staying away from demonstrations in Tahrir Square, almost 350 miles away from Luxor.

OBC: How far away from Cairo is Luxor? Do protests in Tahrir have an impact at all?

J: Cairo is as far away from Luxor as Paris from London, a 50 minute plane ride. Yes the protests in Tahrir have a huge impact in decimating our tourism, people think that the violence they see on TV is happening here and nothing could be further from the truth.

A: Almost 350 miles I think, 50 mins by plane, 10 hours by train, it’s a long way away!

OBC: You live on different sides of the Nile, so first off, just tell me a little bit about your experience of the impact the revolution has had in your views.

J: Here on the West Bank there is no real impact at all apart from the lack of business for the locals. They are also keen to vote in their first elections and have a say in the future of the country.

A: Increased respect for Egyptians that they now demand their voice peacefully and wont back down. Here in Luxor people are still lovely, friendly etc perhaps even more so. During the revolution I went a walk round when most expats were staying in, the atmosphere was amazing, everyone smiled at me, even the women! I was even thanked for being here and not leaving.

OBC: Tourism has obviously suffered in the last few months, how much of that do you think is down to the revolution and how much to the general global economic crisis?

J: Both, fewer people are coming on holiday, they have less money and the moment there is a news story about Egypt they decide to go elsewhere. My tourism business has survived on personal recommendations, returning guests and archaeologists. I have had hardly any new business for a year. This Christmas is my first with no bookings at all, in previous years we have had 60-70 people staying and done a big party. Obviously this means for my staff as well a huge reduction in their money and tips.

A: People don’t have as much money as they have had due to economics but I think a large part of the lack of tourists now is down to what they are seeing in their media, they think all Egypt is like Tahrir so if they are holidaying at this time of year they may choose some other country to feel safer.

OBC: What kind of impact has the drop in tourism had on the town?

J: Huge, people here saving money in the winter for the quiet summer and the revolution happened right in the middle of the high season. Nobody is actually starving but consumption of meat has plummeted, they are living on ful and bread. Medicines and medical treatment has been hit. Also big business men used to support charities and they cannot do these so orphanages etc are not funded. Supermarkets and pharmacies are allowing people to buy on credit but realistically they are at the end of their resources.

A: Pretty devastating, I’ve seen hotels close, shops closed, skeleton staff and those staff that are kept on are on reduced salary, when it wasn’t great to start with! No one starves here as what little they do have they will share, they’re great in that way. There are lots of restaurants and shops unable to pay rent though and things we take for granted back in UK, like medical care, is all paid for here, so there are many going without much needed treatments.

OBC: I know when I went to Luxor, Valley of the Kings and Hatsepshut's temple were very busy - what's it like there at the moment?

J: Well funnily enough it is a perfect time to visit the sites, normally the crowds are huge and you have to queue, at the moment you can get wonderful photos of empty sites and se everything in peace, good for the tourists not so good for the locals.

A: All fairly quiet apart from the Hurghada day trippers and the odd tourist.

Hatsepshut's temple from hot air balloon

OBC: Would you say now would be a brilliant time to visit the sites without all the crowds?

J: Yes.

A: Fantastic time to visit! Freedom to take a leisurely walk around the temples without the crowds which can spoil it a bit.

OBC: Have either of you felt any personal concern about your safety since the revolution?

J: None what so ever, and I have not worried for my guests either. During the January revolution I had to go to the dentist and got caught up in a demo. Totally peaceful and I videoed it.

A: Not at all, feel safer here than back home in UK, always have. I often go out and shop after dark, never felt unsafe of afraid.

OBC: What kind of reception are tourists likely to get at the moment?

J: Thank you for coming, we need you!

A: A welcome with open arms!

Mohammed's very safe taxi

OBC: Is it safe for families to visit?

J: Yes, Egyptians love children!

A: Absolutely! All Egyptians love kids, again refer to back in UK your kids are much safer here!

OBC: Some visitors have complained about hassle, what's the current situation with that?

J: Same as normal, they seem to know who they can get away with it and who is streetwise and brushes them off. Try a little bit of Arabic: "Fil mish mish" it means not a snowballs chance in hell, actual translation "when the apricots come" and when you say that they laugh and realise you are in the know

A: It’s Luxor! There was hassle before the revolution, there is hassle now, there will be hassle when there is a new government, they just love to ‘barter’ a bit, it’s all about the banter mostly. Generally if you’re polite they will leave you alone, "mafish filous" ("There's no money") normally works, or "shukran" ("Thank you").

OBC: Jane has self-catering flats to let to visitors on both sides of the Nile, and I've personally stayed in one, here is a link to her site:

A few photos of Jane's flats.

Jane do you have any other recommendations?

J: There are some good recommendations on Trip Advisor and also check the hotels on the West Bank for not very much more you can get a really good quality hotel with a swimming pool.  Also try self catering apartments like mine!

OBC: For backpackers, I have personally stayed in the Bob Marley Hostel (formerly known as Hotel Sherif and still appears in some older guidebooks under that name) which is clean and friendly.  Do you have any other recommendations for backpackers?

Bob Marley Hostel
A twin room in the Bob Marley
A: Little Garden is nice, clean, cheap, friendly and great roof terrace. Boomerang again clean, cheap, friendly, not sure if they have a roof terrace.

OBC: If someone were going to come for a week's visit over the Christmas period, what would you recommend they should make a point of doing?

J: Everything, I am nutty about Egyptology so even after living here 8 years and coming here 32 years I still can’t get enough of the sites. I think the nobles tombs are much neglected and especially good for children and I love the Ramasseum. Also quad bikes, camel rides, Nile sailing we have it all!

A: Don’t stay in the hotel, get out and see for yourself. Visit the usual, Karnak and Luxor Temples on the East Bank, Medinet Habu is my favourite on the West Bank with chilling after at Happy Habu, which is not the tourist one opposite Habu, but further down to your right as you come out the temple, lovely place! There is also camel, donkey, horse riding, quad biking, felucca sail, winter is the BEST time for most fantastic sunsets, stunning, bring a camera! For the Christmas dinner, most hotels and restaurants do the dinner, with all the trimmings and trees and lights, yes we do Christmas here! My son and family are coming this year for Christmas and New Year, they are so excited and so am I!

OBC: Thank you both for your time!


Cheap flights available from here:

NewsfromLuxor youtube channel:

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