While tourism is clearly down in Egypt, this does not mean there are no tourists traveling there. At times, you may still find big groups at some of the most popular spots. And there are ways in which those spots do not come easy. Although I never would have missed seeing the Pyramids, the near-constant calls for camel rides and requests for baksheesh (payment/tips) detracted some from the experience.
I looked for places where I could experience the artwork and the mystery of the ancient temples and tombs more peacefully. These were among the sites that were my favorites. If you want to learn more about the background of these sites, this web site may help.
Abydos was the main cult center for Osiris, the God of the dead. The reliefs were among the best I saw in Egypt–so tender and delicate I practically felt them breathing.
The Temple of Hathor at Dendera included staircases with detailed reliefs on the walls and an underground crypt that may have been where the statue of the goddess and her ritual objects were kept. The stairs down to the crypt were steep and its passageways narrow, but it was a special experience I highly recommend.
Note: Abydos and Dendera are most commonly seen as a day trip from Luxor. Each are long distances from Luxor, though Dendera is closer. We lingered so long at Abydos that we had only about one hour to explore Dendera. I would have been happy to spend at least two hours there. If you are someone who likes to take your time, you may want to consider seeing each on separate days. Both temples were nearly empty when I was there, making it all the better to experience the beautiful artwork and sense the life that was once active there.
Karnak Temple Complex
This temple complex in Luxor was perhaps the largest I visited. Because of its size, I was able to walk alone through many areas of the complex. And even in the spots where there were other tourists, it never felt too busy or noisy.
My friend and I hired a guide, who helped bring the reliefs alive. He was also able to take us to some spots that were closed to the public. Actually, at nearly every temple in Egypt, I was approached by a worker whispering to me to follow him to some locked part of the grounds that he could show me in exchange for a tip. The cynical part of me began to wonder if some places were made to appear closed simply as a way for a worker to earn some money. I do not know, but in this case it gave me a chance to see a statue of Sekhmet, the goddess of war, destruction and healing. Our guide described Sekhmet’s strength as, “I walk in the dark, I walk in the light.” She was fierce, and this place had a sense of the sacred I enjoyed.
I traveled to the rock temples of Abu Simbel, built during the reign of Ramesses II, by a shared minibus that left downtown Aswan in a convoy at 3:30 a.m. As we arrived, there were already multiple tour buses and other minibuses parked in the lot. While most people went directly to the Great Temple, I visited the colorful reliefs of the Temple of Hathor and Nefertari first to avoid the crowds.
By the time I was done seeing the smaller temple, the initial crowd had worked its way through the Great Temple. I nearly had the place to myself. I wandered from room to room soaking in the detailed murals–unlike others I had seen in the life they depicted–and towering statues in quiet.