Egypt: Visiting the Valley of the Kings

Visiting the Valley of the Kings

by Jimmy Dunn

As I write this article (January 8th, 2002), Egypt is experiencing a cold spell. In fact, long time residents of Luxor, across the river from the Valley of the Kings, insist that they cannot remember a time when it was colder. For many Luxor vacationers, this is bad news, because they come here not to sightsee, but to enjoy the temperate climate. These tourists come from various European countries to escape their harsh winter climates.

It is grand tombing weather. Tombs can be swelteringly hot, particularly deep in the summer months. Therefore, it is best to visit the Valley of the Kings during the late autumn, winter and early spring months. For example, temperatures in Luxor during November usually range from a high of 31c (88f) to a low of 13c (55f). Still, it is best to get an early start, and this is particularly true during warmer months.

However, the problem with visiting the tombs during the most favorable periods of the year are somewhat offset by the number of tourists. Many tours of the Valley are arranged during the cooler months, and the number of tourists will be considerably greater. This is another reason to get an early start, visiting the most popular tombs first in order to avoid the crowds.

Regardless of when you visit the Valley of the Kings, it is important to take plenty of water. If you forget to bring it with you, water can be purchased at the visitor center as you enter the tomb area. During the summer months particularly, water may make the difference between an enjoyable visit, or cutting your visit short in order to escape the heat. In addition, a good had, sunglasses and sun blocking lotion should be seen as necessities. Anyone who has visited the Valley will report seeing many tourists with dreadful sunburns. Also good sturdy shoes will be required for climbing about, and descending into the tombs. Often, tomb entrances are not terribly well built, and footing can be a problem. These are the basic items that anyone should bring with them for a successful visit.

However, for the serious tomb explorer, other items will be needed. A flashlight is useful in order to see some less well lit sections of some tombs, and of course, a pen and notebook may be advisable for taking notes, but also for writing down questions for a tour guide. In some instances, the tour guide will not be able to accompany you into certain tombs, so you may jot down any questions that you have for later.

With the additional cost of a permit, photography is allowed in most tombs, but not flash photography. In many of the tombs, there is enough light for high speed film to be used. The most experienced photographers will actually require two cameras, one loaded with high speed film for within the tombs, with another loaded with normal film for outside shots. There is very little need for telephoto lenses within the Valley, but wide angle lenses and even close-up lenses can be very useful. In addition, a polarizing filter will not only be useful in the bright sunlight outside of tombs, but will also help cut the reflections from the protective glass that now covers much of the artwork in many tombs. If required, take plenty of batteries with you. While they will be on sale within the Valley of the Kings, the price will be outrageous.

Unlike many places in Egypt (particularly when visiting more modern religious monuments), there is no problem with dressing strictly as a tourist. Only comfort should be considered, because one will be surrounded by other tourists. However, again, because of the sun, be cautious about exposing too much skin. For additional information on what to bring, see our "Egyptian Traveler's Survival Kit".

Unless one is a serious researcher, either professionally or an amateur, it is easy to get "tombed out". The more casual visitors to the Valley should not expect to see too many tombs. Three or four tombs will probably be their limit, particularly considering that there is more to see on the west bank at Luxor then the tombs. There are also temples and other monuments.

At the same time, all the tombs in the valley are not always open to the public. The antiquity authorities in Egypt often rotate the tombs that are open, in order to minimize damage or because restoration work is needed.

Therefore if one is not on a strictly guided tour, where the tombs have been preselected by the tour operator, it is a good idea to do some preplanning, selecting as many as ten tombs for possible visits, and narrowing this down to three or four of those that are currently open.

In this planning process, most people will enjoy visiting tombs from different phases of the Valley's development. This will provide the tourist with the best overview of the entire history of the necropolis. Basically, there are three phases in the Valley's development. For each phase, I would recommend the following tombs:

Phase One Tombs:

Phase Two Tombs:

Phase Three Tombs:

Note that the tomb of Tutankhamun has not been included in this list. While many tourists may insist on seeing this tomb, it is fairly insignificant in relationship to other royal tombs, resembling more a private tomb. The treasures of this tomb are not to be found here, but rather in the Egyptian museum in Cairo.

For those who will want to see more than three or four tombs, really, a longer visit to Luxor is in order. Even the most serious visitors will usually tire after little more than a half day on the West Bank, and there are also the temples at Luxor and Karnak, as well as the Luxor museum to visit. Therefore, those who wish to explore a number of the tombs will definitely wish to schedule three or four days in the area, at the very least.

Tickets to the various tombs, as well as other monuments can be purchased at various locations. Sometimes the tickets may be purchased at the moment itself. For the tombs, tickets are available at the Valley's entrance. Usually, these are sold in blocks, for example, to visit three tombs. See our Entry Fees section for general pricing.

Last Updated: July 11th, 2011