When you go exploring experientially intense places like India or Egypt, then it is very easy to get overwhelmed. There’s a lot to see, explore, experience, and feel. The attractions of Upper Egypt are so many that after a few days it’s common to see most travelers doing nothing but chilling by the pool. Akash and I too got templed out after our first few days in the ancient city of Thebes and we decided to go easy for some time. Thus we focused on offbeat Luxor attractions like hot air ballooning, visiting Banana Island, horse-riding in the surrounding countryside, and attending a cooking class. Those were a lot of fun and take a look at the pictures. I am including brief travel details for each attraction so that in case you wish, you can enjoy them as well during your Luxor travel. So here goes the list of our offbeat Luxor attractions.

Hot air ballooning – the must-try among the ‘offbeat’ Luxor attractions

Hot air ballooning is a spectacular visual experience in Luxor. The juxtaposition of the two banks, the archaeological ruins, the villages, and the river Nile make the experience a photographer’s delight. While the overall experience may be slightly scary and a bit boring, there’s no doubt that the views from the top are simply amazing.

Our Experience

Akash and I chose the sunrise hot air balloon ride and the tour came with a pre-dawn boat transfer to the West Bank. There we along with the other tourists piled into waiting vans and got driven to the launch pads. There were but bare fields where teams of the crew were busy filling up the huge balloons with gas. The sight of the jet slowly filling up the massive balloons was gobsmacking and soon the pilots gave their groups of passengers instructions. We were grouped into 12-15 people per basket, given instructions on what to do during take-off and landing, and what to expect. Since Akash was the smallest passenger, we were given special assistance in getting on and off the baskets. The take-off was smooth and we saw a spectacular sunrise over Luxor. The flight was smooth too due to soft breezes and while Akash found it a bit too long, I absolutely loved it. The landing was funny and we floated down slowly until the pilot landed the basket on empty fields with thumps. Once again, Akash and I were assisted off first since the landing often comes with several uncomfortable bumps, and the passengers have to hop off fast in case of a possibility of overturning the basket. Overall, it is definitely one of the ‘must-try’ of offbeat Luxor attractions.

How much does the Hot Air Balloon ride cost in Luxor?

Egypt offers one of the most budget-friendly hot air balloon rides in the world. The prices range from $75-$150 for hot air balloon rides and these may/may not be coupled with guided tours of the archaeological sites.

Can children ride these balloons in Luxor?

Although hot air ballooning is not recommended for very small children, the companies in Luxor allow the little ones on board. In fact, our hot air balloon basket had slots for smaller children to look out of without the fear of falling.

Things to Remember

  • Is it Safe? – Just remember to shop around for the company with the best reviews and don’t get scared by the tragic accidents that have happened in the past. Hundreds of people go up those balloons every day and while, hot air ballooning is not the safest in Egypt, it is not as bad as it seems. Over the years, the Egyptian government has imposed stringent safety measures on hot air ballooning in Egypt and the pilots of Luxor are very experienced.
  • What to Wear – It can be quite chilly up in the air especially if you choose a sunrise ride. Wear long sleeves and wear a light cardigan or a jacket. Because of the closeness of the fire, you might feel the heat on your head.
  • When not to go – I recommend canceling if you find the weather unsuitable in the morning.
  • Which ride to choose – Choose the sunrise ride even though it means that you have to get up at 3:30-4:00 am. Calculate the sunrise time in Luxor and aim for launch at least 30 minutes prior. These rides are also more comfortable since the wind is calmer and the views are magical.
  • Can I take photographs? – Follow your captain’s advice regarding photography from hot air balloons. The Egyptian army isn’t keen on people photographing military bases. The general rule in Egypt is, ‘don’t take photos near the military bases. However, as you can see from this article and the hundreds on the internet, nearly every one of those balloons takes pictures. Just be smart, follow your captain’s advice about when you can photograph.
  • Tipping – The captains are well-paid and don’t expect to be tipped. However, you can tip the hard-working ground crew who are equally responsible for your safety.

Banana Island Half-Day Trip

Banana Island or the Gezira El-Mozh is a bit of a tourist trap. However, it is still a nice spot to spend half a day especially if you are templed out. Located to the north of town, this small island attracts visitors with fruit plantations, a small menagerie of caged animals, and crocodiles. There are some riverside rustic cafes to enjoy Egyptian tea or coffee and eat locally harvested fruits. Akash went horse-riding there and we went over with a felucca. A felucca is a local sailboat that is maneuvered manually and it usually has a two people crew. A felucca ride down the Nile is one of the most relaxing of offbeat Luxor attractions. Sunsets are especially nice because of the silence, the soft colours, and the sight of the sun setting behind the river reeds.

Cooking Class with Chez Mohammed

This was one of our most unexpected and pleasant offbeat Luxor attractions. We happened to be at Chez Mohammed in Kom Lolah for lunch when the cozy rustic setting of the restaurant made us linger long there. The seating area was shaded with trees, the floor was earthen, and there were books and knick-knacks everywhere. The owner and I got talking and he invited us to meet his family. Egyptians love kids and Bollywood and the combination of me – from India, and Akash sealed the deal. We got invited for dinner with the family that evening and when I expressed my interest in learning to cook Egyptian dishes, the matriarch of the host family was pleased. She immediately asked me to come over the next afternoon and promised me to teach some Egyptian dishes. We followed our plan and the next afternoon, while I pottered around the kitchen trying to make conversation with my smattering of Arabic, Akash happily ran after chickens in the yard. The result was a very relaxing afternoon and even though I paid a bit extra for the food and the effort, it was an excellent experience. Chez Mohammed restaurant usually does not offer cooking classes. However, go there for excellent Egyptian food and try your luck. You might get lucky like us. Alternatively, sign up for a cooking class with Sofra in Luxor.

Horse-riding and relaxing by the pool

Our other offbeat Luxor attractions included the wonderful gardens of the Winter Palace Hotel, its beautiful pool, and horse-riding in the countryside. I usually do not include hotel recommendations in my posts but Winter Palace was an amazing experience. Even though the interiors of the hotel are a bit dated, this property comes with an incredible legacy. It was on the steps of the Winter Palace that Lord Carnarvon announced the discovery of King Tutankhamun by Howard Carter at Valley of the Kings in 1922. Other famous residents at the Winter Palace include Winston Churchill and Agatha Christie who stayed here for inspiration to write her infamous novel ‘Death on the Nile’. The grounds of the Winter Palace are very beautiful. It is like an oasis of tranquility where you can enjoy a shaded seat to read or drink a cocktail from the pool bar. The gardens are also worth wandering around. They are laden with palm trees, fountains, and flowers everywhere. On the days when we didn’t go for felucca rides, we went horseback riding in the surrounding countryside. Those excursions were organized by the owner/manager of the tour company on the hotel premises. Those tours included transfer to the West Bank by a motorboat, horseback riding, and dinner at a local guesthouse.

Colossi of Memnon

Banana Island excursion

P.S – This blog post is part of the weekly series called the Cairo Chronicles. Every week, Maverickbird will take on a new theme, emotion, and beauty of expat life in the exciting, maddening city of Cairo.

Follow the rest of the Luxor series