For some reason that nobody has ever been able to explain to me, temples and tombs tend to be open marginally shorter hours in the winter (officially Oct-Apr) than the summer. Keep this in mind when planning your itinerary.

West Bank

You can easily arrange to do any, or all, of the sites on the West Bank with either private transport or an organized bus tour through any of the tour companies listed above. It is just as easy, though, to pay LE1 (20¢/10p) to cross the Nile on the public ferry that departs from below the Luxor Temple or LE5 (90¢/45p) to cross with a motorized faluca from any of the little docks along the edge of the river. Once on the other side, negotiate your itinerary with one of the many taxis that wait there.

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Tickets for the sites need to be bought at either the ticket office near the Valley of the Nobles or at the gate of the site itself; I have noted the former in the corresponding reviews.

Valley of the Nobles -- Between the Valley of the Queens and the Valley of the Kings lies another necropolis, this one for the use of the wealthy and the high officials who were not of royal blood. Not as intensely developed as a tourist site as the Valley of the Kings, the Valley of the Nobles is less crowded and also a little harder to access. Signage is poor, and it would be a good idea to have a flashlight with you. Of the 400 tombs that are known here, only about a dozen are open to tourists at any given time.

Look, Don't Touch -- It's the sad truth of mass tourism that our presence can damage the monuments that we come to admire. Despite massive foreign-aid investment in protecting sites, perspiration and even exhaled breath damage the delicate paintings in tombs; the lights thrown up around temples all too often heat and damage the ancient stone; and the exhaust from tour buses and cruise ships forms chemical compounds that destroy delicate relief carvings.

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Fortunately, there is an easy and cheap way that we can reduce our impact on these irreplaceable artifacts -- don't touch, or climb on, statues or buildings. Guards will often encourage you to climb under railings or get on top of walls or statues for a photo, but the 50¢ he'll take for this privilege doesn't pay for the damage you'll do to the 3,000-year-old masonry.

Two Festivals, One Boat

If you're in Luxor the month before Ramadan, you may be lucky enough to catch the moulid, or festival, of Sheikh Abou Haggag. The festival, which lasts 2 days and draws participants from all over Egypt, commemorates the life of this 14th-century holy man with extravagant street parties and a parade that features floats populated by outrageously costumed men and boys, raucous music, and model boats that are held above the fray on polls. The festival is reflective of the scenes depicted on the walls of the colonnade at Luxor Temple, which show the ancient festival of Opet with the priests of Karnak carrying the boats of Amun, Mut, and Khonsu to the temple to mark the annual flood of the Nile.

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A Nile Cruise: Set a Course for History

Life in Egypt has revolved around the Nile since the time of the Pharaohs. The waters have been the lifeblood of fields and the highway used to transport goods and people. During ancient times, the river was not only used for practical purposes, such as transporting the massive blocks of rock needed to build temples, but for the ceremonial movement of gods at festival times. It was even seen as the dividing line between the world of the living, on the east bank, and the land the dead, on the west side. There is no better way, then, to explore the history of Upper Egypt than from a cabin of one of the many cruise boats that ply the ancient waters of the river.

Cruises usually run from 3 to 6 days. You could see all the sites between Luxor and Aswan on the 3-day cruise, but I recommend taking at least 4 days to allow a little extra breathing room and time at each site. Unless life onboard the boat is the attraction, 6 days will probably be too many for most people. Some companies will cut Esna or an optional faluca ride out of the 3-day cruise, which is not much of a loss, as Esna takes up more time than it's worth in a tight itinerary, and a faluca ride can always be done at your leisure in Luxor, Aswan, or Cairo.

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Keep in mind that these cruises shuttle back and forth between Luxor and Aswan, carrying passengers both ways; the upriver cruises are identical in all respects to the downriver. This opens up all kinds of possibilities for fitting boat travel into your itinerary. If you're looking to see as much as possible in a week or less without wearing yourself out, Luxor, with the preponderance of monuments and the most frequent flights to Cairo, makes the best endpoint. Start with an early morning flight to Abu Simbel, and you'll be back in Aswan in time to catch the northbound cruise boats. Kick back for a few days on the river before getting to Luxor for a couple of days of tomb tours and temple gazing, and then head back to Cairo for your return home.

The season is a very important consideration when deciding on a cruise. Winter is the best time to be stomping around monuments, but prices tend to be around a third higher between October and May. Before you jump at that summer bargain, however, see the temperature charts in chapter 2. The best bet is to try for something in mid- to late September or early April, when cheaper summer prices may overlap with the more bearable winter weather.

Abercrombie and Kent (tel. 800/554-7094; www.abercrombiekent.com) is one of the best-established cruise-boat operators on the Nile, and it's comfortably positioned at the top of the field. The boats are small, well equipped, and intensely luxurious. Think floating boutique hotel with period furnishings and a swimming pool on the deck, and you're getting close. One of the best things about A&K, aside from the first-class food, service, and lodging, is that it's flexible and has established the kind of local contacts that allow the company to tailor-make tours that include special access to many sites and facilities. Keep in mind that you're going to pay a premium for this kind of service, with the basics of a 4-day cruise running around LE11,000 ($2,000/£1,019) per person, and a full-on 10-day package that includes a 4-day cruise, five-star accommodation in Cairo, and first-class guides and experts going for about LE23,843 ($4,335/£2,208).

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As you would expect, the Oberoi (tel. 02/33773222; www.oberoiphilae.com.boats) is exceptionally equipped to make a cruise both relaxing and comfortable. Rooms are well appointed and big -- in fact, they're fit with everything you would expect in a high-end hotel room. Whether you need a selection of movies and wireless Internet while cruising the Nile is debatable, but trust Oberoi to make sure that they're there for you anyway. Expect to pay about LE16,500 ($3,000/£1,528) in the high season, LE12,100 ($2,200/£1,120) in the low season, for a double on the 4-night cruises; LE24,750 ($4,500/£2,292) in the high season, LE18,150 ($3,300/£1,681) in the low season, for the 6-night cruise. For a real treat, check out the Zahra, Oberoi's luxury cruiser. The cruise takes a full, leisurely week, which gives you time to take advantage of the comprehensive spa facilities onboard. With only 27 suites, it's wise to book as far ahead as possible. Prices for a double range from a very reasonable LE13,475 ($2,450/£1,248) during the heat of the summer to a rather steep LE40,425 ($7,350/£3,743) over Christmas. Cruises can also be booked through your travel agent or the Mena House Oberoi in Giza.

On the other end of the scale, you'll see a lot of options moored along the riverbank between the Luxor Museum and the Old Winter Palace. These boats retail for between LE220 and LE550 ($40-$100/£20-£51) or more per night, all inclusive, depending on the class, and are sold in wholesale blocks to travel agents. You can reserve your place with your agent at home before you come to Egypt, or you can try your luck with a local agent when you arrive. (You can try to book ahead with a local agent, but even the branches of international firms such as Thomas Cook are notoriously slack when it comes to e-mail and fax queries.) I recommend using Spring Tours (tel. 02/27365972; info@springtours.com) in Cairo; they usually deal at the wholesale end of the market, but if you know what you want (they don't have the staff or resources to form itineraries for you, or give a lot of advice), they'll sell at a retail level, often at a far better price than an agent (who has to take his cut, after all).

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.