They say nothing in Africa is ever easy, and by God are they right. We woke up yesterday morning bright and early, excited to be taking the train from Cairo to Luxor. We had booked a hotel near The Valley of the Kings for 2 nights (thanks to a recommendation from an Egyptian friend of ours) and were all set for a fun filled full day of train travel. Ahem.
Pro Tip: If you’re planning to travel around Egypt (or further into Africa), I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to have decent travel insurance – as you never know what could go wrong and accidents happen ALL the time…especially traveling overland. I always use World Nomads, as they’re known as the best insurer for backpackers and long-term travelers.
Taking the train from Cairo to Luxor – It’s NOT easy!
We went straight to the reception after breakfast and asked for a taxi to take us to Ramses Station, the main train station in Cairo. We ended up writing almost an hour for our driver to arrive and were fuming. you have to understand there are literally THOUSANDS of taxis in Cairo, but our hotel didn’t think to just call one instead of making us wait for their own personal driver to arrive. Next, we got totally ripped off traveling from our hotel to the train station. They charged us almost half of what we paid for a 3-hour private transfer from Alexandria to Cairo – over 250km – just to get from the hotel to the station. 300 Egyptian pounds down the train. We were already pissed off as we knew we had missed the 12pm train thanks to waiting so long for the ride to arrive.
We stayed positive, in the hopes we could catch the 2pm train. This wasn’t ideal as it meant we would arrive into Luxor after midnight – never a good time to arrive in a foreign city, especially when backpacking in Africa. we persevered and started asking around in the train station where we could buy a ticket to Luxor. We knew what times all the trains left as we had looked up the Egyptian Rail website the night before and saved the train timetable. We soon discovered virtually nobody in the station could speak English, there was no information desk and we were getting more frustrated by the minute.
We eventually found Platform 11, where we were told we could purchase a ticket for the luxury night train to Luxor, a special train for tourists. We argued that we didn’t want to take the night train, we wanted to take the one at 2pm. It should be noted this conversation only happened after asking at least 15 people for help, including 10 people who work behind the counters at platform 11. At around 1.45pm we finally found a man who spoke English. We was ASLEEP behind his desk, with headphones in and coffee going cold in front of him. Such a hard worker! He went on to tell us that the local trains are strictly for Egyptians and because we are not Egyptian we are not allowed to buy a ticket, and that we simply must take the sleeper train at 8.30pm. I tried to argue with him, said we wanted to leave at 2pm not 8.30pm, but he said “for safety reasons” tourists are not allowed travel on the local trains. WTF.
We left the station and took a taxi to Egyptian Night hostel where we stayed last week. Even though we were not staying there, they very kindly let us chill out and use their WiFi while we figured out our plan of action. We decided we definitely did not want to go through this again when coming back to Cairo in 5 days time, so we through the budget out the window and booked internal flights from Luxor to Cairo for next Monday.
We decided we would go back to the train station at 7pm, buy tickets for the sleeper train and be done with it. Our taxi back to the station only cost us 15 Egyptian pounds – a MASSIVE contrast to the 300 we were charged earlier that day! We went straight back to Platform 11 and tried to buy a ticket. There was no one around, at least not at Counter 1 where we were told is the ONLY place to buy a ticket! We knocked on the glass, asked for help from the others, but it seemed half the staff were just sitting around laughing, drinking coffee and smoking. They saw us, made eye contact with us but would not help us. Guys, I absolutely love Egypt and the people here, and can’t wait to write extensively about why you should visit, but the people working at Ramses Station are THE WORST.
Eventually, with just 20 minutes to spare, a guy decided to stop dossing off and to come serve us. He told us we could only pay in US dollars (but of course – their obsession with the precious dollar continues). We didn’t mind as no longer needed them for a visa so we handed over 100 US dollars each and waited for our change. The guy just shook his head at us and said “No, no, you must have the exact amount. We don’t have any change!” I said it’s okay if he gives us the change in pounds, but he said he can’t do that. I said, “Okay. we can pay in Egyptian pounds do”, Nope, not allowed.
He eventually led us way, way across the train station to a small office near the entrance where he said we could pay with Visa or MasterCard. We got our tickets with about 5 minutes to spare (at 80 dollars a pop they were the most expensive thing we’ve bought since arriving in Egypt!!) and jumped on to the train.
How to take the train from Cairo to Luxor:
Single sleeper cabin – 110 dollars.
Double cabin – 80 dollars per person.
Upright seat – 15 dollars.
Prices include a meal for the cabins and a snack if you just pay for a seat.
Train leaves daily from Cairo Ramses Station at 8pm (or around then) and arrives in Luxor at 6.30am.
Apparently, it is possible to get a local to buy you an Egyptian ticket so you can take the local train but as we did not do this I cannot confirm.
I suggest you fly – it’s actually cheaper if you book in advance from Egypt Air site – about €73. Or else ask a travel agent to book everything for you. It’s SO not worth the hassle.