Cruising the Nile River
The ship is your hotel, and one unpacking serves for the duration of the trip, leaving loads of time to kick back and watch the timeless panoramas of river life flow by while waiting for the next exciting port. In addition to astonishing temples and tombs, journeying down the Nile also offers glimpses into rural life in Egypt, in many ways unchanged since the days of the pharaohs.
Cruising Style and Itineraries
Most trips last between three and 14 days, with boats mooring at night in the bustling ports of Luxor and Aswan or at major temples in between. A normal itinerary would include landing in Cairo to spend one or two days touring the city’s spectacular sites, and then flying to either Luxor or Aswan depending on the direction of the tour. Shorter tours of up to 8 days normally travel between Luxor and Aswan, while longer cruises of 14 days or more often venture farther north to the temple complex at Dendera. Lengthier expeditions may also include overland trips to more remote locations.
Basic ports of call for all the cruises are the same, encompassing the Valley of the Kings, the Sphinx, Abu-Simbel, the Aswan High Dam and the temples at Luxor, Edfu and Kom-Ombo. However, shipboard accommodations can vary widely, and all boats are rated on a scale of five to zero stars by the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism, with five stars indicating top-notch facilities and first class service. A lavish cruise on a five-star ship may include such luxuries as swimming pool, Jacuzzi, spa, nightclub, restaurant and even a library. Dazzling entertainment is often featured, from costumed cocktail parties to belly dancers and theatrical performances. Referred to as floating hotels, Nile cruisers may be independently owned or associated with hotels or tour companies. Depending on price, accommodations may be small and utilitarian or spacious and opulently appointed.
For those seeking a more primitive Egyptian experience, cruises are also offered aboard feluccas, traditional sailboats that ply the length of the Nile. While most feluccas take guests on short sails of a few hours, some offer longer three or four day cruises to the regular destinations. These trips are definitely a barefoot-style adventure, with guests sleeping out under the stars and chipping in to help with cooking and chores.
What to Bring
There are a number of things to keep in mind when preparing for this adventure of a lifetime. As the Egyptian sun is extremely hot and strong, a wide brimmed hat and plenty of sunscreen is recommended. Additionally, hats and scarves are useful for women as respectful coverage for the head, arms and shoulders when visiting old churches and mosques. Travellers will find a battery-operated spray bottle invaluable on scorching days, delivering a fine mist of water on long hikes through sprawling ruins. Because stop-over tours include considerable walking and step climbing, breathable lightweight walking shoes should be one of the first items into the suitcase. Bring your own Egyptian currency onboard the cruise ship, as few have money changing services and you’ll want some local cash when touring the sites. While the water on most boats is filtered and safe to shower in, remember to only drink bottled water, which should be plentiful onboard.
The best time to cruise this portion of the Nile is between October and mid-April, when the weather is cooler and all the locks on the river are open. Around the end of April through June the Nile has a series of locks in effect due to low water levels, and though the cruises still run, the floating hotels have to wait in line or shuttle guests from one ship to another at the locks. Christmas and Easter are peak travel seasons and prices may be 25% to 50% higher than normal.
First stop is usually bustling Cairo, home to some of the most spectacular sights in Egypt. Housing the largest collection of pharaonic artefacts in the world, the sprawling Egyptian Museum of Antiquities’ fascinating exhibits include the glittering treasures of Tutankhamen's tomb and an extensive collection of mummies. Just outside the city at Giza, the three pyramids of Khufu dominate the landscape, while the Great Sphinx crouches at the eastern edge keeping guard over the sprawling necropolis. Just beyond the Sphinx, a viewing platform offers a stunning panoramic vista of all nine pyramids, and it’s possible to explore portions of the site by rented horse or camel.
Abu Simbel is the site of two stunning temples commissioned by Ramses II, and the two massive statues before the Great Temple were famously rescued from rising Lake Nasser in the 1970s. Before boarding your ship, you’ll likely tour Aswan’s High Dam and the temple at Philae.
The majestic Ptolemaic twin sanctuaries at Kom-Ombo were erected in honour of Sobek, the crocodile god, and Haroeris, the winged god of medicine. The temple was once a centre of healing and contains fascinating reliefs of ancient dental and surgical practices.
Dedicated to the falcon-headed god Horus, the beautifully preserved temple at Edfu is graced with spectacular murals depicting festivals, a mock battle and a wedding visit. Begun in 237 BC, the magnificent structure took 200 years to complete. Transport from the ship is often by horse and carriage, though taxis may also be used.
The majestic mysteries of Luxor include many of Egypt’s most spectacular ancient ruins. The Valley of the Kings, famous for the legendary tomb of Tutankhamun, is one of the most important archaeological sites in the world, encompassing 62 tombs of the pharaohs and powerful nobles of the New Kingdom. Other spectacular Luxor sites include the Ramesseum, the gigantic Colossi of Memnon, the massive Karnak Temple complex and Luxor Temple.
A sprawling and beautifully preserved temple complex in southern Egypt, Dendera boasts the exquisite Middle Kingdom temple of Hathor. Somewhat off the beaten path, the temple is known for its extensive reliefs depicting Cleopatra VI presenting her son Caesarion to the Egyptian gods.
Whether a whirlwind four-day tour or more leisurely 14-day expedition, any Nile cruise is an unforgettable experience, artfully combining the awe-inspiring grandeur of Egypt’s magnificent past with the contemporary comforts of a modern holiday.