Without a meandering cruise down the fabled Nile River — with its arid banks and temple-strewn shores — a trip to Egypt simply wouldn’t be complete. From Cairo in the north to Aswan in the south, the Nile guides all who sail its waters through a tour of the country’s rich and ancient history, while simultaneously showcasing the heartland of modern-day Egypt.
From awe-inspiring sites of antiquity to glimpses of local life, a voyage along the world’s longest river is the best way to see all that Egypt offers. If all that piques your interest, here are some reasons why you might want to consider a cruise!
For those of us who have never been on a cruise before, you might have certain reservations in mind depending on what experience you want or budget you have. But, fear not! A Nile river cruise has to be neither touristy or expensive. Even for budget travelers who prefer a DIY trip, a Nile River cruise is almost always going to be the best option when you consider all of the costs that are incorporated in your trip to Egypt. With guided entry fees to all monuments and temples on your itinerary, transportation (including both transits to your day-trips and drop-offs), three meals a day, onboard performances, and themed nights plus your accommodation, it’s unlikely you’ll find more bang for your buck by organizing it on your own.
For those who can be flexible with dates, holding off on booking your river cruise until you’re in Egypt is also a great way of cutting costs on an already reasonably-priced voyage. By avoiding the middle-man of third-party booking agencies and heading down to the docks in search of cruise scouts selling last-minute deals, you can score a cruise to fit even the most cost-conscious traveler’s budget. Ask to see the ship before you book your vessel and don’t forget that you can negotiate almost anything in Egypt. Generally speaking, most cruises take place between Luxor and Aswan, with trips beginning in Luxor including a longer itinerary compared with routes beginning in Aswan. This is partly due to the fact that boats must sail against the river’s current, and means that cruises following the latter are cheaper because the trip will be shorter.
An authentic, easy experience
Seeing as many of Egypt’s sites are located directly on the banks of the Nile itself, it makes sense to travel between them via the waterways. With no luggage to haul and a magical sense of relaxation and solitude (especially if you were to visit during the shoulder seasons of September to November or February to April), you can escape the sometimes overwhelmingly chaotic pace of Egypt’s cities in exchange for a few serene days on the water. By trading the dusty streets and persistent hawkers for quiet contemplation of ancient life from the top deck of a sailboat, you can forgo any of the added pressures and instead enjoy a comfortable, deep immersion into Egypt’s past and present.
A Nile river cruise allows you to fully experience the rhythms of daily life as you watch the scenery and wildlife pass you by. You might even glimpse local fishermen and farmers on the riverbanks. Gliding past rural landscapes that have remained mostly unchanged for thousands of years, a river cruise not only showcases Egypt’s natural beauty but takes you on an adventure in its own right; transporting you to of all the most popular and culturally rich sites there are to see. A cruise transports you to days spent at the Ptolemaic temples of Esna, Edfu’s magnificent Temple of Horus, the double temple of Kom Ombo, the Avenue of Sphinxes at Karnak, and a number of other markets and monuments.
While there are definitely destinations around the world where it’s better to sightsee on your own to avoid tourist traps, in Egypt, it’s the opposite. With the knowledge and aid of guides, you can tick off more temples, sites, and experiences than if you were to travel between Luxor and Aswan yourself on land. In-depth local knowledge is at your disposal throughout the entire journey. It is also easier to get around thanks to an expert staff of tour guides who can navigate groups through bustling bazaars in order to get to the most popular temples and points of interest — all of which can be otherwise overwhelming. Usually, the private guides who work onboard the cruises will also have friends and contacts to introduce you to along the way. Some might share stories, lore, and facts that you might otherwise have missed, giving you an insightful journey that is much more comprehensive than if you were to go it alone.
Options for every traveler
The Nile waterways are home to a wide variety of vessels, from cheap feluccas to expensive and luxurious cruise ships. No matter what kind of traveler you are, there is bound to be a river cruise best suited to you. By focusing on different aspects of the Nile river experience, you can find cruises that cater to your every need — whether you are after a quick, jam-packed three-day voyage or a slow-paced and lavish week-long jaunt.
Based on the available itineraries, amenities on board, and other travelers’ reviews, you will be able to gauge what kind of cruise is best suited for you. If you’re after a bit of adventure, the open-top traditional feluccas might be what piques your interest. Sail slowly and watch the sunset before spending a night on the top deck under the stars. If you want to cruise the river in style and are looking to enjoy a good meal, you might want to opt for a luxurious dahabiya — a replica of the double lateen sailing boats that carried archeologists and wealthy travelers during the 19th century. Featuring a touch of old-world glamor with double cabins, ensuite bathrooms, and smaller tour groups, a dahabiya will not only transport you down the sleepy waters of the river but back in time to the golden age of travel. Feluccas and dahabiya’s suit travelers who prefer flexibility in their itineraries, since these vessels have the ability to dock at small islands and don’t necessarily need to follow strict schedules.
For a classic and popular experience, a safe bet would be aboard a big cruiser, fitted out with pools on the top deck, restaurants, and bars. These follow the more traditional routes and take you to all of the best-preserved monuments along the river while fitting in multiple stops a day. Lastly, if you’d rather skip the crowds, head south of Aswan aboard a Lake Nasser cruise for a week of uncongested landscapes, temples, and an array of wildlife.
Whatever you choose, a week in the Nile Valley is an opportunity not to be missed, and whether you plan it in advance or play it by ear, the wondrous adventure of a river cruise will have you ticking off your Egypt bucket list items in no time!
Want to get to know more of Egypt? Why not check out our Guide to Egyptian Temples or read up on Egypt for every kind of traveler!
Header image by Zach Murphy.