All you need to know about cruising the Egyptian Nile
“Our trip to Egypt with cazenove+loyd on the Steam Ship Sudan, to celebrate a special anniversary with a group of 46 family and friends, was an unforgettably wonderful experience. I would certainly recommend a trip like this to anyone planning a special celebration.”
Kit Braden, client testimonial
Drifting down this placid river, with the warm breeze tickling your face – there’s something about travelling by boat that is undeniably romantic and relaxing. The slow pace of the journey is a soothing escape from the madness of the modern world.
Meandering along between Luxor and Aswan, you pass through some of the Nile Valley’s most picturesque and verdant scenery, home to some interesting bird species. A cruise gives you an intriguing glimpse of rural Egyptian life, such as fellaheen (farmers) at work in fertile sugar-cane fields and cattle and donkeys grazing in the shallows. It takes you to the treasures of Luxor and Aswan as well as some of the quieter, more isolated temples between the two cities.
The first of these is the Temple of Khnum in Esna, which was dedicated to the ram-headed creator god. The structure was begun by Ptolemy VI Philometor (180 to 45 BC) and finished by the Romans, who added the hypostyle hall – the remains of which can be seen today, despite being buried beneath debris for many centuries.
Next on the route is the Temple of Horus at Edfu, which was built between 237 and 57 BC. Dedicated to the sky god Horus, the avenging son of Isis and Osiris, this Ptolemaic temple is guarded by a pair of gargantuan granite sculptures of him as a falcon. Located on the West Bank, it is reached by horse and cart (which may suit some more than others). There is also a good sound-and-light show (Son et Lumière) here.
Five hours upstream, on a scenic bend in the Nile, lies the magnificent Temple of Kom Ombo. Unique in Egypt, it is dedicated to two gods – Haroeris (Horus the Elder) and Sobek (the crocodile god) – which is reflected in the elegant symmetry of its twin entrances, halls and sanctuaries. It is remarkably well preserved, as it was covered by sand and rubble until recently. We can arrange a private dinner here, with a pianist or harpist to serenade you while you dine.
You can enjoy three, four, five, six or seven nights onboard your luxury boat. We suggest spending longer on the water, so you can see as much as possible, and strongly advise against three-night routes, as they simply do not allow enough time to make the most of this once-in-a-lifetime adventure.
On a four-night cruise or more, you can enjoy an evening ride on a felucca (traditional sailboat). A quintessential Egyptian experience, this is a wonderful way to evade the bigger boats. A longer trip also means you can visit the beautiful Aswan Botanical Gardens, the Tombs of the Nobles and the majestic temples of Abu Simbel, which are a real highlight of any holiday and cannot fail to amaze travellers both young and old. The story of UNESCO’s incredible rescue mission to relocate them to higher ground is another notable reason to witness these amazing ruins in the flesh.
However, if you can spare the time, we believe the best choice by far is the seven-night cruise, so you have time to sail to the glorious Temple of Hathor at Dendera, an isolated ancient site free from the usual crowds, and can enjoy an additional day soaking up the laid-back atmosphere in Aswan.
From luxury cruises to dahabiyas (sailing boats), there are many options for your journey along the Nile. Using our first-hand experience and intricate knowledge, we have selected a handful of boats that we think offer the finest way to explore this enchanting river. Be assured that we will choose the one most suited to you. Whether you are with a large group of friends or family, or a couple looking to book a single cabin, each of the following vessels have varying advantages and disadvantages:
The Oberoi Philae
With only 22 spacious cabins, including two suites with private terraces and a Jacuzzi, this is our favourite boat. Some rooms have windows that can open, which is refreshing and rare. Refurbished in 2015, the Philae’s interiors are contemporary and stylish, and there is a signature spa, outdoor heated pool and 24-hour gym. This is perfect for those looking for a classic cruise with five-star service, food and amenities.
The Oberoi Zahra
This comfortable vessel has 27 cabins and suites, which are smaller than The Oberoi Philae’s but equally well appointed. The cabins have bathrooms with rain showers and floor-to-ceiling windows so you can wash with a view, and the suites feature bathtubs. Like its sister boat, there is an Oberoi Spa as well as an open-air pool and fitness centre.
Steam Ship Sudan
If you’re looking for bags of historic charm and character, this 19th-century steamer is the boat for you. Built for King Fouad, it boasts teak decks, wooden panelling and oriental opulence. One of its most famous guests was Agatha Christie, who was inspired to write Death on the Nile after travelling onboard. The five suites and 18 old-school cabins reflect the history of this venerable ship, and a 1930s restaurant serves a varied buffet at breakfast and lunch and a tasty set menu at dinner. There is no swimming pool, so it might be less suitable for children, but Steam Ship Sudan certainly delivers a timeless journey along the Nile.
Sanctuary Nile Zein Chateau
Launched in 2010, this dahabiya is available for private charter only. With just two suites and four cabins, sleeping 12 guests, it’s ideal for small groups or families, and its size means that you have greater flexibility on where you can dock. There is a heated plunge pool and pleasant alfresco dining on the top deck.
Nour El Nil
This fleet of four fantastic dahabiyas – Meroe, Malouka, El Nil and Assouan – provides an authentic way to experience this mythical river. Unlike most of the other boats we recommend, they are able to stop almost anywhere along the banks, which is a huge advantage. Each characterful and atmospheric vessel is run by an Egyptian crew and the food served is mainly traditional local dishes. There are no onboard swimming pools but we love the style of this brand.
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