Felucca or cruise ship? Cruising down the Nile
Whichever way you go, cruising the Nile offers an enchanting way to see the treasures of ancient Egypt, bringing the life and times of the Pharaohs to life. Cruises can be as short as two or three days or continue for over a week. The ships that cruise the Nile are more like luxurious ferry boats than huge liners, but if you prefer something slower and more traditional, why not take a felucca down the Nile?
These traditional wooden boats have two lateen sails still ply the Nile and Red Sea. With a crew of two or three, they can hold up to ten passengers. Alternatively, if you want to travel in greater comfort, there’s every size of cruise ship available to take you up and down the Nile, from Luxor to Aswan.
The ships that cruise the Nile tend to be owned and operated by international hotel chains like the Sheraton, Oberoi, Hilton and Sonesta hotel groups. Shallow-bottomed, the boats are usually a lot smaller than typical cruise ships that sail on the sea. Generally accommodating up to 200 passengers, with large sun decks, they will normally come equipped with water-purification systems, air conditioning, internal telephones, radios, private bathrooms and large windows for admiring the views.
Sightseeing is the main reason for cruising the Nile, but it can be a good excuse to relax by the pool and enjoy a bit of pampering.
For a more traditional way of cruising the Nile, you can take a felucca. Normally departing from Aswan, you sail for three days up to Edfu, where typically you are taken by road to finish your tour at Luxor. You can arrange your trip independently and directly with a boatman who will leave whenever you want. You will need to come prepared with a sleeping bag or blanket though, as sleeping arrangements are very basic and it gets cold at night, especially during the winter. Boats leave from the Corniche in Aswan and solo travelers can usually join a group. Try not to go with more than five or six others, as otherwise the felucca can get cramped for all of you.
To avoid paying middlemen or commission, make sure you speak direct with the boat’s captain and check it over before you embark on your trip. Typically your three-day trip should include meals, transport from Edfu to Luxor and a visit to a Nubian village along the way plus stops at Kom Ombo and Edfu. Make sure you take a good supply of drinking water, snacks, a hat and plenty of sun screen even in the winter. You will usually sail for three days and two nights down the Nile to Kom Ombo where a minibus will take you to Edfu and then on to Luxor.
With every bend of the river, you will be assailed by sights from ancient Egypt. Cruise ships leave from Cairo or Aswan (feluccas tend to go downstream from Aswan).
Luxor and the Valley of the Kings and of the Queens must count as the world’s most impressive archaeological sites. This is where you can find most of the New Kingdom era pharaohs’ tombs, and this is where Tutankhamen was buried, along with Ramses II and many more other kings. Here you can see the Temple of Hatshepsut and the Colossi of Memnon. Adjacent to the Valley of the Kings is the Western Valley which is where several more pharaohs were buried like Amenhotep III and is less visited.
On the other side of the river from the Valley of the Kings are the impressive and huge temples of Karnak and Luxor that were built by Ramses V and Amenhotep III. The evening ‘son et lumiere’ show here is highly recommended.
Typically you will sail for a few hours to Esna where you moor up for the night, before continuing to Edfu the next morning to visit the magnificent Temple of Horus, who was the mythical son of Isis and Osiris. You continue to Kom Ombo to see the Temple of Sobek and Haroeris and then sail on to Aswan.
From Aswan you can visit the controversial dam that with Russian support, was completed in 1971 and the Unfinished Obelisk. Visit the Temple of Isis on Philae Island and maybe take a ride in a traditional felucca around Elephantine Island and sail to General Kitchener Island to visit the Botanical Gardens that were given as a gift in 1890. From here you might also want to take a diversion up to Abu Simbel to see Ramses II’s amazing temple complex and imposing figures guarding the entrance.
If you are sailing back, you might return via Esna and visit the partly excavated Temple of Khnum at Esna before sailing back to Luxor.
Whether you chose the comfort of cruise ship (like a floating hotel) or want to rough it in a more traditional felucca, the amazing sights remain the same – mind blowing and far more impressive than you can ever imagine. Though taught at school and familiar with some of the history, it’s only when you get close up and see it with your own eyes that it really sinks in how amazing ancient Egyptian civilization was.
Photo credits: Wikipedia: Marc Ryckaert & Jerzy Strzelecki