One of the highlights of our recent trip to Egypt was a Nile river ! We did extensive research prior to our trip and decided upon a five day sail aboard the Nour el Nil Malouka. Recently cited by National Geographic as one of the 21 best cruises in the world, it was a decision that did not disappoint.
Before arriving in Egypt we were both looking forward to yet somewhat anxious about the slower pace of this cruise. We tend to be go, go, go kind of travelers so this was a real departure from the norm for us. Accordingly, we a bunch of movies, books, games, etc. to occupy the down time. In practice, it was not needed. The days proved to be quite full enough to satisfy and during times when there were no scheduled activities we enjoyed just lounging and observing the life along the Nile.
Breakfast was typically at 7:30 and was served on the upper lounge deck. We were typically served coffee, fresh juices, toast with 4-5 freshly made jams (fig, guava, bitter orange marmalade, etc.), crepes and eggs.
After breakfast we would usually have our first excursion of the day. Some days this was an established tourist sight, other days it was a more intimate experience like a hike to local farm or a stop at a village cafe. These visits were among my favorite experiences!
Mid-to-late morning we’d usually have a short bit of rest time as we got under sail and then lunch would be served. We were lucky that the weather cooperated and we were able to take all our meals outside but there is a small interior lounge/dining space that can be used on especially cold or windy days.
After lunch it was siesta time. With only six of us on a boat that could accommodate eighteen, we all found our own private place to hang out. We’d sunbathe, nap, read, work a game or crossword and just enjoy the silence and scenery that you get when under sail on the Nile. Before long, tea time would come about!
Late afternoon would often bring another outing of some sort. Another sight or local visit or an incredible chance to cool off via a swim in the Nile. Whenever we returned to the boat the crew would have a lovely, freshly pressed juice waiting for us.
Following our afternoon outing we’d go back to our rooms to clean up and get ready for dinner. One by one we find ourselves back up on deck, meeting for happy hour and some unforgettable sunset views.
Dinner was always a fun time! All of us on board were self-described foodies. In fact, one couple were restaurateurs and another passenger was a wine consultant. The ingredients for our meals were often sourced locally from the farms and small towns that we stopped at along the way. Fish fresh from the Nile was a hit among all of us. One night we even went to visit a local family where they dressed us in silly abayas.
By 10 PM or so, the accumulated effects of sunshine and rosé would take their toll and we’d head off to bed in happy anticipation of the next day’s experiences. Life as a pharaoh is good!
At one time, more than 280 passenger vessels traveled the Nile between Luxor and Aswan, an area to many of Egypt’s best preserved monuments. With the enormous drop in tourism post Arab Spring, today that number has dwindled to about 40.
Nile cruises typically range in length from 3 to 7 days. The summer heat in Luxor and Aswan is quite intense (read as unbearable) so June through August sailings are not recommended. October through April prove to be the most enjoyable time for Nile cruises, with milder daytime temps and a only a light chill in the evening.
The river cruise ships that travel the Nile are most comparable to what we think of as traditional cruise ships. These ships can accommodate 100+ passengers and offer typical cruise ship amenities like rooms with TV/phone, a swimming pool, dining room with buffet service and nightly entertainment like belly-dancing demonstrations and galabaya (traditional Egyptian dress) parties.
On these vessels, you will typically use the ship as your hotel while in Luxor and Aswan. Diesel-powered, they travel much faster than the sailing boats and can get to the major sites along the Nile much more quickly. Consequently, much less of your time is spent actually cruising the Nile.
Their larger size prohibits them from accessing some of the smaller, less tourist-ed sites along the river.
The Nour el Nil Malouka that we traveled on was a dahabiya. Dahabiyas are shallow-bottomed sailboats with two sails. Our boat could accommodate 18 passengers and sailed with a crew of about six. Malouka is the second largest of the four vessels in Nour el Nil’s fleet.
Dahabiyas offer, in my mind, the ideal mix of larger ship comfort paired with smaller ship accessibility to lesser viewed sights and fewer crowds. The boats have traditional cabins with private baths for sleeping. Two of the cabins are larger, panoramic suites with a small sitting area and lovely views off the stern. Meals are all prepared to (no buffets) and nightly entertainment usually involves hanging out and getting to know your fellow passengers.
The nearly 100 year old, steam ship Sudan, while not a dahabyia, is another excellent choice to consider in the mid-size category. You may recognize this ship as the location of many scenes from Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile.
Arguably the most authentic way to experience the Nile. These sailboats are similar in design to dahabiyas but are a good bit smaller. As with dahabiyas they afford access to the smaller and more private locations along the river. Boats typically house up to 10 passengers with 2-3 crew members. Often times on feluccas you will be sleeping on laid out on deck. An adventure, for sure, but a bit too rustic for our tastes!
Note that Nour el Nil does not include visits in either Luxor or Aswan. We arranged our own hotel and time for these sights but the staff at Nour el Nil are more than happy to assist with planning of both accommodation and sightseeing in these cities.
On one of the larger river cruise boats, you will typically spend your first day or two in Luxor touring the sights of the East and West bank. The next day includes visits to both Esna/Temple of Khnum and Kom Ombo. The last day will be spent touring Aswan along with an overnight stay and you will depart the following morning. Be aware, you will be visiting these sights not only with those traveling on your own ship but with those on all the other large boats as well.
* Esna – point of embarkation. You will visit the Temple of Khnum on your first day.
* El Kab & Edfu *
* Free Day for Sailing & Swimming
* Gebel Silseleh
* Kom Ombo *
* Sights marked * are also visited by the bigger ships
* Aswan – point of debarkation.
Check out my blog link in bio for the rest of our Egypt trip as well as other travel posts!