To me there has always been something mystical about the thought of gliding down the River Nile, Egypt. It has always conjured up beautiful and romantic images against a backdrop of history and wonder.
I was so fortunate to experience this on a trip to Egypt in June this year. We were lucky enough to stay in a five-star cruiser sailing from Aswan to Luxor in addition to taking a ride on a traditional felucca in Luxor and seeing the Nile from many different locations across this fascinating country.
The Nile of course, does not just travel through Egypt.
At around 6,650km (or 4,130mi) in length, it is acknowledged as the world’s longest river.
In total it flows through 10 other African countries including Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea, South Sudan and the Republic of Sudan.
As so much of Egypt is covered by the Sahara, it is not surprising that the vast majority of the population can be found all along the banks of the Nile.
The Nile is life.
It has been this way for countless generations here. It is the primary source of water for millions of Egyptians and has been the main source of transportation and trade for Millenniums.
My partner James and I arrived in Cairo very late at night on a flight from Europe. Hence there was no chance of seeing the Nile from the air on approach to landing and although our hotel was just opposite the Nile, we were so tired we just crashed in our room.
The following day after getting ready, we headed down to the restaurant to grab some breakfast with the intent of checking out the Nile immediately after. The table we were provided actually overlooked the Nile, which made for a great way to start the day.
The river looked so blue. I know that’s the way rivers are meant to look but in a major city like Cairo with 23+million inhabitants, I honestly did not expect the Nile to look this good. At least not in downtown Cairo. It made me long for our upcoming itinerary where we would escape the city and explore the more remote parts of this land and to see the Nile in a much quieter and natural setting.
Catching our Nile Egypt cruiser
A couple of days later, leaving Cairo well behind, we had arrived by overnight train in Aswan. Aswan is famous for its dam and is the gateway point to other places in the south of the Nile, Egypt such as the beautiful Lake Nassar and legendary Abu Simbel.
We checked into the cruiser ‘Miriam’. The Miriam has 5 levels including 2 floors for restaurants, bars, lounges and reception, 2 floors of guest cabins and a top-level area for sunbaking, swimming and sightseeing. It also had a gym, retail shops and a library. Most of all, it had great air conditioning which is very welcome, particularly in the middle of the day.
This was to be our home for the duration of the travels on the Nile as we headed toward Luxor.
Sightseeing on the Nile
The days we were on this cruise were spent simply relaxing and enjoying the scenery and atmosphere of this incredible river. The Nile, Egypt is just not like any other river I can recall, given its unique mixture of greenery and dry desert as it backdrop.
The stark contrast between the lush vegetation that you see so close to the Nile versus the barren desert land of the Sahara immediately behind does hit you. The demarcation is just so sharp. It is literally a line that separates one from the other with no gradual blending in or out. I found that to be quite surreal.
The wildlife you could see was just as fascinating. To observe birds and even farmed animals above, on and along the riverbanks just makes anyone want to reach for their camera to preserve the memories of what they are witnessing. It is an experience anyone who loves the outdoors should plan on doing at some point.
Interaction with local people that wave to you along the banks was also so nice. The people this far south on the Nile, Egypt I found particularly genuine and more so the Nubian people were especially friendly. There are some very entrepreneurial people along the Nile also who take to their boats and attach them to the cruiser while they throw up goods to sell to passengers above, who in turn throw money back down to them to purchase all sorts of souvenirs.
And finally here, I need to mention the sunsets. The photos really do speak for themselves as I’m sure you would agree. This just completes the entire ‘picture’ of every you imagine a trip down the Nile, Egypt, should be. Simply magical.
A visit to Kom Ombo
A key stop of our cruise was to visit the double temple of Kom Ombo, situated right on the banks of the Nile.
Constructed during the period between 180-47BC, the northern part of the temple was dedicated to the falcon god ‘Haroeris’ while the southern part was dedicated to the crocodile god ‘Sobek’. This is also where a few hundred crocodiles were ‘mummified’ with some of these recovered and on display within the crocodile museum located next to the temple.
Like other temples and monuments we visited across Egypt, there was a lot of damage inflicted over the years. However, there were also a lot of living history that remains. The solid structure, the clear Egyptian hieroglyphics and symbols tell us a lot about life back then and we were fortunate to have a qualified Egyptologist explaining much of this to us.
Travelling through the Locks at Esna
When you mention locks in connection with waterways, most people immediately think of canals such as Panama, and of course in the case of Egypt, Suez. It was a surprise to many on board that the Nile has locks as well.
Esna is a city located some 55kms south of Luxor on the west bank of the Nile. Here we went through the locks on our final leg of the journey to Luxor.
This was a fun experience as all the way on the approach to, as well as while in the locks, the locals were extremely interactive with all the passengers. There was much going on in the way of selling with local goods being thrown up for inspection and negotiations on price. Other passers-by called out friendly expressions or just waved. Local police were about to ensure the peace was kept to a degree and it was interesting to watch this scene all unfold.
A more traditional way to explore the Nile, Egypt
Having enjoyed such wonderful and carefree days on the Nile Cruiser ‘Miriam’, we arrived in Luxor completely refreshed and rejuvenated. It was a fabulous and fulfilling trip but there was one more thing we wanted to experience where the Nile was concerned.
Namely, we were keen to sail on the Nile in a traditional ‘felucca’. If you haven’t heard of a felucca before, it is an Egyptian traditional wooden sailing boat. It is the sailboat most featured in images that depict the Nile, Egypt and would be included in most Egyptian holiday brochures you are likely to come across.
We joined with a group of other keen tourists to hire a felucca to take us all for a sail on the Nile. It was a more intimate experience as the river was so much closer to where you sat aboard the felucca. The water was just below eye level. You felt the vessel cutting through the water as the wind filled the sails right above you.
It was the closest thing to actually being in the Nile itself. A few of our fellow passengers decided to jump in and have a bit of a swim during our sail and then found it quite a challenge to get back in! Whether you were keen to go swimming or not, taking a sailing trip on a felucca down the Nile is something I would definitely recommend you have on your bucket list.
My time experiencing the Nile was extremely special. I think it will always stand out as memorable from many other places I have visited. There was a connection with nature on a different level for me compared to elsewhere which is not easy to explain.
Being there calmed me, excited me and fascinated me. It was not a destination so much as it was the journey. Something I hope you enjoyed my sharing and something I hope you will want to experience also.