Visiting Egypt merely for the Pyramids, will not do any justice to that long and tiring flight. If I were to suggest a decent length of tour covering the essence of Egypt, I would suggest including a short cruise in the River Nile.
Take a Train to Aswan
Aswan is where you should ideally board your cruise. This cruise will then sail upwards to Luxor and do a reverse back to Aswan. Preferably, Aswan is a better choice for embarking and Luxor for disembarking than vice versa. We took the first class sleeper night train from Cairo and reached Aswan by 6 or so in the morning. The train journey was a lot more comfortable than what I had imagined.
We were happy to get good vegetarian meal for both dinner and breakfast.
This was included in the ticket price for the journey (which is a good thing – Dining in an Egyptian Sleeper train, Wow!…). The train had independent cabins with a small wash sink and a foldable table.
The linen and blankets were tidy!
You can also take a flight from Cairo to reach Aswan. However, a plush night train is not any less comfortable and it was just perfect for us!
Things to see in Aswan
We reached Aswan really early and since we were travelling light we thought of seeing around Aswan directly from the train station before embarking the cruise. Aswan has a few interesting things you shouldn’t miss seeing if you have a minimum of half a day at your disposal –
- The Unfinished Obelisk – If you are all into history then you might find this very fascinating. Egyptian obelisks are known for its magnificence and complicated architecture all over the world. You will find several of these spread across different Egyptian temples. This one however stands apart from those because of it is unfinished nature and because it still remains in the same place where they carved it (out of a huge rock)! If you are unsure of what to expect from this site, do read a bit before you go there. It will be uncomfortable on a sunny day- but hey, you won’t be visiting Aswan every other weekend, so try not to miss it if you have the time.
- Philae temple – After the Obelisk, we took a short tour to the Philae temple and it was the best thing I saw in Aswan! This temple is in the island of Philae and to reach here you will have to take a short boat ride (which will be undoubtedly stunning). The temple has over 5000 years of history and was built for Goddess Isis. It is one of the many Egyptian temples where you can see immense architectural wonder alongside the scenic views being pulled in from the river in the background.
I would suggest this place for its absolute beauty than for the historic feed it has!
- High Dam – I had no clue about the High Dam of Aswan until we reached there! This famous High Dam is 11,811 feet long, 3215 feet thick at the base and about 364 feet tall. The Dam clearly is an engineering marvel built in the 900s. Well, I know it is just a dam after all but if you want a selfie on its edges, then you know you why you must go there!
These are the three things I would suggest if you have considerable time before you board your cruise. If you plan to stay in Aswan for 2 days or more, there are museums and other tiny islands you may want to visit.
We were slightly late as we embarked the cruise but I didn’t feel as bad when I saw there was another couple who boarded just minutes after us! The procedures were quick and we got a stunning cabin for a river cruise!
The cruising proceeded and we had our lunch at the restaurant. As a river cruise, it was evidently smaller than sea cruises. Ours for instance, had one restaurant and a bar attached to it. The food was good and there were several interesting vegetarian Mediterranean options to choose from. The boat also had a tiny gym, a small shop selling souvenirs, a lounging area and pretty much one bit of everything. The top level was the sundeck, which also had a mini swimming pool and a coffee area for high-tea.
The cruise cabin was bigger than I had imagined. Although ours didn’t have any balconies, it had a huge glass window. This helped us see the beautiful Egyptian villages across the Nile as the sailing continued.
The washroom was a regular size with a bathtub. What I clearly remember is that there were no shower curtains. This really was hard to cope with.
Kom Ombo Temple
We watched a beautiful sunset at the Boat Deck having some tea and biscuits. After the sun was down, we reached the Kom-Ombo Temple and spent a good time learning its history. I wouldn’t want to discuss the history here but this structure dates back to 100BC and although much of it was destroyed by the flooding of River Nile, a lot still has stayed in place!
The evening views of Kom-Ombo were simply stunning with excellent lighting and I felt good especially about getting there after twilight.
This temple also houses a crocodile museum. The historians found over 300 crocodile mummies in this vicinity!
We picked up some good looking sand art souvenirs here and got back to the cruise on time for dinner. Dinner was again a very good fare with extensive options!
The Temple of Edfu
Next morning, the cruise had already docked as we woke up. We were on the West Banks of Nile and it was time for us to see around the Edfu Temple. This one, unlike many others Egyptian temples on the Nile Banks, is intact with the least ruins. Although I had seen a lot of pictures of this temple, I had the faintest idea that it was the Temple of Edfu!
This temple also showcases a lot of inscriptions and texts providing information on religion, mythology and other lifestyle of the Ptolemaic period.
All through the cruising, we had striking views of the tiny villages. We saw them either from the deck or from the solitude of our cabin. We loved every bit of it.
The staff was polite and professional and entire cruise was like a classic tale. Every meal was well curated and tool care of all dietary requirements.
We also went upto the Captain’s room and he was an excellent pilot to our cruise. We passed one of the narrow Sluice Gates and that was an excellent maneuvering wonder!
We saw our second beautiful sunset before we docked at Luxor.
The port of Luxor seemed a very busy port. It took a while before we got out to see the Luxor temple which is in the East Banks. Again, this was the twilight hour and supposedly the best to view the temple in yellow lights. The temple was crowded, but we managed to take some good pictures before and after we got in.
Luxor temple, like all others, seemed massive and had gigantic structures of the royals who were a part of the era. The history can be googled but the picture below will talk about its colossal construction!
The evening, back in the cruise, was loaded with entertainment with some Egyptian belly dancing and some good food.
Hot Air Ballooning
Luxor is one of the places you might want to consider taking the hot air balloon. This activity often happens in the early hours of the day. One needs to arrive a while before sunrise so that the ride can take place in leisure.
This is the best way to see this bird’s eye view of Luxor with barrenness on one side, greenery on another and of course the River Nile flowing in between! You will have an exceptional ride in the company of the best pilots!
How I got conned in Egypt
On our 3rd day, in the morning, we took a boat to the West Bank. Travelling between East and West Bank is convenient via a short boat ride. West Bank is popular due to its hosting to the Valley of the Kings and queens.
Of the many things I saw here, I would recommend the Colossi of Memnon, Queen Hatshepsut’s Temple and Deir el-Bahari (which is a complex of mortuary temples).
We wanted to see the Karnak Temple a day before disembarking the cruise unlike some who choose to do it after their cruise journey.
Karnak temple is a vast open air museum with hosts a large falloff of several temples and tombs at one place. After Angkor Wat, this is the second largest ancient religious site and is the second most visited historic site after Cairo! It is one of the important UNESCO World heritage sites!
Karnak temple complex is huge and will take you a longer time to see everything at ease. This temple will also provide several photo opportunities with amazing back and foregrounds.
Disembarkation – Day 4
Morning after breakfast, we tipped the staff and advanced to disembark the cruise. We were then looking forward to a road trip to Hurghada to spend the next three days! Do check out how we spent our time in Hurghada –
Our days in Nile Cruise have been the most memorable ones for me. I would highly recommend everyone to this cruise whilst in Egypt. The places covered as you sail will give you an even better idea about the Egyptian Civilization – much more than the pyramids would do!
Read about our Cairo Experience