A Nile cruise has long been one of the classic experiences of travel. Long stretches of the river have changed little over the centuries, and the landscape has a memorably timeless quality. Lounging on the sundeck, watching the ancient scene slide past, can be an almost meditative experience.
Due to political instability, cruise traffic on the Nile has been greatly reduced in recent years, and many boats have spent long periods moored to the quayside. But American and international visitors have now begun to return to Egypt, and a majority of the licensed vessels are once again plying their trade.
Most Nile cruises are between Luxor and Aswan and take between three and four nights to cover the approximately 135 miles. A majority of the most famous ancient Egyptian sites — Karnak, the temple of Queen Hatshepsut, the Valley of the Kings — are situated either in, or near, Luxor. The principal sites between Luxor and Aswan — Esna, Edfu and Kom Ombo — are fascinating but of lesser importance. The famous ancient Egyptian ruins at Dendera and Abydos are generally visited on day trips from Luxor by road. During the recent political turmoil, cruise boats ceased to operate from Cairo all the way to Aswan (10 to 15 days), but such extended trips may resume.
Your choice of boat is crucial, and in almost every respect, smaller is better. Many of the bigger vessels look like floating apartment buildings and disembark large numbers of passengers simultaneously, which often results in the archaeological sites being overcrowded. Smaller boats can time their arrivals to avoid the hordes.
The Sanctuary Sun Boat III is a 197-foot-long river yacht with four decks and 18 air-conditioned cabins (for a maximum of 36 people), each at least 180 square feet. These come with four-poster beds, Egyptian linens and baths with tubs as well as showers. The cabins lack balconies, but all have shuttered windows for views of the Nile.
The interior design of the public areas evokes 1930s art deco. There is a small swimming pool on the top deck. There, white cabanas enclose shaded daybeds from which to observe the scenery and the life of the river. Amenities include an open-air restaurant and a small gymnasium.
Perhaps the ultimate way to cruise the Nile is aboard a privately chartered dahabiya (traditional sailing boat). The Sanctuary Zein Nile Chateau has only four cabins (215 square feet) and two suites (460 and 1,000 square feet) and hence is ideal for a family or a small group of friends. The dining room has floor-to-ceiling windows for panoramic views, and the sundeck provides a small pool. The chef caters to individual tastes, and the boat carries its own Egyptologist. The vessel’s relatively small size enables it to dock in places inaccessible to larger boats. And all sightseeing is privately tailored to the interests of the 12 passengers.
As the Nile cruise business has slowly revived, new boats are now on the horizon. Uniworld, the specialist river cruise company (one long favored by Hideaway Report members) will launch a new boat, the S.S. Sphinx, in January 2020. The vessel will have 42 suites, appointed with Egyptian fabrics and handcarved furnishings. Dining venues will include a private dining room, plus outdoor dining on the upper deck. Amenities will include a swimming pool and massage facilities.