Historically, the most indulgent way to travel through Egypt is by Nile cruise. They have been carrying their passengers between Luxor and Aswan for well over a century.
Cruising along the river at a comfortable pace, you view the country through the perceptions of early visitors who, like us, came to wonder at the tombs and temples left behind by the Ancient Egyptians.
Strolling through the shaded corridors of a tomb, its walls surfaced in hieroglyphics and paintings of ancient gods, your imagination will surely run wild. Enormous columns still stand at ruined temples, while scorched canopies are proof of sacrilege by early Christians.
This is a trip not just through the land, but through thousands of years of history, culture, religion, and architecture.
Recommended Nile Cruise Route
Starting in Luxor and ending in Aswan, our recommended route usually lasts for five days and four nights. This provides you a large amount of time to both view the sites and spends time unwinding on board.
The first night is usually spent at Luxor itself, the second at Edfu, and the third and fourth at Aswan. Along the way, you may visit Luxor and Karnak Temples, numerous tombs at the Valley of the Kings, the Temple of Edfu, the Temple of Kom Ombo, and Philae Temple. You may also spend time traversing Aswan’s markets, Nubian Museum, and dam.
Cruising the route in reverse takes a day less as you’re heeding the direction of the river. There’s also the opportunity to embark on a seven-night round trip, witnessing the highlights at a more calm pace.
Luxor and Karnak Temples
The town of Luxor rests on the locality of Thebes, the capital of Ancient Egypt. It has an immense collection of temples and tombs in the world.
Here you can take a tour of the enormous Karnak Temple complex, which was built over 120 years ago. You can also explore the smaller Luxor Temple, which was constructed around 1,400 BC. These temples were once united by an avenue overlaid with sphinxes, some of which survive.
Around 30 various pharaohs were summoned to Karnak Temple over the years. As you roam around, your guide will lead you to the diversity of building styles and describe the various depictions of gods that the Ancient Egyptians prayed to at different times.
What struck visitors the most is the size and scale of the complex. It’s the second-largest ancient sacred site in the world after Cambodia’s Angkor Wat. You could consume hour upon hour traversing its halls, pillars, and stone statues.
Most visitors were most impressed by the Great Hypostyle Hall, which comprises 134 columns rising to 24 m or 80 ft above.
Luxor Temple is right in the center of the town, its ancient columns opposing new roads and buildings. The temple was built as a sign of devotion for the god Amun, his wife Mut, and their son Khons, the moon god.
When you arrive, you will be welcomed by two vast seated statues of Rameses II, and throughout the complex, you can appreciate intricately detailed hieroglyphics drawn on the walls and columns. Your guide will assist you in deciphering them and explain their significance.
You will be back to Luxor Temple in the evening and at this time, it’s lit up as opposed to the night sky so you can still have a chance to roam around its courtyards when they’re at their most climatic.
Valley of the Kings
Across the river from Luxor, on the Nile’s west bank, you’ll see the Valley of the Kings. It was used as a pharaoh burial site for over 500 years and has at least 63 known tombs.
It’s assumed that more are still awaiting their discovery, each one accommodating up to 150 chambers. The famous chambers that are among them are the tombs of Tutankhamun, Hatshepsut, the second female pharaoh, and both Rameses II and III.
The chambers are open for visitors on a rotational basis to support their preservation, so your guide will inform you of the best opportunities on the day you visit.
The tombs are etched into the sides of the mountain walls and can look unassuming from the outside. Going inside is amazingly exciting, as you stow away from the blazing sunlight to sudden darkness and uncanny silence.
You’re guided down through corridors with walls covered in intricate paintings and hieroglyphics. The text describes the tomb’s owner, different gods, and scenes from the Ancient Egyptian era. These courses finally open out to a burial chamber, where the departed pharaoh would have been laid to rest encompassed by its treasured possessions for the afterlife (most of these items are now in museums).
Temple of Edfu
For some, the Temple of Edfu (or Temple of Horus) is the most remarkable destination. That’s because it’s exceptionally conserved. At most temple sites you can only observe the remains of columns and walls. But here, even the roof is still intact.
Moving inside, the immense walls and restrictive darkness of some of the rooms furnish you with a true feeling of how the temple would’ve been in its heyday.
Edfu is more modern than Karnak and Luxor, having been constructed between 237 and 57 BC during the Ptolemaic dynasty. It was built as a sign of dedication to the falcon god, Horus, who was claimed to have beaten the god Seth on the site. Detailed engravings on the walls describe scenes from their battle and aspects of life during Egypt’s Greco-Roman period.
Some of the temple’s furnishings were confiscated by early Christians at a time when all other religions were considered forbidden in Egypt. You can still see scorch marks in areas where imagery was destroyed. Being able to view these sheets of history and proof of different cultures that have come and gone is what fascinates most visitors about Egypt.
Temple of Kom Ombo
As you travel further south of Edfu, you’ll reach the Temple of Kom Ombo which lies right on the riverbank and is toured on the same day (unless you’re on the slower-paced seven-night cruise).
The site is unique for having it split into two separate temples dedicated to two distinct gods: Haroeris (or Horus the Elder) and Sobek, the crocodile god of fertility and protector against the threats of the Nile.
Also built during the Ptolemaic dynasty between 180 and 47 BC, the temple would have been flawlessly symmetrical, with duplicate courts, halls, shrines, and chambers for the two gods. Today, much of it is in vestiges, but high columns and archways still mount over you. It’s mind-boggling to think about how they were constructed with just basic tools.
Following the temple is a crocodile museum, a haven for around 300 mummified crocodiles. Located inside the temple, they were likely to have been consecrated in honor of Sobek.
Temple of Philae
It’s considered Philae was the last temple devoted to the Ancient Egyptian religion, with the modern Egyptian hieroglyph inscribed there in the 4th century. Constructed during the Ptolemaic dynasty which is also dedicated to the goddess Isis, it is noted as the southern boundary of Egypt.
The temple was formerly held on Philae Island in the Nile, but since the original Aswan Dam was constructed in the early 20th century it had sustained from flooding. With the second dam on the border, UNESCO and the Egyptian government resolved that the temple should be relocated, piece by piece, to another island, Agilka, just a little south of Aswan.
The exceptional effort took ten years to finish but, visiting the temple, you’ll be glad they did it.
Reaching Philae by boat, you will be greeted by one of Egypt’s most charming temples. Its island position gives it a distinctive atmosphere from the other temples and grasping that it was once located somewhere else makes it all the more impressive.
A colonnaded courtyard leads to the main temple building. The path is marked by 18 m (59 ft) high pylons (grand gateways). There’s also the Kiosk of Trajan, a small, undeveloped pavilion with intricately carved pillars set by the water.
While there’s certainly less to expect in Aswan in terms of Ancient Egyptian ruins, the city still possesses an interesting history of its own and bestows an entire another side to Egypt through its Nubian culture (an ethnic society originating from Sudan and southern Egypt).
Some visitors also think it’s by far the loveliest city on the Nile and a magnificent place to unwind while watching feluccas forming between immense boulders in the river. Roam through its markets while they sell you popular Nubian crafts and food, such as spicy stewed meat, or visit its temples, monasteries, and mosques.
You’ll get to visit Aswan Dam as part of your cruise. The dam was constructed between 1960 and 1970 to deliver water for irrigation, produce hydroelectricity, and control flooding. It also indicated the loss of the whole Nubian villages as they became engulfed in the waters of Lake Nasser, a by-product of the dam’s structure.
You can learn more about Aswan’s Nubian people at the city’s Nubian Museum. This is an amazing highlight for most visitors as the exhibits display numerous relics and artwork from Nubia. It also depicts the Nubian way of life in southern Egypt. You can also view old photographs of some of the communities that now rest at the bottom of the lake.
Just past Elephantine Island in the middle of the Nile, relocated Nubians have developed traditional mud-brick homes.
Holiday Cruises in Egypt
A Nile cruise is a carefree and romantic way to tour the monuments of Ancient Egypt. Serving as floating hotels, the cruisers equip the river between Luxor and Aswan, checking off twice a day at important monuments en route. Most boat tours sail between three and seven nights and proceed to Aswan High Dam, the Valley of the Kings, and Karnak Temple.
On an Audley tailor-made Egypt cruise, you can decide to cruise aboard a large, luxurious cruiser with a multitude of modern facilities, a common wooden dahabiya, or a restored steamship. Though the smaller boats are more fundamental, they make up for this in style and visit places that larger boats cannot access.
Huge ocean liners and modern entertainment crafts have no spot on the slow-paced Nile. Instead, the waterways are glorified with traditional feluccas and the sailing boats used to carry tourists around.
More than 280 ships still anchor in the vast waters of Luxor and Aswan, the place of the country’s best-preserved shrines. Cruising is considered the best method for visitors to witness the grandeur of the Nile and the fabled temples and monuments that mount it. This includes Luxor, Karnak, Kom Ombo, Edfu, Dendera, and the famous Valley of the Kings and Valley of the Queens.
River cruise ships were limited to sailing Luxor and Aswan as a result of safety concerns that happened when a terrorist attacked a temple near Luxor in 1997. But they are now open again for business, though a massive security presence remains part and bundle of the region. There have been no terrorist events along the Nile in more than a decade, although that cannot be assumed for the rest of the country.
The mighty Nile spreads 4,184 miles in length and breathes through nine nations, from Lake Victoria in Uganda to the Mediterranean Sea near Alexandria, Egypt.
Unlike most rivers, it runs from south to north. It doesn’t demand more than a quick look to enjoy its value. Overlooking its shores rests the nation’s breadbasket: fields of corn, alfalfa, wheat, sugar cane, and sesame.
That persistent pulse you hear, like a heartbeat, is the music of irrigation pumps. Not surprisingly, agriculture is the region’s second-largest enterprise, after tourism. Once you move away from the Nile, all that is left is desert.
Historically, the Nile has possessed three seasons: flooding, farming, and harvesting. Since the Aswan High Dam was constructed in 1971, the river depth has been adjusted, depending on the requirements of navigation and irrigation. Today, Nile river cruises, lasting three to seven nights, are what include most cruise packages to Egypt.
Although the riverboats that sail through the Nile river manage not to range in size, there is still a great amount of distinction in quality. While some river cruise lines have ships in the region, they don’t always extend the itineraries.
For this holiday try to book your journey at Viking, Sonesta Nile Cruises, Avalon Waterways, Abercrombie & Kent, Movenpick, Sanctuary Retreats, Water Ways, Uniworld, Nile Exploration, Oberoi, and Travcoa.
Nile Cruise Boat Options
While the center of a Nile cruise is heavily set on visiting the temples and tombs, squandering time on your boat is all part of the adventure.
There are lots of boats to decide from. All produce a relaxing extent to recline after being on your feet all day. Some have dive pools, libraries, or spas onboard, as well as sun decks.
All refreshments are served on board, normally consisting of both foreign and local Egyptian dishes, such as ful medames (mashed fava beans), falafel, and sweet delicacies.
The M/S Mayfair is a classic, great-value alternative. Passengers for this vessel like its modern interiors, which have a fine nautical theme.
Its 52 cabins and two suites are roomy and outfitted with dark wood furniture. It also has floor-to-ceiling windows that let in lots of natural light, and you’ll also have your own bathroom. The vessel is equipped with a sunny terrace on the top deck with a Jacuzzi, a small pool, and a bar, while the Mayfair’s Nile Avenue restaurant can be found below the deck.
M/S Sun Boat IV
M/S Sun Boat IV has a classical Egyptian style, with wooden floors and wide windows. Passengers were overwhelmed by the high staff-to-passenger ratio, which guarantees a high level of service.
The 36 cabins and four suites are disseminated across all four decks and also possess en suite bathrooms. Some rooms also have four-poster beds. The vessel is equipped with an outdoor bar so you can unwind on the deck with a drink, as well as a dive pool. In Luxor and Aswan the boat has a secluded mooring point away from other vessels.
Steam Ship Sudan
Meandering aboard the Steam Ship Sudan will carry you back to the early days of Nile exploration. The paddle steamer ship was constructed in 1885 for King Fouad, but improvements over the years have kept its quality and character.
Agatha Christie, after being a cruiser on Sudan, was encouraged to write Death on the Nile. Scenes from the later film adaptation were shot on the vessel for their grand originality.
The ship holds 18 cabins and five large suites, and its application of period furniture, mahogany wood, and brass is in keeping with the age. While there are some facilities onboard, we recommend Sudan if you’d prefer a classic Nile cruise.
For those on the seven-night cruise trying to look for a touch of luxury, we suggest the Oberoi Zahra.
Its luxurious interiors generate the illusion that you’re staying in a five-star hotel. A refurbishment subdued its 70 cabins to 25 cabins and two large suites, each allowing panoramic views of the Nile through ample-sized windows.
While on board the vessel, you can make use of the spa, gym, pool, and library. The restaurant menu switches each evening, and live entertainment is presented in the evening as well
Combining Cairo with Your Nile Cruise
We strongly suggest that you visit Cairo before your cruise. It is just a one-hour flight from Luxor and an hour and a half flight from Aswan, so it can be easily incorporated Egypt’s capital into your trip.
Making a stay for two nights allows you to visit Cairo’s Museum of Egyptian Antiquities with a separate guide and Egyptologist. You’ll achieve an exceptional grounding in Ancient Egyptian history and the twisted belief system Ancient Egyptians followed. You’ll also get to learn some of the relics retrieved from the tombs and temples that you are about to visit on your Nile cruise.
Distinguishing where each of the sites matches Egypt’s timeline meant you got far more out of your trip.