7 Days on the Nile
[LONG POST WARNING]
Sometimes it takes a special occasion for a dream to come true. It was my mother’s 60th birthday and she decided to celebrate it on a Nile cruise. All in Agatha Christie “Death on the Nile” style. And it sure, wasn’t disappointing at all.
It was my second visit to the Land of the Pharaohs. My first time was 9 years ago – a visit to Cairo which included the Great Pyramids of Giza and a little love affair in and with Egypt. However, I must admit that Upper Egypt is by far the more interesting part of Egypt. That’s the part we visited while on our Nile Cruise.
There are various cruises available. From a 14-day cruise which usually starts in Cairo and goes all the way down (or up) to Aswan, to 1-week cruises and even 5-day cruises. Five days are really short as most of the first and last day is spend travelling. So, you effectively have three full days. We did the one-week cruise and it was just perfect.
As far as I remember it was also my first ever fully guided tour. More on the topic in another post perhaps. I didn’t know what to expect and what we were about to see and experience over the next week when we got there.. so, if you are ever thinking of doing a Nile Cruise this post will give you an idea about our itinerary and what might await you.
DAY 1: Arrival and Embarkment
We arrived in Luxor in the early afternoon and were taken, in true guided tour style, with those big tour busses to our ship (the kind of busses I hate to see driving in the streets of Cape Town – oh the irony). Embarkation (is that the cruise equivalent for check-in?) was done just in time for tea time. Coffee was served on the sun deck to give us a great first impression with an amazing view of the Temple of Luxor, a stone-throw away from our ship.
Day 2: Valley of the Kings and Temple of Karnak
We still woke up in Luxor where we spent the night. So, no movement as yet. Just after sunrise we boarded one of those big tour busses again and drove for about 45 min to the west bank of the Nile, also known as Thebes West (they say the dead were buried on the west bank of the Nile, the living lived on the east bank). First stop: the Temple of Hatshepsut.
The legend says: The temple was commissioned by Queen Hatshepsut who had to pretend she was a man, since Queens were not a thing back then in her dynasty. So, all the statues show her as a man. The architect was her lover who promised to built one of the most beautiful temples the ancient world has ever seen.
Behaving like a Millennial, always on the hunt for that perfect Instagram shot, I did my research on the best angles for those images beforehand. So, I came across Hatshepsut’s temple on various social media platforms and it reminded me more of a neo-classic building than ancient Egyptian and I wasn’t too impressed. That however, changed as soon a I got there. It was simply stunning and an absolute architectural jewel.
Next stop: Valley of the Kings. Oh well, the name promises more. This valley is basically a part of the desert into which graves were carved into the earth. These graves are stunningly beautiful and colourful from the inside but rather unspectacular from the outside.. Well I guess that’s the secret that the first grave was only discovered in the early 1800’s. Long deserved rest for all those pharaohs.
Quick pitstop at the Colossi of Memmon – really nothing to write home about except that we didn’t stop on our way to the Valley of the Kings because there were already too many buss loads of tourists there.. Yet, it is a stunning sight that in the middle of nowhere or in the middle of a wheat field, suddenly you see these massive statues.
Next stop: Temple of Karnak, definitely one of the highlights of the trip. Just magnificent. Exactly 2.7km on a direct axis connected to the Tempe of Luxor. Connected through the Avenue of Sphinxes – which was rediscovered only recently and the current mayor of Luxor had all the buildings built on top of this avenue torn down to make it visible again. All of them, except a mosque and one of the oldest Christian churches in Egypt.
After visiting this highlight of Luxor we finally went cruising on the Nile. Oh what a feeling.. as soon as we left Luxor all we saw was water, the green belt on the shores and the golden sand of the desert. It started to feel a lot like “Death on the Nile”. I actually don’t even know if we stopped anywhere or if we kept on going through the night. When I woke up we were still somewhere in the middle of nowhere.
Day 3: Temples and Cruising
Waking up to the sound of cruising and a sunrise on the Nile was an unforgettable moment.
Next Stop: Temple of Horus in Edfu – one of the best preserved ancient monuments in Egypt. Preserved by desert sand since it was fully covered with sand at one stage and truly one of the most atmospheric temples we visited. The rest of the day was spent cruising again.. With high-tea on the sun-deck and views for days until arriving in Aswan late in the evening.
Day 4: Aswan
Aswan, a vibrant, pretty city on the shores of the Nile where Lake Nasser, the largest man-made lake in the world, was build in the early 1960s. We docked straight by a lovely promenade right in the centre of Aswan. A short walk to the Bazaar and more importantly a short walk to the Old Cataract Hotel where Agatha Christie wrote her world famous novel.
Tip: If you plan to do high-tea at that world famous hotel, book in advance and perhaps avoid going on a Thursday, that’s usually reserved for hotel guests only.
If I ever go back to Aswan, this is where I will be staying!
Another highlight close by is the Philae Temple complex on the island of Philae, a tiny little island on the Nile. The temple was built to honour the goddess Isis and can be reached by a short boat trip.
Day 5: Abu Simbel
Besides spending quality time with the whole family, Abu Simbel was THE absolute highlight of the trip. The 3h30am wake-up call and almost 4-hour drive through the Nubian desert towards the Sudanese border was more than worth it. I love the desert and just to add, I’ve spend almost 5 years of my life living in one. Yet.. for the first time in my life, I saw an actual Fata Morgana. The temples of Abu Simbel are basically two massive temples carved into a rock, built by Ramses II for himself and for his favourite wife Nefertari, the most beautiful woman of this ancient era.
As you might have figured by now, I am such a sucker for ancient ruins. I like to walk through them and imagine I had lived there during that time and what life would have been like.. I was lucky enough to have visited Petra, the famous tomb city in Jordan, about 25 years ago, way before mass tourism discovered the tombs and I can tell you that the Abu Simbel is right up there on the list with Petra in terms of wow-factor.
Historical fact: when the government of Egypt built Lake Nasser in 1962, they knew that the original temples would be flooded. So, the decided to relocate them by 64 meters. Yes, to move them! The whole rock that the temples was carved into.
Here is another amazing historical fact: It is believed that the axis of the temple was positioned by the ancient Egyptian architects in such a way that on February 21 and October 21, the rays of the sun would penetrate the sanctuary and illuminate the sculptures on the back wall, except for the statue of Ptha the god of death, who always remained in the dark. Due to the relocation of the temple by 64 meters, these dates shifted by one day and are now on the 22nd of the respective month. Guess what? We were there on its original date, the 21st Feb!
Day 6: Kom Ombo and cruising back to Luxor
The day started with a little cruise on a typical small sailing boat which was basically more or less an excursion to sell us gifts and crafts onboard. The locals are making use of every opportunity to sell anything to tourists. And everything costs 1€ by the way…
After the Arab Spring in 2011 tourism basically came to a stand still which was the only source of income for so many locals. Traders are desperate for any sale and would even dock on our ship and sell gifts from their tiny motor boats.
Next stop: On our way back to Edfu where we would anchor for the night, we stoped at another Temple: Kom Ombo. The temple is unique because it is in fact a double temple, dedicated to Sobek the crocodile god, and Horus the falcon-headed god. The layout combines two temples in one with each side having its own gateways and chapels. I just wish we could have arrived a bit earlier as the sun set over the Nile was magnificent from the temple’s viewing point.
Day 7: Luxor
If things had gone to the original plan we would have arrived in Luxor a day earlier and the evening of day 6 and perhaps day 7 could’ve been spent with my Egyptian connection mentioned at the beginning.
Fate had different plans and we only arrived back in Luxor just after midday on our last day. We visited the Temple of Luxor – the one that is connected to the Temple of Karnak by the 2.7km long Avenue of the Sphinxes. The temple is magnificent. A master piece.
The one obelisk missing at its entrance is the one that’s now in Paris, standing tall on the Place de la Concorde (little did I know about that fact when I was admiring the Parisian obelisk just 2 months prior to that).
Again, I just wish we had managed to get there earlier. If you are not bound to a group travel itinerary, try to get there as soon as the temple complex opens in the morning and hopefully you will also avoid the crowds.
In the evening we had the opportunity to go back to the Temple of Karnak for a sound and light show. They’ve done a great job. It takes you by foot through the temple complex and it sets you back 3500 years by sound and light effects. What a perfect ending to a perfect trip. One more night on the ship before a week of time travel back to ancient Egypt came to an end.
A great trip to spend quality time with the family. A great way to explore so many different places and to learn about the era of the Pharaohs. Travelling in February was perfect. Don’t go there between May – September it will just be too hot. Sometimes I wished we had more time at certain places, on the other side it was pleasant that everything was taken care of, no planning from our side required. All in all, a trip I can highly recommend. Maybe try to slot in a hot air balloon ride over Luxor. We simply didn’t have the time for it. Next time… I have a feeling my second visit to Egypt wasn’t my last one.