Cruising the Nile River is one of the world’s most memorable travel experiences. There’s no better way to experience the majestic landmarks of ancient Egypt that line the river banks.
After a short airplane flight from Cairo, my three-night cruise began at Aswan, the site of a dam that for four decades has controlled the once-annual flooding of the Nile. This ancient market town is one of the most beautiful in Egypt and is the southern terminus of all Nile cruises.
My ship was named after the woman whose great-grandson, Tutankhamen, became the most famous pharaoh of them all. The Tuya, which is similar in size and amenities to many Nile cruise boats, includes 62 cabins and five decks.
Operated by the Egyptian-based company Emeco Travel, it has a pleasingly vintage feel—-more 1930s-style elegance than modern glitz. In its main lounge, for example, it was easy to imagine Agatha Christie herself enjoying a gin and tonic amid wood-paneled walls, floral print carpet and upholstered furniture.
The rooftop deck of the Tuya gave the best view of the boat’s main attraction: the legendary Nile. Its broad channel is bordered by an intensely green, narrow strip of land, but just beyond lies a brown and rocky desert. It was clear why 95 percent of Egyptians live on the five percent of land that borders the river, for the rest of Egypt is desolate indeed.
While the sun could be oppressive in the heat of the day, evenings and nights on board the Tuya were magical, as the shadows lengthened and a cool breeze stirred the air. From shore we could sometimes hear the Muslim call to prayer and glimpse village life, with women washing clothes at the river and children playing in the dusty streets.
As the cruise boat glides along the Nile, the scenes on shore often seem like those from another century: robe-clad farmers walking next to carts pulled by donkeys, dusty Nubian villages with houses made of dried mud, and women washing their laundry on the banks of the river. On the Nile itself, fishermen in the traditional Egyptian sailboats known asfeluccas plied the waters, their triangle-shaped sails catching the cool breezes.
Heading upriver, the cruise took us to a number of important archeological sites. Among the most impressive is the Temple of Kom Ombo. A short walk from our boat brought us to the imposing structure, which is dedicated to two gods: Horus, the falcon god, and Sobek, a crocodile god who was said to control the waters of the Nile.
Exquisitely situated on a hill overlooking the Nile, the Temple was constructed during the Ptolemy dynasty and is Greco-Roman in style. I loved the mummifed crocodiles on display in a side chapel in the complex.
On route to the Valley of the Kings, boats also stop at Edfu, one of the best preserved temples in Egypt thanks to the fact that it was buried under sand for nearly two thousand years. In the mid-nineteenth century the sand was removed, revealing a temple in sterling condition.
Its dramatic gateway shows huge reliefs of Pharaoh Ptolemy XII defeating his enemies in battle, leading into a series of rooms and courtyards that seem as if their occupants have left just a short time before.
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Lori Erickson is one of America’s top travel writers specializing in spiritual journeys. She’s the author of the Near the Exit: Travels With the Not-So-Grim Reaper and Holy Rover: Journeys in Search of Mystery, Miracles, and God. Her website Spiritual Travels features holy sites around the world.