Most people when they think of a Nile cruise immediately also think of Agatha Christie’s famous work, [easyazon_link identifier=”0062073559″ locale=”US” tag=”jg20-20″]Death on the Nile[/easyazon_link]. I can assure you that while my experience small ship river cruising on the Nile was exciting, it didn’t venture into murder and mayhem. My cruise on board the luxury small cruiser, the Oberoi Philae, was definitely on of the highlights of my time in Egypt.
A Nile Cruise is a luxurious and relaxing way to sightsee in Egypt.
Confession: I’ve never been on a cruise before experiencing small ship river cruising on the Nile. The thought of being on a floating city with thousands of other people eating too much and being entertained by shows just does not appeal. I also get sea sick very easily. Short of having a huge upper cabin with a terrace for fresh air, I would likely spend most of my time just feeling queasy.
Small Ship River Cruising on the Nile
On the other hand, I loved my luxury river cruise on the Oberoi Philae. Let me tell you why.
A Nile River Cruise is the most scenic way to travel between Luxor and Aswan.
For thousands of years, along the Nile River boats have crossed between the banks and people have lived a simple agricultural life (albeit nowadays with access to WiFi, trains, etc.) Egypt, in the last 2500 years, has been invaded 27 times. Through it all, the Nile River and the life it gives has been the one constant in people’s lives.
One of the many boats that criss-cross between the banks of the Nile.
The fertile Nile Valley is perfect for agriculture.
A Nile River cruise is the most efficient use of time.
On the Oberoi Philae, you sail mostly in the evenings and arrive at your sightseeing destination in the morning, rested and refreshed. Even when you are travelling during a portion of the day, you see daily life unfold in front of you. So you are sightseeing without having to lift a finger.
Sunrise over the Nile is a magnificent site.
The monuments are amazing to behold in person.
There is opportunity for luxury and relaxation on board the ship.
My room was enormous thanks to a recent refurbishment of the Oberoi Philae. Originally set up to have 50 cabins, after the renovation there are only 22 cabins and 4 suites on board the Philae. The rooms spacious enough to hide out in all day if you wish to be anti-social. You can check out the interiors of the Oberoi Philae and its sister ship the Oberoi Zahra in this article.
The swimming pool is temperature controlled as well.
The swimming pool on the top deck is a perfect place to relax and soak in the scenery and sun. All the common areas are spacious and provide plenty of opportunities for you to mix with other passengers to the extent you want.
All the tours are arranged for you.
The Oberoi staff arrange for all the sightseeing trips to and from the boat. It’s all seamlessly handled. Our Egyptologist, Tarek, was very knowledgeable and happy to answer questions.
Tarek leading us on a tour of the monuments.
The Oberoi ships have private docking arrangements along the Nile. This ease of access makes this an ideal arrangement for people with mobility issues. On board the Oberoi ships, there is an elevator which can take you to all the levels you need.
It feels the same as staying at one of the Oberoi’s 5 star hotels.
The food and service are just as excellent as you would expect from the Oberoi hotels. The Oberoi Philae had a rooftop dining area near the pool excellent for lunches, an interior dining area for breakfast and dinner and a bar/lounge area for pre and post dinner relaxation.
The outdoor dining area is on the top deck.
In addition to the pool, the Oberoi Philae has its own gym as well as a spa with trained aestheticians. After a day of walking around hot and dusty Ancient Egyptian monuments, I was very glad for the massage I had.
A gym with a view on board the Oberoi small ship cruiser
I thought the food was excellent. The cuisine was a combination of international flavours. We had European dishes, Middle Eastern dishes and (thanks to the Oberoi’s Indian heritage) Indian dishes.
You can choose different lengths of cruising.
I know what you are thinking – couldn’t I just do the day tour on the Nile from Cairo? No, it’s not the same. We passed some of the day trippers and those boats did not look comfortable. With uncomfortable barely-shaded seats with lots of people packed on board like sardines, your experience will be very different from mine.
A day trip small ship cruiser on the Nile. There’s no comparison with an Oberoi Nile cruise.
You can check out the itineraries for the Philae on the Oberoi website. Even the shorter 4 day Nile cruise between Luxor and Aswan that I took covers all of the major sights. For example, we visited the Karnak and Luxor temples, the Valley of the Kings, the temple of Horace at Edfu, the house of Howard Carter and the Philae Temple.
The Oberoi Philae is a large ship for a limited number of people.
The Philae’s sister ship, the Oberoi Zahra has a slightly different itinerary between Luxor and Aswan which accommodates either a 8 days/7 nights tour or a 6 days/5 nights tour.
With all these choices, you should be able to find a Nile cruise that slots easily into your Egypt tour.
Why You Would Love Small Ship River Cruising on the Nile
Know Before You Go
I’m still not a believer in taking one of those large ocean liners. The Egypt cruise though? I would definitely do that again.
I travelled to Egypt as a guest of Cyplon Holidays. Four or six day cruises of the Nile River on the Oberoi Philae include visits to the temples with an Egyptologist and full board. You can also take a longer cruise on the Oberoi Zahra with the exact same amenities. Flights to Luxor and returning from Aswan can be booked via EgyptAir. For more information on Egypt, visit the Egyptian Tourism Authority’s website.
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My story about the Nile Cruise I took in Egypt a few weeks ago raised quite a few comments on the safety of visiting Egypt at this time. In fact, the most common question was ‘How safe is it to visit Egypt these days?” I’ve taken some time to think about the answer and here are my thoughts on safety in Egypt (and generally) in the current geopolitical climate.
My Experiences with Egyptian Safety
I can only tell you that I felt safe on my Cyplon Holidays organised week that I spent in Egypt. This week comprised of flights on Egypt Air, a Nile Valley cruise on the Oberoi Philae, tours of Cairo that included visits to the Giza Pyramids and the Egyptian Museum and stay at the Cairo Marriott.
The Nile Cruiser featured in Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile seen sailing into the sunset (photo credit: Compass Chasers)
All the hotels, monuments and sights we went to had metal detectors. The army presented a visible armed security presence as well. Behind the scenes at Luxor, we saw the extensive CCTV coverage of the city and surrounding area at their security centre. Although dressed as civilians, you could tell all the staff had military training. Normal people don’t stand to attention in the same way while having a simple conversation. On our Cairo tours, I noticed a man sitting near the front. I assumed he was a spare driver or something. It was only when his jacket fell away that I noticed he was packing a gun.
The view from the Mariott Cairo of the Nile River
What about safety in Egypt for people travelling with families?
I took my family on a trip to Egypt in April of 2015 as well. We stayed at a Sharm el Sheikh resort and did the usual resort activities – hanging out at the beach, boat trips, snorkelling etc. The best part of the trip was our dolphin encounter in the Gulf of Aqaba about which my children still tell their friends. We flew an internal Egyptair flight to Cairo in order to visit the Egyptian Museum and the Pyramids.
I felt safe in the spring of 2015, too, but, of course, you had the Russian plane from Sharm that blew up a few mere months later over the Sinai. Did my family and I miss death by the mere skin of our teeth? No, I don’t believe so. There were thousands of flights that took off from Sharm last year and the percentage chance of our family being on an ill-fated flight was extremely low.
Safety Concerns about Egypt on my 2016 trip
I went to Egypt again in 2016 despite the downing of the Russian plane in 2015. I felt a certain comfort knowing that safety would be of paramount importance to the Oberoi group as well as the Marriott. They have a reputation to maintain and world-wide standards for safety. A company with an international reputation for ultra-luxe holidays doesn’t bounce back easily from an ‘unfortunate’ incident at any of their properties.
Of course, in addition, to the terrorists you have the old-school hijackers like the Egyptian man who recently diverted an internal Egyptian flight to Cyprus to see his ex-wife.
As the official at Egypt’s Office of Foreign Affairs said:
He’s not a terrorist, he’s an idiot. Terrorists are crazy but they aren’t stupid. This guy is,”
The hijacker didn’t really have an explosive belt as he claimed or motives that had nothing to do with religious fundamentalism. These facts though have nothing to do with the fact that the plane was hijacked. It must have been a truly scary experience for the approximately 60 people on board (except possibly for the one Scottish guy who took a selfie with the hijacker). I do believe though that Egypt Air’s safety measures were instrumental in making sure that the hijacker didn’t really have an explosive belt. On the other hand, did you want to call the guy’s bluff when there were 60 passengers at his mercy?
Travel Safety Generally
I think safety while travelling has changed irrevocably since the 9/11 attacks. That terrible day was the first day of work for me after my honeymoon. We had gotten married 2 weeks earlier outside of Paris. Many of our friends and family had travelled from the USA and the UK to France to help us celebrate. Some of the American guests had scheduled holidays post-wedding for themselves in Europe and had only just returned to the USA.
Looking back, I’ve got a fairly unbelievable anecdote about our wedding. My brother, an impoverished student at business school, had bought us a very generous wedding gift. Knowing I liked a particular cutlery set from Williams-Sonoma (an upscale kitchen store in the USA), he brought them to the wedding as a gift. He was worried they would get stolen from the checked-in luggage. I’m pretty sure they were the most expensive thing he’d bought in his life up to that point.
A full formal place setting (at least in the USA) involves 2 knives, 2 forks and a spoon.
So, my brother brought a cutlery set to me as carry-on in his backpack – a five-piece dinner set for 12 people. So that would be 60 salad forks, 60 dinner forks, 120 dinner knives and 60 soup spoons (plus the accompany hostess set of servers, cake slicer etc.). Yes, all that passed through the metal detector scan on his Virgin Atlantic flight without a comment.
Gone are those days, and probably for the best.
I will not deny that there is an element of Russian roulette every time that you travel nowadays. Will it stop me from travelling? No. Will I take unnecessary risks? No. I’m neither stupid nor have a death wish.
Ordinary people carry on with their lives despite the raging geopolitical storm in the area.
On the other hand, I find it less than useful when the American state department issues a blanket travel alert for Europe which lasts for four months. As much as the British hate to admit they are part of Europe, you can’t change geography. At least, not until the next Ice Age.
I live in London which is probably a high alert city considering the world views Britain as America’s Best Little Buddy. In fact, I live about 1-2 miles away from a whole lot of potential targets – the American School in London, the London Central Mosque, the American Ambassador’s residence, the home of the Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom etc. Moving isn’t an option for us because our lives are established here in our neck of the woods in London.
How Safe is it to Visit Egypt?
So back to the question: how safe is it to visit Egypt?
Risk assessment is an individual concept measured by the person involved and the situation at hand at the time the decision is made. My concept of risk is different from that of my brother who lives in the tranquility of the Pennsylvania suburbs.
You should carry on with your lives. The times they are a changing and there’s nothing we can do about it. Hiding from the world certainly isn’t the answer for me.
I found a certain serenity in Egypt, and specifically the Nile River. Did you know that in the last 2500 years, Egypt has been invaded 27 times? Over the years, the country has seen the likes of Alexander the Great, the Romans, the Ottomans and the French. Life along the river though has carried on much the same as it has for hundreds of years. It impressed me so much I wrote a Steller story on it.
A reflection perfectly formed on the stillness of the Nile River.
Egypt and the Nile will survive this round of extremism on their shores. They aren’t going anywhere – are you?
Although I went to Egypt in 2016 as a guest of Cyplon Holidays, this has not influenced my thoughts and opinions in this post.
As the ship glided into the docking area, the warmth of the early morning sun promised another a beautiful day. After a hearty breakfast on board the Oberoi Philae Nile cruiser, we were setting out on a visit to the Temple of Horus in Edfu nearby. Edfu is a small city of about 60,000 people located near Aswan on the Nile river valley. A morning tour to the Temple of Horus meant we could return to the shelter of the ship before the sunshine turned fierce in the afternoon.
From the top deck, I could see a couple of men were sitting in a cafe by the side of the road near a cluster of caleches in which the drivers were busy playing on their mobile phones. As the ship pulled up beside the Nile bank, the caleche drivers sprang to life gathering in a (somewhat) orderly queue by the gate of the dock. The process was hardly soundless because nothing in Egypt is done quietly. The drivers were yelling, the passing cars were honking and even the bystanders had something to say. It looked like a taxi rank. And, indeed it was.
The Egyptian Ferrari Experience
I was delighted to find that we would be taking one of the caleches to visit the temple of Horus at Edfu. Nicknamed Egyptian Ferraris, caleches are limited to two passengers. My friend Emily and I found ourselves with one of the younger drivers, Abdullah, and his horse, Ceasar. Abdullah was chatty and let us take turns sitting beside him up on the driver’s perch.
Abdullah with his chariot of fire.
A frustrated F-1 driver, Abdullah negotiated the traffic clogged streets of Edfu expertly and quickly. Holding on tightly, we found the experience exhilarating. Nothing like the colourful chaos of Egyptian street life and traffic to clear away any morning sleepiness the double expresso had missed.
I’d hold on tight if there was anything to hold onto.
These guys are transporting cows in the back of a truck.
This horse cart is going down the wrong way on this street. NB this was a two way street but presumably the driver wanted to get to somewhere on this side of the street.
For a gallery of more street photography from Edfu, check out my Steller story.
The Temple of Horus in Edfu
Located only a few kilometres away from the Nile, the Temple of Horace in Edfu is not only the third biggest in Egypt but also the best preserved. The sands of time (literally) covered large parts of the temple so that only a small section at the top was left visible above ground. People used the above ground parts for shelter which is why the roof is covered in the soot of thousands of years of open fires.
You could see how high the rest of the city is in this photo. They dug thousands of years of sand away to get to the floor of the temple.
The carvings are well preserved because they were sheltered underground.
An outer courtyard where the Temple priests could perform ceremonies.
The ceiling and the top of the pillars are caked with soot and grime.
The holy relics were placed in this container when they were moved for ceremonies.
The temple is linear and rises at it goes towards the holy of holies in the back. The commoners in the front can’t see into the holy of holies section but the High Priest and the pharaoh can see down.
A Tourism Industry in Flux
Tourism in Egypt is down 75% from the previous year. Having been to Egypt last April, I noticed for myself the difference. Everyone relying on the tourist industry in Egypt is suffering from the vendors selling tourist trinkets to the hotels and restaurants. For locals in small towns such as Edfu, any visitor is an opportunity to make a sale. They don’t know when the next set of tourists will show up.
In the outskirts of the temple, we soon found ourselves surrounded by hawkers who were mostly called Mohammed. Our group negotiated our way through Mohammeds 1 through 4 to find the temple itself near empty.
As we were entering a gaggle of school kids on a field trip were leaving. Some of them shouted cheery hellos and then scampered away giggling. Others were too busy comparing their lunch boxes and trading their contents. The youngest of the children were dressed as princes with paper crowns and kohl-rimmed eyes. They asked if they could take photos with us. I can’t imagine why I would possibly be interesting for a photo but was happy to oblige.
Kids on a school trip to the Temple of Horus at Edfu
After the school children left, we had the gigantic Temple of Horus complex to ourselves. The decline in tourism has been a disaster for the economy, but it is a boon for tourists. Obviously, for the budget-conscious there are great deals to be had. Even better, in my opinion, though is a chance to enjoy Egypt’s treasures in tranquility.
A temple guard posing in front of the pillars. The bottom of the pillars are decorated with a symbolic carving of papyrus reeds.
It was an amazing experience to enjoy the grandiose carvings unmarred by the voices of a busloads tourists and their selfie sticks. I imagined the solitude was similar to how the early visitors would have found the monuments prior to the onset of mass tourism. You can stand around and examine details without someone in your way.
I know one of the major concerns with Egypt is safety. The Egyptian government seems to be on high alert in terms of security. We saw security teams everywhere. In addition, we were told about the out of sight security measures in place. For example, the city of Luxor has a security command centre with dozens of camera screens capturing life on the streets and the monuments.
Egypt has been a popular destination for visitors in the past and, no doubt, will be so again. I was delighted to have this window of opportunity to experience Egypt without hordes of tourists.
I travelled to Egypt as a guest of Cyplon Holidays. Four day cruises of the Nile River on the Oberoi Philae include visits to the temples with an Egyptologist and full board. Flights to Luxor and returning from Aswan can be booked via EgyptAir. For more information on Egypt, visit the Egyptian Tourism Authority’s website.
This post is linked up with City Tripping, Pierced Wonderings, Travel Photo Thursday, The Weekly Postcard, Weekend Wanderlust and Weekend Travel Inspiration.
We heard mixed reviews about the Royal Seascope glass bottom boat tours in Sharm el Sheikh. Some people loved them while others thought they were lame.
The Seascope boats are semi submerged in the water so that you can experience the sea life without actually snorkelling or diving.
We had a nice reef off the beach in our hotel. The kids weren’t sure if there was better snorkelling elsewhere. I had heard of a recent shark attack off the coast of Sharm. Trying to find out where any shark sightings were proved futile. I get the impression Egyptians will tell you what you want to hear in order to sell you something.
The compromise the kids and I reached was the Royal Seascope.
The good points:
- There is a whole floor under the boat with lots of seats for everyone to see.
- It’s great for little children and older people who can’t or don’t want to snorkel.
- It’s an enjoyable short excursion the whole family can enjoy together.
The bad points:
- You might as well be in an aquarium. I guess the difference is that on the Seascope you are the one in a glass tank.
- You don’t see as much marine life as the sales pitch tells you that you are going to see. I’m sure the shadow of a hulking boat scares away many creatures.
- Vendors are trying to sell you stuff before, during and after the tour. It drove me crazy as a parent when sellers stick ice cream right under the children’s faces.
Our verdict? Just go snorkelling if you are able to do so. There are nice coral reefs near land so that you can avoid any deep water issues.
What started out as a simple snorkelling expedition off the coast of the Sinai Peninsula turned into the most amazing dolphin encounter.
We set off from Sharm el Sheik in a small inflatable boat bound for Tiran Island in the Gulf of Aqaba. Tiran Island is known for having great snorkelling. On our way, we were surrounded by a pod of dolphins. They jumped from the deep blue water for the sheer joy of it. Some of them tried to race the boat underwater. These dolphins were super fast!
Neither my kids nor I had ever seen dolphins in their natural habitat before. We have, of course, seen them at aquariums or at places like Disney World. This experience was completely different. Their playful nature and intelligence was readily apparent as they formed groups to jump, to call to each other and to race.
We opted to spend so much time watching the dolphins we did not have time to see the famous shipwreck of the Thistlegorm which was sunk by the Germans during World War II.
Did we regret our decision to skip out on a famous shipwreck? Nope. Ok, well maybe just my son who has a ghoulish boy’s interest in disastrous events, natural phenomenon etc. My daughter and I thought that even the fabulous snorkelling at Tiran Island was nothing compared to the exuberance of the dolphins.
People tend to think of Sharm El Sheik as a fairly new resort town. In fact, there was a small community here long before the hotels and tourists arrived en masse.
The heart of the old part of Sharm is Old Market, a maze of little streets that make up an Arab bazaar. Despite the convoluted streets and crush of people, the market really isn’t very big. Not like the Marrakech Medina where you could easily get lost.
The stores sell everything from fish for the locals to fake designer bags for the tourists.
It’s a fab place to pick up souvenirs. I wondered if a belly dancer costume would be appropriate for my daughters World Book Day outfit next year. I’m sure there was a belly dancer in 1001 Arabian Nights. And it couldn’t be worse than the kid who went as Christian Grey this year.
There was so much stuff to tempt you to part with your money. I was scared off buying anything because I just wasn’t in the mood to haggle.
I was surprised by all the signs in Russian. Apparently the British and the Russians make up the majority of tourists to Sharm.
As ever, there were men with camels trying to coax you on for a ride.
Our favourite part was the section called Old Egypt. For a small cover charge, the kids and I sat and watched a lot of different entertainment.
A couple of restaurants had stages which showed everything from snake charmers and fire throwers to belly dancers. You could sit at tables or the traditional divans and relax.
Drinking sodas in the balmy night air, we lounged and were thoroughly entertained.
This camel guy stood on his camel’s hump to try and get attention away from the cobra dancer. It didn’t work but his diversionary efforts were amusing!
Old Market is a somewhat chaotic place with all the traders, entertainers and shoppers. It’s fantastic for people watching and getting a favor of a real Egyptian bazaar.