Nile River Cruise with Nour El Nil: Complete Itinerary
The legendary Nile Valley is rich in history and natural beauty, and a cruise along this magical river is to be experienced at least once in a lifetime.
You will discover the many archaeological treasures and breathtaking panoramas by sailing on its peaceful waters, you will walk through small villages, among farmland and orchards, meet the Egyptians as they go about their daily business, and you will see some magnificent temples and tombs, away from the crowds.
The most spectacular cruise ships are the traditional boats of the Nile, dahabiyas. There are several companies offering dahabiya cruises, but Nour El Nil stands out from the crowd with its authenticity, luxury, attention to detail, fresh and delicious food, and impeccable service.
The focus of the cruise is relaxation, encouraging you to unwind, connect with newfound friends on board, and see the sites at a leisurely pace. The cruises start on Mondays in Esna and end on Saturday morning in Aswan, covering about 250 km/150 miles in five days and six nights. Come along as we recapture this once-in-a-lifetime journey onboard "El Nil" dahabiya.
DAY ONE: ESNA TEMPLE AND VISIT TO A LOCAL VILLAGE
PICK UP FROM THE HOTEL IN LUXOR AND DRIVE TO ESNA
The cruises with Nour El Nil start with a pick up from various hotels in Luxor. Our driver met us at the Winter Palace Hotel around 9.15 a.m., the luggage was secured on the roof of the bus and, together with our fellow passengers, we started our 1.45-hour journey to Esna, where the three dahabiyas and crew were waiting for us.
It is a fun bus trip through Egyptian villages alongside the Nile--you'll see trucks carrying bananas, cows, hay, passing by at full speed; you'll see locals shopping at the markets and enjoying their shisha.
When we got to Esna, we learned that we were going to see Esna Temple first, before boarding the dahabiya. We walked through the town and the market in Esna, selling anything from scarves to household goods, leading up to the temple.
• Wear comfortable shoes and clothing when you leave Luxor, bearing in mind that you will walk to Esna Temple before boarding the dahabiya.
• If you need cash, Esna is the final stop to get some since there are no ATMs in the local villages.
GUIDED TOUR OF ESNA TEMPLE
Esna Temple, dedicated to the water god of the Nile, Khnum, is almost nine meters below ground level representing 15 centuries of desert sand and debris that has accumulated since it was abandoned during the Roman period. Most of the temple is still covered by the old town of Esna.
The roof, decorated with astronomical scenes, is supported by twenty four beautifully carved and painted columns with hieroglyphic accounts of temple rituals. It is also possible to see the ongoing restoration work in this temple.
BOARDING THE EL NIL
After touring the temple, we boarded the El Nil, the sailboat that we’d call home for the next five days. We walked across the other two dahabiyas to get to our own and were greeted by the friendly and handsome crew with fresh lemon juice. Wow! The decor and understated luxury was spectacular!
Read our post Nile River Cruise in Style: Onboard Nour El Nil's Dahabiya to learn more about the magical Nour El Nil experience.
After meeting the crew and our fellow passengers —there were twelve of us on El Nil —we were served our first lunch of freshly caught grilled fish and salad, served family style. Chef Hassan's food was exceptional and he continued to wow us throughout the cruise.
The leisurely afternoon was spent reading and chatting with our new friends. At sunset, after we had docked for the night, the crew surprised us by taking us for a walk alongside the Nile into a small village. The locals were kind to open their doors to a group of strangers, offer us tea, dress us in colorful dresses; and we danced with them under the moonlight.
DAY TWO: EL KAB & EDFU
After a spectacular sunrise and a delicious breakfast of crêpes with fresh guava jam, Egyptian cheese, eggs, and freshly squeezed mango juice, we began our second day at El Kab, a site of four burial tombs cut in rocks.
When we got off the boat, we were immediately surrounded by a group of local kids who escorted us on their donkeys to El Kab. The schools are far and unfortunately the parents do not have the means to send their children to school.
• It's a roughly 30-minute walk from the boat to El Kab necropolis.
• Wear comfortable shoes and dress lightly as it is quite hot inside the tombs.
• With Nour El Nil, you will have the same guide for the duration of your trip. With the 12 of us on board, six were English speakers with an English-speaking guide, and six were French speakers who had their own French-speaking guide. The passengers on the other Nour El Nil dahabiyas had different guides.
In the afternoon, after a delicious lunch and some downtime, we stopped in Edfu. This time, we got on the caleches and were taken through the town of Edfu to one of Egypt’s most spectacular, well-preserved, and second largest temple, the Temple of Edfu, dedicated to the falcon-headed god Horus.
• Bring some cash to tip the caleche drivers, roughly 20 Egyptian pounds per person.
DAY THREE: SWIM AND NATURE WALKS
Another spectacular sunrise on the Nile! The third day is spent swimming, walking and relaxing. After breakfast, we boarded the tugboat that took us for a delightful walk through some fields and palm groves, guided by our crew members. The landscape is incredibly lush, with banana trees, vegetables, and hibiscus bushes in a marshy setting. Watching the larger cruise ships go by, we all felt privileged to be able to experience Egypt in a way that the passengers of larger boats cannot.
• Make sure to wear hiking or tennis shoes for this walk.
During the day, guests had the option of swimming in the Nile. Most of us did as the locals assured us that the water was clean enough for swimming, even though the current was quite strong.
In the afternoon, the crew served us Egyptian tea, coffee, and date cakes. We never felt hungry on the cruise. They also provided plenty of bottled water.
In the evening, the crew took us for a delightful walk through a Nubian village to see the sunset in the desert. By the time we started walking back, it was dark and we walked underneath the stars and the light of the full moon. Every day of the cruise had some surprises and every day had a different flavor.
DAY FOUR: GEBEL SILSILEH AND AFTERNOON WALK
The morning was spent touring the famous sandstone quarry known for the quality of the building stone. Even the stones used for the construction of the temples of Karnak and Luxor came from this place. This ancient quarry was also used by the pharaohs to build their many monuments and temples here.
After the tour and some refreshing guava juice mixed with hibiscus, we were served a delicious lunch Egyptian style, on low tables and sitting on the cushions on the deck. The falafels made from fava beans and tahini were the best we had ever tasted. And, another surprise! Chef Hassan had made some fresh mango sorbet. Yum! The special shout-out was well deserved.
When we were planning the cruise, we though that we would have plenty of down time and brought our books with us--"Death on the Nile," of course. Well, we got through about 50 pages since the crew kept us so busy and there was just so much to see! On a couple of days we walked over 15,000 steps and one of these days was Day Four.
After the delightful lunch, we took an hour-and-half walk through a palm grove to a local tea house, where local men were gathered around playing dominos, drinking tea and smoking shisha. Fortunately, the boat met us there, docking just outside the tea house. A nice touch since we were all a bit tired after a long walk in the desert heat.
DAY FIVE: KOM OMBO
By day five, we were about thirty kilometers from Aswan, where the landscape started to change, he arid hills of the Eastern Desert receding from the river banks and the reclaimed land is filled with crops of sugar cane. We got of at the Kom Ombp Temple and we greeted by a large group of children and teens trying to sell us knitted hats, bracelets and plates made of palm leaves.
What's your name? What's your name? You're welcome! Do you have money on the boat? The kids were very friendly and decorated some of us with their bracelets, hats and scarves. However, it is important to remember that even though they say it is a present, they will demand their payment after a while. Just don't accept any items if you do not intend to buy anything.
We then visited the spectacular Kom Ombo Temple. The temple is unusual because it has twin entrances and sanctuaries—two sets of courts, halls, sanctuaries and rooms for two sets of gods. The left side is dedicated to the falcon-headed Haroeris and the right side to the crocodile-god Sobek. On our way back to the boat, the kids were trying to 'finish their sales." It was quite a spectacle.
After boarding the dahabiya, we headed to our final docking place just outside Aswan. We spent a relaxing afternoon on the deck and swimming in the Nile, followed by a birthday celebration of one of our passengers. The chef had baked and decorated a huge cake, the crew sang a birthday song to her, and so did we.
DAY SIX: DEPARTURE IN THE MORNING
Is it really over? Not only had we enjoyed the most relaxed and interesting five days, we had become friends with our fellow travelers. With sadness in our hearts that the journey had become to an end, we enjoyed our last breakfast together and said our good-byes to the crew. It had been a magical week.