Nile Cruise

Egyptians have always respected and loved their Nile. They say, “The Nile is our life, our water, our electricity, it fertilizes our land. Without the Nile, there would be no Egypt.” The 135-mile stretch of Nile from Luxor south to Aswan is the most touristed. Three hundred elegant river cruise ships are primed and ready to take their loads of tourists on the four-day cruise. But this terrible third season after the revolution, only about 50 are working…and most of those are sailing with as few as 10 paying passengers aboard.

A few cruise ships still take a few tourists on lazy trips down the Nile.
A few cruise ships still take a few tourists on lazy trips down the Nile.

We hopped a cruise ship for five hours from Luxor to Esna. The manager, eager to please this American journalist, gave us the ship’s best suite for the afternoon. We dined with the tiny group of passengers–Europeans and Aussies, no Americans–lounged around the pool on the top deck, and marveled at the idyllic passing river scenes. While not quite as glitzy as a Mediterranean cruise, it was plenty elegant.

As you cruise, small boats captained by hungry merchants lasso the ship and haggle with passengers while being dragged by the ship upstream. I’ll share a video of this amazing stunt on my next post.
As you cruise, small boats captained by hungry merchants lasso the ship and haggle with passengers while being dragged by the ship upstream. I’ll share a video of this amazing stunt on my next post.

Photo by Trish Feaster (for her Egypt blog, see

The beauty of this trip for me is having my Egyptian guide, Tarek (who runs “Egypt and Beyond Travel”) working to help me maximize my experience and make sure things go smoothly. We jump ship where it docked for the first night of the cruise, and our trusty van was right there, ready to pick us up.

It’s easy to get into the lazy rhythm of a Nile River cruise.
It’s easy to get into the lazy rhythm of a Nile River cruise.

Part of the fun of having a van is having a driver to joke around with. Muhammad (it seems half the men here share that name) had mint sprigs on the seats and the air-conditioning on. I lauded him as a hero and he said, “Yes, very much” while blowing on his thumb to comically inflate his shoulders and biceps. Having just drunk a Coke, I belched–and then learned that was very rude in Egypt. I said, “It’s in our Constitution. Thomas Jefferson wrote, ‘It’s better to burp and bear the shame than not to burp and bear the pain.'” My guide said, “Very detailed.” Later, I sneezed, and he said, “When you sneeze, somebody is talking about you.”

Driving an hour north, downstream, back to Luxor, the road was very slow with police checks (generally just a wave through, locals say they appreciate them for the safety) and speed bumps every quarter mile or so. They have these because street lights are rare, and people live, work, and hang out dangerously along the roadside. It was fun to watch drivers manage without headlights–diligently flipping them on every so often to check the road. They insist on believing that it saves electricity.

Being in Egypt, with people standing around everywhere trying to earn a pathetic living, get a tip, or keep a job, you see a kind of shared poverty. It’s like that all over the developing world. Rather than employ a few people with good pay and high expectations to be productive, it seems that the work and pay is shared with many. And sometimes, it seems work is just created. Toilet paper dispensers have been put out of service so a man can stand in the restroom and hand out a couple feet of TP to each user for a tip. Of course, you’d never pump your own gas here. Stop for gas, and you’re swarmed by boys eager to help. In Luxor at the Winter Palace Hotel, I was actually given a personal butler–Ahmed. With the country empty of tourists, we always got the best room in the hotel…and there seemed to be more staff than customers.


9 Replies to “Nile Cruise”

  1. I am so glad you included the cruise on the Nile. So many tourists run to the Pyramids, take a few photos, and say they have seen Egypt. Cairo is a cacophony of sounds and and feast for the eyes, but the real Egypt, I felt, was along the Nile with little children swimming and waving as we passed, oxen carrying loads of something on their backs in the water, women doing laundry on the shore, and groups of teen agers sitting on roof tops waving as we passed. What a shame Americans are so fearful. This is a great country and people are warm and beautiful. Happy travels, Rick!

  2. I am loving this blog, and loving how much you are loving Egypt, Rick! I saw that you wrote that you would not take your company here for tours because Egypt is outside of your “target demographic”. Maybe it’s time to launch a campaign to a wider appeal! Some of us Rick Steves tour fans are more rugged and adventurous than you may think.

  3. Isn’t it better to share the work than to have some people unemployed? And outside the First World labor is cheap and capital expensive.

  4. What a change in tourism the revolution made. I took the Nile Cruise a few years ago, plus I toured all the Egyptian places of interest as well as spending a week doing the same in Jordan. American tourists were everywhere we went. I flew home out of Cairo on Jan 29, the day the revolution was happening in Tahrir Sq. I felt lucky in so many ways!

  5. Our Nile cruise was wonderful, but I especially remember one full day of sailing. We sat on the top deck and just enjoyed the world going by. Seeing the people working at the water’s edge, just like for thousands of years past. It was absolutely the most relaxing and enjoyable day of our whole trip. Would do it again in a second.

  6. Is everyone going to stay away from Boston? People there is problems everywhere in the world and in our own country. I believe you need to start taking people there as there are many of us who look at the world as a learning experience. If you go to a country with respect, I have found that is what you get back. Ugly, obnoxious tourist make me sad. All travelers know what I am talking about.

  7. Well of course you were treated well and cruising the Nile is not the same as walking Cairo. As for people who say would you avoid Boston, we must all consider the law of probabilities. Mayhem is far more probable in Cairo or Kenya than in Boston

  8. Rick, if you ever arrange a Rick Steves tour of Egypt such as the one you have taken, I will sign up for it in a heartbeat! Thanks to you, I’ve visited Europe 3 times in the past 9 years and enjoyed every second (although I regretted missing you by 2 hours in Sienna!). Egypt has been a fascination for me since I was in high school 50 years ago, and I’ve worn a gold ankh necklance for 40 years. PLEASE consider a tour, and do it soon.

  9. My favorite parts of the Nile cruise were hearing the call to prayer in late afternoon and watching the amazing sunset.

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