The Nile

Home to vast burial sights of ancient kings and queens, breathtaking antiquities, Pharaohs, and hieroglyphics, Egypt is an incomparable destination and a journey through the millennia. Nothing can quite prepare visitors for the stunning visual feast, astounding cultural significance, and timeless scenery that comprise a Nile river cruise through the cradle of civilization that is Egypt.

The Nile

The River Nile is the longest river in the world and flows some 6,695 km (4,160 miles) from the meeting point of the Blue Nile and White Nile to the Mediterranean, where it ends in a delta that empties into the Mediterranean Sea. The Blue Nile provides most of the Nile’s water and fertile soil and rises from Ethiopia, while the longer White Nile rises in the Great Lakes region of Central Africa from its source at Lake Victoria, which borders southern Uganda and Rwanda. The two rivers meet and merge near Khartoum in Sudan, then flow across the desert into Egypt, where a series of rapids, or Cataracts begin. It was here at the First Cataract near Aswan that ancient Egyptians believed the source of the Nile to be. The lifeline of Egyptian culture since the Stone Age, the Nile provided sustenance and stability in the otherwise inhospitable regions of the Sahara, allowing for the development of an agricultural economy and centralized society. Throughout the ages, the Nile has played a major role in politics, social life, and spiritual life of its dynasties and inhabitants, evidence of which we can still see today in the staggering number of historical sites found along the river banks.

As the ship navigates past palm groves, temples, sand dunes, villages, and monuments, thousands of years of history unfold before your very eyes. The cultural depth and historical magnitude of this land and river are stupendous and awe-inspiring. Most Nile river cruises usually operate between Aswan and Luxor, with a pre- or post- cruise stay in Cairo, the ‘Triumphant City’, and a visit to the Great Pyramids and the Sphinx at Giza. Major stops and ports of call include the temple of Philae and Aswan Dam, the temples at Kom Ombo and Edfu, Esna, the Temple of Karnak, the Valley of the Kings, the Valley of the Queens, and excursions to Abu Simbel. A cruise on Lake Nassar is a tranquil experience, taking in Abu Simbel, Wadi al-Seboua, Derr, and the Temple of Amada. Egypt is an unequivocal land of treasures, symbols, pyramids, mummies, colossal statues, and hidden cities and tombs. It never ceases to marvel even the most well traveled visitors.

Destination Highlights of a Nile River Cruise

Cairo

Just as there is no place like Egypt, there is truly no place like Cairo and no shortage of pseudonyms attempting to describe her. Known as the ‘Jewel of the Orient’, the ‘City of the Thousand Minarets’, the ‘Melting Pot of Ancient and Modern Egyptian Civilizations’, the ‘Mother of all Cities’, and the ‘Cradle of Civilization’, Cairo is the largest city in Africa and a vast urban sprawl encompassing various historic towns and districts. Cairo lies at the center of all routes leading to and from the three continents of Asia, Africa, and Europe, and as such has had to survive many rulers and invaders, from Egyptian Pharoahs, to Greeks, Romans, Arabs, and Turks. The Nile bisects Cairo, resulting in an East-West division, with luxury hotels lining the river banks. Islamic, Christian, Coptic, and Jewish cultures are still flourishing on the East side of the Nile after 2000 years. On the West side of the Nile is the ancient city of Memphis (Giza), which was the capital of the Old Kingdom and the site of the Pyramids and the Sphinx.

Cairo is a feast for the eyes and soul and there are many important and awe-inspiring sights to see. Located southwest of Cairo on the site of the ancient city of Memphis (Giza or Gizeh), is the most famous funerary complex in the world: The Pyramids. Here are the breathtaking and impressive last remaining structures of the Seven Wonders of the World: Keops (Cheops), Kefren (Chephren), and Mykerinus (Micerinus). The Great Sphinx is just 350 meters away from Keops and is an astounding sight, though suffering badly from erosion.

An enormous museum in its own right, Cairo offers several enclosed museums worth a visit. The Egyptian Museum is in a neoclassical structure in the center of Cairo and is home to the richest and most important collection of objects from Ancient Egypt in the entire world. The Museum of Islamic Art contains a collection of over 75,000 antiquities from every Islamic country. The collection contains a staggering variety of richly decorated Koran stands, mosque lamps, ceramics, furniture, inlaid wood carvings, glass, and textiles.

The Khan Al-Khalili Bazaar, which is located at one of the five original gates of Cairo, is effectively the world’s oldest mall. Filled with a variety of quality products, trinkets, and the like, it is a lively center of activity and a must for visitors.

The presence and variety of mosques in Cairo is astounding and here are a few not to miss. Ibn Tulun Mosque is the second oldest mosque in Cairo, built in 879 AD. Legend has it that this was the site where Abraham was sent to sacrifice his son. The mosque is reputed to have an atmosphere of tranquility unlike any other mosque in the city.

The Sultan Hasan Mosque is one of the most beautiful and monumental mosques in Cairo, though the mausoleum is empty because the Sultan was murdered and his body was hidden before its completion. The Mohammed Ali Mosque, or Alabaster Mosque, in the citadel is neither the oldest nor the most historic, but is very popular with tourists and a lovely contribution to the skyline of Cairo.

Another interesting place to visit is The Hanging Coptic Church, or Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which houses many Coptic treasures. The church was originally built in the 4th century over a Roman gate-tower, hence the name, but was rebuilt several times and the present structure dates from 1775.

Lake Nassar and the Aswan High Dam

Formed by the building of the Aswan High Dam across the waters of the Nile between 1958 and 1971, Lake Nassar is the Egyptian part of the enormous reservoir in southern Egypt and northern Sudan, where it is known as Lake Nubia. Located to the south of Aswan, the lake is 550 km long and 35 km wide. The rising waters of the damn required serious and major relocation efforts to save the inestimable treasures of the region. Several Nubian archaeological sites were dismantled and reassembled on higher ground and the entire Nubian communities from the upper reaches of the Nile were forced to relocate as their villages disappeared. From Aswan and Lake Nassar, it is possible to discover some lesser-known temples of the Nile, as well as the Temple of Abu Simbel, which is one of Egypt’s priceless treasures. These sights are best enjoyed on board a luxurious cruise along the Nile or across the tranquil waters of Lake Nasser.

Abu Simbel

The Temple of Abu Simbel, which is one of Egypt's greatest monuments after the Pyramids and the Great Sphinx, can be reached by air, car, coach, or boat, via a four-day cruise across Lake Nassar. The archeological site comprises two massive rock temples on the western bank of the Nile south of Aswan in southern Egypt, where it was moved in 1968 with an extensive dismantling and relocation project. The temples of Abu Simbel are part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site known as the ‘Nubian Monuments’, which extend from Abu Simbel to the Temple of Philae near Aswan.

The two temples were carved out of the mountainside in the 13th century BC during the reign of Pharaoh Ramesses II. Theoretically dedicated to Amon-Ra, Harmakis, and Ptah, the temples were most probably constructed for his own glory, as well as to commemorate his victory at the Battle of Kadesh and intimidate the Nubian neighbors. Whatever the story, these impressive temples are lasting monuments of his reign and his lovely queen, Nefertari.

Wadi al-Seboua

The last temple built by Ramesses II and considered the second largest temple of the Nubian monuments, Wadi al Seboua is dedicated to the worship of the god Ra, Hor-Akhty, Amon, and Ramesses II as a deified being. Guarded by an avenue of falcon-headed sphinxes, the temple was also victim to the relocation project.

Derr

The Nubian Temple of Derr, built in the 30th year of the reign of Ramesses II was dismantled in 1964 and moved to a new location close to the temple of Amada.

Another example of a rock-hewn temple, this temple is similar to the other speos style monuments. Called "Temple of Ramesses-in-the-House-of-Re" by the ancient Egyptians, it was constructed in a populated area that was the Nubian capital of the region.

The Temple of Amada

The oldest of the Lake Nassar Nubian temples, the Amada Temple contains some important historical inscriptions. Dedicated to the important New Kingdom gods Amun-Re and Re-Horakhty, it was originally constructed under orders of Tuthmosis III and his son Amenhotep II during the 18th Dynasty.

Aswan

As the southern gateway to Egypt, Aswan is in the region of the Cataract and one of the sunniest and most pleasant spots in Egypt. In ancient Egypt, anything south of Aswan was considered Nubia, and the Nubians were considered to be notoriously aggressive. Aswan is a pleasant town, in a beautiful setting on the Nile, with a backdrop of amber desert, palm groves, tropical plants, emerald isles, and granite rocks. The lively Sharia al-Souq is a bustling market street full of sights, sounds, and scents of spices, perfumes, scarves, baskets, and some laid-back cafés. Aswan is a lovely port of call for Nile river cruises and offers spectacular sunsets.

Elephantine Island (Yebu) was the urban, religious, and military center of Aswan. Fortified walls, prestigious temples to Khnum and Satis, the precinct of the local Saint Hekaib, and garrison soldier dwelling.

Aswan Museum is housed in a picturesque villa and includes a collection of local finds.
Kitchener’s Island, also known as Plantation Island, is a pleasant felucca journey away, with botanical gardens and palm groves.

From the water it is possible to see the Mausoleum of the Aga Khan, the burial place of the late leader of the Ismaili sect.

On the Eastern bank of the Nile are the principal quarries, from which originated most of the granite for the obelisks, statues, pyramid casings, and shrines. It is possible to see a famous obelisk still lying in its bed, which was rejected due to a flaw in the stone.

The Temple of Philae

The beautiful Philae Island was considered to be the ‘Pearl of Egypt’, with a gorgeous spot surrounded by blue waters and black granite boulders. The Temple of Philae, dedicated to the Goddess Isis, site of Osiris, and mother of Horus, is comprised of various shrines and sanctuaries. Yet another victim of the Aswan High Dam waters, the temple was moved to a higher, nearby island and extensive efforts were made to landscape the island to match its original home.

Kalabsha

The largest free-standing temple of Egyptian Nubia, Kalabsha is a short drive from Aswan, usually visited while the boat is moored in Aswan. Dedicated to the Nubian god Mandulis, it was constructed during the time of Augustus, and has classical Ptolemaic designs, with pylons, a courtyard, a hypostyle hall, and sanctuary.

Beit al-Wali

A small rock-cut temple of Ramesses II; the entrance hall reliefs depict war scenes from the time of Seti I and Ramesses II. Commemorating military victories in Nubia, Syria, and Libya, the temple is close to Kalabsha.

Kom Ombo

Dating from the Hellenistic period on the eastern bank of the Nile is the Temple of Kom Ombo. This unique construction, on a high dune overlooking a sweeping bend of the river, consists of a two temples within one. There is a temple dedicated to Sobek, the crocodile-headed god, and a temple dedicated to Haroeris, the falcon-headed god of war and son of Isis.

Edfu

Edfu’s main claim to fame is that it has the best-preserved Greco-Roman temple in all of Egypt. The temple is dedicated toe the falcon god Horus and black granite statues of the god guard the entrance. Begun in 237 BCE by Ptolemy III, the temple was not finished until 180 years later by Cleopatra’s father. From the roof visitors have a splendid view over the Nile and the surrounding fields.

Esna

Dedicated to the ram god Khnum, the Greco-Roman temple of Esna is small and well preserved. The town is a busy merchant and farming town on the west bank of the Nile and has grown up around the temple. A visit to the Esna temple is usually only included on longer Nile cruises, though traffic gets backed up at the famous locks and there is a lot of excitement as the locals attempt daring feats of agility in trying to display, haggle, thrown, and ultimately sell their goods as the boats proceed through the locks.

Luxor

Often called the world’s greatest open-air museum, Luxor is a magical place and has been a tourist destination since the dawn of tourism. Luxor as we know it consists of three different areas including the city of Luxor, the town of Karnak to the north, and Thebes. Luxor developed from Thebes, the prosperous ancient capital of Egypt’s New Kingdom (1550 – 1069BC). Apparently only about 30 percent of the monuments, tombs, and temples of that time have been unearthed, yet work goes on. The streets near the Nile are home to colorful bazaars, where the usual array of souvenirs can be procured, as well as restaurants and cafés, and the town has some interesting, modern pharaonic architecture.

Karnak

The Temple of Luxor, dedicated to Amun and Mut, was the repository of the divine spirit, which had the power to transform a king to be into an actual divine ruler of Egypt. Unlike other temples, it is situated parallel to the Nile and was conceived as a remote southern annex to the temple of Karnak. Two enormous statues of Ramesses II guard the entrance, and a single obelisk rises above the statues. The obelisk’s partner rests in the city of Paris at the Place de la Concorde. Built under Amenhotep III, the temple is accessed by a long stone sphinx-lined processional street call a dromos.

The Temple of Karnak (Temple Complex of Amon-Re) was the melting pot of religion and politics. The sacred complex is vast in size and took 1300 years to construct, starting with King Seti I (1249 – 1279 BC). Replete with an impressive array of statues, pillars, ram-headed sphinxes, and obelisks, the Hypostyle Hall is amazing and is supported by 134 columns. The sacred lake was used for ritual purposes and for purification of the priests.

Ramasseum is the majestic funerary temple of King Ramesses II, located in western Thebes.

The Valley of the Kings is located on the mountainside behind Thebes where there are many small valleys. Though the Tomb of Tutankhamun and the story of its discovery is by far the most well-known, there are other notable tombs from the 18th and 19th Dynasties to visit, such as the Tomb of Ramesses VI, which has a wonderful celestial ceiling; and the Tomb of Tuthmosis III which, though difficult to access, has some of the most beautiful paintings. In the interest of preservation, access to the tombs may be restricted and if so, they are necessarily closed to the public.

The Valley of the Queens (Biban el-Harim) is a region where 80 tombs have been discovered to date, most of which are from the period of 1300-1100 BC. The most beautiful tomb is that of Nefertari, the favorite wife of Ramesses II, with lovely painted walls. Additionally, there are the tombs of Queen Thiti, the Tomb of Prince Amon-her-Khopechef, and the Tomb of Prince Pra-her-Umanef.

Temple of Hatshepsut Built in the 15th century BC, the unique and elegant temple of Queen Hatshepsut was made for the only queen to rule Egypt during the time of the Pharaohs.

Between the Nile and the Valley of the Kings in an immense plain are the Colossi of Memnon. These two enormous statues of seated figures are all that remain of the monumental avenue leading to the temple of Amenhotep III.

The Luxor Museum was inaugurated in 1975 and presented a large collection of objects of Theban provenance and a hoard of large statues representing kings and deities, unearthed in 1989.

The Winter Place Hotel was the place where Howard Carter stayed when he was searching for the tomb of Tutankhamun.

Dendera

Most cruises end in Luxor, yet a few continue north to the Temple of Dendera and Qena city. The presence of three different sanctuaries make the city of Dendera (Greek name for Tentirys) a holy place. Though two of the sanctuaries have all but disappeared, the third one, a granite temple dedicated to the goddess Hathor, still exists. True to her status as a cosmic goddess, the ceiling is decorated with images of the moon, sun, stars, and planets, in addition to vultures. Hathor was also the patron of dance and music and every year a feast of ‘drunkenness’ was celebrated on the twentieth day of the first month of the flooding.