In February of 2020, I spent just over a week in Egypt on tour organized by Spiekermann Travel. We flew into Cairo from JFK New York on Egyptair, spent a few days touring the sights there, before flying south to begin our cruise on the Nile River. It was the first cruise I’ve ever experienced. While it was a much smaller, more intimate experience than the massive cruise liners you see in the Mediterranean or the Caribbean, it was still a unique travel experience to cross off the list. Since we saw and did so much in Egypt, I wanted to write about the cruise separate from the sights of Cairo.
Flight from Cairo to Luxor
After two whirlwind days in Cairo, it was time to fly south to get on the boat. We took a 1-hour flight from Cairo to Luxor, where we boarded the ship the Sonesta St. George. It was a smooth flight, and the transfer to the ship was seamless, thanks to the organization by the travel company.
Karnak Complex & Luxor Temple
The first stop on the tour was Karnak Temple in Luxor, an incredibly impressive complex of massive pillars and temples dating back to 2000 B.C. It’s mind-blowing to visit, it’s hard to imagine how such massive structures were constructed such a long time ago and how they’ve withstood the test of thousands of years.
Luxor Temple sits on the east bank of the Nile River and is another fascinating site to see that we visited on our first day. It was first constructed in 1400 BC and is full of temples built by Rameses II, Tutankhamun, and Amenhotep III over the centuries. Uniquely, this temple is not dedicated to an Egyptian God or a pharaoh after their death, but instead, it was constructed for royalty ceremonies during the lives of the rulers, such as coronations.
It’s an all-consuming feeling to wander through such incredible history, bringing to life things that before coming to Egypt had only existed in books I’d read or in shows on the History Channel.
I felt like I could spend hours wandering these structures, straining my neck to stare up at the pillars and the paintings that decorated the tops of them – with the original colors preserved through thousands of years.
Valley of the Kings
This my favorite thing I saw and experienced in Egypt. The Valley of the Kings is an area of tombs cut into the rock, each dedicated to various pharaohs over the centuries of ancient Egypt. Touring the monuments takes you on a decline down into the rock, and the walls the entire way are covered in colorful inscriptions, hieroglyphs, and paintings. It was genuinely breathtaking how well preserved the pictures are in the tombs. You could spend a whole day wandering through the various temples, but we had to pick the top three to get on our way to other sites.
Do NOT miss the Valley of the Kings if you find yourself in Luxor. My top tip would be to get there as early as possible to avoid the large crowds that squeeze their way into the tombs and crowd your view.
Queen Hatshepsut’s Temple
Another fantastic site to see in Luxor is the temple of Queen Hatshepsut, the longest-reigning woman of ancient Egypt. Her reign was considered one of the most peaceful and prosperous of Egyptian history. You’ll be impressed by the structures of the temple, and the paintings on bits of the interior.
Queen Hatshepsut’s temple is a really cool (but actually hot!) stop on the tour – don’t forget sunscreen and a hat when you go to Egypt. The sun was beating down at this point in the day, and it would be easy to burn if you aren’t careful as there’s no shade at most points on the tour.
After exploring Luxor, we sailed overnight to Edfu, a distance of about 110km. Here we’d explore more historical sites before cruising to our final stop on the boat trip in Aswan.
Temple of Horus
The Temple of Horus is one of the best-preserved temples of ancient Egypt and is the first site we toured in Edfu. It was constructed between 237 and 57BC, making it one of the “newer” structures of Ancient Egypt, built during the Ptolemaic years. It’s the largest temple dedicated to the God Horus.
We toured this temple at night, which was a unique experience to have, seeing the ancient structures illuminated in the dark instead of the daylight. I enjoyed this tour a lot, and my cousin snapped some amazing images in the dark of Kom Ombo. Kom Ombo sits between Edfu and Aswan, on the east bank of the Nile River.
Temple of Philae
Philae is a temple in Nubia, a region that covers southern Egpyt and northern Sudan. It’s a beautiful temple reached on a small motorized boat, as it’s on a tiny island in the Nile River.
I think this was my favorite temple and spot apart from the Valley of the Kings. The view is beautiful, right on the water, and here the Nile looks much cleaner than it does farther north in Cairo. The temple is not as well-preserved, but still a wonder to marvel at. If you’re a cat lover, you’re going to love this stop. All around the temple and especially at the cafe, there are dozens of cats living here! A man who worked at the cafe feeds them, so we gave him extra money for cat food when he summoned all of them around us. If you don’t like cats – this could be a nightmare!
An interesting story we learned at this point in the tour was about the Nubian people who inhabit this southern region of Egypt. Nubians are darker than northern Egyptians, who look more middle-eastern or Mediterranean. A fascinating story we learned was that during the Ottoman Empire’s invasion in Egypt, the Sultan sent Bosnian soldiers to help fight, and then abandoned them in Nubia. The fair-skinned, light-eyed Bosnians ended up marrying in with the local Nubians, and still to today, hundreds of years later, you can see the influence in the locals with super dark skin and stunning, light blue eyes. They were some of the most beautiful people I’d ever seen, it was amazing to actually see a piece of history still living through a local population.
The final stop on the cruise tour was Aswan, a busy tourist city in southern Egypt. It was the most beautiful city we saw while traveling in this country and definitely merits a stop if you find yourself venturing through this part of the world.
The Aswan Dam
This dam built across the Nile River was a game-changer for the economy of Egypt. It allows them to control the water flow and capture hydroelectric energy, as well as store water used for irrigation. The dam is quite the architectural feat, and the high dam, the dam still used today, was built in the 1960s. Because of the changes to the river and flooding potential due to the construction of the dam, 22 monuments had to be moved to complete the construction. One of them was the Temple of Debod, which was moved to Madrid in Spain in a park close to where I lived when I was there teaching English from 2015-2017.
After touring Aswan and making our way back to the boat, it was time for a relaxing felucca ride. A felucca is a sailing boat commonly seen in Aswan and on the Nile in southern Egypt. The ride was pleasant, but be prepared to have the captain and crew try to sell you lots of jewelry and trinkets during the trip. We also encountered one of the hardest-working pickpockets I’ve ever seen, a little boy paddled out to our boat on a small paddleboard, held onto our boat, and slowly worked his way around, softly singing but looking for unsupervised purses or phones. You’ll cruise past the hotel where Agatha Christie wrote “Death on the Nile” on this Felucca Ride.
One of the final experiences before heading back to the boat for our final night on the Nile was a venture to the Aswan Spice Market. It was fairly calm, to my surprise. We did shopping at mostly storefronts instead of a crazy a souk full of vendors. It was a nice ending to a trip. The number of temples and monuments we saw and the information that we learned was completely overwhelming. It’s definitely a trip of a lifetime and left me wanting to come back to Egypt to explore more and see sites we didn’t have time for on this adventure.
Sonesta St. George Cruise Boat Review
This boat provided a rustic elegance with all the amenities. There was a pool, and hot tub on the top deck, lovely lounging chairs, the bedrooms had enough space with sliding glass doors, beautiful bathrooms, and everything you’d need for a short stay. My only criticism of the amenities is that the Wi-Fi is not unlimited and included, and it’s very expensive to reload after you’ve used up the allotted gigabyte. I purchased a wi-fi hotspot when we were in Cairo so I could have access to the internet during the cruise, something to consider if you have to work or check your emails during the trip.
The food was pretty good, some meals were definitely better than others. Some dishes were absolutely delicious, while others felt a little watered-down in terms of flavor, most likely to appease the range of palates that travel on cruise ships. I think this is one of my criticisms of this type of group tour – because you’re going with so many people, there’s less opportunity to explore hidden hole-in-the-wall spots run by locals serving up fantastic food. Most of our meals were in hotels or large establishments that can accommodate a large number of people.
A Nile River cruise is a fabulous way to tour a lot of Egypt in a short amount of time. We saw so many historical sites, learned an incredible amount of information, and had so much fun being together on the small ship. While I don’t think I am a cruise-convert, and you won’t see me on a Royal Caribbean ship anytime soon, I’d highly recommend this type of cruising experience for anyone exploring the southern part of Egypt.
Have you been to Egypt? What was your favorite thing you saw or did? Leave a comment below!