Egypt, Treasures of the Nile

December 9 – 20, 2020

Come along as we cruise Egypt’s famous River Nile on a very special boat called a Dahabiya from Luxor to Aswan just like Cleopatra and Julius Caesar did two thousand years ago!

Here’s a few facts about the Nile River:

  • The Nile River is the longest river in the world at 4,100 miles long, only a hundred miles longer than the Amazon river in South America.
  • The Nile is one of the very few rivers in the world that flows from South to North.
  • Upper Egypt is the Southern region of Egypt that includes the cities of Luxor and Aswan, it is called upper because it’s located upriver in relation to the Nile’s flow.
  • Lower Egypt is the Northern region of Egypt that includes the cities of Cairo and Alexandria, so named because it’s located downriver.
  • Menes aka Narmer was the ruler who united Lower and Upper Egypt, he became the first Pharaoh which means Lord of two lands
  • Even though the unification took place 5,000 years ago, during the Ancient Egypt Civilization, the Southern region is still, to this day, referred to as Upper Egypt!

During our time in Upper Egypt we spend a total of 11 nights: 1 in Luxor, 4 cruising the Nile, 3 in Aswan and back to Luxor for 3 more.

Luxor

Our 10 hour overnight ride on the sleeper train from Cairo to Luxor was rocky and bumpy but we still managed to get a good night sleep, it helps when you’re used to sleeping in all kinds of conditions. The small beds were comfy but the food was horrible, the car attendant in his spiffy uniform brought us mediocre coffee in the morning before arriving at the train station. The whole experience lacked the romantic feel we were hoping for but we’re happy we did it.

It was hard to get a first impression of Luxor since we got there at 6:00am and took a taxi from the train station to our hotel when the town was just waking up. It definitely felt less chaotic than Cairo as we drove by the nice waterfront promenade. Luxor was the Capital of Ancient Egypt for a while and where the tombs of the kings and important temples are located. Since we were here for just one night we decided to enjoy the day by the pool at the beautiful Hilton Luxor Resort and Spa. We took advantage of my 13 years with Hilton with the Friends and Family rate and got a room for only $42. What a deal!

We are coming back to Luxor after our Cruise so we will have plenty of time to explore the Valley of the Kings and the other attractions.

The pool of the beautiful Hilton Luxor Resort and Spa overlooking the Nile

Cruising the Nile on a Dahabiya

While researching things to do in Egypt, it was evident that a Nile cruise is one of the highlights. After looking at different options, I came across something very different from the rest, it was called a Dahabiya.

When reading the description on the company’s website Nile-Dahabiya, I knew it was something we would really enjoy even though it was more expensive than the traditional option. I looked up a few companies, but Djed Egypt Travel is the one that stood out because of the old world charm of their vessels and the great reviews. Each one of their four boats is furnished with unique antique pieces bringing you back to the romance of the past when pioneering voyagers explored Egypt!

When you book with Djed everything is included: 3 meals a day, tea time, all drinks (non alcohol), on board English-speaking guide/Egyptologist, entree fees to all the temples and attractions we visit along the way, transfer to and from your Hotel in Luxor and Aswan.

The Djed van picked us up on December 10, 2020 at our hotel in Luxor at 9:00am, we made another stop to pick up our five other shipmates, a young couple from the UK and a couple from the US with their adult daughter. After an hour and a half drive through the countryside we finally arrived in Esna where the Dahabiya Loulia and the crew were waiting for us.

Dahabiya Loulia, isn’t she pretty? We were so excited to get on board!
A Dahabiya is a passenger boat only used on the Nile, a shallow-bottomed, barge-like vessel with two sails, they have been around in one form or another for thousands of years. The blue and white tugboat on the port side, is used to tow the Dahabiya when there isn’t enough wind to use the sails, it stays closeby for the duration of the trip.

Esna

Our first visit, after dropping off our luggage on the boat, was the Temple of Khnum and the local market in the small town of Esna.

The Temple of Khnum built of red sandstone has beautiful columns with the lotus flower motif, a symbol of Upper Egypt and carvings from the 3rd century AD.

The Hypostyle Hall, built by the Romans, is the only part of the temple that has been excavated and that we can visit. Most of the temple ruins are still covered by the old town.

It sits in a 9 meter deep pit which represents 15 centuries of desert sand and debris accumulated since it was abandoned!

Esna local market

Located on the west bank of the Nile, Esna is mostly visited for it’s temple, but the busy little farming town has its own charm and the people seemed quite friendly. After visiting the temple, it was nice to walk through the busy market on our way back to the boat.

Then back to Loulia for lunch and a leisurely afternoon of sailing …

With only four cabins and two suites, the Dahabiya never feels crowded. Because of Covid their schedule has been drastically reduced, there was only 7 passengers on our voyage with 9 crew members looking after us like we were royalty!

Edfu

On the second day, after a scrumptious breakfast we moored in Edfu to visit another temple, this time horses and carriages were waiting for us to take us to the Temple of Horus. Built between 237 and 57 BC it is one the best preserved ancient monuments in Egypt.

Abdulla our friendly and incredibly knowledgeable on board guide/Egyptologist made this trip extra special, explaining every site we visited and answering all our questions. He was with us all the time, we had great conversation about the Egyptian culture, specially at meal time when we all sat together sharing delicious traditional Egyptian food served family style.

What makes this trip so unique is the feeling you get when lounging on the main deck just floating without engine noise, witnessing life along the Nile … the farmers tending to their land, the fishermen in their tiny row boats, the women washing clothes in the river, the kids playing and laughing. Enjoying a glass of wine while the sun sets, waking up in a four poster bed looking out the window at a pink sunrise …

Another great advantage of sailing on a Dahabiya is the ability to stop where the larger cruise ships can’t. We visited temples, stone age sites, souks, a camel market and small authentic villages.

Gebel Silsila

We spent the second night moored by these sandstone quarries, where thousands of men use to work at carving huge blocks, they floated to Luxor to be used in buildings like the Temple of Karnak.

Temple of Kom Ombo

This beautiful temple constructed between 180 and 47 BC, was dedicated to the crocodile god, Sobek. There is also a Crocodile museum adjacent to the temple where a few of the 300 mummified crocodiles discovered in the vicinity are on display along with ancient carvings.

As recent as 2018 they were still discovering important relics during work to protect the site from groundwater, like the head of the bust of Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius and a few months later a sandstone sphinx statue!

Daraw camel market

The Camel market was one of our favorite experience. After driving through the narrow streets in the back of a pickup truck taxi, we arrived at one of the largest camel market in Egypt. Most of the camels being sold come in caravans from Sudan to the southern border near Abu Simbel where they are trucked to Daraw. It was fascinating to see all the camels and the negotiations going on between the buyers and sellers. From here, most of them go to Cairo where they will be sold to farmers, exported to neighboring countries or slaughtered for meat. When we were there, we saw a few hundred camels but sometimes it’s possible to see as many as 2000.

Life along the Nile

The Ancient Egyptian Civilization would not have existed if it wasn’t for the River Nile, it was their source of water, food, transportation, building materials and so much more.

Still today the Nile remains the life line for agriculture, transportation and tourism. It is the central feature of life for Northeast Africa from Tanzania to Egypt, what makes it so special besides being one of the longest rivers in the world is that it is surrounded by ruins left by ancient civilizations, the perfect setting for a leisurely cruise.

Four nights sailing the Nile from Luxor to Aswan on a Dahabiya has been one of the best experiences we ever had.
Joe, Abdulla and the crew! Because of the pandemic, these guys hadn’t worked for months, they were very happy to be back on the water. The Chef is holding a little house made out of chocolate that we bought at the Hilton, we gave it to them when we first boarded and they still had it four days later!!

After four incredible nights on the Dahabiya, it was time to say goodbye and continue to our next destination, Aswan.

Aswan

Aswan is the starting or ending point of many Nile Cruises, but it’s also a destination on its own, with the Nubian culture it feels different from the rest of Egypt. There is plenty to visit, museums, temples, nubian village, the high dam and local markets. It is also from Aswan that you can do a day trip to the famous Abu Simbel.

We really enjoyed walking on the Corniche, the waterfront promenade along the Nile, to watch the Felucas, Egyptian sailboats, during the golden sunsets with the sand dune backdrop.

Mango Guesthouse

While in Aswan we based ourselves at the Mango Guesthouse on Elephantine Island just a short boat ride from the mainland. On the island there is no roads or motor vehicles just tiny sandy paths between houses. The ferry was a fun experience each time we took it to get back to the island inhabited mostly by locals with a few guesthouses; men sit in one section and the women in an other. We didn’t know that the first time we took it but nobody got upset, they know we’re tourists, they just looked at us a little funny!

Nubian Village

The first day we arrived, we negotiated with a local boat owner to take us to the Nubian Village for a visit of the very colorful homes and market. We had lunch at the Instagram famous Kato Dool Nubian House.

Abu Simbel

The next morning we left early for a 3 hour drive through the desert to see the incredible temples of Abu Simbel, located near the Sudan border. We shared a private car and driver with Alex a French traveler who was also staying at the Mango Guesthouse.

Carved out of the mountain on the west bank of the Nile between 1264 and 1244 BC, this imposing main temple of the Abu Simbel complex was dedicated to Ramses II and the smaller one to his Queen Nefertari. The four colossal statues of the pharaoh, in front of the temple, are like gigantic sentinels watching over the incoming traffic from the south, designed as a warning of the strength of the pharaoh.

But what I found incredible is that both temples were moved in the 60’s when the Aswan High Dam was built and they flooded the area forming Lake Nasser. It was a collaboration of many countries who came together to preserve this masterpiece under UNESCO’s supervision. Between 1964 and 1968, the entire site was carefully cut into large blocks averaging 20 tons, dismantled, lifted and reassembled in a new location 65 meters higher and 200 meters back from the river, in one of the greatest challenges of archaeological engineering in history. A real testament to what can be achieved when countries and great minds work together.

We spend a few days sighteseeing with this lively bunch of world travelers and sharing stories over drinks.

Alex from France, Joe & Josée, Chris from the US, Brit James and Aussie Shelley and their adorable daughter Lily.

We visited the Unfinished Obelisk, the 3,500 year old monument from ancient Egypt that was abandoned when cracks formed in the Granite. Did you know that Egypt retained only 4 of the 21 ancient obelisks still standing? 13 in Rome, the rest spread out around the world in Paris, Istanbul, New York and London.

We continued our tour with a visit of the Aswan Dam and the Russia Egypt Friendship Memorial in the shape of an enormous lotus, to commemorate the financial help Russia provided to Egypt during the construction of the dam.

Then on to the Kabsha Temple and the Philae Temple complex on Agilkia Island. They were also moved by UNESCO’s rescue project during the building of the Aswan High Dam.

These buildings were venerated from the Pharaonic era through, the Greek, Roman and Byzantine periods with each ruler making their own additions.

After 3 days at the Mango Guesthouse on Elephantine Island in Aswan we said goodbye to Hamada and Mahmoud, these guys turned out to be pretty awesome, they made us breakfast every morning, helped us with booking tours and Mahmoud did our laundry and even had Joe’s jeans repaired. We were a bit reluctant when we first arrived but it didn’t take long for them to warm up to us, it was just a language barrier.

Luxor

After four days in Aswan, our new friends were taking a cruise up the Nile to Luxor, Alex and us decided to hire a car with driver to take us to Luxor with a few stops along the way.

We went back to the Hilton Luxor Resort and Spa while Alex stayed in the center of town at the Nefertiti Hotel. Another traveler had referred a taxi driver in Luxor so while we were on our way there I reached out to Mohamed to make arrangements for the next day to visit the Valley of the Kings located on the west bank of the Nile.

Mohamed drove us all around Luxor for 3 days. He is such a fine young man, he even invited us to his house for coffee and to meet his parents. The day we left he surprised us with small gifts.

If anyone ever needs a driver in Luxor please contact us so we can give you his number.

His family has been in Luxor for generations, he knows everybody, if you need any information for guides, cruises, accommodations, tours, hot air ballon rides, restaurants … he will point you in the right direction!

Valley of the Kings, the burial grounds of the pharaohs.

Mohamed drove us from one site to the other but we decided not to get a guide since Alex had a guidebook and was giving us the history of each site we visited. I know stereotyping is bad but if I may generalize for just a moment i’d like to say that if there is one nationality that excels in history it’s without a doubt the French! Any way MERCI Alex for being our tour guide in Aswan and Luxor, I also really enjoyed our long conversations while sharing the back seat of the many long car rides we took.

Located on the Nile’s west bank, about an hour drive from Luxor, The Valley of the Kings was a burial ground for Ancient Egyptian royalty between 1539-1075 BC, including the Ramsesses and Tutankhamun. There are over 60 tombs in the Valley of the Kings, they vary from small tombs that are little more than a large hole in the ground to very large tombs with over 100 underground chambers, not all can be visited but the few we saw were extraordinary. The sites were not only the burial tombs for the mummified pharaohs but for their treasure, food and wine, clothes, pets and sacred objects to help the deceased achieve eternal life.

The Mortuary Temple of Queen Hatshepsut, is an architectural marvel.
In Ancient Egypt, a woman could not become pharaoh, Hatshepsut, as the daughter of a pharaoh and the wife of another (her half brother), she claimed the purest of royal bloodlines and declared herself pharaoh! You Go Girl!

emple

On our second night in Luxor, we met up for dinner with friends at the Al-Sahaby Lane restaurant overlooking the Luxor Temple.

My favorite temple, even though by the time we reached Luxor we were kind of templed out, was the Karnak Temple Complex, the second largest temple complex in the world after Angkor Wat in Cambodia.

Joe decided to stay at the Hotel so Alex and I got picked up early by Mohamed just to make sure we were there before the groups arrived. Pre Covid this place was always packed, again we were so lucky to have it almost to ourselves.

The most impressive area of the Karnak Complex was the Great Hypostyle Hall with 134 giant sandstone columns in the form of papyrus stalks!

The next morning, Alex, Joe and I said goodbye to Luxor and the Nile River, Mohamed picked us up early for a 5 hour drive through the desert to our next destination.

Next: Holidays on the Red Sea … Stay tuned!

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www.joeandjoseesjourney.com

In 2014 we decided to sell everything we owned to embark on a Journey to discover the world. After a five year overland expedition through the Americas driving from Alaska to Argentina, we traded our truck camper for two carryon suitcases …

Let’s see where the wind takes us this time!

6 thoughts on “Egypt, Treasures of the Nile

  1. Merci beaucoup pour ce magnifique reportage. J’avais hâte de vous “retrouver” sur la toile. C’est absolument magnifique. Vos photos’sont splendides.

    1. Bonjour Béatrice,
      Je suis bien heureuse de lire votre commentaire. Comme vous l’avez constaté nous sommes tombés sous le charme de l’Égypte.
      Merci!
      Josée 😘

  2. What a wonderful adventure. You have the ability with your beautiful pictures and descriptions to take the reader along the journey with you and make them believe they are right there with you. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Hi Ruth,
      Thank you so much … memories that will last a lifetime for sure! The silver lining of traveling during a pandemic, hardly any tourists in usually overcrowded areas.
      Hugs to you and Kevin
      J&J

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