“Sublime luxury awaits aboard these majestic sailboats, which float down the Nile in no great hurry, stopping at the sights others don’t see”
It takes 6 days to meander from Luxor to Aswan. You breakfast in the sun at the front of the ship, then decant to see something wonderful, perhaps a visit to a Pharaonic quarry or an enormous temple that spent centuries buried under sand. You can walk in the desert, swim in the river, visit a farm, sunbathe on the poop deck, and if the wind is blowing, great sails will be unfurled and you will glide across the water in serene silence. Rooms below are small, but you’ll spend your time up on deck, and they are also sweet, with super-comfortable beds and screens to defeat mosquitoes. As for the crew, they’re as good as their boat, a highlight of your cruise. Unmissable, and award-winning, so don’t balk at the price.
Why we chose this partner
- They have 4 boats, all equally beautiful, with 8-10 cabins each - so the ambiance remains intimate
- Each cruise is hosted, which makes it a far more enriching experience
- No other cruise takes you to such diverse, interesting places - these small dahabiyyas can moor at places large cruise ships can't
- The crew of our boat were quite remarkable, all big hearts and wide smiles
- Each boat has a shaded deck, where sofas, cushions and chandeliers offer kingly comforts as you glide down the Nile
- These are true sail boats - not motorized - which adds to the sense of peace and relaxedness
Please be aware
- You are towed by a tug when there’s not enough wind to fill the sails
- The cruise operates in house-party style with communal dining, which may not suit everyone
- The odd small thing: a cupboard door that doesn’t close properly, a loose-fitting socket
- You get fancy showers, but the pressure isn’t great and you’ll end up using the hand-held alternative, which is excellent
- The food is fine, but a little repetitive
Best time to go
You might want to avoid Ramadan, when some businesses will close for the whole month. And if you are travelling over holidays – Eid al-Adha, Ras an-Sana – expect the rest of Egypt to be competing for your seat. The dates for these holidays change every year, so check before planning your trip.”
Our top tips
All cruises depart from Esna (near Luxor) on a Monday, and take 6 days, arriving in Aswan on a Saturday morning. You can choose your preferred boat - though they are much of a muchness.”
Nour el Nil has 4 boats: Assouan and Malouka (both sleeping 16), El Nil and Meroe (both sleeping 20). All are similarly stylish, so you just book a room type and get allocated to a boat, unless you choose to book a whole boat exclusively for a big group. You have a choice of rooms - panoramic, luxury and standard - though not all boats have all types of rooms. None of the rooms are big, but the standard rooms are most certainly small and we advise you chose a luxury or panoramic instead. However, if all you’re going to do is sleep in it…
Standard and luxury rooms run along both sides of the boat. Each overlooks the river and those on the left (or ‘port’ for readers of a naval inclination) get the morning light. They all come in the same style (though luxury are slightly bigger): panelled walls painted white, windows giving watery views, comfy beds dressed in crisp white linen, shiny wooden floors. Colour comes from scatter cushions, while ensuite showers do the trick (the pressure isn’t great and you’ll end up using the hand-held alternative, which is more than good enough). There's odd small thing - a cupboard door that doesn’t close properly, a loose-fitting socket - but overall it's impeccable.
The big question you need to answer is this: do you want the bed to be made up as a double or two singles? Double beds stretch from one side of the cabin to the other and you will have to jump on at the base, but twins come with a neat little walkway in between. All the rooms have good storage with drawers below the beds and separate cupboards, too. Windows are also rather clever and slide out of the wall in various forms that can be used in any combination: French shutters; mosquito shutters, old-fashioned glass.
The two rooms at the back – the panoramic suites – are bigger (not huge) and have space for a table and chairs as well as a bookcase. They come in the same style, but have a chandelier thrown in as well. Their main attraction is the vast window that fills the rear wall, framing views of the Nile. The windows themselves open in such as way to allow you to sit over the stern of the boat.
Breakfast is served informally at the front of the boat. You loll about on sofas while kind staff bring plate after plate. You can have omelettes or boiled eggs (occasionally a hard-boiled egg!), there are countless plates of pancakes, then honey to pour upon them. If you want, you can have a plate of delicious tomatoes, or a basket of bread or toast. There’s mango juice, tea and coffee, then more pancakes…
Lunch and dinner are served at the table in the middle of the shaded deck. You eat on Limoges china. The food is relatively straightforward: the freshest salads, chicken or fish, aromatic rice, a plate of fruit to finish. Dinner is a little more substantial, perhaps asparagus soup to start, more fantastic salads, meatballs or moussaka followed by mango sorbet or coconut cake. It’s fresh and healthy and, although sticklers might say it's a little repetitive, you’ll be more than happy with it. You can wash it all down with a bottle of beer or a glass of Egyptian wine (available on board, but not included in rates). If the weather is cold (and at night in winter it often is), you drop down below and eat in a country-house sitting room.
- On the first morning you are driven down to Esna to board the boat. You walk through the town, visiting its market and temple before jumping on board for lunch
- For the rest of the trip, you potter along the river, then decant when something interesting appears. Not all these diversions are mainstream activities. One night you’ll stop for tea with a family of farmers on the banks of the Nile, smoke a sheesha pipe, compare mobile phone ringtones, talk about everyday life. It’s a great way to connect with ordinary people
- You’ll visit a farm, swim in the Nile, drop into the Temple of Horus at Edfu. The temple, almost perfectly preserved, is one of the finest sights you’ll see in Egypt
- One morning you’ll walk through a Pharaonic quarry, one afternoon you’ll head into the desert and try your hand at riding a donkey
- After dinner one evening the crew will sing for you. Our Nubian chef knew how to belt out a mournful tune, and for many on board this was a highlight of a fantastic cruise
- Other things you will find yourself doing: sunbathing on the poop deck; playing chess with a member of the crew (and losing); lying down a lot; watching the river pass; falling asleep; watching unlucky tourists pass on a miserable boat hotel
- There are binoculars on board, very handy in the early morning when a small army of birds drops down to the river for breakfast
- Historical sites
- Private guided tours
- Shopping / markets
Children are welcome, and of all the Nile cruises it's probably the best option, especially for older children who enjoy history. Crew and guides are brilliant with kids, and can arrange fishing, safe swimming stops (with life rings) and on-board games. There are no family cabins, only double/twins. Ideally take the whole boat; if not, ask whether other families are booked on your planned departure. Be aware that kids are charged as adults and there are no extra beds or baby cots available.
All 4 boats ply the same route from Esna (45 minutes from Luxor) up to Aswan, taking 6 days (5 nights) from Monday-Saturday. On any given Monday there will be at least one boat departing, maybe more.
You are picked up from your hotel in Luxor at about 9.30 on the morning your cruise sets sail, and then driven down to Esna, where the boat is waiting to depart.
You reach Aswan around 9.30 on Saturday morning, and transfers can be arranged to a hotel, or the airport if you prefer. Or you can jump in a taxi (agree a rate before you get in though).