Highlights Of A Nile River Cruise

Posted September 1st, 2015

The Nile, in northern Africa, is not short of splendour. Sure, there is cargo traffic, and mud, and a swim is probably best avoided. But it is arguably the best dressed river in the world. Where else can you sail among temples and stone monuments built – often in a self-aggrandising fashion – by Pharaohs that lived thousands of years ago?

Cliched but true, it's a museum procession on all sides as you glide along the water, often on a comfortable boat with an interminable supply of tea and cold towels. The hot air, the reeds and rushes, the clitter-clatter of everyday life along the banks are an evocative backdrop to it all.

Many cruises start in Luxor, a town that welcomes tourists, and a hopping-off point to some of ancient Egypt's finest constructions.

1. Karnak

The Karnak complex, comprising three temples and chapels not far from the centre of Luxor, was built over a period of 1,000 years. The surrounding area was known as Ipet-isut in the ancient Egyptian language, translating as The Most Selected of Places. The most renowned area is the Precinct of Amun-Re – Amun was the chief god in the Theban triad of Amun, Mut and Khonsu – as this is the only one open to the public. It is thought that the Karnak temple complex is the second most visited site in Egypt, after the pyramids at Giza.

2. Luxor Temple

Nile cruisers should also visit the Luxor Temple. Kings including Tutankhamun, Horemheb and Alexander the Great added to this superb construction, which was mostly built during the reins of Amenhotep III and Ramesses II. A mosque that is still in use today was built on top of the temple. It is open until 10pm in the summer months, making it easier to visit outside of the heat of the day.

3. Temple of Goddess Hathor

Some cruise itineraries take passengers north to the Temple of Goddess Hathor, in Denderah. This is widely regarded as one of the best preserved monuments in Egypt. Hathor was a goddess espousing the principles of love, beauty, music and motherhood.

4. Edfu and the Temple of Horus

Cruisers continue south to Edfu. Built later than the temples at Luxor, during the Greco-Roman period, the Temple of Horus here has walls covered with reliefs and inscriptions that shed much light on ancient politics and culture. One of the best is a depiction of Horus taking revenge on Seth for the murder of his father, Osiris. There is also an impressively large statue of Horus as a falcon.

5. Kom Ombo

Next stop? Often the complex at Kom Ombo, which contains the temples of Herwer – the Eye of Heaven; Sobek – often depicted with a crocodile head; and Hathor. Sacred crocodiles were mummified and buried here. There is now a Crocodile Museum on the site, in addition to the tomb.


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6. Philae

Cruise ship passengers can hop straight on to a small motorboat to access Philae on the island of Agilika. The monuments here used to be in a location now under the waters of Lake Nasser, but were moved further downstream with the help of Unesco. The largest structure on the island is the Temple of Isis, the patroness of nature and magic and revered as an ideal mother.

7. Elnabatat's Island

Elnabatat's Island, also known as Kitchener’s Island, was developed after the Lord was given it as a reward for his services in the colonial Anglo-Sudan War, and is a stop suitable for the small cruise ships that ply the Nile. Lord Kitchener had the island planted with lush trees, separated by walkways to give admirable views on to the river. Today it is home to the Aswan Botanical Garden.

8. The Aga Khan mausoleum

Hop ashore to visit the Aga Khan mausoleum, at Aswan. It is the resting place of Aga Khan III – Sir Sultan Muhammed Shah – who died in 1957. The mausoleum is built in attractive pink limestone, and the tomb of Carrara marble. Climb the small hillock on which the mausoleum is built for a worthwhile view over the Nile.

9. Aswan

Many cruises dock at Aswan, best known for the dam constructed between 1960 and 1970 in an aim to protect Egypt from yearly flooding. Building the dam created Lake Nasser, one of the world’s largest man-made lakes. Ancient Egyptian sites such as Abu Simbel, Philae and Kalabsha were moved, although the settlement of Buhen remains under the water.

Sights to see in Aswan, once you’ve left the ship, include the unfinished obelisk, the largest known ancient construction of this kind. Work began on the obelisk around 3,500 years ago, but it is thought that the project was abandoned when cracks began to appear in the bedrock. It is still in a quarry on the outskirts of Aswan.

10. The Old Cataract hotel

You may wish to stay over in Aswan at the Old Cataract, a luxury hotel in a 19th Century palace that has been frequented by Winston Churchill – who first stayed in 1902 – and Agatha Christie, who was inspired by her stay when writing Death on the Nile.

11. Lake Nasser

Further south from Aswan, a cruise on Lake Nasser is a worthwhile break in itself, and not just an adjunct to a Nile trip – you need to change ships at Aswan anyway, because cruise vessels cannot cross the dam. Near the Tropic of Cancer, the water body measures 550 kilometres in length and 35 kilometres across at its widest point, storing 132 cubic kilometres of water. It is a popular spot for fishing, especially of Nile Perch.

12. Abu Simbel

On the western bank of Lake Nasser, as part of the Nubian Monuments Unesco World Heritage Site, stands Abu Simbel. Originally carved out during the rein of Pharaoh Ramesses II, who reigned 1279-1213 BC, it was an early form of hero worship – the leader had the temples built as a monument to himself and his queen Nefertari. The constructions were moved in 1968 to protect them from the rising waters that resulted from the building of the Aswan High Dam.

When Peter Hughes sailed on Lake Nasser in a boat in “style of a Twenties steamship”, he described a calm emptiness and surrounding landscapes that were “a void of blackened rock in which every hollow and crevice was filled with unblemished drifts of beige sand". Abu Simbel was “both the continuation and the conclusion of the distinctiveness of the Lake Nasser cruise".

13. Wadi el Arab

Lake Nasser – surrounded by sand and rocky desert – also makes a practical hopping-off point for adventures in the desert. You might like to trek to the sand dunes at Wadi el Arab, or visit the temples of Amada and Kasr Ibrim – much less frequented than the ancient examples farther north.


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This article was from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

The Daily Telegraph

The Daily Telegraph is a daily morning UK English language broadsheet newspaper, published in London by Telegraph Media Group and distributed throughout the United Kingdom and internationally.

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