A Nile Cruise is one of the best things to do in Egypt because few other tours can evoke both the beauty and the history of this epic country in such a great way.
The Nile is the longest river in the world, stretching for well over 4000 miles from its source in the heart of Africa, far north to the Egyptian coastline on the Mediterranean.
There are many stretches of the river which are perfect for cruising, but our favorite spot will always be the journey from Luxor to Aswan or if you prefer, Aswan to Luxor.
Luxor is the ancient heart of Egypt, where you can find historic temples and the Valley of the Kings. Carry on upstream to Aswan and you’ll see the glorious, verdant deltas of the Nile that nourished the ancient Egyptian Kingdoms.
You’ll see wildlife, temples, ruins and rural life on the banks of this great waterway.
It’s an epic trip, and to ensure you have the best journey, we’re here to share our experience and all the things we learned along the way in this practical guide to choosing the right Nile cruise in Egypt.
Don’t leave home without: Lonely Planet Egypt (Travel Guide)
Planning Your Nile Cruise in Egypt
The best Nile River cruise will take you from Luxor to Aswan or Aswan to Luxor. Luxor is located in the south of Egypt and is one of the most historic cities in the country.
A typical Nile cruise will depart from Luxor, cruise to Aswan, and then return to Luxor at the end of the trip. The trip length varies depending on the cruise, but you’ll want a minimum of four days to really experience it.
The most extensive cruises, though, will usually take seven days and will give you plenty of time to relax and enjoy the sun and the scenery.
You sleep on the boat during the cruise of course, and then you have the option each day to take tours and trips to the nearby attractions, as not all the best sights are always found right by the river.
For this reason, it’s important to pick the right company, right itinerary and the right ship for you.
Different Types of Cruises on the Nile
You need to decide how long you want to spend cruising along the Nile, but you also need to consider your budget and what level of comfort you want to travel in.
The most luxurious ships will handle all your travel needs and you can spend a fortune and enjoy all the trappings of a five-star hotel while you cruise from Luxor to Aswan.
Alternatively, you can join budget-minded cruises, where most things are paid for at an extra cost and where your cabin will be basic, and no thrills.
Many ships will have different cabin options too, and you can pay to upgrade your obstructed view to a full balcony, or you can upgrade from a basic cabin to a luxurious suite.
When looking at the price, check what’s actually included on the cruise too. It might seem like a cheap deal, but do you then need to pay extra for transfers to and from the boat?
Is the transport to archeological sites from the river also included? Are there guides on board and are there guides on the day trips? Look at the itinerary and the inclusions thoroughly before making a final decision.
Hot Tip: Be sure to clarify if entrance fees are included, or not. These will add up fast and need to be budgeted for if not included.
Know Before You Go
Cruising the Nile between Luxor and Aswan is a fantastic way to see some of the best that Egypt has to offer. However, there are a couple things you should know before you go.
It’s important to manage expectations, especially if you have the conception that few people are visiting Egypt right now. If you dream of having temples to yourself, you have another thing coming if you choose to cruise.
- Cruise boats move together: This means that you’ll be sailing on an itinerary that is exactly the same as many other cruise boats. You’ll be on the same schedule, which means all of the passengers, from all of these ships, will be visiting the sites at the same time.
- Temples will be very crowded: As a result, you are going to experience hoards of people at the temples. This was the most shocking thing about our Nile cruise. Tourism is, in fact, still down in Egypt but this experience will have you thinking otherwise.
- Touts will be aggressive for sales: This is part of the Egyptian experience and should be taken lightly. That said, when you’re part of the hoards that move with the cruise ships, expect the touts to desperately bother you for sales. They are more aggressive with cruise ship passengers because once you are all back on board, they won’t see many other visitors for the duration of the day. Sad but true.
Best Time to Cruise on the Nile
Egypt has a hot climate all through the year, so you can expect great weather no matter when you choose to travel.
The summers though can be really hot, this is the middle of North Africa after all, and if you’re not used to the oppressive heat and humidity you might want to opt to travel in winter.
An Egyptian winter is never cold, at least during the day, and temperatures will average around 20 degrees Celsius from November through to March. The nights can be cold though, especially if you travel into the desert.
Winter is high season in Egypt, and the busiest time of the year will be December and January, especially during the European school holidays.
Prices are at their highest and availability can be low, so ensure you book in advance to get the best deals for your Nile River Cruise.
If you can brave the summer sunshine and heat, when temperatures regularly exceed 40 degrees Celsius, then you’ll save yourself a great deal of money on flights and accommodation.
The shoulder seasons, spring and fall, are also great weather-wise and will give you the chance to save money and escape the crowds as well.
What to Take With You
You’ll need to check what’s included on your cruise and what style of travel you’ll be journeying in budget or luxury. Then you can start to organize your packing list.
There are a few things that you’ll need to bring through, regardless. For starters, ensure that you’ve got light clothes for the day, as you’ll be out exploring a lot.
You’ll also want comfortable outfits for when you’re sunning yourself and relaxing on the deck of the ship.
You’ll need a sun hat and sunscreen, even in winter, and you might want to make sure you pack swimwear too, and a towel.
And of course, you’ll need your camera to take photographs of what’s going to be an epic Nile River cruise from Luxor to Aswan.
Read more Ultimate Cruise Packing List
Nile Cruise Itinerary Options
Regardless of whether your Nile cruise starts in Luxor or Aswan, you’ll need to arrange transport to get here. Both cities have an international airport, with connections to a select few destinations in Europe and the Middle East.
You can fly in via Cairo or Hurghada on domestic flights too if you are exploring more of Egypt prior to joining your cruise in Egypt.
If you’re trying to keep costs down or after more of an adventure then you can also travel overland from Cairo to Luxor or Aswan.
There are sleeper trains that take around 10 hours to travel from Cairo to Luxor, 13 hours from Cairo to Aswan and are perfectly comfortable.
Hardier travelers can also opt for either the bus or the day train, both of which can be significantly cheaper although much less comfortable than booking a sleeper cabin. They are also much slower.
Alternatively, you may book your Nile cruise as part of a tour which will then include your transport to the start of the cruise based on your itinerary.
Luxor to Aswan Nile Cruise
Nile cruises that are booked starting in Luxor to Aswan offer a minimum itinerary of 5 days and 4 nights. This is due to your cruise traveling against the very strong river currents.
TYPICAL LUXOR TO ASWAN ITINERARY
- Day 1: Arrive in Luxor and tour the East Bank
- Day 2: Luxor West Bank & Valley of the Kings
- Day 3: Edfu and Kom Ombo
- Day 4: Aswan arrival, optional day trip to Abu Simbel
- Day 5: Aswan touring and departure
The itineraries typically include 2 full days of touring both the east and west bank of the Nile. This will include the east bank temples of Karnak and Luxor, as well as the west bank Valley of the Kings.
You’ll start sailing at the end of a full day on the west bank, enjoying sunset on the river and a nice sleep before waking up near Edfu. You’ll spend the morning touring this temple before setting sail at lunch time.
The afternoon will be spent relaxing, enjoying the pool if your ship has one and taking in the local river side life before arriving at Kom Ombo just as the sun starts to set.
Back on board, you’ll enjoy a themed dinner before heading to bed. You’ll wake up the next morning in Aswan – perhaps very early if you want to take the day trip to Abu Simbel.
The day will be spent touring Aswan, taking a felucca ride and maybe even heading to the Nubian Village up the river. You’ll enjoy another themed dinner and some entertainment on the ship on your last night.
The last day of your Nile cruise will visit some popular sights around Aswan, including Philae Temple, the Unfinished Obelisk and Aswan High Dam. You’ll then be taken to the airport to continue your Egypt itinerary.
Something worth noting, you may book a Nile cruise package that is more than the typical 5 day/4 nights that I have outlined above. This doesn’t mean you’ll spend more time on the river.
This means you will have extra days in either Luxor, Aswan or both. But not more time actually cruising. That is, unless you book a return cruise. If that is the case, you’ll sail Luxor to Aswan to Luxor, with the same stops in reverse.
Aswan to Luxor Nile Cruise
Nile cruises that are booked starting in Aswan to Luxor offer a minimum itinerary of 4 days and 3 nights. This is due to your cruise traveling with the very strong river currents.
TYPICAL ASWAN TO LUXOR ITINERARY
- Day 1: Arrive in Aswan and tour city sites
- Day 2: Edfu and Kom Ombo
- Day 3: Luxor arrival & East Bank
- Day 4: Luxor tour West Bank & Valley of the Kings, departure
Despite losing a whole day and night in this direction, you don’t actually see less. The time that it takes to get between stops once you are on the cruise is considerably faster in this direction.
When starting here, you’re essentially just doing the itinerary in reverse. Day one, you’ll arrive to Aswan and spend the afternoon touring the Aswan High Dam, Unfinished Obelisk and Philae Temple.
The exception is that there will not be time to visit Abu Simbel in your cruise itinerary unless you arrive early into Aswan and do it on your own.
In the morning you’ll visit Kom Ombo, have lunch onboard and then visit Edfu in the afternoon. You’ll then set sail to Luxor in the evening.
Arriving overnight, you’ll have the option to get up early for a hot air balloon ride over the Valley of the Kings, before spending the entire day touring the west bank.
You’ll enjoy dinner and sleep on the ship, waking up on the final day to tour both Karnak and Luxor Temples on the east bank. You’ll then head to the airport to continue your travels in Egypt.
As with the Luxor to Aswan itinerary, you will have the option of booking a trip that includes Aswan to Luxor to Aswan, for a longer cruise.
Recommended Nile River Cruises:
- Egypt: Boats & Bazaars with G Adventures – 8 days
- Highlights of Egypt with G Adventures – 14 days
- Nile Jewel 5 star Cruise – 9 days
- Egypt Discovered By Nile Cruise – 15 days
- Nile Adventure Felucca cruise – 9 days
Popular Stops on a Nile River Cruise
Luxor is where your cruise will begin and where it will end too. Known to the ancients as Thebes this was the historic center of many Ancient Egyptian Kingdoms.
Often called the world’s greatest open-air museum, this is an unmissable destination for anyone with even a fleeting interest in Archeology or Egyptology. Visit the Luxor Museum, the Mummification Museum, and the Luxor Temple.
Save plenty of time to explore Karnak too, an epic temple complex that’s right in the center of Luxor.
The Valley of the Kings
Located on the west bank of the Nile River, just a short journey from Luxor is the iconic Valley of the Kings.
This beautiful natural gorge is where the Egyptian Kings of old had their lavish tombs and monuments built.
It’s also where the infamous tomb of Tutankhamen was found and then opened, an event that really kicked off a newfound love across the world for Egyptology in the 1920s.
Luxor and Aswan aside, Edfu is hands down my favorite stop on a Nile cruise. This temple is off the beaten path, seeing almost no land traffic. Most of its visitors come from the Nile river cruises.
This doesn’t mean you’ll find an empty temple, quite to the contrary actually, as all of the river cruise boats take the same schedule. This means they all arrive in places at the same time.
That aside, this temple is fascinating and worth exploring. Your guides will point out the best reliefs and tell you the history of the site. My challenge to you, however, is to look really hard and find this amazing staircase.
We found it on our first trip to Egypt in 2015 and the main mission on our last visit was to find it again. I won’t lie, we had to search hard, it’s not easy to find. So, good luck!
Itineraries will usually take cruisers along the river to Esna, where they’ll have their first overnight stop on the river outside of Luxor.
The major highlight of this small city, is the Temple of Khnum, a lavish temple dedicated to the old gods of Egypt.
Carry on along the river and you’ll soon reach another important temple, at Kom Ombo. Unlike most of the temples, you’ll see along the river, this isn’t an Ancient Egyptian structure, but a temple dating back to the Roman era.
Kom Ombo was constructed around 100 BC and is in a very distinct style to the other Ancient Egyptian temples.
Aswan is the final destination for most Nile River cruises in Egypt because Aswan is also the last city before you reach the Sudanese border.
Aswan is home to some excellent museums and archaeological sites, including the detailed Nubian Museum which takes visitors through the unique heritage and history of Nubian culture which prevailed across the region.
Abu Simbel Temple
Many tours will give you the added option of taking a day trip to the Abu Simbel Temples, which are literally on the border with Sudan, and the last destination you can visit going south in Egypt.
Built around 1200 BC, these incredible temples were carved from the rock by the Egyptian Pharaoh Ramesses II.
From Aswan, it’s a long trip through the desert in the early morning hours to the Abu Simbel Temples, but it’s well worth any extra costs and time.
Wildlife on the River Nile
One of the best reasons to join a Nile River cruise is for wildlife spotting opportunities. In comparison to the seemingly barren deserts that surround the river, the Nile is a verdant, green oasis and it attracts all sorts of animals to its banks.
As you sit back on the deck and watch the scenery slowly cruise past, you might spot Nile Crocodiles hiding in the reeds.
These were well known to the Ancient Egyptians and you might even find a few mummified crocodiles on display in the museum in Luxor.
The skies will be filled with birds, while on the banks and in the water you’ll also see hippos and monkeys and many more species too.
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