The Nile is More Than Just a River
The Nile is the world’s longest river, flowing for approximately 4,200 miles and serving as a water source to eleven countries.
By both measurements, it easily beats the Amazon (~3,900 miles, 7 countries), the Yangtze (~3,800 miles, one country – albeit a massive one), and the Mississippi (~3,800 miles, 2 countries).
To ancient Egypt it was more than just a river; it was a primary source of sustenance. Although bordered by several large bodies of water – the Red Sea, the Mediterranean, the Gulf of Suez, and the Gulf of Aqaba – Egypt is mostly arid desert. (Hint: avoid visiting at the peak of summer.)
The Nile creates a fertile green valley amid that great expanse of desert. Without it, one wonders if ancient Egypt could have risen to its heights. Egypt’s position was based on agricultural wealth, which in turn was attributed to the river.
In my infinite wisdom, I did visit at the peak of summer. But the 115-degree weather was survivable, and the highlight of my 12-day trip was sailing the Nile for four nights aboard the Sanctuary Sun Boat IV.
The boat itself was very nice – of the 200 or so that regularly cruise the Nile, Sanctuary’s four boats are among the most luxurious. But the sights along the way were spectacular. Indeed, while seeing the Pyramids was the motivation behind the trip, these sights further south left a greater impression.
That structures built in 2,000 BC (meaning they are 4,000 years old!) are still standing at all is impressive. That some are nearly unblemished is astounding. You can still see not only intricately carved designs, but even the colors of some painted surfaces.
Sailing from Luxor to Aswan, here are some of the sights along the way.
The Temple of Karnak – an enormous complex of halls, temples, and other structures built over a span of almost 2,000 years – is located on the east bank of the Nile near Luxor.
A series of ram-headed sphinxes lines the approach to the temple complex:
Perhaps Karnak’s best-known feature, the Great Hypostyle Hall:
Also on the east bank is the Temple of Luxor:
Several statues of Ramses II (AKA Ramses the Great) at the Temple of Luxor are well-preserved, offering a detailed look at the pharaoh’s features:
On the west bank lies the Necropolis of Thebes, where many of Egypt’s pharaohs (including Tutankhamun, AKA King Tut) were buried in the Valley of the Kings. There’s not much to see above ground:
The action is in the tombs below, though unfortunately the semi-dark environment doesn’t photograph easily.
Near the Valley of the Kings is the funerary temple of Queen Hatshepsut, Egypt’s first female pharaoh:
These are the Colossi of Memnon, two enormous statues of Pharaoh Amenhotep III designed to guard the entrance of his funerary temple (though little remains of the temple itself):
The very well-preserved Temple of Hathor, goddess of love and joy, is near the small town of Dendera:
The ceiling was being cleaned at the time. In this picture, one side has been cleaned and the other hasn’t:
The Greco-Roman temple at Kom Ombo is a double temple – it is one building containing two temples, each with its own entrance and chapel. One is dedicated to Sobek, the crocodile god; the other to Horus, the falcon god (and one of several sun gods).
Near the city of Aswan (famous for its dams), the Island of Agilkia houses the Temple of Philae.
Because its original location, the Island of Philae, is now submerged, the temple was moved to Agilkia and reconstructed stone by stone.
The temple itself is fine (it’s actually very nice, but honestly I was templed-out at this point); however, the setting on an island in the Nile was by far my favorite temple setting of the whole trip.
My entire 12-day trip was booked with tour operator Abercrombie & Kent, which has an excellent reputation in Egypt. (The reputation is deserved, in my opinion.) At the time, in 2012, tourism in Egypt was extremely low as a result of the Arab Spring and the company offered rates that probably only allowed it to break even – at best. (I have no inside information, I’m only speculating.)
While I have not seen rates so appealing since, I would say the rates on the company’s website as of this writing are still reasonable for what you get – a well-executed tour with a luxury operator.
As for safety, I can only offer my personal perspective which is that I never felt unsafe during my visit despite the political circumstances. (A&K provided armed guards who traveled with us, which I appreciated but considered an abundance of caution rather than a necessity.)
Perhaps the news coverage we receive in the United States is hyped, perhaps I just lucked out that nothing happened the days I was there, perhaps the tour operator did a good job of insulating its clients from the “real world,” and perhaps it’s other things that don’t occur to me. But I can definitely say I had a great visit and never once felt threatened.
Better yet, when you go while no one else is going you get the sights almost to yourself. I have heard that on an average day several hundred tour buses visit the Pyramids of Giza. I counted five the day I visited. Granted, I wasn’t there the entire day, but one can reasonably infer that the volume of tourism was greatly diminished.
And I was very pleased to have gotten a 5-star, professionally organized tour at a vastly reduced cost – probably less than half of what I could have arranged on my own for comparable accommodations (even with my deal-scrounging habits).
With that, let me leave you with some pictures of life along the Nile as seen while sailing.