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Egyptian idyll: River cruising on the Nile

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Following the course of the Nile is an impressive and authentic way of discovering the iconic sights of Egypt, as Jeannine Williamson explains.

For centuries, taking a ship was the only way to travel around Egypt – so much so, in fact, that the country’s tourism industry started with a Nile cruise. The modern-day product has developed considerably, with many ships now featuring luxurious spas and sun-deck swimming pools.

Flowing 4,163 miles from the mountains of central Africa, the Nile is the world’s second-longest river and nearly a quarter of it flows through Egypt via Giza and Cairo towards the Mediterranean Sea. The 120-mile stretch between Luxor and Aswan comprises the classic seven-night Nile cruise and many river lines and tour operators combine it with land stays in Cairo, allowing guests to take in the iconic sight of the Great Pyramid, the only one of the original Seven Wonders of the Ancient World still standing today. Other options include combining a Nile cruise with a Red Sea beach break.

All sailings include a visit to the 11th century Valley of the Kings, dug deep into desert mountains and containing the tombs of pharaohs, most famously Tutankhamun, whose burial chamber was unearthed by English archaeologist Howard Carter in 1922.

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Guests can enjoy a trip on a local felucca.

A river back in demand

CLIA UK & Ireland director Andy Harmer says: “Cruising the Nile is one of the oldest forms of river cruising, dating right back to the days of the pharaohs, and it offers a journey full of archaeological riches and ancient monuments. Travellers are once again eager to explore the country. As political issues settle down, bookings have steadily risen, and river cruise lines are catering to this growing demand by launching new ships and itineraries.”

Emerald Waterways offers both countries on one of its two new itineraries aboard the recently refurbished MS Hamees. The nine-night Cairo and Ancient Egypt river cruise includes visits to Cairo’s pyramids, enigmatic sphinx and artefact-rich Egyptian Museum, followed by a cruise. For an added adventure, guests can travel to Jordan for a chance to delve deep into another country brimming with ancient ruins and historical treasures.

The 14-night Cairo to Amman tour and cruise takes in the World Heritage-listed city of Petra  – where magnificent buildings are carved from rose-red cliffs – a jeep safari through Wadi Rum’s desert valley and a trip to the lowest point on earth, the Dead Sea.

Meanwhile, Emerald’s sister brand Scenic has five new itineraries in its Egypt, Jordan and Africa 2019/20 programme, including the 22-night Jewels of Egypt and Jordan and 14-night Egypt in Depth holidays. The company has also introduced a new partnership with National Geographic on selected Egypt sailings for 2020.

These sailings will be aboard the chartered ship Sanctuary Sun Boat III, one of Sanctuary Retreats’ four-strong fleet. This operator has a long history of operating Nile cruises and was one of very few companies that has continuously operated its fleet over the past decade. Its vessels range from the 40-cabin flagship Sanctuary Sun Boat IV, which was totally refurbished in 2018, to the six-cabin Sanctuary Zein Nile Chateau.

Saga, meanwhile, exclusively charters the 124-passenger Livingstone for its UK passengers and offers three products that feature the Nile and range from 10 to 14 nights, including From the Nile to the Red Sea, which includes a three-night beach stay.

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The Palace of Luxor at night.

New ships on the Nile

Viking River Cruises’ 52-passenger Viking Ra was completely reconfigured in 2017 to reflect the line’s Scandinavian design blended with Arab influences. Viking reports that the Nile is almost fully booked until the end of 2020. To cope with increased demand it will debut the all-new ship Viking Osiris.

Next year Uniworld will launch SS Sphinx, a 42-suite vessel named after the goddess of the Nile, which the boutique line says will be the most luxurious ship on the river.

“Egypt is back and continues to be a top trending destination for travellers seeking culture and adventure,” says Uniworld CEO Ellen Bettridge. “The SS Sphinx will offer three gourmet dining venues, including a private dining room and an al fresco dining experience on the upper deck, a swimming pool and massage room.”

Selling tips

  • Iconic sights including the Valley of the Kings
  • An easy way to see Egypt and ideal for first-time visitors
  • Modern river vessels on a par with European standards
  • Authentic excursion options such as a cruise on a traditional felucca
  • Add a relaxing beach stay at a Red Sea resort

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