Nile File: Tourism in Upper Egypt After a Nile River Cruise

by Chris on October 9, 2011

More observations on Egyptian tourism after spending a week cruising the Upper Nile.

Tourism on the Nile, Egypt

Last week, I wrote about what is happening in Egypt tourism since the Revolution in January 2011, focusing on the Cairo area. After spending the past week cruising the Nile from Luxor to Aswan (and back), I have a few more observations that might be useful to people thinking about taking such a trip.

Egypt tourism on the Nile

The best thing about coming to Egypt right now is the lack of crowds. I had read accounts of the Nile being ship-to-ship full, of people standing in line to visit tombs at the Valley of the Kings and the birds in Aswan being scared off by too many motorboats.

On the River Tosca, Egypt

Not now. Of the more than 400 river ships that are licensed to travel the Nile, there’s only 150 operating right now, none with more than 50 percent occupancy. Take my ship, the River Tosca owned by Uniworld. It holds 82 passengers; we’ve been less than 20 the entire time – which means we’ve all been treated like pashas. I’ve enjoyed a few nights on the top deck, just me and stars and the ever-present Nile River. It’s a peaceful feeling – and one I couldn’t have if the ship was filled to capacity.

Temple of Hatshepsut, Egypt

And the special moments kept coming. In Luxor’s Valley of the Kings, I paid an extra 50 LE (less than $10) to see the tomb of Ramses VI. I found myself alone with one of the world’s best preserved collection of hieroglyphics and tomb paintings, complete with huge ceiling wall paintings of the Egyptian Book of the Day and Book of the Night. An once-in-a-lifetime experience, for sure.

Mausoleum of the Aga Khan, Aswan

In Aswan, we drifted lazily through the First Cataract on a motorboat, a birding expert on board to point out the different species. In this region of the Nile, home to the displaced Nubian population, Egypt feels more like the rest of Africa. The pace is slower, the people friendlier, the scenery more diverse. This is where the colonial British used to come to get some sun, where Agatha Christie wrote Death on the Nile, where the Sahara begins. It ended up being one of my favorite excursions of the cruise.

 Street vendors, Egypt

Of course, there are negatives that come from having less people. The street vendors, already aggressive, are even more desperate. Harden your heart if you do come, as you’ll feel like you’re running the gauntlet at almost every stop. Vendors surrounded our buses and vans and followed us around, no matter how many times I said “no thank you” in Arabic. I’m going to do a whole post soon on how to deal with this, as the situation made more than one passenger on our ship cry.

Dendera tourism

The lack of people meant that we couldn’t take our ship up to Dendera, as the Egyptian river police that have been on the Nile since 1997 massacre at the Temple of Hatshepsut have pulled out. Cruise ships can hire their own security, but the sight of armed guards on board isn’t cost-effective, I was told – and it makes people nervous. Instead of sailing to Dendera, we took a 90-minute van ride which didn’t bother me, but left at least one member of our group carsick.

Abu Simbel, Egypt

On another day, an air traffic controllers strike in Cairo held up our excursion to Abu Simbel for several hours. The delay meant that we reached the temple at the hottest part of the day – which, when you’re only 25 miles from the Sudanese border, means over 100 degrees. I’m not used to such heat, and no amount of water seemed cool me off. While I didn’t get heat stroke, I’m pretty sure my body was thinking about it.

Horses in Edfu

In Edfu, I braced for the worst, as I had read about starving horses that pull the carriages to the Templor of Horus. Abuse had become so bad that Uniworld (and many other tour companies) had stopped using the buggies because of customer complaints. Emboldened by the revolution, the Edfu drivers revolted against the tour groups, destroying the buses. Now that it’s compulsory for cruises to take the carriages, the horses look better fed than they were before, although the drivers still seem very shady and use their whips far too often for my taste.

Nile River cruise Egypt

All in all, I would recommend a trip to Egypt now, for travelers who can take changes to the program in stride (and are smart enough to stay away from Friday protests). Yes, several people on our ship suffered from Mummy Tummy at some point or another (and just as people on TripAdvisor predicted, a dose of Antinol cleared it up for me). Others felt discomforted by the visible signs of poverty. That’s not the Revolution, that’s just Egypt.

Nile River sunset

I’ve been to a lot of great places this year. But I’ve learned the most in Egypt, not only because of great guides, but because I observed first-hand people struggling to survive amidst a time of change. If the country is on your bucket list, and you don’t mind getting a little social commentary with your culture, now’s the time to go.


| Chris Gray Faust is a veteran journalist, travel expert, social media butterfly - and editrix of this site. Like what you read? Check out her writing, editing and social media services.

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Cam October 9, 2011 at 5:53 pm

Looks like a wonderful adventure!
We never made it as far south as Abu Simbel but hope to return to Egypt in the future, your river boat tour has us intrigued 😉


Basem Salah October 11, 2011 at 7:54 am

Hi, Thanks for this great post. it is very truthful and all facts. we hope tourism will be restored soon as many millions are depending on it. I agree with you this is the best time to come and visit, it is history in the making every day.
Regards to you..


Sophie October 13, 2011 at 6:29 am

Love boating up the Nile. Would do it again in a heartbeat and now sounds like a very good time.


Jade Johnston October 14, 2011 at 3:30 pm

You are lucky to have been able to see things in a lot more authentic way – without all the tourist hordes!


Angela October 16, 2011 at 3:14 am

Beautiful, I can’t wait to make it to Egypt!


Vanny October 18, 2011 at 10:00 am

When you said, “Others felt discomforted by the visible signs of poverty. That’s not the Revolution, that’s just Egypt.” I nodded along. This is why travel is essential. We need to see how the rest of the world lives. Thanks for a great post!

Glad I “stumbled upon” your site.


Chris October 18, 2011 at 10:09 am

Glad it resonated with you! Thanks for reading and welcome.


Angie orth October 20, 2011 at 1:17 am

I’m loving the lack of crowds here! Have been in Egypt two weeks now and have yet to wait in a queue or experience any kind of inconvenience. All in all, a great time to visit!


Mark McIntyre October 20, 2011 at 12:16 pm

I have done a nile cruise and visited Egypt a couple of other times too and i think its an astonishing place, incredible history, but more so the poeple are terrific… whether haggling over an allabaster jar or enjoying their service on the boats its all good…

Everyone should visit, but to me the cruise was the best way


Theodora October 26, 2011 at 1:23 pm

Egypt’s a great place to visit when it is less busy. So envious of the Rameses experience. And wondering when Libya will be safe to visit…


Leslie Bonner November 3, 2011 at 4:20 pm

Four of us traveled to Egypt in 2009. Our trip was arranged by a local guide that was recommended by previous travelers. The arrangements were wonderful and we enjoyed it all including the trip up the Nile. Even in 2009 our boat was more than half empty. I have thought a lot about the wonderful people we met on that trip and how they are doing.


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