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Nile cruise/Valley of the Kings, Egypt

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Did You Know … ?

  • The Old Cataract Hotel in Aswan was a setting for the 1978 mystery, “Death on the Nile.”
  • The missing obelisk at Luxor Temple is at the Place de la Concorde in Paris.
  • Luxor’s huge Karnak Temple extends over almost 300 acres.
  • It took five years to move the Abu Simbel temples out of reach of the Aswan High Dam’s lake.
  • First and second century tourists left more than 2,100 graffiti in the pharaohs’ tombs at Luxor.

Temples and tombs

Cruising the Nile is the easiest way to visit a number of ancient Egyptian temples that wouldn’t otherwise be accessible. It also offers a look at the river itself and the lives that are lived on its banks.

Deluxe ships, designed for tourists, ply the waters between Aswan and Luxor offering trips in either direction, varying in length from three to seven days.

The more adventurous can arrange — either in advance or on site — to make a similar journey but on a traditional felucca. That means docking at night and sleeping on deck, relaxing on deck in the daytime when not sightseeing and, possibly, manning an oar if the winds fail.

Stops along this cruise route often include these temples, from north to south, Abydos and Dendera (north of Luxor, requiring a detour), Esna, Edfu, Kom Ombo and Philae, plus the Granite Quarries at Aswan.

But the cruise, regardless of the vessel, is best sandwiched between quality time at the starting and ending points. The top reason for that is the Valley of the Kings, on the west bank of the Nile across from Luxor. Here, 26 pharaohs were buried in tombs dug deep into the mountains and, supposedly, hidden from thieves.

However, only Tutankhamen’s tomb survived those depredations and is today the most famous of all, merely for its largely unscathed treasures. (Those treasures are in Cairo’s Egyptian Antiquities Museum, but the mummy, sarcophagus and painted walls remain inside Tut’s tomb.)

Other tombs, as well as those in the Valley of the Queens, are notable for their great size and the beauty of extensive surviving painted wall art. The most outstanding temple on the west bank is that of Hatshepsut, the female pharaoh.

The real mind-blowing temples (Luxor and, especially, the larger Karnak) are on the east bank, in and near Luxor itself.

Aswan, to the south, sits at the Nile’s northernmost cataract, meaning a shallow, rocky section that interferes with sailing. It is a scenic spot with gardens, a few tombs and temples of interest, but importantly, it is the jumping-off point for visits to the monumental temples at Abu Simbel.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Travel on the Nile for several days aboard a felucca, as an alternative to a cruise ship. If the wind fails, you could be manning an oar.
  • At Luxor, drive a quad bike among the temples and tombs on the west bank of the Nile.
  • Take a hot-air balloon ride over the Valley of the Kings.
  • At Luxor, hire a felucca and boatman in order to visit an area village or two and get a closer look at threshing in the field. You may be invited to tea.
  • Plan a short expedition into the desert at Aswan to see and photograph the ruins of the seventh century Coptic monastery of St. Simeon.
  • Plan an overnight excursion from Aswan to Abu Simbel in order to see the temples at sunrise and with few tourists around. Also, attend the sound-and-light show in the evening.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Travel in a felucca around Kitchener’s Island and visit its botanical garden.
  • On the road to the Valley of the Queens, visit Deir El-Medina, a Ptolemaic temple later occupied by Christian monks. See also the nearby ruins of a village once occupied by workers and artists who created the area’s royal tombs. Visit some of the workers’ tombs, some of which also feature works of art.
  • Learn something of how an obelisk came into being in ancient days by visiting the Granite Quarries near Aswan to see a still-horizontal unfinished 140-foot obelisk.
  • Take a day excursion by air from Aswan to Abu Simbel.
  • Admire the engineering involved when visiting ancient temples that were moved to escape the flooding of Lake Nasser after construction of the Aswan High Dam. The temples of Abu Simbel are famous for this, but Philae Temple and the little-known Temple of Amada were rescued, too.
  • Look for fragments of original color on pillars and lintels at Karnak Temple. When built, the temple was covered with bright colors of the sort found in the pharaohs’ tombs across the Nile.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Cool off by swimming in your ship’s pool as the Nile riverbank scenes float by.
  • Photograph artwork left behind by ancient Egyptians (where that is allowed).
  • Shop for papyrus souvenirs that feature reproductions of the brightly colored figures that appear in the tombs (you won’t be able to photograph paintings in the tombs).
  • Walk through Tutankhamen’s tiny tomb, which was found filled with treasures. Visualize how the large pharaonic burial sites once looked before the thieves got into them.
  • Attend the sound-and-light show at Karnak Temple in Luxor. You’ll walk through the temple to watch this show.
  • In Aswan, stay at the historic Old Cataract Hotel (built in 1899, now a Sofitel property), where Agatha Christie was a guest. In Luxor, stay at the Winter Palace, also built on the banks of the Nile, dating from 1886; it is a Sofitel property now, too.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult the Egyptian Tourist Authority at