This New Luxury Nile River Cruise Is a Gateway to Egypt’s Ancient Wonders – Travel + Leisure

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The sunbaked temples and tombs on the banks of the Nile River are books penned in stone. You do not pass through them as mere physical spaces. These walls are usually legible, carrying missives from another world. If the particular medium is the message, these enduring piles associated with engraved and painted rock amount in order to some of the most sophisticated communication devices in existence. That was my first thought as I wandered in amazement through Karnak, the vast temple complex inside Luxor, plus the idea stayed with me for the duration of the eight nights in Egypt .

From left: The Karnak Temple Complex, in Luxor, dates back to the 21st century B. C.; a statue of Ramses II at Karnak.

Emli Bendixen

I had arrived via Cairo through my home in Paris to experience the  Sphinx , the new Uniworld river ship. But I had also come to fulfill a childhood dream of exploring the particular relics associated with ancient Egypt. Upon arrival in Luxor, my fellow passengers and I were spirited away from the ferocious African sun at our first stop, Pharaoh Ramses II’s temple complex, by the particular gentle humor and substantive knowledge of our guide, Hazem Khalaf. Uniworld partners with the Egyptian-owned Spring Tours for its sailings, and Khalaf is its director — a genial Egyptologist who has been leading tours for 22 years. He treats his métier along with the reverence of the master chef or doctor, or maybe even one of Hemingway’s priestly Spanish bullfighters.

A river cruise, among other things, is a study in repetition plus rhythm. After several days on the Nile you start to get in touch with the more meditative qualities of moving along the water and contemplating the shifting landscape.

The previous day I’d met Emli Bendixen, the photographer for this story, in the Hilton Luxor Resort & Spa, where the gardens tumble toward the particular Nile, and we acclimated ourselves to the silent power of the slowly shifting water. There is the dignity in order to this water that is palpable, yet difficult to explain. It’s partly visual: those green depths cutting the particular dusty, palm-tree-studded riverbanks, covered with an intensely blue sky that later turns orange and purple, then finally inky black and splashed with stars. But the river’s dignity will be also conjured just by the sound of its name. In the fourth century B. C., the Greek historian Herodotus reported within his  Histories   that “Egypt is usually the gift of the particular Nile, ” and it is unimaginable that anything important or lasting could have occurred here in its absence.

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The  Sphinx   is billed as a floating five-star hotel. This is what Khalaf and his friend of 20-plus years, Sameh El-Sayed, stress with the pride of creators. El-Sayed is the ship’s manager, and together they launched the  Sphinx   in September 2021. El-Sayed, who struck me immediately as a serious and meticulous man, oversaw the construction plus design down to the hand-carved wood ceilings and marble bathrooms.

From left: Cruising down the Nile; cocktail hour around the Sphinx.

Emli Bendixen

All of us were set up in cabins that felt more like grand suites, along with floor-to-ceiling windows, king-size beds, and spacious sitting areas. (The  Sphin x also offers four Royal Suites, which have separate living rooms that are fit for entertaining. ) Returning to the ship after the daily excursions was to retreat into a familiar bubble, in order to be fussed over, though never to be able to the point where it felt invasive. The Egyptian men that cleaned in addition to restocked the particular rooms and even staffed typically the bars together with dining rooms were while diligent as they were personable. As in much associated with the rest of the service industry here, the staff were categorically male; in this religiously conservative culture, spending weeks away from home is still not considered appropriate for women.

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Bendixen and I took our meals together and grew fond of several of our own regular waiters, none more than the attentive Abdo Zaref, who kept our glasses flowing together with crisp Egypt pilsners. No matter how many times we explained our professional situation to help him, Zaref could not bring himself to believe that we were not married. “Is your husband coming down? ” he would ask Bendixen with concern if she arrived at the table before me personally. One evening, when the girl fell asleep early, Zaref and several others helped me prepare a doggie bag “to take upstairs to your own wife” so that the lady wouldn’t miss supper.

Meals had been served within the first-level deck, which came with arresting water-level views. Among my favorite dishes have been classics involving the region, like couscous and  börek   (a puff pastry with salted cheese and additionally yogurt dip) — along with surprisingly smooth Egyptian not to mention Libyan wines.

It takes very little imagination to forget the hum of this engine and also put yourself in often the mindset connected with a visitor from another time that has come in order to pay respects to Sobek (the crocodile god) or Horus (the falcon-headed god).

I was eager to learn what motivated the other travelers, many of whom were aficionados of your high seas and various European rivers. “On a cruise you switch your current brain off, ” one retired American woman told me early on, and I began to notice the philosophical divide between the exact people who diligently rose in dawn to be able to go on all of the demanding daily excursions and the people who played hooky, stretching out as well as sunning themselves on the deck inside piña-coladified silence.

We fell somewhere in between, having jumped from this voyage in part to see Egypt and in component to flee the whirlwind pace with daily living found in Paris — in other words, for you to slow down, accomplish less, purposefully read sentences on paper instead of the screen, and stare into the distance at sundown. For the particular duration for the trip, the Internet was reliably unreliable — and when it did work, a new VPN was necessary to get around typically the government’s strict content blocks, which has been either a blessing or a curse, depending on the perspective. For me, it was blissful relief.

From left: A sailor and his son aboard a traditional Nubian felucca; sunset over the Earth River, between Karnak plus Dendera.

Emli Bendixen

The river cruise , and a lot more, is some sort of study in repetition in addition to rhythm. After several days for the Nile you begin to help get touching the more meditative qualities of moving across the water and contemplating the shifting landscape, which at times grows lush — with tall grasses, date palms, and even papyrus — and at some other times more arid, using children together with livestock dipping in and additionally out about view with regular intervals as they climb boulders framed by sand dunes. Sometimes it reveals shocking sights, like men and donkeys washing by the banks beside an industrial complex spilling sudsy runoff.

Occasionally, the ship becomes a good portal through which time travel seems genuinely feasible. The Greco-Roman temple on Kom Ombo near Aswan looms therefore large not to mention substantial over the docking cruise ships it leaves you with the impression you can reach out and also touch this worn columns from your window. It takes very little creativity to forget the hum of the engine and put yourself in the mindset of a visitor through another period who has come to pay respects to Sobek (the crocodile god) or Horus (the falcon-headed god). It was in their honor that the structure had been erected, in fact it is hard not to appreciate often the resilience in the people that braved these predator-infested waters to worship — and even mummify — the reptiles that routinely attacked them.

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Spring Tours provided shuttle buses that cocooned us within climatized comfort while Khalaf expounded capsule lectures upon the history and vocabulary behind your day’s itinerary. On the exact way towards the Valley from the Kings — where the pharaohs were being buried inside of the barren, inhospitable hillsides before these people shifted their capital coming from Memphis in order to Cairo as well as learned to build pyramids — we passed, beside your nondescript highway with ramshackle gas stations and convenience stores wrapped in blue Pepsi signage, one of the most awe-inspiring sights I actually have ever encountered: the particular Colossi of Memnon. It consists associated with two 59-foot-high seated statues of the Pharaoh Amenhotep III, which have stood since 1350 B. C. Ruined and effaced almost beyond recognition, they nonetheless convey an almost supernatural severity I’d never experienced before. These are the remnants of a people who believed they will possessed some measure regarding divinity at the here and now.

Through left: A new fisherman checking his nets near Luxor; the Temple of Philae, near Aswan.

Emli Bendixen

Farther up the road, and deep into typically the stone hills from the Valley of the Kings, I descended into Tutankhamen’s Burial Chamber and stood mesmerized before his partially shrouded, blackened, yet jarringly intact corpse. It was this size involving a small child and I could count all 10 connected with his gnarled but impossibly tenacious toes. Finding yourself in often the presence with physical spaces that have lived within your individual psyche (not to mention your culture’s collective consciousness) with regard to so long is some profound plus uncanny thing. Before this trip, this had only really happened to me during the Garden of Gethsemane in Israel and the exact Acropolis present in Greece. In Egypt that happened more than and above again.

As the cloudless sky grew black and pinholed with starlight, unveiling the particular razor-thin moon, I had been reminded that Ramadan had begun — in addition to that the gracious crew had been fasting and even abstaining from drinking water since sunrise.

BY THE TIME typically the tour reached Aswan — one for the most important cities of Ancient Egypt — I had acclimated to my evening ritual about the roof deck, where I would clutch my cold gin together with tonic because the air slowly cooled around myself and contemplate the extraordinary sherbet-toned sunsets streaking this sky. My partner and i hadn’t expected the lushness and natural splendor from the ancient Nubian city and additionally complex about islands within the river, on which visitors will find botanical gardens, archaeological sites, and temples. (Nubia seemed to be an early northeastern African civilization that ruled around parts of modern-day Egypt not to mention the Sudan. )

We went bird-watching 1 morning among the islands. Diaa Araby, each of our tour guide that day, pointed out great blue herons, beautiful night herons, pied kingfishers, and reed warblers here in the pampas grass along the banks of the river, as the traditional felucca sailboats zigzagged all around. “When a person take the boat against the wind you have to tack back and forth, ” Khalaf described. “Steering a fabulous felucca in the Nile is like driving inside Cairo! ”

Coming from left: One of often the Colossi in Memnon, near Luxor, completed in 1350 B. Chemical.; locals frolic along your banks from the Earth near Aswan.

Emli Bendixen

On a single side of the river the steep, velvety dunes of the exact Sahara fall dramatically in to the normal water. On the other side, there looms the colonial-era oasis associated with the Old Cataract Hotel, in green and brick-red hues. Amongst many additional distinguished guests, Agatha Christie once holed up for an important year throughout 1937 to write her novel  Death on the particular Nile . We had tea and cocktails in the hotel’s spectacular terrace one evening and am nearly expected Hercule Poirot himself to appear. As the cloudless sky increased black and also pinholed having starlight, unveiling the razor-thin moon, I used to be reminded that will Ramadan had begun — and of which our gracious crew experienced been fasting and even abstaining by water since sunrise.

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ASWAN REPRESENTED typically the climax regarding the cruise, and after that we retraced our route to Luxor. From there, some of us would continue on simply by plane to be able to Cairo for you to visit this Pyramids — that lifelong dream for many of often the passengers, myself included. At the airport in Luxor, there has been a festive atmosphere like entire clans gathered to help wave away the lone family members who got saved sufficient funds to make your pilgrimage in order to Mecca.

Upon landing in Cairo, political realities reasserted on their own. Egypt will be a military dictatorship, lest anyone neglect, and everywhere I looked in the exact capital, huge billboards as well as murals involving President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi met my gaze. The tour whisked us to be able to the cool sanctuary from the Four Seasons Hotel Cairo at Nile Plaza, through the labyrinthine megalopolis that, just over a decade prior, acquired been the epicenter of an Arab Spring; those portraits serve since a reminder that it never materialized.

From still left: The Old Cataract Hotel, around Aswan; Sphinx ship supervisor Sameh El-Sayed and Egyptologist Hazem Khalaf over the sundeck.

Emli Bendixen

It’s good that this Pyramids and their own hypnotizing, noseless guard arrive at the very end of the voyage. (Nothing can diminish these places — not even the appalling presence of the Kentucky Fried Chicken, which usually Khalaf possessed joked the poor Sphinx must now stare at appearing in perpetuity. ) I can think of nothing that could fairly compete.

“I possess often considered the survival of paintings and what the idea means for our civilization that an image has survived across time undamaged, ” the particular novelist Rachel Cusk observed, “and something of typically the morality connected with that success — this survival from the original — pertains, I believe, to often the custody with human souls too. ”

When we finally pulled up to the Pyramids and disembarked from the buses to make our way toward the Great Pyramid for Cheops, the only remaining “wonder of your ancient world, ” one of the exact women on my group began for you to cry. “I have always wanted to see the Pyramids, ” your woman said by way of explanation to help no one in particular, wiping her eyes. I smiled at her and continued toward the immense mounds of stone. The morality of the your survival of these three-dimensional images via the deepest civilized past is impressed to this particular day contrary to the polluted, golden-blue contemporary atmosphere. It demands precisely such a reaction, I thought, as my own eyes began to well.

A view of the particular Nile out of the Sphinx, Uniworld Boutique River Cruises’ newest deliver.

Emli Bendixen

Uniworld offers 12-day Splendors of Egypt & typically the Nile sailings, which include two days in Cairo, right from $6, 199, all-inclusive.

Some sort of version of this story first  appeared  in the October 2022 issue of  Travel + Leisure   under this headline “The Eternal River . “

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