When Planning a Nile Cruise in Egypt, Think About Your Eco-friendly Options

  • 5 July 2013


It has been said that a Nile cruise in Egypt is like a trip back in time. At the start, you may set off from Cairo, a city well in the grip of modern times, but as you head upriver, you plunge deeper and deeper into a land sometimes practically untouched by 21st-century civilisation. Mud-brick houses line some segments of the river, while farming techniques seen along the banks have gone unchanged for hundreds of years. The sight of a donkey and cart is not unusual as life ticks over at a refreshingly slow pace.

Dahabeah on the Nile in Egypt

The dahabeah is a large houseboats with two lateen sails. It has returned to the Nile for non-motorised cruises after first having last been popular about 100 years ago. Photo courtesy of Flickr/NH53

These sights and this way of life are worth protecting and that is why you are encouraged to think ecologically when researching your boat trips and booking a Nile cruises.

Different Strokes for Different Folks

There are many ways to cruise the Nile and around 200 pleasure vessels operate on the famous river at any one time. Among these are traditional wooden sailboats like feluccas and the slightly larger dahabeahs. Despite their tourist heyday having being in Victorian times and the early 20th century, both boats still ply the waters of the Nile. Offering quieter and more serene trips, these non-motorised vessels are also kinder to the environment.

Felucca on the Nile in Egypt

The felucca is a very common sight on the Nile River in Egypt. Photo courtesy of Flickr/NH53

For the earth-conscious, a multi-day felucca trip is one option. However, feluccas are generally quite small, so you may find yourself with limited facilities. Some cruise companies offer trips on luxury dahabeahs (also spelled dahabiyah) instead. Given both boats’ minimal footprints, though, they will certainly satisfy ecotourists. And the era-long-past experience of a dahabeah may also leave you believing that Hercule Poirot himself is in the cabin next door.

Scaling Up and Still Staying Responsible

For many people, a traditional sailboat is not practical for a cruise lasting several days. Therefore, you are encouraged to book with cruise companies that put something back into the local community, for example by employing staff from the local area. By injecting money into the community, they ensure that living standards along the Nile, from Cairo through Luxor to Aswan, improve for those whose lifeblood is the river.

Some community support may also happen through education programmes promoting the sustainable use of the river and explaining why some practices, such as dumping waste, can harm the water and the health of the people who live along the length of the river.

A Balancing Act

The cruise industry on the Nile faces a fine balancing act. On the one hand, tourists who enjoy the many remarkable temples, the Valley of the Kings and the treasures of Cairo are vital to the local economy; on the other hand, their impact must be balanced against any potential long-term impact on the waterway itself and the people living along it.

Thankfully, local and international operators are beginning to recognise this and many have taken action. If you are looking to cruise the Nile, you should enquire with your providers about their ecological or responsible-tourism policies to make sure that your holiday won’t be making a negative effect, if any, on these historic areas.

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Africa, ecotours, Egypt, local knowledge, Northern Africa, outdoors, responsible transport, whl.travel,

One Response to “When Planning a Nile Cruise in Egypt, Think About Your Eco-friendly Options”

  1. A Nile Adventure – cruising and other stories
    Kim Molyneaux

    Imagine yourself cruising serenely down the great river Nile. Not an obvious choice for a vacation given the current political climate? Think again – the Egyptians would like to encourage tourists to boost their economy, which means there could be travel bargains to be had. As a benefit to the tourist, you could be amongst the ‘few’ who have chosen to visit. No crowds, no queues, no forcing yourself to the front to photograph and appreciate the wonders of modern and ancient Egypt along with hordes of tourists.

    My family and I made the trip in July 2011. Of the 300 ships that normally cruise up and down the river, we were told only 14 were running. I have photographs of the monuments without a soul in sight – a rare occurrence! This does not mean that the place felt void and isolated, far from it. The people we met were warm and welcoming and proudly shared the delights of their country with us.

    Our party consisted of myself, my husband and our two girls, aged seven and 15.

    The journey started with a flight to the UK. From London we flew to Luxor and boarded our ship – a most beautiful vessel with four decks and the most ornate marble staircase I have ever seen!

    Let me set the scene for you: you are lounging on the top sun deck with the warm breeze gently caressing your skin. You are compelled to look at the passing scenery to reassure yourself you are truly sailing, the ride is so smooth. The moving landscape passing before your eyes reveals lush green cultivated fields, farmers ploughing with oxen, and donkey-drawn carts piled high with hay trot-trotting down the little mud path beside the river. There are children swimming in the river, shouting and waving at you. A few kilometres further upstream and the landscape has changed to clusters of high palm trees swaying majestically above long-leaved water plants overhanging the river banks, which in turn morphs into richly coloured rock outcrops and abandoned ruins with light sandy backdrops beyond. As time passes, the sun begins to set and within a few minutes you are witnessing one of the most spectacular sunsets you could ever wish to see.

    Life on board the ship is relaxing and the crew pamper to your every desire. Our cabins were elegantly decorated, well-equipped and cleaned three times a day. Breakfast, lunch and dinner on board were all included and served in the dining room. Breakfast consisted of a buffet selection of breads, cakes, cereals, yoghurt and cheese, accompanied by hot croissants, spiced potatoes with sausage, omelettes and scrambled eggs. Lunch and dinner were sumptuous affairs – often several courses – all delicious and scrupulously prepared with either silver service or help-yourself buffets. The afternoons were spent lazily lying back and watching the fascinating landscape go by. For further amusement, on board was a little trinket and jewellery shop and the wonderfully cooling swimming pool to play in. The evenings were spent in the bar watching traditional Egyptian shows or simply retiring early to sleep off the rigours of the day.

    We booked the ‘full excursion package’ which included morning guided visits to Kom Ombo Temple, Philae Temple (Temple of Isis), Edfu Temple, The Valleys of the Kings and Queens, Habu Temple, The Colossi of Memnon, Karnak Complex and Luxor Temple. The visits were fabulous. If this wasn’t enough culture, there were optional visits to Abu Simbel and other exciting trips including a Nile Adventure where we visited the beautiful botanical Kitchener Island and rode camels to a Nubian village where we were thrilled to be able to hold a baby crocodile! There was the spectacular Sound and Light show at Karnak, an early morning hot air balloon ride, and a horse drawn carriage ride around Luxor.

    After all this, as you would rightly expect, a good deal of rest and relaxation was in order! Making a tour of all these monuments in a week, not to mention the heat, is hard work, but well worth the effort. We travelled to the resort of Hurghada on the Red Sea where we stayed for a few days in a most opulently-decorated, all-inclusive hotel. Many of our fellow travellers stayed here a whole week to unwind in the sun. The perfect end to the perfect holiday!

    We really did have the most wonderful time. Before our holiday, I’d found it difficult to gather useful information about travelling in Egypt with a family, cruising and descriptions of all the monuments we would be visiting, so I decided to write a journal of our travels. Since our return, I’ve spent a most enjoyable time putting all my discoveries together in a book and packed it full of photographs, in the hope that other travellers thinking of heading in the same direction will find it a useful guide. Equally, I hope that the virtual traveller can immerse themselves and enjoy the experience through our story.

    A Nile Adventure – cruising and other stories

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