The Nile River was once one of the hottest and most exotic river cruise destinations around. However, just as river cruising was beginning to hit its apex, the Arab Spring threw a wrench into Egypt’s tourism industry. River cruises slowed, then tapered off almost completely.
Now, both Viking River Cruises and Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection are returning to the Nile, offering up river cruises that view the splendours of cities like Luxor and Aswan, and visiting some of the world’s most culturally-important sites, like the Valley of the Kings.
Tourism is slowly beginning to return to Egypt. Just two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit Luxor and the Valley of the Kings on an ocean cruise that called on Safaga, Egypt – some 200 kilometres away. It gave me a good look at what conditions on the Nile look like at the moment, and what visitors can expect of travel to Egypt this year.
Here’s what I discovered:
This should come as no surprise, but even still, the Nile exists as a sort of oasis, a mirage in the midst of a landscape that is nearly devoid of colour and vegetation. Drive out of town just a few kilometres, and the lush greenery that surrounds the Nile disappears completely. The Egyptians have a tendency to call the Nile, “Sweet water.” It’s not because there’s anything particularly flavourful about it – in fact, you don’t want to bathe in it, let alone drink from it due to serious water quality issues – but the fact remains that the Nile literally existed as a lifeline to Egypt; bringing water into a desert landscape that largely lacked it.
It’s Breathtakingly Poor
The average Egyptian is poor. Very poor. You’ll find this in the countryside, but also in larger cities like Luxor. There’s a lot of hustling going on amongst local vendors, all of whom are competing for your attention (and your dollars) in a variety of ways. It’s wise to carry a bundle of small bills with you to tip people. Tips – or baksheesh – is almost an industry unto itself in Egypt. How prevalent is it? An Egyptian asked some members of our group where they were from – and then wanted a tip when he got the answer. While you may not want to go around handing out money, it’s advisable to tip a little if someone has helped you. The small amount of money could make a bigger difference to that person that you might imagine.
It’s Hard to Get Around
One of the main stumbling blocks with travel in Egypt at the moment is that mobility is fairly restricted. You’ll definitely want to buy the cruise line’s transfer packages: taxi services are hard to come by, and negotiating a deal can be an unpleasant experience if you don’t speak some Egyptian phrases. Add to that the fact that simply getting around Egypt is tough: roadblocks protected by armed policemen (uniformed or otherwise) exist at nearly every traffic crossing once you leave Luxor. Road checks on highways are frequent, and even motorcoaches loaded with tourists must stop for these. There is one huge advantage to being on a tourist coach, however: authorities are usually notified in advance, and some coaches may even be escorted by a Tourist Police convoy. Right now, Egypt isn’t the country where you want to arrange your own transportation unless you absolutely know what you’re doing and speak fluent Egyptian.
It’s a Great Deal
Because tourism in Egypt is just getting back on its feet, there’s some great deals to be had – from reduced airfares and prices at luxury hotels that have been slashed. Certainly, you can travel in Egypt now in a style that would have cost vastly more a decade ago.
If you’ve always wanted to see the splendours of Egypt, this could very well be the year to do so.