Are you planning a trip to Egypt and trying to decide on a Nile cruise? If you’re like me, you are also overwhelmed with how many boats there are along the Nile along with the fact that there are two distinct styles of cruising – the standard river cruise ship and the dahabiya. I’m here the break down the options for you in hopes of making the decision easier for you.
This article is also going to dive deep into my experience with Djed Egypt Travel and our dahabiya Nile cruise from Luxor to Aswan aboard the Loulia. I’ll talk about what to expect on this traditional sail boat, behind-the-scenes tips from someone that has done this cruise twice, and also try to convince you that this is the best way to see the river when compared to the larger ships.
Where to stay in Luxor?
Here's what we're covering:
- Picking a Nile Cruise
- Picking Between a Cruise Ship or Dahabiya
- Nile Cruise Operators
- Why Dahabiya Over Cruise Ship?
- Which Direction Should I Go For Our Dahabiya Nile Cruise?
- The Dahabiya Experience
- Nile Cruise Packing List
- Why Book with Djed Egypt Travel?
- Frequently Asked Questions
- More Helpful Tips and Advice
- Tipping Guideline
- How Much Does It Cost?
- Where to Stay in Luxor
- Where to Stay in Aswan
Picking a Nile Cruise
When you think about cruises, you naturally think of the giant ships that dominate the seas around the Caribbean, and Mediterranean. For a river however, you have the smaller river cruises like the ones you find on the Danube, Seine, or the Rhine. The Nile in Egypt is a little bit different in the choices that are available so it’s worth going through the two main types of cruises you’ll find.
This is your standard variety river cruise ships except adapted for the river. These are a fraction of the size of the massive city-ships that you’ll find in the open sea but have the same principles of being a ship that ferries you along the Nile while providing top-level comforts that’ll allow you to play and relax.
Top features of these cruise ships are the food choices you can have at the restaurant, comfortable cabins that are designed liked Western-style hotel rooms, plenty of places to lounge, pool, and nightly entertainment.
These ships normally have 50 or more cabins which means you can expect 100 or more people onboard.
Those that love this style of cruising will adapt to this quite easily however my biased opinion is that there’s a much better option that you’ll only find in Egypt.
Instead of being in a massive floating mass ferried from site to site and completely disconnected from the surroundings of the Nile, an alternative is a traditional sailing boat known as a dahabiya.
In the 19th century, the wealthy, aristocrats, archeologists, patrons could charter luxurious Nile houseboats to get from Cairo to Aswan. The journey would take roughly 6-8 weeks. By about the 1820’s, these houseboats evolved into luxurious forms of transportation preferred for many and tailored to every comfort. These were later overtaken by steamboats which were faster and cheaper.
Today, there’s been a massive revival of this traditional method of seeing Egypt and the Nile. These replicated dahabiyas feature two large sails, one on the bow and one at the stern. These boats have no engines just like back in the day and the direction is controlled by roles on pulleys to maneuver a giant wooden rudder.
While tug boats are used to keep the ship moving when winds aren’t favourable, what hasn’t changed is the charm, atmosphere, service, and luxury that the dahabiya has always been for.
There’s a beautiful open air upper deck with sun loungers, chairs, tables, and a hammock as the ship cruises past riverside villages and ancient site along the Nile. Below, you have elegantly furnished cabins, a cosy salon with a library that has more books on Ancient Egypt than you’ll be able to go through in one cruise.
This is the type of boats featured on the Guardian and what you can call a much more immersive experience.
Picking Between a Cruise Ship or Dahabiya
When deciding how to do your Nile cruise, there are a few key things that I’d like to boil down for you to help you decide which makes sense for you.
Why choose the cruise ship
- Enjoy the traditional cruise experience
- Like to have lots of options for things to do including spa and entertainment
- Buffet meals
- Pool and/or jacuzzi
- Comfortable and modern cabins
Why choose the dahabiya
- Don’t enjoy large crowds
- More personal experience with the crew and passengers
- Ability to dock in more places which means an itinerary that allows you to see much more along the Nile
- Less hectic pace with a focus on actually seeing what is passing by on the river
- Quieter cruise experience since no engines are on board
- Have an experience that really does bring you back to the early 19th century for a throwback to the early exploration days of Egypt travel
Ultimately for me, I would choose the dahabiya any day.
Nile Cruise Operators
I am sure I am not the only person that has said that the best way to see Egypt is by boat. You being here is proof of that but of course the follow up question to that is – which Nile cruise should I pick?
Now that you know a bit more about the types of passenger ships that run along the Nile, the next question is who to book with.
There are a ton of options to choose from and it’s doubly complicated in Egypt because there are so many “resellers” out there. What I mean by that is that you could be looking booking with a global group operator such as Intrepid, G Adventures, or On The Go Tours but I’ve been on the ground and you learn that there are only a small group of companies that run these cruise ships and sail boats. You’ll also learn that most charter from other companies. They sure don’t make it easy to find though.
So who are the real players?
List of Nile cruise operators in Egypt
In researching this, I was incredibly frustrated at how hard it was to find this information. Here’s a breakdown of the categorization of ships that are available.
Luxury River Cruise Ships
These are considered to be luxury if that’s what you’re looking for but as you dig into each of these companies, the cruise ships are all of the same design – barge style river ships.
These are ships that are owned and operated by high-end cruise or resort operators and are almost all well-kept and packed with amenities.
- Mövenpick – Under the same umbrella of the hotel chain, these guys have 8 luxury cruise ships.
- Viking River Cruises – Well-known in Europe, they also have 3 cruise ships on the Nile of drastically different styles. With Viking, you’re typically buying into an entire tour package from Cairo to Cairo.
- Sanctuary Retreats – Owner of Sanctuary Sun Boat IV.
- Abercrombie & Kent – Charters Santuary Retreats’ ship. These are full end-to-end packages.
- Uniworld – They currently operate River Tosca but this will be replaced by S.S. Sphinx in 2020.
- Oberoi – Operated by the Oberoi Hotels group, The Oberoi Philae is considered to be a Luxury Nile Cruiser.
- Mayfair Cruises – They own 3 luxury cruise ships M.S. Mayfair, Esplanade, and Mayflower
- Sonesta – Under the Sonesta Hotels and Resort group, they own the St. George, Star Goddess, and Moon Goddess
- Amwaj – Also under a hotel brand, they own the MS Amwaj Living Stone
- Jaz Hotel Group – This hotel group owns 6 different cruise ships and is also the same guys that own the Iberotel Luxor Hotel and many resorts in Egypt.
Standard Cruise Ships
And then you have a hot mess of cruise ships that seem to be run by much smaller agencies and targeted to different countries. From what I’ve found so far, it looks like there are local Egypt operators if you wanted to book direct but they’re represented/affiliated with larger agencies in companies that promote them (e.g. Spain, France, Germany).
From what I gather, these ships are much older, not as well-kept, and run a pretty generic program. The interiors of these ships can vary drastically but the idea is similar to the luxury cruise ships where they run a packed program of activities and there are many areas within the ship to explore.
The big difference with these is in price and quality which are both lower. In addition, some will offer 1 day journeys for those that are on short on time whether you’re going from Luxor to Aswan or Aswan to Luxor.
- Nile Jewel – Run by Italian Express Tourist Services.
- Nile Dolphin – Run by Italian Express Tourist Services.
- Emilio – This is part of Emilio Group but again pretty basic website from the early 2000’s with similar features to the others
- *Insert generic looking agency* – This is where the water gets murky. You end up finding websites like Egypt Travel Link and Nile Cruise Egypt which lists ALL the ships that operate on the river but most of them won’t return any results from any official cruise operator websites. My only assumption is that these are locally owned and sold as the generic Nile Cruise that is sold by low to mid-tier tour packages. There are too many ships to name but here’s an example of a few.
- Lady Diana
- Beau Soleil
- Zen Monaco
- Ti Yi
- Miss Egypt
- Royal Esadora
- You get the picture…
When it comes to these traditional sail boats, there aren’t as many compared to the cruise ships but there are still a number of operators. Each come at their own price point and style so it’s worth taking a look around.
- Djed Egypt Travel – This is the company that owns 3 (soon to be 4) classic dahabiya sail boats and who we cruised with on the Nile. It is also worth nothing that Nile Dahabiya is the same company as Djed.
- Nile Sailing – The competing dahabiya company that owns 4 dahabiyas of varying sizes. The design of these ships is very similar to Djed however the decor is not as classic as they’ve tried to blend in modern finishes.
- Nile Dahabeya – Owner of 4 dahabiyas, these boats are furnished and designed with modern touches that has elements of feeling like you are on a larger cruise ship. They also have a separate website just for the Princess Donia.
- Merit Dahabiya – This is just the one boat named the Merit. They have more modern wood finishes and feels like a hybrid with a cruise ship. They even have a jacuzzi on the top deck but one drawback is that the top deck is not covered.
- Nour el Nil – Owner of 4 dahabiyas, these are marketed as luxury sailing expeditions and as a result carry a much higher price tag despite being the same style of ships used by Djed Egypt Travel.
- Explore Travel & Cruises – They seem like a small operation that owns the Dahabiya Dream. Their dahabiya has more modern touches in the cabin with a few classic touches on the top deck and lounge. It is also worth nothing that they only go from Luxor to Aswan. Main customer base is from the UK.
- Dahabiya Egpyt – To be honest once you get to this point, you’re really reaching. I found this one with a large swathe of ships that don’t appear anywhere else. I am pretty sure this is some sort of agency that sells cruises but doesn’t own these. It’s also unclear whether all of these run still because many of these couldn’t continue on after the downturn of tourism post-revolution. There’s not a lot of information on these besides what you see on the site. Here is a small list of the large number of other dahabiyas.
- Rihana Dahabiya
- El Amira Dahabiya
- Agatha Christie Dahabiya
- Creative Om Kolthom
- El Hanem Dahabiya
- Hadeel Dahabiya
- Nile Spirit Dahabiya
- and many more…
Why Dahabiya Over Cruise Ship?
I’ve done my research on the large cruise ships, I’ve talked to local guides on the ground, and I’ve done the dahabiya experience not once but twice so I have some experience in this department. What it comes down to are these things when you’re trying to figure out how you want to cruise the Nile.
- Spend more time taking in the majesty of the Nile instead of getting lost inside a large cruise ship.
- Authentic sailing experience aboard a traditional-style ship.
- Maximum of 12 or less fellow travellers that will never feel crowded and everyone will have their own private space.
- Dedicated knowledgeable Egyptologist.
- You won’t be ushered around Ancient Egyptian sites around like your typical cruise ships where you have to wear wireless headsets or struggle to listen from the back because the group sizes are small.
- Incredible food cooked by the chef on board that is also completely authentic and local.
- Since dahabiyas are smaller, they can moor anywhere along the Nile. This opens many more possibilities when it comes to exploring local villages and sites such as Gebel el Silsila which are inaccessible by large cruise ships.
- Slow-paced compared to some of the cruise ships which power through this stretch of the Nile in a day where you basically don’t get to anything.
- Can be more affordable than luxury cruise options with an impossibly better luxurious experience.
Who am I kidding, I’m here to tell you that the dahabiya experience is way better than the large cruise ships and you’re here to learn more about our experience so below is a full run down of our 4 night Nile cruise with Djed Egypt Travel aboard the Dahabiya Loulia during our epic 10 day Egypt itinerary.
READ THIS NEXT
As a companion piece to this packing guide, make sure to head to the full breakdown of our entire trip to Egypt including what we did, where we ate, and where we stayed.
Which Direction Should I Go For Our Dahabiya Nile Cruise?
Now that you’ve decided that the dahabiya is the way to go for your upcoming Egypt vacation, you might not realize it yet but the direction you end up going is going to be an important decision.
One of the things that really tripped me up when I was planning for Egypt is what is considered to be “upriver” and “downriver”. When you look at the map, up intuitively is north and down is south. Erase that thought because it’s the opposite. A Nile cruise from Luxor to Aswan (going south) is considered to be “upriver” and Aswan to Luxor (going north) is “downriver”.
The direction matters when planning your trip primarily because of logistics but there are a few other things to think about that I’ll detail below.
Luxor to Aswan
Technically, Luxor’s point of departure is in the neighbouring city of Esna.
For most operators, going upriver always takes longer because you’re going against the flow of the river. In the case of Djed Egypt Travel, the Nile cruise is 4 nights and 4 days.
One advantage of going this direction is that the winds are usually more favourable and blowing south which is why there is a higher chance of using the sails for wind power instead of using the tug boat.
Aswan to Luxor
If you’re thinking of going the other direction, the itinerary for the most part will be the same but there will be small tweaks when it comes to the villages that you’ll visit.
Since you’ll also be going with the direction of the river, you’ll be moving a lot faster which is why Nile cruises from Aswan to Luxor are usually fewer days. In Djed Egypt Travel’s case, this is 3 nights and 3 days.
If you want more time on the Dahabiya, think about going from Luxor to Aswan but if it makes sense to start from the south and move your way back up to Cairo, start from Aswan. There’s honestly no right or wrong way to do it.
The Dahabiya Experience
If you’ve read our entire 10 day itinerary of Egypt, you’ll know that our entire trip was put together with Djed Egypt Travel which turned out to be one of the best decisions we made in the trip planning because it was incredibly seamless starting from landing in Cairo to our dahabiya Nile cruise.
For everything below, I’ll speak specifically about my experience going of doing the Nile cruise from Luxor to Aswan Djed aboard the Loulia. I apologize in advance that I won’t be able to touch on the competing dahabiyas but most of this should apply.
Meeting Point in Esna
Almost all passengers on the scheduled dahabiya cruise use Djed Egypt Travel for their Egypt trip and so what you’ll find is that all travellers will be staying at one of two hotels recommended by the company – Villa Nile House or Sofitel Winter Palace.
Taking separate vans, everyone converges on the town of Esna which is south of Luxor.
The introductions will have to be saved for later because your land excursion of Esna begins right away which I admit feels a little rushed and abrupt but just run with it.
Your Egyptologist will tee things up and you’ll get a chance to explore Esna Temple (aka Temple of Khnum) and the hectic local markets. You’ll quite enjoy Temple of Khnum for one that’s small, incredibly well-preserved, and distinctively several stories underground from modern-day street level.
TIP: When preparing your luggage and backpacks in Luxor, make sure you have what you need for your walk around Esna because everything else will be loaded on the dahabiya.
Boarding the Dahabiya
During your exploration of Esna, the crew will move everything onto the dahabiya so there’s nothing to worry about once you arrive back at the wharf.
A special touch of hospitality that I love is that almost every time you board the boat, they’ll have a refreshing beverage ready for you.
TIP: The boarding of the ship will happen pretty quickly so if you’d like to take photos of the boat, make sure you get in front of the group so you can get your shots in since they’ll be waiting for everyone to get together on deck to do initial crew introductions.
You’ll take off your shoes and put everything in a straw basket and at this point you’ll organically say hello to your fellow passengers if you haven’t done that already.
HEADS UP: No shoes are allowed on the ship so be prepared to walk bare feet or with socks. If you’re curious, we didn’t see anyone use slippers or flip flops on board.
After your Egyptologist does a quick introduction of your dahabiya, everyone will be lead to the lower deck to the salon/library/dining room where all of your bags have been moved to. They’ll also tell you what time the group should meet back upstairs for lunch.
What surprised us at this point was how there was no process for room assignments unless you booked a suite. All of a sudden we realized it was a free-for-all so you just had to pick whatever room was still available. Since we were the last ones to walk through the cabin hallway, our group of 4 had to take what was left. We ended up taking the double bed cabin and our friends took the twin bed cabin.
TIP: You can ask your Egyptologist for a specific type of room but in all likelihood you’ll need to think ahead of time and be one of the first ones to grab a room. There’s no real difference between the 4 cabins but if you have a specific preference of twin vs. double bed, act fast!
Once you’ve secured your room and grabbed the key that’s sitting in the keyhole, you’ll go back out to the salon to move your bags in.
Until lunch, you’ll have free time to get settled in and organized. When ready, everyone will slowly make their way to the top deck to chat with others or find your own corner to chill.
I don’t have any experience with the suites so I’ll focus on the standard cabins.
There’s a real elegance and a strong connection with the dahabiya past here. You’ll fall in love with the decor here as it really ties together the theme of the ship being a traditional way of travel in the turn of the 20th century with perfectly sourced furniture and accents throughout.
For a small sail boat, you’ll be surprised with how much space you have. You’ll either have two twin beds or a double bed that is flanked with a nightstand.
There are also two windows to let in plenty of light during the day. These are shuttered wooden panels that slide in and out but I did notice that they don’t provide a perfect seal. While this isn’t a problem, you are encouraged to not leave your lights on when you leave the room because in certain seasons, I can see flies to be attracted to the light and come in through the gaps.
If you have the double room, you’ll have a carpet in front and this is the perfect spot to place to place your suitcases for easy access.
In the corner is a closet where one half of it has hangers for your clothes and the other half has shelving to place miscellaneous items or more clothes.
When you first arrive, the crew will help you get set up with the air condition so you never really need to touch the settings. It’s recommended to just keep it on the lowest temperature and constantly on so that it automatically kicks in when the generators turn on.
The bathroom is also surprisingly spacious consisting of a sink, toilet, bathtub that has a sliding door so you can use it as a shower, and beautifully patterned tiles.
For the all-important electrical outlets, there are two plugs in the room and two in the bathroom.
TIP: A nifty feature that’s easy to miss is the light switches in the room and bathroom. Each is equipped an LED light that only works when there is no power. Simply press the circular button on the light and it’ll light your way.
Lastly, it’s worth noting that the door lock is a traditional keyhole. This means not only do you need to use the key to unlock the door but you’ll also need to use it on the inside to lock it.
TIP: If you’re paranoid, you should keep the key in from the inside when you’re in the room so nobody can peek through the keyhole.
In front of the cabin hallway is a multi-purpose room that doesn’t typically get a lot of use but it’s available to you.
In one corner is a bookcase with a ton of books related to Ancient Egypt and travelling along the Nile.
That same side has a large sofa if you’d like to hang out in the shade and is great for large groups.
Lastly is the dining table. On both of my trips we rarely used this unless it wasn’t nice to be out in the open air.
The food is flat out amazing on the dahabiya. With your dedicated chef, you’ll be treated with what will seem like an endless amount of food.
All of the food cooked is freshly made and authentically Egyptian. You’ll also be able to try a wide variety of dishes on your cruise.
If you have any dietary restrictions, they have no issues with making something special for you or to tailor the menu to include more of what you’re able to eat.
The dining arrangements on the dahabiya are family-style which means that everyone will sit around a long table and you’ll share the dishes with the other passengers. While it may not be everyone’s preference, I found this to be a great way to dine especially on a boat of this size. With 13 people sitting around the table (12 + 1 Egyptologist), you’ll quickly get to know everyone and build relationships that’ll make the cruise that much more enjoyable.
There is usually enough food for everyone and even with a long table, all the dishes are accessible because they have the same dishes spread between both ends of the table.
What you’ll find surprising is just how much food comes out the little kitchen in the bow of the boat. I had a chance to watch him cook lunch and the amount of work he had to do without too much assistance was incredible.
TIP: Here are a couple of meal tips that will really help you make the most of your meals
- There’s no fixed seating around the table despite it initially feeling like you had to sit at the exact same spot on your first meal. This’ll occur organically but feel free to move around the table meal to meal so you get to talk to everyone or sit closer to the company you enjoy more than others.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for extras of any dishes if they run out. The chef usually has extras of dishes in the kitchen or can whip it up quickly. Don’t be shy!
- Order the drinks you want. They don’t always come around to take your order so if you’d like to have coffee, a fresh fruit drink, pop, or tea, just ask.
- You can order drinks outside of meal time and it’s something we definitely take advantage enough of. Fresh fruit juices are perfect in the afternoon when sailing.
Lastly, the timing of these meals will vary to day depending on the day’s itinerary but all of them will be roughly be around these times. The most variable will be afternoon tea depending on how long the afternoon excursion is. Sometimes it’ll be before the excursion and sometimes it’ll be after.
- Breakfast – 8AM
- Lunch – 1PM
- Dinner – 7PM
Of all the meals, this one will be the most consistent but will also come with a few surprises.
Every morning, you’ll have bread, jams, yogurt, cheese, tomatoes, cucumbers, hardboiled eggs, milk, instant coffee, and tea.
What changes day to day are the fresh juices that are blended and hot dishes that vary from Egyptian beans, scrambled eggs, omelettes, and crepes.
TIP: If you’d like to have Turkish coffee, make sure to order it.
This was often my most favourite meal of the day because the weather is great and you’re usually pretty hungry at this point especially if there was a morning excursion.
Here are a few photos to give you an idea of what lunches are like.
It was rare that we were hungry when this was rolled out but it was certainly a nice touch to be able to pour yourself a nice cup of tea or coffee and munch on a few biscuits while hanging out on top deck.
By the time dinner comes around, the sun will have set, the ship’s power generators will be on, and the temperatures will have dropped as well.
Dinner will always start with hot soup and from there you’ll have the chef’s selection of dishes that will consist of Egyptian tajin (stew/casserole in clay pot), salad, rice, pita, meat dish. You’ll finish with a pastry dessert.
TIP: While certainly not mandatory, we noticed that most passengers wore nicer clothes at dinner. There’s no requirement for this but this is a good chance to wear fresh clothes, long sleeves to stay warm, and stay classy.
Up until this point, everything is included in the price of your Nile cruise. The only thing that isn’t included is alcoholic beverages. There are bottles of wine on board that you can add to your tab. For those looking for beer, they also cans available including the Egyptian beer, Stella.
The alcohol tab is taken care of on the last night of the cruise.
You can also watch the video of the experience if you’re a visual learner ;)
What’s On The Top Deck
The upper deck of a traditional dahabiya and how it’s set up in particular by Djed Egpyt Travel is what you see in the gallery above. What you’ll love about it is that it’s broken up into distinct zones and areas to hang out and have conversation.
- Dining table – This is a long rectangular table with wooden chairs and soft seat covers where you’ll have all your meals but you can also use it to chat and set up the laptop if you need to.
- Beach chairs – The front of the deck has 7 sun loungers that you can pull in and out of the shade as needed. Fresh towels are provided every day and you can raise and lower the headrest angle.
- Chairs and coffee table – To the left is a cluster of wooden chairs, love seat, and coffee table that is almost straight out of an Egyptian family’s home.
- Sit down and sprawl zone – A large circular coffee table on a rug is surrounded by giant cushions and is a great place to lie down and chill.
- Hammock – This is a hammock for 1 but surprisingly comfortable and perfect for a nap.
- Rear living room chairs and couch – The left rear of the ship has another 4 chairs and 1 3 person couch surrounding a coffee table that’s a bit more comfortable than the other zone with the coffee table.
- Rudder control carpet – When nobody’s manning the rudder, you can sprawl out on the rug.
- Chess board table – There’s a chess board on a table here alongside a few other card games if anyone’s up for a match.
The top deck is yours to explore and find your own favourite nook. Since there are only a maximum of 12 passengers on board, it never felt crammed since half of the group preferred to rest in their cabins.
How Your Day Will Flow
Pun intended of course. It won’t take long to get used to life aboard a dahabiya and compared to the type of pace you’ll experience in Luxor and Cairo, you’ll be incredibly thankful to have things slow down and truly be able to enjoy the sights and sounds of the Nile.
When it comes to how your days will go, it’ll have similar rhythms.
- Morning excursion
- Sailing if the winds are favourable and time to relax
- Afternoon tea
- Afternoon excursion
- Clean up and shower
- Pre-dinner free time
- Chat and hang out
- Bed time
TIP: From an efficiency standpoint and the hottest water, we learned that taking a shower right after returning from your afternoon excursion the best time. Everyone races to shower at this time and usually it slowly became lukewarm towards dinner time.
At the end of the day, the dahabiya is a traditional sail boat and to keep it as authentic as possible and inadvertently also make it an experience where travellers can stay in-the-moment instead of being on their devices all the time.
This is why there is no power on the boat except for mornings and evenings. This is something that might be a surprise to some that don’t read the details but is definitely a big deal for you to be aware of.
The general times that power is on is 7AM-8:30AM and 6PM-10:30PM.
In addition to all the good reasons for not having constant power, the other reason is that diesel generators are loud and they would ruin the ambiance of the dahabiya.
From experience, this works perfectly fine but you definitely want to do a few small things to make your life easier:
- Have depleted batteries and chargers already plugged in so that when the power kicks on, you’ll be charging right away.
- Bring powerbanks like this one for your phones and other USB-powered devices.
- Laptops are great for charging during non-generator hours so you can leave USB-powered devices plugged in the cabin to charge while you’re away during the day.
TIP: If you have a lot of electronic devices that need charging, make sure you bring enough European plug adapters and chargers. There are 4 outlets in the cabin but if you want to keep things centralized, bring a portable power bar.
As much as you’ll want to stay disconnected during your trip, you’ll inevitably succumb to wanting to share photos on social media, chat with friends and family, begrudgingly check your email, or check the score for your favourite team. Here’s how you can do it aboard the dahabiya.
I went into the cruise assuming there wouldn’t be wifi onboard and needing to leverage my SIM card but there is actually free wifi. Now the quality of the wifi varies quite considerably and it has to do with where you are along the Nile and where you are within the ship.
The wifi is provided by a hotspot that everyone connects to. Your Egyptologist will plug it in when there is power on the boat and most of the time he has it on the top deck which is why you get the best signal up there. The signal drops to close to nil once you get to your cabin which does get frustrating so if you need wifi, you’ll have to camp out upstairs to use it.
Expect the signal to be generally good enough to check your e-mails, use social media, and browse basic pages but if you want to do any streaming or download large files, you might be out of luck.
TIP: Camp out on the top deck after power has gone off to get the best speeds for wifi because everyone else will be sleeping if you have data-critical needs.
ANOTHER TIP: Sometimes you won’t get signal on the boat but that’s because the hotspot device has run out of power. It doesn’t hurt to ask your guide to check on it to make sure it’s still on.
Another way to get access to data is through your phone’s SIM or your very own hotspot device. The type of signal you’ll get throughout the Nile will be 3G and 1 to 2 bars at most. It will constantly fluctuate along the Nile as you get closer and farther away from towns with cell towers so don’t expect this to be the most reliable but at least you won’t be limited to the range and congestion of the shared wifi hotspot on the boat.
Local SIM cards are quite affordable and you can do this once you arrive in Cairo. There’s a Vodafone stand at the luggage carousels and the tourist bundle they sell are: 250 EGP for 10GB of data or 500 EGP for 30GB.
Alternatively, if you plan on bouncing around between countries on your trip, it may make more sense to invest in a pocket wifi hotspot device like the PokeFi or Skyroam. My latest fascination has been with the PokeFi so check out my latest product unboxing where you can get 5GB for only $5 USD and they have coverage in Egypt and other parts of Africa and the Middle East.
TIP: 4G is almost non-existent in Egypt and so to avoid your phone from constantly hunting and flipping between 3G and 4G/LTE, just force your phone to only use 3G by going into your settings.
Nile Cruise Packing List
For a comprehensive look at what you need to bring for a trip to Egypt, make sure to check out the full Egypt packing list. When it comes to things that specifically matter for the dahabiya, I’ve listed the most important things – some obvious and others not so much.
What to pack for a Nile cruise
- European plug adapters – There are 4 outlets in each cabin so if you have many devices to charge, definitely bring more of these to make sure you can take advantage of the time when the generator is on.
- Swimsuit – You have the opportunity to swim in the Nile so bring your swim gear if you plan on doing this.
- Long sleeves and pants – Despite soaring temperatures during the day, it drops down rapidly once the sun goes down. If you get cold easily or are prone to bites, this is highly recommended.
- Bug spray – While you might not be going during “mosquito season”, there are still a lot of bugs that don’t get attracted to the blue fly zapper. If you get easily bitten, it’s still a good idea to have this in case in combination with long layers.
- Nicer set of clothes – How many sets is up to you but generally people changed to slightly less casual clothes for dinner. This is by no means a rule but this is a great way to change into something different.
- Moisturizer and chapstick – This applies to all of Egypt but it is dry AF here. Keep these handy.
- Day bag – I was super happy with my Peak Design 5L Sling but essentially you’ll need something that’ll work well for the excursions you go on and can carry your essentials. You don’t want this to be too big or heavy because it’ll take a bigger toll than you think because of the heat.
- Hairdryer – If you need one, pack a travel-sized one because there isn’t one on-board.
- Hat – A must-have with how much sun you get when you’re not on the boat.
What you don’t need for the Nile cruise
- Towel – These are provided in each cabin so if you want to pack lighter, there’s no need to bring this on your trip.
- Flip flops – While I used these more as slippers in our cabin, there aren’t many other opportunities to use them unless you feel comfortable doing extended walking in them. There’s a no-shoe-policy onboard the dahabiya.
- Snacks – I added this in jest but seriously there’s such an abundance of food on a Nile cruise that you’ll never be hungry.
- Binoculars – Unless you’re a birder wanting to get up close along the Nile, we didn’t feel like we were missing this on our trip.
Why Book with Djed Egypt Travel?
Not going to lie, this post is incredibly biased because I’ve only travelled with Djed and aboard their dahabiyas (originally on the Orient and this time on the Loulia) so to say that I have experience with every single competitor would be a lie.
What I can say is that I’ve done a ton of research and like you, you’re going to be making the best decision based on your travel style, budget, and favourable reviews.
Below, I’ve tried to grab some basic information about each dahabiya company. To try to make the comparison apples-to-apples I’ve broke the cost down to the per night per person costs. Based on this, the average cost per person is $230 USD/person/night.
|Djed Egypt Travel||Nile Sailing||Nile Dahabeya||Merit Dahabiya||Nour el Nil||Explore Travel Cruises|
|Days||3 or 4||5||5||3-7||5||7|
|Average Cost /night/person (USD)||$212||$150||$278||$222||$268||$239|
|Top selling point||Best balance of experience and price. Top in market.||Standard dahabiya design with a more modern look. Different sized dahabiya's available.||Best known for Princess Donia.||More modern 3-level sailboat with more traditional cruise-like features and furnishings.||Luxury class and elegant.||Week long itinerary that starts and ends in Luxor.|
If we judge a company by their websites, you can eliminate every single company here except for two: Nour el Nil and Djed Egypt Travel. It was honestly painful to go through the other websites where I couldn’t get the basic information I was looking for. There was one that had a completely broken website. Having a good website is make or break.
From there, the decision is really easy to make. If you buy into the flash of the money they’ve spent on the website and photography, you might be drawn to Nour el Nil but if you look deeper at their itinerary and ship you quickly realize that Djed Egypt Travel is a close match. The differences are this:
- Djed Egypt Travel’s dahabiyas are significantly more affordable.
- Nour el Nil’s itineraries are 5 nights vs Djed’s 3 and 4 nights.
- Djed’s dahabiyas stick to old traditions where as Nour el Nil brings in more modern glam.
- Djed is a full-fledge tour operator whereas Nour el Nil only focuses on their dahabiyas and guesthouse – this makes a difference if you want someone to handle your entire journey in Egypt.
- I can’t speak for Nour el Nil but it’s the crew and in particular the Egyptologist that truly make the experience great. Abdulla Yosef from Djed is simply the best in the business because he’s able to take ancient Egyptian history and make it come alive with his storytelling, live-translation of hieroglyphs, and the energy in describing scenes and animated expressions.
The choice is ultimately yours but to me, Djed and their Nile dahabiyas are best-in-class overall.
Frequently Asked Questions
Differences between dahabiya boats?
When you start looking across the various companies that have dahabiyas, you realize that there are only 2-3 varieties of ship designs.
All of Djed Egypt Travel’s dahabiyas are of the same style that consist of two decks where the top deck is where you’ll be eating and hanging out. The front of the lower deck of the dahabiya is mainly used by the crew
Suites vs. cabins?
Most dahabiyas will have a choice between the standard cabin or a more luxurious suite.
On both of my experiences with Djed, I experienced the cabin and it’s anything but basic. These rooms are beautifully appointed with antique furniture, Egyptian rugs, and handmade tapestries to match the era of travel the dahabiya represents. The cabin has either two twin beds or a king-sized double bed. The bathroom has plenty of space with its bath tub/shower, sink, and toilet.
If privacy and more space is what you covet then the suite is what you want to consider. The centrepiece of the suite is the open and private terrace views from the rear of the boat that gives you increased panoramic views compared to the windows of the cabin. The suite is slightly larger all around and full of character with its brass accents, traditional fabrics and oriental furniture.
What if I’m a group of 3?
Travelling in groups of 3 is always tough one and so a common question is whether you can squeeze 3 people in a cabin or suite.
If you’re travelling with a child 12 or under, dahabiyas like the one with Djed will have a roll-in child bed. If you’re three adults however, you’ll be out of luck and you’ll have to book two cabins.
What if I’m travelling solo?
All of their standard rates for cabins are for double occupancy. Solo occupancy rates are going to be higher and this is par for the course in the industry. The prices aren’t quite double but it is a significant hike.
When are departure dates?
Another aspect of logistics for these cruises is that they run on specific dates in addition to direction of travel.
If we’re focusing on the Djed Egypt Travel dahabiyas, you have departures that look like this:
- Luxor to Aswan
- Every Saturday on board Dahabiya The Orient
- Every Monday on board Dahabiya Zekrayaat
- Every Thursday on board Dahabiya Loulia
- Aswan to Luxor
- Every Wednesday on board Dahabiya The Orient
- Every Friday on board Dahabiya Zekrayaat
- Every Monday on board Dahabiya Loulia
Are departures guaranteed?
The great thing about Djed Egypt Travel is that their dahabiyas are guaranteed regardless of how many passengers book.
For my first trip to Egypt and on the Dahabiya The Orient, there were only 4 of us total onboard. Contrast that to this year when it was a full boat of 12.
Seasonally, you might want to consider a time of month when less people go to Egypt (February – April) versus when it’s busier (October – December).
Do children under 12 get a discount?
This policy does vary between companies but generally, kids aged 1 to 4 are free if they’re sharing a cabin with the adults.
Children 5-12 cruise on a 20% discount with Djed.
Travelling with Djed Egypt Travel
While you can try to do Egypt solo, my personal experience with the country is one where I found that travel is much easier and smoother if you go with a local tour company. You’ll have to read the piece to get the full picture but trust me, you’ll need it especially if you only have a certain number of days to work with.
More Helpful Tips and Advice
I’ve mentioned many tips so far. For everything else that I haven’t yet, I’ve dropped them down below.
- The electrical outlets on the boat seem to be made for both Europe and North American class of plugs but since I wasn’t sure, I always used my European plug adapter.
- Air condition is set to run on full blast (unless you change it) when power is on. This is a good idea because once power cuts, the temperatures slowly rise. For us, by the time morning hit, we were quite warm.
- Water pressure in the shower is pretty good throughout but it’s the hot water that runs out quickly so again my suggestion is to shower before dinner when the generators come on. If hot water does run out, wait until the end of the night when the hot water tank fills up and reheats again.
- If you depart early on your final day, you don’t need to worry about breakfast because the chef will prepare breakfast boxes for you.
- The only other thing that’s not included is the horse carriage ride to Edfu Temple. Your guide will collect the cash from you in the morning and pay the operators accordingly. You will also have to tip the horse carriage driver yourself.
When it comes to tipping, your Nile cruise operator will most likely give you guidelines before or at the start of the trip. If you can, I’d try to get the guidelines before you leave so that you can better plan how much of each currency you need.
In Egypt, tipping is almost preferred in USD but EUR or GBP are welcome. That doesn’t mean local currency isn’t wanted but my theory is that they make more money on foreign currency.
Luckily for us, Djed Egypt Tour provided a tipping guide as part of our pre-departure package. We followed this to the letter so for those wondering, this’ll help prepare you.
- Egyptologist – $7-$10 USD per traveller per day
- Drivers – $3-$5 USD per traveller per day
- City representatives – $2-$4 USD per traveller per day
- Nile cruise crew – $10-$15 USD per traveller per cruise day (this is shared between all of the crew except your Egyptologist)
- 10% tip at restaurants and hotel room service
- 20 EGP for porters, luggage carriers and hotel cleaning staff
These are general Egypt tipping guidelines. The ones relevant for the dahabiya are the Egyptologist and the Nile cruise crew.
One thing we noticed was that the guide said the same numbers on the boat but instead of USD they said EUR which isn’t 1 for 1 so honestly it’s up to you how you want to interpret the above. Tipping at the end of the day is at your discretion based on how you felt the service was for your Nile cruise trip.
TIP: Since these guidelines are provided in USD, it will help to pre-calculate how much USD you need to set aside. What I recommend is that you have an envelope prepared just for this and break it out between your dahabiya cruise, Cairo team, Luxor team, and Aswan team. If you take a look at our entire itinerary with Djed, each segment of the trip has a distinctly different team so at the end of each leg, you’re expected to tip each person according to the guidelines.
The tipping process itself is usually the awkward handshake with cash cupped by your palm pass over. On the dahabiya however, your Egyptologist will provide you with envelopes which makes the process straightforward.
How Much Does It Cost?
This is always on the top list of questions I’ve received about our Nile cruise experience. Here’s a breakdown of the costs if I focus just on the dahabiya itself and not on any other add-ons. These costs are for two people and the 4 night upriver cruise from Luxor to Aswan aboard the Loulia.
- Cruise costs: $1700
- Alcoholic beverages: 90 EGP = $5.60
- Tips: $210
- Horse carriage ride and tips: 50 EGP = $3.10
Total: $1918.70 USD
This means that per person, the cost is $959.35 USD.
Where to Stay in Luxor
Whether you’re taking a Nile cruise from Luxor to Aswan or Aswan to Luxor, you’ll need a place to stay in the ancient city of Thebes. Here are my top picks.
I STAYED HERE
Located on the West Bank of Luxor, this B&B type of hotel boasts an outdoor pool, sun terraces, garden, free wifi, and free breakfast. They are 400m from the boat ramp and in a much quieter part of the city which is an advantage.
This is a great resort by Hilton on the Nile and close to Karnak Temple. Here you get the benefit of the high quality and standards Hilton sets while being able to collect/redeem points and also being out of the chaos of Luxor’s downtown streets.
Where to Stay in Aswan
WE STAYED HERE
A great balance for those looking for a quality western hotel in the city that’s also affordable. I was really impressed with their pool, lounge areas inside and out, and the included breakfast which had a ton of food options. You can also request breakfast boxes if you don’t have enough time in the morning. Great value!
For something a little different, this guesthouse is located on Elephantine Island and is set in a Nubian village. Free breakfast and wifi is included. “Loved the location, loved the guest house, loved my room and the breakfast was very good. Only stayed 2 nights but I hope to return to Aswan and will definitely stay here again.”
This is an great option for those looking for a hotel but on a budget. ““Really surprised how upscale it was for the price. Had room with Nile view, and it was worth it! Great, big room and bathroom. Modern a/c unit … Staff was friendly – excellent all around.”
The #1 hotel in Aswan and for good reason. This is the most luxurious and historic Victorian property in the city with pink granite facade with a modernized interior. It’s opposite to the Nubian Museum and meets its luxury status in every way.
Have you booked with Djed Egypt Travel or have more questions cruising along the Nile in a dahabiya? Drop a comment with any lingering questions that you might have!