Experiencing the Glory of Ancient Egypt From the Nile River

The section of the Nile River located in Egypt is where some of the most impressive ancient archaeological sites in the world are found. Cruise this glorious river and see the past through the eyes of the ancients.
— By Pamela Grant

There was a day before 1870 when brave travelers would rent a boat for a trip on the Nile River, but the boat had to be submerged first to kill vermin. Today, the boats carrying eco-travelers in search of ancient Egypt range from simple sailboats to luxury cruise liners – no boat submersion necessary.

In Egypt, the Nile River flows from Aswan in Egypt's south to Luxor (Thebes) in the middle of the country to the Giza-Cairo conurbation (extended urban area) and eventually drains into the Mediterranean Sea. You can cruise through the Land of the pharaohs and visit archaeological sites like the Great Pyramid of Giza, still awe-inspiring to this day, and see for yourself the temples and relief carvings on columns and rock walls that honored Nile gods.

Unspeakable Greatness
The 4,100-mile Nile River is unique in many ways, even in the way it flows – from south to north. Approximately 22 percent of its miles is located in Egypt, and they are glorious miles filled with ancient sites. Today you can board a modern five-star luxury river cruiser or hop a dahabiyas, a shallow-bottomed river barge-shaped vessel with one or two sails.

For those in search of a truer eco-experience, cruise on a felucca. The felucca is a small, one-mast wooden sailboat with a sailcloth sun shield and holds up to 10 people. Yes, you will sleep on the boat, but it is the kind of experience that makes storytelling entertaining for the rest of your life.

River travelers start their Nile cruise from one of the three major Egyptian cities along the river – Giza-Cairo, Luxor, or Aswan. There are options – Aswan to Luxor, Luxor to Cairo, Aswan to Cairo, or any of the starts reversed. It depends on how much time you have.

Herodotus wrote of Egypt: "Nowhere are there so many marvelous things, nor in the whole world beside are there to be seen so many works of unspeakable greatness." His words describe the majestic structures that lure people looking for a place with a unique culture, preserved historical sites, and natural beauty. A Nile River cruise is an eco-traveler's dream adventure.

Sleep in the Shadow of Pyramids
There are not too many places in the world where a traveler can sleep in the shadows of pyramids.

If leaving from Aswan, a visit to Kom Ombo and Edfu temples is on the itinerary. The Great Temple of Kom Ombo was dedicated to the gods Haroeris and Sobek. Located on the Nile, the ancient Egyptian temple has a stunning wall of hieroglyphics, some remaining pillars, a courtyard surrounded by the lower half of 16 columns, and many mural reliefs. Walk into the vestibule between 10 tall decorated columns and into the hypostyle hall that has a roof supported by 10 more columns. The three antechambers lead to the inner temple and eventually the sanctuary area.

The temple of Horus in the ancient settlement of Edfu is one of the best preserved temples in Egypt. The Ptolemaic temple is dedicated to the falcon god Horus of Behdet, the son of Isis and Osiris. Built between 237 and 57 BC, it is hard to believe the roof is still intact. The mythology, the carved reliefs, and the remnants of great stone structures are the "marvelous things" of which Herodotus spoke.

A Valley fit for a Family of Kings
These two temples are just an introduction to the ancient splendors along the Nile River.

Reaching Luxor, the Valley of the Kings continues to delight visitors who embrace ancient cultures. One of the most famous tombs is that of the Pharaoh Tutankhamun (King Tut), but also buried here were the Pharaohs Seti I and Ramses II, Egyptian queens and other high-ranking people from the 18-20th dynasties.

Lying on the Nile's west bank near Luxor, the Valley of the Kings is where the New Kingdom pharaohs chose as the site of their tombs because they wanted to be closer to their dynastic southern roots. It is called the "gateway to the afterlife," and the tombs were designed to help mummified pharaohs become one with the gods. To aid them on their journey to the afterlife, the tombs were filled gold and other treasures, common household goods, and food and drink.

Cruising on to Cairo, the extravagant tombs called the Great Pyramids are found. Ride a camel into the desert and discover exactly how big these pyramids really are. You feel like you can touch the majesty and mystery of the Pyramids of Giza.

If you start or end your trip in Cairo in early 2020, check whether the Grand Egyptian Museum is open. This major project pays homage to ancient Egypt by preserving the artifacts and chronological history of more than 7,000 years of grandeur. It is a museum, research and training facility, restoration laboratory, library, and a plaza with shops.

Birds of the Gods
For those who appreciate the natural environment, a Nile cruise also brings delights for them too. You can sit on the boat deck and spot Nile crocodiles, which can weigh up to 1,500 pounds; hippopotami, once an animal of worship by ancient Egyptians; the endangered black rhino; and flocks of Egyptian geese and great cormorants.

Birds are embedded in Egyptian mythology with many of the gods manifesting themselves as, or represented by, birds. Ba of mythology is a human-headed bird who flew around the tombs during the day to bring food and air to the deceased. In the evenings, Ba traveled with Ra the sun god on the Solar Barque.

This is precisely what keeps the Nile River in Egypt so special. Everything has meaning and a long cultural history. This is where Moses was placed in a basket to save his life as an infant and ended up being raised by a pharaoh's daughter who found him in the reeds.

It is the ancient-ness of the Nile River that continues to inspire awe. The Nile River is the life-giving waters of Egypt, and eco-travelers play a major role in helping with the preservation of ancient sites and natural beauty.