In this special guide, we give you all necessary information and explain everything you need to know to about a Nile River cruise between Luxor and Aswan in Egypt.
Taking a Nile river cruise
Taking a cruise on the River Nile has always been one of the top holiday activities in Egypt.
Already in the early 1900s, European socialites and adventurers flocked to Egypt and embarked on a steamer or sailing boat down the Nile.
From Agatha Christie’s book ‘Death on the Nile’ to Madness’ madcap song ‘Night Boat to Cairo’, a river cruise down the Nile has always featured heavily in literature, films and popular culture.
Indeed, for many people, cruising down the Nile and taking in the sights from the comfort of your river boat is the quintessential Egyptian experience.
There is just something mystical about sailing down the Nile while seeing all the life on the river banks and making stops at all kinds of fascinating temples.
Even though I was a bit hesitant going on a cruise being a young independent traveller who generally dislikes organised group travel, I had such a great time board that I can highly recommend a Nile river cruise to anyone.
All you need to know about Nile river cruises
Booking a Nile river cruise is not as simple as it might sound as there are quite some things you need to take into account and choices to make.
These are some of the questions people have when deciding upon a Nile cruise:
– What Nile river cruise itinerary should you choose?
– What is best: Sailing upstream or downstream?
– Which ship should I sail on?
– How much does a Nile cruise cost?
– Where can I book a Nile river cruise?
In this guide you can hopefully find the answer to all of these questions and find a lot more useful information which will help you booking your perfect Nile river cruise and preparing you for your big Egypt trip.
What is the best Nile cruise itinerary?
Most travellers who embark on a Nile river cruise in Egypt do so between the cities of Luxor and Aswan.
Although you find the majority of cruise options and departures between these two cities, this isn’t the only option.
There are also so-called long Nile cruises between Cairo and Aswan and you will find cruise boat itineraries on Lake Nasser as well.
Given that cruises between Aswan and Luxor are by far the most popular and this was my itinerary as well, it will be the main focus of this guide.
A typical Aswan to Luxor cruise itinerary
If you book a Nile river cruise between Aswan and Luxor, the itinerary will typically take four days and three nights (five days and four nights in the opposite direction when sailing upstream from Luxor to Aswan).
However, do note that some cruises might take shorter or longer depending on the exact programme.
What will be included in your itinerary when it comes to food & beverages, shore excursions and guided tours also depends on the exact cruise package you book.
After all, you can find anything from all-inclusive luxury cruises with private tours to more basic, cheaper options.
Below, you can see the exact schedule of my Nile river cruise itinerary between Aswan and Luxor.
My cruise itinerary
1st day: Pick-up from Aswan train station, airport, or hotel. Guided visit to the Unfinished Obelisk, Philae and the Aswan High Dam. Embarkation and lunch on board the Nile river boat, followed by free time in Aswan (in which I visited the Nubian village on Elephantine Island). Dinner and overnight on the boat while it remains anchored in Aswan.
2nd day: Breakfast on board and free morning in Aswan, in which I went on an optional excursion to Abu Simbel. Lunch on the Nile cruiser and start of the sailing downstream towards Kom Ombo. Guided visit of the Kom Ombo Temple, followed by dinner on the boat.
3rd day: During the night the boat sailed from Kom Ombo to Edfu. Breakfast on board, followed by a guided visit to Edfu Temple. Lunch on board the ship as it sails down to Luxor via the Esna Locks. Guided visit of the Luxor East Bank sights (Karnak, Luxor Temple) and farewell dinner on board. Last night on board the ship as it remains anchored in Luxor.
4th day: Breakfast on board, check-out and disembarkation from the ship. Guided visit of the Luxor West Bank sights (Valley of the Kings, Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut, Colossi of Memnon) which marks the end of the cruise itinerary. Drop-off at the Luxor railway station or airport, or a hotel of your choice.
Should you sail upstream or downstream?
Whether you should sail upstream or downstream is an entirely personal choice and therefore there is no simple answer to this question.
Indeed, a lot of it might depend more on your own schedule than on your preferences.
If you have only limited time on your trip, the advantage of starting in Aswan and sailing downstream is that such cruises typically take one night less.
As I was set on taking the night train from Cairo, it was also more practical for me to begin my cruise in Aswan as the arrival time of this train in Luxor is so early in the morning that continuing to Aswan meant I could sleep longer in my compartment and enjoy the journey more.
However, starting in Luxor and sailing upstream will mean that the journey will be a bit slower and more leisurely, giving you more time on the Nile cruiser to savour the Egyptian landscapes.
Another advantage of sailing upstream is that it’s arguably the more natural route, as also the great explorers and ancient navigators used to travel southward.
The further south you go upstream on the Nile, the more exotic the landscapes become.
You will finish your journey in the Nubian lands and leave the awe-inspiring sight of Abu Simbel just before the Egyptian border with Sudan as your last stop.
However, there is also something to say for leaving Luxor as your last stop, as Karnak and the Valley of Kings easily rank among the most impressive in Egypt.
How are shore excursions arranged?
The way how shore excursions are arranged depends on the exact cruise package you book.
In my case, I had booked a Nile cruise package which included a private guide and private transfers at all stops on the itinerary, with all the entrance fees of the sights included.
The advantage of this is not only the fact that you have a much more tailor-made and personal experience visiting the sights, but it will also help you beat the crowds.
While all the group tours still had to assemble on the quay at each stop, me and my guide had already begun our visit.
The fact that we had our own SUV instead of a bus to reach the destinations further away from the cruise berthing place (for example in Luxor) certainly added to the comfort as well.
If you don’t opt for a private guide and excursions, you can join a tour group, which will certainly be cheaper.
In some cases it’s also possible to book your Nile cruise on the basis of meals and lodging only.
However, that means that you will have to arrange all visits, transportation and optional guided tours at temples yourself and that it’s your own responsibility to be back in time before departure.
Although this is straightforward at Kom Ombo where it’s just a short walk from the berthing place to the temple, it will be more challenging at Edfu and Luxor.
Although I’m normally not a person to take private tours being more of an independent traveller, I have to say that I certainly appreciated all the benefits this time around and found it value for money.
Besides, if you truly want to understand the history, symbolism and meaning behind all ancient Egyptian sights, having a professional guide with you is an absolute must.
Whether you opt for a private guide or join a group tour, you are likely to have the same guide for the entirety of your cruise as he/she will travel on board as well for the entire voyage.
Choosing your vessel
Once you have an itinerary in mind, you will have to decide on which vessel you want to sail on your Nile cruise.
There are dozens of river boats plying the Nile and it’s up to your own preferences in style, budget and comfort which ship you select.
Some river boats feature a hypermodern design, a couple of ships may have more of a retro vibe by adding some local colour, while other vessels might be antiquated and haven’t seen a refurb in decades.
Of course, the price you pay for your cruise largely depends on the quality of the vessel you select, with the newer or more recently refurbished cruise ships commanding a premium over the older boats.
Most travel agencies offer you the choice between dozens of cruise ships, although not all vessels might be available on your preferred date.
Choosing a vessel is therefore as much about selecting your preferred sailing dates as it is about finding the perfect ship!
For example, the Nile cruiser I travelled on, the M/S Princess Sarah, departs every Wednesday from Aswan on its river cruise down to Luxor and heads back from Luxor to Aswan every Saturday.
If you therefore want to depart Aswan on a Monday, this vessel will currently not be an option for you!
Needless to say, if you book a tour of Egypt with a river cruise included, you don’t have to worry about this as your entire holiday itinerary from arrival in the country until departure will be set by the travel agency or tour operator.
However, if you are an independent traveller who wants to add a Nile cruise to your trip, you will need to plan carefully.
I would certainly recommend you to plan the dates of your Nile cruise first based on availability and preferred vessel and work out the rest of your Egypt itinerary from there.
Accommodation on board
Most Nile river boats have a wide variety of cabins available, ranging from twin and double cabins to family rooms and spacious suites.
The exact accommodation you select – as well as the exact ship you want to sail on – are therefore all factors which determine the price you pay for your cruise package.
You can generally expect each cabin to have a modern en-suite bathroom, air-conditioning, fridge and TV.
Depending on the ship you select you may only have a small window, sliding glass doors opening up for a perfect Nile view, or even a full balcony.
One thing you should note is that single cabins are non-existent on most Nile cruisers and the quoted prices you see are often per person based on dual occupancy.
That means that as a solo traveller you often have to pay a supplement when you want to book a private twin or double room.
Meals and drinks on board a Nile cruise
It depends on the exact Nile cruise package you book what meals and drinks are included in the price.
Most Nile cruises have breakfast, lunch and dinner included – with all of them served buffet style.
However, more luxury cruise boats may serve food à la carte and might even have multiple dining outlets on board.
In my case, all meals were included and served buffet style in the sole restaurant on board the ship, with multiple hot and cold dishes and sides available on each occasion.
Although bottled water was included in my cruise package, other drinks were not.
If you order something which is not included in your package, the costs will simply be billed to your room number after signing the bill and you pay everything upon check-out.
Alcoholic drinks such as beer, wine and liqueurs are usually all available on board the ship and can be ordered in the restaurant with your meal, or while lounging in the onboard bar or on the outdoor deck.
Expect prices for drinks to be slightly higher than they are in the average tourist-oriented restaurant in Egypt.
Can you bring your own food and drinks on board?
It is usually possible to bring your own food and drinks on board your river boat, although you should of course not do so in an overt way and only consume it in the privacy of your own cabin.
Before embarkation of my Nile cruise, I stocked up on some booze and mixers, or to be precise a bottle of wine, gin and a few beers.
Sipping a gin tonic from the seating corner of my cabin with the sliding door fully opened to lovely views over the banks of the Nile was certainly a top cruise experience.
Although I don’t know any liqueur store in Aswan, you can buy alcohol from a chain store called Drinkies in both Luxor and Cairo.
WiFi internet on board
Many Nile river boats nowadays have WiFi internet installed, although network reliability and speeds can be rather erratic.
Indeed, on my own Nile cruise the WiFi signal basically only covered the lobby area – and even there I didn’t manage to get the internet working.
Although this may of course be better on other vessels, I would highly recommend to buy a local SIM card with plenty of mobile data before you embark on your cruise.
Mobile coverage along the Nile is generally excellent and I had no problems whatsoever accessing websites or uploading my cruise pictures to social media.
Tipping on board your Nile cruise
It is customary to tip the personnel on board your river boat, although this is usually done at the end of your cruise.
On my own river cruise, all passengers were given an envelope on the final night for their tips.
Upon check-out, the envelopes are collected, the money added up and then divided among all staff members on board, from the waiters to the cleaners and cooks.
You therefore do not have to tip people individually (although you can do so if you want, of course) but rather can leave one big tip at the end in your envelope.
However, do note that these tips only go towards the staff who are directly employed on the river boat.
Therefore, you will have to tip your guide and drivers for excursions separately.
How can I book a Nile cruise?
There are lots of travel agencies and tour operators where you can book your Nile river cruise.
I arranged my entire cruise package through Luxor & Aswan Travel Agency, a local Egyptian tour agency which I can wholeheartedly recommend for their reliability and easy communication by e-mail and Whatsapp.
Most travel agencies like Luxor & Aswan Travel allow you to choose between dozens of vessels and departure dates.
Big international travel agencies and cruise outfits in Europe and the US may also offer Nile cruises, with some of them even having their own vessels.
Depending on your exact wishes it is therefore always a good idea to shop a bit around and see what the options are.
My own cruise experience
In the next chapter of this trip report, I will detail my own river cruise experience on board the M/S Princess Sarah and review the facilities on this ship.
So for more specific information about this vessel and my overall experience, check out the above link!
Embarking on a Nile river cruise is a fantastic way to take in the sights and natural landscapes of Egypt.
The River Nile has always been of great importance to Egypt by allowing for fast transportation and irrigation of the lands.
Without the Nile, the ancient Egyptian civilisation would never have existed in the first place.
By cruising down this mighty African river you really get a better sense of place and time as well as an appreciation of the unique Egyptian geography, culture and history.
Although I’m not your typical cruise passenger being an independent traveller, I tremendously enjoyed my own river cruise experience because of the aforementioned reasons.
Besides the fact that a river cruise is a logical choice of transport to take in some of the sights along the Nile between Luxor and Aswan, it is also an enjoyable way to travel.
There is just something magical about seeing the beautiful landscapes on the banks of the River Nile from the comfort of your own cruise ship.
Time spent on board is certainly not lost as you can relax with a drink, read a book, enjoy some good food, or simply sunbath on the top deck.
With a wide variety of vessels in different styles and comfort levels being available, there is always a suitable river cruise available which matches your preferences and budget.
Whether you opt for a short Nile river cruise between Aswan and Luxor or want to go for a longer itinerary, I can certainly recommend the experience!
Trip report index
This article is part of the ‘Walk Like an Egyptian: A Grand Tour of Egypt‘ trip report, which consists of the following chapters:
1. Red-Eye Ramblings of a Late Night Flight to Cairo
2. A Visit to the Pyramids of Giza by Camel
3. Review: Sofitel Nile El Gezirah, Zamalek, Cairo
4. Exploring the Medieval Old Town and Islamic History of Cairo
5. Visiting the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities in Cairo
6. Mar Girgis: The Churches of Christian Old Cairo
7. Review: Ernst Watania Sleeping Train Cairo to Aswan
8. The Ancient Quarry of Aswan and the Unfinished Obelisk
9. A Boat Ride From Aswan to the Temple of Isis at Philae
10. A Visit to the Aswan High Dam and Lake Nasser
11. A Visit to the Nubian Village on Aswan’s Elephantine Island
12. Aswan Guide: A Visit to Egypt’s Most Stunningly Located City
13. A Half Day Trip From Aswan to Amazing Abu Simbel
14. Nile River Cruise Guide: All Info for Your Egypt Boat Trip (current chapter)
15. Review: M/S Princess Sarah Nile River Cruise Ship
16. Nile Cruise: Sailing From Aswan to Kom Ombo
17. A Visit to the Ancient Crocodile Temple of Kom Ombo
18. A Visit to the Temple of Horus at Edfu
19. Nile Cruise: Sailing From Edfu to Luxor
** rest of the chapters to follow soon **