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Travel Memory: A Sunset Felucca Ride down the Nile

November 2012: Aswan, Egypt

The mighty Nile is so synonymous with Egypt that to visit the country and not travel atop it in some way, shape or form is to not visit Egypt.

A lot of people choose to take one of the many 3, 4 or 5 star cruises that travel between Luxor and Aswan. These can be booked in advance, but many travelers just show up in Aswan or Luxor, walk around the dock and negotiate a price. We met a couple of German guys who’d done just that, and they’d gotten an all-inclusive rate of 80 euro per person on a 5 star luxury cruise. (and this was back in 2012, so prices may have gone down even more in light of current political events).

Not too shabby, but when your budget is $100/day for both of you, it’s simply out of the question.

Others choose to make the trip down the Nile in a more traditional way, via felucca. A wooden boat with 1 or 2 sails, it’s used mostly in the protected waters of the Red Sea and the Eastern Mediterranean, in countries like Malta, Egypt, Sudan, and Iraq.

Traveling by felucca entails sleeping on the hard dock of the boat for 3 nights with 5 or 6 other people, eating all your meals on the boat, and showering…well, I’m not sure where. Going this way can be extremely budget friendly. As little as 400LE for the entire 3 night trip. And while this did fit handily into our budget, we couldn’t afford the time.

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Instead, we settled for the next best thing – a 2 hour sunset cruise atop the Nile. With a gentle breeze cooling us down, the incredible rays of the sun lighting the horizon in one of the most exquisite sunsets I’ve ever seen, and the lapping of the water lulling us into a tranquil state, it was one of the best things we did in Egypt.

Besides which, it may very well be the only way to escape the incessant honking of horns…

Invariably as you walk around the city, someone will approach you to take a felucca cruise. I don’t know if this is typical, or a result of the current lack of tourists in Egypt, but we were hassled about every 20 steps we took.

They are VERY persistent, and you will either have to keep telling them no (Agri’s strategy) or just walk away (my strategy). Speaking in Albanian (a language almost nobody speaks) or saying La Shukran (no thanks in Arabic) seemed to work pretty well also.

We took a walk by the shore to see if we could negotiate a better deal than what the hotel offered, and were quoted some pretty crazy prices. One man asked for 240LE for a 2 hour cruise (keep in mind that your average Egyptian earns 1000LE per month). I’m not sure if it’s because uninformed tourists actually pay these prices, or if they’re starting high to negotiate to somewhere in the middle.

In any case, nobody was able to beat our hotel’s rate of 75LE for a 2 hour private cruise, so that’s who we went with.

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As a general rule of thumb when traveling, I think it’s better to book things independently, but I think in Egypt, the opposite is true. If you’re staying at a reputable hotel, by booking through them, you’ll save a huge amount of hassle and stress, and at a price that is usually more reasonable than what you will get on the street. Plus you’ll be guaranteed a certain level of quality that isn’t a given when you book something yourself.

Back in 2012, Egypt was one of the most challenging countries we traveled to. Have you traveled there recently? We’re curious. Has the situation changed for better or worse?

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27 Comments Post a comment
  1. The felucca cruise was one of the best things we did in Egypt – just magical. We were in Egypt in Oct 2015 and there was not much tourism then, and probably even less now. We went with an Intrepid tour who took care of everything for us.

    August 1, 2017
    • That sunset was one of the best I’ve every seen – and to see it while on a boat in total silence was absolutely incredible. I’m not much for going on tours, but I’d say that Egypt is definitely one country where it’s probably way better to let someone else take care of everything for you. Some the hostility we ran into because we didn’t want to buy things bordered on scary. ๐Ÿ™

      August 4, 2017
      • Yes for us too when we were exploring markets during free time. We rarely take tours but the Intrepid tour of Egypt that we did remains one of the highlights of all our travels. They take care of you really well.

        August 4, 2017
  2. Two hour sunset cruise looks amazing! It does sound pricey to sail around for a few days. But it sounds like with your sunset ride the sunset looks amazing ๐Ÿ˜Š Interesting to hear that booking through hotel saves hassle. They’ll probably have good relations with the locals and hope that you have a good time, and makes business goes round too ๐Ÿ˜Š

    August 1, 2017
    • Actually, I think its really really cheap, and has gotten even cheaper since then. 75LE is only about $5 now, I think… it’s sad because of the political situation down there. The people were so desperate for some kind of business because there were literally NO tourists. I can only imagine it’s much worse now. That sunset tho…one of the best I’ve ever seen… ๐Ÿ™‚

      August 4, 2017
  3. Fabulous photos. What an incredibly beautiful place.

    August 1, 2017
    • Thanks Sue! ๐Ÿ™‚ It was quite possibly one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever seen…and to witness it with the peace of the water around of us, something quite wonderful…

      August 4, 2017
  4. I haven’t been to Egypt yet, but it might be one of the few places I’d hire a company to book everything for me, based on what I’ve read on WordPress and elsewhere. Especially now. One of those things I’d definitely include is a felucca cruise! It just seems like an entrancing step back in history, and the sight of those sails against the water and sun looks unbeatable!

    August 1, 2017
    • We went to India right afterwards, and breathed a sigh of relief (which just tells you how incredibly aggressive the touts were in Egypt). ๐Ÿ˜‰ I understand that the people there are having an incredibly difficult time, but between the scams, people trying to befriend you to get money, and anger and aggressiveness, not to mention the leering of the men, it’s a challenging place. Pity because some of the world’s most amazing sights are there… Abu Simbel is truly incredible. You know I’m not much for organized tours, but Egypt is definitely one place I’d recommend it!

      August 4, 2017
  5. Egypt definitely is on the list but so far haven’t had a chance to check it off. A trip down the Nile will definitely be number one on my to do list while in the country. It looked so peaceful and lovely. Two ours seems just about right if the prices are too steep!

    August 4, 2017
    • Actually it’s incredibly cheap!! 75LE is only $5!! and it was the best $5 I’ve ever spent, especially since it got us away from all the incredibly aggressive touts. ๐Ÿ™ It’s such an incredible country and definitely worth visiting, but I agree with some of the above commenters that say it’s better to go there on an organized tour than independently. It’s a very challenging place to travel in.

      August 4, 2017
  6. In the summer of 2012, I was in fact right by Egypt, on the other side of the Gulf of Aqaba, and could see Egypt from my beach in Aqaba, Jordan. As you mention, a whole load of political upheveal was going on there, so after Jordan, I chose to visit Israel instead. Egypt is very high on my list of places to visit, and I have the impression I’ll have to spend at least two to three weeks there as I want to visit many locations (I love ancient history and majored in it at Uni). Your advice about different options for sailing on the Nile, and your tip about trusting hotel arrangements for excursions elsewhere is very useful. Nice writeup!

    August 6, 2017
    • Oh man, the day we arrived in Israel from Aqaba was the day a Hamas leader was assassinated. We didn’t know until we showed up. It was intense – rockets being fired at Jerusalem (where we were), air raid sirens – and tear gas in Bethlehem when we visited. There were at least 2 bomb scares while we were exploring the city…crazy, but memorable that’s for sure. My hubby also loves history! We spent about 3 weeks in Egypt and it was a good chunk of time to see enough, but we definitely didn’t see everything. I think that would take months and months… ๐Ÿ™‚

      August 22, 2017
  7. don #

    Well, great for you. You got a nice cruise, at a reasonable rate without using an excessive amount of time. I’ll definitely look into that if/when I get the chance to head there. As a kid I remember reading up on Egypt and their mythology and culture, sounds super cool. Though I know of course that’s not the only thing and I’m sure it’s super touristy nowadays. All those salesmen trying to sell you on cruises I’m sure they do that to everyone throughout the whole your targeting every tourist they can see. That’s who they are after and can get good money from. 1/4 of the years wage by one passenger? Yeck yeah! lol

    August 7, 2017
    • Sadly, because of the current political situation, there are very few tourists there, which made it very trying to travel independently. I’m not kidding when I say people were very aggressive to the point that it was sometimes scary. We had people chasing us down the street begging us to take a ride in their carriage, or shop owners swearing at us, if we looked at something and then decided not to buy it. I understand that people are desperate there these days, but you can’t help everyone, and the aggressiveness made it pretty unpleasant. ๐Ÿ™ To put it in perspective – India – the country we went to next – felt like a big breath of fresh air. Hahaha.

      August 24, 2017
  8. Those views though!! I do think you went with the best option because the cruise just seems like to extra in my opinion and the sail much too long in such tiny quarters. How was your overall experience of Egypt? I wonder how the political climate was since this was right after the arab spring.

    August 7, 2017
    • I have to say that Egypt was the most stressful country we visited during our RTW trip…and that’s saying a lot, cuz we were in Jerusalem when rockets were being fired at it. The touts were just SO aggressive and angry, and the men incredibly sexist…like guys were actually giving my hubby a thumbs up after blatantly checking me out (in my long pants and long-sleeved t-shirt). I really wouldn’t recommend traveling there as a solo female, and it’s the only country I’ve visited so far, where I think it would be better to go on an organized tour than independently. For example, when we visited Abu Simbel, we had to go in a caravan with armed cars around us. ๐Ÿ˜ฎ

      August 24, 2017
  9. We visited Egypt Airport during a stopover to Europe. ๐Ÿ™‚ Imagine being so close and yet so far. Beautiful pictures, Shells. It’s strange seeing your pics without Naia. She’s become such an integral part of all your travels.
    Egypt is on our list, along with Jordan.Your post reminded me about Agatha Christie’s, Death on the River Nile. ๐Ÿ™‚ I was quite a fan as a kid.

    August 7, 2017
    • Ahh, if only Egypt was still the country written about in Agatha Christie’s book. It’s not a very happy place these days, and super challenging to travel in. Def recommend a tour over traveling independently. Jordan though, you can totally do on your own! Hope you’re enjoying Mongolia!!!! ๐Ÿ™‚

      August 24, 2017
  10. Egypt is a high ticket priority for me but I promised my best friend it would be our trip so I don’t foresee the trip happening soon. But I have heard that a Nile Cruise is a must and there’s no doubt in my mind we will be constrained by a budget as well so I will keep this info at hand. While I love the camaraderie of a Felluca cruise, I think the lack of privacy would make me feel anxious so I would choose the 2-hour cruise instead.

    August 7, 2017
    • It’s probably better that your trip to Egypt is sometime in the future. Hopefully things will improve there and you can properly enjoy it, because it is so amazing. Unfortunately, the political climate and resulting desperation of people made it incredibly uncomfortable to travel in, and we couldn’t wait to leave. That felucca cruise was maybe the only 2 hours of time when we were out, where we weren’t constantly harassed (and sometimes very aggressively and angrily) by touts. Sad, but true. ๐Ÿ™

      August 24, 2017
  11. wrpalomo #

    Beautiful sunset and in a place I have only read about. Thanks for sharing! I’ve recently given up on my stance to not be dependent on a tour package. Though I didn’t get the full tour package, I now know the importance of just trusting others with my itinerary for the day.

    August 8, 2017
    • I think Egypt is the only country I’ve been to, where I’d recommend visiting on a tour package – not just for your safety, but also so you can actually enjoy your time there. The touts were so aggressive and desperate, that it was impossible to walk 20 paces without being hassled (no exaggeration).

      August 25, 2017
  12. I agree that booking with your own hotel takes away the hassle and the worries of getting your tickets/tours elsewhere. There’s a certain level of trust already established with them so as a traveler you assume that they won’t screw you. A sunset cruise sounds marvelous, it reminds me of a night (all you can drink) cruise I did in Budapest and it was fantastic. Yes, the champagne helped the feeling but seeing the city lit up and reflected in the river is such an icing on a traveling cake.

    August 8, 2017
    • Yes, and the price we got from the hotel was SO much lower than anything we could negotiate ourselves, and without the hassle. Egypt was seriously stressful in that department. As it turned out, we had an incredible experience at a perfect time with a super nice guy. That sunset was one for the books! No champagne though… ๐Ÿ˜‰

      August 25, 2017
  13. i took the felucca trip from Aswan to Luxor in 1999. It was a great way to do the journey, but yes it took time. Beautiful memories great pics! ๐Ÿ™‚

    August 8, 2017
    • Haha, if I’d been there in 1999, I might’ve done that too, but by the time I got there in 2012, I was too old and cranky to fathom staying on a wooden boat for 3 days!! ๐Ÿ˜‰

      August 25, 2017

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