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Wildlife Camera » Nile offers heat and history at a discount

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Nile offers heat and history at a discount

19 November 2009


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cruise ship at Kom Ombo

The Nile has two great selling points in winter – it is hot, and it is cheap.

The Nile has one great selling point in summer – it is very cheap (because it is very hot).

River cruises in Egypt, even in high season from December to March, start at £499. That includes the 5000-mile round-trip flight from the UK to Luxor, full board on the cruise boat, transfers and 10 free excursions. In the heat of high summer, the tour operator may even add an extra week in a four-star hotel as a bonus and still keep the price below £500.

So anyone who is looking at a Nile holiday is looking at the bargain basement of the cruise business and you would expect a high level of complaints, similar to the dissatisfaction levels of the bucket-shop Med-beach holiday. But the Luxor experience, although certainly not de-luxe at the bottom end, has a remarkably high satisfaction rate. Tourists are fascinated by the Pharoahs and the ancient way of life along the river and they are willing to forgive the rough edges.

And if your budget stretches to £900 in winter’s high season rather than £499, you can live like a king, floating along the Nile in considerable style.

The attractions of Upper Egypt are heat, sunshine and history. President Sarkozy of France recently took a short break here when he wanted to show off model-songstress Carla Bruni in a sunny setting. And they just avoided meeting Tony Blair as he arrived for his Luxor vacation. The late Aga Khan, one of the world’s richest men, spent winters here because the climate is perfect – it never rains – and the same applies to the Red Sea coast. Holidays from the UK to Sharm el-Sheikh on the beach cost less than £450, including flights and a four-star hotel, half-board for a week.

You can join in the pleasures of this classic break at very reasonable cost. Trotting in your horse-drawn caleche through the streets of Luxor, among markets and cafes, to visit vast temples which are some of the most imposing monuments of the ancient world, all for £1 plus tips, is all part of a very different kind of holiday. People don’t complain about this bargain deal, they come back.

The Nile trip is not a downmarket holiday. It attracts people who want to see things and do things, rather than spend a week sampling mind-bending alcohols from funny bottles. The excursions from the cruise boat to sites like the Valley of the Kings are not exactly compulsory, and they tend to start very early in the morning, but tourists do join them, because the 3000-year-old monuments are awesome. This is not “like something out of …” — it is the real thing.

And it is better to meet the real thing face-to-face in the desert rather than going to London to see an exhibition about Tutankhamun (which can cost even more if you stay in a half-decent hotel).

There are numerous boats to choose from if you opt for a cruise – about 300 of them at the last count – and competition is intense. With nearly 8000 sailings every year, the operators are keen to attract passengers, so the deals keep coming. The Nile holiday business is especially sensitive to the ups and downs of international politics, and any kind of crisis anywhere from Morocco to Pakistan slashes prices almost instantly, although Upper Egypt has been free of anti-tourist incidents for some time, and the authorities in Luxor are proud to tell you that you are safer on the streets of their town than you are, statistically, in London.

The river boats are very different from ocean liners. They are small and simple, they attract Europeans rather than Americans, and they take travellers up close to the scenery, tying up each evening in a town where you can go ashore and stroll through the bazaar and visit cafes or restaurants if you want a change from the onboard menu, which can be rather basic, although it has moved on from the rissoles which used to be the Egyptian cook’s special.

Every cabin has a river view and although they are very plain (with short beds) at the discount end of the market, they are clean — lots of sanitising hand-washes in cabins and dining saloon — and there is always cheerful service. Tips of about £3 per person per night are expected, so add £30 to your budget.

Egyptian river trips are completely casual, which appeals to today’s British traveller. There is no dress code for dinner.

Entertainment is usually no more than a piano bar, with perhaps a couple of visits by troupes of musicians and Nubian dancers who perform in the lounge. The holiday is about sunning on the top deck, taking a dip in the tiny onboard pool, enjoying a good book and being impressed by Ancient Egypt while taking a look at rapidly changing modern Egypt. There is always a lecturer on board, one of the distinguishing features of the more expensive cruises being that the lecturer is more handsome and knowledgeable, and probably speaks five languages.

Most cruises operate on the Upper Nile, far upstream from Cairo, between Luxor (5-6 hours flying time from London) and the dam at Aswan. Most of the hotels at Luxor are operated by the well-known international chains and include the award-winning island resort of Maritim Jolie Ville, plus Sheraton, Steigenberger, Sofitel and Sonesta among the list of more than 40 places to stay.

The Luxor-Aswan cruise trip covers 140 miles, taking 4-5 days, with variations which may extend the cruise to Dendera and Abydos. Fourteen-day cruises sometimes take in the entire river valley from Luxor down to Cairo.

In the gloom of a northern winter, the brilliant sun of Luxor and the calm of the river are very appealing. And at today’s rock-bottom rates, they are attainable.

Five good reasons for joining a Nile cruise
1. The weather in winter is sunny and hot.
2. There is more history per mile than anywhere else.
3. The price is right.
4. The scenery is dramatic, unchanging.
5. It’s the only £499 holiday that scores 10/10.

(Text copyright Willy Newlands; photo of cruise ship at Kom Ombo from iStockphoto.)


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