Is a Nile Cruise worth it in Egypt?

Taking a Nile Cruise in Egypt is often promoted as a ‘must-do’ for the country, but is a Nile cruise worth it really? In our experience, opinions were often wildly divided…

Table of Contents

Introduction

Cruising along the Nile on a Nile Cruise is synonymous with the perfect trip to Egypt. So much so, that many people don’t even consider whether they’d like to do one or not, they just simply do it. In fact, it’s so popular that there are around 300 Nile Cruise boats on the river most days!

Personally, it really didn’t seem like our cup of tea. As responsible travellers, large cruise ships are something we usually avoid. Add to that everything we had heard about the being a little tacky and overcrowded, it was an obvious no for us. However, after we made our decision, we actually spoke to quite a few people who might have changed our minds if circumstances had been different!

Though we didn’t take a Nile Cruise ourselves, we spoke with a lot of people who did and learnt a lot about them. As curious travellers and bloggers, we always try to find out as much as we can about an activity before completely writing it off. Interesting, opinions seemed to vary massively here, even between people who had done the cruise themselves. As travel agents, we’ve also booked many a Nile Cruise for our clients, and have their feedback, plus we have seen pretty much every Nile Cruise itinerary there is, so we know what to expect!

We’ll talk you through what we found out so you can make the choice yourselves…

This article may contain affiliate links. There is no additional cost to you and they are often discounted, but we may receive a small commission if you use them to book.

**Note: when we talk about a ‘Nile Cruise’, we are referring to the common tourist ships. We discuss alternative means of cruising the Nile below if this interests you.

A sunset over the river Nile from a Nile cruise
Classic Nile Sunsets

So is a Nile Cruise worth it?

Pros of taking a Nile Cruise:

First, let’s dive into the positives. We spoke to a lot of people who told us that, actually, of every tour they’d done in Egypt (which seemingly was a lot!), the Nile Cruise was the best. What impressed them most was the organisation and efficiency. Here are the reasons it may be for you…

It’s very easy to see a lot of things in a short space of time

There is no denying that Nile cruises are super slick. They have their itineraries down pat because they are so used to running them, and the idea is to get all of the tourists to as many of the sights as physically possible in a short space of time. They usually run for 4 days, 3 nights (though you can get longer and shorter ones).

You’ll typically see a combination of the following:

Each day is set up to take you from place to place and ensure that you get a taste of everything. The things you will be seeing are the main tourist spots, so you are likely to get a very good overview of what most tourists see when they visit Egypt. Personally, since we did not take a Nile Cruise, there were a few temples we weren’t able to get to by ourselves, so we did miss out on a few things.

A view of the bank of the Nile. There are lots of temples and palm trees.

There may be more opportunities to be sociable

There are usually between 50-150 passengers people on board a Nile Cruise. Since you will be with these people for the duration of the time you are cruising, there are good opportunities to make friends and meet other travellers. If you are travelling solo, this can be super useful and takes some of the stress out of travelling by yourself. For example, you’ll probably be easily able to find people to help you take photos, have meals with and socialise with during the evening activities.

Possibly better value for money depending on your priorities

Depending on what exactly you are looking to do in Egypt, a Nile Cruise can be great value. Not only does it include all of your transport, but you’ll also have included:

  • Most (or all) meals
  • Most entrance fees for the sights you’re visiting
  • A guide for most places
  • Evening activities
  • Accommodation of course on board the ship!
  • Tips (which can add up in Egypt)

Normally, on a guided tour, it can be cheaper to organise these things yourself, however Nile Cruises are actually incredibly cheap usually. A quick look on Viator, for example, reveals a huge amount of competing suppliers, all at ridiculously low prices. If you’re on a tight budget but planning to include a lot, this can actually save you money overall.

It will be easy and comfortable

If you really can’t be bothered to organise things for yourself, then yes, a Nile Cruise might be the correct choice! The idea behind most cruises is comfort and ease. They are perfectly designed so that you really do not have to think about anything, and can just relax and enjoy the ride.

It’s an iconic way to see Egypt

Undoubtedly, being on the Nile is iconic. The cruise itself is so synonymous with ‘THE Egypt’ trip that many travellers actually assume there is no other way to get between Luxor and Aswan! Of course this is not the case, and there are plenty of ways to do this, including the train, car and other types of boat. That being said, a Nile Cruise is certainly the method everyone thinks of. Personally, we found that being anywhere near the Nile in Egypt gave us a real sense of nostalgia. We especially loved taking our felucca trip to Karnak for this reason.

You will never be bored as there is lots going on

Whether you want a day packed with sight-seeing or an evening of fun entertainment, you’ll find it on a Nile Cruise. For those who thrive on really full on itineraries, they are a great way to travel.

Emma is standing in front of Abu Simbel temple. You can see the iconic giant statues of Ramses II.
Abu Simbel Temple

All that aside, there are some very real downsides…

Cons of taking a Nile Cruise:

You will not get any of the temples or tourist attractions to yourself

For us, honestly, this was the main reason we decided not to take a Nile Cruise. With so many people on board and so many other ships approaching each attraction at the same time as you, you will never be alone. This is OK if all you want to do is see the temples quickly. However, if, for example, you want to take any great photos, wander round in peace or just not be fighting to see things, then maybe you should consider if this option suits you. We really wanted at least a few pictures of us without crowds and without the cruise, we were able to get them.

You might find it a little bit gimmicky

Ultimately, the typical Nile Cruises you find in Luxor, Aswan and Cairo are tourist attractions. They are not what you might call an authentic Egyptian experience. If your style of travel is not suited to this, you may find the cruises a bit gimmicky or touristy. For example, the evening entertainment is generally a typical cruise-style entertainment. It’s not for everyone.

It’s normally more expensive

Yes, we said above that it can be better value, however this really only applies if you were planning to see every single temple and attraction. If you’re not, then you will be paying more for the cruise than you would have been otherwise. Typically, the cruises work out between £100+ a day, unless you get an exceptional deal. If you are doing Egypt tour-free, you are unlikely to spend that much day to day.

You will be on a set schedule and can’t really adapt it if you want to do something different

This is important if you are a very independent traveller! Because of the hectic schedule, the Nile Cruises follow a very set format. It’s not up to you to decide if you’d like to stay a little longer in a certain place or leave earlier. If you’re visiting each site independently, then you do have this option. We found, for example, we needed a long time in Karnak Temple and would have wanted to stay longer than a tour would allow. Conversely with Abu Simbel, we were ready to go much quicker than most tours suggest. If visiting independently, you can decide these timings for yourself.

It can be very full on with a lot of people and hard to get away

Like we said, with 50-150 passengers on board, there are plenty of opportunities to be sociable! That’s great, if you’re a solo traveller or an extrovert, but it might not be for everyone. Personally, we didn’t love the idea of never being able to get away from others. It’s worth considering your own travel style and how you deal with large groups before committing.

It’s bad for the environment

Besides the people, this was by far the most important reason for us. Cruise ships emit tonnes of carbon; it can be as much as a flight! From our perspective, this is just not a sustainable means of transport and we couldn’t justify it.

However, if you’re desperate to cruise the Nile, but you don’t want to harm the planet, don’t despair! We have some options for you…

A felucca: traditional sailing boat on the river Nile. It has a red sail.
A felucca on the Nile

Alternative ways to cruise the Nile

  • Try a felucca! A felucca is a traditional, engine-free Egyptian sailing boat. Being engine-free, they are completely dependent on the wind to get from A to B, so mostly felucca tours will only run for a few hours rather than a few days. That aside, they are a great way to get the iconic Nile experience, without needing to book a full cruise. We love this cruise from Viator, which we’ve heard is amazing! We also took this cruise ourselves to Karnak temple and absolutely loved it. You can read our full review here.
  • A dahabiya – OK, so we said earlier that Nile Cruises are iconic. Actually, the truly iconic way to travel the Nile is by dahabiya. A dahabiya is a traditional wooden sailing boat, typically used in the 19th Century, BUT with full en-suite cabins. This is absolute luxury on the Nile.
    Additionally, because they can moor anywhere along the Nile, they can stop in more places than a typical tourist boat too. They vary in size from 3 to 12 cabins, so they’re also extremely intimate! You can book a dahabiya cruise here. It is more expensive than a typical Nile cruise, but sheer luxury, and in our opinion, so much more interesting.

Since neither of these options uses a sail boat, and both visit less well-known temples, they are both a much more sustainable way to travel the Nile.

Train travel between Aswan and Luxor

If you prefer not to travel by boat at all, you can easily travel from Luxor to Aswan (or vice-versa) via train. You can book this at any station in Egypt, including Luxor, Cairo and Aswan.

We are always looking stay up to date with our posts, so if you have visited Egypt recently and notice anything that has changed, please let us know with a comment.

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    Written by Emma

    Emma

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