Sail the Nile in Egypt

Our beautiful Dahabiya boat at sunset

Sail the Nile – the best way!

I had always wanted to sail down the Nile. I got the chance to do just that on a beautiful hand built Dahabiya boat in the  spring with Djed Egypt Travel and their Nile Dahabiya Boats,.  These elegant boats are built by local craftsmen in Esna following the design of the original 19th Century vessels. They have luxurious cabins (with air con) which feature antique furniture, en suite bathrooms and colourful tiles.

The boats only take between 10 and 12 people and so feel very personal and friendly. It’s lovely to chat with the other passengers on the beautiful open air deck. You can’t resist watching the moving picture that is the banks of the Nile, glide timelessly by. It is a biblical scene that has not changed for thousands of years. Palm trees, villages, boys on donkeys, water buffalo, and always the glittering, green, life giving river. It really is quite a spectacle.

Buffalo stance

Sail the Nile from Esna to Luxor.

Dahabiya means ‘the golden one’ in Arabic. We were sailing on a boat called the Orient, a beautiful vessel. The boats have two lateen sails, and when there’s enough wind they are hoisted and quite majestic to see. When there’s not enough wind, progress is not halted as a little tug takes over.
We picked the boat up at Esna and sailed up the Nile. You can also sail the other way, down the Nile to Aswan, where the famous dam is built.

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Aye aye Captain!

The crew were delightful and very helpful. Our captain Mr Nubu was said to be the oldest man on the Nile at 78 and still sailing. Apparently he never stops joking with the crew and they certainly seemed like a happy band.  The chef Mohammed Bashek magically rustled up three delicious meals a day in his tiny kitchen on board. There was even an additional offer of tea and home made cakes at 4pm on deck. A delightful afternoon interlude, I can recommend Egyptian swiss roll.

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4pm is tea time!

Mohamed was also the lead drummer and singer when we had an impromptu party on deck later that evening, with dancing and singing under the stars. A lovely memory.

The food is quite delicious all local and all fresh – lots of salad, grains, herbs and fresh baked bread. We had fish (Tilapia) netted from the Nile that morning and a delicious beef stew at one meal..They even do a perfectly acceptable rose wine, which made me even happier!

Deck dining

Sail the Nile and see the sites

The Dahabiya can moor in places where the large cruise ships can’t go, so we got to stop and see lots of interesting local sites along the route.
We called in at the ancient ruins of Al Kap and saw the tombs of the nobles. The decoration on these tombs was much more about the everyday lives of people, than the religious formality of the Valley of the Kings and we learned about their live stock and farming practices.

Ancient Egyptians had parties where they drank wine and sniffed Lotus flowers. They caught ducks in nets and we learnt their numbers system.  They respected women, as many ancient religions did, which seems  very progressive. On the other hand, they hadn’t yet invented the wheel and had no horses, so everything was dragged along on sledges.
The next day we rode a caleche , which is a small horse drawn carriage. to the impressive temple of Edfu. We were the only people there until a Chinese tour group turned up.

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All you can eat buffet Egyptian style

We walked through local villages followed by gangs of curious local children. We visited the quarry where huge blocks of sandstone were hewn to be sent along the Nile  to construct the great temples of Egypt. These giant blocks were cut from the rock bed with only primitive tools and drills in an incredible feat of precision and strength. Tombs set into the rock overlooking the river were nearby.

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A tomb with a view

Sail the Nile – now crocodile free!

The Nile used to be full of very large aggressive crocodiles. Indeed the ancient Egyptians revered the power of this fearsome reptile, and created Sobek the crocodile God in their honour. At the temple of Kon Ombo (City of Gold)  there is a a fine display of mummified crocodiles. One  lucky specimen was chosen to be a God from time to time and preserved upon its demise.

Today, the Aswan dam has contained these scaly predators in one area, and so it was safe for us to swim in the river as long as we kept out of the strong currents.Swimming in the cold, clear refreshing waters of the Nile is something I will always remember.

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Sobek – he snapped easily

Call in to the camel market

One of my favourite excursions was to the camel market at Daraw. We went on a Tuesday when the market sells all kinds of animals. In addition to camels, you can purchase sheep, goats, cows, bulls, and poultry. Where else can you observe the donkey barber giving his animal a bit of a crazy hair cut to show off its best features?

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Curious camels

It’s a dusty noisy experience but full of life and commerce, as markets always are. The animals have to put up with quite a lot of rough treatment at this market so it’s not for the squeamish. It is a fascinating insight into a way of life which will not have changed for many, many years.

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A boy and his donkey


The best way to sail the Nile on a Dahabiya boat.

I was entirely charmed by my trip with Nile Dahabiya boats and would love to return at some point. I can’t imagine anyone who wouldn’t enjoy it and I slept on the boat really well.  Appreciate the exquisite timelessness and peace of the stunning biblical scenery gliding by.

In addition, I now have a passable knowledge of hieroglyphics and  a great respect for the ancient Egyptians who lived there three thousand years ago. I also have a renewed affection for the people who live there today.
Contact Djed Egypt Travel for more information about the Dahabiya boats or other tailor made Egypt itineraries. Check out my trip to Cairo to see the pyramids for the first time.

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It may be an ancient temple to you, but to me it’s home!