When it comes to Nile River cruises, most people know about the large cruise ships and yachts, but few people know about the dahabiyas, which take their name from the Arabic word for gold: dahab (the earliest of these boats were golden coloured). Dahabiyas are typical Egyptian two-masted sailing boats that lollygag up and down the Nile River. They were very popular at the beginning of the 20th century among celebrities, royals, Egyptologists and artists. Decorated in a typical Victorian style they offered luxury, privacy, and a majestic way to discover the longest river in the world.
Today the boats are more advanced but the experience has changed very little. Thanks to their shallow draughts, dahabiyas can dock at sites that are inaccessible to larger ships. Of course, our dahabiya took us to the most famous and popular stops on the Nile River between Aswan and Luxor, but we were also able to discover seldom-visited sites such as the Gebel Silsilla quarry or the ancient city of Nekhbet and its troglodyte tombs.
The other huge advantage of travel by dahabiya is access to the smaller islands in the River Nile. Often during its journey, the dahabiya will stop to collect supplies of food, either from riverside markets or directly from local farmers and gardeners.
Serene nights and silent sailing just as it was almost 100 years ago.
The Dahabiya Rois
We travelled onboard the Rois Dahabiya owned and managed by Les Voyages de Pharaons, a French travel agency run by a French-Egyptian businessman. With only eight cabins and 16 passengers at the most, we had the 23 crew members practically to ourselves. Needless to say, service was more than adequate and excellent. We had the rare privilege to have an outstanding guide during the whole cruise. Sherrif is an educated Egyptian who studied Egyptology for several years. He was able to explain and read the hieroglyphics engraved on the temples’ walls or painted on the tombs’ walls bringing back to life ancient history.
He also showed us how to interpret the different ways gods and pharaohs were symbolised. Thanks to his knowledge and willingness to share it, Philae, Kalabsha, Kom Ombo, Edfu, Karnak, Hatshepsut and Luxor temples as well as the Valley of the Kings mean so much more to us. He offered us a real insider’s point of view and we felt a lot less ignorant after this seven-day cruise. If you are interested in Egyptian history be sure to book a dahabiya cruise with a good guide.
Like all guests, we enjoyed a generously-sized cabin of 21 square metres, with plenty of room to store our belongings. Our stateroom also had a large window from which we enjoyed the passing Nile River landscapes.
Outside on the ship deck
The upper deck definitely is the place to be to enjoy the peaceful and unique scenery of the Nile banks. With its welcoming deck chairs, oriental corner and Jacuzzi it’s a relaxing place to enjoy afternoon tea. There was an inside and an outside restaurant and all guests enjoyed a full board cruise. Both the chef and the pastry chef clearly love their work and presented us with beautiful and delicious meals and desserts. We had the opportunity to add extra excursions (at extra cost) to our cruise down the Nile River, and we chose a visit to the stunning Abu Simbel and floating over Luxor and its ancient temples in a hot air balloon. Both required us to wake up very early, which was tough. But back ‘home’ on the dehabiya in the evening, we were than happy to have had the chance to go.
Most of the time the wind is not strong enough to allow dahabiyas to travel the Nile without the help of a tugboat. Actually all the dahabiyas we saw on the Nile have one in order to respect the cruise schedules. Be aware that these tugboats either push or pull the dahabiya, and are attached. It may not seem important at first but do opt for the “push” version since the “pull” one has the disadvantage to expose the dahabiya to its exhaust gas!
Dessert at the restaurant
BeSeeingYou In: The Nile River
Good to Know: Winter months are the best time to visit Egypt with seemingly everlasting sunshine and mild temperatures.
WOW! Factor: The Nile is the longest river on earth, flowing 6,650 kilometres from the African Great Lakes through the Sahara desert and into the Mediterranean Sea
Tip: A good sun hat, great walking shoes, sunglasses and sunscreen are a must
Author bio: By Annick Dournes & Frederic de Poligny