Kim (Schott) Steiger
Rochester, Minnesota Travel Agent
Cruising the Nile
Nekhab, was one of Egypt's oldest and most important cities, the capital of the south before the pyramids were built. Nekhab, now El Kab, dropped off the tourist circuit long ago. But the city remains - or, at least, you can still view the great outer wall, temple ruins and some tombs - and its existence highlights a problem in exploring the Nile. Nekhab is 80 miles south of Luxor, on the busiest part of the river. The stretch between Luxor and Aswan is less than 140 miles in length, but is travelled by 300 cruise ships. Add to that the dozens of dahabiyas - multi-cabin sailing boats - and scores of single-sailed feluccas that are also licensed to carry people on this trip of a lifetime, and it is easy to see why choosing the right Nile cruise can be a nightmare. Most cruises also include the same sights between those two places - the temples at Esna, Edfu and Kom Ombo - which makes the ultimate decision a question of style and cost.The smartest boats on the river are run by two rivals. The Oberoi Zahra and Sanctuary Sun Boat III are both plush, exclusive and slickly run. Their chefs serve accomplished international and Egyptian cuisine, the bar staff mix a decent Martini, and there are dip pools on deck. Guests are taken on excursions in small groups, and the Egyptologists know how to make sense of the sights. Less expensive, but with a unique history, is the SS Sudan, a refurbished paddle steamer. These three boats have between 18 and 27 cabins; some of the larger (cheaper) Nile cruisers can carry as many as 140 passengers. If you prefer to travel at a gentler pace, to spend more time on the river and see more sights along the way, you need to board a dahabiya. These boats are operated by Nour el Nil. With their large, canvas-covered top deck, en-suite cabins and downstairs salon, these are the vessels that carried Grand Tourists along the Nile in the 19th century. Even the biggest examples have room for no more than 20 people.Dahabiyas move slowly, usually spend four or five days travelling, and are able to moor in places that the bigger cruisers cannot.