Beyond the Nile Cruise

Sunday, October 16, 2005

GETTING THERE: A number of carriers fly from Washington to Cairo (with one stop); currently the best prices are on Delta/Alitalia ($747), out of Reagan National with two stops, and United/Lufthansa ($809) from Dulles with one stop, for a flight in late November. Flights on Egyptair from Cairo to Luxor take about an hour and are $236 round trip; from Cairo to Aswan, the 85-minute flight is $326 round trip.

You can also take an overnight train to Luxor (10 hours) or Aswan (13 hours). We paid $55 per person double (plus a flat $30 fee for advance booking through a travel agent, which was money well spent, based on the Cairo train station frenzy) for a one-way sleeper compartment to Aswan, including dinner and breakfast. Abela Egypt (011-20-2-574-9474, ) runs the sleeper trains.

SECURITY: We never felt threatened in Egypt -- quite the contrary. However, in July, terrorists exploded bombs in Sharm El Sheikh on the Sinai penninsula, killing 88; other bombings occurred in and near Taba in October 2004, killing 34. There have been several smaller incidents as well, but none reported in the Luxor area. In August, the U.S. State Department issued an announcement saying, "In light of the terror attacks in Egypt over the past ten months, the U.S. Government continues to strongly urge all Americans resident in or traveling to Egypt to exercise caution. Furthermore, Americans should avoid travel to the Sinai. U.S. citizens should make decisions based on their personal safety and security considerations." The information is still current. For the full text, go to .

NILE CRUISES: When you choose a cruise, your biggest decision will be the length of your journey. There are three-, four- and a few seven-day trips. Passenger counts can vary from fewer than 50 to more than 200. We took a four-night cruise on the Abercrombie & Kent ship Sun Boat IV, booked through an Egypt-based travel agent, Egypt Panorama Tours (011-20-2-359-0200, ), which quoted much lower prices than when I spoke directly to Abercrombie & Kent in the United States. Currently Egypt Panorama is quoting $600 per person for a three-night trip and $800 per person for a four-night trip on the Sun Boat IV. I chose an Abercrombie & Kent cruise because of the company's reputation for high-quality guides, but was disappointed in our boat's English-speaking guide.

For information and pricing on a vast number of cruises, Egypt Panorama's Web site is an excellent place to start (click on "cruises"). Lonely Planet Egypt also rates numerous boats and provides advice on various options.

WHEN TO GO: The tourist season peaks in the winter months, when the weather is coolest. Still, in Luxor, it was warm enough to sunbathe when we visited in February. During summer, the heat skyrockets to triple digits and prices plummet -- and so do crowds.

WHERE TO STAY: We stayed on Luxor's west bank, which is far more rural than the east bank, where most of the tourism infrastructure is located. If you've already docked on the east bank with a cruise, this is still a good base for visiting west bank tombs. Al Moudira hotel (011-20-12-392-8332, ; $95 per person through Egypt Panorama) is a serene complex of gardens, fountains and pavilions, with 54 rooms grouped around courtyards. The decor is different in every room and includes Ottoman antiques and domed ceilings set with stained glass in the bathrooms. On the east bank, the Sofitel Winter Palace (011-20-952-380425, ; doubles from about $175) has been recommended by guidebooks since Victorian days. The highly rated Jolie Ville Moevenpick (011-20-952-374855, ; from $125 double) is a resort-style property on a small island in the Nile.

WHERE TO EAT: Because we were a bit isolated on the west bank, we ate all our Luxor meals at the Al Moudira -- and didn't regret it. Dinner for two was about $32 with wine, featuring choices of fresh fish and beef that mingled Egyptian and international influences; the garden provides home-grown salads, herbs and fruits. Lunch of pizzas, sandwiches and mezes (appetizers) is served around the pool, for about $8 per person.


· In the Luxor area, most Nile cruises will include Luxor temple, Karnak temple, Hatshepsut's temple, the Colossi of Memnon and a few tombs in the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens. You may want to plan additional time, particularly at vast Karnak and the Valley of the Kings.

· You can visit Abydos and Dendera on a full day-trip from Luxor, but you must travel in a security convoy, which regiments the time you can spend, particularly at Abydos. Our driver and guide, booked through Egypt Panorama, cost $150 for two, including all admissions but not tips. It's also possible to visit Dendera by boat.

· The Tombs of the Nobles, Deir el-Medina and Medinat Habu temple are all on the west bank. We saw them on a private half-day tour booked through Egypt Panorama, $80 for two, including admissions. For the first two attractions, tickets must be purchased at a central booth before visiting the sites. Tickets are sold in groups of several tombs.

INFORMATION: Egyptian Tourist Authority , 212-332-2570, . And, although it's a commercial site, Tour Egypt! ( ) contains a great deal of detailed information on ancient Egypt.

-- Gayle Keck

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