Nour el Nil Itinerary

Nour el Nil Itinerary: Day by Day Nile Cruising

Let’s put this in perspective: you can drive from Luxor to Aswan in about three and a half hours if you were just zooming from Point A to Point B. Faster paced river cruises zip down the Nile in a couple of days, often with a stop at Edfu for an added dose of history. The Nour el Nil itinerary breaks it down into a slow-paced experience covering the 150-mile journey over the course of five days. As you can imagine, the focus is on immersing yourself; immersing yourself into the culture and the beauty of Egyptian life, and also immersing yourself in a digital detox, encouraging you to unwind in a major way and connect with newfound friends on board. Below, I’m recapping our day-to-day aboard Nour el Nil, with some highlights for each day and a quickie video recap of each as well. It’s a lot but I hope it’s valuable for those considering embarking on this cruise or something similar. We found that information was a bit limited when we were trying to learn more about the Nour el Nil itinerary. Their website, while beautiful, didn’t really get into the nitty-gritty of what we could plan on for each day, and didn’t have much information in terms of what to wear, options, or what timing looked like throughout the day. I’m sharing a bit more here based on our personal experience on board the Meroe in September 2018.

Nour el Nil ItineraryEsna, Egypt: Nour el Nil, Nile River Cruise

The town of Esna is best known for the small ancient Temple of Khnum/Temple of Esna, which is where we began our journey on the first day. Nour el Nil actually leaves from Esna (not Luxor) so you’ll have the opportunity to explore town before hopping aboard. Our pick-up from the Winter Palace in Luxor was around 9AM, landing us in Esna sometime after 10AM.

We collectively chose to walk through the market in Esna leading up to the main temple, which gave us a glimpse into life beyond the typical trifecta of Cairo + Luxor + Aswan that many visitors see. Esna is still a larger town when compared with some of the villages that we’d visit during our cruise, but still retains a more authentic feel with market stalls selling everything from scarves to household goods and fruit. Keep in mind that if your cash is lacking, Luxor is the best bet to get some cash before your cruise begins. Esna will be the final stop where there will be options for cash machines. Thereafter you’ll be visiting smaller villages where ATMs won’t be accessible.

Esna, Egypt: Nour el Nil, Nile River Cruise

After a walk through town, we came to the Temple of Esna. We had seen the temples at Luxor and visited The Valley of the Kings so I went in with tempered expectations after seeing some sites that had already astounded us. For me, Esna was an incredible beginning to our exploration aboard Nour el Nil. To start with, we were the only people there, and with the temple situated in the middle of town, it felt like we were stumbling upon this gem that was hidden in plain sight.

Esna, Egypt: Nour el Nil, Nile River CruiseEsna, Egypt: Nour el Nil, Nile River Cruise

The temple took around 400 years to complete, and since its original build had been occupied by others who used the space as a safe haven. The Temple of Esna is an interesting site because you’ll get to see the restoration process in place. The ceilings are sooty from fires that blazed inside in centuries past. Restoration requires funding though, and funding is limited so you’ll see stretches of extra vibrant color next to black, sooty facades that have yet to be restored.

Esna, Egypt: Nour el Nil, Nile River CruiseEsna, Egypt: Nour el Nil, Nile River Cruise

After a couple of hours of walking through town and touring the temple with our English-speaking guide, Adele, we were off to board Nour el Nil for our collective first brush with the boat that we’d call home for the next five days. You can read more on our Nour el Nil experience but suffice it to say that we found it a great choice for an intimate cruise and a slow-paced adventure on the Nile. Upon boarding, we had a few moments to take in the scene with a glass of fresh lemon juice: the perfectly appointed deck, the vibrant white and red sail, and meeting the staff who would be our friends for the remainder of our time on board.

We took the time to settle into our rooms before lunch was served. Our first lunch set the stage for the food to follow. I shared this in my previous Nour el Nil post but it’s worth mentioning over and over: food on board is exceptional. It was the best food we had during our entire time in Egypt and it continued to wow us night after night. There’s plenty of food to go around – no one ever went hungry! – and the ample leftovers went to staff to enjoy.

We greeted the early evening hours (around 4:30 or 5PM) on our first day by pulling into a small village where we docked for the night. As soon as we exited the boat, a group of children from the village ran to us to greet us and walked alongside our guide as we explored town and got a glimpse of agricultural life. Beyond tourism, agriculture is the most important economic driver, with a large number of Egyptian’s employed in ag and living off of the Nile (it’s truly a source of life for many). For me, this is where those particularly special moments existed; times of just feeling the air and the pace of life in small Egyptian towns.

Children from the village, Day 1 on Nour el Nil

Nour el Nil Itinerary: Nile River Cruise Day 1

As always, each night culminated with an incredible family style dinner marked by the ringing of the bell to let us know that dinner was served, typically around 7:30PM. The menu each night varied and the chefs on board do a great job of celebrating local inputs and elevating them with soups, small plates, hearty mains and post-dinner sweets. After dinner, guests who wanted to stay up had the option of reading, chatting or playing board games (there’s a selection available on board).

?? HIGHLIGHTS: Our village walk was an incredible real world moment for us, but we also had the added joy of experiencing the first-day wonder of being on the boat. Nour el Nil’s Meroe is a stunning boat with a perfectly decorated deck space and well-appointed rooms that are surprisingly comfortable and spacious considering the vessel’s size.

Nour el Nil Itinerary

Nour el Nil Itinerary: Nile River Cruise Day 2

We began our second day at El Kab, a small site of four burial tombs that are the resting place of nobles. During our three days in Luxor we didn’t have a chance to visit the Valley of the Nobles (just the Valley of the Kings, which is a must) so our experiences in tombs were almost exclusively in royal tombs, which are far larger, more detailed and more focused on the afterlife than many noble tombs. El Kab is a relatively small site that requires a bit of a walk up to the tomb entrances carved into the mountain’s facade. The site is small both literally and figuratively when we talk about historic importance across Ancient Egyptian sites so you’ll likely be the only people here. Inside the tombs provide interesting insight and history but it gets steamy inside by mid-morning so an early start is rewarded with slightly cooler temps.

Nour el Nil Itinerary: Nile River Cruise Day 2Nour el Nil Itinerary: Nile River Cruise Day 2

Our walk through El Kab and back to the boat had us off the boat for about an hour and a half before we re-boarded for a few hours with a bit of downtime, plus time for lunch (always an anchor in our day).

By mid-afternoon, we reached our main stop in Edfu, one of Egypt’s more spectacular temple complexes. Of all of the sites we visited on Nour el Nil, the Temple of Edfu was the most stunning, and it’s often the one temple that’s visited on larger scale cruises that zip down the Nile in a shorter timeframe.

Nour el Nil Itinerary: EdfuNour el Nil Itinerary: Edfu

Firstly, the scope of the site is impressive and the quality of the ruins are pretty amazing to see. So much is still intact and as with many sites we visited, the scenes and hieroglyphics are still in practically new condition in places. To get to Edfu, we disembarked the boat and were assigned to a kalesh driver (horse and carriage) who took us to the entry point of the temple. You’ll need cash to tip the drivers and the team will remind you before you disembark about bringing some bills for that purpose.

Nour el Nil Itinerary: EdfuNour el Nil Itinerary: Day 3Nour el Nil Itinerary: Edfu

With Nour el Nil, you’re provided a guide for the duration of your trip. With the 12 of us on board, 10 were English speakers with an English-speaking guide, and two were native French speakers who had their own private guide to join on their tour. The guides generally did a nice job of parceling out time: they’ll provide you an informative primer and tour the site with you, but also provide some time at the end for individual exploration and photography. When you exit the Temple at Edfu, you’ll walk past a small to mid-sized outdoor market, with a number of stalls where you can purchase a range of souvenirs, scarves, clothing, etc. As with all of our market experiences in Egypt, it can be slightly harassing with the shopkeepers’ persistence, but there are some decent shopping opportunities if you feel inclined to take home a few souvenirs. Make sure you have cash set aside for this, and consider putting different bills in different pockets so you can easily slip out what’s needed without having to finger through a wad of Egyptian bills.

Worth noting: we visited Edfu in the later part of the afternoon when the sun was still fairly high and the heat was intense. As you’d expect in Egypt, you’ll want to dress fairly conservatively when you’re out and about, and will need to balance that with wearing fabrics that won’t make you overheat. We saw women in shorts, but for ladies, I’d really suggest breezy maxis out of respect or lightweight linen pants. I wore a sleeveless maxi that I topped with a tied-up white button-down for extra coverage on my shoulders. If you’re ever unsure about what to wear, ask the team on board. Eleanor, one of the owners/founders of Nour el Nil, was our hostess and cruised with us for the entire time. She was great about giving guidance on what was appropriate if I was ever unsure. Keep in mind, much of that information isn’t shared voluntarily on board so you may need to ask if you’re uncertain.

Nour el Nil Itinerary: Day 3

After our return from Edfu in the late afternoon, we headed to a marshy area where we docked for the night and enjoyed a vibrant sunset over the Nile. Between returning from our trip and sitting down for dinner, we had downtime to hang on deck with an afternoon nibble. On board, the team would generally provide a mid-afternoon snack, usually a sweet treat with your choice of tea or Egyptian coffee.

?? Highlights: The Temple of Edfu. The temple was one of my Nour el Nil highlights in general. It’s an amazing and expansive temple that’s incredibly well-preserved.

Nour el Nil ItineraryNour el Nil Itinerary: Day 3

We spent our third day docked, with options for village walks and Nile River swims during the day. Breakfast is generally served quite early but your third day doesn’t bring any structured activities so if you need a morning to rest a bit longer, this is the day to do it. They never really told us that beforehand but we found that people emerged when they were ready, though we all seemed to be fairly early risers. The day is really at your leisure for the bulk of the morning. Nour el Nil is a relaxing experience, but if you’re an on-the-go traveler the idea of being confined to a tiny boat for an entire day can feel a little claustrophobic. We took the opportunity to head out after breakfast on a walk with a member of our crew. The Nile River Valley is fertile, and the land on the river is incredibly lush, overflowing with fruits and trees in a marshy setting. The marshy land near the river is a major contrast to much of the desert that you see in Egypt. Looking through the majority of my photos from our trip, I couldn’t help but laugh at the fact that they all wore the same color palette (no filter needed): a slew of sepia, sand-hued images. A cruise on the Nile brings a sharp contrast to that and getting out in nature is a reminder of why the Nile is so critically important to Egyptian life. Plus, I needed to get some steps in for the day since we were eating like kings and getting a barre workout in on board was going to be a challenge.

Walks like this aren’t done with the Nour el Nil Egyptologists, but rather with a member of the crew who will escort you on strolls. Scott and I went alone with our guide but others banded together later in the morning to go on a group outing as well. The entire team was flexible and super helpful with making this happen. The head crew member, Ashraf, has been with Nour el Nil since it’s inception (or at least close) and his English is perfect, which made him a great point person for our day-to-day questions, but all other members were equally accommodating and the majority had great English skills as well (even the ones who considered their English poor spoke it very well).

During the day, guests had the option of taking a dip in the Nile if they were so inclined. There were a couple of takers in the group but the majority of us opted out of it. Everyone assured us that the water is safe for swimming in terms of cleanliness but swimming in the Nile is probably just as crazy as us swimming in the Amazon (that is to say, moderately crazy) if you’re worried about water-born diseases. The current can also be quite strong in areas so you’ll want to be a decent swimmer if you take a dip — we saw swimmers get pulled upstream pretty quickly after jumping in!

Nour el Nil Itinerary

In the evening, we went on a hike through the desert at sunset, which really is just as special as it sounds. We started by walking through a village community, which brought scenes not unlike what we’ve seen in similar sized villages around the world: families together, kids running around and keenly interested in the visitors passing through.

Nour el Nil Itinerary: Nile River Cruise Day 3Nour el Nil Itinerary: Nile River Cruise Day 3

We spent about an hour, maybe more, in the evening walking through the dunes as the sun set over the desert. We walked by schools and some infrastructure towards the end, but most of the walk was just simply taking in the colors and landscape while we meandered through. None of the excursions are mandatory but it was rare that anyone missed out on our outings. Everyone in our group was physically fit and able-bodied so we had no concerns there, but if you have any mobility or joint issues then this outing could be a bit tough with the longer walk.

Nour el Nil Itinerary: Nile River Cruise Day 3
Our guide, Sawi, in the desert at sunset

Nour el Nil Itinerary: Nile River Cruise Day 3Nour el Nil Itinerary: Nile River Cruise Day 3

Check out this quick video from Days 2 + 3 on our Nour el Nil itinerary:

?? Highlights: Our sunset walk was a pretty incredible end to the day. In general, it was a very slow-paced day and while I would have enjoyed having a bit of sightseeing thrown in, Nour el Nil did a nice job of making sure the day included a bit of activity so we could see a bit of new scenery and stretch our legs a bit.

Nour el Nil ItineraryNour el Nil Itinerary: Gebel Silsileh

Prior to our trip to Egypt, Scott and I devoured as much media as possible on Egypt, from Wilbur Smith’s River God series to documentaries on NatGeo and PBS. It was a PBS documentary that took us to Gebel Silsileh, a place we didn’t realize our cruise would take us until after we’d seen the video {you can see more on the documentary here}. So, here’s the crux of the documentary in a few sentences: a couple of Egyptologists are focusing on Gebel Silsileh as the quarry where they believe much of the stone was harvested for creating many of Ancient Egypt’s most famous sites including Karnak Temple. The documentary continues on to discuss protecting Egypt’s treasures in light of their economic situation, where black market opportunities appeal to Egyptians battling a weak economy. In normal circumstances it may not be a top of mind documentary that I’d suggest but if you’re boarding this cruise and get to stop at Gebel Silsileh as part of your Nour el Nil itinerary then take the 30 minutes to watch and give yourself a primer.

We spent around an hour walking the grounds and learning the history of the quarry, and a bit about the life of Ancient Egyptians involved in working on the temples (where they likely lived, how they were paid, etc.).

Nour el Nil Itinerary: Gebel Silsileh

We returned for a bit of mid-morning lounging and lunch before gearing up for our mid-day outing. The afternoon’s walk took us through thick patches of date palms, where local families were corralling the fruit into piles as we walked by. Most days, I opted for linen pants or long maxi dresses, but our guide assured us that shorts were okay for this walk. Considering the sizzling temps, I was grateful to be able to wear something a bit cooler for the day.

Nour el Nil ItineraryNour el Nil Itinerary

Our walk was upwards of an hour and culminated at a café where local men were gathered around playing dominos (some of our guys joined in the fun!) and others sat around drinking mint tea. The boat met us at our ending point, docking just across the way for an easy walk back on board. In terms of footwear for village walks, I brought tennis shoes and didn’t wear them once. I wore my sandals (you can buy the same pair here) everywhere in Egypt and while they got horrifyingly dirty by the end, they were perfect for the environment.

We finished our day as we did each day prior, with a fabulous dinner followed up surprise music from the staff and a bit of dancing before we closed out the night. Keep on eye on the chef – the man’s got moves!

?? Highlights: I was glad we watched the documentary on Gebel Silsileh beforehand otherwise the stop might have been a bit less interesting. Having a bit more insight before our stop gave us a better understanding of the site’s importance. Our village walk was a fun addition because it gave us an opportunity to sit at a café and get a little glimpse into local life, which is not unlike what we see in the Caribbean: men hanging out together, playing dominos, and subbing mint tea for the rum that we’d find at home in Anguilla.

Nour el Nil Itinerary

Nour el Nil Itinerary: Kom Ombo Temple

Last, but certainly not least, the fifth day of our Nour el Nil itinerary brought us to Kom Ombo. We began our morning as always with breakfast between 7:00 and 8:00AM. Our mornings generally started fairly early due to A.M. activities, but if I have one suggestion it’s this simple thought: one morning on the cruise take the initiative to wake up early and try to be on the deck before every else is up. There’s something magically peaceful about the early Egyptian hours when the sun has just risen and it’s just you, a book, and a French press brewing your morning cup of coffee. I had that experience on our final morning, and if there’s a feeling and sensation of peace, that’s it.

Nour el Nil Itinerary: Kom Ombo TempleNour el Nil Itinerary: Kom Ombo Temple

We reached Kom Ombo by mid-morning where we visited the temple and the crocodile museum. The Temple of Kom Ombo is dedicated to Sobek, the crocodile god, which is where the crocodile connection comes in to play. Crocodiles were often mummified, and in certain areas (we saw this in Esna, for example) the mummified crocodiles were hung over the doorway. Some families in Egypt still have live crocodiles in homes as part of ancient tradition (one of our crew members showed us a video of a family with a caged crocodile in their house).

Nour el Nil Itinerary: Kom Ombo Temple
A wall depicting medical tools from Ancient Egypt

Nour el Nil Itinerary: Kom Ombo Temple

Now, back to Kom Ombo, which was a total highlight for us. Beyond the Temple of Edfu, Kom Ombo was my favorite day on the cruise. The temple itself is amazing, but some of the hieroglyphics share so much insight into the ancient culture that it’s honestly unbelievable to think about how much they had figured out, even then. One of the walls depicted a calendar from Ancient Egypt sorted into seasons (based on agriculture), weeks and months (3 weeks of 10 days each per month).

Another wall highlighted medicine, with tools commonly used at the time (not unlike what we still use). There’s even some insight into childbirth, and ways that they were able to perform pregnancy tests and have a fairly good gauge on whether the woman was expected a boy or girl. I mean, we still aren’t 100% confident in the accuracy of at-home pregnancy tests NOW but to think that they had a fair understanding of this just blows my mind… pretty amazing, right?

Nour el Nil Itinerary: Kom Ombo Temple
Ancient Egyptian calendar at Kom Ombo

Nour el Nil Itinerary: Kom Ombo Temple

We followed that up with a visit to the crocodile museum on site which is small but interesting. After boarding Nour el Nil once again, we headed to Aswan where we’d reach the dock by around 5PM and settle in for our final night.

While there was nothing on the itinerary for our night in Aswan our group petitioned to head to Philae Temple for their nighttime Sound & Light Show which would give us a glimpse of Aswan by night. The team at Nour el Nil was kind enough to organize the evening, arranging a transfer van for us, and a team member escorted us down to the dock where boats depart for the tiny island in the middle of the Nile. Had we not done this, we would have had another night on board with no excursions planned, so I was really grateful to be part of a group that wanted to get out and maximize our days. Our brief night in Aswan ended up being a great experience all around, and the additional cost was well worth it for the added experience. We spent a few hours in Aswan (upwards of an hour to get to the dock to reach Philae Temple, about 90 minutes on the island for the Sound and Light Show, and upwards of an hour walking through the market in Aswan before heading back). We re-boarded the boat around 9PM for dinner before saying goodbye to everyone on board for our final sleep.

?? HIGHLIGHTS: The entire day was a highlight for me! I found Kom Ombo fascinating, but also really enjoyed our impromptu adventure in Aswan.

Nour el Nil Itinerary

Nour el Nil Itinerary

Day 6 was our grand finale, and we woke up in Aswan, where we had docked the night prior. We had a 6AM pickup to head to Abu Simbel and thought we’d be jetting out before everyone else that morning. That wasn’t the case though… most people had relatively early departures, with one of our friends aboard leaving at 2:30AM to catch an early flight. The staff on board was fabulous, waking up early to see us off and ready to send us off with breakfast if we wanted. With coordinating pick-ups from Aswan, a driver may need to speak with a crew member to coordinate logistics, which they did with no issues. Saying goodbye to the crew was truly the hardest part of the experience!

So, highlights overall as far as our Nour el Nil itinerary was concerned? In all, Day 5 as a whole was a highlight for me. I found Kom Ombo incredibly interesting to visit, and also really loved having our time exploring Aswan as our grand finale. While the Temple of Edfu was one of my greatest trip highlights from Nour el Nil, Day 5 as a whole was my favorite day as far as our itinerary was concerned. If you’re on this cruise, do realize that you’ll spend the majority of your day on board so plan on bringing reading material for your downtime. As far as language goes, we were surprised by how widely spoken English was in Egypt. Our staff aboard Nour el Nil spoke English very well, and while you’ll have opportunities to practice Arabic if you’re so inclined, you shouldn’t be concerned if you don’t speak any Arabic. It wasn’t an issue for us anywhere in Egypt, and even in the small villages our crew did a great job of helping us understand the dynamics and translating if we had any questions.

What do you guys think? Is Nour el Nil for you?

Shannon Kircher, The Wanderlust Effect

More about Shannon Kircher

Shannon Kircher is the founder and editor of The Wanderlust Effect. Founded in 2009, she has continued to document her international escapes as an expat in Europe and the Caribbean. Additionally, Shannon is the founder of Compass & Vine, a luxury boutique travel design firm, and is the Director of Marketing for the Frangipani Beach Resort. Shannon holds an MSc in Social Policy and Development from the London School of Economics and is a current candidate for WSET Level 3 in Wines & Spirits.