Life On And Along the Nile River- Upper Egypt

Days 46 -50; Sept 3-7, 2022

For this post I decided to take a break from talking about temples, tombs, pharaohs and queens. Instead I’ll share scenery of life on the river, along the river and on board the ship as we cruised upper Egypt for five days. We did make stops at Qena, Esna, Edfu, Kom Ombo and Aswan to visit ancient temples, but those visits will be posted separately. For now I’ll focus on Viking’s MS Antares and the Nile River.

Viking MS Antares

We were originally booked on the Viking Osiris, then the Viking Aton, but those trips were both cancelled due to the pandemic and the ships not being ready to sail at that time, or being fully booked on the dates we wanted. Because of that we were given a stateroom upgrade on the MS Antares, ending up with the Explorer Suite #300 which spans the entire front of the ship and is very spacious at 829 sq. ft.

MS Antares is unlike other Viking ships, for it is not of Scandinavian design which we are used to. It’s not modern, but rather a classic ship with dark wood panelling and spacious understated elegance. It has a Wellness Room with exercise equipment, a spa with massage services, steam room and sauna. With 75 crew members and a 62-guest capacity, MS Antares has a more traditional feel.

Being in the Explorer Suite meant we had complimentary laundry, which was essential because of the outdoor heat and humidity – we went home drenched and sticky after every tour. There was also an additional guest bathroom – nice!

We’re sometimes asked whether we prefer Viking’s ocean ships or these river vessels. We slightly prefer the ocean ships for their facilities and over-the-top cuisine, but we also like the intimate atmosphere and super-smooth sailing that the river ships provide. River cruising is very laid back and provides interesting views on both sides of the ship at all times – not endless ocean. The port stops are easy and convenient, and if you don’t like the occasional “wave action” on an ocean ship it’s a great alternative. Just our opinion!

A sampling of what we ate

A feature on the menu is a section called “always available”, meaning if the regional offerings aren’t to your liking then you have the option of ordering familiar food – steak, burger, salmon, etc. We wanted to be adventurous and always ordered the Middle Eastern/Egyptian cuisine. There were nights when our tummies grumbled a bit, but overall we enjoyed the delicious yet different tastes of the Middle Eastern culinary delights.

I’ve forgotten the names of these tasty foods, perhaps our awesome readers (like Isaac?) can comment and enlighten us on some of them 😋

Cruising the Nile River

One of the great lectures that Mohamed gave as we cruised along talked about the Nile River. We learned many facts and also about interesting events that we’d never heard before. We always think of Egypt when we hear Nile River, but did you know the river actually runs through 11 countries? There are two tributaries that meet to form the Nile – the White Nile, which starts in South Sudan, and the Blue Nile which begins in Ethiopia.

The Nile is the longest river in the world, stretching approximately 4,000 miles

There would be virtually no people living in Egypt without the river, and 95% of the population lives along its banks. There are also a lot of political issues involving countries upriver that want to build dams of their own, possibly restricting water here. Contracts and talks are underway between several countries, but Egypt will actually go to war if necessary because those dams could restrict water here enough to do severe damage to the country.

Since the Nile flows from east Africa’s highlands down to the Mediterranean Sea, southern Egypt became known as Upper Egypt (Qena, Esna, Edfu, Kom Ombo and Aswan). Northern Egypt became known as Lower Egypt, which is where Cairo is located. A bit confusing!

Every aspect of life in Egypt depends on the river. The Nile provides food and resources, farmable land for agriculture, and a critical transportation highway for materials to be used in building projects and other large-scale endeavors. It’s a critical lifeline that literally brings life to the desert.

The natural environment of Egypt and the Nile River impacted every aspect of life in ancient Egypt. The river’s floodplain, water, and silt provided the foundation for civilization and served as a source of inspiration for the people who inhabited northeastern Africa during this pivotal period in history.

Life spills out along the banks – from fisherman, to children playing, to cities small and large that we cruised by:

City of Esna
The ruins of ancient temples could be seen along both sides of the river

Below is the quarry site for many of the sandstone blocks used to build most of the temples in Egypt, like the ones we had just visited – Karnak and Luxor. The workers would slide blocks down sand ramps to the river level, where boats awaited to carry the giant stones to the building sites:

Sandstone block quarry site

We spent many hours at the balcony in our suite and on the upper deck, mesmerized by the wide expanse of desert interspersed with slices of green. It’s through this cruise that we experienced and felt the energy of the Nile:

Our captain knew the river so well that he didn’t even use the navigation instruments on the ship – even at night!
The Esna Lock, the only lock on the Nile River links Esna to Aswan
Want to purchase a rug? These guys would roll it up and throw it onto the ship, and if someone wanted to buy it they would toss the money back in a container!

Steve joined the excursion touring the Aswan Dam, while I flew to Abu Simbel Temple (story in my next post). His tour started with a 40-minute bus ride to the dam.  Just short of it is the previous Aswan Low Dam, which was British-built and completed in 1902.  Its crest was raised twice, in 1912 and 1933, but by the mid-1900’s it was clear that something much larger was required:

The current high dam was completed in 1970 and is the largest “embankment” dam in the world,
meaning it was constructed of rock.

Without getting into too much detail, this is a huge dam.  The rock at the base is about 3/4 mile wide, tapering to just 130’ at the top.  Its 12 turbines generate about the same amount of power as Hoover Dam, and the water capacity behind it is among the largest in the world.  There are no tours offered for inside the hydroelectric plant, but it certainly was an imposing power station with tight security.

Nile River looking north, taken from the high dam

Another of our excursions involved sailing the river on a felucca.  These are wooden boats with either one or two sails (ours had two), used for moving people and/or cargo on rivers, and typically piloted by 2-3 sailors.  Although it was 104º during our trip, we were shaded and had a nice breeze to cool us.  I’ve always been amazed that sailboats can sail into the wind, and this was a good demonstration of how it’s done as we zig-zagged back and forth across the river to our waiting ship.  It was a fun and relaxing way to enjoy and experience the Nile from a different perspective.

Sunsets on the Nile are just as gorgeous as the river itself:

A lighted temple along the river

I believe that a trip to Egypt should include sailing or cruising the Nile, for it will take you to another world on the banks full of attractions, picturesque landscape, temples both past and present and feel the energy of the “river of life” as the locals would say.

Next up: Templed out AND wowed out!


  1. Wowzers, that suite was enormous and so sumptuous! I do believe it’s bigger than a certain future tiny home of a couple we know 😀 Why is it the pool is seldom used onboard? I would’ve been in it daily! The food, as always, looks amazing. Did they talk about any of the wildlife that lives in the river, or did you spot any? The sunset was pretty, but I don’t think it holds a candle to your Arizona skies!

  2. Thank you so much for this post about the river — usually people just talk about the temples and monuments. Glad you got to enjoy the upgraded cabin!!

  3. Very interesting! We just got off our first ocean cruise; your suite was ~4 times larger….The food pics reminded me of the wonderful meals we had on our ship, and how spoiled we were. Thanks for your pics and info about the Nile. Very good!

  4. Wow – 830 square feet? You all got HOOKED UP! That’s awesome! And the food looked delicious too.

    You’ve definitely sold me on wanting to do one of these cruises, and there are certainly positives and negatives of either choice – river or ocean. Hopefully we’ll be able to find out some day!

    In the meantime, thank you for taking us along on these trips. I appreciate that you showcase both the destinations and the manner in which you travel. Such a great resource for travelers!

  5. I love this post!! I always enjoy your travel adventures, but I love your “behind the scenes” posts about your daily lives aboard ship. I think that ship is gorgeous! I cannot believe your suite was over 800 square feet. Our tiny house is only going to be 500 square feet LOL LOL. We must be crazy.

    And the food!! We would definitely choose the local specialties, too. Everything looks so delicious! Now I’m hungry.

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