The mighty River Nile is the main artery of Egypt and irrigates land that would otherwise be inhospitable desert. The river has been the source of life and prosperity for the country for millennia, bringing fertility to the soil and creating a valley where communities have thrived and built cities from the earliest times. The Nile waterway is also the backbone of Egypt's transport system and a key resource for commercial and recreational shipping. The fertile Nile Valley is the cradle of civilisation and a journey along the great river opens up the opportunity of experiencing many layers of human history.
The Nile is the longest river in the world, flowing from the mountains of East Africa to the Mediterranean Sea, a course of over 4,000 miles. Three major rivers flow into it, the Blue Nile, the White Nile and the Arbara. The Nile Delta accounts for over half of the inhabited area of Egypt and its water courses and wetlands are rich in wildlife. In ancient times, the regular cycle of the rising and falling of water levels in the Nile waterway shaped the culture of the region and divided the year into three, the flood season, the growing season and the drought or harvest.
For modern travellers a Nile cruise is an essential part of a visit to Egypt. To see and experience the country properly you must make a river journey, and in doing so you will be taking part in an activity that has been part of Egypt's tradition for thousands of years. A Nile river cruise is by far the best way to visit the temples and other antiquities of Egypt as the most significant of them were built on the banks of the river. From some ports it is possible also to take overland tours to more remote locations.
A highlight of any Nile cruise is the city of Luxor. It's been called the world's greatest open air museum, for the number of ancient monuments in the area. Luxor is the gateway to the Valley of the Kings, renowned for the tombs of rulers of ancient Egypt, including the most famous Tutankhamun.
Luxor has been a tourist destination for centuries, even in the Greek and Roman periods, but really came into its own as a result of the fame it derived from the exploits of archaeologists of the 19th and 20th centuries - the Indiana Jones factor. Modern-day Luxor is three areas, the main city on east bank of the river, ancient city of Thebes, and the temple complex of Karnak to the north. The treasures from the royal tombs have been moved to museums in Luxor and Cairo - and London - but a visit to the tombs is still fascinating. The Temple of Luxor is a must-see along with the complex of ruins at Karnak.
Edfou is a small town on the west bank of the River Nile, between Luxor and Aswan, and the location of the Temple of Horus - the sky god shown in statues with a falcon's head. There are also remains of small provincial pyramids nearby. Other important archaeological sites show evidence of settlements dating back to the earliest times of Egyptian history. Kom Ombo has a double temple, with two entrances and two colonnades. One half was dedicated to the god Horus and the other to the god Sobek depicted with a crocodile head.
Aswan is Egypt's most southern city and the place where the Nile is perhaps at its most scenic, flowing round green islands covered in palm trees and tropical plants. The city's colourful traditional market, or souk, is full of fragrant scents from perfumes and spices. The Cultural Center is the place for traditional music and dancing. Kitchener's Island - named after the British general who led the Egyptian army in the late 1800s - is renowned for its exotic gardens. The cliffs on either side of the river are dotted with the tombs of local dignitaries from down the ages. The Aga Khan's Mausoleum is an impressive structure on the river bank and Aswan's Botanical Garden is worth a visit. A major landmark of Aswan is the Dam which was built to try to control the Nile river for irrigation and reduce the risk of annual flooding downstream. The Philae Temple dedicated to the goddess Iris was moved in its entirety during the construction of the dam to save it from between drowned in the massive lake created by the dam.
Abu Simbel has some of the most impressive temples in Egypt including the Sun Temple of Ramses II, with its colossal statues of the great Pharoah, now protected as UNESCO World Heritage sites. The beautiful Lake Nasser, surrounded by mountains, is the world's largest artificial lake, resulting from the construction of the Aswan Dam. Your cruise ship will dock in front of the Abu Simbel Temples.
The city of Qena is a provincial capital built on a bend in the Nile River, between Luxor and the Red Sea. It has a great Islamic heritage its grand mosque is a place of pilgrimage. Nearby is the Temple of Dendara dedicated to Hathor the goddess of love, beauty and joy. The carvings on the buildings bear the name of Cleopatra and it's possible that she was a frequent visitor.
Cairo, the modern capital of Egypt, is built on both sides of the Nile where the great river divides to form the Nile Delta. It is a city that is thriving, bustling, modern and ancient at the same time. The Great Pyramids of Giza are located on the edge of the city. The famous Khan el-Khalili souk is a traditional-style market that has largely survived unchanged from the 14th century, where you can buy spices, perfumes, leather, gold, silver and copperware and exquisite ceramics. Cairo is home to the Egyptian Museum, with its vast collection of artefacts recalling 5,000 years of history. The Cairo Citadel, high on a hill, offers grand views of the city. The Cairo Tower is a curious modern structure built in traditional style, and is actually the city's TV mast with a restaurant and observation deck at the top.