Travellers are trickling back to Egypt's iconic waterway, reports Joanna Booth
It has always been a regular on British TV screens – the difference is that lately Egypt has appeared more on the news than on travel shows and documentaries.
And there’s no denying the power of television. Cox & Kings product manager Peter Hilton came across more American, Australian and European visitors than Brits when he visited the Nile last month, and it seems likely UK media coverage of the Arab Spring played a part in souring our love affair with Egypt.
But while numbers are undeniably down, there are still many travellers enjoying the iconic sights of the Nile and encountering no problems at all – in fact, they’re getting the chance to experience this area without the usual crowds.
“It’s far from deserted,” Hilton says, “but there aren’t the visitor levels you would usually expect. It’s a fantastic time to go.”
Prices aren’t rock-bottom – the Egyptian tourist industry needs to keep itself afloat – but there are savings to be had. And service levels are higher than ever, according to Discover Egypt director Philip Breckner.
“Clients have commented and written to their travel agents and to us about the improved service and value for money they experienced,” he says. “The Egyptian tourist industry is certainly playing its part in ‘going the extra mile’ in order to encourage others to come.”
Bales Worldwide reports departures in October and November filling up, and Alan Meadows, Longwood Holidays business development manager, says enquiry numbers are growing. Strong forward bookings for Discover Egypt have prompted the operator to add weekly Monarch charter flights from Gatwick to Luxor in September and October.
LONGER NILE CRUISE
The reopening of the Cairo to Luxor stretch of the Nile has also spurred Discover Egypt to launch a 14-night cruise on refurbished boutique ship Alexander the Great. It will carry passengers all the way from Cairo to Aswan, with excursions down to Abu Simbel. This formerly favourite route has not been available in recent years due to low water levels.
Breckner says: “We know that many of our clients will want to hear about this longer Nile cruise and we intend to offer agents exceptionally good-value packages to help them cash in.” Sailings will start later in the summer and prices will go from £2,197 including scheduled flights from Heathrow, transfers, full board cruise and all excursions.
Elsewhere on the Nile, Möven-pick Nile Cruisers is expanding its fleet to seven vessels with the addition of historical steamship Misr and four other boats.
NOSTALGIA ON THE NILE
Sam Goodall reports for Travel Weekly on a cruise with Bales Worldwide
With throngs of people dressed in jalabiya bustling around bundles of piled-high luggage, Cairo airport arrivals lounge left us in no doubt that we’d arrived in Egypt.
But the atmosphere was about to change. After a short connecting flight to Aswan and a night-time flit across the dark waters of the Nile, we boarded our dahabiyya – a traditional sailing boat of the type favoured by 19th-century aristocracy, and Bales Worldwide’s signature vessels on the river.
From the moment we were greeted with a mint and guava cocktail our collective body clocks began to slow down. As the boat swept us from Aswan into the majesty of the upper Nile, it was impossible not to feel transported to a bygone era of privilege and understated luxury.
Many Nile cruisers carry more than a hundred passengers, but dahabiyyas accommdoate a maximum of 12, and with this small number the guides can tailor talks to particular interests.
Cabins are stylish and comfortable and meals delicious, but what makes the experience special is the staff’s attention to detail and practical understanding of the experience of being a Western tourist in an unfamiliar culture.
Bales Worldwide has been operating tours to Egypt for 50 years, and the experience shows. From the effortless boat-to-shore transport or the short connecting journeys by minibus or horse and carriage, we were experiencing some of the world’s great wonders with the minimum of fuss. Our guide’s advice on how to handle street sellers meant we could negotiate the bustle of the tourist spots without too much confusion and uncertainty over haggling was largely avoided.
The sights are spectacular – I particularly loved our balloon trip alongside the Valley of the Kings – but a wonderful constant was returning to the ship. Greeted with a cool towel and a drink, any stresses or strains immediately melted away and we entered a relaxed haze of good food and easy conversation.
If I’ve had a more relaxing week, I can’t remember it.
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