Egypt's new minister of tourism, Mounir Fakhry Abdel Nour, said at a press conference in London yesterday that the cruises on the Lower Nile (confusingly, the northerly stretch of the river between Cairo and Luxor), would resume after a 16-year break. This is part of a plan by the Egyptian government to boost tourism numbers, which plummeted by 80 percent in February this year following the uprisings of the Arab Spring.
Currently, Nile cruises only operate between Luxor and the southerly city of Aswan; this stretch is known as the Upper Nile. There are virtually no licenses for operators to sail north of Luxor, so a typical visit to Egypt includes a few days in Cairo -- to visit the pyramids, the Museum of Antiquities and the Sphinx -- followed by a flight south to cruise the Upper Nile for up to a week.
The longer cruises, which take between 11 and 14 days, were stopped in 1994 for various reasons, including security concerns and the fact that the river was becoming severely silted up. Since then, docks have fallen into disrepair, so both dredging the riverbed and improvements to the infrastructure are all part of the new plan. When the government does start issuing sailing permits again, it will only be to boats with shallow drafts.
It could be argued that the big hits along the Nile are already accounted for in the short cruises, which take in the Valley of the Kings and Karnak Temple in Luxor, as well as Edfu, Edna and Kom Ombo on the way to Aswan, and the Temple of Philae once in Aswan. Apart from the Temple of Dendera, 37 miles north of Luxor, there isn't much of cultural note until the river reaches Memphis and Sakkara, just outside Cairo. But what this does mean is longer spells relaxing on deck, watching life on the river banks, a chance to see some lesser-known tombs at Beni Hasan and an opportunity for repeat visitors to Egypt to do something different; boarding a ship in the middle of Cairo and sailing all the way to Aswan is likely to have a certain romantic appeal.
Philip Breckner, commercial director of Discover Egypt, one of the U.K.'s leading Egypt specialists, told Cruise Critic: "This is great news. We haven't done these cruises for 16 years and it's really exciting that they are starting up again. We are planning to start these cruises in March 2012, subject to Egyptian government approval."
The announcement is so new that itineraries haven't even been planned yet, but watch this space for further details.
By Sue Bryant, Cruise Critic Contributing Editor