AFRICA

Dahabiya Nile Cruise: how to dream…even with kids

A Dahabiya Nile cruise will make you feel like you are in a dream. If like me you have been captivated by Egyptian culture since primary school, a Nile river cruise is an unmissable part of any Egypt itinerary.

A Nile cruise on a Dahabiya boat is such a fascinating experience! I had so many doubts about taking a cruise with 2 crazy little toddlers (almost 2 years and a half), but everything went smoothly and we all had memorable time.

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Zakrayaat dahabiya
Zekrayaat dahabiya

WHAT IS A DAHABIYA BOAT?

A Dahabiya is a small Egyptian sailing boat with usually 5/6 cabins, so it is for only 10/12 people. Although it is called a Nile sailing boat, much of the time it will actually be towed by a tug boat as the wind doesn’t always agree with the schedule!

Don’t let this put you off though because the tug boat will be far enough ahead so you don’t notice the engine. Anyway as soon as the wind picks up the captain will open the sail!

Dahabiya Nile cruises usually go back and forth between Aswan and Luxor. Starting in Aswan, sailing down the Nile in the Luxor direction they follow the Nile current, but usually the wind is not strong enough. In the Aswan direction, sailing up the Nile, most of the time the current is too strong for the sails.

Cruises on the Nile have always been very popular, and before 2011 the Nile had at least five times as many cruise ships. With the decline in tourism after 2011, traffic on the Nile has significantly reduced and so it is less likely to meet many boats sailing the Nile river.

Here is the video of us arriving at the Dahabiya boat: watch it if you want a laugh. I was so excited to board that I didn’t realize Mark was carrying everything, camera, baggage, and kids!!!

Watch this video on YouTube.

NILE CRUISE EGYPT: WHICH ONE TO CHOOSE

There are different types of Nile cruises in Egypt. The process to find the right one took me a little bit of time. I searched online and read the experiences of other travellers, but I wasn’t convinced about booking a trip on the typical cruise boats. The most common boats on the Nile river are, for me, too big, too loud, and with too many people…nothing was matching my idea of a slow trip that makes you feel you are in Ancient Egypt.

But finally…I came across the Dahabiya Nile cruise. I found a few companies offering this solution and based on itinerary, length of the trip, and reviews I decided to book with Djed Egypt Travel.

A Dahabiya on the Nile is not a typical luxury Nile cruise with contemporary designed rooms and fancy bathrooms. Aboard a Dahabiya boat you will trade parties, swimming pools, and a flashing disco for slowing down the pace and the serenity to slide slowly on the river water.

Dahabiya Nile cruise booking

There are 4 boats you can chose from and they cover the Luxor-Aswan itinerary in both directions, leaving four times a week in each direction so you should be able to find the right one for you.

  • Aswan to Esna (Luxor): sailing down the Nile, 3 nights from €570 per person (double occupancy)
  • Esna (Luxor) to Aswan: sailing up the Nile, 4 nights from €760 per person (double occupancy)

Kids 1 to 4 years stay free if sharing the cabin with adults. 20% discount for kids 5-12 years old. The prices include transfer from/to Aswan and Luxor, all the entrance fees, a guide with you all the time, full board (including even afternoon tea), all drinks (excluding alcohol) and wi-fi.

I decided to book the Zekrayaat boat that leaves Aswan on Friday and covers the distance to Luxor in 3 nights.
The Luxor to Aswan itinerary requires 4 nights, but as it was our first Nile sailing experience with kids I preferred to choose the shorter itinerary. The 4 nights option includes more sightseeing too.

The booking process was easy but deposit payment can only be made in Euros with a bank transfer or credit card through a link they will send you.
Either process costs extra: 3% for the credit card or the fee from your bank for an international transfer.

NILE RIVER CRUISE WITH KIDS

I understand you could be concerned about spending 3 nights with young kids in a small environment with other people. Well of course you know your kids and their behaviour, but be reassured that unless they are proper little vandals it will be a really pleasant experience for everybody!

  • The common spaces on the sun deck are spacious, with different seating for people to socialise or take time by themselves. If you get the suite (see below) in some boats you will have a little private terrace.

  • The staff are also used to guests with kids and they will help a lot, from making sure there is always something they like to eat, to sometimes even playing with them

OUR EXPERIENCE: On our trip there were only 3 other couples. At the beginning we were nervous thinking that there could have been some tension…perhaps we could find some people unhappy to have to share space with 2 toddlers for 3 days, but our fears were unfounded. The Spanish, American, and German couples were lovely and never made us feel in the wrong place which we of course appreciated so much.

On our side of course we tried to engage the kids in activities that would keep them entertained. The veranda outside our cabin was also a good option to spend some time together but leaving the top deck quiet for the others.

YOU MAY BE INTERESTED IN: BEST THINGS TO DO IN EGYPT WITH KIDS.

DAHABIYA NILE CRUISE

Dahabiya Cabin/Suite

The dahabiya boat doesn’t have a contemporary luxurious feeling, so a modern Princess could be disappointed. It is, in fact, quite traditional but you could definitely imagine to be a princess from the 18th century.

We initially booked a standard cabin. When we boarded, the larger cabin with the small veranda (the suite) was still available and, as we were the first arriving, we got the option to pay an extra €120 to upgrade…and so we did…

The suite consisted of a really high bed (quite useful to store the luggage under), a small wardrobe and a fridge, ensuite bathroom, and of course the lovely space outside with soft seating and a little table.

They were also able to provide 1 cot (thinking that one baby would have slept with us). As it was really big and the boys are not used to sleep with us, we asked them to remove it. We used instead our two amazing little Phil & Teds travel crib which we brought with us just in case (not knowing how the Egyptian cot situation would have been).

In our cabin there were 2 side windows (plus the big one towards the outside space) that provided a lovely view close to the water level.

Here is a quick video of the Dahabiya suite

Watch this video on YouTube.

Dahabiya common spaces

The dahabiya has 2 levels. On the top deck there is a lovely communal space with a big table in the middle and some relaxing areas with chairs, cushions, sunbeds, and also a hammock.

The top deck is covered and most of the sides are high enough to not create any concern when the kids got close to them.

The lower deck is where the cabins are located. On the same level there is a dining room that was really practical for us to feed Liam and Santiago separately from the group. We tried the first day to have lunch all together, but there were too many distraction on the top deck. The captain was really accommodating organising their meals in advance separately.

Zekrayaat dahabiya top deck
Zekrayaat dahabiya top deck

Here is a video of the lovely top deck

Watch this video on YouTube.

Dahabiya food

Food was plenty and good, nothing fancy but tasty. If the weather is good all meals are eaten all together on the sun deck.

  • Breakfast included coffee and tea, 2 different juices, cheeses, yogurt, bread, eggs, and pancakes.

  • Lunch and dinner were all based on Egyptian cuisine. Afternoon tea was also provided to the great joy of Liam and Santiago who were allowed a few biscuits.

SAILING THE NILE ITINERARY

Sailing the Nile: First Day

The days pass at a really nice pace. The first day you will be picked up in Aswan and in around half an hour you will reach the boat.

After all guests arrive you will meet together and have the opportunity to introduce yourselves. The guide will also join the group and make an introduction to how the days are organised during the Nile cruise. Our Egyptologist was really knowledgeable, apparently one of the few that can still read hieroglyphics.

On the first day after lunch you will visit the Kom Ombo Temple. This is an unusual double temple, dedicated to the local crocodile god Sobek and the falcon god Haroeris (Hourus the elder), the Nile’s gods.

It is considered special and unique for its design. There are two identical sections but completely independent dedicated to the two Gods.

A short walk from the Kom Ombo temple there is the Crocodile museum. It is small, air conditioned museum where roughly 300 mummified crocodiles found nearby are kept.

Reaching this site is really easy you only need a short walk to reach the temple as the Dahabiya can stop just in front of it.

In the evening you will stop just in front of the site you will visit the day after.

Kom Ombo temple
Kom Ombo temple, our dahabiya stopped almost in front of it

Sailing the Nile: Second Day

After an early breakfast you will visit the rock-cut chapels of Horemheb, Seti I, Ramses II, and Merenptah and explore the sandstone quarries at Gebel el-Silsila.

The sandstone quarry is an impressive site when one reflects on the fact that it provided the stone for most of the temples in Egypt and that all the stone had to travel up the Nile to reach its final destination.

In the afternoon you could have a lovely stop by a little beach to have a splash in the Nile.

BE CAREFUL: in the stagnant water of the Nile there is a parasite that could be potentially really dangerous. Apparently where the river current is strong there isn’t this risk, but always follow the boat’s captain advice about where to swim.

The dahabiya are small enough to be able to moor where the big boats can’t reach. The second night we moored at a little island in the middle of the Nile and the crew moved the big table and set a candle lit dinner on the shore of the little island.

The Dahabiya will stay just in front of the table during the meal, only a few steps to return onboard after.

Sailing the Nile: Third Day

After breakfast the first stop will be the Edfu temple. This temple, dedicated to Horus, is not on the Nile bank. You will need to reach it with a horse carriage. This is all organised so you will not be able to choose based on healthy looking animals. Unfortunately ours was really skinny and made the start a bit sad.

The temple is majestic and one of the best preserved. It has been buried under sand 200 years ago which helped to preserved it. It could be quite busy and to enter it you will need to pass through a line of vendors hawking their wares.

Edfu is quite a poor area, not much more to do a part from visit the temple, but it is interesting to watch local life while you go back to the Dahabiya.

In the afternoon there is another interesting and much less busy site. You will sail to El Kab, the ancient town of Nekheb, one of the oldest and most significant archaeological sites on the Nile. You will visit the remains of its temples and some of the tombs cut into the cliffs.

In the evening you will arrive in Esna, where the Dahabiya will moor for the night. You can decide to go out and explore if you wish. In my opinion, mooring by the city with its traffic and noise ruins a little the atmosphere of the last evening. This is the only thing that should be improved.

This is also the moment when you will need to prepare an envelope with a tip for the guide, the crew, and the captain. It is not mandatory, but this is the recommendation we got from our guide (who also give you the envelopes).

All matching at the Edfu temple forth stop on the dahabiya trip.
All matching at the Edfu temple
Edfu temple:I still always bring my Egobaby adapt while travelling, it is still comfortable enough to use on my back
Edfu Temple: I was using Ergobaby Adapt while travelling, it was still comfortable enough to use on my back

Sailing the Nile: Fourth Day

The normal plan is that you leave around 10am. We wanted to see Luxor before heading to the Red Sea, so an early start for us!

HOT TIP: some Nile cruise include a visit to Aswan and Luxor in their itinerary, ours didn’t. This means you spend more time on the Nile which is what I preferred. You can always organise to visit these places before or after the cruise. Just make sure you check what you are going to visit in your itinerary first.

  • If you like river cruises you could check out this article that talk about the river cruise in the Douro Valley in Northern Portugal.

FINAL REFLECTIONS:

A Nile cruise is an unforgettable dream experience and shouldn’t be missed during a trip to Egypt even if you are travelling with kids. Of course you need to always be alert but it really is worth the extra effort. The article 10 tips to make a trip to Egypt successful will help you to set your expectations.

We boarded the Nile cruise in Aswan half way through our 10 day trip in Egypt. We started in Cairo and ended by the Red Sea. If you are planning to go there then have a look at my article: Mena House the perfect place to stay in Cairo with kids or Radisson Blu resort: an amazing place for family time by the Red Sea

Please let me know in the comments if you have taken a Nile cruise and if I forgot something!

 

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4 Comments

  • Patrick Antony

    We did that exact trip with our little guy last year on the same boat and captain!
    Amazing experience and well worth it. What a trip.

    • clo

      Thank you so much to share it, people are often missing this great experience because they are scared of a Nile cruise with little kids!

  • Jen

    Hey – we are planning to do a roundtrip like you describe here in February with our toddlers. What I am really curious about is, did you plan everything by yourself or did you book this trip as a package somewhere? Do you have any tips how to start planning and booking this? Thanks a lot, I am enjoying your website so much. Keep on doing this! Jen

    • clo

      HI Jen,
      I’m so glad you enjoy the website! I planned everything by myself. I always do. I love to do all the reading and the research. I know it takes time and many people don’t like investing time planning but for me it is as good as the trip itself. On the website I try to be as detailed as possible so people that don’t know where to start can eventually copy the itinerary, contact the same host or book the same tour. First things you need to decide how much you want to see based on the time you have available, with the same time like us I would still do the same itinerary. The Nile cruise was the highlight of the trip and 3 nights was the perfect length. If you have overall less time I would shorten the time in Cairo and by the Red Sea. If you have more specific question just let me know. Enjoy!!!

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