An Aswan felucca, crude but effective. No modern sailing equipment visible here. Calm, solid and very relaxing. Photo by Jim.
Over two million tourists cruise the Nile every year, most of them aboard two hundred squat, hideous, smelly, vibrating cruise boats and mostly on the Aswan – Luxor route, but with a little courage and a few Egyptian pounds any serious traveller should experience Egypt’s traditional sail boats, the felucca, even if it’s only for a sunset experience. And BYOB – bring your own bottle!
The felucca‘s primitive design dates from the medieval times and whilst a competent western dinghy sailor might feel capable of piloting one himself, the owner will never rent the boat out for self-drive, only with – at minimum – the ‘captain’ and a crewman. This is fair enough since owners are totally dependent on boat profits and the Nile does have hidden rocks and tricky currents, especially in the Aswan area.
Felucca’s crude and leaky hulls are propelled by a triangular cotton sail, or the Nile current, or in the case of failure of both systems a couple of massive oars can be thrust into action.
Felucca captains, like taxi drivers, come in all shapes, good, bad and indifferent, so it’s best to get a recommendation from the Aswan tourist office for lengthy trips – but don’t bother for just an evening sail. When hiring find a captain that you feel comfortable with and feel free to bring your own tipple or smoke.
Sleeping on board
The guest seating arrangement is cushions laid on a flat bench so people with back problems are not going to enjoy much time on one of these craft. Naturally there are no toilets (a bush on the riverbank is as good as it gets), fridges, electricity or cabins, but there will be an essential sun canopy.
Sleeping involves – if you’re lucky – a strip of foam on the deck or the bank of the river, while washing is taken care of by Mother Nile. Eating and drinking facilities are equally basic.
However, if you are reasonably hardy (especially about the butt! ) and enjoy camping this kind of calm and restful transport is the perfect way to maximise the Nile experience, stopping off wherever seems interesting or pleasant, getting a fish-eye view of Egypt’s bird life, herons, egrets, coots and visiting riverside temples before or after tourist mega-boats arrive.
The most efficient route in a long-distance felucca is downstream with the current, so from Aswan to Edfu is a favourite three day trip, stopping off at villages and temples en route. Kom Ombo’s crocodile god temple is the first and monumental and well-preserved Edfu, province of Horus the falcon god, last. Or continue for the full 130 miles to Luxor and the mass of amazing structures (and tourists) there. Nile Cruises
‘I spent three days on a felucca in late December sailing from Aswan to Luxor. Our crew were extremely professional and we felt very safe in their hands. The only threat I could discern was from the juggernaut tourist boats which ply up and down at all hours and could have run us over without noticing.
Compared to road transport in Egypt feluccas are infinitely safer. Anybody who has driven or tired to cross the road in Cairo will understand this’.