Felucca cruises on the Nile

The feluccas sailing the Nile today look little different to those that were sailing it many centuries ago, long before the birth of Christ, when the monuments and temples lining the riverbanks were first built. Felucca cruises on the Nile are more relaxed, more romantic, more in tune with the rhythm of river life than a small ship cruise Ė this is slow travel at its finest. Captains pilot the wooden crafts with their feet, and the white canvas sail billows overhead, as you slip gently along between the main Nile attractions: Aswan, Kom Ombo, Edfu, Esna, perhaps stopping at other places that larger vessels canít access, such as a Nubian island village, the Daraw camel market, or for a hike in the sands of Wadi el-Chott.

Felucca sailing is a way to travel the Nile as people have been doing since time immemorial, but it also means an opportunity to engage with local people more meaningfully than you could hope to on organised day trips from a larger cruise ship. Itís also a great way to support the domestic economy. Mooring up for the night on a riverbank at sunset, you might watch as fishermen throw out their nets for massive perch, and children play at the waterís edge while their mothers wash clothes, or wave greetings to farmers finishing up in the fields for a day. Local Egyptians will often hire a felucca to head out on family and social get-togethers, and youíll fit right into the regular river traffic.

Due to their compact size Ė around 10m long and carrying a maximum of eight passengers, feluccas are ideally suited to families and small groups of friends wanting to escape the sometimes claustrophobic feel of a larger cruise vessel, or wanting the flexibility of a tailor made itinerary that doesnít have fixed embarkation and disembarkation times. Now if this all sounds idyllic, do remember that itís not all plain sailing on a felucca.

Practicalities

The main, obvious downside to felucca sailing on the Nile is that youíre entirely at the mercy of the wind. They donít usually have engines, so if the windís not blowing, youíre not moving. For this reason, almost all cruises begin at Aswan, the northward current carrying you along. Generally you can expect to reach Kom Ombo in two days, Edfu in three, Esna in four. Itís rare to go as far as Luxor, so if you want to continue on it will probably be by road from Esna. That would be the broad structure of a typical felucca cruise Ė in practice your itinerary will be as fluid as the river itself, so just let your three-person crew know any particular places you want to see.
There will probably be a table fixed in the middle of the boat, with cushions around it, and a shelter overhead, for the daytimes. At night you will sleep under a canvas awning, on deck with thin mattresses, cushions and blankets for comfort. Feluccas cannot sail on the river after dark so youíll moor up around sunset each day. As far as entertainment goes, it will be largely limited to stargazing, cards, perhaps a little singing and dancing from the crew. They will also prepare simple, usually vegetarian meals for you, and set up a basic toilet on the bank (normally not much more than a tent over a hole in the ground) and if you want a wash, well, thereís the river. There are no cabins, and thereís no running water.

Itís because of these very basic amenities that most people usually only take a short sail, perhaps as part of a longer small ship cruise. Longer itineraries tend to be for the more adventurous types but certainly, if you donít mind roughing it a bit, itís a very enjoyable and immersive way to travel. In some cases, a support boat may accompany you equipped with a toilet, shower and kitchen Ė which is the equivalent of glamping and kind-of cheating.

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Important things to know about felucca cruises on the Nile

There are usually no toilets on a felucca It can get very cold at night so layered clothing is recommended, and sleeping bags in the winter months Insect repellent, hats, sunscreen and plenty of bottled water are your essentials You will be sharing a small space with others for hours at a time Ė this is the most sociable form of sailing Patience and flexibility are essential Ė the wind will dictate your itinerary and speed to a large extent Feluccas are not typically suitable for wheelchair users but if you donít mind being lifted in and out, a short cruise may appeal If you want a tailor made itinerary, or a fun family vacation, feluccas are often the way to go You donít need to sail the whole way by felucca Ė it can form part of a longer small ship cruise
Written by Rob Perkins
Photo credits: [Page banner: 680451] [Intro: Justin Otto] [Practicalities: Jerome Bon]
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