Egypt has an extensive and fairly efficient overland transport system and for travel plans focused on the Nile, the palm-studded scenery of Nile Valley journeys are as much of a highlight as the destinations at the end.
If you’re interested in minimizing your flights, we’ve got the skinny on traveling overland, whether by train, bus or cruising the Nile.
Trains are perfect for visiting the Nile Valley
The train is the most straightforward way of traveling the Nile Valley, linking the cities of Alexandria, Cairo, Luxor and Aswan.
Both “Special Service” and the considerably cheaper “Speed AC Spanish” trains on this major route have comfortable first and second class air-conditioned carriages. The price difference between them is due to newer rolling-stock on “Special Service” trains rather than any contrast in amenities.
From Cairo, take the 8am departure for the most scenic train trip heading up the Nile. It is 11 hours to Luxor and 14.5 hours to Aswan. Doing the journey in reverse, the 5:30am and 7:30am trains from Aswan, and the 8:40am and 9:10am departures from Luxor, are the trips to choose for views. You can see full schedules and book tickets on the Egyptian Railways website.
Another option is the privately operated Watania Sleeping Train with its wagon-lit (sleeping car) service. The train runs nightly from Cairo to Luxor and Aswan and vice versa.
Note that due to decades of neglect, Egypt’s rail network has a higher accident rate than many other countries. Several high-profile railway accidents in recent years have finally pushed the government into action and in 2021 a USD$14.3 billion budget was announced to modernize the system which will hopefully aid it towards becoming safer.
Cruising on the Nile
There’s no better way to make the journey part of your trip, than by heading onto the Nile. The most popular route is the stretch of river between Luxor and Aswan, with options for all budgets and levels of comfort.
Cruise boats typically make the Luxor-Aswan leg a three-night trip with visits to Edfu’s Temple of Horus and Kom Ombo Temple along the way. This is the no-effort-necessary Nile option, just board the boat and everything is organized for you. On the downside, less time than you think will be spent actually cruising and you’ll be visiting the sights as part of a big crowd.
You can usually grab a cheaper cruise-deal by booking locally in Egypt but if there’s a particular boat you want to cruise with on a specific date then book ahead.
Dahabiyas (large sailing boats) were the original Nile transport for 19th-century travelers. Modern dahabiyas provide a more personalized alternative to the big cruisers, only taking between 10 and 20 passengers. Itineraries operate between Esna and Aswan and include stops at villages and Pharaonic sites that the cruise boats don’t visit.
Due to fewer options, dahabiyas are best booked early. A great local operator to check out is Nile Dahabiya.
For close-up Nile journeys, complete with sleeping on deck under the stars, hop aboard a felucca (open-topped sailing boat). Overnight felucca trips begin from Aswan (to follow the current) and take three nights to Esna, two nights to Edfu or one night to Kom Ombo.
Felucca trips can be organized on the ground in Aswan. This can take a day or two to arrange so if you don’t have time up, two reputable Aswan felucca-operators that can be pre-booked are Captain Jamaica and Aswan Individual.
Taxis can get you to out-of-the-way sights
Most taxi drivers (or private drivers hired through hotels) are more than happy to head out of town on day-trips, such as Saqqara from Cairo, or to the Temples of Abu Simbel from Aswan.
In the Sinai, where there is no public transport between the South Sinai resort towns and St Katherine in the High Mountains, taxis are a good alternative to having to take a tour.
For out-of-town journeys, you agree the price with the driver beforehand.
Buses aren’t for tall travelers
Away from the Nile, buses are the best public transport option and run between all main destinations with several departures daily on major routes. If you’re heading to the Western Desert oases independently though, West & Mid Delta bus are the only operator so expect only a couple of departures daily and plan accordingly.
Air-conditioned coach-style buses come with slightly cramped seating; taller travelers may have issues on long-distance routes. The “deluxe” services run by Go Bus have more leg space.
Go Bus also has an easily navigable website with schedules and booking services all in English which has made them the go-to company for foreign travelers.
Microbuses (called micros; 14 seater minibuses) run on even more routes than the big buses and can be useful for shorter journeys. Unlike buses, there are no fixed schedules; they leave when full. Be aware, micros can be jam-packed and are renowned for speeding.
The best places to visit in Egypt
Accessible transportation in Egypt
Egypt’s public transport is far from inclusive. Buses and trains have high entrance steps and micros are a squashed no-go. In saying that, things are beginning to change.
In 2021, Egyptian Railways announced that they will begin introducing ramp access to stations, dedicated ticket counters for disabled train travelers and allocated seating spaces on trains. This will take some time to come into practice though.
In better news, hiring a private driver is affordable in Egypt (in comparison to many other countries) so it is possible to travel independently.
For a fully wheelchair-accessible vehicle though, book a private tour. If you want to cruise, the Nile cruiser MS Amarco has been completely refitted for accessibility with lift access to all decks and four cabins fully adapted for wheelchair users.
Why I love traveling the Nile by felucca
Feluccas are Egypt’s ultimate slow-travel experience and a rare opportunity to tune out from the world and simply soak up the scenery for a few days.
Although definitely not mandatory – feel free to laze on the cushions and watch the Nile banks glide by – pitching in to help the crew cook meals and learning how to steer the boat is all part of the experience. In my book, there’s no better way of traveling the stretch of river between Aswan and Esna.