For many travellers, the only way to travel on the Nile is slowly, on board a traditional felucca (Egyptian sailing boat). Except for swimming, this is as close as you can get to the river. Read on to make sure that this is for you and that you avoid the pitfalls.

A Slow Journey

Most felucca trips begin at Aswan; the strong northward current means that boats are not marooned if the wind dies. Trips go to Kom Ombo (two days/one night), Edfu (three days/two nights – the most popular option) or Esna (four days/three nights).

Feluccas are not allowed to sail after 8pm, so most stop at sunset and set up camp on the boat or on shore. Night-time entertainment ranges from stargazing and the crew singing to partying, depending on you and your fellow passengers.

Planning Your Felucca Trip

With so many feluccas (hundreds, thousands?), arranging a felucca trip can be daunting. Small hotels can be aggressive in trying to rope you in. To be sure of what you’re getting, it’s best to arrange things yourself.

Many of the better felucca captains can be found having a drink in Nileside restaurants such as the Aswan Moon; Emy, near the Panorama restaurant in Aswan; or on Elephantine Island. Meet a few captains – and inspect their boat – before choosing one you get on well with. Women alone or in a group should try to team up with a few men if possible, as some women travellers have reported sailing with felucca captains who had groping hands and there have been some rare reports of more serious assault.

Officially, feluccas can carry a minimum of six passengers and a maximum of eight. Fares are open to negotiation and dictated by demand. Expect to pay at least LE150 per person per day, including food, for sharing a boat between six to eight people. On top of this you need to add LE5 to LE10 per person for the captain to arrange the police registration – this needs to be arranged the day before sailing. You might find boats for less, but take care; if it’s much cheaper, you’ll either have a resentful captain and crew, or you’ll be eating little more than bread and fuul (fava bean paste) for three days. Do not hand out the whole agreed amount until you get to your destination because there have been several reports of trips being stopped prematurely for a so-called breakdown.

If you do have problems, the tourist police or the tourist office should be the first port of call.

Felucca Tips

  • There are no onboard toilet facilities, so you will need to go to the toilet overboard or find somewhere private when you stop on shore. Some captains now travel with basic toilet tents – really no more than a screen and a hole in the sand.
  • Check that the captain has what appears to be a decent, riverworthy boat, and the essential gear: blankets (it gets cold at night), cooking implements and a sunshade. If a different boat or captain is foisted on you at the last minute, be firm and refuse.
  • Establish whether the price includes food; to be sure you’re getting what you paid for, go with whoever does the shopping.
  • Agree on the number of passengers beforehand and ask to meet fellow passengers – you're going to be sharing a small space, after all.
  • Decide on the drop-off point before you set sail; many felucca captains stop 30km south of Edfu in Hammam, Faris or Ar Ramady.
  • Don’t hand over your passport. Captains can use a photocopy to arrange the permit.
  • Bring comfort essentials. It can get bitterly cold at night, so bring a sleeping bag. Insect repellent is a good idea. A hat, sunscreen and plenty of bottled water are essential.
  • Wherever you stop, be sure to clean up after yourself.