Africa,  Around the world,  Egypt,  Luxor,  Nile Cruise,  TDM,  Travel Journal

Days 2 & 3 in Egypt: Karnak Temple and Nile Cruise

If you haven’t read them, read first our first travel notebook in Egypt and the second travel notebook.

Today, I will take you to the Karnak Temple in Luxor and discover our boat on the Nile.

Part 1: Travel Diary
Part 2: Practical Tips

Part 1: Travel Diary

End of Day 2 in Egypt

Tonight, we booked a private car to take us to the Karnak temple, wait for us for an hour and then bring us back. We intend to attend the sound and light show there.

The sound and light show at Karnak Temple isn’t the best in Egypt but we want to have a preview of the temple before the big visit tomorrow. The show in French is at 9pm today (attention it changes every day). We arrive 20 minutes earlier, we are the first and the ticket seller explains us that we need at least 10 spectators for the show to take place. We have to wait a little longer, or we can buy the 10 tickets :Fortunately at 9pm, a group of customers (probably from a cruise) arrives and the show takes place (at 250 pounds/person).

The show starts with the old pier with sphinxes, and then the text read aloud in French invites us to move forward in the temple.

They make a very beautiful presentation of the 1st court, which is a mix of temples and vestiges of several pharaohs. Thanks to the light, the work of this or that pharaoh is illuminated, which facilitates understanding. But when we get to the large columns, I am completely lost with the text, and I almost fell asleep in front of the sacred lake.

In any case, with light, some of the hieroglyphs are easier to read/see this way.

Day 3 : Karnak Temple and discovery of our boat

Today, we have an appointment at 7:45 am at the reception of the Winter Hotel Pavilion. Fortunately thanks to the confusion of our arrival in Luxor the day before, we know that it isn’t the reception of our hotel, but the other hotel of the same complex, 20 meters away. A guide comes to pick us up. From today and during 6 days, we will travel on a dahabiya (small traditional boat) with the French-Egyptian agency Les Gréements du Nil, the best of the best Nile cruises.

A few days before our arrival in Luxor, Sara, the boss of the agency, wrote to us saying that we had been “upgraded” to travel, not with 12 other clients, but with only 2 other clients, on a smaller but older and traditional boat, el Khedewi.

We feel so privileged, not only to be on this boat full of history, but also to be only 4 people on the boat + our guide. But I will tell you more about it later.

Temple of Karnak

Today, before taking the boats, we will visit the Karnak temple, which we saw briefly last night. The visit is done with an Egyptologist guide and it is so much the better because this temple is so complex and immense that it would have been difficult to understand everything alone. We arrive at the temple around 8 am and are among the privileged to visit this temple with very few tourists (the cruise groups will arrive later).

The temple is dedicated to the sun god Amen. He is the most important God, and everyone wants to build temples for him and make offerings to him.

We start with the old pier with the sphinxes. Beware, this isn’t the alley that is connected to Luxor Temple.

One enters the courtyard and sees, on the right, the temple of Rameses III, which is quite beautiful. This court is a little difficult to understand with a multitude of buildings from different eras.

there is a huge alabaster stone in the middle where priests place offerings for the gods. I don’t know why, but I like this stone very much, I really want to touch it, whereas I usually don’t touch the monuments to avoid damaging them.

And in front of us are hundreds of columns (also seen in the movie “Murder on the Nile” behind the pylon.

These columns are divided into three parts. In the middle of the higher columns an open flower shape (papyrus). To the left are columns with hieroglyphs over Sethi I (closed lotus flowers) and to the right are columns with hieroglyphs over Rameses II his son.

This is what this part would look like before.

The columns are still very well preserved, and in places, the colors too. There are a hundred of them!

Unlike other guides, ours not only explains the representations on the walls but also reads the hieroglyphics for us. Thus, they show us the scenes and the hieroglyphs next to them. Here is an important scene, where we see that the pharaoh is making an offering to the Goddess Wahakao (not sure of the spelling, a form of Isis). And at right, we see the tree of life(Ichet), and the pharaoh receiving the key of life.

This scene shows offerings made to the gods: two obelisks, many pieces of jewelry, vases…

In a small chapel (where Hatshepsut was crowned), one can see representations of her being hammered by the next pharaoh (her son-in-law, who does not like her very much).

In another place we see drawings in very well preserved colors of Alexander the Great. This sanctuary is hidden behind a wooden door but we are allowed to enter. It isn’t easy to find it however.

Basically, to explain to you the why and how of representations. The ancient Egyptians believed in the power of these representations, that they had the ability to bring the soul of a God or the pharaoh into the representations. Thus, if one day there are no more real offerings, all the representations on the wall will be transformed into real offerings. Afterwards, when the Copts began to occupy these places (fleeing from the Romans), they wanted to damage and destroy the representations by hammering them, because they also believe that these representations shelter “the soul” of the pharaoh.

The common man did not have access to the interior of the temple as we do today, only the priests. So when they come to visit the temple, they can only go around the temple, outside, with a priest. There are scenes used as propaganda, of this or that pharaoh driving out the enemy, protecting Egypt, scenes of offerings, encouraging visitors to make offerings as well.

We arrive at the level of the sacred lake and see several pylons being renovated.

Here we see two obelisks. The one at right, larger, is the one erected by Hatshepsut. Normally, obelisks were erected in pairs, but many have been lost or fallen.

The beetle, which pushes the sun every day so that it reappears. Since the beetle is self-fertilising, we are certain that it will never disappear, and neither will the sun.

The Tree of Life

Important scene of offerings. The pharaoh is seen lighting and shaking incense and priests carrying the boat. The priests are shown in several copies (one on top of the other) because there are several of them.

The visit is really super interesting because our guide Bassem is an Egyptologist and knows how to read the hieroglyphs. I’m not going to write down everything we saw and understood during the visit because I might leave to write a book. I will complete this article later when I am in a quiet place in Morocco.

In any case, he promised us a course of hieroglyphics when we will be on the boat.

We are happy to have visited this temple in good conditions (our guide sometimes took us to places where there was absolutely nobody) and early in the morning because the sun is beating hard. And especially, at the end of our visit around 10:30 am, there is a terrible crowd in front of the entrance.

Discovery of our boat

Our boat is moored at Esna, because to get from Luxor to Aswan, there is a dam at Esna and small boats like ours risk being damaged when passing through the locks from Luxor. So the boat is moored after the locks.

Our dahabeya ”el Khedewi” was built in 1897 in Ottoman times – it was abandoned on the banks of the Nile for decades – it has been completely renovated and can accommodate 5 persons on board – it is equipped with a suite with private balcony/terrace – a cabin with double bed – a single cabin – all have a private bathroom.

I let you discover the video here :

Here is our beautiful dahabeya “el Khedewi”, a boat for 5 people max. The ultimate luxury!

The upper deck with our sailor Ali. This is the place where we take our meals and rest while observing the scenes of the life of the Nile.

Our lunch on the boat, it’s too good !

Another dahabiya seen from our boat. It is bigger and heavier compared to our boat. Probably with a dozen of tourists.

And here is the felucca of the village, which is used to connect the two banks

The private balcony of the royal suite. We were invited there by our boat neighbors. Thanks to them!

How is life on the boat?

It is a traditional sailboat renovated so it is very beautiful with modern comfort. When there is enough wind, the sails are open and we sail at the rhythm of the wind.

Here is another dahabiya sailing all sails out.

When there is no wind, a tugboat pulls us. As it is far away, we don’t hear it too much from the bridge. The tug always stays close to the dahabiya. A phone call and they come to pull us. They are part of the crew.

Electricity is available a few hours a day via a generator. When there is electricity, there is hot water. Needless to say thatInternet isn’t available and I am writing all these articles thanks to the 4G of my Egyptian sim card.

4 meals are served per day. The chef cooks for us Egyptian specialties to fall (which isn’t the case for cruises with 200 people attention). And once the table is cleared, the crew takes the meal. In the evening they sleep on the deck, on the tugboat or below deck where there are mattresses. There is a cabin for the captain and the chef.

The guide has a cabin all to himself. He stays with us from morning to evening on the deck. He organizes the visits, explains us the daily life of the Egyptians, shows us the birds that we see from the boat. Basically, we spend the whole day on the deck and there are so many things to see that we rarely take a nap.

The room is made every day when we leave to visit. When there is a visit, the boat is moored. Either we walk to the site or we take a carriage or a tuk tuk to get there.

Everything is already included in the advertised price (at least for our company, which isn’t the case for others) so we really don’t have to worry about anything, or feel like we’re MTAs on legs and that’s very appreciable.

JB asked if it was possible to swim in the Nile and the crew stopped in quiet places to allow him to do so. There are no more crocodiles on the Nile and the water is pretty good. The current is strong so you should not swim too long.

The rest of the trip is here

Part 2: Practical Tips

What we paid

Everything is already paid by our two agencies, except :

  • the sound and light show: 250 pounds/person
  • car round trip to Karnak temple + one hour wait: 150 pounds for two
  • dinner: snack at the Winter Palace: 150 pounds for two

See the budget summary of our trip here

What you would have had to pay if you were doing the same thing we do independently

  • Sound and Light Show at Karnak: 250 pounds/person
  • Round trip car to go to Karnak temple + one hour wait: 150 pounds for two (+20 pounds tip)
  • Dinner: count between 70 and 150 pounds per person (+ 10% tip)
  • Entrance to Karnak Temple (during the day): 140 pounds


I have a lot to tell you about choosing a cruise boat but I promise to do so in another article because I am still enjoying my trip on the boat 😀 For your information, we have booked a cruise directly with Gréements du Nil, without going through an intermediary agency. We have been upgraded to be on this luxury boat (El Khedewi). Otherwise, we would have been in a bigger boat, 15 people in all.

  • Come early in the morning (Karnak Temple opens at 7am) to avoid the world.
  • However, the light will be better at Karnak in the afternoon (you are backlit in the morning).
  • The sound and light show is a bit disappointing but if you have time, why not. I put here the schedules & languages available. It is possible to borrow a free audio guide in the language of your choice.

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