Africa

A New Look at Ancient Egypt

written by | Posted on January 1st, 2011

Something new is always happening in timeless Egypt.

Travelers with a serious interest in Egyptian history and archaeology will now have to go to Egypt to see the 19 ancient objects discovered by Howard Carter in the Valley of the Kings, attributed to Tutankhamun’s tomb, and since the early-20th century displayed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. These small-scale treasures—a three-quarter-inch-high bronze dog, for one—are “going home,” thanks to the ethical behavior of the Met. After a brief detour to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, where they will rest with its famous Tut collection, all of Cairo’s King Tutankhamun treasury will be installed in the Grand Egyptian Museum at Giza, scheduled to open in 2012.

Indeed, something new is always happening in ancient Egypt, where on Nile cruises, the most traditional of vessels, the dahabeya, is now the coolest way to cruise, or at least a distinctly different and tranquil alternative to larger ship cruises. In the late-19th century, the most deluxe dahabeyas (traditional lanteen-rigged sailboats) were fitted out as luxury pleasure boats for the wealthiest of travelers cruising the Nile in style. In more recent times, the vessel has experienced a revival. A few boats now cruising have been refurbished, but most are replicas, built in the tradition of the original dahabeya, with five or more elegantly furnished cabins and public areas, as well as all modern amenities. Dahabeyas generally cruise—under sail, with a backup engine—between Aswan and Luxor, calling at the major sites. But, because they are far smaller than cruise ships, they can dock anywhere.

To get a look at tour operators that offer choices of different kinds of dahabeyas, check out the vessels offered by Memphis Tours Egypt. In the deluxe mode, Abercrombie & Kent has a new sail-the-Nile aboard a dahabeya (the A&K spelling is dahabieh) under its Tailor Made Private Travel program that offers a charter-only cruise aboard the Zein Nile Chateau, which has four spacious cabins and two suites, all featuring air conditioning and panoramic windows. The Farouk Suite shares the upper deck with the salon and dining room, a cigar lounge, and library, while the sun deck has an oasis pool and sky lounge for star gazing. An Egyptologist travels with the cruise, whose 7-night charter cost starts at $29,600 for up to 12 guests.

“The dahabeya offers a spectacular opportunity for an extended family or a small group of friends to discover the Nile on a private cruise—indeed the closest experience to having one’s own private yacht,” says Lorie Juliano, spokesperson for Sonesta Hotels, Resorts and Nile Cruises. Sonesta’s Nile fleet of six deluxe vessels now includes the luxury Amariat Dahabeya, available for charter, but also sailing on regularly scheduled 7-night departures on Saturdays from either Aswan or Luxor. Facilities include five cabins and two suites, open-air, Oriental-style jacuzzi, spacious sundeck and stylish common lounge. All cabin accommodations feature private direct-dial telephone, individual climate control, mini-bar, safe deposit boxes, and plasma TV, while suites each have a private terrace. Daily guided excursions are offered to renowned temples, tombs and ruins along the Nile, and transfers from and to airports are included in the all-inclusive costs, starting at $460 per cabin per night, and at $1,340 per suite per night.

“The demand for luxury and upper-upscale product in Egypt continues to be the marketplace rule and is the motivation behind Sonesta’s launch of two new ships in 2012,” says Juliano. “The new vessels will follow the model of the all-suite Sonesta Star Goddess and our very upscale St. George I.” Off the Nile and down by the sea on the Sinai peninsula, Le Royale—the first Sonesta Luxury Collection Resort—opened recently, filling the deluxe, high-end choice among the company’s three hotels at Sharm El Sheikh. Le Royale has 165 luxury rooms and suites, as well as four pools, a fine-dining Italian restaurant, and fitness center. Room rates start at $225 pp dbl.

Other than a fun-filled place in the sun, Sharm el Sheikh—an hour’s flight from Cairo—is a Sinai resort that offers its visitors many activities: scuba diving on a world-class scale; day trips or longer to the sixth century St. Catherine’s monastery, a UNESCO World Heritage site and a climb up Mount Sinai (three-four hour ascent and at its best during sunrise); and a boat trip over to Jordan for a day’s visit to the ancient city of Petra.