By Kate Cypcar
Hey all you travelers on a budget – or those just seeking a more rugged Nile cruise! Why not consider traveling the River Nile by felucca? What exactly is a felucca, you ask? A felucca is traditional Nile sailing boat that has a very shallow draught so that it can safely cross shoals and can be easily rowed if the wind is absent or unfavorable. It is a great way to experience the river and see the temples and other sites between Aswan and Luxor. Most common are the 1 day/1 night trips to Kom Ombo (the felucca stops directly in front of the temple) and the 3 day/2 night trips to Edfu. If you can’t get enough of voyaging via felucca you can sail 4 days/3 nights to Esna or 5 days/4 nights to Luxor.
Ferrying the River Nile will probably be your most relaxing experience in Egypt. If you plan accordingly, it can serve as a much needed recuperation period and ease any angst about your jam-packed travel itinerary. By day, passengers aboard a felucca are free to enjoy the passing scenery, read, and talk to fellow passengers, etc. By night, lively partying around bonfires on sandy island shores or quiet star-gazing are just two examples of activities that will keep you occupied. There are a scattering of interesting sites along the Nile. Sometimes strong winds propel the felucca ahead too fast. If you notice that this is occurring, it may be necessary to ask your captain to dock so you can take advantage of these historical spots. Plan to sleep on board the boat or to camp on a sandy island. The standard number of passengers is between six and eight; aim for six if you want to be comfortable and have more space to move around. Captains will stop on shore if you need to use the ‘bathroom’ (ladies, I recommend packing lots ‘o toilet paper). At the conclusion of your felucca journey it is easy to hire a taxi back to Aswan or north to Luxor or on to your next Egyptian destination. Most captains are quite helpful and will be happy to arrange a taxi for you, but keep in mind that this will be more expensive than organizing transportation yourself.
When it comes to financing your felucca adventure, the Egyptian government prevents operators from horrendously overcharging by providing established fixed prices for felucca trips. If there are at least six passengers, it should cost about E£25 per person from Aswan to Kom Ombo, E£45 to Edfu, E£60 to Esna, and E£75 to Luxor. This does not include the cost for the required “permission” (an additional E£5), or the cost of food and bottled water (an additional E£10-20, depending on the number of days sailing and the number of people on board). If you want beer or extras you have two options: (1) bring it yourself, or (2) ask for it and risk paying additional for the service. If your group is less than six, plan to pay more to compensate for the captain’s loss. Another detail to store away is that felucca prices increase and decrease according to demand. During periods of high demand be prepared to pay extra because captains know they can ask for more. On the flip side, don’t be afraid to bargain during low-demand seasons. However, no matter what season, always be wary of a felucca captain who accepts a price significantly lower than the ones established; chances are the money you save will come out of the money prearranged for your food supplies.
More than 500 feluccas and sailors are based in Aswan. It is just a given that you will be bombarded by offers as soon as you step off the train. Instead of settling for the first reasonable offer, I suggest slowing down and making a decision that is right for you and your travel companions. Finding a captain who speaks English and has a few years experience can prove stressful in the hubbub. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or just want some local expert advice, stop by the tourist office for a lead. If you are searching for other passengers to share a boat with, you can also leave your name with the tourist office. The Aswan Moon restaurant is popular among felucca captains and prospective passengers. You might take in a bit of the atmosphere – it’s a fine way to get hooked up with a deal.
According to one source, a passenger should ‘consider’ the following before embarking on a felucca trip (although, used as a check list this information can ensure a delightful and worry-free trip downriver):
1. Check out the boat before agreeing to anything. Make sure it has been well maintained, that there are sufficient life jackets, blankets, mattresses, etc. for everyone, and that there is a cover to protect you from the sun.
2. Before handing over money, be clear about your agreement.
3. Confirm your destination. In winter, when the weather is too cold to sail, captains have been known to ditch passengers while still miles from their destination.
4. If the price you agree upon includes all food and water, inquire how much bottled water per person is supplied. Each person requires at least 2-3 bottles a day. Providing your own is the safest solution.
5. Tap water is used to cook on board. Make sure there is a sufficient supply, as the Nile is a popular substitute. Yuk!
6. Refuse last minute additional passengers that were not part of your initial agreement. Add-ons mean more money for the captain, but less comfort and supplies for the passengers.
7. Ensure the captain you deal with will be on the boat and ask to meet his assistant (felucca captains travel in pairs). Sometimes the dealers are not the sailors.
8. Captains are required to register the trip at the police station. While this E£5 process ensures your safety, it is not ‘safe’ to hand over your passport. Instead, give the captain a copy.
9. Pay half the price you agree upon prior to departure and the balance when you reach your destination.
10. A sleeping bag is a ‘must have’ in the winter because nights are cold; it’s your prerogative whether to pack one for summer travel. Bring sun block, insect repellant, toilet paper (burn or pack it out with you, but don’t bury it), and all the books, journals, etc. you normally don’t have the time for.
11. Changing your mind about felucca captains is considered perfectly acceptable. If you do, your permission fee will not be returned, however, your food money should be. If the captain claims the food has already been bought, you have the right to ask for the food.
12. If you encounter problems, you can count on the tourist office to act as an intermediary between you and the police.
If nothing else, addressing these issues prior to your felucca voyage ensures that the focus of your attention stays on the River Nile and the tales of history and culture that flow through its waters. Enjoy!