A journey along the Nile on Viking’s first Egypt-based vessel reveals ancient treasures that continue to intrigue, writes Louise Goldsbury.
Wind-powered and towered by oversized sails, feluccas glide along the Nile like yachts on a harbour. The traditional wooden boats share this fabled river with Egypt’s newest cruise ships, passing palm trees, farms and sandy mountains in the distance. From my balcony cabin on the Viking Osiris – the first Egypt-based vessel owned by the company – I ponder this splendidly blended view of nautical, tropical, rural and desert scenes.
In the footsteps of pharaohs
A few days ago I was marvelling at the Great Sphinx and the Pyramids of Giza from atop a camel, and wandering around the even older Step Pyramid of Djoser at Saqqara. As recently as January 2023, a 4,300-year-old man – the oldest intact mummy ever found in Egypt – was discovered in a nearby tomb. It’s incredible that such significant findings are still happening beneath the ground we are walking on.
Wonders of the Nile
The wonders never cease throughout this 12-day ‘Pharoahs and Pyramids’ tour. After three nights in Cairo, we head down the Nile to Karnak, the largest religious complex in the world. Egyptians believe creation began at this site. Here, the sun god, Atum-Ra, would interact with people on Earth. Our ship’s three onboard Egyptologists guide us around the colourful temples and 134 pillars built over more than a millennium by more than 30 successive rulers.
At sunset, we visit the Temple of Luxor, known as the spiritual capital of Egypt, built by the kings Ramses II and Amenhotep III. Chanting from a mosque booms around the open-air court as we learn about the hieroglyphs etched into its walls and obelisks.
Luxor and Karnak are connected by the Avenue of the Sphinxes, which has finally reopened to the public. More than a thousand statues spread along this 3km road that was buried under sand for 5,000 years. Uncovered by archaeologists in 1949, it took several decades to excavate after constant delays caused by various political upheavals.
In the Valley of the Kings, we are excited to see the famous tomb of Tutankhamun, where the young pharaoh remains lying under a white sheet with his head and feet exposed. The tomb has been extensively repaired from the damage inflicted by heavy tourism, revealing the original colours of paintings on the walls.
When it was discovered in 1922, it was filled with gold, jewellery, sculptures, furniture and an assortment of other treasures. For the first time, the entire collection of these priceless artefacts will be displayed at the Grand Egyptian Museum. Only one-third of these items have been exhibited previously but the new gallery will showcase everything as it was found a century ago.
Valley of the Queens
Another impressive monument is the tomb dedicated to King Ramses II’s wife Nefertari in the nearby Valley of the Queens. Viking Cruises has secured VIP access to this lavish lair, which is restricted to 10-minute visits. We explore each of the rooms adorned with art, amazed by how well it has been preserved.
Viking Osiris cruise on the Nile
In between these morning and evening excursions, we return to our beautiful ship to escape the heat. A few passengers cool off in the infinity pool, while others relax in the air-conditioned lounge or library. In the afternoon, the Egyptian crew set up a bar on the top deck and pour ice-cold pina coladas.
Viking Osiris has two restaurants serving local and Western cuisine, with a tasty range of regional specialties. My favourites are the hearty falafel burger, labneh-stuffed figs, kabsa (beef stew), and hawawshi (minced meat, vegetables and pine nuts in pita). The best feast is Egyptian Night, when we are encouraged to wear galabeyas, traditional long gowns that can be purchased at markets along the river – a fun way to end this unforgettable cruise.