See the ancient sites of Egypt aboard a historic Nile steamer


Egypt has always fascinated adventurous travelers looking to peer into the country’s ancient history, and a cruise down the Nile River is one of the best ways to step back to the time of the pharaohs.

Steamer ships have long ferried curious passengers along the river, stopping to take in the most amazing historic sights of Egypt, such as one of the originals, the 100-year-old Steam Ship Sudan.

“A cruise on board the Steam Ship Sudan is a journey back in time,” said Anne Dumesnil, director, North Africa, Middle East and Central Asia, for Voyageurs du Monde, the travel company that bought and restored the ship in 2000.

“The Steam Ship Sudan takes its passengers to explore Upper Egypt – the trip down between Luxor and Aswan offers both views of pharaonic sites and wild shores,” she said.

A view from the deck of the Steam Ship Sudan. Photo © Zoé Fidji, courtesy of Voyageurs du Monde
Time travel

Considered one of the longest-lasting civilizations in known history, the Egyptian empire began around 3100 B.C.E. and held on until being finally conquered by Alexander the Great in 332 B.C.E. to become part of Macedonia.

Known for its god-like pharaohs, mind-blowing construction of stone pyramids and temples, carved sculptures, treasure- and mummy-filed tombs and hieroglyphs, signs of the ancient desert civilization can be seen all over present-day Egypt, especially along the Nile River.

The lifeblood of the region, the Nile is over 4,100 miles long, its two branches flowing north through Sudan and Ethiopia, entering Egypt before emptying into the Mediterranean Sea near Cairo. 

In the late-19th century C.E., tourists began flocking to Egypt to see the ancient sites along the river on steamer ships such as the Steam Ship Sudan.

Part of British travel empresario Thomas Cook’s Nile fleet, the SS Sudan made its maiden voyage in 1921, just in time for the “golden age” of the Nile River cruise in the ‘20s and ‘30s.

Famed British author Agatha Christie took a ride on the SS Sudan in the ‘30s, even setting her acclaimed murder mystery, Death on the Nile, on a steamer.

The ship was purchased by Voyageurs du Monde at the turn of the following century and carefully restored for new generations to hop aboard.

Luxor to luxe

In the 21st century, a six-day cruise aboard the SS Sudan passes by numerous historical highlights along with views of modern-day life in Egypt.

“From the upper deck, guests can see the suspended life on the banks: trotting donkeys, children playing in the water, fellahs working the fertile lands,” Ms. Dumesnil said.

“And modern life also: cities, minarets and churches; on the Nile: the ballet of feluccas (traditional sailboats) loaded not only with passengers, but also chicken, sheep or bags of wheat,” she said.

While adventurers can see plenty of ancient sites on board, the ship docks for numerous trips on land to see thousands of years of history.

The Steam Ship Sudan travels on the Nile between Luxor and Aswan. Photo © Sébastien Zanella, courtesy of Voyageurs du Monde

In Luxor, the Karnak Temple Complex (2000-1700 B.C.E.) and the Temple of Luxor (1400 B.C.E.), as well as the Temple of Seti I in nearby Abydos, are must-sees.

Just outside of Luxor, travelers will explore the Valley of the Pharaohs, where Egypt’s rulers were buried between 1150 and 1069 B.C.E., and the Valley of the Queens, where their wives’ tombs are found.

Further along the Nile are the Temple of Edfu (237 B.C.E.) in Edfu, and the Temple of Philae (690 B.C.E.) in Aswan, where the land of Nubia once began.

While on the SS Sudan, guests will enjoy a luxurious atmosphere in the rooms and suites, elegant restaurant and lounge. Décor includes Egyptian fabrics and crafts side-by-side throwback early-20th-century furniture and wood paneling.

“Afloat, the Steam Ship Sudan takes over the splendor – lacquered wall paneling, brassware, thick fabrics and oriental carpets adding to the luxury of the slow pace of the landscape drifting past,” Ms. Dumesnil said.

For more about travel in Egypt, read High Road to Cairo in the March 2023 issue of Luxury Portfolio magazine.