March 24th
written by Alonna
Felucca sail boat

Felucca sail boat

A Night on the Nile River, Why not?

Upon arrival to Egypt, our Cairo hotel owner helped us book the rest of our trip. He encouraged us to include a relaxing 2-night felucca ride on the Nile River. Initially we resisted; it just didn’t seem like something we’d enjoy. We only had 8 days in Egypt, and we wanted to pack in as many ancient sights as possible. We compromised on just one night, but he insisted that we’d love it and call him begging for a second night.

What is a Felucca?

A “felucca” is just a type of sail boat. There’s basically two ways to enjoy the Nile river – felucca or gigantic cruise ship. Typically the felucca boat has room for about 8 budget (aka hippie-types) passengers. There’s a large platform in the middle with cushions, and you cozy up with your neighbors and enjoy the ride together. However, we were booked on a private boat; just the two of us plus the captain (Ali) and his crew mate.

Sailing on the Nile

Ali and Ben on the sitting, eating & sleeping surface

Ali and Ben on the sitting, eating & sleeping surface

We met Ali in the morning and set sail. The headwind was very strong and instead of a relaxing day of sailing we had to zig-zag across the river, making very slow progress. With each turn (every 5 minutes) the boat would heavily tilt in the opposite direction, so Ben and I would obediently crawl to the high-side.

Honestly, the ride was beautiful. I laid around and watched the view, and Ben got in some reading time. Despite the constant movement, it was relaxing and I probably would have loved it if it weren’t for a couple game-changing factors…


Regardless of my following complaints, which are completely circumstantial, the bathroom situation is totally unacceptable to me. There are no bathrooms along the Nile river. The felucca stops along the river every couple hours, and in Ali’s words, with his arms stretched wide to signal the entire river bank, “this is your toilet!” I realize that humans and animals have probably been using the land along the river as a toilet for millennia. But even now, there are no boyscout “dig a 6-inch hole” rules. Just find a bush (for privacy, if you’re lucky) and do your business. And leave your garbage there too, as hundreds of others have done before you. Not only is this disgusting, but it’s extremely unsanitary and also contaminates the river. And to top it off, we witnessed the cruise ships actually dumping large garbage cans right into the river. Ali explained that they all do it to avoid paying for proper disposal, they just wait until they’re out of the police zones.

River bank Scenery

Deal Breaker: Nighttime

As soon as it was dark and we finished dinner, we all headed to bed. The four of us shared the large wooden platform, covered by a thin cushion. Despite the rock-hard sleeping surface, I fell asleep pretty early, only to wake up a few hours later. Around midnight I felt something on my shoulder, very close to my face. When I finally came to, I flung my arm up, sending the unknown object flying a couple feet away to my unsuspecting neighbor,

Sunset on the Nile

Sunset on the Nile

the crew mate. Looking over, I saw a small silhouette on top of his blanket, which quickly scurried away. I reached for my flashlight and pointed it across the boat. A little head poked up at me before running off. Rats!?

The commotion woke up Ali, who was quite amused. “Don’t worry, don’t worry. Go to sleep” he cooed. Easy for him to say. I couldn’t sleep the rest of the night; jumping at the slightest noise, and expecting to wake up with a rat nibbling on my nose. Later I heard the pots and pans rustle and when I pointed my flashlight across the boat, I saw a long pink tail hanging off the edge of the boat. Eww.

A Cold Morning, and Awful Taxi Driver

Later that morning during our already restless sleep, it got cold. Very very cold. We had blankets and I even wore my stocking cap, but cold air always finds it’s way in. Finally at 6 am Ben and I got out of bed and hung out on the river bank trying to soak in the sun to warm us up. After breakfast, we were happy to leave the boat behind and head to Luxor by collective taxi van. Squished into the van with 12 other tired felucca ride survivors, we suffered through an awful day of shuttling to ancient sights on the way to Luxor with the worst-imaginable driver. Constantly screaming into his cell phone, smoking and spitting tobacco out the window, one-handed crazy driving and continuous honking, this was the worst taxi driver ever. When we arrived in Luxor 6 hours later, he put on a nice face and asked for his tip. Prepared, I boldly said “No, no Tip. You have to earn it! You have to be nice to get a tip.” He asked a couple times and when I repeated myself, he shrugged and walked away defeated. It might sound rude, but I’m actually quite proud of myself. Egyptians expect a tip regardless of what service they provide or the quality, and I was teaching a profound lesson. However, I’m sure it was lost on him and he walked away unenlightened, with a pocket full of tips from our co-travelers.

Long Story Short

Sounds awful, right? Well if you ask me if I would recommend a felucca ride, I’d probably say “yeah, sure, just know what you’re getting into.” We were unlucky with the strong headwind, unseasonably cold night, and I haven’t heard any other accounts of rats. Normally I think you sleep under the stars maybe even without blankets, which would be lovely. If everything else went perfectly, I could have overlooked the bathroom situation. But let’s just say in our specific case, there were a few too many straws on the camel’s back.


  1. Anita Tjan

    Wow – what an adventure! The rats would be one part of the adventure I rather pass on. But for some people all this is part of normal life.

  2. Becky Kjeldsen

    Ahhh- Alonna, I had to call Rebecca to stop what she was doing and come read your post I was so amused. Not to hear what a crazy experience you had, but I have to admit, it was very interesting and somewhat entertaining… I didn’t know what was going to happen next. Your descriptions were great- felt like I was there on the boat- minus the rats. Glad you guys made it back to land safely! Keep writing:)

  3. 03/24/2010

    We have been on some wild boat rides too. There is getting to be more and more baby calves. And the weather is starting to get warmer. There is also a little green grass.

  4. mom A.

    That is a good one!! Once those experiences are over they make the best stories!!!

  5. Lori

    ahhh! what an experience!

  6. Dawn and Paul

    Thanks for this post…and the advice. Definitely no overnight felucca for us! We’ll stick to a sunset felucca and overnight cruise.

  7. 05/07/2010

    oh gosh, that sounds terrible…..we also have 8 nights in egypt and considered a felucca but read/heard stories….don’t think it is my cup of tea since i ALWAYS have to go pee……so, we are staying in cairo for 2 nights and then heading to dahab for some snorkling….have you heard anything about dahab? and what about asia—oh gosh, we have loved every minute of s.e. asia–been here since january…..maybe next time….enjoy your travels…christine and paul

  8. 05/07/2010

    @Christine – Great to hear from you! I think in the right situation & with the right attitude the Felucca ride could be great, I know people who absolutely loved it. In general it’s very romantic sailing on the Nile – maybe you can consider a sunset or 2-hour felucca ride. Don’t know anything about Dahab, sorry. We really focused on ancient Egypt since that’s what we love – Luxor is a must. Asia… yes, it’s very sad but we aren’t going there on this trip. I’ll have to catch up on your blog, I definitely plan on traveling through Asia someday. Happy travels!