Egypt’s Dahabiya Nile Cruises: Everything you need to know about the riads of the Nile

Egypt’s Dahabiya Nile Cruises: Everything you need to know about the riads of the Nile

Likened to the ‘Riads’ of the Nile, the elegant twin-masted dahabiyas that sail between Luxor and Aswan are the ideal way to discover the magnificent ancient sites and scenery of Upper Egypt if you are attracted by the idea of cruising on a small yacht.  

What is a dahabiya?

The origins of these shallow-bottomed sailing boats can be traced back to the time of the Egyptian Pharaohs, and the name ‘dahabiya’ is derived from the Arabic word for ‘gold’ on account of the gold-painted state barges used to transport the Muslim rulers of Egypt along the Nile during the Middle Ages. The stylish luxury vessels found today, however, take their inspiration from the dahabiyas of the middle to late 19th century, a period when the ‘grand tourists’ of yesteryear would embark on a typically forty/fifty-day round trip from Cairo to Luxor and Aswan respectively.

To quote directly from Baedeker’s Egypt (first published in 1878);

“Travellers to whom independence of action and economy of time are more important than economy of money may charter for themselves dahabiyas or private streamers.” 

The guide goes on to say;

“In Cairo the best dahabiyas, comfortably and even luxuriously fitted, are those belonging to Thos. Cook & Son.”

Ironically, it was the introduction of the first steamboat on the River Nile by Thomas Cook in the early 1900s, along with the expansion of the railway line south to Aswan, that contributed to the decline in popularity of the dahabiya. It wasn’t until almost the end of the 20th century that these intimate floating boutique hotels began to make a comeback. 

Dahabiya Nile cruising
A fleet of dahabiyas

Seven reasons to choose a dahabiya over a classic Nile cruise boat

1. A dahabiya Nile cruise offers exclusivity

Put simply, with only four to eight cabins aboard, the singular attraction of a dahabiya Nile cruise is that it allows you and a small group of fellow travellers to exclusively charter a dahabiya and sail on the Nile for between five and seven nights at a refreshingly slow pace that is largely removed from the hustle and bustle of modern Nile cruising. 

2. Modern dahabiya are luxurious and equipped to a very high standard

Although dahabiyas today pay homage to those of old, they are finished to an impeccable standard that ensures guests do not have to forgo any modern comforts. All of the dahabiyas recommended by Corinthian Travel offer en-suite cabins that are fully air-conditioned and decorated with palatial furnishings. Some suites also have a private balcony or terrace, while the spacious observation deck on each vessel is complete with a shaded area, comfortable seating as well as sun lounges. More details about the dahabiyas chosen for the enjoyment of our guests can be found later in this article.

3. Dining on board a dahabiya is a more intimate experience

Unlike larger Nile boats which often provide buffet-style cuisine, meals on a dahabiya are served either table d’hôte or à la carte depending on the dahabiya chosen. Taking into account local conditions, freshly prepared meals are served on deck or in the boat’s relaxed dining room. 

Luxor Dahabiya deck 3 (Lazuli Dahabiya) Egypt - Dahabiya Nile Cruises
Dahabiya dining

4. Dahabiya Nile cruises can reach attractions that normal Nile cruise boats cannot

Due to the smaller size of the dahabiya, you will visit small islands, local villages and Pharaonic sites often missed by the larger Nile cruises, enabling you to experience an Egypt that has long been removed from the tourist radar. 

5. Dahabiya Nile cruises navigate the Nile using the power of sail

Tranquillity is another key attraction of a dahabiya cruise. With two large sails, one at the bow and another at the stern, wind rather than motor-driven is the primary source of power used to navigate the river. The braying of a donkey, the creaking of ropes and sail, or the cry of a local muezzin calling the faithful to prayer, are but a few of the eclectic sounds that break the gentle and peaceful sound of the Nile lapping on your dahabiya’s hull. 

6. Dahabiya Nile cruises offer an impressive crew-to-guest ratio

With a high crew-to-guest ratio, personalised service is second-to-none on board a dahabiya and for many previous guests, the interaction with the boat’s crew has been as much a memorable highlight as the cruise itself.

7. Dahabiya Nile cruises afford more time with the resident Egyptologist

Another advantage of a small boat cruise on the Nile is that for those who wish to delve deeper into Egypt’s ancient history, there is the opportunity to spend more time with the boat’s resident Egyptologist. 

Sailing on the River Nile in Egypt
Sailing on the River Nile

Where do dahabiya Nile cruises sail?

Dahabiya boats typically sail from Luxor to Aswan, or vice versa, making frequent stops along the way.

Visits to the mighty temples of the Egyptian pharaohs, such as those at Luxor and Karnak, will punctuate time relaxing on the deck and exploring half-forgotten Nilotic Islands. Dahabiyas tend to visit the ancient monuments along the Nile at times when the more hurried cruise ship passenger has long since departed. This enables the dahabiya passenger to appreciate the massive pylons, mysterious hieroglyphs and collonaded halls in relative solitude. Some dahabiyas take advantage of their low draft to visit some of the smaller and virtually forgotten sites of the Nile such as the ancient tombs at El Kab, or the great rock-cut temple of the 18th dynasty pharaoh Horemheb at Gebel-el Silsila. In our opinion, there is no better way to discover the hidden sights of Egypt and the Nile than from the deck of a dahabiya Nile cruise.

Nowhere is the Nile more beautiful than when passing through Egypt. Here, the river is lined with thousands of tall date palms punctuated with small settlements and farms from where villagers go about their daily tasks: ploughing fields, tending cattle, and fishing. Occasionally, the river will divide forming an island thick with lush vegetation – this stunning timeless rural scenery of Upper Egypt will provide continual interest from the comfort of the shaded sundeck of your dahabiya. Passing Nile Cruise ships, traditional wooden felucca sailing boats, and many species of indigenous and migratory birds will provide additional points of interest as you gently make your way along the river.

How long is a dahabiya Nile cruise?

Most dahabiya cruises sail for 4 or 5 nights however in the spirit of slow travel, 7-night and even longer cruises are available especially if you opt for a private charter dahabiya. 

Which is the best luxury dahabiya on the Nile?

As part of our exclusive portfolio of hotels and Nile cruises in Egypt, we have hand-picked a selection of elegant dahabiyas for you to choose from;

Zekrayaat Dahabiya

Comprising four twin-bedded cabins and two double-bedded suites (with private balconies), the Zekrayaat Dahabiya harks back to a bygone era with its traditional Egyptian decoration and antique furnishings. The enticing wooden sundeck is well-appointed with welcoming chairs and relaxing loungers and the ideal shaded spot from which to absorb the daily happenings along the river. 

Is the Zekrayaat available for a private dahabiya charter?

The Zekrayaat dahabiya is not usually available for private hire, but it’s worth checking the options with us. The Zekrayaat operates a four-night cruise between Esna and Aswan departing on a Monday, and a three-night cruise between Aswan and Esna departing on a Friday. 

Merit Dahabiya

Powered by two graceful lateen sails, the Merit Dahabiya offers a choice of eight twin or double-bedded cabins, each furnished in contemporary style. Meals are either taken in the fully air-conditioned dining area on the lower deck or al fresco on the boat’s roomy terrace, which also features a jacuzzi and a scattering of relaxing sunbeds.

Is the Merit available for a private dahabiya charter?

Yes, the Merit can be privately chartered for an exclusive dahabiya cruise. In addition, the Merit offers a fixed departure five-night cruise between Luxor and Aswan on a Saturday that can be extended to seven nights by returning to Luxor. 

Sonesta Amirat Dahabiya

Stylishly decorated, the resplendent Amirat is one of the finest luxury small boats cruising on the Nile. Each of the Amirat’s five twin-bedded cabins and two doubled-bedded suites is finished to an extremely high standard and features amenities such as individual climate control, a mini-bar, and plasma televisions with movie channels. Furthermore, the two suites each have a private terrace at the bow of the boat. A la carte dining and a greater than one-to-one crew-to-guest ratio are also standout features of the Sonesta Amirat Dahabiya.

Is the Amirat available for a private dahabiya charter?

It is possible for families and small groups of friends to charter the Sonesta Amirat dahabiya for an exclusive private cruise experience. The Amirat cruise operates 7-night cruises on Saturday to Saturday from Luxor and Aswan on alternate weeks.

Lazuli Dahabiyas (Luxor, Roi Farouk and L’Orient)

Designed to replicate the dahabiya of yesteryear, the Lazuli fleet features three twin-masted boats that travel along the Nile at a leisurely pace. On board, the cabins are simple but tasteful. Featuring traditional wooden décor,  each cabin is equipped with an en suite bathroom (shower only) and air conditioning. The shaded upper deck, where guests will spend the majority of their onboard time, is an inviting space to unwind and contemplate the ever-changing landscape as it passes by. Freshly prepared dinners are also served on deck by candlelight by the attentive yet unobtrusive crew, plus there is also the option to dine under the stars on an island in the middle of palm trees. 

Are Luxor, Roi Farouk and L’Orient available for private dahabiya charters?

The three Lazuli boats are available for privately chartered dahabiya cruises. Luxor and Roi Farouk each comprise four cabins (two twin and two double-bedded cabins) and one suite with a private balcony. Luxor and Roi Farouk can accommodate up to ten guests, while L’Orient can accommodate up to twelve guests. It features four cabins (two twin and two double-bedded cabins) and two suites that share a balcony.  

Kazazian Dahabiya Nile cruise

More in the style of a superyacht than a traditional dahabiya, the Kazazian offers the ultimate luxurious and intimate cruising experience on the River Nile. Each of the Kazazian’s nine spacious cabins (including an amazing Owner’s Suite at the rear of the boat) is decorated to a very high standard in light, soothing colours and features minimalist furnishings and a large picture window. Just a few of the facilities in each cabin are Wifi access, a Nespresso coffee machine, and a fully stocked Mini Bar. In-room dining is also available should the mood take. Above deck, the layout is equally as opulent. There is a plunge pool and sun loungers at the front of the boat, while at the rear a shaded lounge leads to the glamorous dining room where meals exquisitely prepared by the yacht’s master chef are served.

Is the Kazazian available for a private charter?

The Kazazian is available for a privately chartered Nile cruise and operates 5 night Nile cruises between Luxor and Aswan (and vice versa).

Nuut and Nuun Twin Dahabiyas

Traditionally designed and elegantly styled, Ashranda’s twin dahabiyas Nuut and Nuun are among the most luxurious on the Nile. These dahabiyas have eight well-appointed cabins featuring all the amenities you would expect from a hotel room. The panoramic windows provide superlative views of the River Nile. Two of the cabins are spacious suites which benefit from a private terrace. The large sun deck is a good reason to choose to holiday onboard either the Nuut or Nuun dahabiya but there is also ample space to relax in the lounges of the air-conditioned main deck. Impeccable service and first-class dining are a given.

Are the Nuut and Nuun Twin Dahabiyas available for a private charter?

Yes, it’s possible to charter the Nuut and Nuun twin dahabiyas for an exclusive holiday for family and friends. Three, four and seven night cruises are possible, departing on Monday and Thursday. 


At Corinthian Travel, our Egypt experts specialise in tailor-made holidays; designing bespoke holidays to exactly match your interests, pace and style of travel. We are more than happy to discuss any ideas you have, however, we have a suggested itinerary that can be adapted: our 11-day / 10-night luxury Dahabiya Nile cruise itinerary combines a seven-night dahabiya cruise through the unforgettable scenery and historic sites of Upper Egypt with time in Cairo on either side of the cruise.

What have we missed? If you have any questions about dahabiya cruises, drop them in the comments. Alternatively, if you’d like to chat about a dahabiya Nile sailing holiday, contact our Egypt experts for more information. 


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EGYPT’S DAHABIYA NILE CRUISES_ EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW #luxury #holiday #nile #sailing #nilecruise #nile-1
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