Egypt by land and sea

Contributing editor Ted Scull explored Egypt by land and sea with Lindblad Expeditions. His report follows:

CAIRO, Egypt -- While many travelers might shy away from taking an organized tour, it is really the best way to navigate the Nile Valley.

The rewards of escorted travel include not having to deal with overly eager "official" local guides, canceled reservations and long lines at nearly every site during prime visiting hours.

Lindblad Expeditions accepts only 30 clients on its Egypt programs, which are 10 or 16 days in length and include pre-tour visits in Cairo and a post-tour stay at the Mena House Oberoi at the Pyramids in Giza.

We flew to Luxor from Cairo for the eight-day cruise portion of the program. We boarded the 30-passenger riverboat, the Hapi I, and settled into roomy cabins, each with a refrigerator stocked with complimentary water bottles to take ashore, a decent-size bathroom and windows that opened.

One deck above, the lounge bar was the venue for pre-dinner briefings, information discussions and entertainment; an adjacent library lounge offered a selection of reference books.

Both buffet-style and seated meals were served in the open-sitting dining room at tables for eight.

Complimentary wines accompanied lunch and dinner.

The Mena House Oberoi, which is located near the Pyramids of Giza. We traveled with two Egyptologists, who divided our group in half.

In addition to presenting their considerable knowledge, they were experts in getting hard-to-obtain tickets to the Nefertari tomb.

The Nile in Upper Egypt is a highway for barges laden with sugarcane and feluccas, traditional riverboats, transporting sacks of fertilizer to farm landings. As we passed, we saw cattle and goats drinking from the Nile and small boys who yodeled and waved.

Lindblad's 16-day tour allowed more time at Luxor than the 10-day tour and included a visit to Dendera, an outstanding and less-visited Greco-Roman site.

Because of security following the 1997 massacre of 58 tourists, there was police presence everywhere -- from Egyptian guards in the Valley of the Queens to a two-man gunboat shadowing us on the trip to Dendera.

Karnak and Luxor temples and the tombs of pharaohs in West Bank represent Ancient Egypt at its peak.

Some of Egypt's best underground chambers are too small to handle many visitors at one time, and some sites might not be open on any given day.

Pharoah Ramses II had two temples carved out of solid rock at a site on the west bank of the Nile at Abu Simbel, south of Aswan. However, the Lindblad program had arrangements in place to avoid running into problems at the attractions.

As an example, at the popular Valley of the Kings in Luxor, our group was admitted into several crowded sites, including Tutankhamen's and Nefertari's tombs.

The only disappointment was Karnak's sound and light show, which is really of little historic interest; the show at the Great Pyramid outside Cairo was better.

Aswan was the most visitor-friendly city, and the streets that parallel the river have a lively market atmosphere where one can explore without being harassed.

We flew to Abu Simbel, where we stayed overnight at a hotel, affording us the chance to stand on the banks of Lake Nasser as the sun set behind the colossal statue of Ramses II.

The rate of the 16-day program was $5,150 per person double, including accommodations; most meals ashore; the cruise and on-board meals; domestic flights in Egypt; all shore excursions and sightseeing, and tips to the Hapi crew but not to the Egyptologists.

For more information, contact Lindblad Expeditions at (800) 397-3348 or visit the Web at www.expeditions.com.

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