Until recently, biking along the Nile has been a no-no for tourists. Good thing Doug Lofland didn’t take no for an answer. He worked his way through miles of red tape to reverse the country’s antiquated rules. His tour company, Egypt Bike and Sail, is the first to let visitors experience the valley on two wheels. (Despite the current situation in Gaza, traveling in Egypt remains safe.)
We were lucky enough to be part of Lofland’s virgin voyage, spending nine days cycling, sailing, and letting our helmet hair down at mind-blowing sights. Scenic Sahara rides, bustling spice markets, and bedouin villages provided a timeout from everyday life.
Bike ’n’ Barge
Fly from Cairo to Luxor International Airport, meet up with your guide, and get outfitted with a bike. Not a cyclephile? Don’t worry — rides are suited to your ability; groups are limited to five people per guide; and a support van stocked with food, water, and a medic (just in case) always trails along. You’ll rest easy every night aboard your home for the week: a gussied-up river cruiser with oversize cabins, queen-size beds, marble bathrooms, and two balconies overlooking the serene river.
Ooh La Luxor
Flush with ruins, Luxor (a.k.a. Thebes) is a veritable open-air museum. Start on foot at the sprawling Luxor Temple built in 1400 B.C., replete with Sphinxes, colossi (giant pharaoh statues), and the famous red granite obelisk.
The next day, ferry to the West Bank for your first ride. It’s about eighteen miles long, but the pace is leisurely, and stops are frequent. You’ll hit the Valley of the Kings, Temple of Queen Hatshepsut, and the Colossi of Memnon, all unforgettable sights. Then it’s a short ride to the elegant restaurant at Hotel Al Moudira for burgers, falafel, and an ice-cold Stella (brewed in Egypt since the 19th century).
Enjoy dinner on the upper deck of the cruiser (save room for the dizzying dessert display) as you set sail for the tiny town of Edfu. In the morning, take a short ride to the Edfu Temple, the most completely preserved ancient temple in Egypt. Don’t be surprised if local kids on their bikes challenge you to a race — you can take ’em.
Detour to discover why Edfu is called the Greenwich Village of Egypt. With its large gay population, abundant hookah bars, and sugar shake stands (a pungently sweet drink made from ground raw sugarcane), it’ll sate your need for quirky.
Next you’re off to the southern city where Egypt ends and Africa begins. It’s one of the driest inhabited places in the world (it last rained in 2006), and Aswân’s Nubians don’t bother roofing their homes. Spend the morning biking the scenic Western Desert Road, then pedal south and descend into villages along the Nile. Break for lunch inside AnaKato, the Nubian cultural house. The shish taouk (chicken and veggie shish kebab) fills you up without weighing you down.
After digesting, swap your bike for a camel, the preferred transportation for a short desert trek to the Monastery of St. Simeon, built around the 11th century. Continue to your final stop: the Aswan market, or souk, which is chockful of narrow alleys and side streets spilling with tchotchkes and gems alike.
Bypass the T-shirts for brightly colored Nubian handicrafts, textiles, and ornate silver jewelry. Smell your way into musty spice shops, passing basket weavers and blacksmiths. Stop for a refreshing hibiscus tea at one of the market cafes and pick up a bag of packaged leaves. Then it’s back to the boat for a farewell dinner.
For more information, go to egyptbikeandsail.com.
Photos: Jayme Moye Otto