Paddling the Nile
The first ever paddle down the Blue Nile from source to sea. 5,000km through wild rapids, war zones, crocodile and hippo infested waters, disease, terrorists, guns, arrests; the works...
Newly married amongst the neon glow and dumpling vendors as we bumble our way trying to figure out the world's most populous nation at this exciting time in it's history...
The Great Canadian Bike Trek
23 years old and naive, I set off in the middle of Canada's barbaric winter perched on a woolskin seat-cover peddling solo from one side of Canada to the other...
The River Nile is the world's longest and most magical river, playing host to some of Africa's most amazing spots. While most people associate the Nile's must-sees with Egypt, Egypt has just 1,500 of the Nile's 8,250 kilometres - counting both the White and Blue Niles. To claim the true Nile's Greatest Hits, one needs to consider all of the sites from the Nile sources deep in the heart of Africa, along the Nile River Valley to the Nile Delta. So taking that into account, here's the Top-10 River Nile Must-Sees:
Ahhh Cairo, Africa's largest city and unrivalled by few anywhere for excitement. It's the type of place where even the air's smell and taste reverberates the city's energy. There's obviously the last remaining ancient world wonder of the Great Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx overlooking the city, but add that to the cluttered, yet jaw-dropping ancient collection at Cairo Museum and the narrow medieval lanes of Islamic Cairo. Cairo is also the gateway to the Nile Delta and that's just the start! Many people's first impressions of Cairo aren't great, but do some planning beforehand to make the most of everything this melting pot has to offer!
Nowhere along the Nile has a greater concentration of ancient pyramids than the Meroe Royal City in Northern Sudan. More than two hundred pyramids rise elegantly around the rim of a sandy Sahara basin a few miles from the River Nile. Meroe was once the revered capital of the Black Pharaohs who ruled over much of Egypt, but nowadays it is only visited by a handful of people. There is next to no tourism infrastructure close by which means it is common to have these magnificent ancient treasures all to yourself. It's 200km from Khartoum, and there are a few transport options to get there from the capital.
Aswan is the Nile you see in story books. The white sails of feluccas dot the glistening river ferrying tourists to botanic islands and charming Nubian villages with a backdrop of golden sandy mountains. Strolling through the colourful markets you'll experience a blend of Nubian and Egyptian culture, but for Colonial Victorian grandeur, overlooking the Nile from the deck of the Old Cataract Hotel would be hard to top. On a day trip to Abu Simbel on Lake Nasser, you will see arguably the most awe-inspiring temples from ancient Egypt.
There are few better places to enjoy Ethiopia's beautiful culture, food and dance than in Bahir Dar on the shores of Lake Tana. The palm-lined streets lead to a jetty where pelicans play and boats take you to any of the lake's 37 islands. On 20 of the islands there are historic monasteries as old as 700 years, each emblazoned with wall-sized colourful murals and treasures ranging from mummified remains of Ethiopian emperors, to their swords, to their old books. My favourite monastery is the men-only Daga Istefanos perched on a cliff on a bushy island overlooking Lake Tana - sorry girls, even hens, nanny goats and she-donkeys aren't allowed, but there are plenty of other interesting monasteries to visit. Lake Tana is the source of the Blue Nile and a handy spot to see upper reaches of the river from.
The adventure capital of Uganda on the northern side of Lake Victoria is home to some of the best commercial whitewater rafting in Africa. Friendly and professional rafting operators offer adrenaline-packed rafting adventures on the White Nile. The trips crash down through unspoilt forests with plenty of wildlife including birdlife, cheeky monkeys and a few crocodiles sunning themselves on the bank. If the whitewater doesn't float your boat, there's bungy jumping, horse trekking and a handful of other adventures.
If there is one place to get a true appreciation of the scale the Nile's ancient civilisation, it is Luxor in the heart of Egypt's Nile River Valley. 85% of the remains of ancient Egypt are in and around Luxor. The jewel of Luxor is Karnack Temple, one of the greatest ever feats of construction. For 1,500 years each pharaoh tried to outdo the last, building magnificent obelisks, columns, sphinxes, statues and eventually the 5,500 square metre hypostyle hall with its 134 columns, ten metres around, soaring 26 metres high. It's larger than any ancient religious site in the world; big enough to fit nine of Rome's St. Peter's Basilicas. And across the Nile on the west bank, there's the Valley of the Kings and Queens where new tombs seem to be discovered every day. In 1922, it was where Howard Carter uncovered King Tut's tomb. If you've got spare cash, take a hot air balloon ride over Luxor to see another perspective of it.
Blue Nile Falls are the second highest falls in Africa and an icon throughout Ethiopia, although most days it's full flow is diverted to power station. Around the falls there are gorgeous grassy mountains dotted with straw-hut villages. Further downstream, the Blue Nile crashes through the some of the most stunning scenery anywhere, an area considered the Grand Canyon of Africa. Much of the Blue Nile Gorge is flanked with dramatic jungle walls that climb a mile high through some of the remotest parts of Africa. In fact, large sections of the Blue Nile were not mapped until 1930s. The wildlife is truly wild in the gorge with an abundance of game, wart hogs, baboons, hippos and the infamous Nile Crocodile. Due to the dangers and inaccessibility, there are no tourist operations in the Blue Nile Gorge. To see it you will need to organise a fully-fledged expedition, however you can catch glimpses on the drive from Addis Ababa to Bahir Dar, or by taking a rough 2-day hike to the 370 year-old 2nd Portuguese Bridge from the town of Mota.
Uganda's largest national park is best known for its namesake, the spectacular Murchison Falls. The falls are where the flow of the White Nile is forced through a narrow gap in the rocky escarpment before plunging 43 metres below. Although the park was heavily poached in the 1980s, it now boats large populations of elephants, giraffes, game, chimps, and even lions. The landscape varies from wild savannah grasslands to lush rainforest. The Nile itself hosts hippos, crocodiles and a collection of birds including the rare shoebill stork.
The Sudd is a truly unique destination in the world's newest nation - the world's largest swamp, swelling to the size of England in rainy season. The area is home to the fascinating Dinka, Nuer and Shilluk tribes, some who look, live and hunt on the floating reed islands in the same way they have for thousands of years. The swamp is rich with wildlife; it was only in 2007 when scientists discovered significant numbers of white-eared kob antelopes - a herd numbering 800,000. When joined by Mongalla gazelles and Tiang antelopes they form migrating herds of more than 1.2 million in number and 80km by 48km in size. It is also an internationally significant stopover for millions of migratory birds. Now Southern Sudan is an independent nation, I'd expect travelling there will be less of a drama, however visiting The Sudd won't be easy for some time - the few boats that travel through carry saws and chains to clear floating reed islands that constantly alter the routes. But persevere, it will be incredibly rewarding.
Karima is a relaxed and friendly town of colourfully painted adobe buildings at the foot of the stately Jebel Bakal mountain. The mountain was a spiritual place for ancient Egyptians and Nubians, who believed all Gods were born there. In the shadow of Jebel Bakal are the 3,750 year-old ruins of the Temple of Amon, where carved columns and rows of Sphinx rise from hieroglyphic rubble. Around the mountain, you'll find two rows of perfectly intact pyramids where powerful Kushite royals were buried. Like most sites in Sudan, there is absolutely no one else around. There are numerous other ancient sites close to Karima including more pyramids at Merowe and the medieval Old Dongola where more than 40 large rugby ball-shaped tombs spill out across the Nubian desert.
Well that wraps the Top-10 River Nile Must-Sees. I could have included another 100 sites from the Nile Source, through the Nile Valley, to the Nile Delta, but I want to leave something for you to discover for yourself. Happy travelling!
My friend Les Jickling and I spent 5 months on our backsides paddling from the Blue Nile source to the sea. Upon reaching the Med we became the first people to ever paddle the full length of the Nile from either of its sources. It was quite an expedition! There's some info about our Nile paddling adventure here, I'd recommend taking a look!
Other interesting Nile River pages: