For many nineteenth and early twentieth century travellers, a cruise along the Nile River was the centrepiece of a journey to Egypt. As Douglas Sladen remarked in 1910, “To me the Nile was a source of never-ending interest and delight; the shining thread which linked Egypt from end to end; the highway to the dark Sudan; the street of ancient Egyptian temples; the country road from which you see all the quaint procedure of Egyptian agriculture; a chapter in the history of the humours of Egypt” .
Traveled along the Nile was in a dahabiya, a large houseboat with cross-sails. According to Donald Reid, in 1858 “a forty-day round trip from Cairo to Luxor cost about £110; a fifty-day trip to Aswan and back, about £150”.
But the experience of the Nile cruise changed significantly with speedy steamers and good organizational skill to turn the Nile cruise from a leisurely three-month cruise to a twenty-day sightseeing expedition. As Reid notes, “Steamers had cut the time required for Upper Egyptian tours by one-half to two-thirds, freed tourism from the vagaries of the wind, and produced the precise schedules the industrial age demanded”.
By 1900, the railroad presented an alternative to the steamer; dahabiyas were reserved only for the wealthiest, leisure travelers.
Speed required not only taking advantage of transportation technologies like the steamer, but also standardizing travel routes. Whereas Wilkinson includes a wide range of Nile itineraries, including several land routes, Cook's tours focus on key sites along the Nile, such as Abydos, Thebes, Philae, and Abu Simbel. Before the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, some travelers going from Europe to India would cruise along the Nile to Qina or Thebes, and then take the overland route to the port of Kossayr (Qusseir), where they would then board ships to India.
The main stops along the Nile were Cairo, Asyut, Luxor, Aswan, and Khartoum. The Nile had become the favourite winter resort of westerners. A traveller could leave his native shores and find the comforts of home aboard a steamship and in luxury hotels bathed in desert sunshine”