In a hurry to get to Luxor or Aswan from Cairo? Flying is the fastest option. If saving money is a priority, take the bus or the regular train. But if you believe that when traveling, the journey is just as important as the destination itself, then you might enjoy the sleeper train. Without the hassle of going to and from airports, you reach your destination refreshed and ready for a full day, as opposed to spending a sleepless night cramped on an overnight train or bus. Riding the sleeper train feels like being transported back to a time when things were slower. How often in this day and age do we find ourselves free for hours on end to read, sleep, relax, stare out the window as the Nile Valley goes by in the dark, or converse with a travel companion?
The sleeper train consists of private cabins that sleep two — essentially small hotel rooms on a train. The two large cushioned seats fold down into one bed and a second bed folds down from the wall above. Attendants are on call, literally with a press of a button, to turn down the beds after dinner whenever you are ready to sleep. Shared toilets are located at the ends of each carriage but the room comes with a wash-basin and hand-towels. There is room to hang clothes on two hangers and a large overhead storage compartment for suitcases. Even with the beds folded down the cabin does not feel crowded.
Shortly after boarding, dinner is served in your private cabin on tray tables. Don’t expect anything gourmet; you will receive overdone meat with rice, potatoes gratin, pasta, bread, and an orange. I am not sure how a meal can include four different types of carbs, but they manage. A one-liter bottle of water costs LE5. Toward the center of the train is a smoky dining car that serves a few refreshments and does not look like it has been renovated since the days of black and white movies.
The wake up call for Luxor is at 4 am, giving you enough time to wake up, have the beds put away and eat a breakfast consisting of croissant, bread, and pastries with jam, honey, and cheese, served with tea or coffee before the train reaches Luxor at 5:15 am.
The tickets cost US$60 from Cairo to Luxor, more if leaving from Alexandria or traveling on to Aswan, and must be paid for in cash in dollars or the Egyptian pound equivalent (roughly LE360 at the time of writing). Though this seems like a steep price to pay for a train journey in Egypt, it essentially includes transportation, one night’s accommodation, and two meals because dinner and breakfast are served.
The train departs at 8 pm from Giza Station (connected to the Giza Station metro stop), but tickets can also be purchased at Ramses Station from the ticket window clearly marked for the sleeper train near platform 11. The train may not leave exactly on time, but it is good to be there early anyway as recommended by the ticket office. The tickets are marked with the carriage number and cabin number and the attendants will make sure you are in the right place.
Overall, the sleeper train is a fun and relaxing way to travel to Upper Egypt.