Safaga, a working port on the coast of the Red Sea, brings you close to what may be the world's greatest open-air museum -- the temples and tombs of Luxor (what was ancient Thebes). "Close" is the important word here, however.
The bus ride from the Red Sea port to inland Luxor, which is in the Nile Valley in central Egypt, is 3.5 hours each way, making for a very long day. (Full-day shore excursions run 15 hours or more, and nearly everyone falls asleep on the bus ride back to the ship.) That's why several lines also offer Luxor and the Valley of the Kings as an overnight option from Safaga. Experiencing Luxor's bounty can easily fill two days or more.
As a tourist destination in and of itself, few cruise passengers choose to stay in Safaga, unless they're really into diving or windsurfing.
With steady thermal winds blowing year-round, it's not surprising that Safaga's claim to fame is hosting the 1993 World Windsurfing Championships. Divers also come here for spots not yet spoiled by crowds. Not far offshore, the Red Sea's world-renowned turquoise waters are home to stunning reefs teeming with marine life.
At the port, most memorable are the rugged desert cliffs that end right at the sea. Their reddish hue makes for a pretty view, but at the same time, your ship will be surrounded by ugly industrial vessels that serve the port's primary function of hauling phosphate from local mines. Located on the western flank of the Red Sea, Safaga is also a port for ferries to and from Saudi Arabia, across the way.
The town, about 1.5 miles from the port (cabs are rarely available unless you arrange them in advance) is a dusty, rough-and-tumble kind of place with a few unimpressive shops and banks and not much else. It's not a charming place. North of town is a beach strip, with clean beaches and moderately priced hotels that attract tourists -- many from Germany -- with their diving and windsurfing centers.
But if your goal here is Luxor -- and it should be -- you're in for a special treat. Amazingly, Luxor has been drawing tourists since the Greek and Roman periods. And, when you get there, your eyes may just pop out. You might have trouble convincing yourself that you're really in Egypt and not, instead, watching an Indiana Jones movie.
Important to know: To enter the Nile Valley, you have to go through border stations, and buses and taxis are required to travel this route, with police patrol, as part of a convoy. (Your bus will also have a plain-clothes security guard with a gun under his dark suit.) This is the result of terrorist incidents in the 1990's, including the 1997 shooting of terrorists in Luxor at the Temple of Hatshepsut. It also explains why your shore excursion to Luxor will probably require you to leave at the crack of dawn – the first convoy departs at 7 a.m. And don't forget your passport; you need to carry it ashore in Egypt.