A Suez Canal cruise is often on people’s ‘bucket list.’ It’s an experience that differs from your typical ocean cruise as a Suez Canal transit offers a day of scenic cruising. In this post, I share everything you need to know about a southbound Suez Canal cruise, including the landmarks during the journey and the best places on the ship to view the Suez Canal.
The Suez Canal: History and Key Facts
The Suez Canal was opened in 1869 to connect the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea. It’s one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world for cargo vessels that transport anything and everything between Europe and Asia. Cruise ships are also known to pass through the Suez Canal, most commonly on repositioning cruises during the shoulder seasons.
The Suez Canal passes through Egypt. Construction began from the Mediterranean side where Port Said now stands. The Suez Canal Company was responsible for the construction of the canal between 1859 and 1869 and over this 10-year period an estimated 1.5 million people worked on the project. Political turmoil in Egypt negatively affected the progress of the work, which was ruled by Britain and France.
Conditions for the workers were dangerous and thousands were reported to have died during the construction of the Suez Canal. The British government was not supportive of the project due to the slave labour enforced. Finally, the Suez Canal was completed on 17 November 1869 under French control.
Did you know…?
The first ship to enter the Suez Canal was in fact a British Navy ship, HMS Newport. The British captain had navigated the ship to the front of the line under the cover of darkness the night before the official opening. The ship squeezed ahead of the French ship to take the glory.
The Suez Canal is 120 miles long with ships travelling both northbound or southbound. Each day approximately 50 vessels pass through the canal.
Get up Early for the Suez Canal Cruise
If your Suez Canal cruise is travelling southbound (from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea), your cruise ship will most likely anchor near Port Said overnight to start the transit through the Canal the following morning.
I would highly recommend checking your cruise ship’s daily planner for details of the time that the ship is due to enter the Suez Canal.
Set your alarm and get out on an open deck early. This is going to be the busiest day of your cruise with people out on deck watching the ship pass through the canal.
Sunrise on a Suez Canal cruise is special and shouldn’t be missed. Getting up early also means that you can experience the Suez Canal cruise from the very beginning.
Best Viewpoints on a Suez Canal Cruise
One of the best viewing points on a Suez Canal cruise is at the forward or aft of the cruise ship.
If the front viewing points are too busy, try the aft. From here you can see both sides of the Suez Canal and watch the other ships and tugs behind you.
It is also more likely that there will be open deck at the aft so you can enjoy the sunshine and any photographs you take won’t be effected by glass windows.
If your cruise ship has a viewing platform above the Bridge, this could also be a good option.
Suez Canal Landmarks
There are several landmarks dotted along the Suez Canal that you won’t want to miss. In this section, I share the key sights you need to look out for during your Suez Canal cruise.
Port Said is the fifth largest city in Egypt and was built purely because of the Suez Canal. You can view the city on the starboard side of the ship transiting southbound (port side, northbound).
Directly opposite Port Said is Port Fuad, its twin city. You may see free ferries crossing this point of the canal, which link the two cities.
El Qantara and the Suez Canal Soldier Monument
The next city you will reach is El Qantara, a city that inhabits both sides of the Suez Canal. The city is linked by the Mubarak Peace Bridge.
On the port side, look out for the ferryboat station and a little further on, the soldier monument. The Soldier of Freedom monument is flanked by tanks and commemorates the end of the Suez Crisis.
Suez Canal Bridge
The Mubarak Peace Bridge, also known as the Suez Canal Bridge, opened in 2001 after Egypt received funding from Japan to assist the development of the Sinai Peninsular (port side).
The Suez Canal Bridge will only allow ships with a maximum height of 68m, as your cruise ship passes under the bridge, you will feel quite close to it.
Make sure you’re out on the open decks of your cruise ship as you pass underneath the bridge.
Suez Canal Expansion
After passing under the Mubarak Peace Bridge, the Suez Canal splits into two channels. This is to enable traffic to travel southbound and northbound without having to stop to let ships pass.
The southbound route is the original Suez Canal and the northbound route incorporates an expansion that was completed in 2016.
El Ferdan Railway Bridge
The El Ferdan Railway Bridge is the longest swing bridge in the world, with a span of 340m. Unfortunately, it is no longer in use after the Suez Canal expansion cut off the a-joining railway track.
Incredibly this bridge has been built five times since 1918. It has been destroyed in wars, removed and hit by a steamboat!
Suez Canal Authority Monument
On port side, after the El Ferdan Railway Bridge, is a Suez Canal Authority monument depicting a ship and tower. This monument is near the Timsah Lake and the huge ‘Welcome to Egypt’ sign.
Welcome to Egypt
Your Suez Canal cruise takes you through Egypt and as you near Ismailia, you will be greeted with a enormous ‘Welcome to Egypt’ sign on port side.
At this point your cruise has travelled 45 miles of the Suez Canal.
AK-47 Bayonet Monument
A huge monument of an AK-47 bayonet stands out on the barren landscape on the approach to Ismailia. On first look it resembles a space rocket but in fact the monument is depicting an automatic gun, in memory of the casualties of the Battle of Ismailia.
The Battle of Ismailia monument is a concrete structure that was a gift from North Korea. During the Battle of Ismailia, Egypt and North Korea were allies and fought Israel Defence Forces.
Egyptian Armed Forces Theatre
On port side is an open air theatre that may at first be mistaken for a sports stadium. This is the Egyptian Armed Forces Theatre.
Close to the ‘Welcome to Egypt’ sign is Timsah Lake on starboard side.
This is a local holiday resort with several hotels and beaches surrounding the lake.
Memorial Defence of the Suez Canal
This granite memorial is dedicated to the defence of the Suez Canal against the Turkish during World War I and stands at 50m.
Look out for it on starboard side.
Half Moon Building
This building can be seen on starboard side after Timsal Lake.
It’s situated by a lake and ahead of the nearby Olympic Village complex.
Great Bitter Lake
The Suez Canal opens up into a huge saltwater lake called Great Bitter Lake. It’s said to have been given this name because a local sawmill would dump its logs into the lake and the tannic acid gave the water a bitter taste.
The lake is used as a temporary harbour and passing lane for ships using the canal.
Egypt Peace Sign
As your Suez Canal cruise moves into the canal you will see plenty of local life on the banks.
On starboard side, there is an Egypt Peace sign created from stones.
As your cruise reaches the end of the canal, you will pass the city of Suez.
This is the gateway to the Gulf of Suez.
Port Tawfik Mosque
The final landmark to look out for is a grand mosque, situated on starboard side. This huge building stands on the edge of the Suez Canal next to Port Tawfik.
It’s ornately decorated domed roof, called a qubba, sits between its two minarets.
Things to look out for on a Suez Canal cruise
Apart from the landmarks you will see during the transit, it’s worth looking out for daily life on the canal and its banks.
It’s highly likely that your cruise ship will be followed by tug boats. This is to ensure that the ship doesn’t get stuck on a bank like the Ever Given cargo ship did in March 2021.
You will also see other ships taking the canal transit with you.
Fishermen work in the Suez Canal and can get quite close to the ships. They seem to be used to the traffic although are probably more used to seeing huge cargo vessels than cruise ships!
Wild dogs can be spotted roaming on the banks, in search of food.
Once you get to the point where you can see the northbound canal section the ships may appear to be sailing through the desert. It’s quite a spectacle!
Is it safe to take a Suez Canal cruise?
It is safe to cruise through the Suez Canal and many cruise ships do it during repositioning cruises every year.
You are likely to see plenty of security lookout posts on the Suez Canal banks during the transit.
Our cruise ship was followed by an armed vehicle for the first half of the journey but we didn’t notice it until another passenger pointed it out.
Your Suez Canal cruise will likely need to cruise through the Gulf of Aden, which has had pirate activity in the past but your ship will take the necessary precautions, like armed guards, close some open decks and do a pirate drill.
You can learn more in my post about how cruise ships prepare for pirates.
Suez Canal Cruises 2022
Suez Canal cruises are starting to return in 2022, with a small choice of options from:
- Norwegian Cruise Line
- P&O Cruises for 2023 cruises
- Princess Cruises for 2023/24 cruises
- Holland America for 2024 cruises
Do you need a balcony cabin for a Suez Canal cruise?
If you’re booking a Suez Canal cruise, a balcony cabin is a good idea. It will enable you to enjoy the views from the comfort of your cabin and offers some shade from the midday sun.
We spent the first half of the transit on the open decks and then watched the rest from our cabin balcony.
It has been know for there to be flies so keep your balcony cabin door shut.
Is a port or starboard cabin best for a Suez Canal cruise?
Whichever side of the ship you book a cabin, there will be scenery to enjoy. If you are taking a southbound transit from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea, starboard has the most landmarks.
Port side is the Sinai Desert Peninsular and is far more barren. It does have the Welcome to Egypt sign.
Starboard side has more of the landmarks, including the Port Tawfik Mosque and Defence of the Suez Canal memorial.
How long does it take for a cruise ship to go through the Suez Canal?
A full transit through the Suez Canal on a cruise takes around 12 hours. If the ship enters the canal at around 6.00am, you will be able to enjoy a day of scenic cruising and leave the Suez Canal, late afternoon.
Useful Tips for a Suez Canal Cruise
- Find out from the daily planner when the cruise will enter the Suez Canal
- Get up early to experience the sunrise and the start of the transit
- Find a good vantage point at the front or back of the ship
- Spend some time on the open decks, especially when passing under the Mubarak Peace Bridge
- Listen out for ship announcements
- Consider booking a balcony cabin (starboard), where you can enjoy some shade
- Use this guide to look out for the key landmarks on the Suez Canal
- Keep an eye out for glimpses of local life on the Suez Canal