The 163km channel, first opened in 1869, connects the Mediterranean with the Red Sea and is one of the world’s most significant waterways. Approximately 50 ships pass through the canal each day taking between 11 and 16 hours to pass. Used by 8% of the worlds shipping traffic, each cargo and cruise liner carefully navigates the channel at low speed to avoid creating a massive wake that would quickly erode the canal banks.
I’ve always been fascinated by this feat of engineering and often paused for a few minutes to watch the heavy-laden liners in the distance tentatively inch their way forward. Incidentally, the best view is not from the town of Suez but from the town of Ismailia (1.5 hour drive from Cairo). Renowned for the huge quantity of mangoes grown here, Ismailia marks the spot where a branch of the Nile River meets the Red Sea waters of the Suez Canal. Numerous fishing boats and simple sightseeing boats hug the seaside promenade and offer locals and the odd traveller cruises along the freshwater river and out to into the bay.
From here you have the perfect view of the canal and the ships passing by. With an ice-cold Coca-Cola in hand we lazed about on deck and watched the procession take place before us. Pilot boats were jostling for their space and the coastguard buzzed around riding on the wake. We were close enough to see the tankers and the cargo on board and a small flotilla of navy vessels. The captain also pointed out the dry dock and slips, all under the watchful eye of the towering Suez Canal Authority building. It must be odd to sail those huge ships on such a busy waterway in the midst of the desert.
We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to sleepy Ismailia and an afternoon out on the water – worlds away from the tourist throngs.