The cataracts of Egypt are areas of a river, specifically the Nile, characterized by extreme shallowness and other obstacles that made them difficult to navigate for ancient Egyptians. Many smaller cataracts come and go with the flow of the river.
The cataracts are also covered with rocks of various sizes, and the bottom of the river is usually extremely rough at the site. In some cases, the cataracts are whitewater rapids. These characteristics made them extremely difficult to navigate and limited exploration and trade in that region. To travel over these shallows, people in ancient Egypt were forced to get out of their boats and use ropes to pull them along the rocky riverbed from the shore.