Aswan is located in southern Egypt and has been a part of the ancient Nubian kingdom, a land of gold, of pharaohs, and the underwater Aswan Dam since the 1960s. The most famous Nile cruises in Egypt begin and end here, heading north to Luxor, another starting point for cruises to the charming Abu Simbel complex in southern Egypt.
- 1 About Aswan
- 2 What is the best time to go to Aswan?
- 3 How To Get To Aswan
- 4 Things to do in Aswan
- 5 Where to eat in Aswan
- 6 Where to stay in Aswan
The old quarry in Aswan, where pyramids, statues, and other monuments were built, is one of the highlights of any trip to the city and a visit to the unfinished obelisk, which still has a partial attachment to the rock it was sculpted from 3500 years ago. Next to the site are the ruins of several 9th-century dome tombs in the Fatimid cemetery.
If you are fortunate enough to spend a lot of time in Aswan and join one of Aswan tours, the city also has many museums, one of which is dedicated to the other part of Egypt: Nubian culture and history. If you like this route, you can take a boat across the Nile to Gharb Soheil, known as the Nubian village, and it is not that far from Aswan.
Aswan has several ancient temples as it stands across the country, including the Temple of Philae, which is located on an island that’s closer to the city center and is consecrated to Isis, the goddess. One of the most popular places closer to Aswan and the reason a lot of people travel to southern Egypt is the temple complex at Abu Simbel, two stone temples sculpted out of the mountains in the 13th century BC.
What is the best time to go to Aswan?
One of the sunniest and driest locations you can be on earth is Aswan. Generally, many years can pass, and there won’t be any rainfall. In addition, their summer is the hottest in the country, the same as Luxor; it can be an average of over 40 Celsius/105 Fahrenheit. Therefore, even though it might be relatively cheaper to travel during summer, comfort might be lacking.
Winter is the peak season in Aswan, with temperatures ranging from 20 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and slightly cooler at night. If you don’t mind too much sun, late autumn and early spring are good too.
How To Get To Aswan
Flight: There are flights every day from Cairo to Aswan, which take approximately one hour and 20 minutes. You can arrange a car with accommodation in Aswan to pick you up from the airport or take an expensive taxi. Flying is the fastest way to get to Aswan.
Train: You have to be patient with this. You can decide to enter from Cairo to Aswan, which is about 12 hours away. There are sleeping compartments at an extra cost, and it can be an interesting adventure.
Cruise: There are currently no cruises from Cairo to Aswan. So, if you want to come in style to the city on the Nile, the only option is to go from Luxor.
Car: If you are not driving from Luxor (3-4 hours) or Marsa Alam on the Red Sea (5 hours), you do not have to worry about driving unless you have a whole lot of time to spare.
Things to do in Aswan
Wadi al-Subua translated to the Valley of the Lions; the site took its name from the lion’s head sphinx that led to the temple. This building was built during the reign of King Ramesses II. Being the second-largest Nubian temple following Abu Simbel, Wadi al-Subua is renowned as the only surviving tower, with stone porches and inner vestibule and a rock-carved shrine.
Abu Simbel is located in the Egyptian part of Nubia – part of Nubia is Sudan and is a village close to the Sudan border. The town is famously known for the two large temples built by King Ramesses II for his wife, Queen Nefertari. Many personalized luxury tours in Egypt should include a drive to Abu Simbel, a four-hour drive from Aswan, so please consult your Egyptologist’s personal guide. Even though the temple needs hours of travel, tourists still believe in the temple and say that Abu Simbel is one of their best in Egypt and that it is well worth the trip.
Downtown Aswan features a nice riverside where you can walk and watch the beautiful scenery. At the southern extreme is located the elegant Sofitel Old Cataract hotel from the Edwardian era. The hotel has received distinguished guests such as Winston Churchill and Agatha Christie, who authored her thriller Death on the Nile during her visit here. The river looks great from the hotel terrace and is a great place for afternoon tea or a sunset cocktail.
An adventure at Yebu
Scattered behind the Aswan Museum are impressive relics and memorials of the first settlement in Aswan, the old town of Yebu. Steep, rocky routes, and a lack of security gates or fences make it difficult to explore the site if you are exploring with children. Notable sights include Khnum Temple at the top of the island, a rebuilt temple of the 18th dynasty village, and the Nile.
Since the Old Kingdom, the rise and fall of the Nile have been closely monitored, and its measurement is one of the important roles of the resident governor of the Elephantine and later Aswan in assisting potential farmers and tax collectors who would expect successful annual planting according to the water level.
Elephantine Island is the largest island in the Aswan islands. It was an important trading post, especially in the case of ivory, which may be the reason for its name (elephantine, a Greek word for Elephant). One of its most notable features is the Nilometer – one of the three rivers on this famous river – this ladder supported the water level of the Nile until the 19th century.
Other important attractions are the Abu Ruins, Kunum Temple, and Satet Temple, and also a host of cultural relics, beautiful gardens, and colorful Nubian villas. There is a public ferry to access the island, or you can take a felucca (wooden sailing boat) and stop at Elephantine Island to conclude your time on the water. If you want to extend your stay there, you can also use hotels and guesthouses.
Monastery of St. Simeon
Nile river cruises and camel riding take you to the Monastery of St. Simon, also called the Anba Hatra Monastery. This Coptic monastery is located on the west bank of the river, opposite Elephantine Island, giving you a glimpse into the origins of Christianity in Egypt and the life of monks since the 7th century. Different from other Egyptian sites, this attraction does not attract crowds and makes the experience more enjoyable. If camel riding isn’t on your wish list, you can hike through the beaches and rock, and less adventurous travelers can choose a taxi.
Aswan was an important site for the pharaohs, not just as a center for trades but also because of its proximity to one of the largest producers of high-quality granite in the country. The giant stones are transported to the quayside and transported upstream. Presently, a quarry visit on the outskirts of the city will reveal some of the secrets of ancient Egyptian stone processing. A large unfinished obelisk fell: the monument broke along an error line and was deserted in 1500 BC. If completed, it will be the largest in Egypt.
Philae Temple, previously called the Pilak, is one of the best attractions in Aswan and is a masterpiece consecrated to Isis, Osiris, and Horus. The temple is composed of several pylons, altars, and monuments and was built featuring the style of the classical Egyptian. After Lake Nasser was flooded, UNESCO helped move the original Philae Island complex to its present location on the island of Agilkia. If you want to visit the temple, take a water taxi to enhance the experience. While the highlight is to see the statue up close and present the work in detail, the distant view of the temple from the Nile is also breathtaking.
The Temple of Kalabsha
During the last century BC, the Temple of Kalabsha was built in BC. in honor of the Nubian sun god Merwel or Mandulis. A renowned travel blog “Against the Compass” recommends making a trip to the site and says it is “Egypt’s largest unprotected temple.” Kalabsha Temple is located on an island in Lake Nasser, next to the Aswan High Dam and about 18 km from Aswan.
The first temple was about 30 miles away at Talmis (now flooded) but was relocated to its present location after the construction of the dam. In the temple, you will find a pylon, an open courtyard, a hall, vestibules, and a sanctuary. In addition, you will find a nilometer (used by the Egyptians to measure the water level) and many chapels at the site.
There is a quick sail from the Elephantine Island to Kitchener’s Island, where the botanical garden is located. In exchange for his military service in Sudan, Consul General Kitchener was rewarded with the island, where he had exotic plants and seeds collected from around the world. Today, it is a well-known place, particularly on hot days; the cool and pleasant shade of the trees attracts the attention of the middle class in Aswan.
The Nubian Museum
Suppose you want to broaden your understanding of the ancient Nubian civilization of its people and monuments beginning from its origin till today. Then you need to make a trip to the Nubian Museum located on the hill opposite the Basma Hotel. This small museum pays homage to the culture and heritage of the Nubia people with three levels of exhibitions, landscaped gardens, and public spaces. The institution contains 3,000 Egyptian artifacts from the Pharaohs, Coptic and Islamic periods, arranged chronologically. As with many attractions in Egypt, it is best to explore the Nubian Museum as part of a private tour package to Egypt if your budget allows.
Mausoleum of the Aga Khan
This is the site for the tomb of Aga Khan III, a leader of the Ismaili community (an Islam sect). He was so much into Aswan that before dying, he chose a location on the west bank of the Nile for his tomb. He chose a peak with the view of his best part of the river. His Mausoleum was built according to the Fatimid style with a single dome and has presently become a landmark in Aswan. It stands alone, isolated on a 450 square meters area. It is made of rose granite, and the interior marble walls are decorated with Koranic verses. Aga Khan claimed he descended directly from Fatimah, Prophet Muhammad’s Daughter. The Fatimids’ tombs are located on the east bank of the Nile.
The High Dam (Saad El AALI)
The Aswan Dam was built to stop the annual floods that threatened the country and to provide hydroelectric power to ensure the development of industries. The dam, completed in 1972, has achieved both goals; however, the fertility of Egypt’s lands diminishes without the annual range of new nutrients that the flood brings. A visit to the dam brings with it the huge technical masterpiece and a view of Lake Nasser, created by the closure of the river, which is now more than 500 km long, which crosses the border with Sudan.
The dam, located six and a half kilometers of the southern Aswan Dam, was the keystone of economic development for the country and was conceived by Gamal Abdel Nasser. It was constructed between 1960 – 71 and was extensively financed and overseen by the Soviet Union after the US and UK financial withdrew their help on the project. Thirty thousand Egyptians worked day and night shifts for ten years and were supervised by two thousand technicians. Seventeen million cubic meters of rock were excavated, and 42.7 million cubic meters of construction material were used.
The High Dam is filled with rocks, a man-made mountain of sand, and rock found on cement and clay. Its length is 3600 meters, the height is 114 meters, and the width of the base is 980 meters. The Diversion tunnels on the west bank of the river (each six and a half meters in diameter) were dug out of granite into 1,950 meters long. There are twelve High Dam turbines on the east bank, each with an output of 120,000 hp. The annual capacity of hydropower is ten billion kWh.
Where to eat in Aswan
There are different places to eat in Aswan; however, we will mention some notable places where you can enjoy some exquisite dishes.
This restaurant serves various soups and mezze dishes such as baba ghanoush, mixed grill, kebab, kofta, seafood, and other specialties. Al Dokka offers a free ferry service from Aswan Corniche, so it is very convenient to get to the restaurant. The journey takes about five minutes.
At Sofitel Legend Old Cataract, 1902 Restaurant serves French and European-inspired cuisine, as well as an impressive international wine. The grand interior features a high ceiling and Arabian dome, oriental details, and its historical Qualaun crypt that only add to the whole dining experience.
El Masry is a place where you cannot help but fill your stomach with some food. Closer to the souq, the restaurant prepares fried chicken, pigeon, lamb, and popular appetizers such as hummus and tahini with Baladi bread. Do you feel like tasting different dishes? Try molokhieh, a dark green leafy soup that is a mixture of spinach and mint.
For Egyptian cuisine and spectacular views, the preferred option would be the restaurant at Movenpick Resort Aswan. This casual restaurant offers 360-degree views of the Nile River, as well as international dishes such as Nile tuna salad, wild mushroom risotto, and lamb.
Where to stay in Aswan
There are only a few of them in Aswan, and by far, the most famous and popular hotel is the Old Cataract Hotel (presently Sofitel Legend Old Cataract). This luxury hotel had been an international hub since its commission more than 120 years ago. However, you need to note that it does not come cheaply.
These guesthouses are very popular in Aswan. These simple but comfortable Nile hotels are usually located in the Gharb Soheil area of Aswan, the location of the Nubian village. They have minimal and attractive Nubian architecture, serving Nubian and Egyptian cuisine. They are not luxurious accommodation, and they’re a bit far from downtown Aswan, which might be a little annoying; however, they offer an experience you don’t want to miss, even if it is for a night.
There are a couple of hotels in this arrange in Aswan. You might not really find them desirable. However, to save you from any unpleasant experience, it is advisable you go for a luxurious hotel (Sofitel Legend Old Cataract or the Movenpick Aswan) or just choose a Nubian guesthouse.