Aswan is the most Southern city in Egypt and it’s located on the banks of the Nile River making it an important commercial gateway. This city is well known for the Aswan High Dam which dramatically helps improve irrigation, generates power, controls flooding and helps with navigation up and down the Nile River. The Unfinished Obelisk is a must-see here. The obelisk was abandoned after a large crack in the granite appeared 3, 500 years ago and it’s been lay to rest where it was intended to stand.
Our Intrepid tour group departed Giza Station in Cairo to board a 13-hour sleeper train to Aswan. Aswan is located on the Nile River and is 853 km south of Cairo. Nicole and I shared a sleeper that had 2 fold-out beds, pillows, linen and a sink. Our carriage conductor took care of all of our needs and knocked on our door 45 minutes before arriving at Aswan. We received a complimentary dinner and breakfast. Just like your usual aeroplane food but a little nicer. There were public toilets and showers located on our carriage. It’s wise to bring a roll of toilet paper or tissues in case they run out. If you need to go in the middle of the night, it’s recommended to wake up your travel buddy and walk together just as a safety precaution.
On a hot and sunny morning, we jumped onto a minibus and headed 20 minutes South to Philae Temple Marina for a 10-minute boat ride to Philae Island which is located in between the old Aswan Dam and the new Aswan High Dam. This temple complex was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site as of 1979. UNESCO spearheaded a project to relocate the complex in the 1960s. Before the High Dam was built the temple was cut down into 47,000 small stones and was relocated 500 metres away to Philae Island because it was partially submerged for over 50 years due to flooding. Today, you can see the black water stains on the Temple of Isis.
Every wall and column from floor to ceiling is etched with carvings of scenes and hieroglyphics. This temple is dedicated to Isis, goddess of health, marriage & wisdom. Isis is a giver, healer, protector and she’s the perfect example of a wife and mother. She’s often portrayed with a throne on her head or breastfeeding Horus.
The simple version of the story behind Philae Temple follows:
Isis is the sister and wife of Osiris. Osiris was the god of vegetation until he was murdered by his brother, Seth. Isis resurrected Osiris and he became the underworld ruler and judge of the dead. Isis and Osiris had a baby, Horus, god of the sky and protector of kings. Horus is depicted as a man with a hawk’s face. Horus eventually defeated Seth and became the King of Egypt.
If you choose to travel with a tour guide, they will give an in depth explanation into Egyptian mythology regarding the gods and goddesses you will see depicted in temples and tombs. If you’re going to travel without a guide, then the Sound & Light Show at Philae Temple is a perfect option for a small price of 300EGP / 19USD / 15GBP / 27CAD / 31AUD*.
CAMEL RIDing IN ASWAN
It’s important to make a good decision on where to go for a camel or donkey ride in Egypt, Jordan or any animal ride in the world for that matter. In the Wadi Rum Desert in Jordan, we saw camels with rope tied around two of their legs so they could only take small steps and not travel far distances. You will see at Petra and The Great Pyramids of Giza 2 people on the back of a camel or a family of 4 being carted around by a donkey on footpaths and roads. If you pay attention and look closely you could see cracked hooves, cysts on their legs and no food or water in sight. These animals are constantly taking paying customers around tourist attractions for at least a few hours without a break.
It’s recommended by our tour company, Intrepid Travel, that we only do camel riding in Aswan! Nicole, Bune, Jess and I embarked across the Nile River accompanied by our tour guide to a small jetty in the middle of nowhere. We were surrounded by desert. The local guides lead us to a small village where we could see 6 camels under the shade of trees, feeding on fresh browse and they had access to a water trough. They were tied up to posts but the rope gave them a generous amount to wander. This was a comforting sight to witness! The guides saddled up the camels, they had a stool for us to climb on and off we went! During our ride, we could see the Tombs of Nobles, The Mausoleum of Aga Khan and the Monastery of St Simeon. It was a pretty awesome experience that lasted just under an hour and the camels retreated to their home in the desert where they belong. Remember to bring some Egyptian Pounds with you for tips!
Aswan is a 13-hour sleeper train, 11-hour drive and 2-hour flight from Cairo.
EgyptAir flights from Cairo to Aswan can be as low as 170USD / 139GBP / 241CAD / 283AUD*.
The Watania Sleeper Train is a fantastic travel experience. Train #86 departs every day from Giza Station at 7.45 pm and it will arrive at Luxor at 6.10 am and Aswan at 9.25 am.
If you’re a single traveller paying for a 2-bed sleeper you will always be put with someone of the same sex. During peak travel times it’s always best to pre-book the sleeper train. If you’re on a budget you can purchase a seat for just 10USD but that will be a gruelling 13 hours and only a light meal is included. You can call, email or book online at www.wataniasleepingtrains.com and you can choose your complimentary dinner preference of fish, chicken, beef, vegetarian or a light meal. There are specific payment details so carefully read the details. Some do not accept Egyptian Pounds or credit cards.
A 2-bed sleeper costs 80USD / 65GBP / 113CAD / 132AUD*.
A 1-bed sleeper costs 120USD / 97GBP / 170CAD / 197AUD*.
Children aged 4-9 it’s 70USD / 57GBP / 99CAD / 115AUD*.
Up to 3 years old is free travel.
Within Aswan, you can negotiate a price with taxi drivers (10+EGP), catch the Microbus on major roads (2+EGP) or board the public ferries. The public ferries can take you to Elephantine Island (5EGP) or West Aswan where you can visit a Nubian Village (5EGP). You could negotiate the price of a boat ride to an island or you can board a public felucca (50-80EGP). Once you’re in Aswan, it’s easier to book transport because there’s an abundance of travel/transport agencies around or ask for your hotel’s recommendations. There’s little information to find online.
Sofitel Legend Old Cataract – 9.5 rating (Booking.com) – If you wish to experience the high life in Aswan this place will blow you away with its decor and the limitless facilities they offer.
Kato Dool Nubian Resort – 8.9 rating (Booking.com) – Dive into the Nubian way of life with a splash at this resort which sits on the Nile River.
Philae Hotel Aswan – 7.8 rating (Booking.com) – Located on the major road of Aswan with balconies overlooking the Nile. Staying in the centre of the city will give you great access to all forms of transport and the limitless tourist attractions.
THE ABUNDANCE OF ATTRACTIONS
Philae Temple (180EGP)
Sound & Light Show at Philae Temple (300EGP / 19USD / 15GBP / 27CAD / 31AUD*)
The Unfinishes Obelisk (80EGP)
Aswan High Dam (100EGP)
Nubian Museum (140EGP) – Contains 3,000 archeological findings.
Kalabsha Temple (60EGP) – Located on an island across from the Aswan High Dam where you can find temples and ruins.
Tomb of the Nobles (80EGP) – 6 tombs are open to the public. Most of them were governors dating back to the Old and Middle Kingdom (2575BC to 1640BC).
Monastery of St. Simeon (40EGP) – A fortress that housed Monks who converted Nubians to Christianity, then it was attacked by troops, then it was a halfway house for travellers and today it’s an active Coptic monastery.
Aga Khan Mausoleum (158EGP) – Sultan Aga Khan died in 1957 and was buried in this mausoleum. He was the leader of social reform in Muslim society.
Kitchener Island Botanical Gardens (20EGP) – The island was given to Lord Horatio Kitchener, the commander of the Egyptian Army in the 1890s.
WHERE TO EAT
1902 – Located in The Sofitel Legend Old Cataract, the top-rated hotel in Aswan. Perfect for a romantic dinner with a choice of continental cuisine. The Terrace is also found here and it’s a great spot for lunch and a drink accompanied by picturesque views.
Panorama Restaurant – Jump on a boat to Elephantine Island, head to the tallest building on the island, get the elevator to the 13th floor, order Egyptian cuisines and watch the sunset over The Nile.
Nubian Dream Café and Restaurant – On Elephantine Island within a Nubian Village is a place to experience authentic Nubian cuisine for an inexpensive price.
Al Dokka – Jump on a complimentary boat ride to Hessa Island for a restaurant that offers Nubian style cooking at its best.
TO STAY, MUST DO & WHERE TO EAT: SUMMARISED
For me, Aswan has it all! It’s a well-developed city that has so much to offer from tourist attractions to unique restaurants. We spent 3 days here and it was jam-packed of activities. Most importantly, Aswan is the gateway city to Abu Simbel. Abu Simbel is made up of two incredible temples and it was the highlight of my time in Egypt. Make your time in Aswan count!
*Based on currency rates at the time of being published.