Aswan, a city on the Nile River, has been southern Egypt’s strategic and commercial gateway since antiquity. It contains significant archaeological sites like the Philae temple complex on Agilkia Island near the landmark Aswan Dam. Aswan is also known for its illustrious visitors, such as Agatha Christie, who immortalized the city in her famous mystery novel ‘Death on the Nile’.
The Magnificent Nile River
The Nile River, the world’s longest river, is the lifeblood of Aswan. It’s an enchanting spectacle, a ribbon of blue winding through golden desert sands, with lush green islands dotting its expanse. One such island, Elephantine Island, is a must-visit. It’s home to the Aswan Museum, which houses artifacts from the Old and Middle Kingdoms, and the ruins of ancient Egyptian temples.
A felucca ride on the Nile River is a quintessential Aswan experience. These traditional wooden sailboats offer an idyllic way to watch the sun set over the river, with the silhouettes of the sand dunes and the palm trees forming a picture-perfect backdrop.
The Majestic Philae Temple
The Philae Temple, dedicated to the ancient Egyptian goddess Isis, is an architectural masterpiece. The temple complex, transported piece by piece to its current location on Agilkia Island due to the construction of the Aswan High Dam, is a testament to both ancient Egyptian religion and modern engineering feats. The intricate hieroglyphic carvings on the temple walls and the majestic columns of the Hypostyle Hall are awe-inspiring.
Visiting the Philae Temple is a journey back in time. The entrance tickets are a small price to pay for the wealth of history and culture that awaits. The temple is accessible by boat from the Philae Temple Marina, adding another layer of charm to the experience.
The Colossal Abu Simbel
A day trip to Abu Simbel is a must when in Aswan. The twin temples of Abu Simbel, carved out of the mountainside during the reign of Ramses II, are a sight to behold. The Great Temple, dedicated to Ramses II himself, and the Small Temple, dedicated to his beloved queen Nefertari, stand as grand declarations of love and power.
The entire temple complex was relocated to avoid submersion during the creation of Lake Nasser, a massive artificial reservoir formed after the building of the Aswan High Dam. This ambitious rescue operation, undertaken by the Egyptian government and UNESCO, preserved these amazing temples for future generations to admire.
The Historical Aswan High Dam
The Aswan High Dam, an engineering marvel, has had a profound impact on Egypt’s economy and culture. By controlling the annual Nile flood, it has safeguarded cities, enhanced agriculture, and generated hydroelectric power. However, it’s also led to the displacement of the Nubian people and the submergence of several ancient monuments.
The Enchanting Nubian Villages
A visit to the colorful Nubian Villages, situated on the west bank of the Nile, offers a glimpse into the rich and vibrant Nubian culture. The brightly painted houses, the friendly locals, and the traditional crafts create an atmosphere of warmth and authenticity. The Nubian Museum in Aswan is a treasure trove of artifacts and exhibits that showcase the history and culture of the Nubian people.
The Unfinished Obelisk and the Stone Quarries of Aswan
The Unfinished Obelisk, still attached to the bedrock in the ancient stone quarries of Aswan, provides insight into stone-working techniques during the time of the ancient Egyptians. It’s a tangible connection to the past, a silent testament to the skills of the artisans who crafted the obelisks, temples, and statues that have fascinated the world for centuries.
The Mysterious Monastery of St. Simeon
The Monastery of St. Simeon, perched on the West Bank of the Nile River, is one of the largest and best-preserved Coptic monastic complexes in Egypt. A short camel or horse ride takes you to this ancient structure, where you can explore the remnants of monk cells, churches, and a fortress-like enclosure that paints a vivid picture of monastic life in the 7th century.
The Luxurious Old Cataract Hotel
The Old Cataract Hotel, now known as the Sofitel Legend Old Cataract, is a beacon of luxury and history. Nestled on a promontory overlooking the Nile, the hotel has hosted a who’s who of the world’s elite, including Winston Churchill and Agatha Christie, who penned parts of her novel ‘Death on the Nile’ here. The hotel’s blend of Victorian charm and modern luxury, coupled with stunning views of the river, makes it an ideal base for exploring Aswan.
The Sacred Temple of Kom Ombo
The Temple of Kom Ombo, located on the East Bank of the Nile, is unique in its dedication to not one, but two gods: Sobek, the crocodile god, and Horus, the falcon-headed god. The temple complex is a fascinating study in symmetry, with twin entrances, courts, and sanctuaries reflecting its dual dedication. The nearby Crocodile Museum, housing mummified crocodiles, highlights the significance of the crocodile god Sobek in the Ptolemaic dynasty.
The Verdant Aswan Botanical Gardens
The Aswan Botanical Gardens, located on Kitchener’s Island, are a lush oasis amidst the desert landscape. Lord Kitchener, who was gifted the island, transformed it into a botanical garden, importing exotic plants from across the British Empire. Today, the gardens are a peaceful retreat, with palm trees, mahogany, and rare African plants providing shade and tranquility.
The Serene Aga Khan Mausoleum
Overlooking Aswan from a hilltop is the Aga Khan Mausoleum, the resting place of Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah, the 48th Imam of the Ismaili Muslims. The mausoleum, with its elegant pink granite structure and peaceful surroundings, is a testament to the Aga Khan’s love for Egypt. Although the mausoleum is not open to the public, it’s worth visiting for its stunning architecture and panoramic views of Aswan.
The Fascinating Tombs of the Nobles
The Tombs of the Nobles, carved into the cliffs of the West Bank, offer a unique insight into the lives of the elite in the Old and Middle Kingdoms. The tombs, decorated with vibrant frescoes depicting scenes from daily life, provide a counterpoint to the grandeur of the temples and royal tombs. The Tomb of Harkhuf, an explorer who journeyed deep into Africa, and the Tomb of Sarenput II, a powerful governor, are particularly noteworthy.
The Captivating Karnak Temple
While not located in Aswan, the Karnak Temple in nearby Luxor is well worth a day trip. The temple complex, one of the largest religious buildings in the world, is a spectacular maze of chapels, obelisks, and sanctuaries dedicated to the gods of ancient Egypt. The Great Hypostyle Hall, with its forest of towering columns, is the centerpiece of this vast complex.
Aswan, Egypt is a city of contrasts, where ancient monuments coexist with modern structures, where the tranquil Nile River meets the bustling city center, and where the golden desert sands give way to lush botanical gardens.
From the awe-inspiring temples of Philae and Abu Simbel to the vibrant Nubian villages, from the luxurious Old Cataract Hotel to the serene Aga Khan Mausoleum, Aswan offers a wealth of experiences that captivate the senses and ignite the imagination.
Whether you’re a history buff, an adventurer, or a luxury traveler, Aswan has something for everyone. So why wait? Visit Aswan and embark on the journey of a lifetime.
FAQ about What To Do In Aswan
Which locations in Egypt are safest for tourists?
Tourist-friendly locations in Egypt encompass cities like Sharm El-Sheikh, Aswan, Hurghada, Luxor, Damietta, Dahab, Mersa Matruh, and Alexandria. These places are known for their security measures and welcoming atmosphere for visitors.
Why is Aswan significant in Egypt’s history?
Aswan holds a significant place in Egypt’s history due to its role as a commercial hub and a pivotal point for transferring goods between Egypt and Africa. The city’s granite quarries, which supplied the stone for many renowned Egyptian monuments like the pyramids and the Sphinx, further enhance its historical importance.
What is the best place to stay while visiting Egypt?
Cairo, the bustling capital of Egypt, is often considered the best place to stay for tourists. Its rich cultural heritage and proximity to several historical sites make it a popular choice.
How much time should one allocate for a visit to Aswan?
It’s suggested to spend at least two full days in Aswan to fully appreciate what the city has to offer. This allows time for a day trip to the Abu Simbel temples and a tranquil felucca ride on the Nile River.
What makes Aswan a popular tourist destination?
Aswan is celebrated for its scenic Nile Valley views, significant archaeological sites, and its serene aura. Its warm weather all year round makes it an ideal winter escape.
Is Egypt safe for American tourists?
Egypt is generally safe for tourists, including those from the United States. However, it’s advised to avoid the Northern Sinai Peninsula, which is considered a potentially dangerous area.
What should tourists avoid when visiting Egypt?
Tourists should avoid neglecting to research Egyptian culture and customs, not packing suitable clothing, forgetting to book a Nile cruise in advance, and not hiring a guide for specific tourist sites. They should also be prepared for the attention they may receive and remember to barter when shopping or taking taxis.
What makes Aswan a unique city in Egypt?
Aswan’s unique position as the southernmost city made it the Gateway to Africa in ancient times. It was a key link in trade between Egypt and African civilizations, earning it this distinctive title.
How many days are sufficient for a trip to Aswan?
A two-day trip is usually sufficient to explore Aswan. This allows for a day trip to the impressive Abu Simbel temples and a peaceful felucca ride on the Nile River at sunset.
Is it safe to walk around Aswan during the night?
Aswan is generally regarded as safe during night-time. However, it’s always advisable to exercise caution, avoid walking alone at night, and stick to well-lit and populated areas.
Is Aswan worth visiting?
Absolutely! Aswan is packed with sights to explore and serves as an excellent base for a day trip to the Abu Simbel temples.
Why is Aswan renowned?
Aswan is renowned for its stunning Nile Valley landscapes, historical archaeological sites, and tranquil ambiance. Its consistently warm weather makes it a popular winter destination.
Why are Luxor and Aswan famous?
Luxor and Aswan, located in Upper Egypt, are famous for their well-preserved ancient Egyptian temples that date back nearly 4,000 years. Luxor is home to one-third of the world’s ancient monuments and Aswan is often referred to as the “Egyptian Paradise.”
What is Aswan most known for?
Aswan is most recognized for its well-preserved ancient archaeological sites. Beyond these historical treasures, it’s also known for its open-air marketplaces, felucca cruises, and serene views.
Is a two-day trip to Aswan sufficient?
A two-day trip is usually enough to experience the highlights of Aswan. This allows for a day trip to the awe-inspiring Abu Simbel temples and a relaxing felucca ride on the Nile River at sunset.
Why is Luxor famous?
Luxor is often referred to as the “world’s greatest open-air museum” due to the ruins of the Egyptian temple complexes at Karnak and Luxor located within the modern city.
Is Aswan worth staying in?
Absolutely! Aswan is filled with historical and cultural sites to explore, and serves as a great base for a day trip to the Abu Simbel temples.
Should I visit Aswan or Luxor first during my trip to Egypt?
The decision to visit Aswan or Luxor first depends on your personal preferences and itinerary. However, Luxor is often recommended first due to its vast number of ancient Egyptian monuments. Aswan, on the other hand, is also filled with historical sites and serves as an excellent base for a day trip to Abu Simbel.
Does the word “luxury” originate from “Luxor”?
Yes, the modern word “luxury” is indeed inspired by the word “Luxor,” which means ‘the palaces’ in Latin. This reflects Luxor’s history of opulence and grandeur.