Aswan is located in the south of Egypt, some 680 km (425 miles) south of Cairo, just below the Aswan Dam and Lake Nasser. Compared to Cairo and Luxor, Aswan is a far more relaxed, if smaller, alternative as a traveller's destination.
Aswan is the smallest of the three major tourist cities based on the Nile. Being the closest of the three to Africa, it has a large population of Nubian people, mostly resettled from their homeland in the area flooded by Lake Nasser. Aswan is the home of many Granite Quarries from which most of the Obelisks seen in Luxor were sourced from. Aswan was the gateway to Africa, and many raiding parties began their travel south from Aswan.
An average of six return flights a day are maintained by Egyptair between Aswan and the Egyptian capital Cairo. One morning flight also exists between Luxor and Aswan, the lower frequency reflecting the cities' greater proximity and practical alternatives like train and taxi.
Egypt's train service which runs along the nile extends down to Aswan and is a regular and a good travel alternative.
If you are in Hurghada you can catch a bus from there down to Aswan for less than $7
Hurghada-Aswan is around 300 kilometres but as Egyptian buses aren't always very reliable the trip could take anything from three hours to nine.
Sharm el-Sheikh in Sinai --> boat to Hurghada --> bus to Aswan --> approximately $15
Dozens of cruise ships depart from Luxor to Aswan everyday. These can be booked through agents or at the actual ships themselves.
Aswan is compact enough to negotiate primarily on foot. For weary feet or for some of the more far flung attractions (like Philae, the High Dam and the unfinished obelisks) there are other options that include taxis and horse-drawn carriages. Note that to access the sights on the river islands or on the West Bank, you will need to cross the river by motor boat or felluca.
The souqs (markets) in Aswan are refreshingly exotic without the same level of high-pressure selling found in some tourist towns further north - see below in Buy
Aswan Town and the East Bank
The River and Islands
You will generally find that Nubian handicrafts are of higher quality and better value in Aswan. All other goods will almost certainly be cheaper as you travel North towards Cairo due to shipping costs to Aswan and the lower tourist demand. Having said that, the Aswan souk is the most charming in Egypt, and deserves your custom, so if you don't mind paying a 5-10% premium in price you should help these struggling shopkeepers and buy from them.
The Aswan Moon - Situated on pontoons along the Nile, cheap and generally decent food with cheery service, just make sure you have some spare time as they can be a little slow - Hey this is Egypt after all. Be prepared to hear waiter's jokes that are not always funny. The local fish joints near the city market can be excellent -- their fish is fresh, and you can watch it cook. Don't miss the crab soup!
Elephantine Island Resort. Poor quality of food. Stale bread for breakfast... Yummee......
The Old Cataract Hotel is wonderful. Be sure to have a beverage on their terrace at sunset, watching the feluccas.
Aswan is much less strict on drinking alcohol than Cairo or Luxor, and many of the restaurants sell Stella (Egyptian brand not the Belgian brand) and Saqqara, both of which are lagers and comparable to European beers.
The terrace bar at the Old Cataract Hotel is open to non-guests for a small fee, so budget travellers can enjoy a drink in luxury.
The Philae Hotel - A mixed bag. On the upside excellent price, friendly staff, and some of the best views in Egypt(make sure you get a Nile View room). On the downside somewhat rundown rooms, gives you that camping inside feeling, not always plenty of hot water! Still if you are up for a bit of adventure, the Philae Hotel is worth a try!
Keylany Hotel, Sharia Keylany, Tel. (097) 231 7332, 29 rooms. Cheap and comfortable. Rooms and sheets are very clean unlike many other budget hotels in Egypt. It is located near Nile corniche and the bazaar. WiFi is not free. And you will have to wait for your breakfast for rather long time.
Don't stay on Elephantine Island Resort until the place has been refurbished. We did and it was a shame to see how run down it was
NB: As of August 2004, Aswan has had its telephone exchange upgraded and an additional "2" must now be added to old 6-digit telephone numbers..... The format for overseas callers, for example, should now be +20 97 2xxx xxx. Mobile phone numbers are unaffected by this change.
Aswan is generally a very safe city. The locals will look after you like a long lost brother, although I hope they don't try to fleece family like they do Tourists! Women should avoid travelling alone if they are not comfortable with leering men, although they are all bluster.
There is so much to do around the Aswan area, that time will be an issue. The local people have been very cooperative, and for a price, doors might remain opened regardless of the hour.