The River Nile as it passes through Aswan
Aswan (Arabic: أسوان Aswān) is a city in the south of Egypt, some 680km (425 miles) south of Cairo, just below the Aswan Dam and Lake Nasser, with a population of 275,000. Aswan is far more relaxed and smaller than Cairo and Luxor.
Aswan is the smallest of the three major tourist cities on the Nile. Being the furthest south of the three, 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. Aswan was the ancient Egyptians' gateway to Africa.
Aswan International Airport is situated 25km SSW of the city, on the west bank and just south of the high dam. Public buses don't go to the airport and security on the approach road to the terminal is tight, so it's probably worth taking a taxi, for which you must agree a price in advance. It is possible to argue the fare down to LE25, but LE30 to LE40 is more realistic (and easier) for most foreigners.
The following airlines operate services to Aswan International Airport: Air Memphis (to/from Abu Simbel) (VERY bad quality), Astraeus (to/from London Gatwick), EgyptAir  (to/from Abu Simbel, Cairo, Luxor), Iberworld  (to/from Madrid), and LotusAir (to/from Cairo)
Egypt's passenger train service runs along the Nile between Cairo and Aswan. Travel time from Luxor is around three hours on 1st/2nd class AC services. Five AC express services arrives from Cairo each day, journey time is around 13-14 hours costing 57LE for second class, 113LE first class. In addition there are two sleeper trains, departing 8PM and 9:35PM from Cairo's Ramsis station, prices starts at $60. Tickets often sell out so make sure you buy them a few days in advance.
The train station is on the northern end of the city centre, a few hundred metres inland from the river. Leave plenty of time to buy tickets, as the service at the counters is slow. Mini buses depart from outside the station (turn right as you exit the terminal), and there are a number of cafes and basic hotels on the blocks between the station and the river.
From Hurghada (513km away) buses cost 50LE. Tickets are sold on the bus, but be sure to ask the price at the ticket office, because the ticket seller on the bus will often raise the price 5LE or so and pocket the excess if you are a foreigner.
Dozens of cruise ships depart from Luxor to Aswan everyday. These can be booked through agents or at the actual ships themselves. Also a boat to Wadi Halfa in Sudan departs once a week.
Aswan is compact enough to negotiate primarily on foot. To access Philae, the High Dam, and the unfinished obelisks, you can take a taxi or a horse-drawn carriage. A taxi excursion to all of these sights should cost 80LE to 100LE per vehicle.
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. Be sure to pay attention to the price as operators try to overcharge tourists.
If you take the public ferry to the West Bank, you pay only 5LE.
Aswan Town and the East Bank
- Nubian Museum, (opposite the Basma Hotel, south of the Old Cataract Hotel, at the southern edge of Aswan town on Sharia Abtal al-Tahrir - approximately a half hour walk from the city centre.), . daily 9AM-9:00PM. Very well organized, features Nubian treasures recovered before the flooding of Nubia. Adult: 50LE; Student: 25 0LE.
- Unfinished Obelisk, (South of Aswan). The largest known ancient obelisk, carved directly out of bedrock. If finished it would have measured around 42m (120 feet) and would have weighed nearly 1,200 tons. 30LE 15 LE student.
- Fatimid Cemetery, (Southern end of Aswan). The faded former glory of the Fatimid empire can be seen on the crumbling graveyard. Across the street from unfinished Obelisk, left turn, enter from bottom of the street. free.
- Ferial Gardens, (Southern end of Corniche). When you're in Aswan you'll have to walk along the Kornish Al Nile (Corniche) at least once. It is a pleasant stroll, made even more pleasant by the fact that you can walk right into the Ferial Gardens at its Southern End. They are a park that is as relaxing as it is beautiful. free.
The River and Islands
- Elephantine Island: Nubian Villages & Aswan Museum. Nubian villages of Siou and Koti occupy this island. Also home to the famous Nilometers and the Temples of Sati, Khnum (ancient rams-head god) and Pepinakht-Heqaib. Movenpick resort is on the island. The Aswan Museum (Adult: 25LE, Student 15LE) at the southern end of the island houses items found during excavations on Elephantine Island. Also, be careful of unsolicited tours from locals, which will result in a request for baksheesh. There is regular boat taxi to Elephantine Island run by the locals for only 2LE for one crossing but they will charge more for tourists. Put the money in the box instead of the ticket agent to avoid overpaying.
- Aswan Botanical Gardens, (On the entirety of Kitcheners Island to the west of Elephantine Island). Lord Kitchener, who owned the 6.8 hectare island in the 1890's converted it to a botanical garden. Filled with birds and hundreds of plant species and palm trees. Accessible via a Felucca tour.The entrance fee is 10LE.
- Seheyl Island, (Just north of the old Aswan Dam). 7AM to 4:00PM. Friendly Nubian villages. Well known for its excellent beaded jewelry. Also the location of the Famine Stela. Cliff with more than 200 inscriptions from the 18th dynasty,
Desert view of the St Simeon Monastry
- Tombs of the Nobles. 8AM to 4:00PM. The northern hills of the west bank are filled with the rock-hewn tombs of princes from the Old Kingdom to the Roman period. The 6th Dynasty tombs, some of which form linked family complexes, contain important biographical texts. Inside, the tombs are decorated with vivid wall paintings showing scenes of everyday life, hieroglyphic biographies and inscriptions telling of the noblemen's journeys into Africa. Most of the tombs are locked or blocked off, probably by staff looking for tips. **Note that some locals will hang around the entrance as you climb the hill, and tell you that it's closed and you need a key. They will show you a key, implying that they can help you gain access...for a small fee. Just tell them, "no thanks....just looking", and they should leave you alone. Adult: 30LE, Student: 10LE.
- Tombs of Mekhu & Sabni - Reliefs show invasion of Nubia
- Tomb of Sarenput II - One of the most beautiful and preserved tombs
- Tomb of Harkhuf - Hieroglyphics
- Tomb of Hekaib - Reliefs show fighting and hunting scenes
- Tomb of Sarenput II - Six pillars decorated with reliefs
- Kubbet al Hawa - Located on the hilltop above the other tombs. Stunning views of the Nile
- Kubbet el-Hawa, (on top of the hill above the Tombs of the Nobles). Small shrine / tomb of a local sheikh and holy man. The climb is rewarded with amazing views of Aswan, the Nile river and the surrounding landscape, richly evoked in the translation from the Arabic of the place name, "the dome of the wind'.
- Mausoleum of Mohammed Shah Aga Khan, (High up in the west bank). Tomb of the 48th iman of the Ismaili sect and his wife. Visible from the outside, although closed to the public.
- Monastery of St Simeon. Oct to May: 8AM-4:00PM; Jun-Sep:7:00AM-5:00PM. The history of the monastery of St. Simeon dates back to the 7th century, and survived long as a Christian stronghold of southern Egypt until destroyed by Saladin in 1173. While still in use it housed 300 monks, and could in addition receive up to 100 pilgrims at a time. The monastery was surrounded by a 10 metre high wall, and doubled as a fortress. Apparently, the monastery did not return to its original use after Saladin's destruction. To get here, ride a camel or walk from the Tombs of the Nobles. Adult: 25LE, Student: 15LE.
- The High Dam. Despite being a highly important piece of infrastructure, the Aswan High Dam is (to put it delicately) a bit of a letdown even for dam lovers. 30LE.
- Philae Temple, (Agilkia Island). Built to honor Isis, this was the last ancient temple built in the the classical Egyptian architectural style. Construction began in approx 690 BC. It was moved from its original location on Philae Island, to its new location on Agilkia Island, after the flooding of Lake Nasser. A major multinational UNESCO team relocated Philae, and a number of other temples that now dot the shores of Lake Nasser. You can see the submerged original island a short distance away, punctuated by the steel columns used in the moving process. Don't miss the Sound and Light show at night, see picture to the right, the least cheesy of the Sound and Light "extravaganzas". On your feet, look out for the extremely creative guards who will do all in their power to get in your photos, or to point out the hieroglpyhs that you can quite clearly see yourself, all for some baksheesh(tip)! Note also the re-use of the temple as a Christian church, with crosses carved into the older hieroglyph reliefs, and images of the Egyptian gods carefully defaced. There are grafitti dating from the 1800s. Entrance fee 50LE. Driver from town 40LE to 50LE with wait and return. 5LE for parking the car. Locals are charged 10LE for the boat ride to the island, but the boatmen will attempt to charge you 50LE per person. A reasonable price should be 50 to 100LE per boat, with wait and return included. The ticket booth is located at the entrance to the pier, which means you will have to buy your non-refundable ticket for the temple and have it torn by the ticket attendant before you can even begin haggling over the price of the boat ride. It may help to wait for other travellers to show up so you can split the boat fee. Bargain hard.
- Kalabsha Temple. Like Philae, this temple and its surrounding ruins were moved by UNESCO to save them from the floodwaters of Lake Nasser. The main temple was built to the Nubian fertility and sun god Marul during the rule of Emperor Augustus. Don't miss the Kiosk of Qirtasi and the amazing Temple of Beit al-Wali built by Ramesses II.
- Abu Simbel. Most people use Aswan as a base to see this fantastic temple. There is a convoy that departs at 4AM, and is usually arranged by your tour agent. See Abu Simbel article for more detail. Most hotels will arrange group transport for 60 to 70 LE per person
- Aswan International Sculpture Park. Sculptors from around the world exhibit their pieces here every spring for the International Sculpture Symposium. The works are all created in Aswan (on the terrace of the Basma Hotel) and when finished brought to this site and exhibited next to each other within view of the ancient quarry.
- Rent a Bike. Bikes available at many hotels. Cross the modern bridge to the east bank and bring back your bicycle afterwards by ferry boat.
- Local Felucca Cruise. Aswan is a great place for a local cruise to the nearby islands. Two hours of felucca trip will cost you between 25-50 EP depends on your negotiation skills. See felucca cruise on the Nile.
- Trips to Abu Simbel. See Abu Simbel. This is a must!
- Camel Rides. Grab a felucca captain and they will shuttle you across to the camel marshalling area. Ride the camel to the Monastery of St Simeon.
- Tea with the Local Shopkeepers. You will get a fascinating insight into their daily lives, and they love to practise their English on you.
- Animalia: Nature in Nubia Tours, Elephantine Island, ☎ +20 010 545 6420 / +20 097 231 4152 ([email protected]), . 8am - 7pm. As recommended by the Lonely Planet guidebook, Mohamed and Fatma Sobhi offer a fascinating tour of the old city's plants, birds, rocks, wild animals and sand dunes. Animalia's tour guides are fluent in English, Arabic, Spanish and French.
The souqs (markets) in Aswan are refreshingly exotic without the same level of high-pressure selling found in some tourist towns further north.
You will generally find that Nubian handicrafts are of higher quality and better value in Aswan. All other goods will be more expensive than in Cairo due to shipping costs to Aswan and the lower tourist demand. Having said that, the Aswan souk is
- Sharia as-Souq. The most charming souq in Egypt, There is far less pressure to buy than in other cities. Buy Nubian talisman, baskets, Sudanese swords, African masks, live produce, food, fruit, vegetables, henna powder, t-shirts, perfume, spices, robes, statues.
- Al-Masry Restaurant, Sharia Al Matar. Popular with locals. Great kafta and kebabs, pigeon, and chicken, all served with bread, salad and tahini Dishes: 8LE to 30 LE.
- Aswan Moon, Corniche an Nil (Situated on pontoons along the Nile), ☎ 231 6108. Decent food with cheery service. 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! Mezze: 4LE to 9LE; Pizza: 19Le to 25LE; Kebob: 25LE; Daoud Basha (meatballs and tomato sauce): 13LE.
- Biti Pizza, Midan al Mahatta (Near the train station). Serves fiteer, a flaky Egyptian pizza, as well as western varieties. Pizza: 36LE.
- Chef Khalil, Sharia al Souq (Near the train station). Fresh fish restaurant, priced by weight. Small place but worth the wait. From 25LE to 60LE.
- Emy, Corniche an Nil (On a double deckered boat moored in the Nile, next to Aswan Moon), ☎ 230 4349. Popular amound Nubian felucca captains. Beer available. Beer: 9LE; Salads: 3LE; Egyption and international dishes: 13LE to 18LE; Fresh juices: 5LE.
- Madena Restaurant, Sharia al souq (Close to Cleopatra Hotel). Small place. Kofta meal: 22LE; Vegetarian meal: 15LE.
- Nubian House, off Sharia al Tahrir, 1km past Nubian Museum, ☎ 232 6226. Spectacular sunset views over the first cataract. Sheesha and tea. From 15LE to 22LE.
- Panorama, Corniche an Nil, ☎ 231 6169. Serves simple Egyptian stews served in clay pots, with salad, mezze, rice. All day breakfast Dishes; 8LE to 20LE.
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.
Sunset over the Nile in Aswan, view from The Philae Hotel.
- Abu Schleeb Hotel, (Off Shaira Abbas Farid), ☎ 230 3051. Small but clean rooms Singles: 35LE, Doubles: 40LE, Triples: 45LE.
- Happi Hotel, (Sharia Abtal al Tahrir), ☎ 231 4115. Gloomy hotel but clean rooms. Singles: 65LE, Doubles: 90LE.
- Hathor Hotel, (Corniche an Nil), ☎ 231 4580. 36 rooms. Swimming pool. Singles: 40LE, Doubles: 60LE.
- HI International Youth Hostel, 96 Sharia Abtal at-Tahrir, ☎ 230 2313. The cheapest place to stay in Aswan, but you get what you pay for. Dorm bed: From 9LE, Singles from 15LE.
- Keylany Hotel, 25 Sharia Keylany, ☎ 231 7332, . No longer a budget hotel. Clean and comfortable rooms. Spotless bathrooms. Internet access available for 10LE per hour, but very slow. Water sold at front desk at market price- wow. Singles: 23US$, Doubles: 34US$, Triples: 45US$.
- Marwa Hotel & Hostel, (In a small side alley off Sharia Abtal at-Tahrir). OK budget option if you are looking for the cheapest bed. Dorm bed: 6LE.
- Memnon Hotel, (Corniche an Nil, south of Aswan Moon restaurant). Great Nile views. Singles: 45LE, Doubles: 65LE.
- Noorhan Hotel, (Off Sharia Abtal at-Tahrir), ☎ 231 6069. Clean and pleasant with functioning (common) hot shower. Staff is aggressive about trying to sell you a tour. Singles: 15LE, Doubles: 20LE.
- Nuba Nile Hotel, (Sharia Abtal al Tahrir). The second best value for your money, after the Keylany Hotel. Clean comfortable rooms, near train station. Next to internet cafe and ahwa. Singles: 60LE, Doubles: 75LE.
- Nubian Oasis Hotel, 234 Sharia as Souq, ☎ 231 2126. Staff is aggressive about trying to sell you a tour. Beer available in roof garden. Clean rooms Singles: 25LE, Doubles: 30LE.
- Orchida St George, (Sharia Muhammed Kahlid). Friendly 3-star hotel with tacky decor. Singles: 80LE, Doubles: 100LE.
- Philae Hotel, (Corniche an Nil), ☎ 231 2090. 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! Singles: 60LE, Doubles: 75LE, 20% premium for Nile View.
- Ramsis Hotel, (Sharia Abtal al Tahrir), ☎ 230 4000. High rise hotel. Slow service and no character but good views and good value. Singles: 65LE, Doubles: 100LE.
- Yassin Hotel, (Off Sharia Abtal at-Tahrir, next to Noorhan Hotel), ☎ 231 7109. Rooms are basic but clean. Staff is aggressive about trying to sell you a tour. Singles: 15LE, Doubles: 20LE.
- Bet el Kerem, (The only hotel accommodation on the Westbank, near the Tombs of the Nobles and close to the ferry boat to Aswan centre), . Quiet atmosphere, hospitable staff, clean rooms, small (8 double rooms), restaurant for guests on the roof terrace. Marvellous view over the Nile, the desert and the Nubian villages. Perfect place if you are looking for something different! Bike rental available. Double: €30; House rental: €45.
- Elephantine Island Resort. Run down, but in the process of being refurbished.
- Niledream, (10 minutes by motorboat south of Aswan on the west bank of Sahel Island), ☎ +20 123 83 77 25 (English, Arabic), +20 115 36 25 56 / +49 172 547 47 80 (English, German) ([email protected] / [email protected]), . Mohamed Beshir's houseboat. Bed & Breakfast in three guestrooms, on request also half- or fullboard, tours and sightseeing packages, transfers for arrival/departure and all other activities are also organized
- Ekadolli Nubian Guesthouse, (20 minutes by taxi or boat from Aswan to the guesthouse, which is situated in Garb Sahel - a Nubian village on the west bank of the Nile, facing the city of Aswan overlooking the first cataract), ☎ +20 1111 41 62 43 (English, Arabic) ([email protected] / [email protected]), . Half or full-board, departure/arrival transfers and boat tour packages are available upon request. Tour guides are fluent in English, French, German, Italian and Arabic. Single: 20euro; Double: 30euro; Triple: 35euro; Family of four: 40euro.
- Movenpick Resort, (Northern end of Elephantine Island), ☎ +20 97 230 34 55 ([email protected]). Best resort hotel in Aswan. Rates from USD160 per room per night. 7 night package with meals and massage: USD1,064 (summer) to USD1,414 (winter).
- Old Cataract Hotel, (Abtal El Tahrir Street), ☎ +20 97/2316000 ([email protected]), . Live it up like the aristocrats of old! Part of the Sofitel Legend chain of hotels, the Old Cataract Hotel overlooks the Nile River opposite the island of Elephantine.
- Glory of Nubia Camping Island, (In the heart of the archipelago. Can be reached by motorboat.), ([email protected]), . On an island in Aswan’s archipelago, natural setting, panoramic view of the Nile and the hills of Aswan. The island is located ten minutes by motorboat from the main land, close to the Mausoleum of Agha Khan and the Monastery of St. Simeon.
Aswan is generally a very safe city. However, do watch out for quite blatant attempts at pickpocketing in the souq. These thieves will approach you carrying scarves, shirts or even papyrus in one hand to sell to you, while attempting to go into your pockets with the other hand. The locals know this goes on, but do not count on them to intervene. Also, women should avoid travelling alone if they are not comfortable with leering men, although they are all bluster. Most horse carriage drivers will not commit on the price when you arrive at your destination and you're expect to give more.
Internet access is available at Keylany Hotel and Noorhan Hotel for 10LE per hour; but internet speeds are very slow. Kothor Hotel has more easonably fast internet available for 5LE per hour or 10LE unlimited for your stay.
There is so much to do around the Aswan area that time can be an issue. The local people are generally very cooperative, and for a price, doors might remain opened regardless of the hour.
- Taxi trips or organized tours to the nearby towns of Daraw and the Temple of Kom Ombo further north on the Nile. These trips should cost 150LE. Arrange this carefully as a police convoy may well be necessary.
- Cruises to Luxor - The 2-night cruise should cost US$75++ per night, including meals, depending on the boat.
- Felucca trips to Luxor - see the Felucca guide for a complete itinerary and information
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