Top 14 Things to See and Do in Aswan
Aswan is a place right out of a dream. It is Egypt’s largest, Southernmost city and is located in a non-demarcated region referred to as Nubia. Well known for its gold mines and fierce warriors, it was particularly important to the integrity of ancient Egypt. With sand dunes meeting the Nile, thin strips of vegetation along the riverbank, and unusual rocky islands dispersed throughout the cataract, it is a must-see. Nowadays, Aswan is known for its sunsets, iconic Felucca sail boats, hospitable locals, and incredible places to visit.
While still considering themselves Egyptians, Nubians are a lot darker, and have a unique culture of village life. Known for their hospitality and concentration South of the Aswan High Dam, Nubians have since been displaced by the development of hydro-electric installations on the Nile and many have moved to Aswan’s Eastern outskirts. Despite this, Aswan is arguably one of the country’s top destinations for travel. Despite Egypt’s January 25th, 2011 Revolution, the rise and fall of the Muslim Brotherhood and President Morsi, and the advent of President Sisi, an Egyptian adventure will likely define a lifetime.
More often than not, travelers will outsource their trip to tour operators or agencies in their home country or in Egypt, believing that it is the safest, cheapest, and the most memorable way to see the land of the pharaohs, and leave rested, and a better person. At Egyptian Sidekick we believe that the mass tourism model currently dominant in Egypt, with its many detours for the purposes of sale, exposure of groups to hassle and harassment, and tight scheduling, simply cannot compete with the flexibility and cost-savings which go with locally-inspired options like those offered by our local guides and student chaperones.
Aswan has its own international airport (ASW), located in the desert, on the West bank of the Nile. The drive is not too lengthy but requires travelers to cross the British Dam, which is South of the city. It is an attraction in its own right. You will notice that Aswan is a far slower city, without the chaos of Cairo, Alexandria, or even Luxor. After visiting Egypt’s largest southern outpost, travelers realize that not only is Egypt safe for travelers, the experience is far better when traveling independently. With travel becoming ever-more accessible in the modern age, travel bloggers of all kinds are steadily challenging those basic assumptions.
The verdict is, and always has been that Egypt is safe. Moving around the country independently versus being corralled from site-to-site, often on 44-person tour buses just doesn’t compare. Moreover, an independent trip to Egypt is significantly cheaper, by anywhere from 35% to 60%, making these basic facts all the more important, and worth that extra bit of attention. Questions surrounding sustainable tourism also come into consideration – would you prefer nameless intermediaries pocketing your money, or for it to make a bigger impact on the ground, where it counts.
It is true that there are components of any “country-tour”, anywhere around the world, which require hybridization. In the case of Egypt, while the major cities and the Nile Valley can be done independently and cheaply, travel to far-flung oasis often requires individuals who know what they’re doing. This is especially the case when traveling to the Sinai Peninsula, and the Siwa, Dakhla, Bahariya and Kharga oases. So too is the case with the famous Nile Cruise, which is often the highlight of a trip to Egypt.
This doesn’t mean that booking components of your trip before your flight is the right thing to do, but that once on the ground, travelers will have many options to choose from, thus economizing tremendously. This reality is also true for Aswan. Most travelers will see the city and its many wonders under the auspices of a Nile Cruise booking. There is of course nothing wrong with this kind of approach to sightseeing, but if you are looking for an authentic, local flavour, our Egyptian Sidekicks in Aswan know just what to see and do to provide that.
1Aswan’s Philae temple to the goddess Isis, is a remarkably preserved complex that combines several periods. It is by far Aswan’s main attraction and is only accessibly by motorboat. Your Sidekick will arrange the transportation.
2Aswan was a major granite quarry in ancient times. The quarry showcases a broken obelisk and reveals many of the secrets involved with ancient construction techniques, it is perhaps the second most popular site to visit while in Aswan.
3Recently renamed the Aswan botanical garden, so as to drop all references to Egypt’s colonial, British, past, this place is right out of a dream, and only accessible by water. You will get the best shots of the dunes from the island.
4This dam – a recent construction – is a marvel of modern engineering, and powers the majority of the country. It was made possible thanks to Soviet-Egyptian cooperation, and is a popular, short stop-over for travelers.
5Seldom visited due to their inaccessibility on the West Bank of the Nile, these ancient tombs are incredible to see, mainly because of the lack of foreign tourists. They can be see just off of the main dune escarpment, and have become iconic.
6This is not your average hotel. It is a vestige of the day of old when travel was all about Victorian luxury, mixed with the exoticism of Africa. Transport yourself to the time of Agatha Christie, and those supposedly finer days.
7These ruins are just incredible. Coptic Christianity, and the influence of the Eastern Roman Empire based out of Constantinople had a marked effect on the Egyptian province of the empire. See how these aesthetic monks lived.
8This museum is often overlooked by travelers. It features strong cultural references to the dark-skinned Nubians of the region, and their absolutely critical role to the integrity of the ancient Egyptian empire in North Africa, and Palestine.
9This temple, much like Philae and Abu Simbel had to be raised to a higher plane, so as to avoid destruction by the lake created by the Aswan Dam. It has been reconstructed, and also features murals from a much earlier time than ancient Egypt.
10There is a free ferry that takes you to the Movenpick on Elephantine Island. You can then walk through the Nubian settlement all the way to the opposite end, where you will come across the entrance to the archaeological site, once home to a huge temple.
11The city of Aswan has an expansive market, running along a main street, just behind the first set of buildings along the Nile’s East Bank. Make sure to visit it and marvel at all the spices, wares, souvenirs. Watch out for tough sales pitches, though.
12The tombs of Ismaili religious authorities are perfectly set again the sky and the sand dunes below. The mausoleums can be visited, and provide a glimpse into an interesting offshoot of Islam.
13There is a small, nominal admission fee in EGP to gain entrance to this small garden/park. It is usually full of well-to-do Egyptians with young families. It showcases, what is affectionately referred to as, the “Elephant Foot”, a distinct rock formation within.
14Upper Egypt isn’t just stuck in the past. Aswan follows in its stone-cutting tradition with an annual sculpture festival. The sculpture park, located near the Philae Island jetty, on the East Bank features many modernist sculptures.
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