Aswan was actually my favorite city in Egypt- might be because it was our first stop and I was just SO grateful to actually be in the country or it might be due to seeing the prettiest sunset of our trip from our hotel patio. Or in truth, it might be just because I loved the places we went to during our stay in Aswan that much but either way- it should be on any Egypt itinerary you’re planning.
Best way to get to Aswan:
Planes– Fly from Cairo to Aswan (from $100-$140 one way) *This is the option we did
Trains – If you fly or take the a train to Luxor, you could take a 3 hour train to Aswan from around $4/ person one way. You could also take a sleeper train from Cairo to Aswan from around $100. That train journey is 10-13 hours and usually includes dinner and breakfast.
Nile Cruise –From Luxor, take a Nile cruise to Aswan stopping to see incredible temples along the way in what is usually a 4 day tour. Read my post here about our experience on a Nile cruise to Luxor (reverse direction).
Temperatures in Aswan
Luxor and Aswan are among the hottest cities you’ll visit in Egypt and one of the main reasons travel sites tell you not to visit in the summer. The highs most days in July and August are around 120 F/ 49 C. If you want more moderate temperatures but would still like to swim, visit in the spring/ fall. Winter (December- February) the highs are in the 70s so you may find that walking temperatures are perfect but it’s too cold to swim at your hotel pool.
Best things to see in Aswan.
The Unfinished Obelisk
Obelisks, like pyramids, are an important part of ancient Egyptian building and theology with the idea that the top of it brings them closer to the god Amun-Ra. The unfinished Obelisk in Aswan is an important stop for a couple reasons.
- It’s the largest known Obelisk in the world and is at least 1/3x the size of any other constructed obelisks in the world. If it had been finished, it would have measured 138 feet (42 meters) and weighed nearly 1200 tons (equal to about 200 African elephants). It was abandoned due to cracks forming in the granite but then other unknown builders started to carve a smaller obelisk into it avoiding those cracks but it too was abandoned.
- It was started under the reign of Hatshepsut sometime between 1508-1458 BC possibly to complement the Lateran Obelisk at Karnak (although that obelisk was later brought to Rome)
- It gives incredible insight into ancient Egyptian stone masonry technique and is actually located in the same granite quarry as many of the other obelisks found in Luxor and surround sites. Some interesting facts about the stone masonry techniques seen here are:
- The obelisks created by ancient Egyptians are all carved from one single piece of stone. (Questions such as how did they transport one solid piece of stone weighing 1000 tons hundreds of miles and then raise it once it got there are still a mystery)
- The obelisks were first outlined with a harder stone by chipping away at the sides. Then stone masons would chip away underneath the obelisk along the bedrock until they got deep enough to actually insert logs to light on fire. They did this in increments up and down the obelisk as a way to weaken the stone against the bedrock. You can see many of these increment spots and even the strikes from the stone being hit multiple times to chip it away.
The High Dam of Aswan
Since we hail from Utah, a land of many important dams (Hoover, Glen Canyon, etc) and having seen all of these impressive industrial constructions myself- I found the high dam to be a very interesting visit. It makes sense when you learn about the flood cycles of the Nile, which have been recorded for thousands of year, why Egypt would seek to control the flooding for improved farming along the Nile. The additional hydroelectric benefits were also instrumental in Egypt’s industrialization. The high damn alone provides 65% of the entire country’s electricity. It was completed in 1970 and has remained the largest embankment dam in the world (the 3rd largest dam in the world).
It’s generally a short stop (maybe 15 minutes) but gives impressive views downstream of the city Aswan and upstream of Lake Nasser which is, no surprise here, one of the largest man-made lakes in the world. Lake Nasser itself is at least 8x the size of Lake Mead in the US and also unlike Lake Mead, home to thousands of Nile River crocodiles. All in all, it’s an interesting stop and will you give a peak at the industrialization age in Egypt and cold war politics of the middle east in the 1960s.
The Philae Temple
In one day (maybe a 4 hour tour) we visited The unfinished Obelisk, the high dam, and finished with the piece de resistance of any trip to Aswan- the Philae Temple. I have a post dedicated to it you can read HERE, but for a short glimpse, the Philae Temple was easily one of my favorite spots in all of our Egypt trip. It’s very close to town in Aswan but with a catch, it’s only accessible by boat.
There’s a small visitor center area where you can book a boat over to the island the temple is now located on and let me tell you it is MAGICAL seeing this island from 360 views all around the island. On a Thursday afternoon we also had this temple largely to ourselves (so I maybe biased). Visit my post here to see more picture and information about this incredible spot.
Abu Simbel Temples
Abu Simbel is two incredible rock-cut temples with beautiful inscriptions, multiple rooms, and iconic sitting statues of the pharaoh who “built” them guarding the entrance. While it maybe a bit of a trek to get to, it was pretty unlike anything else we saw on our trip to Egypt. It’s definitely worth the day extra on your trip to visit these iconic temples. (even if that day has to start obscenely early.) Read more about our trip here.
A Nubian Village
If you book a total organized tour package like we did, this maybe no considered a “must do” or even part of your itinerary but may likely be included as an optional add on once you get there. The jury is out on how “worth it” this add on actually is but if you have the free time and are interested in learning about yet another culture that’s been around thousands of years and still struggling to persist in today’s world, then go for it!
The tour only takes around 2 hours and we had the additional incentives of getting to see Nile river crocodiles (in an exhibit in the village) AND get to swim in the crocodile free portion of the Nile. Read more about our experience here.
Where we stayed in Aswan
Movenpick is the reigning supreme hotel in Egypt and there is one on Elephentine Island that looks pretty amazing. However for a luxurious stay that doesn’t break the budget, the Tolip Hotel was wonderful.
Everything from the lobby, to the pool, and to our Nile view rooms was pretty near perfect. We got a hibiscus drink free at checkin, the room was very comfortable, and the best part was our incredible view from our room. We ended up eating dinner in our room via room service because it was air conditioned (not many places are in Egypt) and our view was just as good as any.