Aswan Egypt

Things to do in Aswan,Egypt: Quick weekend getaway guide

Massive statues of Ramses II and Queen Nefertari at Small temple Abu Simbel, Egypt

In this post revisiting my epic summer 2015 adventure, I highlight Egypt’s southernmost city! Aswan is a popular weekend and winter getaway for it’s warm weather, gorgeous Nile river scenery and Nubian culture. While Cairo and Luxor are bustling with tourists around its many ancient monuments, Aswan provides a more relaxed environment to enjoy many historical sites. These include the famous Abu Simbel Temples! My cousin whisked me away for my second weekend on an EgyptAir flight to this idyllic city near the Sudanese border, to escape the chaos of Cairo. Summertime is slow season for tourism in Egypt due to intense heat but that didn’t deter us! I invite travelers who are short on time and looking for a quick weekend getaway to use this post as a guide for things to do in Aswan, Egypt!

Early morning shot of Indian female in front of Abu Simbel Temple

 

Where to Stay: Bet el Kerem Guesthouse

Front yard of Bet el Kerem in Aswan, Egypt

Cousin Shena the free spirit, chose a colourful, no-frills guesthouse called Bet el Kerem, at Nag el Kuba in west Aswan. We were picked up by the staff from the airport and discovered to our surprise and delight…that we were the only guests there!!! Our hosts made us feel at home during our too short stay. I loved the hot lemongrass and hibiscus (karkadee, sorrel) teas offered to us in welcome on the rooftop terrace. While sipping, we feasted our eyes on the stunning view of the nearby Tomb of the Nobles located on a sandy hill. For my review on this guesthouse, click on Stay at: Bet el Kerem, Aswan.

Rooftop view of Tomb of the Nobles in Aswan, Egypt

View of the Tomb of the Nobles from our guesthouse

Since it was the holy month of Ramadan in July 2015, we were graciously invited to Iftar (eaten when Muslims end their fast at sunset) at the home of our host Ali, who lived in the village with his family. I was amazed to discover that the Egyptian dish called molokhia, a smooth blended soup made of jute leaves, was similar to Trinidad’s African dish, callaloo! I always tell my fellow Trinidadians that home is never far away! After dinner, we were taken out in the guesthouse’s boat for a cool nighttime cruise on the Nile.

Nile River view of Aga Khan Tomb during night cruise

Stunning view of Aga Khan’s Tomb during our night cruise in guesthouse’s boat

Temples of Abu Simbel: One of the top things to do in Aswan, Egypt

Beware, my inner nerd cometh forth! The temples are UNESCO World Heritage Sites and are the most visited ancient monuments in Aswan. They are said to be named after a young boy called Abu Simbel who led Swiss explorers to the site in 1813. They began excavation in 1817. However, with the creation of the artificial Lake Nasser and the Aswan dam in the 1950s, the entire complex had to be relocated. To save these immense structures from being inundated, herculean international efforts moved them to the artificial cliff face seen today.

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Remote view of both Abu Simbel Temples

Distant shot of Small Temple at immediate right and Great Temple on the left

For our early morning trip, a breakfast box was packed for each of us. On the way, we stopped at a security checkpoint to pick up an armed policeman who accompanied us on the lonnnng 3.5-hour drive. Why? Tourism is crucial to Egypt’s economy and security became strict after the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings.

The temples consist of 2 massive rock structures on the west bank of Lake Nasser, near the Sudanese border. One is the Great Temple, the other the Small Temple. Egyptophiles and fellow nerds, are you ready for some history?! Master of self-promotion, Pharaoh Ramses II ordered the temples built for the following reasons:

  • to commemorate his victory against the Hittites in the Battle of Kadesh in 1274 BCE
  • to declare Nubia part of the Egyptian empire and intimidate this neighbouring country
  • to honour  Queen Nefertari his favourite wife and himself as gods in their own right
  • to honour Goddess Hathor 

The Great Temple

Colossi of Ramses II at Abu Simbel Temple in Aswan, Egypt

Great Temple of Abu Simbel

This spectacular temple is flanked by 4 colossal statues of Ramses II and stands 98ft high. Right above the door is a depiction of the mighty Pharaoh worshiping the falcon-headed sun god Ra. Around the knees of the colossi are smaller statues of some of his wives and children. Right before you enter, you see hieroglyphics that describe Egypt’s conquered enemies, the Nubians (from what is now Sudan) and Hittites (from what is now Turkey and Syria).

Indian Girl in sunglasses in front of Nubian carvings, Abu Simbel Temples in Egypt

Nubian hieroglyphics at entrance to Great Temple, Abu Simbel

The Nubians, enemies of ancient Egypt

Hittite hieroglyphics at entrance to Great Temple, Abu Simbel

Hittites, enemies of ancient Egypt

The Small Temple

Colossal of Queen Nefertari at Small Temple, Abu Simbel

 

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Pharaoh Ramses II built this temple for Queen Nefertari, and is a testament to his high regard and love for her. Usually, the image of the ruler’s wife is no higher than his knees, but Nefertari was carved in the same massive size as her husband at 32ft high. This revealed how Ramses II felt about his beloved wife. Having your husband immortalize you in stone…if we can all be so lucky!

Massive statues of Ramses II and Queen Nefertari at Small temple Abu Simbel, Egypt

Ramses II and his most beloved wife Nefertari flanking the entrance to the Small Temple

Nile River Boating and Swimming – Refreshing Things to do in Aswan, Egypt

 

Palm trees and reeds along the Nile River, Aswan Egypt

Gorgeous green scenery along the Nile River

Bank of dense reeds along the Nile River, Aswan

Our tour of Abu Simbel ended just after noon. With our simple but delicious lunch in hand, our host Ali took us out in the guesthouse’s boat on the Nile to a sandy bank where we could relax and swim. On the way, we passed fishermen in their boats, the luxurious Old Cataract hotel and islands of dense reeds that reminded me of childhood Bible story pictures of Moses and Pharaoh’s daughter.

Lunch consisted of fried freshly-caught Nile carp, Egyptian flatbread, a cucumber and tomato salad, tahine sauce and rice. Simple yet so well prepared. I tell you now that Aswan had the best food I ate anywhere in Egypt!

 Delicious Lunch on Nile River cruise, Aswan Egypt

 

Despite the energy-sapping summer heat, the Nile river water was cold. TMI alert! I forgot to pack my swimsuit but no way in hell was I missing out. I pulled the boat’s curtains, stripped down to my underwear, jumped in and swam to my heart’s delight.  The cold water relieved the day’s heat and rejuvenated our bodies and spirits. Don’t panic folks…there have been no crocodiles in the area since the Aswan dam was built ! It was close to sunset when we returned to the guesthouse. 

Indian girl swimming close to Nile river bank, Aswan Egypt

Two girls swimming in the Nile, Aswan Egypt

Pharaoh’s adopted daughters swimming in the Nile

Bet el Kerem Guesthouse's river boat

River boat belonging to the Bet el Kerem Guesthouse

The Tomb of the Nobles

Our last morning was spent at this tomb, located on the sandy hilltop seen from the rooftop of our guesthouse. These tombs are important as they give the history of this part of ‎Egypt during the Old and the Middle Kingdom periods. ‎Inside, one can visit the tombs of Prince Mekho, Son of King Pepi II, his son Sabni and Prince Sarenput II. We were sad to leave as there was so much more to see, but the warmth and hospitality of the Nubian people really made the trip most memorable.

Inside the tombs

For more information click Aswan, Egyptian Tourism Authority

 

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19 Comments

  • Reply
    Sue
    at 10:48 PM

    Brought back memories of another wonderful trip – thanks for sharing!

  • Reply
    Sarah
    at 11:09 PM

    I love Aswan! I love how its such a unique, culture-filled, and history-filled city :).

  • Reply
    Alyssa
    at 6:00 AM

    Wow, this looks like an adventure out of a film. The Nefertari temple looks so beautiful. My new goal is to
    A: Find a husband
    B: Can you/Will you immortalize me in stone.
    Egypt is definitely on my list so I’m pinning this for safe keeping. Thanks for the goodies!

    • Victoria Hawkins
      Reply
      Victoria Hawkins
      at 5:56 PM

      You’re welcome! I did feel like I was in a movie like The 10 Commandments 🙂

  • Reply
    Paul Healy
    at 2:06 AM

    Aswan sounds like a great alternative to the busier locations in Egypt and it looks like it has lots of interesting things to see as well. Always like visiting places with historical sites so I’ll have to add Aswan to the list!

  • Reply
    eli
    at 7:41 AM

    That’s so crazy! I would love to see that in person. Must have been mind-blowing. Great post. Rarely see anything about other places in Egypt besides the pyramids so this was really interesting to read

    • Victoria Hawkins
      Reply
      Victoria Hawkins
      at 5:46 PM

      Thanks so much! I loved Aswan most of all the cities. Mindblowing? I’d say the temples were mindblasting! LOL Wish we stayed longer to see more!

  • Reply
    Priya Florence Shah
    at 4:11 PM

    I’ve been longing to visit Egypt for so long but am always told it’s not safe for women travellers. Did you travel alone or with a group?

    • Victoria Hawkins
      Reply
      Victoria Hawkins
      at 5:40 PM

      When I toured Egypt, I went around with great guides in Cairo and Luxor. In Aswan my cousin and I went by ourselves and encountered no problems. I’d recommend booking a guide called Ali Ahmed from Wonders of Egypt Tours. Extremely respectful person and passionate about his homeland!

  • Reply
    Diana
    at 3:00 PM

    I’ve never heard of this place, the great temple looks amazing! Love that it’s not full of tourists!

    • Victoria Hawkins
      Reply
      Victoria Hawkins
      at 10:33 AM

      The temple is one of Egypt’s most famous monuments and it can get very crowded, but we went during summer in the early morning so it wasn’t bad at all!

  • Reply
    Cato
    at 5:25 AM

    Great guide and thanks for the tips! Have bookmarked this as I will definitely use it in the near future!

  • Reply
    Darah Aldridge
    at 11:28 AM

    It’s been a dream of mine to visit Egypt since I was a little girl! Hopefully, my husband and I can visit sometime in the near future. Swimming in the Nile sounds exciting and it’s comforting to know there are no alligators there.
    Darah Aldridge recently posted…Thailand Beaches: RailayMy Profile

    • Victoria Hawkins
      Reply
      Victoria Hawkins
      at 10:32 AM

      I was nervous about alligators also, especially near the dense reeds!

  • Reply
    Daniel
    at 1:41 PM

    This looks like an amazing adventure. I’ve been longing to visit Egypt for so long but never got the chance still. After reading your post, I want to visit even more.

  • Reply
    Kavita Favelle
    at 3:58 AM

    What an amazing adventure you had. I love how you were welcomed so warmly at the guest house, how fortunate to be the only guests at that time, and particularly special to be invited to the family ishtar. Aswan is on my list for the famous temples but had no idea it would also be a more chilled place within an Egypt itinerary.
    Kavita Favelle recently posted…The Best Souvenirs to Buy in the USAMy Profile

    • Victoria Hawkins
      Reply
      Victoria Hawkins
      at 10:30 AM

      It was my favourite place in Egypt! Best food, sweet people and swimming in the gorgeous River Nile!

  • Reply
    Jennifer Schlueter
    at 3:12 PM

    I love the mix of history and nature Aswan offers. Haven’t made it there yet, but I sure will during my next time in Egypt!

  • Reply
    Kathi
    at 8:52 AM

    Your photos are beautiful – I’d love to spend some time in Egypt. It looks so serene by the Nile!

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