Aswan 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 service to Aswan International Airport: Air Memphis (to/from Abu Simbel), 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 to Luxor is around 3 hours on 1st/2nd class AC services. Five AC express services depart to Cairo each day, taking 13-14 hours (55LE 2nd class, 109LE 1st class), in addition to the Abela sleeper train (US$60, two trains each evening, one continuing to Alexandria). Tickets sell out so it important to buy a day or two in advance.
Aswan 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 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. 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 escavations 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.
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. 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, 65LE.
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. **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: 20LE, 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 Islami 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. 20LE.
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.
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 3AM, and is usually arranged by your hotel. See Abu Simbel article for more details.
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.