In the space of 24 hours I caught a train from Luxor to Aswan, saw the temples of Abu Simbel located near the Sudanese border, browsed the Aswan Souq, sailed a felucca on the Nile, hiked up the western bank of the river for a view over the city and caught the train back to Luxor. Phew!
I was told that the further south I went along the Nile I would find the regions more relaxed, and it was definitely true. In Aswan the river is wide and blue and the people are friendly and much more chilled out. I caught the train from Luxor to Aswan (3hrs) but you can also take a Nile river cruise from Luxor (2 night/3 days).
The Nile is the only major river in the world to run south to north, and it is fitting that the northern regions are called Lower Egypt, and the southern regions Upper Egypt. Aswan is one of the largest cities in Upper Egypt.
One of the major attractions of Upper Egypt is the temples of Abu Simbel, located on the short of Lake Nasser, very close to the Sudanese border. I hopped on a tour from Aswan that departed at 4am, took about 3.5 hours to get there, allowed two hours to explore the site and then returned to Aswan. For security reasons you can only take this overland route on an organised tour.
The temples of Abu Simbel have twice been the marvels of architecture and engineering. Firstly when they were originally constructed in ~1200BC and then for a second time when they were cut out from the Nile cliffs by a UNESCO-led operation in 1968 and moved to higher ground to prevent them from being flooded by Lake Nasser when the Aswan Dam was built. And they are certainly magnificent constructions. The Temple of Ramses II has an entrance framed by four giant versions of him that face the direction of the rising sun. Inside the temple there are intricate carvings and at the back and centre are four seated statues: Ra-Horakhty, the king, and the gods Amun Ra and Ptah that on two occasions per year (October and February) are directly lit by the rising sun due to precise solar alignment. Except for the statue of Ptah, that has connections to the underworld. One of the images on the wall of the temple is possibly the first recorded image of the animation of movement. Very interesting!
Next to this temple if the Temple of Nefertari, Ramses II’s beloved wife. The statues of her that frame the entrance stand at the same height as her husband’s, a rare honour in the Egyptian times. The carvings inside this temple are also very beautiful.
The location of these temples is beautiful and very calming. Lake Nasser is one of the largest man-made lakes in the world. There are a number of other temples located around the shores of the lake, some that are only accessible by boat.
When I returned to Aswan I had time to explore the souq before taking a felucca ride on the Nile. The souq was especially fun to explore as the vendors hardly bothered me at all and I could finally walk around and enjoy myself in peace. Finishing off the day with a private sunset felucca trip (Egyptian sail boat) on the river was just amazing! It was so peaceful on the water and Captain Gamal was just lovely! I hopped of the boat on the west bank and climbed up the hill to quickly explore some tombs and the view over the Nile before sailing around in the fading light. I don’t think I could have asked for a better day 🙂
It would have been great to spend more time in Aswan, as it is very relaxing and there are a few other things to do there. Such as visiting Elephantine Island, the Aswan Dam, the unfinished obelisk and a few other temples. But I was keen to head back to Luxor to do some volunteer vet work at ACE – Animal Care in Egypt, a wonderful organisation providing free veterinary care for the animals of Luxor.
The nitty gritty:
- It was easy to catch a train from Luxor to Aswan (60LE each way). They run frequently and I just bought a ticket at the station at both ends. See my post on catching the train in Egypt here.
- The owner of the New Everest Hotel/Hostel in Luxor helped me organise the trip to the Abu Simbel Temples. The tour cost 200LE plus 100LE for the temple entry.
- The owner of the hotel I stayed at in Aswan gave me the contact for the felucca trip. His name was Captain Gamal (+201002064042) and he was so lovely. I paid 150LE for a three hour private sail trip. He also does overnight trips on the Nile which sounded amazing!
For more posts from my trip to Egypt check out the following links: