With about two and a half weeks in Egypt, we found ourselves faced with time constraints, sorting out how to spend the limited time we had in a country overflowing with opportunities for exploration. With our final day in Egypt we had to make a choice between relaxing and sightseeing in Aswan or making the journey to Abu Simbel, a duo of temples located near the Sudanese border. Ultimately, we chose Abu Simbel which we were happy with, but the beauty and serenity of Aswan left us wishing we’d had two more nights to enjoy the peacefulness of this riverside city.
We returned from Abu Simbel in the early afternoon, with time to enjoy lunch on the water and a bit of time to explore our hotel, the Old Cataract of Agatha Christie fame (now a Sofitel Legend property). There are few places that we visited in Egypt that I would classify as peaceful. None beyond Aswan actually. To be fair, there’s probably a chaotic side to this city as well, but the fact that we found moments of pure serenity was a welcome reprieve after days of fending off tireless vendors. Aswan is on the Nile, but we were told that the river would feel different in this slice of Egypt and it did. In Cairo, your first glimpse of the Nile doesn’t really feel like the Nile that you’ve dreamed up in your mind. In Cairo, it’s a river that snakes through a chaotic city; a tiny stretch of water that feels overshadowed by the bustling metropolis that has grown around it. In Aswan, life seems to revolve more around the river. It’s lush and fertile and boats zip around taking you from the main land to any one of a number of islands that dot the river. We had lunch at El Dokka, a restaurant on an island with windows that allow you to dine with a view. From above, we watched as sailboats floated down the river, past marshy tufts and thick white blooms.
When we finished lunch, we walked through a small market nearby where a local man was making scarves and selling a variety crafted by his family (great gifts to take back with you!). After picking up a few souvenirs, we headed back to clean up and explore Old Cataract. Of all of the properties we stayed at in Egypt (including the Nile Ritz-Carlton in Cairo and the Winter Palace in Luxor), Old Cataract was the most glamorous, and the location provided stunning views over the Nile River.
By the end of our trip, after days of early morning wake-up calls and sightseeing from dawn until dusk, we felt like we could have used a couple of days in Aswan at the end to simply unwind and take in the natural beauty of Egypt as well. You could easily spend a day or two unwinding at the hotel and enjoying some Vitamin D, but if you’re more inclined to continue the sightseeing there are ample opportunities for taking in sights and enjoying local offerings.
A few places to visit for some sightseeing in Aswan:
- Visit the Aswan High Dam – a feat of engineering that dates back to the 1960s, the creation of the Aswan Dam in turn formed Lake Nasser (which, in turn, necessitated the move of the Abu Simbel temples).
- Visit the Nubian Museum – Well-lit with A/C (a nice reprieve on a sizzly day), the Nubian museum gives insight into the Nubian culture and the people who occupy the land between Aswan and Khartoum.
- Temple of Philae – Situated on an island in the Nile, we visited the Temple of Philae at night during the temple’s Sound and Light Show. The temple is beautiful and is a pretty domineering sight as you arrive by boat!
- Aswan Market – We walked through the Aswan market during the evening and were pleasantly surprised. It felt more organized and less chaotic than the market in Luxor and had a wonderful range of products including some with a more sub-Saharan African influence.
We had fortunately crammed in some sightseeing in Aswan during the last day of our Nour el Nil itinerary so we didn’t feel quite as short-changed as we may have otherwise. Still, we left wishing we had an extra night to marinate in the tranquility of the city (in hindsight, I would have added a day to Aswan and taken one from Cairo). Luxor gets a lot of love (deservingly so) and Cairo is always shortlisted on Egyptian itineraries since it’s the main international hub for arrivals and is home to the pyramids of Giza. Aswan is often a bit of an afterthought for many; included on an itinerary because it fits in on the back-end of a river cruise (as was our situation). I would happily argue that this lovely seaside city deserves more than a glimpse though. If your itinerary permits, give yourself a couple of days to fall into the city’s peaceful rhythm.
Have you been to Aswan? What were your thoughts on the city vs. others in Egypt?