Nestled on the West Bank of the River Nile lies the picturesque city of Aswan, bedecked with palm-fringed islands and charming flotillas that surround. A delightful contrast from the chaotic cities of Cairo and Luxor, Aswan’s laid-back culture derives from the Nubian people that came to settle on the city’s peaceful banks from northern Sudan. Not only popular for its historical importance, Egypt’s third major city along the Nile has also become an interesting location to experience first-hand the Nubian ways of life through a handful of the village tours in Siou and Koti.
Meander through the busy markets such as the well-loved Sharia as-Souq and experience the ubiquitous wave of tourists bartering for trinkets and souvenirs to take home with them. However, proceed to the northern end of the market and prepare to be surprised at all the wonderfully authentic treasures that await. Stumble upon a selection of locally produced fruits and vegetables, a variety of meat such as chicken and pigeon, locally cultivated products such as nuts, henna powder, dried hibiscus to make the local drink Karkadeh, and hand-made Nubian products such as lucky talisman, African masques and a weird and wonderful collection of stuffed crocodiles and desert animals.
Elephantine Island is known as The Site of Ancient Abu in the language of ancient Egypt. As there is no definite answer as to where the island got its name, theories predict that it was due to a vast history in the ivory trade. Located in the centre of the Nile, Elephantine Island stretches over 1,200 metres in length and 400 metres at its widest. In the days of ancient Egypt, the island was a place of veneration towards Khnum, the ram-headed god who was the creator of humankind. To the north of the island situates Elephantine’s only hotel, the Mövenpick Resort Aswan. Surrounded by the flowing waters of the Nile, the hotel enjoys a fantastic location and scenic surroundings. Wander towards the centre of Elephantine and you will come across traditionally colourful Nubian villages and to the south, Aswan’s history will come to life as you contemplate amongst a plethora of ruins and relics including the mummified Ram of Khnum in the Aswan Museum.
Like many of the forgotten monuments of Egypt, The Great Temple of Abu Simbel sat beneath the Egyptian desert for centuries, until it was re-discovered by the Swiss explorer Jean-Louis Burckhardt in 1813. Built by Ramses II who was known to build entire cities across ancient Egypt, the temple is one of the most iconic monuments built during Ramses’ entire reign. Travel just over 50 miles southwest of Aswan to explore this great temple and gaze in awe at the awaiting pharaoh’s carved deep into the walls as they guard the entrance. For a magical once a year experience, visit the temple during an enchanting day in October to watch as the sun’s rays tiptoe across the Nile, creeping through the hypostyle hall and into the sanctuary, where the statues of Ramses II, Ra-Horakhty and Amun illuminate in the morning light.
GMT +2 hours
4¾ hours to Cairo; 1¼ hours to Aswan
Tipping or ‘baksheesh’ is a way of life in Egypt and it’s customary to tip about LE£1 for every little service, so keep a pocketful of small change!
• Egypt is predominately a Muslim country, so make sure you’re properly dressed when out and about - revealing outfits are a no-no, especially for women.
• Pack lightweight cotton clothes in the summer and a jumper or jacket for cooler winter evenings.
Browse the vibrant stalls of Aswan’s souks in search of jewellery, carpets, silks, shishas, herbs, brassware, oils, spices and textiles. Every sale is bartered here, so brush up on your haggling skills!
• Authentic Egyptian starters are called mezzeh, and are best eaten with traditional pitta-style bread.
• Lamb is marinated in spices and grilled for juicy kebabs, and shwarma is the Egyptian equivalent of the Turkish doner kebab.
• Popular desserts include dates soaked in milk, honey-laced pastries and baked rice.
• Stick to bottled water, and remember it’s easy to get dehydrated here in the summer.