How to Get to Aswan
Getting to Aswan by Plane
There are flights between Luxor International airport and the Aswan international airport, but I found them to be very expensive. All flights I found were indirect with a layover in Cairo making the trip more than 5 hours.
Getting to Aswan by Train
We booked a train ticket online to get between Luxor and Aswan using the Seat61 information which cost 11 EUR for 2 first class tickets. While this sounds like the perfect travel option, our train was 1 hour late. The only way we figured that out since the announcements were all in Arabic was a nice tour guide that was also taking our train to Aswan to meet some clients. The train station in Luxor was safe and once we got on the correct train (a few past by as we were waiting for our delayed train which was very confusing without understanding the announcements) the train ride was relatively clean and simple.
Getting to Aswan by Car
It is possible to drive between Luxor and Aswan, but I was told by a local that even though the route is 3 hours, the road is so bad with pot holes and speed bumps that it takes much longer. Due to the security concerns with self-driving in Egypt, we did not consider this as an option.
Getting to Aswan by Private Tour / Group Tour
Honestly, if I had to do it all over again, I would have tried to coordinate with our tour company we used in Luxor to arrange travel to Aswan and continue our tour in Aswan. Many individual tour guides or tour company will do multiple city private tours. There are also full-package multi-city group tours available, but I enjoyed the flexibility of the private tour.
Getting Around Aswan, Egypt
I envisioned that Aswan was going to be even smaller of a city than Luxor, assuming that the more south we got the more rural Egypt was going to be, but I was wrong. Aswan was a lot more active than Luxor. You can get around the city in a pre-arranged car, taxi or even boat which is required to visit Elephantine Island, the Nubian Villages, the Mövenpick and the Temple of Isis at Philae.
Where to Stay in Aswan, Egypt
The two famous hotels in Aswan are the Sofitel Legend Old Cataract and the Mövenpick Resort Aswan. The Old Cataract Hotel is famous because Agatha Christie checked into this hotel once for a year in order to write her novel Death on the Nile. The Cataract Hotel has an old world feel with updated interiors! We opted to stay at the Mövenpick which is located on Elephantine Island, the largest of the islands in Aswan and is one of the most ancient sites in Egypt with artifacts dating to pre-dynastic periods. Since the hotel is on an island, there is a hotel boat from the mainland that takes you right to the hotel and visa versa. We ate at most of the restaurants in the hotel and they were fabulous! Make sure to make a reservation for the Italian restaurant at the Mövenpick’s Panorama Bar and Restaurant with stunning 360 degree views of the Nile and Aswan.
Related Posts: A Guide to Spending 2 Days in Cairo | Luxor Itinerary: What to See in Luxor in 2 Days
Day 1 in Aswan: The Temple of Isis at Philae & Elephantine Island
How to get to the Temple of Isis
Taxi: If you don’t have a tour planned for the Temple of Isis, it is possible to take a taxi to the Marina Philae Temple where you will need to get a local boat to the Temple. This will involve some haggling with the local boat driver to take you to the temple. See below for some tips on how to do this.
Private Tour: In order to visit the temple of Isis we booked a private tour guide from TripAdvisor that picked us up from the train station, kept our bags in the car while we did a late morning tour of the Isis Temple, and after touring the temple took us to our hotel. It was great for your schedule so that we could visit in the morning without having to drop our luggage off at the hotel first and the tour guide dealt with the locals to arrange a reasonable fee for the boat.
The Temple of Isis
The Temple of Isis was one of the temples I was most excited about visiting in Egypt because it is only accessible via boat, as it is located on Agilkia Island. There’s just something about having to arrive up to a temple via boat was so dreamy. However, this temple was not always located here. The whole complex was moved from its original location on Philae Island, to its new location on Agilkia Island, after the flooding of Lake Nasser which left the temple completely under water.
Tips for Visiting the Temple of Isis
- Timing: The best time to visit the temple is early in the morning. We tried to visit right at opening time, but because of our 1-hour train delay we didn’t show up until 10AM and there were already many tour groups there. Lots of groups do a joint tour of Abu Simbel in the morning and returning to Aswan to visit the Temple of Isis at Philae in the late afternoon, making noon to 2PM a very busy time as well.
- Boat Transportation: There is only one way to get out to the temple, by boat. The price for a return-trip boat ride is 10EGP per person, however be prepared to be overcharged. It’s also good to keep in mind while traveling through the Middle East that this is the boatmen’s main form of income and an extra dollar or two probably means more to them than to you.
- Light and Sound Show: If you are interested in returning back to the temple at night, there is also a light and sound show with one English performance per night. Tickets are 250EGP and can be booked online here.
Entrance Price: 150EGP
Photography Price: Free!
Visiting Elephantine Island
If you aren’t staying at the Mövenpick Resort, but still want to visit the Elephantine Island, you can still take the Mövenpick hotel boat over to the island from the Ferry Dock for the Mövenpick Resort, just tip a few EGPs. Here you can see a large temple dedicated to Khnum the Ram god. There are also various shrines and rock tombs belonging to the Nobles of this city. Elephantine Island is also the site of two Nubian villages. Due to the Nubian villages on the island, women are recommended to wear conservative clothes while sight seeing on the island, but this is not necessary in the resort.
Take a ride on a felucca boat on the Nile
If this is something you want to do, we saw many more people taking felucca boat rides in Aswan than in Luxor. A felucca boat is a wooden boat completely driven by hand. We saw one go by around dusk, that had music blaring and disco lights flashing. You can go to many different ports on the main land in Aswan and negotiate with the drivers directly for a ride (roughly 300EGP) or you can save the hassle of negotiating and book a tour through your hotel.
Day 2: Day Trip to Abu Simbel
If you have made it all the way to Aswan, take the time to go a few more hours south to Abu Simbel, a village in Egypt near the border of Sudan. Here you will find two amazing temples carved out of rock commissioned by King Ramses II. Some are bold enough to say that if you haven’t seen the temples at Abu Simbel, you haven’t really seen Egypt.
How to get to Abu Simbel
Getting to Abu Simbel by Bus
There is no train service to Abu Simbel, but there is a local bus. The bus departs Aswan at 7:00AM, arriving in Abu Simbel at 10:00AM. This gives you enough time to explore the temples at Abu Simbel and then bus leaves Abu Simbel at 1:00PM arriving back in Aswan at 4:00PM. You may not have much time to wait around for people to clear out of your photos, but this is a less expensive option than a private car.
Getting to Abu Simbel by Taxi
If you have not pre-arranged a tour group, it is possible to coordinate with your hotel to schedule a taxi ride to Abu Simbel. As soon as you know you want to make this day trip, talk to your hotel as they need to find a driver that is licensed to make the trip. There are multiple security checkpoints along the highway to Abu Simbel, and only those drivers with the proper papers are allowed.
Getting to Abu Simbel by Private Tour / Group Tour
There are many group tours that make the day trip from Aswan to Abu Simbel. The road between Aswan and Abu Simbel is only open starting at 5AM for security reasons and closes again by 5PM. Most tour groups start out around 5AM or 6AM on mini buses en-route to Abu Simbel and arrive by 8AM or 9AM. You can also arrange for a private tour that is flexible to your schedule.
How to visit Abu Simbel without the crowds?
In order to visit the temples in Abu Simbel without anyone else around, either organize a private tour that allows you to start out earlier then the rest of the group tours to be the first car on the highway or plan a visit during the mid-afternoon after the tours have left for the day. However do remember that unless you plan to stay in Abu Simbel, the road to Aswan closes again at 5PM. We met our tour guide from our first day in Aswan again in the morning at 4AM at our hotel to begin the 3 hour trip to Abu Simbel. We were the first on the highway as it opened up at 5AM and arrived to the temples around 730AM. Even though the temple complex opens at 6AM we were the first to arrive from the day-trippers. Another way to visit without the crowds is to stay overnight in Abu Simble and avoid the early morning 3 hour drive.
The Great Temple of Ramses II
The main temple in Abu Simbel is the Great Temple of Ramses II, which will make you feel small standing under four massive, and very well intact, statues of King Ramses II at the entrance. The original Great Temple of Remses II was aligned in such a way that each 21 February and 21 October, Ramses’ birthday and coronation day, the first sun’s rays moved through the opening in the temples and into the sanctuary, where they illuminate the figures of Ra-Horakhty, Ramses II and Amun.
The Temple of Hathor
The second temple is Temple of Hathor, which was the temple dedicated to Ramses II wife, Nefertari. The inside of what is called the “small temple” is stunningly colorful and detailed with carvings of Nefetari. These temples were originally carved out of rock on the west bank of the Nile and over the years due to desert sands shifting, were completely covered and forgotten until rediscovered in 1813.
Entrance Price: 240EGP
Photography Price: 300EGP for taking photos inside the temples and 20EGP for a tripod. We paid for both photography tickets.
What to Do with Additional Days in Aswan, Egypt
Other additions to the above itinerary are a day trip to Kom Ombo Temple from Aswan which is a unique double temple dedicated to Sobek the crocodile god, and Horus the falcon-headed god. In addition, you can add a visit to the Temple of Horus in Edfu which is a city that lies in between Luxor and Aswan. This temple was built between 237 and 57 BC, is one of the best-preserved ancient monuments in Egypt.
Another great activity for any Egypt itinerary would be to add on a Nile Cruise. Unfortunately due to time and traveling during off-season we did not get the chance to experience this for ourselves, but you can book a cruise for a varying number of days which can start at many different places along the Nile – whatever fits your schedule.