In this post revisiting my epic summer 2015 adventure, I highlight Egypt’s southernmost city! Aswan is a popular weekend and winter getaway for it’s warm weather, gorgeous Nile river scenery and Nubian culture. While Cairo and Luxor are bustling with tourists around its many ancient monuments, Aswan provides a more relaxed environment to enjoy many historical sites. These include the famous Abu Simbel Temples! My cousin whisked me away for my second weekend on an EgyptAir flight to this idyllic city near the Sudanese border, to escape the chaos of Cairo. Summertime is slow season for tourism in Egypt due to intense heat but that didn’t deter us! I invite travelers who are short on time and looking for a quick weekend getaway to use this post as a guide for things to do in Aswan, Egypt!
Where to Stay: Bet el Kerem Guesthouse
Cousin Shena the free spirit, chose a colourful, no-frills guesthouse called Bet el Kerem, at Nag el Kuba in west Aswan. We were picked up by the staff from the airport and discovered to our surprise and delight…that we were the only guests there!!! Our hosts made us feel at home during our too short stay. I loved the hot lemongrass and hibiscus (karkadee, sorrel) teas offered to us in welcome on the rooftop terrace. While sipping, we feasted our eyes on the stunning view of the nearby Tomb of the Nobles located on a sandy hill. For my review on this guesthouse, click on Stay at: Bet el Kerem, Aswan.
Since it was the holy month of Ramadan in July 2015, we were graciously invited to Iftar (eaten when Muslims end their fast at sunset) at the home of our host Ali, who lived in the village with his family. I was amazed to discover that the Egyptian dish called molokhia, a smooth blended soup made of jute leaves, was similar to Trinidad’s African dish, callaloo! I always tell my fellow Trinidadians that home is never far away! After dinner, we were taken out in the guesthouse’s boat for a cool nighttime cruise on the Nile.
Temples of Abu Simbel: One of the top things to do in Aswan, Egypt
Beware, my inner nerd cometh forth! The temples are UNESCO World Heritage Sites and are the most visited ancient monuments in Aswan. They are said to be named after a young boy called Abu Simbel who led Swiss explorers to the site in 1813. They began excavation in 1817. However, with the creation of the artificial Lake Nasser and the Aswan dam in the 1950s, the entire complex had to be relocated. To save these immense structures from being inundated, herculean international efforts moved them to the artificial cliff face seen today.
For our early morning trip, a breakfast box was packed for each of us. On the way, we stopped at a security checkpoint to pick up an armed policeman who accompanied us on the lonnnng 3.5-hour drive. Why? Tourism is crucial to Egypt’s economy and security became strict after the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings.
The temples consist of 2 massive rock structures on the west bank of Lake Nasser, near the Sudanese border. One is the Great Temple, the other the Small Temple. Egyptophiles and fellow nerds, are you ready for some history?! Master of self-promotion, Pharaoh Ramses II ordered the temples built for the following reasons:
- to commemorate his victory against the Hittites in the Battle of Kadesh in 1274 BCE
- to declare Nubia part of the Egyptian empire and intimidate this neighbouring country
- to honour Queen Nefertari his favourite wife and himself as gods in their own right
- to honour Goddess Hathor
The Great Temple
This spectacular temple is flanked by 4 colossal statues of Ramses II and stands 98ft high. Right above the door is a depiction of the mighty Pharaoh worshiping the falcon-headed sun god Ra. Around the knees of the colossi are smaller statues of some of his wives and children. Right before you enter, you see hieroglyphics that describe Egypt’s conquered enemies, the Nubians (from what is now Sudan) and Hittites (from what is now Turkey and Syria).
The Small Temple
Pharaoh Ramses II built this temple for Queen Nefertari, and is a testament to his high regard and love for her. Usually, the image of the ruler’s wife is no higher than his knees, but Nefertari was carved in the same massive size as her husband at 32ft high. This revealed how Ramses II felt about his beloved wife. Having your husband immortalize you in stone…if we can all be so lucky!
Nile River Boating and Swimming – Refreshing Things to do in Aswan, Egypt
Our tour of Abu Simbel ended just after noon. With our simple but delicious lunch in hand, our host Ali took us out in the guesthouse’s boat on the Nile to a sandy bank where we could relax and swim. On the way, we passed fishermen in their boats, the luxurious Old Cataract hotel and islands of dense reeds that reminded me of childhood Bible story pictures of Moses and Pharaoh’s daughter.
Lunch consisted of fried freshly-caught Nile carp, Egyptian flatbread, a cucumber and tomato salad, tahine sauce and rice. Simple yet so well prepared. I tell you now that Aswan had the best food I ate anywhere in Egypt!
Despite the energy-sapping summer heat, the Nile river water was cold. TMI alert! I forgot to pack my swimsuit but no way in hell was I missing out. I pulled the boat’s curtains, stripped down to my underwear, jumped in and swam to my heart’s delight. The cold water relieved the day’s heat and rejuvenated our bodies and spirits. Don’t panic folks…there have been no crocodiles in the area since the Aswan dam was built ! It was close to sunset when we returned to the guesthouse.
The Tomb of the Nobles
Our last morning was spent at this tomb, located on the sandy hilltop seen from the rooftop of our guesthouse. These tombs are important as they give the history of this part of Egypt during the Old and the Middle Kingdom periods. Inside, one can visit the tombs of Prince Mekho, Son of King Pepi II, his son Sabni and Prince Sarenput II. We were sad to leave as there was so much more to see, but the warmth and hospitality of the Nubian people really made the trip most memorable.
For more information click Aswan, Egyptian Tourism Authority
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