Aswan and Lake Nasser Travel Guide
  • Plan Your Aswan and Lake Nasser Vacation

    Photo: Waj/Shutterstock

Plan Your Aswan and Lake Nasser Vacation

Egyptians today take for granted modern control of the Nile: they open their faucets complacently, even if they don't always obtain the desired results. But in antiquity the river and its capricious annual floods were endowed with divinity and honored with all the force of the empire. The floodwaters acted as god and teacher, as the ancients learned the movements of the stars and devised calendars in order to predict the arrival of the inundation.

The Nile was the pharaohs' vehicle for empire building. It was the carriage road for troops, trade, and the massive granite blocks quarried in Aswan—the temples that line its banks from Al Minya to Abu Simbel glorify both the ancient gods and the Egyptians' ingenuity in putting the river's power and wealth to work. The river also made agriculture and the feeding of the population—the workforce—so easy: Herodotus noted in 460 BC that the Egyptians "gather in the fruits of the earth with less labor than any other people." Having mastered several straightforward irrigation techniques still in use today, farmers sowed their seeds and harvested two annual crops from the rich silt that the floods left behind.

No other river and no other ancient civilization have so fired the imagination of the modern West. But, aside from the works of ancient Greek, Roman, and Arab historians, and an antagonistic contact during the Crusades, the West remained essentially ignorant of Islamic culture and the marvels of the pharaohs until the late 1700s. And the people of the Upper Nile lived in relative isolation, working the land as they had for millennia.

In 1902 the British built the first Aswan dam to conserve late-summer floodwaters for the low-water season and increase agricultural output. As the population grew, these reserves became insufficient. The building of the Aswan High Dam in the 1960s altered the river's character dramatically, putting an end to the seemingly eternal and sometimes devastating annual floods. But the dams are just technological updates on what men have been doing for ages: tapping the river's power.

Today, the river remains the lifeblood of the country, but for most visitors it is first and foremost a leisure facility, the now benign waters allowing easy access to Egypt's most magnificent ancient monuments.


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Top Reasons To Go

  1. Temples Beit al-Wali, located at New Kalabsha, is known for its vivid color; Abu Simbel for its monumental statues of Ramses II; and Philae for its Roman influences. Most of the Nubian temples are rarely visited, since they are visible only on a Lake Nasser cruise.
  2. Tombs Although much less visited than those in the Theban Necropolis, the Tombs of the Nobles on Aswan's West Bank can be visited on an easy day trip across the river and combined with Saint Simeon's Monastery via a short camel trek.
  3. Nubian Culture During ancient times, Egypt's southern neighbor, Nubia, was sometimes friend, sometimes foe. In modern times, the Nubian people who lived along the Nile Valley south of Aswan developed a culture independent of Arab Egypt, and it lives on in the households of 50,000 Nubians in and around Aswan. This culture is remembered at the Nubia Museum and kept alive in Aswan’s Nubian villages.
  4. River Trips Popular Nile cruises begin or end in Aswan. For shorter trips in Aswan, the monumental rose-red granite boulders of the cataracts and their associated river islands make for wonderful late-afternoon felucca rides. Aswan is also the jumping-off point for the relaxing trip down Lake Nasser to Abu Simbel.
  5. Birding The Nile Valley offers a wealth of opportunities for bird-watching. Cattle egrets follow the farmers and herds, but they roost in the riverside trees at night. Heron species are abundant. Pied kingfishers and moorhens make a living on the water; various species of hirundines (swallows and martins) swoop for insects just above the surface, and black kites and ospreys—common raptors—circle the skies above. Along with endemic species, the Nile acts as a major pit stop during the spring and fall journeys of millions of migratory birds.
  6. Relaxation The pace in Aswan is simply slower than in the rest of the country, and the atmosphere less pushy. Part of Aswan's strong appeal is the chance to simply relax and explore at a less breakneck pace. The smart traveler uses his or her time in Aswan to enjoy the sunset with a drink, have a relaxing sail on a Nile felucca, or make a camel trip along the western bank.

When To Go

When to Go

Traditionally, high season begins at the end of September, peaks around Christmas, and lasts until April. To avoid crowds, stay away at these...

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