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  • Writer's pictureKristin

5 Family Things to Do in Aswan, Egypt

After five days in Cairo, we were pretty excited to get out and explore other places in Egypt, as Cairo was a bit chaotic. We headed to Aswan and enjoyed 3 nights and 3 days in the area. We actually stayed in a small Nubian Village on the West Bank of the Nile across from Aswan, so it provided a more laid back and easy going feel compared to what we had experienced in Cairo. We enjoyed our time there and filled our time with these amazing 5 Family Friendly Things to Do in Aswan.

Also check out the bottom of this post for our sleeper train experience from Cairo to Aswan.

Camel Ride

The kids really wanted to ride a camel in Egypt; plus Grandma (who had joined us for the trip in Egypt) had never done a camel ride. Through our accommodation host, we were able to arrange a sunset camel ride in the surrounding hillsides on the West Side of the Nile River. For the 2-hour camel ride, it was 250 EGP per camel ($16 USD/$20 CDN) plus tip. Because the kids were small, they could each ride with one adult, which helped keep costs lower by just needing 2 camels. Two hours was about the maximum amount we could ride a camel anyways, as it’s not the most comfortable animal to ride.

We started the camel ride at 4 p.m. and soon after the sun started to set and it cooled off – making it the perfect temperature for the ride. We rode for a bit and the attendants even started to get the camel to run for short stints. Clara & Connor thought this was hilarious and loved having the camel trot. I, on the other hand, wasn’t such a fan of the trotting, as it was hard on the crotch....ha ha!

Two Camels with riders & guides walking across Egyptian hilly desert area just outside of West Aswan, Egypt.
Trekking with camels along the West Aswan Hillsides - Aswan, Egypt.

We could see several small Nubian Villages that dotted the hillside, the Aga Khan Memorial and watched as some of the local women walked home. About 30 minutes into the ride, we stopped at a sand dune along the hillside, where we dismounted the camels and had some time to play. The kids absolutely loved the sand, as it was just one big sandbox for them. They ran down the hill, did somersaults, dug and so much more! Needless to say they came back covered in sand that night.

After some time there, they took us to a lookout point over the Nile River and the east side of Aswan. The sun was setting at this point and it was absolutely gorgeous and made the Nile look so magical.

Nile Cruise & Nubian Village

One of our other top activities we enjoyed in Aswan was the Nile Cruise. Aswan is the point in the Nile River, where large boats cannot continue through, as it breaks into different channels and eventually to the dam. The points further south on the Nile contain cataracts, which are groups of large rocks in the river. We hired a boat guide for 200 EGP/hour to take us in his small boat up through the narrow channels and cataracts to the Nubian Village. In total, it ended up being 500 EGP ($32 USD/$39 CDN) for the outing.

Nile River with rocks in middle and sandy hillsides in the background. Aswan, Egypt.
Boat Ride through the channels and cataracts of the Nile River - Aswan, Egypt.

The boat ride was fun for everyone and we saw some great views along the Nile that we likely wouldn’t have seen if we had done the larger Nile Cruise elsewhere in Egypt. (Although it looked as though this smaller boat ride was one of the excursions from the cruise ships.) We saw several animals, such as water buffalo grazing and the Nile chicken & other birds. We asked our guide if there were still crocodiles in the Nile, but he said they were on the other side of the dam now. On the return ride back, he even let Connor drive the boat on his own, which was a highlight for him!

Little boy driving the boat with the Nubian guide by his side. Nile River - Aswan, Egypt.
The Boat Driver let Connor drive the boat back after our visit to the Nubian Village along the Nile River.
Felucca Sailboat on the Nile River with reflection in water. Aswan, Egypt.
Incredible views of the traditional Felucca, which is an Egyptian sailboat, in the Nile River.

The Nubian Village is a town on the west bank that shows the traditional Nubian life. The outdoor market was one of the main attractions, as well as the Nubian House. We decided to forego having the guide show us the Nubian house; but in hindsight, it would have probably been a good idea to learn about the Nubian culture & how they live. (However, I don’t know how much extra that would have been.) Instead, we walked around the town, enjoying the brightly colored houses and even running into some camels on the road as we explored the small town. One unique feature of Nubian houses is that they often have a crocodile body hung over the tops of their doors (or as a pet!), as they believe the crocodile will protect them and their families from the ‘evil eye.’

Nubian Museum

Located in Aswan on the east bank is the Nubian Museum, which explains the impact that the native Nubian people had in Egypt and their interactions with the Ancient Egyptians thousands of years ago. The museum was newer and had some static displays of artifacts, but one of the parts we enjoyed the most were the scenes they created of the everyday Nubian life. Outside of the museum, on the museum grounds, they also had traditional Nubian houses built to make it look like a Nubian village from long ago.

The entrance to the Nubian Museum was was cheap at 50 EGP ($3 USD or $4 CDN).

Temple of Philae

We headed to Philae Temple, which was an ancient Egyptian temple that was built to honor the god Isis. It is now located in the reservoir of the Aswan Dam, but when it was initially built it was located near the first Cataract of the Nile. When the rising water of the dam threatened to submerge it, they transferred the temple block by block from the original Philae Island to Agilika Island 12 kilometers away. Compared to Abu Simbel, we could actually see where things seemed to be pieced back together. Within the temples there are several shrines and sanctuaries.

Temple of Philae - in honor of the god Isis - sitting on the island in Aswan, Egypt.
The Temple of Philae sitting between the Low & High Dam in Aswan, Egypt.

Admission to visit the temple on the island was 180 EGP (about $11.50 USD or $14 CDN) & 50% off for students. (We had purchased a ticket for Connor, but as we went through security and they realized he was too young – they actually refunded us for his ticket, which was a nice change from some other Egyptian places.) However, the catch is that you still have to pay for a boat ride to get to the island, as the boat ride isn’t included as part of the admission ticket. In fact, you have to negotiate with the boat drivers on the dock after you get your admission ticket and pass through security. We discovered pretty quickly that the cost to get to the island was almost as much as the ticket price and they offer the boat ride for less to Egyptians. (This price disparity with ticket prices and other tourist attractions is pretty consistent all across Egypt.) There is a sign near the entrance that we later found that states a boat ride for foreigners was a minimum of 175 EGP. We were able to negotiate with one of the boat drivers for 200 EGP for both ways, but that was AFTER he started with a price of 300 EGP for each way.

Day Trip to Abu Simbel

A day trip that is quite popular from Aswan is a trip out to Abu Simbel. Located on Lake Nasser, Abu Simbel is the site of two temples that were built by Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses II, who reigned from 1279-13 BC. Other than its impressive art of the four huge statues of Ramses at the front of the temple, it is most well known for how it was saved and relocated in the 1960s as the rising water from the Aswan dam would cover it.

Four prominent statues sitting at the entrance of King Ramses Temple in Abu Simbel, Egypt.
The main temple built by King Ramses II at Abu Simbel.

The statues are 20 meters (66 ft.) high and set against the face of a cliff. As you approach the site from the parking lot, it looks like another sandstone hill, but as you approach the other side you see these magnificent statues sitting there prominently against the cliff. Inside of the large temple, there are more statues and different halls dedicated to different sun gods.

Just to the north of Ramses’ temple is a smaller one dedicated to Nefertari, for worshipping the goddess Hathor. These statues of the king and queen are just 10.5 meters (or 35 feet) tall, but still impressive. There were also statues inside and the side hallways, but it was just at a smaller scale.

When the reservoir nearby threatened to submerge the site, the Egyptian government, along with 50 other countries, helped move it by digging away the top of the cliff, completely disassembling them and reconstructing them on higher ground. In the end, the temple had moved 200 feet away from its original site.

Two children with the magnificent statues of Abu Simbel in the background - Egypt.
The kids with the amazing temple at Abu Simbel in the background.

Getting to Abu Simbel & Avoiding the Crowds

While it is just one site that would normally only take an hour or two to explore, it is a FULL DAY to get there and back and can be an expensive excursion.

Two children with no crowds at Abu Simbel, Egypt.
Enjoying Abu Simbel with low crowds and getting photos to ourselves!

There are two ways to get to Abu Simbel – either by vehicle or by a flight via Egypt Air. However, almost all the vehicular group tours to Abu Simbel leave Aswan at 5 a.m. to get there. This is because the highway to the site opens early at 5 a.m. and closes at 4 p.m. so they want to get there and back. However, all these tours only stay there 1.5 hours; so the day mostly consists of driving there and back and gets you back to Aswan in the early afternoon.

However, a start time at 5 a.m. sounded like a disaster for the kids, so we started to look into other options. Instead of doing a group tour, we worked with our accommodation host to find a driver to take us out to the site. As we were doing a private driver, we could then adjust the timing to be more suitable for us, so we opted to leave just before 8 a.m. However, leaving a bit later ended up working to our advantage, as we arrived after a majority of the large tour buses had already returned to Aswan after their 90-minute visit. We were hoping that we could extend our time at the temple by hiring our own driver, but we were still limited to the 90 minutes. However, even with taking our time we probably could have only used an extra 15 minutes, so it ended up working out in the end. (They also helped us out by stopping to get some food on the way back.) By arriving around 11 a.m. (after the morning rush and before some of the afternoon crowd) we actually had portions of our visit all to ourselves. We have also read that coming right when the site opens is a great time to go if you decide to stay there the night before.

While it was an expensive outing for us, we had a hard time saying no to it because of all the accolades that it does get and many people saying it is one the best temples in Egypt. For us to hire a vehicle for the four of us, plus my mom, it was 2800 EGP ($178 USD or $220 CDN) for the 6-hour total transfer. We still had to pay for our admission tickets on site, which was 240 EGP per adult ($15 USD/$19 CDN) and half price for student. In hindsight, I’m glad we went, but our only regret was the expense of it. However, if dealing directly with the driver and not a middle man, you might be able to negotiate slightly less.

Getting To Aswan from Northern Egypt

There are a variety of options to get to Aswan from Cairo. In addition to flights, there is also train service and sleeper train service. We decided to take the Watania Sleeper Train from Cairo to Aswan and it was a fun and unique way to get there. At the end of the trip, Connor was asking when we could go on a night train again.

The Watania Sleeper Train is mainly for tourists, so it has a higher set of standards than some of the local overnight train services. On the rail car we were in, it was only tourists in our car, and was priced for tourists. The cost for the overnight train tickets were $80 USD per person for a double room occupancy or $120 USD per person for a single room occupancy. However, it was a pleasant and clean experience.

When we first arrived at the Giza Train Station we were greeted by tourism police and even uniformed military officers. They would gather information from you as you arrived, such as where you were headed and then they had all the tourists gather in one particular corner of the train station as we awaited the arrival of the train. This was for additional security due to some of the attacks on the trains many years ago.

The train we took departed at 8:15 p.m. Once we were on board we were served a dinner, which is basically like airplane food. (In other words, probably best to eat ahead of time!) Then after dinner, the train car attendant came around to lay down the lower bed in each of the cabins to prepare for the night. Each cabin contained a bunk bed. Some of the rooms were even connected by a door between 2 cabins.

Little boy on the top bunk of the sleeper train from Cairo to Aswan, Egypt.
Connor is excited to get the top bunk in our sleeper train car from Cairo to Aswan, Egypt.

If you sleep lightly then the train can be quite loud, especially as it blows it whistle when approaching the train station and shakes as trains pass next to it. However, the kids slept well – it was probably the rocking back and forth of the train. In the morning, breakfast is served; it was a wide selection of bread, bread, bread, a cheese spread, a croissant and more bread. (I kid you not!!) We arrived into Aswan around 10:15 a.m., which was about 45-60 minutes after our scheduled arrival time of 9:25 a.m.

Overall, we enjoyed the overnight train experience – we enjoyed the efficiency it provided as well, as we were able to avoid taking at least a half a day or more just to travel there.

Where we Stayed

We found a great little place in West Aswan, which was a Nubian Village on the west side of the river. The place had three rooms, so we had 2 of them. The best part about the accommodation was that it was right next to the village square where all the children came to play in the evenings. For two of the evenings, the kids headed out and played with many of the village children. They could only speak broken English, but games like Hide and Seek, Tag and other games are all universal, so fun was had by all! It was such a good reminder how kids can overlook differences and just come together.

Aswan was a great place to explore more of the ancient sites of Egypt, while also learning about the Nubian people who originally lived in this area. We definitely appreciated its more laid-back feel and less busy traffic. We’re glad that we had the opportunity to explore it and now it’s onto Luxor!


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