Aswan, Luxor and everywhere in between.
We completed this trip as part of the 'Great Archaeological Tour of Egypt'. It was insightful, interesting and inspiring to learn a little more about the intriguing Ancient Egyptian Culture.
Travelling to Aswan
We decided to go to Aswan first as it was the most southern part of our trip. From there, we would work our way north using a range of different transportation.
Aswan can be accessed by plane or train from Cairo. There is not a lot of difference between the price of each - the train is a flat $100 but one way aeroplane tickets can be purchased for less than this.
The train offered comfort, space and the opportunity to see Egypt's scenery. The train leaves from Cairo's Ramses train station at 8pm and travels until 10am. This is a sleeping train so each cabin has seats which can be turned into beds. Tickets can be purchased here. Cabins house two people and dinner and breakfast is provided. Pack layers as it can get a little chilly. The toilets are well maintained and a member of staff is on hand to assist in any way necessary throughout the journey. Though rickety, the train is perfectly safe. Connecting cabins can be arranged to suit larger groups.
With the decrease of tourists in recent years, it is clear that some businesses are struggling. When we arrived at the station we were immediately swamped by taxi drivers. As there were five of us we were able to source a driver: Walid, with a car big enough for the five of us so we arranged with him to be our main driver for our 48 hour stay. He was absolutely brilliant as he took us somewhere on the first day but it was closed so he brought us back to our boat and didn't charge anything. We hired him the next day and paid him a little extra for his kindness the previous day.
Walid took us to the High Dam, entrance 30LE per person. This gives great views of Aswan and the opportunity to see the hydro-electric workings. The Army are on hand to keep things secure but we were able to joke with them and they even took some photographs for us. It wasn't as intimidating as you might imagine. At the High Dam, there are a couple of informative posters which explain how the dam works. They're very interesting and certainly worth a read.
Whilst you are in Aswan, you can't miss visiting Philae Temple. Accessible only by boat, it has Ancient Egyptian roots with newer sections which were built by the Romans. It's amazing to compare the different structures as the styles are very different. The tickets for Philae are 60LE and the boat is to be negotiated. It seems that the general price is 150LE for two people return. I don't know if this was just a figure which was pulled out of the air or not. Ali drove our boat and was helpful to tell us lots of information during the ten minute journey. He also slowed down to allow for photographs to be taken.
In the evening, you can take a felluca ride along the Nile. Captain Chillax charged us 100LE to sail around for one hour. We got to see the sunset and played music on the boat. It was perfect for our first evening in Aswan.
Though there isn't an overwhelming amount of things to see and do in Aswan, the atmosphere and friendliness of the locals is worth staying a few days to experience.
Cruising from Aswan to Luxor
We booked a cruise from Aswan to Luxor as it is something that is highly recommended among previous visitors. Our ship of choice: Rademis II. With very few expectations (and if we're honest, a couple of reservations), we boarded our ship and were overwhelmed by how brilliant it was. There was just a moment during dinner one evening when they started playing the Titanic theme song but aside from that, it was absolutely fantastic. Great food, great service, great entertainment and excellent value for money. The ship stopped at several sites along the way: Kom Ombo Temple, Edfu Temple and finally, Luxor. The sailing was slow and so relaxing. There was no pressure to get off at any of the sites. The weather was perfect for sunbathing and it was such a great experience to witness the workings of the Nile's loch and the folding rooftop of our boat when passing under a low bridge. The sundeck was perfectly sized with enough sunloungers for the number of guests. The food was delicious and there was more than enough to stuff ourselves with three times a day. We sailed onboard the Rademis II and definitely would not hesitate to sail with them again.
Luxor is a totally underrated Egyptian destination. People are friendly, there is a good tourist infrastructure and it's easy to get from one place to another with reasonably priced taxi rates. There is so much to see that you could easily spend a week there and still not see it all. We stayed at the Jolie Ville on Kings Island. It was a beautiful spot and the hotel had everything you could wish for. If you're after a relaxing holiday and not too fussed about the archaeological history then this hotel is for you. With an infinity pool, tennis courts and several restaurants it's the perfect getaway.
We arranged our daily exursions through a guide called Raggar. He is very professional and reliable. He was flexible with our itinerary and very reasonably priced. It's the second time I've used him during a trip to Luxor and I would use his services time and time again. Whether it's lunch on a boat whilst cruising down the Nile or an evening trip to the corniche to see Luxor temple lit up at night, he can do it all.
Must do activities in Luxor include:
The Valley of the Kings 100LE which enables you to enter three tombs
Tutankhamun's Tomb : an extra 100LE but so worth it
Ramses V/VI Tomb : an extra 50LE but Ramses IV comes a close second at no extra charge
Howard Carter's House : 50LE
Hot Air Balloon Ride : $100 per person. There's nothing like it! I recommend Sindbad as they are very professional.
Like most places in this part of Egypt, Abu Simbel can be reached by road or aeroplane. There are no direct flights from Cairo so you must first fly to Aswan and then board a very small plane to Abu Simbel. Alternatively, you can join a daily convoy of vehicles which leaves at 11am daily from Aswan, returning again at 4pm. The journey is about three hours in total and you become completely immersed into the desert. There is little more to see than thousands of miles of pure unspoilt desert stretching in all directions. Bathroom stops are few and far between so limit the amount of water you drink! I recommend picking up snacks as with all road trips, they are improved immensely with snacks!
When you arrive into the town of Abu Simbel it's hard to believe that the UNESCO site is actually there. The cost for the ticket is 115LE and the walk down to the temple adds to your curiosity as even at this stage, it's hard to believe what's around the corner.
The temples are fascinating, impressive and have been rebuilt with absolute care and attention to detail. Remember to leave enough time to stop by the visitor centre for more information about how the painstaking process was carried out when moving the temple from the flood plains to its location today.