EGYPTIAN TEMPLES AND NILE VIEWS: Abu Simbel and Aswan

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Our next stop in our Egyptian adventure was Aswan: We boarded the 8.15pm Watania sleeper train from Cairo’s Ramses station to Aswan. It is possible to do the same route by plane, but after researching online we decided that the train was a good option.

One hour into the trip we got our dinner, a simple meal similar to what you’d get on a plane. Then the conductor comes and puts the bunk beds into place. Our cabin had two bunk beds, a space to hang coats and a sink. The train was a bit run down but overall everything was fine.

I had never travelled in a sleeper train before, and I got more sleep than I expected! The bed is almost the size of a normal single bed, and we got a good pillow and blanket. In the morning you are served breakfast too.

The train was supposed to arrive in Aswan at 10.05am, but it arrived one hour late. Though the cabin can get hot, you get great views of the Nile along the way.

KALABSHA AND PHILAE:

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We just had time to drop our bags at our hotel in Aswan and it was time to hop on a taxi and explore the main highlights.

We started with the Unfinished Obelisk (tickets E£40). The most remarkable thing about this site is that it provides great insight on how obelisks were made. There’s an interesting video at the beginning which gives good context.

We then visited the High Dam (tickets E£30). This impressive piece of engineering was built in the 60s and required the flooding of nearby areas, leading to the relocation of many temples.

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We took a boat (E£170) to reach Kalabsha (tickets E£40), a great temple in a small island. The temple was really impressive, and there are also smaller ones in the same island. When we visited we had the whole place to ourselves for most of the time, which was really amazing!

Our final stop was Philae temple, and I was really looking forward to this one (tickets E£60). Again you take a quick boat ride (E£120) to reach it. The place is huge, and there are lots of detailed carving on the walls. This temple is really impressive and definitely a highlight of Aswan.

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ABU SIMBEL:

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The main reason to visit Aswan is Abu Simbel, which is located about 3h30 away (or you can fly there). Getting up at 3.30am for the trip sounded like a lot of effort, but it was definitely worth it!

Our hotel arranged for a minibus to pick us up at 4am, and sent us on our way with a huge packed breakfast. The trip takes about 3h30 each way, mostly through the desert.

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Abu Simbel (tickets E£115) truly is an amazing site. The temple is absolutely huge, and there’s room after room decorated floor to ceiling with intricate patterns. There are huge statues on the facade as well as inside the first room of the temple.

On the same site is Haftor’s temple, dedicated to Ramesses’s wife Nefertari, a smaller but similarly impressive temple. Visiting Abu Simbel is definitely a highlight of any Egypt trip – the sheer size of the two temples carved in rock overlooking the Nile (even if not at their original location) really captures the spirit of ancient Egyptian civilisation.

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EDFU AND KOM OMBO – TRANSFER TO LUXOR:

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We left Aswan at 8.30am and followed the Nile up to Luxor, our last stop in our Egypt adventure.

There are a few temples along the way, so we stopped at the two main ones. Kom Ombo is a large temple dedicated to two gods: Sobek and Isis (tickets for E£40). There’s also a little museum with crocodile mummies as Sobek has the face of a crocodile.

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Edfu (tickets E£60) was amazing – it’s one of the best preserved Egyptian temples, and it’s also huge. There’s room after room full of the most amazing depictions of pharaohs and gods, with detailed relief work from floor to ceiling. Once again we had the temple to ourselves – which was great for us but also seems like a big waste.

We continued along the Nile to reach our hotel in Luxor just before 3pm, in time to laze about with a cold beer (our first of the trip). Luxury!

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HOW TO DO IT:

  • Watania sleeper trains: You can book tickets online up to two weeks in advance. The process is simple enough and explained step by step on the website. We paid around £70 per person.
  • Tours: We arranged all of our tours with our hotel. The tour around Aswan took about 4h30 and we paid E£300 plus E£30 tip (plus all the tickets). The tour to Abu Simbel was done in a minibus that picked us up at 4am and dropped us off back at the hotel at 1.30pm. This cost E£180 per peson, plus tip to the driver and entrance to the site. They also gave us a packed breakfast for the journey. Our transfer to Luxor included stops at Kom Ombo and Edfu and cost E£1180 including the driver’s tip.
  • Stay: We stayed at Philae Hotel, which was centrally located close to the train station. The hotel is good and has great views over the Nile (we got an upgrade to a room with river view). We paid $57 per night, including a delicious breakfast.
  • Aswan: Near the train station there’s a nice market street, less crowded than most souks. Because it is mostly visited by locals, it’s not full of souvenir shops and it feels more authentic. Like the rest of Egypt, Aswan seems to have suffered with the lack of tourists, so many places are shut. We had dinner at Al Masry, which had a great selection of vegetarian dishes (dinner for two for E£120, including soft drinks and tip).

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