With such a long history, there is plenty to see in Aswan, but somehow the sightseeing seems less urgent and certainly less overwhelming than elsewhere in Egypt, allowing more time to take in the magic of the Nile at sunset, to stroll in the exotic souq (one of the best outside Cairo) or to appreciate the gentleness of the Nubians. Most tour groups head straight for the Temple of Isis at Philae, taking in the Unfinished Obelisk and the dams on the way, but the rarely visited ruins of ancient Abu on Elephantine Island are fascinating, as are the exquisite botanical gardens and the Nubia Museum.
Aswan’s sights are spread out, mostly to the south and west of the town. The souq cuts right through the centre of town, parallel to the Nile. The Nubia Museum is within walking distance, just, but all other sights require transport. The sites on the islands and on the west bank involve a short boat trip.
Crocodiles in the Nile?
The Nile was once synonymous with crocodiles, particularly the large ones that carry the river’s name. The Nile crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus) is the world’s second-largest reptile: an adult grows to between 4m and 4.5m, and some get as large as 6m. It's commonly held that there are none north of the Aswan Dam. Is this true? Not according to the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency’s Crocodile Management Unit.
There is a well-known adult crocodile living around the river at Aswan. Others have been released from restaurants and houses in Aswan, where they were kept as pets while they were little – though even a small one can take off your finger. Plus there may be as many as 20,000 of them in Lake Nasser. Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water…
It is easiest to visit the west bank as part of a felucca tour. The longer way is to take a ferry from Elephantine Island across to the landing for the Monastery of St Simeon.
Gharb Aswan is no longer a sleepy village, as Aswan expands ever quicker, but the Nubian settlement just north of the Tombs of the Nobles remains a tranquil place. It is particularly pleasant at night, after the souqs near the ferry landing have closed. To get to the Tombs of the Nobles, or Garb Aswan Nubian village, take the public ferry that leaves from a landing opposite the train station, on the east bank. The long way around is to take the desert road to Gharb Aswan from the bridge north of Aswan.