Aswan is the smallest, southernmost, and by far the most laid-back of the major tourist cities on the Nile (others being Cairo, Giza, and Luxor). Once the ancient Egyptians’ gateway to Africa, today it’s the perfect base for exploring Upper Egypt. Here are the best day trips from Aswan.
St. Simeon Monastery — 2 miles (3 km) away by boat
In as little as half a day, it’s possible to embark on a tour to the seventh-century St. Simeon Monastery. Situated across the Nile River on the tip of Elephantine Island, the fortress-like monastery was originally dedicated to the Egyptian saint Anba Hadra; only later, in the 10th century, was it dedicated to St. Simeon. In its heyday, the monastery likely housed some 1,000 monks who used it as a base in their work of converting the Nubians to Christianity.
Gharb Soheil — 18 miles (29 km) away
When the High Dam was constructed, Nubians were forced to flee their homelands by the Nile due to the threat of rising waters. Today a small Nubian village on Soheil Island, just south of Aswan, offers one of Egypt’s last remaining glimpses into the traditional culture, language, traditions, and colorful crafts of the Nubian people. No bridges connect the island to Aswan, so the only way of reaching the village is by motorboat or felucca. Many visitors stop at the village as part of a Nile cruise.
Kom Ombo and Edfu — 30 miles (48 km) away
The Temple of Kom Ombo was built in honor of the crocodile-headed Sobek, god of fertility and creator of the world, and Haroeris, more familiar as the ancient falcon-headed Horus. The temple, unusual because of its double entrance, dates to the reign of Ptolemy VI. A short drive from Kom Ombo is Edfu, a majestic temple dedicated to Horus. The temple is built on the site where Horus is said to have revenged the murder of his father, Osiris, by killing Seth. Many consider Edfu to be the best-preserved cult temple in Egypt. Both sites can be visited on full-day tours from Aswan.
Luxor — 141 miles (227 km) away
Home to many of the biggest and most famous monuments of ancient Egypt, Luxor is widely considered the country’s capital of cultural tourism. After driving through the Nile Valley, tour some of the area’s key sites, like the pharaonic tombs of the Valley of the Kings, Temple of Hatshepsut, Colossi of Memnon, and the Luxor Temple.
Abu Simbel — 179 miles (288 km) away
Overlooking Lake Nasser, the Temple of Abu Simbel was built to impress, with the immense statues in front of the Great Temple intended to frighten potential enemies coming down the Nile from Africa. Originally built into a mountainside by Ramses II, the original Abu Simbel was carefully sawed into numbered stone cubes in the 1960s and reassembled uphill to escape the rising waters of Lake Nasser, which rose to inundate the previous site following the construction of the Aswan Dam. Visit on a full-day minibus tour—or if you’re pressed for time, opt for a quick half-day tour by air.