Luxor and Aswan provide an escape to the ancient world
It might seem a bit difficult to squeeze a visit to Luxor or Aswan in a weekend, but if you enjoy seemingly endless train rides punctuated by beautiful scenery and glimpses of bucolic Nile-side life, then you should enjoy the 12-hour train ride from Cairo. Two trains that depart from Giza seven days a week. No matter how you get there, your final destination has incredible natural scenery and sacred monuments enough to fit a weekend, or if you’re lucky and can win your boss over, a week-long adventure.
For many tourists, the Karnak Temple, with its mammoth hypostyle hall of 134 columns in 16 rows, is the highlight of Luxor. The main difference between Karnak and other monuments in Egypt is the length of time over which it was built. An estimated 30 pharaohs contributed to its construction, which started in the twentieth century BC. For nearly 2,000 years, subsequent pharaohs added to their predecessors’ work, bringing Karnak to reach a size, complexity and diversity that has not been seen anywhere else in the region or the world. This complex covers a total area of almost 100 hectares.
Karnak is best done in two trips, one during the day to truly appreciate the massive stonework and structure; and the other a night visit for the Sound and Light Show. The latter offers a concise history lesson about Karnak’s major landmarks in a far more entertaining package than your grade-school studies. Shows are available in English, German, Italian, French, Russian, Japanese and Arabic.
The standard guided tour of Thebes includes stops at the Colossi of Memnon, the Valley of the Kings (one ticket allows entrance to three tombs), Valley of the Queens (one ticket allows entrance to two tombs) and either Medinat Habu or Deir El-Bahri (Temple of Queen Hatshepsut), plus a couple of papyrus and alabaster shops where your guide will undoubtedly tell you he’s getting a special price just for you.
First-time visitors would do well with a guided tour to get the lay of the land, but history buffs and archeology buffs should look into setting up their own itineraries either alone or with a private guide.
A good way to escape the crowds is to visit the less popular sights that many tourists and package tours ignore. The Tombs of the Nobles have beautiful and well-preserved wall paintings, while at the Valley of Artisans you can see the former home of the workers and craftsmen who served the pharaohs.
Luxor also has some of the best Pharaonic museums in the nation. The Luxor Museum and the Mummification Museum are both well maintained with well-labeled and artistically lit displays. You can see the mummies of Ramses I and Ahmes I in the Luxor Museum without purchasing an additional ticket, unlike the royal mummy rooms at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. The Luxor Museum also has a excellent collection of statues, including several found in a cachette at Luxor Temple.
Ruins may not seem terribly romantic, but after a long day of sightseeing, a horse-drawn carriage along the Corniche or a felucca at sunset offer distinct possibilities in that department.
In terms of accommodation, Luxor suits all budgets from zero- to five-star. If you have the time, set up one half-day tour per day: Four hours of tombs and temples isn’t so daunting when you know a Nile-side hotel pool is waiting.
About 230 kilometers upriver is Aswan, with its scenic sunsets and clear waters. If there ever a winter destination in this country, Aswan is it: During the summer, the Upper Egyptian heat is unbearable and sticky, the city at its best from October to April, when temperatures are cool enough to let you enjoy a walk on the corniche or a felucca ride at the break of dawn.
Compared to its neighbor to the north, Aswan has fewer historical sights, although they are equally as breathtaking. Chief among them are Elephantine Island, Kitchener’s Island and Philae Island.
Elephantine Island, a former ivory trading post that also earned its name from the boulders on its shore that resemble bathing elephants, is the largest island in Aswan. The Nubian villages and ruins here date back to the Pre-Ehnastic period. From Elephantine’s northwest corner you can see Kitchener’s Island, a botanical garden filled with exotic plants and trees imported from all around the world The island is named after Lord Horatio Herbert Kitchener, who led a successful British campaign in Sudan against Mahdist forces in the 1890s. This place is perfect for a lazy afternoon, a nap under a tree or a picnic with friends.
Elephantine Island also has a splendid view of the Aga Khan Mausoleum, the final resting place of the forty-eighth imam of Ismaili Muslims, on the west bank. The building was constructed in 1950. Even though the mausoleum is not open to visitors, you can still arrange a trek up to the top of the hill and enjoy the incredible view of the valley.
Other west-bank sites worth visiting are the seventh-century Monastery of St. Simeon, open daily 7am-5pm. The structure stretches over two levels, which include a church, shops and breathtaking views. You might want to stop at the Pharaonic tombs of the nobles Mekhu, Sabni, Sarenput II, Harkhuf, Pepinakht and Sarenpit I if you haven’t yet had your fill of Ancient Egypt.
One of the tourist standards is a visit to the High Dam, not very aesthetic but a refreshing change from the Pharaohs. Construction on the 11,811-foot long dam which provides irrigation and electricity. While on top of the dam, you can see the Kalabsha Temple on the edge of Lake Nasser stretching to the south.
Far to the south on the shores of Lake Nasser are the temples of Abu Simbel. Hotels and tour agents can help set up an all-day bus excursion to the temples, which might also include visits to Aswan’s antiquities. Egypt air also offers Aswan-Abu Simbel flights with transportation to the temples and a couple of hours to visit.
In the lake between the High Dam and the Aswan Dam are the Greco-Roman temples of Philae Island. The temples were rescued by a UNESCO project, which moved many of the endangered sites to a higher and safer ground. This temple, dedicated to three of the most powerful and dominant deities of ancient Egyptian culture (Isis, Osiris and Horus) symbolizes their tragic story of murder, betrayal and magic.
With the greenery edging the island and the blue backdrop of the sky, Philae, reached by motorboat, is one of the prettiest antiquities sites in the whole country. The temples also host a Sound and Light show that tours you through the temples..
While in Nubia, eat at the Nubian Restaurant. Usually the meal consists of a choice of chicken or fish with a curry-like sauce served with rice and flat bread, followed by a show with Sufi dancers and musicians; dinner and show cost about LE 100 per person, ect.
We can arrange to you a program to see all sites in Luxor, Aswan & Abu Simbel. You can visit this link to choose you favorite tour:
Source: Egypt Today Magazine