Starkly beautiful Lake Nasser is a far more tranquil place than the Nile to see some of Egypt’s astonishing ancient monuments from the water
NEED TO KNOW
LOCATION Situated to the south of Aswan, the lake stretches over 300 miles (500 km) southwest to Abu Simbel and beyond
VISITORS PER YEAR There are fewer tourists in this part of Egypt
Jan: 63°F (17°C); Apr: 81°F (27°C); Jul: 90°F (32°C); Oct: 81°F (27°C)
When you are gliding over the waters of Lake Nasser, sitting on the deck of a luxurious cruise ship or sailing on a traditional wooden felucca with its tall white sail catching the breeze, you feel as though you’re in the middle of the ocean. One of the world’s largest artificial lakes, Lake Nasser was created when the Aswan High Dam was built to regulate the waters of the Nile, and is in one of the most remote regions of Egypt – only a handful of fishermen and the occasional small tourist cruise ship or felucca can be seen on its waters.
As you drift towards the shore, you can see the honey-colored sand dunes that stretch for miles into the wilderness, to the Western Desert in one direction and Sudan to the south, inaccessible to all but the most adventurous. Nearer the river, you may catch sight of local Bedouins tending the land or their animals. You will see clusters of date palms with lush growth beneath them, and mud-brick houses where rural Egyptians still live. And you’ll see a sight that nothing can prepare you for – the magnificent golden temples of Abu Simbel.
The Great Temple of Abu Simbel was built to honor the pharaoh Ramses II, while the smaller of the two was for his wife, Nefertari. Dating back to the 13th century BC, these astonishing temples were once carved into the cliffs along the Nile.
They were of such significance that when the Aswan Dam was to be constructed, UNESCO stepped in to cut the temples from the cliffside and move them in their entirety up to higher ground, to save them from being covered by the rising waters of Lake Nasser.
While cruising flotilla-like with many other boats on the Nile, you will glimpse temples among the houses, shops, and hotels of Luxor, and disembark to travel by coach to see Luxor’s other sights. But nothing beats a quiet cruise on the open waters of Lake Nasser past temples looking much the same as they did when they were built.
The water of Lake Nasser has an attractive blue hue that the Nile fails to achieve. While the Nile is iconic, it is also home to some dangerous parasites and has become heavily silted over the years. Lake Nasser, however, reaches depths of around 600 ft (183 m) in some places and is clear. Monuments from ancient civilizations that could not be moved when the lake was created still lie beneath. It is a pleasure to gaze over the lake and imagine what treasures are submerged in its depths.
FORGET THE NILE?
THE BUILD-UP The Nile has been a source of inspiration for generations. English novelist Agatha Christie captured the air of whimsical days and romantic nights under the stars onboard a fabulous old steamer in her famous work Death on the Nile.
THE LETDOWN The Nile is busy with commercial barges, cruise ships, and motorized ferries darting back and forth. As you board or disembark a vessel, you will be surrounded by people wanting to sell you goods or take you sightseeing for a fee – what is known as baksheesh. The water is dangerous and swimming should be avoided.
GOING ANYWAY? The most memorable way to experience the Nile is on cruise ships which travel from Luxor to Aswan and back. Some of these also offer five-star luxury – select the best according to your budget. You could take a felucca, but it’s not as tranquil as on Lake Nasser.
Getting There and Around
You can fly into Aswan with local carrier EgyptAir, or board an express train from Cairo or Luxor.
Then, charter a felucca or take a cruise boat from the waterside.
The other option is to fly from Cairo or Aswan to Abu Simbel’s small airfield, from where you can rent a boat.
Where to Eat
The cuisine of southern Egypt depends heavily on fruit and vegetables from the land and fish from the lake. With Middle Eastern and Mediterranean influences, the food is delicious, wholesome, and healthy. There are many restaurants in Aswan, but if you want to get a feel of stepping back in time, head to the restaurant of the Old Cataract
Where to Stay
Overlooking Lake Nasser, the Nefertari Hotel is among the best of the few hotels in Abu Simbel and within walking distance of the temples.
When to Go
Visit Nov–May, but avoid mid-Feb–mid-Apr, when the Khamsin, a strong desert wind, can make your trip uncomfortable.
Budget per Day for Two
Around US$280 should be enough to cover all expenses.