Mention Egypt and the first that comes to the mind are the ancient pyramids of Giza. Yet, on my recent journey there I found out that Egypt is of course so much more than mysterious triangular architecture. That’s why, besides scaling the great pyramids, I ventured Cairo and Giza for relaxing boat rides on the Nile and countless temples in the southern region of Egypt.

I travelled along the Nile by train, bus and  boat, starting my adventure in Cairo before heading down to Aswan, Abu Simbel and Luxor. Here is what I found:

Along the Nile in Egypt - Felucca at Aswan via Christian Junker

Starting Point: The Pyramids of Giza

No trip to Egypt is complete without a visit to the ancient pyramids of Giza, a city just southwest of Cairo. The pyramids and the Sphinx are just a short taxi ride from Cairo. I sat through the ride with bated breath until the pyramids slowly creeped into sight and the taxi entered the sandy compound.

The Egyptian pyramids are the only one out of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World still in existence today. A wonder they are indeed as the pyramids’ construction has only been surmised and never confirmed. They are also one of the most breathtaking sights I have ever seen.

Along the Nile in Egypt - Lilian Lee - Pyramid

First Stop: Aswan

A popular method of traveling down the Nile is by the Watania sleeper train. Even if it is a tad on the pricey side – a one-way ticket from Giza to Aswan costs US$100 in a double cabin. I had the luxury of having a double cabin to myself and woke up in Aswan feeling refreshed and ready to explore the city.

Taking a leisurely felucca ride is a must in Aswan. Feluccas are little sailing boats which are available for hire along the pier and many a captain would pull out all the stops to convince you to board his boat. Hiring a felucca is also the only way to gain access to the attractions on the other river side, such as the Botanic Garden or the Tombs of the Nobles. If you are lucky, your felucca captain might also give you a private tour of traditional Nubian villages on Elephantine Island.

Along the Nile in Egypt - Lilian Lee - Elephantine Island via Dietmar Temps

The main attraction in Aswan is undoubtedly Philae Temple which is located on an island just a stone’s throw away from the city. The temple was built in dedication to the goddess Isis and features pictorial carvings of her suckling her son Horus.

Along the Nile in Egypt - Lilian Lee - Philae

The Temples of Abu Simbel

Abu Simbel’s close proximity to Aswan makes it a common day-trip for travelers who have to wake up before dawn and travel in convoy to the village some 230km and 3.5h down the Nile. An alternative option is to head there by plane though that might cost more. A couple I met at the temples shared that their flight to Abu Simbel was cancelled as they were the only two people booked on the plane. They eventually made their way there by bus.

Along the Nile in Egypt - Lilian Lee - Abu Simbel 2

In 1964, relocation of the temples began in a bid to save them from the rising waters of the Nile and were subsequently granted the title of UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The temples are located next to Lake Nasser, one of the largest man-made lakes in the world. The temples’ isolated location makes it a great place for travelers to enjoy a whiff of fresh air and respite away from the hustle and bustle of Egyptian cities.

Along the Nile in Egypt - Lilian Lee - Abu Simbel inside Along the Nile in Egypt - Lilian Lee - Abu Simbel 1 Along the Nile in Egypt - Lilian Lee - Abu Simbel 3

Onwards to Luxor

I left Aswan for Luxor by felucca, public bus and train. Overnight trips per boat can be easily booked by approaching any felucca captain on the pier. For overnight trips they are required to apply for a permit from the local authorities, so do approach them in advance. Most captains take their passengers to Edfu or Kom Ombu, from where you need to continue to Luxor by train. Such trips take at least three nights on the boat. I chose to spend only one night on the felucca, and continued my journey on a public bus to the nearest train station the following morning.

Ancient Monuments in Luxor

Upon reaching Luxor, I checked myself into a hotel on the West Bank. Luxor is usually referred to in terms of its two banks that flank the Nile – the West Bank and the East Bank. Both sides offer a plenitude of attractions; for example the Temple of Hatshepsut and the Valley of the Kings in the west, and the Temple of Karnak and the souk in the east.

Along the Nile in Egypt - Lilian Lee - Hatshepsut 2

The attractions on the West Bank are fairly far apart and are only accessible by car. The most efficient way of getting around is to book a taxi and have the driver wait for you while you explore.

Luxor boasts many attractions, but my favorite had to be the Valley of the Kings, site of the Egyptian royals’ burial ground. A ticket will grant you access to three tombs and it is prudent to choose wisely. King Tut’s tomb requires a separate entrance ticket for another 100 Egyptian Pounds. While the tomb is significantly smaller than the others you can visit, it is still well worth the fee as it contains King Tut’s mummy. The only other place where mummies are on display is at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo where you would have to pay a separate entrance fee for the mummy gallery.

Brightly colored hieroglyphics cover the walls of the burial chambers, painting the life story of the respective pharaohs buried there. Most tombs also have retained the original stone sarcophagus so visitors can enjoy the grandiose embellishments of the elaborate burial artifacts.

Along the Nile in Egypt - Valley of Kings via zolakoma

High Up, Hot Air

The highlight of my stay in Luxor was a hot air balloon ride which allowed for a panoramic bird’s-eye view of the city. The tours only run before dawn so that passengers can catch the sunrise. After practicing our landing positions, the hot air balloon took off into the vast sky, carrying me, a couple from Mexico, two other Egyptian girls and the captain. The experience was incredible; the stillness of the morning made the ride serene and watching the sun rise above the horizon was nothing short of amazing. The ride itself lasted about thirty minutes, allowing plenty of time to enjoy the sunrise before we landed gently back down in a field.

Along the Nile in Egypt - Lilian Lee - Hot air balloon

Safety in Egypt

Tourism in Egypt has suffered due to the Egyptian Revolution as travelers are worried about the unrest that has beset the country. Despite my dad’s protests that the country might not be safe for a solo female traveler, I went ahead with the trip, arriving in Cairo just one day after President el-Sisi was sworn into office as the new president.

Despite the usual tourist hassling and the occasional marriage proposal on the street – “I need a wife! How many camels?” – my trip was absolutely amazing and I managed to return home safe and sound. Worries that the revolution might cause inconvenience or danger to tourists are undue as the country still remains safe for intrepid travelers seeking an ancient adventure of pyramid-scaling, temple-hopping and tomb-visiting.

Along the Nile in Egypt - Lilian Lee - Hatshepsut


For more inspiration check out the Lonely Planet guide book for Egypt.

Guest post by Lilian Lee.
All photos by Lilian Lee, unless stated differently.